Back pay: Miami wants FEMA to cut check for 2005 hurricane damage
By Yudislaidy Fernandez
What Miami wants this holiday season — among many things — is a refund check from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Three years after the devastating 2005 hurricane season left the US with more than $100 billion in damage, the City of Miami awaits reimbursement for debris-collection expenses that total $9.5 million.
At this month's commission meeting, Diana Gomez, Miami's director of finance, said the city still awaits reimbursement from the state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, after submitting requested paperwork.
The city incurred millions in extra expenses after paying contractors to pick up debris and clean up the destruction left behind by hurricanes Katrina and Wilma.
As of September 2008, the amount due in hurricane-related expenses to the city was calculated at $9.5 million.
Miami is to receive $1.6 million from the Federal Highway Administration, an agency of the US Department of Transportation. Once the highway administration pays its portion, FEMA is to pay the remaining $7.9 million.
Some commissioners are concerned that the city still awaits payment for expenses incurred more than three years ago and wonder why the documentation was not ready when the city paid a company to oversee that process.
"I want to know who dropped the ball," said City Commissioner Angel Gonzalez at a commission meeting in October.
City Manager Pete Hernandez said three companies were paid under contract to remove debris from Miami's streets immediately after the storms' passing and one company to oversee their work.
HDR, Inc., an architectural, engineering and consulting firm, was paid to monitor debris pickup and prepare spreadsheets and invoices pertaining to both hurricanes, so that the city could later ask the federal government for reimbursement.
The company was paid $2 million for its work during Hurricane Katrina and $5.2 million for Hurricane Wilma, according to the solid waste department.
At the meeting, Chief Financial Officer Larry Spring said all requested documents were submitted and the reimbursement, to go into the city's general fund, was expected 45 to 60 days thereafter.
But the money is still a no-show.
In a Nov. 26 memorandum, as part of updates Commissioner Marc Sarnoff requested on the issue, Mr. Hernandez informed city officials that the money remains unreimbursed.
The Federal Highway Administration asked the city for additional information including copies of tickets, invoices, proof of payment and disposal information, he said in the memo.
He added that the city's emergency management division is in close contact with the grantors and that the solid waste department has been gathering the requested data.
But Miami is not alone.
Other Florida localities are in line for federal reimbursement from clean-up expenses incurred after hurricanes.
For example, St. Lucie County and Port St. Lucie were owed $2.4 million from debris clean up after hurricanes Frances and Jeanne stormed through the county in 2004.
After a four-year wait, FEMA delivered their checks this month.
And while it looks like Miami may not get a gift from FEMA this holiday season, it's probably on the city's wish list for the New Year.