A modest crowd of roughly 40 locals and business owners attended an informal meeting hosted by Dare County to address compensation options after the power outage.
The week-long power outage, which led to an evacuation of visitors, caused financial hardship for many local business owners and workers who rely on the summertime income. “I went from making $3,000 per day to $100 per day,” said one restaurant owner at the meeting.
“We’re here to listen to you folks… and to [learn] how we can be of assistance moving forward,” said Dare County Commissioner Chairman Bob Woodard in his opening remarks.
After an introduction, County Manager Bob Outten spoke to the group, noting that the biggest question the county has received since the outage ended is “What now?”
Outten outlined the courses of action available for both individuals and business owners, which included personal needs – such as paying bills or groceries – and economic losses. He emphasized that all information the county currently had on options after the outage was also available online at http://www.darenc.com/government/hatteras-island-power-outage-information.
He advised individuals who were struggling to pay bills after a loss of work to contact the Dare County Social Services department. “They’re the people who will try to help solve those problems,” he said. “Their whole job in recovery [efforts] is to connect people with resources.”
He also noted that since the power outage was not a federally declared disaster, (like the majority of storms that significantly affect the Outer Banks), FEMA assistance was not available.
For local businesses and economic losses, there were several options. Impacted parties could make a claim through PCL directly on their website, http://outerbanks.pcl.com/, could make a claim and then follow up with an attorney if there was not a satisfactory resolution, or could contact an attorney directly.
PCL was invited to attend the meeting and declined, but did send a statement for the event which was read outloud.
“First and foremost, PCL would like to apologize for the inconvenience the power outage caused to tourists, residents and local businesses,” the letter read before outlining the claim submission process through the website. “If you have questions about the claim process, a phone number is listed on the website. We believe this process is the most efficient and timely way to resolve matters.”
“From my perspective at least, it’s probably good that they are accepting responsibility, and that they have a claims [area] on their website,” said Outten.
Outten also noted that the county would not file forms for residents on their behalf, but did advise people to contact Dare County Social Services if the claim submission process was confusing.
“The better you document the claim, the quicker you will get it,” he said.
As for the question of which route was the best one for compensation – whether it was contacting PCL or contacting an attorney – Outten said that there was no right answer. “I cannot tell you which way is the best way to go,” he said. “But certainly you should do something if you want to be reimbursed.”
A letter from the North Carolina Attorney General’s office was also read at the meeting, which advised that residents could call the state’s Consumer Protection Division for questions as well at 919-716-6000.
Finally, Outten said that the county had set up its own Hatteras Island Power Outage Economic Assessment Form to garner knowledge on the exact costs of the week-long outage.
“We’ve been asked over and over ‘What was the economic impact on Dare County?’ and we don’t have an answer,” said Outten. “[With this survey], when or if the time comes that we need that information, we’ll have that info right away.”
After an overview of all the information the county had available, the floor was open for questions.
One resident noted that at least one law firm was trying to recruit people for a class action lawsuit, and wondered what the criteria should be for a person to join.
“If you’re going to go with a lawyer, use the same criteria you would use to close on a house, or do a will… go about it the same way you would pick an attorney for anything else,” said Outten.
A local business owner asked the group if anyone had heard a follow-up from PCL after submitting a claim, and pointed out that the lack of response after an initial submission was troubling. “If they let people sit there and wonder [what’s happening with their claim], then people are going to start panicking again.”
Bob Woodard responded that the county would contact PCL about enhancing communication after a claim was filed. “We will follow up with them tomorrow,” he said.
There were also questions and observations about the evacuation, as well as whether an outage could happen again since the Bonner Bridge construction project still has more than a year left before it is completed.
As for the evacuation, Outten and Woodard noted that while there were still people who used A/Cs and / or remained on the island despite the evacuation guidelines, the goals of the evacuation were met.
The evacuation was implemented to address concerns about water availability, as well as to restore temporary power to the villages through generators, which could not handle the extra load of the large seasonal population. “Every time they flipped a switch, the generators couldn’t handle it,” said Outten, noting that reducing the population effectively reduced the load.
There were also safety concerns about allowing “thousands of people into dark homes,” where there was no light, air conditioning, or power of any kind.
“We met our evacuation goals,” said Outten, adding that if there were still power or water issues after the evacuation, then next steps would have been taken.
As for whether the outage could happen again, CHEC representatives at the meeting said that because the lines were now overhead lines, there was no chance a piling could be accidently driven into an underground line. The overhead lines also make potential repairs much easier, as no sub-contractor or special equipment is needed to proceed. “Making repairs is something we can now do in a much timelier manner,” said Susan Flythe of CHEC.
The meeting was also attended by representatives from the Dare County Public Relations Department, the Dare County Emergency Management Department, and county commissioners Danny Couch and Wally Overman.
Any resident or visitor who was unable to attend the meeting can find all the information that was covered on the Dare County website, http://www.darenc.com/government/hatteras-island-power-outage-information. The website will be updated with new info as soon as it becomes available.