Businesses are still facing challenges 17 months after Hurricane Irma, and governments are still waiting for FEMA funds. Unincorporated Monroe County looks to receive $70 million. Adding Islamorada, Key Colony, Marathon and Key West, that figure jumps to more than $150 million. 

As communities await money to rebuild, new funding sources are getting ready to open up for businesses. That’s according to Helene Wetherington, county disaster recovery director, who shared information and provided updates during a recent Islamorada Chamber gathering regarding long-term recovery for businesses and tourism post-Irma. 

“I know it’s been 17 months since Irma,” she said. “And for more of you, hopefully you have recovered or you’re well on your way toward recovery. I know that it must seem so frustrating for this all to occur, but it’s happening and moving forward. In the next six months, we’ll see funds flowing through communities.”

For businesses in the marine industry, Wetherington said Florida Wildlife Conservation is hoping to roll out $44.6 million to areas affected by the hurricaneonce it receives approval from NOAA to disburse funds. In October 2017, then-Gov. Rick Scott requested U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to declare a fishery disaster. Ross made that declaration in February 2018. NOAA Fisheries allocated the more than $40 million to the state to respond to the disaster, but a proposal from FWC for use of funds still needs NOAA’s approval. 

Per FWC’s proposal, $2.5 million would be allocated for lobster trap certificate buy-back and $3.7 million for lobster trap replacement. Wetherington said $10 million is proposed for direct payments to commercial fishermen, $3 million in direct payouts to seafood wholesale dealers and $1.3 million in direct payouts to licensed charter businesses. The program for payouts to commercial fishermen could roll out first, Wetherington said. 

Funding’s also being proposed for coastal habitat restoration, public fishing access repairs and marine debris cleanup.

Wetherington said funds through NOAA will be allocated for the entire Irma impact area — not just Monroe County. She said she wants the county to be ready to jump on that money as soon as it becomes available. 

“Some folks tell me, ‘It’s too early, we don’t have details yet.’ But that’ s OK. We can go ahead and be ready when programs roll out,” she said.

Wetherington also touched on a proposed Recovery Workforce Training program through the state Department of Economic Opportunity to confront the lack of workers in the trades industry. Wetherington said the state thought it would be helpful to allocate money to train the workforce. No timeline has been outlined for the proposed program

“We’ve also been talking to Florida Keys Community College, which started an apprenticeship program out of Key West and wants to run it in the Middle Keys and Key Largo,” she said. “We’re negotiating with FKCC to see if money can go to them to build an apprenticeship program. We’d be looking for businesses in trades to take apprentices once FKCC is up here.”

She also noted the Business Recovery Grant Program, which DEO is eyeing to create foe eligible business owner who are seeking reimbursement for the cost of replacing equipment and inventory damaged by Irma. Wetherington said there’s no timeline on this program either. 

“That should be helpful to a lot of businesses and restaurants and so forth that lost inventory and took big hit there,” she said. 

As for Rebuild Florida, the $50-million program for Monroe County to repair, rebuild and elevate homes damaged by Irma, the deadline is fast approaching to apply. Wetherington says the program closes March 29.  

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