Gulf County officials have applied six different projects for the state’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, but they were surprised when Gov. Ron Desantis announced that one of them would receive $1 million on Dec. 16, said County Engineer Clayton Smallwood.
Smallwood and County Administrator Michael Hammond are still trying to work out all of the details.
“One of the projects we applied for was to raise that bridge and a stretch of (County Road 30B) that goes underwater, not even during a hurricane, just a high tide with a storm surge of some kind,” Smallwood said. “And so that cuts off basically that Peninsula. And so that project would help keep that road open longer, you know, to get people on and off Indian Pass.”
“That’s what we think it’s for,” he continued, “but all we’ve seen thus far is the press release. We haven’t seen anything from DEO or anything like that.”
The funding was announced during the governor’s visit to Washington and Holmes Counties, where he went over his $12 million plan for communities affected by Hurricane Michael.
In the press release that followed, the Governor’s Office lists projects that the Department of Economic Opportunity will award HMGP grants for by county and amount, but not by the project’s name.
The release reads that Gulf County is to be awarded $1,070,775 for a project that will “protect a critical transportation route from flooding by ensuring a safe evacuation route.”
While the announcement caught county officials off guard, Smallwood said it did not come out of the blue.
“It was a surprise, sort of, kind of,” he said, “But maybe not so much. Because, you know, we applied for HMGP, and then DEO came out and said here’s a grant application that we will pay your match money on your HMGP project. So we applied identically, just like we applied for hmgb, we put in those exact same applications for the match portion, the 25% match portion.”
Smallwood said this process is new for Gulf County. Typically if a county cannot afford the match on a project they receive state funding for, the funding is allocated to a state-wide pool, where it is quickly snatched up by larger, wealthier counties.
“I think it’s along those lines, and it’s a good thing,” Smallwood said. “It’s certainly not a bad thing, it’s a good thing for our county, and it’s a good thing the state has stepped up to pay that match on our behalf, on the small counties’ behalf specifically. That’s not a program we typically can participate in because of the 25% match.”
Several other Gulf County projects have already been approved for HMGP, Smallwood continued, including a safe room at county facilities and placing additional culverts on Doc Whitfield Road. The county is expecting approval on the 30B project in the coming weeks.
After the projects are approved, all involved parties will need to reach an agreement before design permitting and construction can begin. As a result, Smallwood said that the HMGP projects will likely not be completed for another two or three years.
But the county engineer said he expects to have agreements on the two already approved projects reached early in the new year.