As North Carolina gears up for Hurricane Irma, state leaders are still working on recovery efforts from Hurricane Matthew last October and federal and state funding is falling short of what's needed to help homeowners and businesses rebuild.
The N.C. Board of Transportation got an update on the recovery process Thursday from Dempsey Benton, a veteran state government official and former Raleigh city manager who's serving as a special adviser to Gov. Roy Cooper on Hurricane Matthew.
Benton said the state is working to buy damaged homes from owners who want to sell as well as assist in repairs for those who want to rebuild. In the flooded town of Princeville, state and local leaders are discussing the possibility of rebuilding the town on higher ground to prevent future floods. The state has an option to purchase a 53-acre tract of land adjacent to the town as a possible site for homes and businesses.
“They’re beginning to see if that is a way forward for them,” Benton said.
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He says the state has between $450 million and $500 million in unfunded recovery needs. “We hope that gap will be becoming less as we work to secure other resources," he added.
A total of 2,987 homeowners across 50 affected counties are eligible to and want to sell their damaged, flood-prone properties, but the state only has funding to buy about 1,000 of the properties. An extra $248 million will be needed to buy the others. And of the 22,000 low-to-moderate income homeowners seeking assistance with repairs, the state has funding to help 12,000, needing $92 million more to assist the others.
Benton said small businesses affected by Hurricane Matthew haven't received nearly as much federal aid as they did for previous storms. Only 427 businesses so far have received loans from the Small Business Administration, totaling about $31 million. "That's a measured change from 1999 to 2000 when we had significantly greater resources to the business community from that SBA loan support," he said.
This week, state government plans to launch a $20 million small business loan package. Benton says half of that funding will come from the federal government, while the rest will come from "leveraged private resources."
State agencies have also launched studies to better determine the causes of river flooding around the hardest-hit communities, including the Neuse River in Kinston, the Cashie River in Windsor, the Tar River in Princeville and the Lumber River in Lumberton. In Lumberton, Benton said the review is focusing on a spot where Interstate 95 crosses the river levee system. The state is also looking to help municipalities fix hurricane damage to local streets.
Also Thursday, Cooper announced that the state's Water Infrastructure Authority has approved $10 million to help fund water and sewer system improvements for 45 counties affected by Hurricane Matthew. The 45 counties eligible to apply were impacted by the hurricane but aren't the five hardest-hit counties. The grant funds will go to projects that cannot be funded by the Federal Emergency Management Act, according to a news release from the governor's office.