A special waiver to the county from the Federal Emergency Management Agency has kicked off the move of hurricane debris from 13 of 33 mobile home parks thus far.
NORTH HARBOR, Fla. – Homeowners at some mobile home parks in Sarasota are breathing a sigh of relief after getting much-needed help hauling home debris related to Hurricane Ian.
So far a special waiver to the county from the Federal Emergency Management Agency has kicked off the move of debris from 13 mobile home parks.
With assistance from FEMA, the county was able to pay for the removal of nearly 9,500 cubic feet of debris. Homeowners had assumed the cleanup would never happen unless they shelled out the money to do it through the homeowners association, but now they can focus on other aspects of the repossession and rebuild.
“We arrived here October 30, with over 12 feet of debris that we have Sarasota County to thank for cleaning up and the workers for being so friendly. It was probably 15 feet high and right at the fence when we got there, John Braine of Canada he said.
John and his wife, Kelly Braine, said they were brand new to the snowbird lifestyle after purchasing their home at La Casa Mobile Home Park in North Port in 2020. But they haven’t been able to spend time time there because the pandemic happened and delayed their plans.
They said they fixed up the house and are preparing to spend time there this winter, but then Hurricane Ian hit and ended those plans as well.
Most of the park property, which was ruined by the hurricane, ended up on a 40-acre lot right in front of the Braines’ new home.
“We’d heard it would take years for it to go away and it’s been devastating for us as we’re trying to make plans to stay here,” Kelly said.
Some properties and communities such as mobile home parks and some managed by a tax collecting homeowners association are designated as commercial under FEMA policy and must fund the removal of hurricane-related debris. However, due to the enormity of the damage and debris collected, this put the county at odds with FEMA and meant residents would have to pay thousands of dollars for cleanup.
“Waste management wouldn’t collect the stuff we pay property taxes to do, but debris like this is too much for them,” said Tim Davis, president of the La Casa Homeowners Association.
The county sent a letter to FEMA and asked for a special exception to allow it to remove the debris citing unprecedented circumstances. Appeals from local, state and national elected leaders followed the request.
After considering the situation, the agency approved funding for debris removal from 13 of 33 mobile home parks in the county who immediately qualified for a waiver.
“We know this is a frustration for people and they would like things cleaned up and for health reasons, we want to do this as quickly as possible,” said Renee Bafalis, FEMA spokeswoman.
Ron Cutsinger serves on the board of the Sarasota County Commission and is also a vice chair of the commission and represents District 5, which includes North Port. He spearheaded the appeals process to obtain the waiver from FEMA. His efforts were supported by Congressman Greg Steube, the representative of the United States House. for Florida’s 17th congressional district.
“All of the mobile home parks were hit so hard. It was really heartbreaking to see how much damage had been done,” Cutsinger said. “The county has a long way to go, but boy, this is definitely a refreshing start to getting that debris out of there. It just feels like, you know, day in and day out we’re getting things done.”
The county commissioner said he would continue the appeals process to get debris removed from the other 20 remaining parks and any other communities in dire need.
In the meantime, never having to see the giant pile of trash outside their home again is something the Brianes said they’re very thankful for this Thanksgiving holiday.
“No words can express how happy we are that this has been done,” Kelly said.
“Thank you, United States from Canada, and thank you for the people who said yes, they would clean it up. Thank you,” John said.
FEMA said it will continue to work closely with state and local governments to identify communities in need of special accommodations for hurricane-related debris cleanup and assistance.