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State specialist says Pender’s ‘rock solid’ FEMA buyout application among first submitted. So why the delay?

A flooded neighborhood on Alexis Hales Road near the Black River in Currie, North Carolina, Wednesday, September 19, 2018. (Port City Daily photo | Mark Darrough)
A flooded neighborhood on Alexis Hales Road near the Black River in Currie, five days after Hurricane Florence made landfall on the state’s southeastern coast. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

After Pender County was not included in a first round of FEMA property buyout funds, state and FEMA officials cited a delayed application. But according to one state hazard mitigation specialist who worked with the county on the project, that was not the case.

PENDER COUNTY — A state hazard mitigation specialist set the record straight on reports earlier this week that Pender County missed out on the first round of FEMA buyout funding because its application was submitted after other counties and cities on the list.

That was not the case, according to Jason Pleasant of the Department of Public Safety (DPS) Division of Emergency Management. He said applications from Pender and Jacksonville were two of the first submitted to FEMA for review.

“There were no issues with the submission, no issues with the projects themselves,” Pleasant said. “Of all of them, Pender’s was rock solid.”

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

Pleasant expects Pender to receive funding from FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program in the coming weeks, totaling $4.9 million for 25 properties. That would make Pender second only to Jones County, which received $6.2 million to purchase 31 properties.

He said the size and complexity of Pender’s project likely contributed to FEMA’s delay in rewarding the money.

“There were some questions FEMA needed to get answered, and of course that led to some delays,” Pleasant said. “They are also in the Large Project Notification [system], which has a separate process altogether. As a large project, it has a different trajectory through Congress and FEMA.”

Pender County Planning Director Kyle Breuer, who led the project, said its LPF status should not have warranted a delay.

“The one thing I questioned, quite frankly, was why were we pushed to the second round of funding notification?” Breuer said. “Because it can’t be solely for the LPN. Jones County had the largest expedited acquisition application at $6.2 million. That would’ve had to go through an LPN as well.”

Not only was Pender’s application one of the first submitted to FEMA, Breuer said, but DPS staff also told him that Pender “had the least amount of questions from FEMA, which means we had the most complete application.”

Earlier in the week, a DPS spokesperson said that Pender’s application “was submitted after the others, so it’s still going through the federal approval process now.” A FEMA spokesperson said the 14 local governments approved in the first round of funding came down to a “matter of documentation coming in and the order it’s handled.”

Those comments led to much public concern, and according to Breuer in an email, “continues to cast a shadow on me and my department.”

Pleasant said he worked with Breuer and his staff early on in the process, finding their work and communications to be quick and accurate.

“They really know what they’re doing down there … [The delay] kind of upset our office because we know how hard Pender worked and how good they are at putting this stuff together,” Pleasant said. “They were the least of our worries.”

Pleasant’s office worked with Breuer’s staff in submitting the necessary materials to FEMA. Generally speaking, he said counties and municipalities along the coast have more experience and better understanding of the complex application process than those further inland, but Pender County has stood out.

If I were in this situation and I had a damaged home, I’d want it to be in Pender County because of [Breuer and his staff],” Pleasant said.

Although the funding will likely come only weeks later than when its neighboring counties and cities received their own funding, Breuer said the delay — and reports that Pender County may have caused the delay — has added to a general sense of anxiety felt by many who have struggled since Hurricane Florence.


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

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