Charlotte County begins to assess storm damage
As Tropical Storm Debby meanders across a thoroughly soaked and wind-swept Charlotte County, officials have already begun assessing the storm’s damage, especially at county beaches, where erosion is a concern.
“While we have things like roads underwater and we have sidewalk damage at some of our parks and power lines down, we still feel just like before that we really need to continue to evaluate the erosion,” Charlotte County Administrator Ray Sandrock said on Tuesday. “And we have staff evaluating the erosion at the beaches in the Stump Pass area starting today.”
Though it’s unlikely the county will see the kind of destruction being reported in neighboring Sarasota County — where a state of emergency was declared Tuesday — officials do not want to take anything for granted.
Sandrock used the example of Tropical Storm Fay in 2008, which wreaked havoc on the Florida Gulf Coast and caused millions of dollars in damage.
“Local damage to public infrastructure was in the range of $40,000 during Tropical Storm Fay, but what really turned out to be where our damage was, was the erosion out at the beaches,” Sandrock said. “So that’s what really threw us over. That was several million dollars.”
The county qualified for federal assistance after that storm because it met the threshold for damages, Sandrock said. But officials won’t know for sure what the extent of Debby’s damage is until the winds begin to die down and the waters begin to recede.
“This storm is a little unusual because it’s been with us for so long,” said Charlotte County Emergency Operations Coordinator Jerry Mallet. “The entire problem is caused because of a wind that is coming from the southwest and pushing water into the harbor, (and) the water that is coming down the middle of the state down through the Peace River. The two are kind of meeting at Punta Gorda, and it is causing the water to come up and not drain out the way it usually would.”
Mallet said the county has been tracking damage since Sunday, when the rain was at its worst, and will tally up a dollar amount in the days and weeks to come. The county can then request to have a preliminary damage assessment done to see how much it might qualify for in federal reimbursement.
“We’re not in that right now, and may not ever get there from this type of storm,” Mallet said. “I don’t know we’ve had enough damage. There has to be a minimum amount of damage to qualify for compensation.”
That minimum amounts to $542,325.42, a figure that is derived based on the county’s population, Mallet said.
Unlike neighboring counties and Gov. Rick Scott’s declaration Tuesday, Charlotte County officials said they are not considering declaring a state of emergency. Since 2004, officials have had to do that on at least a half-dozen occasions, Mallet said.
“The reason you would declare a state of emergency is, first and foremost, whatever event you got going on might have exceeded your capabilities, and you’re going to want to call help from outside the county and maybe even outside the state,” Mallet said. “Petition the state to bring in more resources than you have available to you.
“But we don’t require evacuations (with Debby). It’s not like houses are underwater. We don’t have to put up shelters, so there’s nothing in our power that we can do that’s going to prevent the streets in Punta Gorda from flooding or some of the other minor problems that we’re having.”