Beyond the ‘freeze’

Published 10:33 am Tuesday, October 3, 2017

WINDSOR – Despite the circumstances affecting other regions this year, much of which is credited with straining the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), disaster recovery for Bertie County continues to be slower than the Bertie County Commissioners would like to see.

At the Commissioners’ September meeting, Chris Hilbert of Holland Consulting was present to reiterate information previously received about a freeze in FEMA funding for Hurricane Matthew victims’ due to the unprecedented damage brought on by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

“There’s a lot going on,” Hilbert said. “Unfortunately, we haven’t seen any money yet.  As part of the long term recovery, we have a number of different pots of money, and the county has applied for some.”

Before the freeze, $1 million was obligated to Bertie County for 17 low-to-moderate homes in need of storm related repairs and income was a factor in each of those applications.

Chris Hilbert of Holland Consulting informs the Bertie County Commissioners at their September meeting that damage from 2017 Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria have caused 2016 Hurricane projects in Bertie County to be placed on hold. | Staff Photo by Gene Motley

“That money was made available by the state, it’s state money,” Hilbert continued.

“Bertie was one of 11 counties that were eligible to apply. We don’t know if we’re getting the money, but we applied for it.”

Hilbert said there’s a list of houses that applications have been taken for, and that Holland has also asked for income figures on those homeowners.

“We’re still taking those applications, as is the town of Windsor, as well,” he informed the Board. “Anybody who still wants to can still apply – and we’re still indentifying more and more funding pots, and we want folks to know that.”

Hilbert reported that additional applications for Bertie County can be submitted to Planning Director, Traci White; and that Windsor’s applications are available at Town Hall.

Additionally, a buyout/elevation program for Bertie County was obligated $6 million by FEMA prior to the freeze, but these funds are on hold right now per the latest FEMA announcement.

“As you’ve heard, that money is frozen due to the other disasters that are going on,” he noted. “Basically, FEMA needs money to operate in disaster recovery mode, so they’re using the monies that are available, and Congress has to allocate more for (these new) disasters.”

North Carolina Emergency Management announced this summer that Bertie County and the Town of Windsor will receive $6 million in aid to recover from Hurricane Matthew.

NCEM reviewed 3,000 buildings within the Matthew destruction zone, of which less than 800 qualified for the program; but of that total, 55 are in the Windsor area.

The money will help property owners who have suffered repetitive flood damage to either get a “buyout” — demolition and acquisition — or elevate their homes as required by the most recent flood plain regulations.

Each property will be evaluated and ranked by Holland.

“The state’s provided a list of people who are eligible in the county and we’re going to contact those people and let them know they are eligible,” he said. “There’re a lot more properties on this list because of two disaster events occurring.”

Hilbert recommended contacting federal officials in Washington, DC to make them aware of the need, as the state has already indicated the town and county will be getting funds for buyout and elevation projects.

“(That money) is not income-based like the applications we submitted (earlier in September),” he reiterated.

The state is looking for a list of the remaining properties – believed to be about 20 locations – whose applications can be submitted for consideration as “unmet needs”.

Once the priority list is submitted to the state, there is a 90 to 120-day review period for the Federal Emergency Management Agency before the funds are distributed.

Bertie County and Windsor officials originally requested $11 million in aid. Officials say they will continue seeking funds for all eligible properties in the community.

Hilbert said Windsor has two properties that were identified in 2015 as seeking to become elevation projects.

“This is long before the floods of last fall,” he acknowledged. “They were based on flood insurance, which is noteworthy, because if you don’t have flood insurance you’re not eligible for this program.  The federal government will try to mitigate you if you have flood insurance because they don’t want to keep paying out claims.”

Hilbert said over the next couple of months, Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding public hearings will be held.

“There’s some different parameters on that (CDBG monies), because it gives us the ability to spend a little more on housing,” he said.  “But you’ve also got about 40 counties fighting for the money; whereas with this one you’ve got 11.  There is a lot of CBGB money that’s coming to the state, but there’s four counties identified to receive 80 percent of it (Edgecombe, Cumberland, Robeson, and Wayne).  That comes from HUD, which told the state how much money will be spent, so everybody’s fighting over the other 20 percent.”

Hilbert said the Golden Leaf funds (such as for the County Library) have been released, so applicants for those funds are available for reimbursement.