It has been nine months since members of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection cut the ribbon to reopen Salinas Park in Cape San Blas.
But still, county officials say there are repairs that have yet to be done.
Amidst a three-year conflict with the county’s former insurance provider, Preferred Governmental Insurance Trust, County Administrator Michael Hammond said that several million Hurricane Michael recovery dollars have been tied up in litigation.
Gulf County has yet to settle with PGIT, despite undergoing mediation two weeks ago. According to Hammond, it looks as though the conflict will have to be settled in court.
“We still haven’t settled with our insurance company,” Hammond said. “We ended up firing them and will be starting with a new company on October 1. But it’s very disappointing that we couldn’t get them to live up to their obligations.”
The county filed more than 300 insurance claims in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael. Hammond said about 10 percent of those claims have resulted in significant disagreements between PGIT and Gulf County.
As a result, about $2.6 million has been held up by legal processes, meaning the county is having to cover costs for many repairs themselves. Hammond said this discrepancy can best be seen in the slow repair of the County’s many parks.
“It’s just postponed repairs on a lot of these, specifically, parks,” he explained. “Because even though they’re extremely important, they’re not as important as law enforcement, fire, EMS, emergency services – those things that people need every day.”
County Engineer Clay Smallwood, who has been working to restore Salinas Park to its pre-hurricane glory for several years now, said that parks throughout Gulf County some restoration.
Deepwater Horizon monies spent $3.2 million restoring the Salinas Park after Hurricane Michael as part of the effort to remedy injuries to coastal communities after the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Hammond and Smallwood say there is still a lot of work to be done.
“I mean, you go to Salinas Park right now, it’s like a pond,” Smallwood said. “We’ve got to fix that, you know. You can’t even really use the park right now.”
Luckily, Hammond said, the county has been able to secure funding for vital improvements without borrowing from lenders, but this process has been lengthy.
“We went through the process, unlike some others, where we bid every single project,” he said. “We didn’t have to borrow like some other places... They’re out the interest and FEMA won’t replace that.”
“Hopefully, when the dust settles with this lawsuit or whatnot, we'll get our money back, and we'll be made whole, and whatever is not used to cover fixes at the parks and any other things that we haven't done, we'll go back and reserve.”