Palm Beach County government and the 39 municipalities and other agencies had to collectively total at least $4.7 million in costs to qualify, county Public Safety Director Stephanie Sejnohasaid Thursday. She said the $3.4 million estimate is exclusively for the county and she did not have figures for the other entities.
Palm Beach County, breathing a collective sigh of relief, is scaling back emergency operations after its brush with Hurricane Matthew caused minimal damage.
“It’s been busy,” County Mayor Mary Lou Berger said during a press conference Friday at the county’s Emergency Operations Center. “It’s been interesting. It’s been annoying. It’s been exciting. But we have gotten through this.”
All evacuees can return, and the county is under no warnings or other advisories, County Administrator Verdenia Baker said.
An assessment found no damage to county structures or assets. About 38,750 people in the county lost power. FPL said it expects to restore power to all customers by Saturday.
Power outages or internal malfunctions have knocked out 20 to 30 traffic signals. The county urges residents to treat intersections with non-working traffic signals as a four-way stop.
Intracoastal bridges remain closed to boat traffic but are open to motorists.
Some 7,560 people sought refuge from Hurricane Matthew at the county’s 13 shelters, with 184 people staying at the special needs shelter at the South Florida Fairgrounds.
The pet-friendly shelter at West Boynton Recreation Center reached full capacity, with 245 people and 200 animals.
County staffers fielded 5,289 calls from residents who had questions about everything from warnings to road closures.
The Emergency Operation Center, where some county staff have stayed overnight monitoring the storm, will scale back its operations at 5 p.m. but will remain at an elevated level of readiness until Saturday afternoon or longer if needed.
County officials were ready for questions about whether they acted too aggressively given the muted impacts of the storm.
Baker said she would not change the county’s actions and warnings. Emergency Management Director Bill Johnson agreed.
“If folks have doubts whether we made the right decision, they just need to look up the coast a little and see what damage the storm is doing,” Johnson said.
The Solid Waste Authority of Palm Beach County is urging people not to trim trees or do major yard or construction projects until the threat passes. The reason: the authority might not be able to get to all those piles of yard trash, and if the storm comes, they’ll be piles of potential missiles.
A bill that gets Palm Beach County out of most of a $3.28 million federal tab for hurricane cleanup has passed the U.S. House and is on its way to the Senate, U.S. Rep Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, said late Monday.
The amount owed by the county government, and other local entities within the county, totals $14.1 million of the total $35 million owed by entities in Florida, Frankel said.
Potentially off the hook besides the county: the cities of Boca Raton: ($4.7 million), Lake Worth ($3.8 million) and Palm Beach Gardens ($351,000); and Jupiter Christian School ($90,000.)
The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Florida Division of Emergency Management had given more than $120 million to the county to help recover from 2004’s hurricanes Frances and Jeanne, 2005’s Hurricane Wilma, and 2008’s Tropical Storm Fay. The Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, of which FEMA is a part, later did an audit, leading to the calls for repayments.
The current legislation, introduced in the House by Frankel, who was West Palm Beach mayor from 2003 to 2011, gives the feds a 3-year window to recoup claims, except in cases of fraud.
“This provision will give FEMA the necessary time to review grant awards while providing certainty for communities so they can plan their budgets accordingly,” Frankel said in a release. It quotes Palm Beach County Mayor Mary Lou Berger as saying. “It is unconscionable for FEMA to propose de-obligating previously awarded disaster funds for projects that have been certified complete by the State.”