On the first day of hurricane season, Monroe County is still waiting on $33 million it expects to receive from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for Hurricane Irma damage.

A little more than 6 percent has returned in the last few months, totaling $2.1 million.

Monroe County commissioners discussed at their first budget meeting May 23 a recently-approved amount of $1.5 million coming to the county, on top of a $604,000 payment last month.

“This leaves another $33 million that the county has already submitted to FEMA but is still waiting to go through the process,” said county spokeswoman Cammy Clark.

After FEMA approves reimbursement for submitted projects, those “obligated” funds go to the state for its approval process before being sent to the county.

Bill Slater of Tidal Basin, a consulting firm, told commissioners there has been a “perfect storm” that has led to the slow reimbursement. FEMA rolled out a new delivery model last year just as it was being overwhelmed with submissions from several major hurricanes and wildfires across the country and Puerto Rico. The state of Florida also decided not to expedite FEMA funding and instead is requiring 100 percent validation before sending FEMA money to local governments, Clark said.

Monroe County is the only entity in Florida that has received FEMA reimbursement from Irma.

Canal cleanup

Meanwhile, as it prepares for a grant amount of $49.2 million from the USDA’s National Resources Conservation Services (NRCS), the county is opening a request for proposals today, May 31, for marine debris removal.

“The county is moving forward with our own solicitation of contractors,” said Rhonda Haag, county program manager.

The state office, in Gainesville, has already approved the eligibility of 103 canals in the Keys and environmental permits from National Oceanic and Atmospheric and Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary are both in process.

The marine debris removal work is on a reimbursable basis. The county does not get the money up front, but will receive 75 percent back, so the actual amount coming to the county is about $37.8 million, Haag said.

It’ll cover work for 103 canals in unincorporated Monroe, Islamorada and Marathon.

The state Department of Environmental Protection hired DRC Environmental Services in February to do marine debris removal for the county but DRC pulled out in mid-May after it said it under-bid the project.

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