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Thursday, May 23, 2024

With record amounts of debris on the ground City Council approves $9 million for storm expenses

From overtime pay to debris removal, the costs associated with Hurricane Florence are quickly adding up.

The City of Wilmington has approved a $9 million fund transfer to deal with cleanup and other expenses from Hurricane Florence (Port City Daily/Michael Praats)
The City of Wilmington has approved a $9 million fund transfer to deal with cleanup and other expenses from Hurricane Florence. (Port City Daily/Michael Praats)

WILMINGTON — Living by the coast comes with its own unique risks — one of those, as recently seen in Wilmington, is the threat of hurricanes. Although Wilmington has been fortunate in terms of major storms and damages, Hurricane Florence has caused a record amount of damage; it’s also caused a record amount of debris to fall within the city. That is why City Council has approved a $9 million appropriation from its General Fund to help with storm cleanup and recovery efforts.

Due to a multitude of unknown variables, the total cost for recovery is still not certain, but once it is complete council will likely have to make another motion to reimburse the city for expenses if applicable, according to City Manager Sterling Cheatham.

“This Ordinance will appropriate General Fund’s unrestricted fund balance in the amount of $9,000,000 for estimated contracted debris removal and monitoring requirements as well as response and recovery efforts created by Hurricane Florence,” the ordinance states.

A city-wide response

During its Monday agenda briefing, City Council received a presentation on the efforts of clean up in the city and impacts of the storm that has been more than two decades in the making.

“This particular storm has been 22-years in the making. It’s not that we haven’t had storms here before but since we had a storm of this magnitude that caused this amount of debris to come down it’s been 22-years which was Hurricane Fran … We have record amounts of debris on the streets,” Deputy City Manager Tony Caudle said.

Following Hurricane Florence, cut and push debris operations began and streets were opened within 72-hours, Caudle said.

The current damage assessment following the storm is $220 million private damage and $1.8 million public damages, that is damage to city facilities.

Most of the $9 million will be spent toward repairs and debris removal, however, there are other expenses the city has to think about as well.

“Most of this appropriation will be for debris removal, along with a little for repairs to city facilities. There will likely be additional costs, including overtime for staff and other repair work, either to city facilities or public infrastructure such as streets/stormwater,” City spokeswoman Malissa Talbert said.

Emergency personnel including fire and police worked around the clock during the storm and overtime hours were accrued. According to Caudle, there were 929 fire department calls during the event of the storm with all personnel working in 12-hour shifts.

When it comes to covering the cost associated with the recovery efforts, the city might not be alone in covering the expenses Caudle said. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), as well as the state, can also provide funding to pay for the additional expenses. But Caudle made it known that the process of getting reimbursed was one that will take time.

“I’ve got a friend who used to work here … and now works in Collier County Florida send me an email prior to the storm and he said that after [Hurricane] Irma they had over $150 million in expenses. They had claimed $90 million with FEMA and so far year-to-date they have only recouped $10 million of it. This will be a long process,” Caudle said.

The city is currently eligible to be reimbursed for 75 percent of eligible costs including the following: overtime related to storm response, emergency preparatory measures, assistance from other agencies, repair costs not covered by insurance, debris removal, and eventually, mitigation grants.

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