CALHOUN COUNTY, Fla. — Nearly six months after Hurricane Michael tore through the Florida Panhandle, many elected officials continue to push for state and federal hurricane relief for the region.
On Friday, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and a bipartisan group of state lawmakers visited rural northwest Florida communities still struggling in the aftermath of the deadly storm.
They toured the property of Calhoun County timber farmer Jimmy Suggs, whose family has been growing trees and raising cattle since the 1930s. Suggs is now facing the prospect of having to give up the land.
“You’re probably looking at maybe $2000 per acre minimum to clear this, and we don’t have any timber to sell to pay for that. My pockets just aren’t that deep, and neither are many other people in this area," said Suggs. "They just can’t afford it. I don’t know what we’ll do.”
Decades old slash pines reaching maturity at Suggs’ farm were wiped out by Hurricane Michael.
Commissioner Fried says the trip to the grove is intended to get the message back to legislative leadership on the need to meet her agency’s request of $39 million to help growers and prepare for anticipated spring and summer wildfires.
“We need to make sure we are taking care of our friend up here in the panhandle, and to do everything that we can to push the federal government and get a disaster package from the state. We need to be taking care of our citizens up here. Seeing this firsthand, there’s just no words," said Fried.
So far, Fried says the budgets from both the Florida House and Senate are short of her funding request, which includes money for wildfire suppression equipment, a new helicopter, forestry road and bridge repairs, and forestry facility repairs and replacements.
To date, the state has already spent about $1.6 billion responding to the Hurricane Michael, most of which they anticipate will be reimbursed by the federal government.