Waiting game

Published 10:15 am Tuesday, July 11, 2017

WINDSOR – Even though $6 million in hazard mitigation program funds have been allocated for Bertie County and the Town of Windsor in the wake of last year’s severe flooding, the waiting game isn’t over for those impacted.

At a special work session held by the Bertie County Board of Commissioners here Monday morning, Chairman John Trent advised those whose properties have been approved for either complete buy-out or elevation through the state program that more “patience” is needed.

“For those families who have experienced flooding, and in some cases as many as four times in the past 17 years, we realize how difficult and frustrating this past year has been for you,” said Trent as he opened the session that was also used as an update for other issues related to the flood. “For those of you who experienced Hurricane Floyd and flooding from Tropical Storm Nicole, this must seem like a never ending nightmare.

“It has been less than 30 days since the county Board of Commissioners and the Town of Windsor met to adopt a joint resolution to assist with the hazard mitigation program and today we will receive a briefing on the process, the anticipated schedule and the distribution of funds for the impacted properties,” Trent added.

He continued by saying, “As you have seen in newspaper reports, Bertie County and the Town of Windsor have received an allocation of $6,000,000. The money is still sitting in Raleigh and there are a few more steps that are necessary before the funds are distributed—a process that is likely to take a few more months, and require a lot more patience for our citizens.”

As part of Monday’s session, the commissioners received a progress report on the hazard mitigation program funds from Chris Hilbert of Holland Consulting Planners. That firm, under a joint contract with the county and Windsor, has been charged with the task of handling the mountain of paperwork involved with the NC Emergency Management’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP).

In a story published last week by this newspaper, it was announced that 55 properties (all residential) are eligible for buyout or elevation through HMGP. Of those properties, 30 are in the county while the other 25 are located within the town of Windsor. It was further revealed at Monday’s meeting that 50 of those homes are destined for buy-out while five will be saved and elevated.

Hilbert said NC Emergency Management is asking county/town officials to prioritize the 55 properties and establish the 35 that are the most eligible.

“We have reviewed those files, without a benefit cost analysis which is a complicated program that FEMA requires before they provide funds,” Hilbert said, adding that NC Emergency Management did not provide that analysis, which helps determine priority.

He added that in the absence of such data, the county and town agreed to have Holland look at flooding levels, which he said aligned with how much water was inside a home (at floor level).

“That’s how we established a priority list; which ones had the highest level of water inside their homes,” Hilbert noted, saying there were 20 topping that list (13 were outside of Windsor).

“This $6 million is a significant allocation,” Hilbert stressed. “We feel like in our initial application that this $6 million will cover more than just 35 houses, especially considering that duplication of benefits is not being considered at this point.”

In offering an explanation of how this helps, Hilbert stated that if a HMGP-qualified homeowner had received a check through their flood insurance carrier and had not yet spent that on making repairs, that insurance money will be deducted from the buy-out price.

“In those cases, we will not be spending the full appraisal amount on the buy-out; that frees up more money to do more houses,” Hilbert said.

He added that his firm would be handling all the paperwork on the buy-outs. Those properties, Hilbert said, will be appraised at pre-flood fair market value.

Even if the $6 million stops short of covering all 55 properties, Hilbert said there are other possible pots of money.

“There’s more state money on top of this; there’s potential CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) money,” he observed. “It depends on congressional allocations; it depends on state allocations. They are not guaranteed, but there is hope for future allocations.”

As far as a timeline for the funds to make their way to the county and the town, Hilbert said it is to his understanding that the state, upon receipt of the local documentation from Bertie/Windsor plus all other eastern ‘Carolina towns and counties impacted by severe flooding from Hurricane Matthew, will submit a formal application to FEMA.

“It has to go through the process, and I don’t know exactly how long the timeline is, but they’re saying they will expedite this,” Hilbert stated.

As reported in last week’s story, once the priority list is submitted to the state, there is a 90 to 120-day review period for FEMA before the funds are released.

There were a combined 102 HMGP applications submitted by the Bertie County and the Town of Windsor, but only 55 were initially approved.

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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