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Unneeded ice becomes a Florida headache, cubed

Officials hope to find a taker for the unused hurricane stockpile.

January 07, 2007|Carol J. Williams | Times Staff Writer

MIAMI — Wanted: a charity with lots of freezer space. Or a town in need of flooding.

Neither scenario is likely for Florida's State Emergency Response Team, which confronts a peculiar dilemma imposed by last year's dearth of hurricanes: The agency has almost 9 million pounds of ice cubes worth $1.8 million -- bagged, bundled and costing the state $90,000 a month in storage fees.

The ice was bought and positioned in Jacksonville and Bartow warehouses to be on hand for distribution during electricity outages that never happened.

Water, like most consumables, eventually spoils, and Florida's ice overstock is due for disposal before the June 1 start of the 2007 hurricane season. That approaching use-by date prompted an unusual appeal last week from emergency planners: They asked any nonprofit group eligible for government donations to take the ice off Tallahassee's hands.

There are strings attached, though. The ice is packaged in plastic-wrapped pallets of 360 bags each, so that is the minimum amount the state will part with. Delivery is included, but only if the recipient will take a whole truckload of 22 pallets, or almost 40,000 pounds.

"It's a one-time issue predicated on the very positive fact we did not get hit" by a major storm in the 2006 hurricane season, said Mike Stone, spokesman for the Division of Emergency Management.

A repeat of the overflow won't occur, because state emergency preparedness officials are getting out of the ice storage business, Stone said. The government now contracts with private suppliers throughout the state, like major grocery-store chains, to have sufficient quantities on hand through hurricane season and available for state purchase and public distribution.

But last year's leftovers are still a problem. Under state guidelines governing public spending, the emergency planners can give it only to registered charitable entities or other state agencies, none of which have expressed a need for the frozen surplus that fills 225 truck trailers parked in rented cold storage.

One local public relief group, Lake and Sumter Emergency Recovery of Central Florida, is interested in a share of the stock but hasn't yet nailed down a place to keep it, said Stone.

What will happen if, as seems likely, the demand for freezer-burned ice continues to flag through the winter?

"Eventually, at some point, we would find a way to return it to the earth from whence it came," said Stone, noting that state officials were looking for a drought-plagued corner of the Sunshine State in which to melt away their problem. "On one level, it would be the ultimate recycling project."

carol.williams@latimes.com

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