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Federal disaster aid could help fund Bishop Creek repairs

This is a view of the Keller family’s property in Safety Harbor, where Bishop Creek flowed into the back yard after a rainstorm. Heavy rain during Tropical Storm Debby washed out retention walls and brought down fencing in back yards along the creek.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

This is a view of the Keller family’s property in Safety Harbor, where Bishop Creek flowed into the back yard after a rainstorm. Heavy rain during Tropical Storm Debby washed out retention walls and brought down fencing in back yards along the creek.

SAFETY HARBOR — City officials are hopeful that federal dollars funneling into Florida in the wake of Tropical Storm Debby will make it easier to fund repairs to property along eroding Bishop Creek.

This week Pinellas County was added to a list of Florida counties eligible for federal Public Assistance grants for damage related to the storm, which raked Florida's west coast in late June.

Local governments must apply for the funding, which can be used for debris removal, emergency protective measures, and repair and replacement of damaged publicly owned facilities.

But city officials' hope that some money might be available for Bishop Creek repairs was tempered with caution.

"It's not like Pinellas County got a truck of money in," said Brad Purdy, public communications manager for Safety Harbor. "I really don't think the process changes all that much."

On Monday night, the Safety Harbor City Commission approved $150,000 in repairs to a residential property damaged by Bishop Creek erosion. After the meeting, the city decided to add another $100,000 worth of repairs to other spots up and down the 14-mile creek.

City officials planned to seek reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist with those costs, but the reimbursement process can be laborious and take years.

That the federal government has stepped up to offer funding to Florida counties may make the process easier. A FEMA applicant's briefing will be held in the weeks to come, when local governments will learn what they have to do to apply for funding. Meanwhile, Joan Keller, 76, owner of the Safety Harbor property slated to receive most of the immediate repairs, said the damage is getting worse every rainy day.

"After yesterday's rain, that part of the back yard ... has dropped another five or six inches," Keller said Thursday.

But Mayor Andy Steingold said the announcement should be encouraging for those who live along the creek.

"The potential is great, especially in that one area that we're going to attempt to remediate immediately," he said.

Keller said she won't know what to think until the city begins repairs to her back yard.

"I think we're getting to be in an emergency situation," she said. "The rain's not going to stop."

Andy Thomason can be reached at (727) 445-4155 or athomason@tampabay.com. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Federal disaster aid could help fund Bishop Creek repairs 07/19/12 [Last modified: Thursday, July 19, 2012 7:48pm]
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