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New standards delay Pasco hurricane shelter

HUDSON — Nearly two years ago, Pasco secured up to $7.6-million to build a regional hurricane shelter that could withstand winds up to 160 mph.

Then last November, the Federal Emergency Management Agency began requiring that hurricane shelters nationwide meet wind speeds up to 200 mph. That could add another $4.2-million to the cost of the Hudson shelter, but the federal government isn't doling out any extra dollars.

So state legislators and emergency management officials are now arguing the Hudson shelter should be exempt from those stiffer design standards, which they say applies more to severe tornadoes, not hurricanes.

"In the middle of the game, they've changed the rules," said state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. "We've not ever seen storms come through at 200 mph."

Fasano said that 200 mph standard could add $4.2-million to the Hudson shelter price tag. Dan Johnson, an assistant county administrator, said that figure is an estimate, and county officials are still waiting on bids to see if contractors could deliver a building under the 200 mph standard within the original $7.6-million budget.

John Cherry, spokesman for the state Division of Emergency Management, said the change in federal rules is causing significant delays in building the shelter.

"The division was developing a white paper to ask FEMA to waive the standard in Florida," Cherry wrote in an e-mail to Fasano. "If this waiver is not granted, we have already been in contact with the governor's Washington office staff on engaging the congressional delegation on this issue. They have agreed to do so."

If FEMA agrees the higher standard can be waived, state and county officials won't need any more money to build the shelter.

But Fasano isn't betting the house on that outcome. He wants to secure another $1.1-million out of the state budget he oversees to complete the shelter.

If Fasano can secure more state dollars, the shelter could be built without any federal money, so FEMA's 200 mph standard would no longer be an issue. The county's plans for a shelter that could withstand 160 mph would slightly exceed American Red Cross guidelines.

"My goal is not to wait for the federal government to grant a waiver," Fasano said Monday. "Who knows how long that would take?"

Chuin-Wei Yap can be reached at cyap@sptimes.com or (813)

909-4613.

New standards delay Pasco hurricane shelter 03/10/08 [Last modified: Monday, March 10, 2008 9:01pm]
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