State Senate OKs flood funds plan
By Scott Nicholson
Watauga County could be receiving several million dollars in additional flood clean-up money after the state Senate approved a $214.5 million flood relief package Thursday.
The funds are targeted at 26 western North Carolina counties, with Watauga among the five primary recipients. Two hurricanes in October caused flooding, landslides, debris and damage to structures, and Congress passed a flood relief package sending money to hard-hit areas. However, much of the federal money required matching funds, and counties were concerned that they would be stuck with a portion of the clean-up costs.
Gov. Mike Easley had pledged the state to provide local matches for any federal funds, but the Senate boosted his original authorization of $91 million. He had requested an additional $61 million but the Senate doubled that request.
The money will come from the state’s “Rainy Day Fund,” though the package awaits approval from the House of Representatives.
Watauga County manager Rocky Nelson said the county could receive $150,000 from the state as a local match for a community development block grant. The grant would help repair homes damaged by flooding or landslides, particularly in the White Laurel development in Boone.
The county is also assured of receiving a required 25-percent match for about $1.7 million in Emergency Watershed Protection funds. That money source can’t be used for structural repairs, only for landslide and stream bank stabilization and debris clean-up.
According to the Associated Press, the package includes:
n $44.2 million to match grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to move houses and homeowners, replace personal property and assist state and local governments.
n $35.5 million for housing programs, including grants to help pay back Small Business Administration loans and help for homeowners whose homes were not in the 100-year flood plain but were damaged anyway.
n $15.5 million in business loans, including $7 million for loans on which interest and payment will be deferred for three years.
n $8.4 million for agricultural assistance, including state supplements to federal crop-loss payments and grants and loans to help mountain trout farms.
n $35.9 million for public-health and environmental assistance, including $24 million for debris removal from rivers and streams and $10.8 million for cleanup of flooded hazardous-waste sites and landfills.
n $40.7 million for local-government assistance, including grants for new water, sewer, sidewalks and storm drains in neighborhoods where residents are moved, and $8 million to restore the Hyde County courthouse, which was damaged by Hurricane Isabel in 2003.
n $16.6 million for stream and landslide mapping.
n $17.7 million for repairs of private bridges and $11 million for contingencies.
n And $500,000 to promote tourism in western North Carolina because of losses suffered in the region last fall.
People will need to apply for the funds and meet qualifications. Unused money will be returned to the Rainy Day Fund.
Lisa Danner, Watauga County’s emergency management director, said she had not received any information on the state on the availability of additions from Federal Emergency Management Agency funds. She said it would depend on how the money was earmarked to determine if anyone would be eligible to receive money.
The High Country United Way established a disaster relief committee to help Avery and Watauga residents rebuild after the flood. The agency may be eligible to apply for some of the state funds under consideration.
Alleghany, Ashe, Burke and McDowell counties were the primary targeted recipients in addition to Watauga County.
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