Waiting Game

Published 11:25 am Thursday, October 20, 2016

WINTON – Loria Williams is hoping that the phone will ring any minute now.

Ditto for Chris Smith.

To date, neither the Hertford County Manager nor the county’s Emergency Management Director respectively have fielded a call, text or email from FEMA in regards to designating the county as a disaster area in the wake of damage inflicted by Hurricane Matthew. Such designation is needed for county citizens to qualify for federal aid as well as for the county to recoup the money it has expended to date in dealing with storm-related issues.

“Nothing as of yet,” said Williams on Wednesday afternoon, referencing possible FEMA assistance. “We have learned there will be a flyover of our county and two other counties nearby on Thursday. Perhaps that will help us gain federal designation, but right now I can’t say for sure.”

The topic of FEMA designation was discussed on several fronts Monday night at a regularly scheduled meeting of the county’s Board of Commissioners.

“You saw your neighborhood during and after the hurricane, but we saw all the neighborhoods with water up in the houses, and Harrellsville totally cut off from the rest of the county due to flooded roads on all sides,” said Commission Chairman Ronald Gatling while addressing an overflow crowd in attendance at that meeting.

“We saw the water; we saw the trees across roads; we saw yards that were nothing but water,” Gatling added. “In my yard alone, the further I walked to the back, the deeper it got; all the way to my waist. Two days after the storm, the golf course (Beechwood Country Club) and the homes there flooded due to the rise in the Potecasi Creek. Highway 11 was shut down.”

Gatling continued by saying, “And we were lucky, look at Bertie County, Robeson County, Pitt County, Edgecombe County, Craven County, Lenoir County…..we’re blessed compared to what happen to our neighbors.  But we’re still in need of federal assistance. We need FEMA to come in and help our citizens who were flooded by this hurricane. Those without flood insurance need help.”

Commissioner Curtis Freeman encouraged those suffering property damage that it’s not too late to report it.

“If you had damage to your home or property, call our Emergency Management office (252-358-7861),” Freeman remarked. “We need this data so that the federal government will come in and do something here.”

Williams said there have been 81 notifications countywide of potential damage as a result of the hurricane.

“What we do internally in those cases is we have a damage assessment team that is made up of the tax assessor’s office and the tax collector’s office; they go out and make visits to these reports of damage for verification and document those damages as severe, moderate or mild.  Photographs are taken for documentation,” Williams said.

She added that reimbursement, whether it’s individual assistance or public assistance, hinges on being declared as eligible for FEMA.

“We are in the stages of gathering this information to be placed in a database in an effort that once we are declared, if that time does come, we have all that legwork completed,” Williams noted.

In the meantime, Hertford County citizens are currently in the process or have completed the process of cleaning up their yards and their homes from damages. There are questions from county residents about inspection fees (for home repair) and tipping fees (for storm debris disposal).

“Whether we’re declared or not, we need to consider waiving those fees for those impacted by the hurricane and those properties have been properly identified by our staff,” Williams said.

“Homeowners that were affected, they will be tearing out the damage incurred, they will have debris that needs to be disposed of. I feel it’s in this board’s best interest to help these citizens as much as you can by waving these fees,” said Smith.

Smith added that upon disposal of that debris, records need to be kept of its weight in order for the county to be reimbursed of those tipping fees should FEMA include Hertford County in its disaster declaration.

“If we’re not declared, the county will not be reimbursed for these fees,” he said.

It was noted that vegetative debris (trees, limbs, bushes, etc.) can be disposed of on county property, therefore there is no tipping fee. Housing construction material is a different matter. Those materials will be taken to the county’s transfer station and then hauled to the landfill in Bertie County. Hauling fees and tipping fees are incurred in those cases.

On motion from Freeman, the commissioners voted in favor of waiving inspection and tipping fees for those citizens who suffered storm damages and are verified by the county’s assessment team.

“People can still call in with their damages,” Smith stressed. “We’ll add those to our list and that much is done if we are declared.”

In a similar matter related to floodwaters from two recent storms, Gatling said he had signed a letter to North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory as the county seeks assistance to prevent the severity of flooding from the Ahoskie Creek during future storms.

“We are requesting immediate assistance to clean out Ahoskie Creek. We definitely need the state and the federal government to step us and help us. The Ahoskie Creek needs to be cleared of debris and the channel widened and made deeper,” Gatling stated.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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