Half-million-plus reasons to smile

Published 11:24 am Thursday, June 22, 2017

WINDSOR – A light rain fell across Windsor and portions of Bertie County early Tuesday afternoon, but still there was a reason to smile.

Over a half-million reasons to be precise.

During a scheduled meeting in Windsor with local, state and federal officials, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper announced the state is joining with FEMA to award grants in excess of $500,000 to Bertie County in its ongoing recovery efforts from two major flooding events over a 13-day span in late September and early October of last year.

The $300,000 state grant coupled with $284,299 in FEMA funds will assist the county in replacing EMS Station One that was severely flooded at its downtown Windsor location during Mother Nature’s one-two punch some nine months ago.

“We are announcing these grants to help build a new EMS building here in Bertie County,” Cooper remarked to a huge round of applause of those gathered inside the Commissioners meeting room in the county’s Administration office.

“This is just a start; there’s a lot more to do, and I know that Golden Leaf Foundation has provided some money and you’re working towards securing funds for your library and Cooperative Extension office,” the Governor added.

The infrastructure Cooper mentioned all suffered major flood damage from both Tropical Storm Julia (the week of Sept. 19, 2016) and 13 days later when Hurricane Matthew arrived.

“There are a great number of people still hurting from (Hurricane) Matthew,” Cooper noted. “On top of that, the people here in Bertie County and Windsor were already dealing with the effects of another storm (Tropical Storm Julia) before Matthew. It was water on top of water.

“What we’re dealing with here is working very hard to provide as much resources from the federal government, from state government, and from non-profits to help you,” he added.

As part of his Tuesday trip to Bertie County, Cooper joined local officials on a tour in Windsor, which included stops at the now empty Lawrence Memorial Library and the temporary quarters of EMS Station One. The Governor also met face-to-face with Bunn’s Barbecue owner Randy Russell at the famous eatery in downtown Windsor that has flooded on numerous occasions, and visited with another flooding victim in town.

Local county and municipal officials at Tuesday’s meeting thanked the Governor for the grant funds and also shared other concerns they have in the flood recovery efforts.

“This is the type of commitment Bertie County has been waiting on for nine months,” said John Trent, Chairman of the Bertie County Board of Commissioners, who added his personal thanks to other state officials, to include NC Emergency Management, as well as to FEMA representatives.

“This money is a shot in the arm for all of Bertie County; this is the news we’ve been waiting for,” Trent continued. “People here have been through a lot; two storms in 13 days, which left flooding here in Windsor, over in Colerain, over on School Road, and elsewhere in our county.”

Trent said the county just signed a lease for a temporary home for the Lawrence Memorial Library and were looking for a new permanent facility to house Cooperative Extension.

Windsor Mayor Jimmy Hoggard said he and town officials were very appreciative of the Governor sending his staff in advance to gain a better understanding of the needs the municipality has in its recovery efforts.

Hoggard provided hazard mitigation numbers to the Governor, saying there are 86 properties (51 in Windsor alone) that have been identified for acquisition (buy-outs) and 16 properties (12 in town) in need of elevation to prevent future flood damage.

The total financial request for those 102 properties is $11.45 million. And that does not take into consideration of the agricultural losses from last year’s back-to-back storms…..upwards of $14 million.

“Included in those are 26 commercial properties, which have received no help thus far,” Hoggard stressed.

“That’s money we have to keep fighting for; as of right now only about one-third of the hazard mitigation grant funds requested by all counties impacted by Hurricane Matthew has been approved,” Cooper stated. “It’s so hard to prioritize these requests.”

The Mayor added that the town’s aging sewer system took a big hit due to both flooding events last year.

“We’ve dug up our streets to make repairs, but some (pipes) are still collapsing,” Hoggard said. “We also need to relocate our electrical service operation.”

The Governor mentioned that people in Windsor and Bertie County, as well as others in the eastern portion of the state, are on “pins and needles when it rains hard.”

“You get concerned when that water comes down,” he said. “You watch that river (Cashie) as it rises. You know that you need some updated, new flood maps for the river.”

Cooper said he wanted to bring in the Army Corps of Engineers as well as partner with members of US Congress and US Senate to help state and county officials look at possible ways to prevent major flooding events in the future.

“It will not be an overnight thing, but there are things we can do long-term that will help,” the Governor stated. “The mapping will help a lot so you can plan ahead to save lives and property.”

As an eastern ‘Carolina native (Rocky Mount area), Cooper said he can easily relate to the challenges that many face in this part of the state, to include improvements in education, workforce training, affordable housing and high-speed internet.

“That’s the infrastructure you need here to attract business and industry and better paying jobs,” the Governor remarked. “Having grown up in eastern North Carolina, I know the positives that are here; I know the people better, but the challenges remain and it didn’t take a flood to put a spotlight on the problems that already existed.

“We want to continue to work with you,” Cooper said. “I still feel the frustration of the victims of these two storms, the residents and business owners. We have to do more from the state and federal levels to help those in need from these storms and in prevention of damage in the future.

“The people of this county and town are resilient; you’ve been through this before and you have a positive, can-do attitude. I’m going to take that attitude back to Raleigh and keep pounding on our state legislature and Congress to do all that can be done to help you folks,” Cooper concluded.

After the meeting, Trent was still ecstatic over the Governor’s announcement of financial assistance for the county and town.

“Rebuilding our EMS station is great,” he said. “We had to relocate it out at the old Southwestern Middle School; which increases our emergency medical response time. We’ll now be able to build a new station on County Farm Road; that alone increases our response time by eight minutes, and you and I know that every second counts when a life is hanging in the balance.

“This is a new beginning for Bertie County as we move forward on our new EMS Station One building, and new quarters for our library and Cooperative Extension,” he added.

Previously, Bertie County local government was awarded a $500,000 grant from the Golden Leaf Foundation for the planning, engineering and architectural design of a new building that will jointly serve as the Cooperative Extension Office and the new home of the Lawrence Memorial Public Library.

Additionally, the county received a separate Golden Leaf Foundation grant in the amount of $72,707 that will be used for a feasibility study aimed at preventing future flooding in the Cashie River Basin.

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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