Baldwin still waiting on Sally relief

Cities, county owed more than $100 million


BAY MINETTE -- Baldwin County commissioners will meet Thursday, April 8, with state officials in Montgomery to ask for help getting more than $100 million in reimbursement for damage from Hurricane Sally more than six months ago.

Commission Chairman Joe Davis said commissioners will ask the state for help getting money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for money needed by the county and municipalities in Baldwin.

“The four of us and others will be going to Montgomery on Thursday and we’re going to convey the enormous financial burden that’s been placed on our county and our cities by the hurricane disaster and the dollar amounts are staggering and we need serious help in getting revenues presented to us to pay us back for all the things that we paid for,” Davis said.

He said the commission voted Tuesday to extend the county line of credit by $30 million to pay some of the costs from Hurricane Sally.

“That’s a lot of money,” Davis said. “Our 14 cities and towns are pinched as hard as they can be pinched and we need to get help at the state level and the federal level because our people have jumped through all the hoops.”

Hurricane Sally made landfall in Gulf Shores on Sept. 16, 2020. More than 3.5 million cubic yards of debris from the storm in 2020.

On Thursday, April 1, county commissioners, mayors and city officials met in Robertsdale to discuss delays in getting FEMA reimbursements.

Richard Johnson, Fairhope public works director, said federal officials keep asking for new information and threatening to withhold payments.

“Every time they find an objection of one little item, their threat is that if you insist on keeping it there, they'll hold up 100 percent of the project work sheet and thus that's the full reimbursement on that $10 million that the city. Just like everybody else, we had to extend a line of credit to cover as we paid those bills,” Johnson said. “Every time we address what they want changed, it almost appears that two weeks later, they will have some objection to the change that we made.”

Foley Mayor Ralph Hellmich said cities are depending on FEMA to pay the costs of the 2020 storm and to prepare for the upcoming season.

“These people are supposed to be helping us get back on our feet and they’re being a hindrance and we’re coming back on hurricane season and our reserves are depleted,” Hellmich said.

He said the city is still waiting on reimbursement for about $13 million in damage from Sally.

“It's a very big concern from our city. It's very similar to what's going on around the county,” Hellmich said.

Commissioner Charles “Skip” Gruber said federal officials are changing rules as the process continues.

“They’re adding different rules,” Gruber said. “With hurricanes, those are rules that are supposed to apply. You can’t go say we're going to add rules and disqualify you. That's what they're trying to do now. They're trying to push different categories into it that were not there before.”

County Commissioner Jeb Ball, chairman of the county Finance Committee, said the total cost of damage from Sally for the county and municipalities is about $130 million.

Ball said he felt that Alabama was not a priority for a Democratic administration in Washington.

“We’re being hounded because we’re a 100 percent Trump supporting state,” Ball said. “We're getting punished because of us being a red state. This county has hardly gotten any money for anything. We're getting people's funerals paid for now by the federal government if you die of COVID. They’re getting that money first before we get disaster relief for a catastrophic storm.”

Commissioners and mayors said at the April 1 meeting that they hoped to prepare similar statements to be passed by the county and city councils asking for help from the state and FEMA.