Photo by Cpl. Cory Long / Federal Emergency Management Agency / DVIDS

FEMA reimbursement process proves slow

CARTERET COUNTY — More than seven months after Hurricane Florence, local governments are still awaiting the bulk of reimbursement funds for debris cleanup and other immediate recovery efforts from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

In the wake of the powerful September storm, the county and individual towns deployed contractors and in-house staff to remove vegetative debris from roadways and other public spaces. In subsequent debris collection passes, bulk item and construction and demolition debris were also collected.

All told, crews removed millions of cubic yards of debris, shattering previous collection records. Local governments shouldered the initial cost of cleanup, while FEMA reimburses for most debris removal work after the fact.

At the county level, officials estimate they spent about $14.2 million on debris removal following Florence. FEMA recently announced it has approved to reimburse $5.7 million of that.

FEMA spokesperson John Mills said local governments submit reimbursement requests to the agency by project. In some cases, especially with larger projects such as debris removal, the work may be broken up into smaller phases to help speed up the reimbursement process.

Mr. Mills said more funds are likely on the way for the county.

“FEMA is continuing to work with Carteret County on other Hurricane Florence projects, including for debris,” Mr. Mills said.

Assistant County Manager and Finance Director Dee Meshaw said the county broke up debris removal into several different projects and submitted them to FEMA in phases. She said breaking it up made it more manageable for county staff and allowed them to get some money back faster than submitting it all at once.

“If you had to wait for everything to be finished, you’d probably wait at least a year to get anything,” Ms. Meshaw said.

The $5.7 million is the first round of reimbursement funds the county has received, so far.

While debris removal represents the county’s single largest Florence cost, officials hope to also be reimbursed for other projects related to the hurricane, including for emergency services and repairs to some parks, water infrastructure and buildings.

Ms. Meshaw said the county has yet to finish submitting some projects to FEMA, and putting together all the documentation can take a while, as can the subsequent review process.

“It’s a long process,” Ms. Meshaw said. “Government likes one speed – slow.”

Throughout the county, most municipalities are still awaiting FEMA reimbursement for debris removal, as well. While some towns have received reimbursement for other hurricane-related projects, only Cape Carteret, Pine Knoll Shores and Indian Beach have received any funds for debris removal, so far.

Cape Carteret Town Manager Zach Steffey said the town has received two FEMA checks totaling $542,000. Those funds were expedited thanks to state legislators’ efforts because the town was in a financial emergency.

Cape Carteret expects to eventually pay out close to $1.5 million for debris removal and road repairs.

Meanwhile, in Pine Knoll Shores, Assistant Town Manager and Finance Director Julie Anderson said as of Tuesday, the town has received $1 million in FEMA reimbursement. Most of these funds have been for debris removal and emergency protective measures, such as draining flooded streets.

“Most of the (recovery) projects are still in the process (of being completed),” Ms. Anderson said. “We’re hoping to receive the remainder of the debris project and the emergency protective measures reimbursement, $296,000, in the coming few weeks because those projects are completed.”

Ms. Anderson said a beach nourishment project to replace sand lost to the storm along Pine Knoll Shores won’t begin until next fiscal year and repairs to the public safety building, which houses the police and fire departments, will take months to complete. The town will likely ask FEMA for reimbursement for both efforts.

Indian Beach Town Manager Tim White said as of Wednesday, the town has received $129,544 in reimbursement from FEMA.

“For debris removal, we’ve received $95,638,” he said. “For emergency protective measures, we’ve received $33,906.”

Mr. White said they’re still waiting for reimbursement for fire station repairs to the tune of $44,916. He also said he expects the town will receive about $1.2 million in reimbursement for beach nourishment; however, he said this amount hasn’t been confirmed by FEMA yet.

Elsewhere on Bogue Banks, Emerald Isle received $7,000 for a small repair project, but has yet to receive any of the $2.1 million it requested from the agency for debris collection and removal. Interim Town Manager Randy Martin said he’s expecting good news, as FEMA officials said the review went well.

The town also applied for upwards of $49 million from FEMA for replacing sand lost along the 12-mile beach during Florence.

In Atlantic Beach, Town Manager David Walker said town officials have submitted all their filings with FEMA, whose representative visits the county monthly. The town has received about $10,000 to date for repairs to the fire station, but Mr. Walker said they haven’t been given a date for when to expect the remaining $750,000. From experience, he expects it will come sometime this fall.

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