EMERALD ISLE — The town plans to submit to the Federal Emergency Management Agency a request for about $45 million in reimbursement funds for damage caused by Hurricane Florence, $40 million of that to replace 2.2 million cubic yards of sand lost from the town’s 12-mile-long beach strand.
“That is a lot of money,” Town Manager Frank Rush said Tuesday night during a post-hurricane report he gave to residents and town commissioners at the board’s monthly session in the meeting room beside the police station on the north side of Highway 58.
“We received $13 million (in reimbursement money for sand lost in hurricanes) Isabel, Ophelia and Irene. But we’ll put in the claim.”
The remaining $5 million included in the claim comes in part from a variety of damages, such as an estimated $900,000 for public facilities, $195,000 to buildings, $158,000 to park facilities and $517,000 for beach access walkways, sound access walkways and piers.
Then there are expenses, such as an estimated $2 million or more for debris removal.
As of Tuesday, the town’s contractor had removed 105,000 cubic yards of debris, reportedly just 75 percent of the way through the contractor’s “first pass” through town.
Mr. Rush said he’s satisfied with that progress, given the amount of debris is so monumental, far more than any such effort in the town’s history.
Other major expenses include rental and purchase of stormwater pumps, hoses and generators to augment those the town already had in place.
At one point, the town had 33 pumps in operation, Mr. Rush said, with public works crewmen and others scrambling from site to site to keep them fueled and operating. The town got aid from outside agencies in that task, he said, but crewmen and town firemen were out doing that work for days, braving high winds and driving rain. They also worked in those conditions to clear roads.
“The stormwater pumping effort became the town’s primary focus during this time, and the town’s efforts focused solely on removing water from flooded public streets,” Mr. Rush said.
Mr. Rush added that he believes the town’s fixed pump system in various subdivisions along the Coast Guard Road corridor functioned reasonably well during and after Florence, and resolved most, though not all, major problems in a few days.
“It is important to note that this system was designed to reduce the duration of street flooding experienced in these locations as a result of Hurricane Fran in 1996, which dropped approximately 10 inches of rainfall in Emerald Isle,” he said.
“Florence brought at least 24 inches of rain to Emerald Isle, and several pumps initially had a difficult time keeping up with the extreme volume of rainfall.” Eventually, he said, the pumps caught up and most areas, with a few exceptions, chiefly Lands End, were passable and safe within a few days of the storm.
Much of the water pumped went to Emerald Isle Woods, a 43-acre nature park and stormwater management facility, but some was also pumped into the ocean and Bogue Sound.
“The state normally discourages this practice, however, the state was very cooperative and tolerant of these efforts due to the extreme nature of Florence’s impacts,” Mr. Rush said. “Initial discharges to the ocean and sound began on Sept. 16 and continued through Sept. 25.
“Overall, the town’s storm water pumping efforts were the most significant element of the town’s immediate post-Florence response. Had the town experienced rainfall totals similar to previous hurricanes, up to 10 inches, it is likely that the full recovery would occur much sooner.”
Mr. Rush said Emerald Isle Woods suffered significant damage to its function as a park, with trees down on the nature paths, and will likely be unusable and closed for some time until a contractor can remove the trees. That will be another expense.
Twelve ocean beach access walkways lost stairs and 11 sound access walkways were damaged. The Cedar Street Pier was essentially destroyed, Mr. Rush said, and a pier to Archers Creek in the Bluewater neighborhood likely is beyond repair. The roof of the old town hall/police station building, where commissioners meet, was severely damaged, too.
Repairing all of this and returning Emerald Isle to its prior state will take months, maybe more than a year, and will be costly, Mr. Rush emphasized.
He believes town insurance and FEMA will pay for all of it, but in the meantime, the town will have to “carefully manage cash flow in order to effectively complete the many projects that will be undertaken over the next year.
“Historically, the state administers FEMA funds for the federal government (and) has been very cooperative with the town,” he added, “and has processed reimbursements very quickly and sometimes prior to the actual payment of invoices.
“As of September 30, the town’s total cash balance is approximately $5.6 million, so I believe we are well-positioned to meet all Florence-related cash flow needs, with the exception of the potential beach nourishment project.
Mr. Rush noted that property owners suffered mightily, too. Without being able to look inside homes, town inspectors estimated at least $35 million in private property damage.
The inspectors noted damage to 1,154 structures, with 1,011 classified as minor and 143 with major damage or “destroyed.”
Officials, Mr. Rush said, know that because of unseen inside damage, the $35 million figure is “way underestimated” and doesn’t include ruined household goods, carpets and portions of interior walls and ceilings.
To help property owners, commissioners Tuesday night voted unanimously to allow residents or businesses in any zoning district to immediately begin using recreational vehicles or travel trailers on their own properties during repairs or rebuilds.
Planning director Josh Edmonson said those who wish to do so must obtain town permits, but fees have been waived. The permits are good for 90 days and can be renewed administratively for an additional 30 days.
And, Mr. Edmondson said, “We realize that 90 to 120 days may not be enough time for some people. If there’s a good faith effort (on the repairs),” that time period can be extended.
All RVs or travel trailers used for this purpose must be hooked to a waste treatment system, such as the properties’ septic tanks, or the owners must demonstrate other safe and sanitary methods they will use to dispose of the waste. All must have a permanent power source and gas generators will not be allowed.
Mr. Edmondson said he knows some people have been living in RVs or travel trailers already, and urged them to come in and get a permit.
“We want to help any way we can,” he said. He urged all who are in the temporary structures, or plan to use them later, to visit town hall, so the town will know how many there are and where they are.
In his report, Mr. Rush also noted that the major storm was an opportunity for officials to think about ways to improve hurricane response and preparedness in the future.
For example, the town’s paper re-entry pass system has been used since the 1990s, is antiquated and is time-consuming for residents and staffers who are already stressed. One possibility is emailing the passes to property owners and residents.
In the end, Mr. Rush said, the bright spot was that people took the storm seriously. Staff estimates that 85 to 90 percent of the people in town heeded the mandatory evacuation call. That made it easier for those residents, who didn’t have to endure the long period without power and other services, and for emergency staff.
“No one died, and we don’t even know of anyone who was significantly injured,” Mr. Rush said.
Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email Brad@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.