Gov. DeSantis talks hurricane recovery, gives $1M from disaster fund to South Florida schools

Waterway debris removal could take a year, Guthrie says

LEE COUNTY, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recapped the state’s ongoing recovery efforts in South Florida after Hurricane Ian and awarded money to local education foundations at a news conference near Fort Myers on Thursday.

“Today, just since since the storm has hit, it’s been about 112 days, the Florida Division of Emergency Management has obligated more than $500 million in funding, so a half a billion dollars and people say, ‘OK, well what does that mean?’ I can tell you there’s been no major hurricane in Florida’s history, where up to this point — 112 days after — even $1 had been obligated,” DeSantis said.

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A check for $1 million, made out by the Florida Disaster Fund to “South Florida Education Foundations,” was handed by DeSantis to a group of educators in the midst of the hurricane-related discussion.

“The money will go across Lee, Collier, Sarasota, Hardy and DeSoto counties and this will be able to help those in the school system who need help, you know — getting the schools back as quickly as they did was a huge, huge benefit,” DeSantis said. “...So this (the Florida Disaster Fund) has helped everything from helping with food, gas, baby supplies, it’s helped with home repairs, it’s helped address transportation challenges, and I think that’s money that’s good use.”

This disbursement followed a $2 million award last year for several groups representing Florida law enforcement and first responders, according to DeSantis.

“We did $2 million in October, I think many of you remember (it) as the first tranche, so this is the second tranche and we’re really, really excited about doing this and I know Lee County has used a lot of it very well, DeSoto, so we appreciate what you guys have been able to do to help the folks who are really working hard to make sure that our kids are in great environments and will be able to learn like normal,” DeSantis said.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis holds news conference in Lee County on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023. (Copyright 2023 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

The event at Coral Drive and Connecticut Avenue included Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

DeSantis and Guthrie touched on issues between FEMA and the state regarding Florida’s post-hurricane housing mission, announced in October as a way to temporarily house people in trailers on their own property while repairs are made to their home.

“FEMA has deployed about 80 travel trailers, the state has deployed 140, but we have a lot more in the hopper that Kevin is working to get here, so I think what we can say on this is that the trailers that have been put out have been done faster than in any previous storm, but I also see a lot of red tape holding up- we’ve got probably a couple thousand people that could use trailers right now,” DeSantis said. “...FEMA has regulations that say you can’t put a trailer in a special floodplain. So like, Fort Myers Beach, here’s the thing, that’s not gonna flood in the next six months, OK? These people need this now.”

If those regulations are ignored, it would negate the area’s ability to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program, DeSantis said.

“We need to work with local (governments), we need to work with FEMA to be able to do it. We have 2,400 trailers ordered, Kevin’s gonna do all he can to get them out very, very quickly, but we do need the collaboration with the other levels of government to help clear some of these administrative roadblocks and so we’re glad that we stepped up for this mission, it’s made a difference,” DeSantis said.

Guthrie said he directed his bureau chief of staff Thursday to write a letter to FEMA with an end goal of negotiating a solution to the trailer zoning problem.

On debris removal, Guthrie explained what factors make waterway debris removal efforts much more time consuming than the same operations on dry land, offering the community a timeline.

“We may be picking up waterway debris, debris in the mangroves here in southwest Florida for the next nine to 12 months. That is going to be a long-term — that is going to be a labor of love to get all of that out of there, so please be patient with us, we are working as fast as we possibly can,” Guthrie said.

Watch the news conference again in the media player below:

DeSantis last spoke in Daytona Beach Shores, where he highlighted funding disbursed from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to 16 county governments for post-hurricane beach erosion projects.

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About the Author:

Brandon, a UCF grad, joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021. Before joining News 6, Brandon worked at WDBO.