Officials ask FEMA to pay Ernesto costs

Though barely a storm, Ernesto was still costly to get ready for, they reason.

Published September 2, 2006

WEST PALM BEACH - Tropical Storm Ernesto didn't do much damage in South Florida, but it still ran up a tab.

As remnants of the storm marched up the East Coast, officials were getting ready to ask the federal government to reimburse them for millions of dollars spent preparing for a powerful storm that didn't materialize.

But as of Friday, the only payment the Federal Emergency Management Agency gave was a thank-you.

"While the state of Florida has done an outstanding job preparing for the Ernesto storm system, FEMA does not reimburse states and counties unless there has been a federally declared disaster," agency spokesman Aaron Walker said.

Walker said the Homeland Security Department operates a preparedness grant program, but states and counties can apply for those funds only once a year.

Ernesto, briefly a hurricane on Sunday, had been forecast to possibly become a hurricane when it hit Florida earlier this week. But it came ashore as only a minimal tropical storm and caused little damage.

Gov. Jeb Bush declared a state of emergency only in anticipation of Ernesto's landfall. But several counties still want reimbursement for the costs of getting ready.

"Absolutely, we're looking for reimbursement," said Irene Toner, Monroe County's emergency management director in the Keys. She said costs there would likely approach $1-million.

Broward County was also preparing to seek reimbursement for $2.5-million spent on preparations. Carl Fowler, a spokesman for the Broward Emergency Management Agency, said FEMA has reimbursed counties for such costs in the past.

Jim von Rinteln, Collier County's emergency management coordinator, estimated his county's preparedness costs would near $1-million.

Miami-Dade County expected its costs to be near $10-million for preparations, including activation of numerous shelters, said Shanti Hall, a spokeswoman for the county Office of Emergency Management.

Palm Beach and Martin counties were also preparing to submit their costs.

Bush said Friday it was too soon to tell whether Florida would qualify for any reimbursements.