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WV MetroNews Questions nag West Virginia flood relief priorities, document shines light

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — In 2016, Connie Sloan was flooded out of her Elkview house. Water was rising 10 ft high. She escaped in a neighbor’s fishing boat together with her two canine, Mingo and Babe. The home, drenched and moldy, was later knocked down.

Virtually three years later, 80-year-old Sloan continues to be waiting for phrase on federal funds that would compensate her loss.

She has spent much of that time considering a mystery.

“My basic question is, why have they moved monies out of this FEMA mitigation that was supposed to be for houses and moved them over to other things?” Sloan stated this week.

“How do you take funds to provide homes for people – and whose houses have now been torn down – and decide we’re going to buy a bunch of generators?”

Priorities

That’s a query that West Virginia legislators have targeted on in current weeks, too.

Throughout a meeting of the Joint Legislative Committee on Flooding at the finish of April, lawmakers asked repeated questions about Hazard Mitigation Grant funds and the way West Virginia wound up emphasizing infrastructure tasks over housing.

“I’m a little frustrated that when I asked who was deciding which projects were the priority, nobody could tell me who was deciding the priorities over the past three years,” Delegate Kayla Kessenger, R-Fayette, stated after that assembly.

Hazard Mitigation Grants are meant to assist communities avert injury from future disasters. There are various ways the grants could also be used. Following the devastating 2016 flood, state officials had a collection of forums to speak with residents about housing.

Flood victims utilized for grants that would lead to buyouts, having houses elevated or having houses flood-proofed.

Most are nonetheless ready.

That is totally different from the controversy about RISE West Virginia, although the 2 are related as sources of hundreds of thousands of dollars that would assist the state heal.

RISE has money from the U.S. Division of Housing and City Improvement, represented by Group Improvement Block Grants for Disaster Relief. That cash stays devoted to housing, but progress has been sluggish and irritating.

At the finish of this past week, the number of housing instances in RISE numbered 479. Fifty houses are thought-about complete.

From late 2016 via much of 2017, West Virginia had emphasised Hazard Mitigation Grants to assist flood victims with their housing. Then the hundreds of thousands of dollars turned obtainable for RISE, and the priorities modified.

That’s been described, however not with enough detail for West Virginia flood victims or the legislators who symbolize them.

The decision to vary priorities, it seems, befell during a two-hour meeting in a state Capitol convention room in 2017.

Stories of no written report

That meeting has been described typically phrases, most notably in a Federal Emergency Management Company publication, Forward Recovery.

“Due to the complexity of the situation, the meeting was convened to ensure that there was a holistic strategy for the use of these funds,” FEMA Area III officers wrote within the publication.

Over the past few weeks, MetroNews has asked each FEMA and West Virginia’s Division of Homeland Safety and Emergency Administration for more particulars, together with written documentation from the assembly.

Responding to MetroNews questions early final month, Emergency Administration spokeswoman Laura Lipscomb briefly described the priority change and the reasons behind it.

However, she wrote, “There is no documentation of this priority shift. There was a verbal directive from leadership that informed the process of ranking applications.”

The same query to FEMA yielded no documentation.

“We concur with the state that there was no official documentation of priorities,” a FEMA spokesman stated in an e mail Might 6. We did, and do, converse with our state counterparts day by day on tasks, priorities, roles and obligations.”

Infrastructure and housing

Priorities have had a practical impact on West Virginia flood relief.

Last month, officials with West Virginia’s Department of Homeland Safety and Emergency Administration offered a listing of Hazard Mitigation Grant tasks.

Although the grant is designated because of the 2016 flood, what it funds may be from anyplace within the state, not just the flood zone.

As officers described final week to legislators, West Virginia had $69.6 million in mitigation grant funds obtainable, together with a state match.

Of that, the vast majority of the cash is aimed toward infrastructure tasks.

Infrastructure might embrace tasks reminiscent of water system improvements or flood management tasks. Numerous communities requested backup turbines.

There’s another $21 million in tasks thought-about “oversubscribed.” That’s principally the pool of tasks on a ready record.

All of those are labeled “property.”

Tasks involving property may embrace acquisition, demolition, elevation or reconstruction underneath better building standards.

So meaning numerous flooded householders are waiting for cash which may or won’t ever come.

Legislative questions

West Virginia lawmakers of each parties have been interested by how the priorities took shape.

Dean Jeffries

“Yes, we are curious,” stated Delegate Dean Jeffries, R-Kanawha, co-chairman of the Joint Legislative Committee on Flooding. “Is that what happened? Was there actually a shift? Was it reprioritized? We want to dig into that.”

Jeffries described constituents nonetheless fighting housing issues. The day he spoke, he had just discovered of two individuals dwelling in campers with no water.

“People shouldn’t be living like this three years after the flood,” he stated on the telephone.

“People come first. Infrastructure is important. I’m not going to say it’s not. But if people have to up and leave here, there goes our tax base.”

He would really like higher solutions.

“If that was a decision,” he stated, “somebody should be able to answer for that.”

Comparable responses came from different lawmakers.

Stephen Baldwin

“I’ve had folks tell me the governor made the decision. I’ve had people tell me DHSEM made that decision. But I don’t know any of that conclusively,” stated Senator Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier. “I’ve been asking about that for about two years now.”

He stated West Virginia should give attention to making sure housing needs are met.

“These folks who are on the over subscription list, they feel like they were promised that their needs would be taken care of and that they would be prioritized,” Baldwin stated.

“Housing is priority number one. You’ve got to have a place to lie your head each night.”

Glenn Jeffries

Senator Glenn Jeffries, D-Kanawha, agreed concerning the continued housing issues.

“They should be priority. We need to take care of our people first, take care of our families,” he stated. “Then what is left we gear it toward infrastructure projects.”

Committee questions

During final week’s Joint Legislative Committee on Flooding, Kessinger tried a number of methods to ask how priorities have been set.

She expressed frustration after the meeting that she had not gotten clear answers.

Here’s what she asked:

Kayla Kessinger

Kessinger: “I assume my question is, why are we putting houses on the oversubscribed listing? And also you mentioned earlier infrastructure consists of turbines and issues like that.

“So, I guess my question would be a question of priority. I feel like of the people on this committee, our priority has been getting people in homes. So why are we placing those projects on the oversubscribed list and we’re already budgeting for those  projects and things like that?”

Adjutant Gen. James Hoyer made reference to a formulation utilized by the Federal Emergency Management Company to weigh tasks and in addition to earlier comments by Senator Greg Boso, R-Nicholas, describing the importance of infrastructure tasks.

Hoyer: “Sure, maam, and once more that was a part of the – there’s two issues; there’s the formulation but there’s additionally prioritization of understanding that we’ve received to maintain individuals in houses. But going back to the Senator from Nicholas’s level, if we don’t spend some money on infrastructure and we don’t maintain these water methods and sewer methods practical then we’ll have a number of hundred or a couple thousand folks that we’re not taking good care of, so it’s a balancing act of that piece.

“And what we’re doing is going to return and dissect how that was prioritized before and what we expect the method must be going forward.

“And again ma’am, we have some water systems that if we don’t put some money towards them and they fail we’re going to have several thousand people.”

Kessinger: “I’m just wondering who makes those decisions. Like, why are purchasing generators for some areas priority over getting people in a home? I understand the wastewater management and things like that, but that’s sort of my question.”

Hoyer referred to a subcommittee that lawmakers had simply established to examine re-shuffling Hazard Mitigation tasks.

Hoyer: “That’s what we’ll come back to. Working with the subcommittee, we’ll come back and try to walk you through all that and a path going forward.”

Kessinger: “And if we do see that the priorities should have been homes over generators, is there a way to modify that?”

At that time, state Emergency Management Director Mike Todorovich spoke up, describing his imaginative and prescient of a committee that would come with officials in the government department, as well as legislators and specialists from West Virginia schools.

“So we will never be in this situation again without having total transparency,” Todorovich stated.

Kessinger: “Sure, so who decides the priorities right now?”

Hoyer: “Ma’am, that’s what we’ve got to go back and dissect from what was done before and who had the responsibility.”

Kessinger: “So we don’t know who decided what?”

Hoyer: “I believe what was occurring was they were taking the FEMA formula and sending it forward based on that formula that was used to set the prioritization. But we owe you the answer to that.”

Kessinger: “Yeah, so you don’t know who *they* are?”

Hoyer: “It would have been the former director of the mitigation program.”

Hoyer elaborates

James Hoyer

MetroNews reached out to Hoyer on Friday to clarify extra about how priorities have been set.

Final June, when controversy broke out over how the state Division of Commerce was administering RISE, Governor Justice positioned Hoyer in command of long-term relief.

Hoyer has been offering updates, mostly on RISE, to each legislators and the general public.

On the phone Friday, Hoyer was asked particularly concerning the Nov. 7, 2017, meeting that had been characterized as one to set priorities.

He stated that meeting was supported by FEMA, which introduced in a facilitator. But he stated the main target was how one can greatest use the Group Improvement Block Grant for Disaster Relief, via HUD.

Hoyer stated “2017 was a unique circumstance for the state of West Virginia both in magnitude of devastation and in the funding that was going to come in.”

He stated the question at that meeting turned, “How are we going to prioritize CDBG-DR money, which ended up being housing, infrastructure and economic development.”

Hoyer stated one of many issues the state has needed to concentrate on is getting stronger for the longer term.

“The guidance given to me was, let’s don’t just fix what we have issues with, give us some things going forward that create the appropriate path and structure,” he stated.

Hoyer spent much of his time on the telephone emphasizing the legislative subcommittee that has been set up to work on priorities for disaster grant cash.

He stated he is “going to work with the subcommittee to determine how we got to that prioritization piece and what are the best paths forward to address it.”

Minutes, descriptions, documentation

An in depth description of what occurred was among dozens of documents MetroNews acquired via a Freedom of Info Act request to the state Division of Commerce.

The request, prompted by the RISE controversy, had been for public data referring to the work of the State Resiliency Office.

The request was fulfilled final July, but the current questions about disaster relief led to a better take a look at the paperwork.

Among them was a full report on what occurred on the Nov. 7, 2017, assembly. The document appeared to have been prepared to offer steerage for extra conferences within the months to return.

Just as Hoyer described within the telephone conversation with MetroNews, the report states the session that day was led by FEMA and a facilitator within the Governor’s Cabinet and Convention Room.

Gov. Jim Justice

Governor Justice convened the meeting.

“The governor discussed the promising future of West Virginia with new development and job opportunities,” the report notes. That’s the final time Justice is mentioned.

A photo accompanying the Forward Recovery article exhibits FEMA Region III Administrator MaryAnn Tierney, along with Governor Justice, chief of employees Mike Corridor, Common Hoyer, then-Transportation Secretary Tom Smith and now-retired Homeland Security Director Jimmy Gianato.

The invitees listed within the report also embrace Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher, Public Security Secretary Jeff Sandy, Environmental Safety Secretary Austin Caperton, DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch and DNR Secretary Stephen McDaniel.

West Virginia’s congressional delegation was additionally invited.

There isn’t a indication that any state legislators representing the communities that have been flooded have been asked to attend.

From 9 to 11 a.m., state leaders have been to discuss and comply with state restoration priorities.

When the meeting started, housing was the highest precedence, as mirrored by the best way funding was allotted on the time. Infrastructure was second and financial improvement was third.

That may soon change.

All the event was inspired by how much money West Virginia stood to draw down from the federal authorities for catastrophe relief.

The disaster marked the first time West Virginia acquired a CDBG-DR allocation, $149 million, as the data word. And it was additionally the most important quantity of HMGP funds ever acquired, $69 million.

“Due to the complexity of the situation, the meeting was convened to ensure that there was a holistic strategy for the use of these recovery funds.”

Needs have been additionally immense, although there was disagreement concerning the remaining degree.

At that time, more than $100 million had been dedicated to housing, and volunteer groups had already rebuilt or rehabbed 1,000 houses.

The volunteer teams had finished so nicely, state officials in late 2017 questioned how a lot housing want was left.

“Participants of the session questioned whether there was $100 million left in unmet housing needs, or if some of the funding should be reallocated to support infrastructure and economic development,” the report famous.

Starting at 9:54 a.m., led by the facilitator, the group settled on three priorities, in no specific order: housing, infrastructure and economic improvement.

The facilitator then asked the group if there could possibly be consensus on rating the three priorities.

In accordance with the report: “Conversation was started by Basic Hoyer who indicated he didn’t feel that housing was any longer the highest precedence.

“He indicated that through the State VOAD and other faith-based groups, at least half of the 2,000 homes damaged in the June 2016 flood had been repaired/rebuilt. Therefore housing was no longer a top priority.”

A few of the others within the room agreed, the report states.

Additional dialogue “confirmed that infrastructure would be the top priority.”

The report then describes further speak of how which may apply to the funds underneath Housing and Urban Improvement. Specialists there noted that the state would have to show that housing wants had been met — “something that was not easily done.”

That target the grants via HUD was just like Hoyer described in the telephone dialog with MetroNews.

The group that gathered that day agreed that the Department of Commerce should work with HUD to determine what can be required.

Last week, HUD confirmed to MetroNews that West Virginia has not made a request to that agency to concentrate on infrastructure. That might require an amendment to an Action Plan, primarily a contract between the state and HUD.

However gathered in a convention room in late 2017, state officers have been shifting towards an emphasis on infrastructure.

“Based on this conversation, General Hoyer suggested that infrastructure should be the top priority,” the report states. “”The group agreed.”

So, by 11:12 a.m., the group had agreed on these priorities, in order:

  1. Infrastructure
  2. Economic Improvement
  3. Housing

At that point, the facilitator “indicated that time had run out for this meeting.”

Although much of the assembly had targeted on the newly-available cash from HUD, the gathering was meant to determine a holistic strategy. The report reflects modifications to West Virginia’s strategy across its obtainable grant assets.

The five major subjects embrace this merchandise: “Reprioritization of Hazard Mitigation Grant Program Applications.”

The precise section overlaying that matter states, “As a result of these meetings and the session, the WV DHSEM is now looking at the reprioritization of grant applications.”

The primary listed step in the course of was this:

“WV DHSEM will review their submitted applications and prioritize infrastructure projects before housing.”

Want to be a precedence

Connie Sloan is on the surface wanting in.

She is represented as FEMA Undertaking Quantity 106 as an Acquisition/Demolition.

In line with an replace from state officials this week, Sloans’ software is “oversubscribed,” however “has been submitted to FEMA for review in case other HMGP funding becomes available.”

Sloan says there’s little satisfaction in that.

Asked whether she had heard anything about her standing, she laughed.

“Just sitting here waiting. And then you start looking at where this money has gone to. It’s mind boggling,” she stated.

“It’s like the old carnival game where you take a peanut, put it under a cup and move it all around with two other cups and make people figure out where the peanut is.”

She has moved to a brand new home in Elkview, but “I’m paying 200-some dollars a month on a piece of property that is vacant.”

The mortgage firm additionally costs her a greenback a yr for flood insurance coverage and householders insurance for the property the place her home was flooded and knocked down. At age 80, she still works a part-time job to satisfy the expenses.

Right after the flood, she recalled, officials informed her a buyout is perhaps her best choice.

“It was the very first thing they told me. Nobody said you’re going to be sitting here until whenever,” she stated. “I think they’re just waiting on us to die so they can do whatever.”