TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami) – Six Democratic members of Congress are demanding answers from Governor Rick Scott regarding an emergency contract for debris removal in the Florida Keys.
“(W)e were dumbfounded by reports that your administration, following non-public bidding, entered into contracts for debris removal in Monroe County at rates far higher than those negotiated before the hurricane,” the group wrote in a letter dated October 17.
The letter was signed by the following House members: Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Weston), Kathy Castor (D-Tampa), Alcee Hastings (D-West Palm Beach), Frederica Wilson (D-Miami Gardens), Darren Soto (D-Kissimmee), and Val Demings (D-Jacksonville).
Click here to read the letter.
The letter follows a CBS4 News investigation that uncovered the emergency debris removal contract. At the time it was issued, Governor Scott was publicly claiming his Administration was holding the line on costs and demanding debris removal firms not raise their rates.
CBS4 News however found the Governor did not hold himself or his Administration to that same standard. As a result, taxpayers will end up spending millions – if not tens of millions – more on debris removal in the Florida Keys.
It also may have had the unintended consequence of delaying clean up and raising prices in other parts of the state.
On September 12, two days after Hurricane Irma made landfall in the lower Keys, the Governor’s transportation secretary, Mike Dew, quietly issued an emergency Invitation to Bid to only a handful of companies asking them to come up with a new set of prices to remove debris from the Florida Keys.
When other firms, with actual experience in debris removal found out and tried to submit bids, their bids were summarily rejected.
The process led to two companies being selected by the Scott Administration – MCM and Community Asphalt. Those firms are being paid anywhere from three to ten times more to do the same work that another debris removal firm, AshBritt, is doing under a separate agreement the firm has with Monroe County.
Take for example refrigerators. Thousands of refrigerators were destroyed in the Keys because of Hurricane Irma. Under its contract with Monroe County, AshBritt receives, between $73 and $114, for every refrigerator it hauls away.
Under the Governor’s emergency DOT contract, Community Asphalt is paid $250 to remove a refrigerator from the Keys while MCM is paid as much as $969.
The members of Congress who wrote Scott noted that the Governor was blocking cities around the state from being reimbursed by FEMA if those cities paid more than the rates in their pre-hurricane contracts.
“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,” the letter states.
They asked the Governor to respond to the following question: “Why is your administration refusing to facilitate reimbursement for many local jurisdictions’ debris removal costs above pre-disaster rates, yet paying similarly and in some cases much more excessive high rates for debris removal in other jurisdictions where contractors were willing to honor existing contracts at lower rates?”
Lauren Schenone, a spokesperson for Governor Rick Scott, issued this statement:
“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. 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.”