The Dare County Board of Commissioners had its semi-monthly meeting at the Fessenden Center in Buxton on Monday, Nov. 21, and Hurricane Matthew recovery efforts dominated the meeting once again.
Roughly 25-30 members of the community attended the meeting, which included representatives from FEMA and the Small Business Administration, National Park Service Outer Banks Group Superintendent David Hallac, and Dare County Emergency Management Director Drew Pearson — among other county staff.
The removal of debris – a relatively slow process and a bone of contention for many residents – was a big topic that was revisited several times during the meeting, starting with an update on the process from County Manager Bobby Outten.
“It is not moving as fast as we had hoped it would,” said Outten.
Outten explained the reasons behind the delay in detail, starting with the widespread impact of Matthew. “Matthew hit five states… and resources are thin for debris pick-up.”
In addition, in order to receive FEMA funding for debris pickup, Dare County has to accept the low-bid contractor that inevitably picks up and removes the debris – a contract that was signed in the spring.
“We knew what we expected, and laid those expectations out… [But] it’s been less than smooth,” said Outten.
He also noted that while FEMA funds the removal of debris of state roads or “numbered roads,” FEMA does not automatically pay for the debris removal on private roads.
Instead, assuming that Dare County meet the criteria when removing debris from these roads, FEMA would reimburse the county after the six-figure project was done. “[Going forward] is not without risk, but as best as we can tell, we meet that criteria,” said Outten.
A vote was held to determine whether Dare County should clear the debris from non-state roads, despite the lack of upfront funding from FEMA. The board voted unanimously to go ahead move forward with clearing non-state roads, in addition to state roads.
Outten also noted that the debris removal contractor was encouraged to focus resources on Hatteras Island, and particularly in Frisco and Hatteras. The company had done two initial passes through Frisco and Hatteras up to this point, Outten noted, and is doing a first pass through Avon on Tuesday, Nov. 22.
Outten also said it was time that all islanders have their final storm debris in the right-of-way for collection, but Hatteras Island Commissioner Allen Burrus noted that many residents are still tearing out damaged areas of their homes.
In addition to the updates and discussions on storm debris removal, Carol Garcia from FEMA and Bradford Caldwell of the SBA also spoke to encourage the public to contact their respective organizations for help. FEMA and the SBA continue to have mobile stations and/or a presence in Dare County, which includes an imminent mobile center in Duck, and available staff at the social services office in Buxton.
Allen Burrus noted that it was also important to get the word out that just because people who apply for FEMA assistance received a denial letter, it doesn’t mean that assistance is completely unavailable, since they can still appeal.
“[People] need to understand that it doesn’t have to end because they are denied,” said Burrus.
Also in the vein of storm recovery, the board recognized community member Mary Ellon Ballance for her efforts after Hurricane Matthew. Ballance organize d the Hatteras village storm response, which included forming volunteer clean-up crews, distributing supplies, and arranging meals for the community. The board presented her with a Certificate of Appreciation.
“No one worked harder than this lady right here,” said Board Chairman Bob Woodard. “You could tell [her efforts] came right from the heart.”
Ballance was tearful as she accepted the plaque, and made a brief statement.
“I moved here back in ’98 and Hatteras village welcomed me with open arms. They’ve always been there for me, so [helping] is just natural.”
The meeting was also significant for Hatteras Island residents, as it marked the last meeting for retiring commissioner Burrus. Burrus, who decided not to run again for health reasons, will be replaced by commissioner-elect Danny Couch, who was also in attendance.
Burrus thanked the multiple people he had worked with as a Board of Education member, as well as county commissioner, including the county Public Works Department, the Sheriff’s Department, the Emergency Management Department, the Public Relations Department, and the public in general.
“[It’s been] a beautiful ride. I appreciate all that goes with it,” said Burrus. “I am thankful for the place we live in, and the opportunities we have.”
“I want to thank all the voters that put me here… you’re been supportive, and it’s been a wonderful thing.”
“Allen has served this community extremely well from the board,” said Board Chairman Bob Woodard. He’s been a “diehard” for Hatteras Island, Woodard added.
“And,” he said to Burrus, “you never held back when it came to speak your piece.”
In addition to storm recovery and the recognition of Burrus and Ballance, several community members spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting:
The next Board of Commissioners meeting will be on Dec. 5 at 9 a.m. in Manteo.