Waiting game

Published 11:19 am Monday, April 3, 2017


WINDSOR – Bertie County Commissioners were informed at their March 20 meeting here that the county could be receiving $289,000 through the Federal Emergency Management Act (FEMA) earmarked to replace and relocate the county’s Emergency Management Services (EMS) Station-One.

The station house has moved twice: first, after Tropical Storm Julia in September. This evacuation led to relocation at the Council of Aging, a county-owned facility on School Street next to the Windsor/Bertie County YMCA. Then, when FEMA moved into town to establish the Disaster Recovery Center following Hurricane Matthew that struck the county 13 days later, EMS Station One personnel were quickly moved to a building at Bertie Early College High School on Governor’s Road. This move came about thanks to the cooperation of the school system and Dr. Julius Walker, who was serving then as interim Bertie County Schools Superintendent.   The County has been invoiced for the first four months of rent at the school and paid $20,000 ($5,000/mo.) to the school system thus far.

The county even made upgrades at the school with improvement to the parking lot, and they pay for all their utilities at the 300 Building where their gear is housed.

At first, FEMA was just waiting to see the county’s lease agreement with Bertie County Schools, which was drafted between Assistant County Attorney Jonathan Huddleston and BCS Attorney Rod Malone.

Now, as of March 24, came word that the county’s FEMA application is back ‘on-hold’ because of two key items in the process. FEMA is questioning documentation submitted by the county over the EMS station move before the arrival of Hurricane Matthew, and have asked why the application’s Proof of Loss the county provided lists all the EMS Station Building’s damaged material being disposed of before Hurricane Matthew.

Needless to say this raised the ire of Bertie County Manager Scott Sauer.

“As the reviewers at the regional level went through our paperwork – which was supervised by FEMA technicians – they questioned expenditures before Matthew struck,” Sauer said in an interview. “We had 12 feet of water that impacted not just the EMS Station but also the (Lawrence Memorial) Library and the Cooperative Extension Office. There we were dealing with that, and 13 days later here comes even more water.”

Sauer called the bureaucratic review at the higher level frustrating.

“They questioned items disposed of from the EMS Building prior to Matthew,” Sauer continued. “We explained they were bandages soaked with not just water, but fuel oil, and even human waste from the sewer system, and we had to throw that stuff away. We couldn’t wait around for FEMA; we had to get our EMS service back up and running.

“We told them we had no idea that another flood would be coming to our community 13 days later in the form of Hurricane Matthew. We are, were and remain committed to meeting our response times for providing Paramedic EMS services to Bertie County citizens 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. We took the immediate action as required to maintain continuity of services,” Sauer stated.

Sauer said they were advised that the application process, to that point, had gone smoothly, and they were just awaiting a signature from the Commissioner, the County Manager, and the County Finance Officer.

“Now we are literally back to square one having to explain the sequence of weather events that impacted our facilities and why we were spending money in a recovery mode prior to Matthew hitting,” he explained. “We didn’t know there would be a hurricane 13 days later, we had no clue.”

Sauer said the county has other options, but that would just delay the process.

“If FEMA ultimately says no, then we will push to be considered through the state process where they have funds for un-met needs,” Sauer noted. “We just really felt based on the initial feedback, and the initial help FEMA gave is in preparing our paperwork, that we had this secured.”

Sauer said numerous FEMA teams have visited the county, and Bertie submitted their documentation for a single weather event.

“All our documentation was put together with that in mind, and every step of the way, when our team would ask questions about the process, they said it would be considered as one event,” the County Manager emphasized. “Now it seems they’ve changed as far as examining our situation.”