Hurricane Irma battered Central Florida about four years ago but the federal government continues to slowly reimburse Orange County for the clean-up.
The latest payment, a check for about $5.5 million, repaid the county for picking up and disposing of 470,000 cubic yards of storm debris from roads and public rights-of-way — enough to fill Spaceship Earth at Walt Disney World’s EPCOT five times.
Irma plowed through the Caribbean islands and Puerto Rico before it made landfall in Florida in September 2017 as a Category 4 storm.
It left an estimated $77 billion in damage in its wake, making it the fourth-costliest tropical cyclone on record behind hurricanes Katrina, Harvey and Maria.
In Central Florida, Irma forced government offices and schools to close from Sept. 8 to 11. Walt Disney World and other theme parks shut from Sept. 9 to 11.
Fred Winterkamp, county manager of Fiscal and Business Services, said the county documented $30 million in eligible hurricane expenses and is still awaiting about $18.8 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which provides aid to help communities recover from the financial impacts of natural disasters and public emergencies.
By far, the biggest expense for governments here was the cost to clean up the curbside mountains of Irma’s mess, mainly snapped off tree limbs and shrubs, he said.
Long waits for reimbursement are common because of the tedious nature of verifying claims, said Winterkamp, who has supervised the county’s documentation effort.
Four years may seem like a long time to wait to get paid but local claims from hurricanes Charley, Frances and Jeanne were paid a decade after the 2004 trio of storms.
By comparison, Irma’s reimbursement schedule has been speedy, Winterkamp has said.
FEMA routinely announces large reimbursements.
It paid Maitland $1.18 million in November to help cover the cost of removing 37,530 cubic yards of storm debris and trimming hanging branches from public roads.
FEMA also paid Orange County $3.58 million in November for removing 93 leaning trees and cutting down nearly 60,000 damaged limbs hanging over public roads.
In September, Orlando got $1.66 million for removing 48,346 cubic yards of Irma debris from roads, public property and rights-of-way.
FEMA funds repay local governments about 75% of their costs for cleaning up after the storm, a process that lasted until mid-December 2017 because of the volume.
FEMA officials say the agency has provided more than $2 billion so far to the state and Florida communities, including the costs of emergency response.
The total includes $965 million for debris removal and disposal; $550 million for emergency shelters and police and fire overtime; about $43 million to help repair Irma-damaged roads and bridges; $37 million to repair water control facilities, including storm-water systems; and $132 million for repairing damage at parks and recreation facilities.
Winterkamp said the county submitted 78 claims and 64 have been paid in full, totaling $11.3 million. Most were for hurricane damage to county facilities and parks.