Governor seeking SBA disaster declaration for tornado victims

Goal is for federal agency to offer low-interest loans to property owners who were uninsured or underinsured

Gov. Rick Scott. Image courtesy of
Gov. Rick Scott. Image courtesy of

Gov. Rick Scott has recommended a U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) physical disaster declaration for Sarasota County, so owners of property that sustained damage from the Jan. 17 tornado can apply for low-interest disaster loans, Sarasota County Administrator Tom Harmer has notified the County Commission.

If the SBA makes the declaration, Harmer wrote in a Feb. 2 email, the loans would be offered to the owners of businesses or properties that were uninsured or underinsured.

“It is expected that this approval could take up to three days,” the county’s Emergency Services director, Richard Collins, notified county department directors in a Feb. 2 email. “Once a final decision is made by the SBA we will provide further updates,” he wrote in his email to the commissioners.

Scott’s letter — also dated Feb. 2 — to Timothy R.F. Skaggs, director of the Disaster Field Operations Center-East office of the SBA, says the EF-2 tornado with estimated wind gusts of 130 mph “swept through parts of Sarasota County along the southwest Florida coast and caused extensive damage to both residential and commercial properties.”

Scott added that damage assessments indicated “at least two businesses and 24 homes suffered major damage or were destroyed.”

The letter points out that, based on that information and an SBA disaster survey, “the requisite 25 homes or businesses sustained uninsured losses of 40 percent or more of the estimated fair replacement value or pre-disaster market value.” Therefore, he continued, Sarasota County qualifies for a physical disaster declaration.

On Jan. 19, county spokesman Jason Bartolone told The Sarasota News Leader that the most recent figures showed a total of 60 structures sustained damage totaling nearly $12 million.

During a report to the County Commission as part of its regular meeting on Jan. 26, Harmer said 36 homes suffered major damage; one house was destroyed; 13 businesses and homes sustained minor damage; and 62 homes were impacted in other ways by the storm.

A sign for the Excelsior Beach to Bay complex remains down on the Gulf side on Jan. 19. News Leader photo
A sign for the Excelsior Beach to Bay complex remains down on the Gulf side on Jan. 19. News Leader photo

On Jan. 17, Harmer noted, 1,100 properties were assessed.

“We have a streamlined permitting process in place” to assist those making repairs, he pointed out.

Scott pointed out in his letter, “Florida is not seeking a major disaster declaration from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for this event.”

If the SBA issues the declaration, Collins wrote to the department directors, the agency will use Bee Ridge Park as its loan outreach center. That facility is located on South Lockwood Ridge Road.

Harmer also reported to the commissioners on Jan. 26 that county staff already had removed more than 132 tons of debris, and the effort was under way to clean out material that ended up in the Intracoastal Waterway.

Commissioners applauded county staff for the handling of the emergency response — “just a really excellent job,” as Commissioner Paul Caragiulo put it.

Harmer and commissioners also extended their appreciation to the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Power & Light, other municipalities and nonprofit organizations for the assistance they offered.

Although 17,000 residents were without power after the tornado struck, Harmer told the board, that number was down to 180 by 11 a.m. on Jan. 18.

Hundreds of first responders were on Siesta Key a little after 4 a.m. on Jan. 17, Chair Al Maio noted, with heavy winds and rain continuing in the tornado’s aftermath.

The board members directed Harmer to have Collins write letters of appreciation to all the entities that offered support.

Everyone worked so well together, Commissioner Carolyn Mason added. “I think that’s a direct tribute to all of the rehearsals, if you will, that they do in preparation for such an event.”

Although it might seem county staff members “let the guard down a little bit” after hurricane season ends each year, Caragiulo pointed out, “I am just filled with confidence that, if God forbid [any other disaster strikes], we would be totally and completely ready and prepared.”

Gov. Scott's letter to the SBA is dated Feb. 2. Image courtesy Sarasota County
Gov. Scott’s letter to the SBA is dated Feb. 2. Image courtesy Sarasota County