County looks to quick flood fix

Sep 10, 2008

$2.3M drainage pipe installation could be folded into I-95 work


Florida Today–September 10, 2008

A project that would limit future flooding to communities overwhelmed by Tropical Storm Fay’s torrential rains could be completed within a month.

Brevard County officials are asking state lawmakers and Gov. Charlie Crist, who visited flood-ravaged areas of Brevard County on Tuesday, for the $2.3 million needed to pay for it.

A subcontractor working on the Interstate 95 widening project has the equipment on site that could install five 48-inch drainage pipes under the highway near Eau Gallie Boulevard. That would allow floodwaters to flow away from Lamplighter Village, Groveland Mobile Home Park and more than 500 nearby homes.

Folding the emergency project into the ongoing I-95 improvements would provide an immediate drainage fix and save money in the process.

"You don’t often have opportunities like this to help out this season," Brevard County Natural Resources Management Office Director Ernie Brown said.

State officials already are searching for federal grant money to fund the project, said Christine Wayne, an aide for Florida Rep. Thad Altman, R-Viera. The Federal Hazard Mitigation Grant, which provides a 75 percent match to local dollars, is a possibility, but that money may not be available as fast as local officials want to move ahead.

In a letter written to Crist and other state officials, Brevard County commissioners said they are pursuing other projects to prevent flooding in other parts of the county, but those improvements aren’t ready to move ahead this hurricane season.

Residents continue to recover from Fay, which dumped as much as 26 inches of rain on parts of Brevard County and caused $60 million in damage to homes.

Brevard County Emergency Management Director Bob Lay said the county is at "80 percent." Parts of north Merritt Island, west of Cocoa and nearby Lake Poinsett still face damage from Fay.

"We’re not back to normal yet," he said.

Meanwhile, Crist, vowing to help Brevard residents get flood assistance, returned to Lamplighter Village and the nearby Federal Emergency Management Agency Disaster Recovery Center. So far, FEMA has handed out $8.4 million in disaster assistance.

"If it’s not to them yet, it will be," Crist told a swarm of news media at the mobile home community outside Melbourne city limits that he toured more than two weeks ago in a swamp buggy.

There he met several residents cleaning up after nearly 5 feet of water inundated parts of the community. The governor had State Emergency Management Director Craig Fugate and other staff members take down names and addresses of those who said they needed help or encountered setbacks with FEMA.

Fugate told people not to give up if they are denied disaster grant and loan dollars. The federal agency, he said, may be waiting for residents’ insurance companies to make payments or may need more information before issuing funds.

Rosemary Rasbin, whose home off University Boulevard flooded, pressed Crist for answers as he spoke to the news media outside the FEMA center.

"We had a mess over there," she said.

Rasbin said FEMA gave her an initial $11,000 grant, but soon after told her that was all the help she would get from the federal agency. But she estimated she suffered more than $72,000 in damage to her home and belongings.

After dignitaries spoke, Crist walked over to the Melbourne woman, hugged her and put her in contact with a FEMA official.

Lamplighter Village resident Peter Desideri, 72, said he hopes Crist can follow through with assistance.

"I hope so, because so far I haven’t gotten anywhere," he said as he sat in line at the FEMA center.

Desideri faces a long list of repairs after 6 inches of rain swept into his mobile home: Replace the air-conditioning unit and soggy insulation; spray to get rid of mold spores; install new skirting on the structure.

Desideri tried to get flood coverage from Citizens Property Insurance when his previous insurer dropped him after the 2004 hurricanes. Soon after, his premium ballooned from $200 to $1,000 a year.

"Here’s what I got for $1,000 a year," he said. "A letter of denial."

Gertrude Knappek, 81, who has lived in Lamplighter Village for 14 years, said she was pleased to see Crist return. She asked him for help getting a new air conditioner.

"I’m glad that he cares about us," she said.