A $19M countdown: Holmes County asks for extension as FEMA deadline approaches

HOLMES COUNTY – $19 million of a $21.2 million FEMA grant obligated to resurface roads throughout Holmes County could be lost if an extension request doesn’t make it from Florida's Department of Emergency Management (DEM) to FEMA by August 2.

FEMA first approved the sizable grant for Holmes County and a separate grant for Jackson County in 2014, with the neighboring counties simultaneously making history as the first in the U.S. to seek funds that would bundle much needed road improvements into one mass project.

Holmes County officials were informed in February 2017 that the project worksheet had been consolidated and the funds re-obligated - 41 months after the heavy rain events that caused the initial disaster and 30 months after the signing of the sub-award agreement.

The county filed for an extension on the August 2 deadline, requesting another 48 months to make up for time lost during the change of project programs.

Traditionally, when a disaster happens, counties have four years to complete FEMA work. Holmes County had 55 project worksheets on the FEMA work list list. In order for the county to participate in the new alternative procedures program, it would have to agree to a consolidated fixed sub-award. No funds could be drawn until all 55 original project worksheets were de-obligated, consolidated, and then re-obligated into one project worksheet.

Holmes County FEMA Coordinator Joey Marsh gave an update on the extension to commissioners when the board met in a called session Monday.

"The application is currently sitting at DEM, awaiting forwarding onto FEMA," Marsh said. “It’s about time and money. They’ve given us the money; now we need the time to do the work."

The county has already completed seven of the ten roads on the first list submitted to FEMA, saving $1.6 million by doing most of the work in house.

As the clock continues to count down, Marsh says he is hopeful the deadline will be met, despite recent turnover at DEM.

“I believe the initial group of DEM personnel supported our extension request as stated in two letters reflecting their support," Marsh wrote in a recent email to DEM. "However, six weeks ago, most of those individuals were either transferred or terminated.”

“I have been working with DEM to get all the information together so it can be pitched to FEMA all at once," Marsh told commissioners Monday.

Should the extension request not make it to FEMA on time, the county faces the conundrum of stopping all FEMA work or carrying on for as long as possible with the $1.6 million already in the coffers.

“The county is moving through the process of continuing with work until we hear otherwise," said Holmes County Commission Chairman Clint Erickson. "We will cross that bridge if we come to it."