BURGAW — On Friday, Pender County officials responded to displaced residents’ complaints of delays and inefficient management of the permitting process for FEMA trailers and home re-building.
“We’re not in control of FEMA regulations and building code regulations that are adopted by the state,” Pender County Manager Randell Woodruff said. “Our job is to just enforce those things, so the holdup, if there has been a holdup, is not because of Pender County. It’s not just red tape and county rules and regulations.”
County spokesperson Tammy Proctor issued a statement in response to recent reporting on the issue, including a Port City Daily video series published throughout this week.
“There have been two recent reports which claim Pender County permitting and regulations have hindered residents from settling into temporary housing,” Proctor said. “As of Dec. 11, the county has issued 1,218 storm-related permits. These storm-related permits include both homeowners and FEMA contractors.”
According to Proctor, 192 permits have been issued to FEMA contractors; of those, 152 were issued for FEMA travel trailers and 40 for FEMA mobile homes.
“The number of permits they’ve done is pretty substantial … We’re doing the very best we can,” Woodruff said. “All those permits are returned on a daily basis. It’s not like we’re trying to hold them for days or weeks or trying to inconvenience people.”
He said problems that had occurred initially after the storm were due to contractors hired by FEMA to perform the electrical work for the trailers and mobile homes.
“Pender County certainly didn’t have anything to do with that,” Woodruff said. “We certainly understand people are upset and frustrated, and that’s understandable. We don’t have a problem with that, because if I was in that situation I’d be unhappy too. But you just can’t blame people for something that’s beyond their control or they have no control over.”
He said all the work that the county’s inspections staff performs is in compliance with North Carolina building codes, and their main obligation is to protect the safety of people in their homes.
Responding to residents’ concerns
When told about resident Stephanie Kramer’s concerns surrounding the construction of five electrical poles to connect her FEMA trailer to a water pump house on her property, Woodruff said this was not a county requirement.
“There are no county standards,” Woodruff said. “There are either North Carolina building codes or there’s a FEMA requirement of some type. I couldn’t respond to that because I’m not a licensed building inspector and I hadn’t been out and seen it. But I’m very confident that if one of our inspectors required that to be changed, it was because it wasn’t safe, or wasn’t adequate, or didn’t meet the code or something.”
Kramer, however, said that she had already hired an electrical contractor to properly install a temporary pole for power and water in order to keep caring for her farm’s livestock. The pole was located near the FEMA trailer, which sat idle for a month before she was allowed to move in last week.
“I was told I was not allowed to use that, even though it was maybe 15 feet from the camper,” Kramer said.
She then watched as an electrical crew spent over two days installing the power poles across her yard to the pump house, located on the other side of her property. She said some told her it was a Pender County requirement, others told her it was a FEMA requirement.
“When I asked how to connect the water pump to [the installed outlet], they told me that I don’t need to connect it,” Kramer said. “I just need to have it, which seems like an incredible waste of time and money.”
Proctor believes that residents like Kramer do not understand the permitting and inspections process.
“The issue with [Port City Daily’s] report and another outlet was: quotes by people who don’t understand the process,” Proctor said. “We don’t hand out FEMA trailers, nor do we hire the contractors. Our inspections department is working hard and turning around permits in one day. However, if a contractor doesn’t install workmanship properly, resulting in an unsafe condition, we can’t violate state and local codes.”
In a county government update issued Friday afternoon, the county’s assistant manager, Chad McEwen, issued the following statement:
We continue to work with FEMA and their contractor to help speed up the process of getting temporary housing units in place. The inspections department continues to have issues with the trade contractors failing inspections which creates delays. Our inspections department is going above and beyond to limit the delays including doing weekend inspections.
Mark Darrough can be reached at Mark@Localvoicemedia.com