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West Virginia Legislative Committee updated on recent flood recovery efforts and 2016 issues

By Autumn Shelton, West Virginia Press Association

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – During their Sunday interim meeting, members of the Joint Legislative Committee on Flooding heard about recent flood recovery efforts in McDowell County as well as ongoing efforts to demolish structures damaged in the June 2016 flood – which impacted numerous counties throughout West Virginia. 

Del. Ed Evans, D-McDowell, told committee members that after excessive rainfall led to substantial flooding on July 12, Gov. Jim Justice issued a State of Emergency for McDowell County. However, residents are not receiving the help they need. 

“We have not seen a tremendous response from the state at all, and we have a tremendous amount of flooding that took place,” Evans said. “I will say that some things have happened. For example, the Office of Emergency Services did come down and do some assessment work as recently as two days ago. The 911 office in McDowell County has also done some assessment and the Red Cross was also there doing tremendous work, but a lot of that just included handing out flood buckets, or whatever, not any manpower in any way, shape or form. We also saw VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster)–they came in.” 

Due to the lack of response, Evans said that McDowell County residents are frustrated. 

“I personally have over 150 hours on the ground with these people where the flooding occurred,” Evans continued. “That includes everything from pushing mud with a squeegee to just letting people cry on my shoulder and say ‘what am I going to do now?’” 

Evans stated that he called the state’s congressional leaders seeking assistance, but hasn’t received a call back. 

“Senator Manchin’s office did work with me to get West Virginia American Water to bring their giant water tanker down, even though most of the lines have now been repaired, they are still under boil water advisories. So, that tanker has been a God-send to them.” 

He said he gets daily calls from residents wondering why the National Guard hasn’t responded. 

“The response is, well, it costs $5,000 a day and the local county has to pay for it,” Evans said, adding that some areas of McDowell County may never recover from the devastation. 

He noted that the county could not afford the $5,000 fee if that is the case. 

“We lost somewhere in the neighborhood of two dozen bridges,” Evans continued. “That means people are having to walk across, what I saw, were basically 2×4’s they nailed together to get over to their homes.” 

Evans said he hopes that the state’s response will “happen very quickly.” 

Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, told Evans that it was his understanding that in a declared state of emergency the state would pick up the costs for a National Guard response. He offered to assist the Delegate in any way he could to help “connect the dots.” 

Additionally, Baldwin discussed the efforts made by the recently formed Legislative Subcommittee on Flooding to get American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to demolish structures damaged in the June 2016 flood.

He explained that the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) may be the best agency to administer the demolition program, but an exact cost for all considered properties has yet to be determined. He said he plans to call the subcommittee together to get an estimate.

Scott Mandirola, deputy cabinet secretary of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said that his department was recently allocated $10 million in funding for a pilot program designed to demolish dilapidated structures throughout the state. The project is scheduled to begin in mid-August. 

He noted that if the legislature were to allocate additional ARPA funding through the DEP, it should be earmarked for the sole purpose of demolishing flooded structures.  

Sen. Chandler Swope, R-Mercer, added that this pilot program was designed to tear down any dilapidated structure.

“The reason for that demolition is not relevant, so flood damage or any kind of damage is irrelevant. But, the definition of how it’s to be administered needs clarification.” 

He explained that the DEP will eventually write rules and execute contracts using their administrative power, but that isn’t in place yet. As a result, cities and counties will administer the bid process and use in-house resources through a first round of grants. 

“The day-to-day administration and the documentation of the costs spent will be the responsibility of the city or county that’s receiving the grant,” Swope continued, noting that might change in the future for smaller communities that don’t have the necessary resources. 

Lastly, Jennifer Ferrell, director of the Community Advancement and Development division of the West Virginia Development Office, updated the committee on the status of the remaining $106 million in hazard mitigation funding. 

She said that 18 projects from the first round of applications are in the environmental process.

“We will see some movement on those soon,” Ferrell said. “Not much funding has been drawn down on that yet.” 

The deadline to apply for the second round of applications for those impacted by the June 2016 flood was June 30. Ferrell said they are currently reviewing those applications. 

The counties that had been considered most impacted by the June 2016 flood include Clay, Kanawha, Nicholas and Greenbrier. Additional counties considered impacted by the flood include Fayette, Jackson, Monroe, Pocahontas, Lincoln, Roane, Summers and Webster.

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