FORT MYERS, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke in Fort Myers at the Oxbow Bar and Grill on Hendry Street, focused on Hurricane Ian response across the state. Signage at the event read “Florida Strong.”
DeSantis was joined by Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie. The governor said repair efforts for damaged structures and bridges, and preemptive lineman crews staged in advance of the storm’s arrival helped with quick response efforts.
Mentioning the Sanibel Causeway and other bridge repairs, DeSantis said permanent fixes were underway, and expected to complete later in 2023.
He said recovery of items and debris in the waterways after the hurricane’s arrival had more than 5,600 items, including vessels and vehicles.
“These are things that took a lot of work,” DeSantis said. “I told Kevin Guthrie lean in on all of this stuff, debris takes a lot of time, it’s tough, it takes an incredibly long time.”
The governor said that in the six months since Hurricane Ian, the FDEM had secured almost $800 million in public assistance obligations to help generate $1 billion in federal resilience funds to respond to the needs of the state. He said there had already been $140 million reimbursed to the community for debris removal and other necessities.
Then DeSantis announced more reimbursements had been approved.
- $23.2 million for Collier County
- $31.9 million for Lee County
- $2.4 million for the City of Sanibel
- $14.2 million for Fort Myers
- $7.6 million for Fort Myers Beach
Nearly $40 million had also been approved as loans for more than 900 businesses to recover and rebuild, in addition to opening the state’s Emergency Bridge Loan Program from the Dept. of Economic Opportunity.
DeSantis said the state “had sprung into action” to address housing needs in impacted areas, and that the state had given more than 500 families with state-provided temporary housing, in addition to the more than 400 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The governor said that some federal assistance for home repair had been denied, so the state had prioritized making and using its own to ensure repairs could be undertaken. He described it as harnessing the private sector, also mentioning that $64 million had been raised for assistance through donation programs promoted by First Lady Casey DeSantis.
$46 million had also been disbursed, to date, according to the governor.
DeSantis also announced multiple awards for funding needs of local businesses:
- $3 million for nonprofit arm of Florida Restaurant and Lodging Assocation
- Up to $4 million to create a new small business recovery program
The governor said other states didn’t respond to disasters the way Florida had, and that due to a strong budget surplus, the state was taking responsibility and thriving.
DeSantis praised Guthrie, who spoke next. The FDEM director thanked him for the chance to speak, giving his own praise for the FDEM. He said DeSantis had “done what no other governor would do,” and issued a preemptive executive order to prepare for Hurricane Ian.
Guthrie said that recovery may take years with multiple steps in the process, but work by DeSantis had ensured those efforts would continue alongside the residents of the area. However, Guthrie said he would be asking for more from the federal government.
“Today I’m’ going to be asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as well as the White House, for a 60-day extension of the 180-day period of performance work under the Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018,” Guthrie said. “That’s an awful lot of federal and state government gobbledegook to say this: Communities are having problems with permitting right now, and they need assistance with bandwidth on that permitting.”
Guthrie said the request would provide more flexibility and time to allow more recovery possibility, focused on construction permits for the necessary repairs. If the request is approved, Guthrie said it would reset the countdown timer to when the state actually began repairs, giving more time for the work.
The FDEM director also said that additional debris removal projects would be submitted for funding by local authorities soon, praising the number and amount that had already been done.
DeSantis returned to the podium to introduce another speaker, Byron Donalds, a member of Florida’s U.S. Congressional delegation.
Donalds thanked the governor for his leadership before discussing federal response.
“First let’s me talk a little bit about what’s happening federally, or let me say it better, what’s not happening, federally,” Donalds said. “There are IRS codes that should have been in place under Speaker Pelosi’s leadership. She did not do that. So myself and Sen. Scott are now leading legislation to put back into the federal tax treatment, to recover from disasters. We have filed that bill in both chambers, we’re getting great responses from the relevant committee chairmen in both chambers.”
Donalds said the prospects looked positive for getting the treatments back into place after Pelosi “let slide out of place.” He said it would help in more than just Florida.
Turning to FEMA, Donalds said there were still close to 1,400 people displaced by Hurricane Ian and that FEMA was being “tepid” in its response. He said he was pushing to cut through the red tape due to current circumstances so that more could be done to aid recovery and housing needs.
After Donalds, DeSantis introduced local business owners and residents to discuss post-Ian recovery efforts. Both speakers thanked the governor and state for their efforts to help after the hurricane hit, and criticizing federal response. One speaker urged the state and country to not forget Lee County or Fort Myers.
When DeSantis returned to speak, he criticized the news media for only looking for a negative to cover, and that they had lost interest since. Then he took questions from those gathered.
Responding to a question about home insurance and tort reform, DeSantis said reports of people being short-changed or unlawfully dropped by their coverage was under investigation by Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.
As far as litigation reforms going through the state legislature, DeSantis said he remained committed to working on solutions to problems that have been in the industry for a while.
Guthrie answered a question about rip tide, saying that a shrimp boat that had been under litigation was now back on the water, and that more than three dozen had been either destroyed amid litigation, or back on the water.
Another question for DeSantis regarding working with President Joe Biden to help with recovery efforts. The governor said he had not spoken with the president since his visit, but Guthrie said he was in communication with and working alongside FEMA still, despite some disagreements on response strategies.
DeSantis spoke about placement of travel trailers as temporary housing accommodations, saying that flood zone risk shouldn’t be a hurdle for giving people necessary shelter. He criticized federal bureaucracy instead.
A question on Citizens Property Insurance’s volume of new clients focused on repair needs and barriers to coverage by the insurer of last resort had DeSantis saying that work on helping residents in need was ongoing, but that legislative efforts were still underway, even after multiple previous pieces of reform.