Debbie Wasserman Schultz is again pressing Gov. Rick Scott on his decisions about debris removal in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.
The South Florida Democrat says she was already perplexed about why the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM) refused to submit to FEMA local requests for full reimbursement. The local communities were forced to pay higher rates when other debris removal companies refused to honor lower rate contracts entered into before the storm, she said.
Now, Wasserman Schultz writes in a letter to Scott, she is “dumbfounded” to hear reports of the Governor’s office entering into contracts for debris removal in Monroe County at costs far higher than those pre-storm negotiated rates.
“Communities throughout Florida deserve an explanation, they deserve to have their debris removed expeditiously, and they deserve assurance that they will not be taken advantage of by those seeking to gain windfalls from the suffering of others — windfalls that reportedly your administration is unnecessarily paying,” writes Wasserman Schultz, who represents Florida’s 26th Congressional District.
Co-signing the letter were five other Democrats in Florida’s congressional delegation: Tampa’s Kathy Castor, South Florida’s Alcee Hastings and Fredericka Wilson, and Orlando-area freshmen Val Demings and Darren Soto.
There have been widespread complaints around the state about the delays in picking up debris after Irma barreled through the state last month.
In several cases, debris cleaning companies — mostly in North and Central Florida — bolted communities where they had existing contracts with local governments, leaving them for other jurisdictions where they could make more money.
It is the second time in the past week Wasserman Schultz questioned Scott about his handling of debris removal. Last Wednesday, the two got into a spirited exchange after the Broward/Miami-Dade-area congresswoman said Scott deserves some of the blame for the piles of debris remaining in front of homes throughout Florida.
At that meeting, Scott dismissed her complaints, saying that he was looking out for taxpayers by refusing to go along with paying much higher rates to companies that don’t live up to their agreements.
“I’m always going to stand on the side of taxpayers and consumers,” he told the delegation, “not on the side of somebody who wants to make extra money after a disaster.”
Wasserman Schultz also complained to Scott during the meeting that her office contacted his D.C. office several times by phone and email, to no avail.
Scott said he had no evidence that the congresswoman had tried to contact him.
Early Tuesday evening, a spokesperson for Scott strongly push backed on the Democrats complaints.
“After the storm, the Governor heard from many local communities, including Monroe County, that many of these companies were not providing the agreed upon service and were demanding higher prices. This is unacceptable,” said spokesperson Lauren Schenone.
“Monroe County asked for additional help to pick up debris following the storm. FDOT went above and beyond the requirements of Florida law and bid the contract to supplement their debris removal. Any other suggestion is false. Governor Scott will continue to fight for consumers – not businesses who attempted to take advantage of their communities after this massive and deadly storm.”