CARTERET COUNTY — With more than a week separating Carteret County from Hurricane Florence, county assessors have determined a tentative damage estimate of more than $1 billion, a figure that, according to county officials, is likely to increase.
“Right now we are estimating $1.8 billion, with a ‘B’,” County Manager Tommy Burns wrote in an email. “Our assessors are still out in the field doing damage assessments.
In response to the damage, county commissioners unanimously agreed, during their Monday evening meeting, to waive a number of fees relating to the recovery.
“All permit fees including building inspection and related construction or demolition fees are waived for storm related damage,” reads a press release about the county commissioners’ decision. “Bacteriological water sample fees are waived for testing of flooded well inspections until the state of emergency is lifted.
“All late fees are waived for the month of September 2018 only, for customers of Carteret County water bills. Any prior or subsequent month late fees will not be waived. All late filing fees and late payment fees are waived for Carteret County Occupancy Taxes for September 2018 only. Any prior or subsequent late filing fees or late payment fees will not be waived.”
Mr. Burns said waiving these fees is something the county has always done in the past. He added that it’s important residents understand these fees have been waived so contractors don’t charge them.
“Our part of that is to send out notifications (to residents),” Mr. Burns said.
Commissioners Jimmy Farrington and Bob Cavanaugh highlighted the fact that although the permit fees have been waived, residents must still secure the permits.
The waivers, which went into effect Tuesday, will only be for 90 days.
“If we decide to extend it, we can always extend it,” Mr. Burns said.
County Commissioners also approved hiring a temporary Federal Emergency Management Agency compliance officer.
“This position will be housed within the finance department, and will work solely on FEMA compliance and auditing to ensure proper FEMA reimbursement.” Mr. Burns said. “This position is eligible to be paid with FEMA funds. That will be until FEMA closes out that storm.”
Wind and flooding damage wreaked havoc on Carteret County when Hurricane Florence made landfall near Wilmington Sept. 14. A Category 1 storm when it made landfall, Florence dumped at least 2 feet of rain in most of the county by the time it finally passed early Saturday morning.
County staff catalogued much of the damage sustained throughout the county and presented some of their findings at the commissioners’ meeting Monday.
County Chairperson Mark Mansfield said Carteret officials anticipated heavy damage in the days prior to the storm. Mr. Mansfield said the precautions county staff decided to take contributed to the lack of casualties.
“We made the call to evacuate early and we were recognized by Highway Patrol for making that call,” Mr. Mansfield said. “We had zero fatalities to storm-related deaths here in the county.”
Mr. Mansfield also mentioned the decision to not immediately establish shelters within the county. Although shelters were eventually established, he said not initially having any in the county encouraged more people to evacuate the storm.
“We wanted people to leave the county,” Mr. Mansfield said. “When we made that call, the storm was a Category 4. You see what it was when it entered. If those people wouldn’t have heeded that warning and (instead) went to a local shelter, there could have been deaths, rather than damage.”
Mr. Mansfield also touched on the effects of not having power.
“I don’t know the exact percentages … but 65, 75 percent of our county is with septic tanks and wells,” Mr. Mansfield said. “When you don’t have power, that means you can’t flush toilets, you can’t take showers, you don’t have air (conditioning), it’s a public safety concern. We’ve had some issues with waste removal.”
County officials decided to open six temporary debris sites where residents can drop off storm-related debris. Those sites are Mariners Park in Sea Level, Eastern Park in Smyrna, Western Park in Cedar Point, Garner Site in Newport, Otway Site in Otway and Fredeen in Peletier. All are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Sunday.
“We have a lot more to do,” Emergency Services Director Stephen Rea said to county commissioners during their Monday meeting. “We have a mobile FEMA disaster relief center that is set up at the Health Department right now.”
FEMA sent its initial wave of agents earlier this week, according to FEMA’s Regional External Affairs Specialist Lynn Kimbrough. Since arriving in Carteret County, they have assessed a number of properties, including those owned by the county.
“They did do inspections on two of our facilities,” Mr. Rea said. “They plan on opening two facilities in the county for residents to come to.”
Ms. Kimbrough said that, as of now, there aren’t concrete plans to establish more FEMA-related facilities in Carteret County, although it could happen in the future.
“For Carteret County, the only facility I have at the moment is the mobile registration site at the health department in Morehead City,” Ms. Kimbrough said.
Mr. Mansfield praised county staff for their work.
“We have a great team that did a lot of work,” Mr. Mansfield said. “I spent some times in that Emergency Operations Center. I came and went between the shelter and my home … and those guys stayed 24/7. Some of them had their houses flooded and they continued to work and never complained.”
Contact Dean-Paul Stephens at 252-726-7081, ext. 232; email Dean@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @DeanPEStephens.