ELIZABETHTOWN — A disaster recovery center operated by FEMA is preparing to open here, Bladen County commissioners were told Monday.
The DRC, as they are typically known, would be opening at the Powell-Melvin Agricultural Center, 450 Smith Circle in Elizabethtown. Bradley Kinlaw, director of Emergency Management, shared the information in his report to the board.
The news was the last of significance related to Hurricane Florence during a meeting three minutes shy of three hours. No individuals or delegations came forward to address the commissioners, somewhat of a surprise given the tension-filled Bladenboro council meeting from a week earlier.
Commissioners did not have their second September meeting because of the storm and on this night drilled through a lengthy agenda. Included was action to support the Board of Elections, approval of a comprehensive parks and recreation plan, reception of the State of the County health report, and two changes and one no-change to the meeting schedule.
Proclamations were given for National 4-H Week on Oct. 7-13 and for domestic violence awareness.
Commissioners will meet early, at 4 p.m., on Oct. 15 to get a more defined concept of how the county will be coordinated in helping residents recover from Florence. The storm made landfall Sept. 14 about 7:15 a.m. near Wrightsville Beach, hovered between Wilmington and Myrtle Beach for about three days, and left Bladen County with two to three feet of rainfall.
Kelly, Bladenboro, White Oak and Clarkton were among the most damaged by flooding.
The dike in Kelly was subject of much discussion. A tax assessment was asked for and granted in 1961 by residents in that area; more than $35,000 from that remains available to help repair the 14-mile earthen embankment that protects the community from the Cape Fear River.
That sum, however, will hardly be enough to even patch the dike. Several places had leaks, water came around the ends, and Kinlaw said earlier a hole large enough for two tractor-trailer rigs to drive through side by side had been created.
Commissioners asked for research into land ownership around it, potential assistance from the Army Corps of Engineers, and whatever can be learned about past regulation of the dike to include inspection and how it came to no longer be inspected or the responsibility of the Corps.
Commissioners Ray Britt, Michael Cogdell, Arthur Bullock and Dr. Ophelia Munn-Goins shared praise for county department leaders, in particular Kinlaw, in regard to storm response. County Manager Greg Martin also lauded the work of Kinlaw and many entities.
Commissioners relaxed the fee for an inspection permit required by power companies to restore electricity to buildings damaged by the storm. The state constitution forbids such a fee from being waived; commissioners wanted to waive it but instead will reduce it from $50 to $1 in those situations.
They also unanimously approved Robeson County joining the hazard mitigation plan that includes Bladen and Columbus counties.
An early portion of the meeting with FEMA representatives included an update on what the federal agency, working with Kinlaw and his staff, have done in the county.
“You do have some areas that are worse off than others. We were in Kelly a good deal of the time, and they’re crawling back to normalcy. The flood waters are receding,” said Bill Schmidt, a division supervisor.
He said FEMA’s thrust is to get people registered.
“The message has morphed,” Schmidt said. “It used to be register, register, register. Now it’s check with your insurance company, and then register. The reason is because the first question is what does insurance cover. We can’t duplicate payments.”
Schmidt explained the transition is ongoing from response to recovery. Flooding, he said, seems to be worse than when Hurricane Matthew hit Bladen County on Oct. 8, 2016.
Those with flood damage can contact FEMA toll free at 800-621-3362 (800-621-FEMA) or online at disasterassistance.gov. The DRC will have translators available to help the Spanish-speaking population, the FEMA representatives said.
Cogdell queried Schmidt on whether Matthew victims, who still had not received hazard mitigation assistance, should reapply or perhaps do something else.
“Mitigation is a state-run piece,” Schmidt said. “But they would still register. Whether they will get paid for damages in Matthew that reoccur here, I don’t know. Once you have a registration number, that’s gold. You can go online and see where you’re at, or go into the office and say here’s my number, how does it stand?”
Britt asked about a town like Bladenboro and prospects of helping merchants there relocate. Schmidt said if the state purchases the property, as can be done through a part of mitigation, the town would lose the tax base on it forever. He said there are ways for FEMA to help privately owned small businesses.
Some type of mobile units for housing are expected to be available in Kelly and Bladenboro, Schmidt said. The timeframe is unclear.
Commissioners were also given an update on efforts to combat mosquitos. Spraying is ongoing, and more dunks will soon be available. Residents are strongly urged to get rid of standing water, such as that which collects in old tires, bird baths and the like.
There was no discussion of roads or the U.S. 701 bridge over the Cape Fear River, where a logjam has developed that required closing the southbound span of the bridge in preparaiton for workers to remove the debris.
The commissioners moved a dementia training session to the Dec. 3 meeting date, ahead of their regularly scheduled gathering. They also decided the Nov. 5 meeting, the night before Election Day, would not change; an alternative of the following Monday coincides with Veterans Day.
Commissioners in Bladen County on Monday proclaimed Oct. 7-13 as National 4-H Week. Several members of the county’s chapter were on hand for the reading of the proclamation.
FEMA’s Bill Schmidt, a division supervisor, and Elisa Roper answered questions and provided an update to Bladen County commissioners Monday night.
Alan Wooten can be reached at 910-247-9132 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @alanwooten19.