Gulf of Mexico
Alyxandrea Gorgone, of Fort Pierce, spends a windy afternoon with her friends Wednesday, March 13, 2019, at Dollman Park Beachside in St. Lucie County. The beach, suffering from erosion, is one of several St. Lucie County beaches denied $12 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency funding for Hurricane Irma repairs. (Photo: LEAH VOSS/TCPALM)

FEMA denies St. Lucie County's $9.5 million claim for beach repairs after Hurricane Irma

ST. LUCIE COUNTY — County officials are scrambling to find $14.8 million to repair erosion damage to south- county beaches after Federal Emergency Management Agency rescinded $9.5 million it had promised for the project.

Hurricane Irma in 2017 washed away more than 370,000 cubic yards of sand from south-county beaches, causing about $12.7 million damage, according to county records. The beach area already needed a $22.8 million renourishment project before the hurricane hit.

In September,  FEMA agreed to pay 75 percent of the repair cost, or $9.5 million, with the county and state splitting the remaining $3.2 million.

A month later, though, Congress passed the Water Resources Development Act of 2018, which provided about $8 million for the project through the Army Corps of Engineers, leaving the county with $14.8 million to pay, said Glenn Henderson, Mosquito Control and Coastal Management Services director.

It was the Army Corps of Engineers — in a Nov. 13 letter — that suggested St. Lucie County ask FEMA if it could use the FEMA grant toward its local share of the Corps project.

“Given that the FEMA and Corps projects roughly mimic each other and would be constructed under similar timelines, with construction slated to begin in early 2020, it makes the most sense to combine efforts and construct one project led by the Corps, using the FEMA funding as a portion of our local match to the Corps,” County Commissioner Frannie Hutchinson told FEMA in a letter the next day, Nov. 14.

Rather than freeing up funds, however, the request had the opposite effect, triggering FEMA to review the county’s request and pull back its money. Federal policy prohibits more than one federal agency funding a project.

“In effect, the Corps project duplicates the FEMA scope of work for the St. Lucie County Beach Erosion project; approximately the same amount of renourishment sand and plants are to be placed along the same portion of the coastline,” FEMA wrote in a Feb. 4 letter to county officials.

The county’s outside attorneys recommended not contesting FEMA’s decision but trying to find other funding sources.

The Corps extended the county's construction deadline to July 2022, from 2020, but are requiring the county pay its share by 2021, Henderson said.

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