State misses another deadline for Hurricane Matthew recovery

Federal money not spent as deadline passes
Updated: Jul. 9, 2018 at 7:03 PM EDT
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RALEIGH, NC (WBTV) - North Carolina Emergency Management leaders have missed another self-imposed deadline in the effort to help repair and replace homes damaged by Hurricane Matthew.

The storm left large swaths of eastern North Carolina under water for days.

Now, nearly two years later, thousands of people are still without homes and businesses in many small communities remain boarded up, despite repeated promises and assurances from senior state leaders that help is on the way.

One such promise came in late April, at a meeting of the North Carolina House Committee on Disaster Recovery. Nick Burk, then a deputy director for recovery with the North Carolina Emergency Management office, told lawmakers his agency hoped to begin construction using a pot of federal money from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development by June 30.

That date has come and gone with no sign of construction starting in the immediate future. This is the second self-imposed deadline Burk presented to the committee in April that has been missed.

North Carolina has been awarded more than $400 million in money from HUD, through what's called community development block grants for disaster recovery, or CDBG-DR.

Previous: NC has spent $0 of $200 million grant to rebuild homes damaged by Hurricane Matthew, report says

Before any CDBG-DR money can be disbursed, the counties in which the money will be spent must complete an environmental impact study. The study must be completed for each county.

State leaders submitted one environmental impact study for the four counties hit hardest by Hurricane Matthew in late 2017 and it was rejected by HUD in January.

On Monday, a spokesman for NCEM said one of the four counties has now had its new, individual study approved.

Robeson County's study was approved last week, Greg Thomas told WBTV in an emailed statement.

Three more counties - Edgecomb, Wayne, and Cumberland - are in the process of completing their studies, Thomas said, and hope to have them finished by August. Thomas said environmental impact studies are now underway in another 18 counties impacted by the storm.

State leaders have offered no explanation as to why one study was submitted originally or why it's taken more than six months to submit new studies after the first one was rejected.

For months, state leaders with NCEM have refused to answer questions on camera from WBTV about the slow pace of hurricane recovery.

Previous: Cooper: Process to fix homes damaged by hurricane 'taking too long'

In June, Governor Roy Cooper promised to have someone from his administration sit down and answer questions on camera. To date, WBTV's requests for an interview have still gone unanswered. A spokesman for Cooper did not respond to multiple messages sent Monday seeking an explanation for why the Governor has not fulfilled his promise to schedule an on-camera interview to discuss hurricane recovery.

Meanwhile, in South Carolina, where state disaster recovery leaders received CDBG-DR funds to aid Hurricane Matthew recovery at the same time as North Carolina, 145 families have been placed back in homes that were damaged by the storm and a total of 459 award letters have been issued.

So far in North Carolina, one family has been granted an exception to receive a reimbursement using CDBG-DR funds.

In his emailed statement Monday, Thomas said roughly 300 families have been identified in Robeson County that are eligible to have their home repaired or replaced.

Thomas also pointed to 558 homes in North Carolina that have been repaired or replaced through a separate federal program administered by FEMA.

"We recognize that disaster recovery is never fast enough. It's a lengthy and complex process that involves many agencies at the federal, state and local level," Thomas said. "However, North Carolina is making significant progress with millions more dollars in projects on the way."

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