Britt: Robeson in line for a ‘lot’ of Matthew aid

By: By Mike Gellatly - [email protected]

RALEIGH — Robeson County is in line to receive “a lot” of the $100 million earmarked in the recently approved North Carolina budget for continued cleanup and rebuilding from Hurricane Matthew and other disasters, according to a local senator.

The House unanimously approved on Wednesday the Disaster Recovery Act of 2017, which is designed to distribute the funds for building low-income housing, public housing repairs, local infrastructure, stream debris removal and farm repairs.

“Lumberton is going to get a lot of money, Fair Bluff is going to get a lot of money,” said Sen. Danny Britt, one of three sponsors of the bill. “We came out really well.”

Britt spoke the day after Gov. Roy Cooper made stops in Lumberton, Fairmont and Fair Bluff, during which he announced how almost $2 million would be spent, including about half of that to fortify the sewer system that serves Fairmont and the surrounding area.

The money would benefit some of the areas, such as Lumberton, hit hardest by the Oct. 8 hurricane and the epic flooding that followed and aid areas in Western North Carolina damaged by storms and wildfires.

Of the $100 million, $25 million would be spent on housing-related items, $30 million used for Golden LEAF grants, $20 million to benefit agriculture, $22.3 million for federal matching funds and $2.7 million would aid state community colleges.

North Carolina Emergency Management will administer $20 million for repair of housing not covered by community development block grants. These funds would cover owner-occupied and rental properties, and also could be used for housing elevation, acquisition and mitigation not covered by the federal Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.

Public housing in Lumberton lost hundreds of units to Hurricane Matthew, and many now sit in the flood zone. The units that can be occupied again are slowly being brought back on line.

The legislation provides $5 million for housing would be overseen by the Lumber River Council of Governments to be used to construct low-income multi-family housing in Fair Bluff.

The council is tasked with creating an affordable housing complex with 30 to 35 units within the town limits.

“Myself and (Rep.) Brendon Jones pushed for that early on,” Britt said. “The only option is new construction because of where they lie. This will allow them to have some low-income housing built there, which is very much needed.”

Britt is pleased that the recovery legislation includes language stating Golden LEAF grants can now be allocated to nonprofits and used for mitigation efforts. Bo Biggs, a Lumberton businessman, sits on the board of Golden LEAF.

“If infrastructure needs to be repaired we were not going to be able to use that money to fund mitigation, now Golden LEAF money can be used to fund these efforts,” Britt said.

The senator gave the example of Robeson Community College, which suffered storm damage to its infrastructure. And nonprofits impacted by the storm, including the Lumbee Tribe and churches, can now apply for funding, Britt said.

RCC may also benefit from the allocation of $2.7 million to the North Carolina Community College System Office to be used to offset the effect of enrollment declines related the hurricane. Community colleges’ state funding is based on enrollment, and RCC lost students because of the hurricane and the dollars that followed them.

Golden LEAF-administered grants of $30 million would target infrastructure, personal property, hazard mitigation and the construction of new residential structures.

The Division of Soil and Water Conservation would oversee $20 million aimed at aiding the agriculture industry. Stream debris removal, farm road repair, pond and dam repair and drought relief are all listed as areas of use for the money.

With many federal aid programs there is the requirement of local matching funds. The recovery bill allocates $22.3 million matching funds. The State Emergency Response and Disaster Relief Fund would administer this money.

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By Mike Gellatly

[email protected]

Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or via Twitter @MikeGellatly

Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or via Twitter @MikeGellatly