Big Week in Bay County
It’s been a very productive week for our work in Bay County. On June 3rd, Congress passed a disaster relief bill that promises to provide much needed help to our friends and family in the hard-hit areas of the Panhandle. The following day, The Integrity Group presented its final draft of the Long-Term Recovery Plan for Bay County to the Long-Term Recovery Task Force. The following articles were published in the News Herald about the Plan and Task Force meeting.
Bay recovery: From plan to action
By Ed Offley
News Herald Staff Writer
Posted Jun 4, 2019 at 7:00 PM
PANAMA CITY — The time for action has come.
Even before Bay County’s eight local governments formally vote to ratify the $6.9 billion Long-Term Recovery Plan from Hurricane Michael, the county will be fully engaged in the hunt for some of the $3 billion earmarked for disaster block grants in the congressional aid bill passed on Monday.
At its meeting Tuesday afternoon, the Long-Term Recovery Task Force formally received the 272-page final draft recovery plan from its consultants. Chairman Robert Carroll announced that the panel would spend the next two weeks making a final review of the report before ratifying it and passing it on to the Bay County Commission and the county’s seven city governments for formal approval in mid-July.
But the Task Force and its Tallahassee-based consulting firm, The Integrity Group, are not waiting on the formalities to begin the hard work of drafting specific applications for federal aid, Carroll said. “The wildfire states, North Carolina and Puerto Rico are chasing those funds as well,” he said.
Assistant County Manager Joel Schubert told the panel that the bill passed by Congress on Monday has earmarked $3 billion of the $19.1-billion disaster aid package for Community Development Block Grants administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. That federal funding category is seen as a primary source of disaster recovery aid for Bay County.
The consultants told the Task Force they are already working to draft “immediate action plans” that – combined with an overall Florida Action Plan formulated by state agencies – will be submitted in the form of specific grant applications under the HUD program.
“This is not a done deal,” said Gary Yates, a senior partner in The Integrity Group, speaking of the final draft report. “This is a starting point. From a working perspective (securing the full amount of federal aid) is a 5-to-7-year process.”
Candace Ppool, Senior Disaster Grant Consultant for the Tallahassee firm, said the state’s experience after the 2017 destruction by Hurricane Irma in the Florida Keys is a marker for the pace of processing disaster aid. There, it took seven months from HUD’s formal approval of the state’s action plan (incorporating local requests) until the funds actually arrived.
Panama City Mayor Greg Brudnicki agreed, noting that the Houston area has only received 10% of its anticipated HUD recovery funds nearly two years after Hurricane Harvey struck in August 2017.
Still, officials are cautiously optimistic that Bay County’s aggressive action will bear fruit. “I am anticipating that maybe this time it will go a bit more quickly,” Ppool said, citing the county’s accelerated production of its recovery plan in just five months.
“We’ve already starting to convert this plan into a HUD action plan,” Yates told the Task Force. “We want to be the first in line.”
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