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Florida Contractors Feel Manpower and Materials Strains in the Storm’s Wake 

Insurance companies, homebuilders, and city and county officials are still assessing residential and commercial building damage after Hurricane Irma tore through South Florida on Sept 10, but in general, the stricter building codes enforced after Hurricane Andrew did their job. 

“Florida has the strongest wind-load building code in the United States, and by and large the code is paying dividends,” says Peter Dyga, president and CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors’ (ABC) Florida East Coast Chapter, located in Coconut Creek. “But hurricanes are very powerful storms. Property damage is 25 times worse for a Category 4 storm and 50 times worse for a Category 5 storm than the damage caused by a weaker Category 2 storm.”

The Tampa Bay area was largely spared, and flooding in Miami fully receded by Sept. 11 due to the city’s drainage system. 

Some of Irma’s most severe damage occurred in the Florida Keys, with upward of 90 percent of the homes destroyed in some areas, as well as ongoing disruption of the power distribution network and overseas highway. As a result, considerable repair and reinvestment is needed for The Conch Republic’s utility, horizontal and civil infrastructure.

Notably, three cranes partially collapsed in Miami and Fort Lauderdale Beach, causing no injuries. The investigation into the cause of the failures, which could be related to anything from tornadic winds to maintenance or operator error, has not been concluded, according to Dyga.

Immediately following the storm, Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s office reached out to ABC to seek input on what rules, regulations and fees could be suspended or modified to enable the most prompt and efficient recovery effort. The governor subsequently ordered regulatory agencies to suspend or relax certain permitting, inspection and fee requirements, one of which allows commercial contractors and general contractors to step in and help with residential roofing repairs, which is one of the most pressing needs to help prevent further damage from water intrusion.

In Miami, with many areas nearby under mandatory evacuation orders, Munilla Construction Management (MCM) opened its corporate office as a shelter for employees and their families. Located in an elevated building with strong walls, and situated between neighboring hospitals and fire departments, MCM provided a safe space and peace of mind to those who really needed it. 

“We felt so safe during Hurricane Irma,” says MCM Project Executive Gredel Del Toro. “All we could think was how lucky we were to have been given the opportunity to bring our families here.” 

MCM, a family-owned and operated general contractor, also partnered with the United Way of Miami-Dade to deliver food to elderly residents at Robert King High Towers.

In Broward County, Kaufman Lynn Construction—which has five Florida offices, including headquarters in Boca Raton—teamed up with the United Way to collect food and personal items to be donated to impacted communities. According to CEO Michael Kaufman, Irma proved Kaufman Lynn’s hurricane preparedness plan was on point. Ahead of the storm, the company fully secured jobsites to eliminate the chance of projectile debris, as well as distributed satellite phones to company leaders to ensure communication channels remained open. Additionally, numerous personnel were evacuated with trucks so they could haul back trailers and supplies, if necessary. 

“We sustained only minor damage and zero water intrusion, and all projects are back to pre-storm scheduling and productivity,” Kaufman says. “We anticipate materials price increases, but not shortages. Skilled labor was a challenge before the storm and will remain an issue for the foreseeable future.”

On the state’s west coast, Collier and Lee counties suffered wind and flood damage in low-lying and mobile home communities, as well as moderate roof damage to homes and businesses, extensive tree and fencing damage, and issues with power and sewer systems. DeAngelis Diamond, headquartered in Naples, had ample time to implement its hurricane preparedness plan, including emptying dumpsters and securing materials, temporary restrooms, fencing, windscreen and scaffolding.

“Our jobsites fared extremely well,” says Brian Hood, director of field operations for DeAngelis Diamond. “All projects were back up and running seven to 10 days after Hurricane Irma’s arrival, but it took a little longer for jobs to be running at pre-storm performance levels. That week after Irma allowed time for team members and subcontractors to deal with their personal issues, meet with clients and assist in community relief efforts.”

Looking ahead, Hood anticipates roofing, drywall, carpentry and flooring contractors will be in high demand for reconstruction work—creating manpower shortages and potential price increases to current and future projects. “Material lead times will increase as well, and potentially create challenges for construction schedules,” he adds. “Building departments also will feel the strain as demands for permitting and inspections increase.”

Petroleum supplies and reserves took a big hit as well, according to Steve Cona III, president and CEO of ABC’s Tampa-based Florida Gulf Coast Chapter. “Florida might have the best building codes in the world, but roads, electrical and water infrastructure were heavily impacted by this hurricane,” he says. “The biggest lesson learned would be for significant infrastructure investment.” 

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