Thursday, January 20, 2022

York County denied FEMA assistance from Hurricane Florence. Here’s why

Hurricane Florence may be a memory now, but as FEMA considers where to disperse damage reimbursements, some residents of the Historic Triangle might get the cold shoulder.

On Thursday, FEMA announced in a news release its decisions on which cities and counties in the state were eligible for assistance and which did not meet the threshold for reimbursement.

York County was one of the six localities in the state that was denied after submitting for Hurricane Florence public assistance from FEMA, according to the news release.

Williamsburg, however, still remains eligible.

“FEMA considers a combination of factors when evaluating a governor’s request for a major disaster declaration and in making a recommendation to the President for final determination on the declaration of a major disaster or emergency,” said a spokesperson for FEMA.

Some of the factors considered are compiled into data based on costs, damages and related expenses from a particular event such a Hurricane Florence. This means a locality can submit costs of emergency employment, VDOT damages as well as other state-controlled emergency management services, said Jeff Caldwell, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.

That is why even though York County experienced more flooding than Williamsburg, Williamsburg accumulated more than $8 million in costs because the city facilitated a state-mandated shelter, said the city’s Fire Chief Pat Den.

“I talked to the city manager when it happened and I knew it was going to be confusing when they show Williamsburg with such a high total,” Den said. “People would say ‘How do we have $8 million if we weren’t impacted at all?’ And it was because of that state-mandated shelter.”

A state-mandated shelter was open at the College of William & Mary on Sept. 12 for the public for only about two days, Caldwell said. This was the first time state-mandated shelters were implemented for an emergency and they were available at William & Mary, Christopher Newport University and Virginia Commonwealth University.

The shelters were designed to hold around 6,000 people but only ended up serving about 50 people across all three, Caldwell said.

Falling short

York County accumulated $234,700 in damages, according to data from Caldwell. This made the county fall just below their threshold of $247,453.

Thresholds are determined annually based on estimated costs of federal and non-federal public assistance against a statewide population. This gives a measurement of the per capita impact within a state.

The figure adjusts annually based on the Consumer Price Index, making this year’s per capita amount $1.50 and the established per capita amount $3.78.

In York County with a population of 65,464 means their threshold to meet was $3.78 but the county fell short at $3.59.

But that total cost includes the values of assistance from state agencies such as state police and the Virginia Department of Transportation, Caldwell said. The county’s costs were totaled at being $75,452 before including costs from state assistance, according to data from county spokeswoman Gail Whitaker.

Without the reimbursement from FEMA, the locality is responsible for paying back those damage costs, Caldwell said. But the state agencies will also be responsible for their portion as well.

“The localities will have spent the money necessary to respond to the storm and might have damages to public facilities, but if the county is not eligible for reimbursement then the county is responsible itself for paying, Caldwell said.

However, an appeal can be made for the assistance eligibility, according to FEMA. The state has 30 days to request the appeal and additional localities can be considered in the request and potentially included at a later date.

At the moment, York County does not have any plans to appeal the decision but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t, Whitaker said. 

“It looks like we just fell short of what we had to meet (for assistance) and we can’t really change those numbers,” she said. “We are not aware of any other way we can recoup funds so we’ll just have to absorb them in our overall budget.”

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Alexa Doironhttp://wydaily.com
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at alexa@localvoicemedia.com.

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