Sunday, February 5, 2023

Delayed application leaves Pender County out of first round of FEMA flood buyout funds

Mike Hicks, left, helps lift his grill onto his back porch in a flooded neighborhood on Alexis Hales Road near the Black River in Currie, North Carolina on Wednesday evening, September 19, 2018. (Port City Daily photo | Mark Darrough)
Mike Hicks, left, lifts a grill onto his back porch in a flooded neighborhood on Alexis Hales Road near the Black River in Currie, five days after Hurricane Florence struck the region and caused widespread flooding across Pender County. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

PENDER COUNTY — FEMA released a list of 14 counties and cities along North Carolina’s coast that received $19 million to acquire properties damaged by Hurricane Florence. A county not on that list — one devastated by widespread flooding as the slow-moving hurricane moved inland — was Pender County.

According to state and FEMA officials, that was due to a late application submitted by the county, although funding is expected soon.

Neighboring counties New Hanover, Brunswick, and Columbus received a total of $4.5 million as part of FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (see the full list of recipients below). The city of Jacksonville also received $1.7 million. The funds will be used to buy out a total of 130 residential structures and convert those properties to open spaces as a means of eliminating flood risks while conserving natural floodplains.

According to FEMA spokesperson Melanie Barker, although FEMA provides 75 percent of the funding, the program itself is managed by the state.

“So the state sets the priorities,” Barker said Friday morning. “There are other projects that are being reviewed and there will be more approved funding as time goes on … There are more to come.”

She said the 14 local governments approved in this first round of funding was “really just a matter of the documentation coming in and the order it’s handled.”

Keith Acree, spokesman for NC Emergency Management, said he expects Pender to receive funding in the coming weeks.

“Pender’s application was submitted after the others, so it’s still going through the federal approval process now,” Acree said. “We expect that to be complete in the next couple weeks.”

The first round of funding included the following local governments found along the coast:

  • Bladen County, $954,000 for five structures
  • Brunswick County, $1.2 million for five structures
  • City of Jacksonville, $1.7 million for 16 structures
  • City of New Bern, $191,000 for three structures
  • Columbus County, $1.1 million for 12 structures
  • Cumberland County, $177,000 for two structures
  • Craven County, $688,000 for six structures
  • Jones County, $6.2 million for 31 structures
  • Moore County, $945,000 for 13 structures
  • New Hanover County, $2.2 million for 11 structures
  • Onslow County, $821,000 for six structures
  • Robeson County, $1.2 million for six structures
  • Sampson County, $1 million for eight structures
  • Town of Tabor City, $623,000 for six structures

“We are grateful for the support of our FEMA partners as we work together to make North Carolina more resilient in the wake of devastating storms,” Governor Roy Cooper said in a release. “Eliminating flood risks at repetitively damaged properties will help North Carolina continue to rebuild smarter and stronger.”

While FEMA reimburses 75 percent of eligible costs, the remaining 25 percent is covered by the state. The federal share is paid directly to the state, which is then disbursed to local governments.

Hazard mitigation is a long, methodical, slow process, even though this [first round] is the expedited version which gets you the award maybe a year sooner than it would otherwise in the traditional program,” Acree said. “There’s still a lot that has to happen for a buyout to occur.” 

He said the traditional hazard mitigation program used one pot of funds to take care of the entire process, from property acquisition to demolition. A newer system in place uses hazard mitigation funds exclusively for acquisition, while public assistance funds are used for demolition, according to Acree.

That way we can stretch the hazard mitigation dollars farther and more projects can be granted at more locations,” Acree said. 

After receiving federal and state funds, local governments must then start the process of the property buyouts, which Acree said includes surveying work, title work, attorney involvement, and engineering work.

“It’s basically a real estate transaction,” he said.

Mark Darrough can be reached at or (970) 413-3815.

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