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City hoping FEMA will reimburse Dorian costs

092219citybuilding

Michael Nellom, building superintendent for the city of Elizabeth City, climbs down the ladder of Elizabeth City Fire Department’s Ladder 1 fire truck, Tuesday, Sept. 10. The truck was staged on S. Martin Street beside the Elizabeth City Public Safety building, where the roof sustained damage during Hurricane Dorian, causing “significant” water damage in the building, the city manager says.

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From staff reports

Sunday, September 22, 2019

While Hurricane Dorian didn’t cause widespread damage during its pass through Elizabeth City earlier this month, it did leave a mark on city coffers.

City Manager Rich Olson is reporting the storm caused an estimated $359,000 in damage to city property and cost the city another $181,910 in personnel and other costs preparing and responding to the storm.

That second figure includes $103,461 for “non-salary payouts” for items like fuel, meals and contractors used during and after the storm, he said. A significant amount was for electric line crews and tree trimmers the city employed after the storm passed, he said.

The remaining $78,449.47 of the city’s costs so far went to pay personnel for working overtime before and after Dorian. Olson said in his weekly memo to the mayor and city councilors on Friday that city workers logged 2,068 hours of overtime preparing and responding to the storm.

Those overtime costs could increase, he said Saturday, given that the city still probably has another week of storm-debris cleanup ahead of it.

Olson said while the storm’s damage to city property wasn’t widespread, the damage it did cause was costly. He said the storm damaged the roof on the Public Safety Building on Main Street, leading to “significant” water damage to the building. He said the city is still getting estimates for repairing the roof, but the cost could be between $150,000 and $200,000.

The storm also brought heavy rainfall that submerged alarms at the Providence and Halstead sewer lift stations, causing them not to sound like they’re supposed to, he said. The alarms will have to be cleaned out and possibly repaired. In addition, a double slide at the W.L. “Pete” Hooker Park playground was destroyed by a felled tree, and high winds detached the canopy awning at the Elizabeth City Regional Airport terminal building and blew off tiles at the city water treatment plant, Olson said. Fixing the awning at the airport will cost approximately $21,000, he said.

The city wasn’t the only local government that sustained damages from Dorian. Pasquotank County is estimating its damages from the storm at $149,632.48 while Camden is estimating damages of $36,726.40, Olson said in his memo.

Olson said the city is working with Christy Saunders, emergency management coordinator for Pasquotank and Camden counties, to determine whether it will qualify for reimbursement of its storm-related costs through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He said Saunders has estimated total preparedness and damage expenditures in Pasquotank — the figure includes storm-related expenditures by any public entity in the county, including the sheriff’s office or Albemarle Electric Membership Cooperative — “come very close” to FEMA’s public assistance threshold for qualifying for reimbursement.

Olson wasn’t sure Saturday about the exact amount needed to meet that threshold.

Olson said Saunders also set up a meeting on Thursday between Assistant City Manager Angela Cole and city Risk/Liability Analyst Anna Spence and representatives from the N.C. Division of Emergency Management Recovery Division as part of a public assistance assessment of Pasquotank-Camden’s storm damages. Olson said two FEMA officials received the city’s damage report as well as information about its overtime costs and other storm-related expenses.

In order for Pasquotank to qualify for reimbursement of its storm-related expenses, Gov. Roy Cooper would first have to seek a disaster declaration for the county from the federal government. The Trump administration would then have to approve the request.

Cooper thus far has requested federal public assistance for 14 counties affected by the storm, adding Jones on Saturday to a list of 13 others for which he previously sought the federal aid, according to The Associated Press. Counties approved for the public assistance program would be reimbursed for money they spent on debris cleanup, repairs of publicly owned damaged buildings and other expenses.

Thus far, the Trump administration has not responded to Cooper’s initial request for public assistance, the AP reported.

In his weekly memo, Olson said the city’s preliminary storm information will now be evaluated and if a disaster is declared for Pasquotank, “we may receive reimbursement for costs incurred.”

He didn’t have a timetable on Saturday for when city officials will learn whether the city’s storm-related expenses qualify for reimbursement.

The question of FEMA reimbursement was raised by City Council at its Sept. 9 meeting. Olson acknowledged at the time the city might not meet the FEMA threshold and could have to “eat” the cost of responding to the hurricane.

At that meeting, Mayor Bettie Parker and members of council praised city staff for its work before, during and after the storm.

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