FEMA rejects Brevard’s request to help repair or replace bridge still closed after Irma

Sea Ray Drive Bridge closed after Hurricane Irma in 2017

MERRITT ISLAND, Fla. – The Federal Emergency Management Agency has rejected a request from Brevard County for money to help pay for repairing or replacing the hurricane-damaged Sea Ray Drive Bridge over Sykes Creek on Merritt Island, reports News 6 partner Florida Today.

The county asked FEMA for either $2 million to help pay for repairing the bridge or $4 million to help pay to replace it.

The bridge has been closed since damage during Hurricane Irma in September 2017. Of particular concern was the relatively small depth of bridge piles below the channel bottom as a result to scouring. The bridge structures also have some corrosion, cracking and other deficiencies.

Since the bridge was closed, residents and people frequenting local marinas and other businesses have had to take an alternate route to get from one side of Sykes Creek to the other. One such detour is using State Road 528, which is just south of and parallel to Sea Ray Drive.

Repairing the Sea Ray Drive Bridge would take 15 months for permitting and construction, while replacing it would take 30 months for permitting and construction.

County commissioners voted this week to appeal the decision of FEMA, which contended the bridge is ineligible for public assistance funding.

In its "public assistance eligibility determination letter," FEMA said, based on its assessment, the damage claimed cannot be demonstrated to be the direct result of Hurricane Irma, but, rather was pre-existing.

Meanwhile, commissioners must decide how to proceed with repairing or replacing the bridge, regardless of whether the appeal is successful.

Brevard County Manager Frank Abbate said the county is committed to doing the work, based on a resolution commissioners approved during an emergency meeting on Sept. 28, 2017.

He initially was planning to present options to commissioners for consideration Tuesday, but pulled the item from the County Commission agenda to further evaluate the county's alternatives for paying for the project.

Abbate and other county staff plan to detail the options to county commissioners in November or December.

A consultant for the county estimated repairing the bridge would cost $2.79 million, and take three months for permitting and 12 months for construction. That would give the bridge a design life of 21 years.

Replacing the bridge would cost $4.97 million to $4.99 million, depending on what design is used. Replacing the bridge would take 12 months for permitting and 18 months for construction. That would give the bridge a design life of 75 years.

The estimated costs do not include fees for permitting or the cost of utility relocation.

"Ultimately, the appeal (to FEMA) may be rejected, in which case FEMA will make no repair reimbursement to the county," county officials said an agenda report to county commissioners.

"In that event, the (County Commission) would bear the full cost of the bridge work to repair or replace the Sea Ray Drive Bridge."

County Commission Vice Chair Bryan Lober — whose County Commission District 2 includes the site of the Sea Ray Drive Bridge — cautioned fellow commissioners that they should not hold out too much hope for a successful appeal.

He said, based on limited success of past appeals to FEMA filed by the county, the chance of overturning this ruling is “slim.”