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Florida's Timber Industry, Ravaged By Hurricane Michael, Getting Federal Aid

Florida will get $380.7 million from the federal government to help parts of the timber industry and farms ravaged more than a year ago by Hurricane Michael.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried announced Friday the state has been allocated a disaster-relief block grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for Michael damage, like the one it received for the citrus industry after Hurricane Irma in 2017.Fried’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, working with the Florida Division of Emergency Management, will administer the grants for Michael victims.

Growers still must wait for the funding to be finalized and the state to begin an application process.

RELATED: A Year After Hurricane Michael, Recovery Is Moving Slowly. Some Say Insurance Is To Blame

“In the next coming months, we’re going to be working with our state agencies to make sure we’re getting checks in hand and trees in the ground,” Fried said in a video accompanying the announcement.

Fried spokesman Franco Ripple said Friday the goal is to expedite the funding.

After Category 4 Irma crossed the state in September 2017, Congress in February 2018 approved a $343 million citrus block grant for Florida as part of a disaster-relief package. Irma barreled through major citrus-producing areas of the state, causing widespread damage.

The state Division of Emergency Management didn’t secure the money until September 2018 and --- after a series of application workshops for growers --- the bulk of the funding started to be delivered this year.

The Category 5 Michael, which made landfall in Mexico Beach on Oct. 10, 2018, inflicted an estimated $1.49 billion damages to the agriculture industry in Northwest Florida, of which about $1.3 billion was to the timber industry. It also caused substantial agricultural damage in areas such as South Georgia.

An estimated 550 million trees, weighing 72 million tons, were damaged or destroyed by the storm.

RELATED: ‘Long-Term’ Hurricane Michael Recovery Continues As Anniversary Nears

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue discussed the establishment of the block grant, with a need to accelerate the funding, while appearing in June with Gov. Ron DeSantis at a roundtable discussion in the governor’s mansion.

“We don’t want a bureaucratic hurdle about that, but we want to do things smartly, but honestly and with integrity,” Perdue, a former Georgia governor, said at the time. “Like all of us, when there is free money on the table, everybody dives for it, so we have to make sure we have the right people at the table.”

The Michael-related money is expected to cover the lost value of timber and to help growers clear downed trees and replant. The money will also allow producers to repair and replace irrigation systems damaged by the storm.

Alan Shelby, executive vice president of the Florida Forestry Association, said in a prepared statement the funding “provides the help and the hope that the Panhandle sorely needs right now.”

Appearing before the state Senate Agriculture Committee on Tuesday, Florida Forest Service Director Jim Karels said the funding won’t fully cover loses and repairs.

“It won’t make a landowner whole,” Karels said. “It’s really based on probably less than 50 percent of the value of what was there. But it will give them funding to help reforest, get the land cleaned up.”

Karels estimated it costs $2,000 an acre to clear downed timber.

The block grant is part of $800 million that was announced Friday in disaster relief for Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and North Carolina from $19 billion in disaster-relief funding approved nationwide by President Donald Trump in June.