Irma trees clean up contractor

William McKeeber, a contract worker with Coastal Tree Solutions from Jenkins County, Georgia, cuts part of an oak tree along C.R. 48 in Floral City following Hurricane Irma's destructive path across the area in September 2017. 

Shortly after Hurricane Irma’s tropical storm-force winds plowed through Citrus County, residents implored the county to remove the yard debris they stacked up at the curb.

Officials said they would get to it, but it might take time. To get federal reimbursement for the costs, they said, the debris pickup had to be done just right.

This week, the county learned patience pays off.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, announced it approved just under $1.3 million to the county for debris removal from Irma, which struck Sept. 10-11, 2017.

County Administrator Randy Oliver said the county requested about $2 million total and still has $703,375 in requests pending.

Irma power lines down

Power lines are tangled in fallen trees in the wake of Hurricane Irma in September 2017. Despite signs indicating Old Floral City Road was closed, many motorists chose to drive around the hazards.

The news was good to Citrus County officials, who essentially borrowed from the county’s reserves to pay for removing debris from neighborhood roadsides in the belief that FEMA would reimburse for most of the costs.

“It’s having confidence in our staff to do things the right way,” board Chairman Jeff Kinnard said. “Right after the storm happens we get antsy about getting the debris cleaned up. The county wants to get out there and take care of that stuff as well.”

FEMA has a strict process that must be followed for reimbursement, officials said.

Irma gas line sheriff's office

A Citrus County sheriff’s deputy helps direct traffic on Friday, Sept. 8, 2017 at a crowded Mobil gas station on the corner of State Road 44 and South Rowe Terrace in Lecanto. At the time the sheriff’s office estimated it spent $270,000 in overtime before, during and after Hurricane Irma.

The county must hire a FEMA-approved debris-removal contractor, and hire another company to ensure the contractor is following FEMA guidelines for storm-debris removal.

The county contractors picked up 137,178 cubic yards of vegetative debris during a two-month period following the storm, FEMA reported.

Not everything is reimbursed. Just as it did with Hurricane Hermine in 2016, the county agreed to remove debris from most private roads except in gated communities, even though that cost was on the county’s dime.

Both Crystal River and Inverness have received FEMA reimbursement checks for Irma costs.

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Contact Chronicle reporter Mike Wright at 352-563-3228 or mwright@chronicleonline.com.

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