John Decker sat quietly and listened as the City of Fayetteville’s former Environmental Services director, Gerald Dietzen, talked about recovering from last year’s Hurricane Matthew.
Dietzen retired last year after 30 years with the City. He spent a large portion of that time directing the city’s sanitation collection services. He retired in October, the same month that Hurricane Matthew dumped 15 inches of rain and carved a swath of destruction through Fayetteville and much of southeast North Carolina.
Dietzen returned to his former employer as a consultant, a sort of project manager. He’s tasked with ramrodding the City’s cleanup of the debris left by Matthew and fixing the damages from the tons of water that gushed through the city on Oct. 8.
At a July 22 Cumberland County Citizens United meeting, Dietzen talked about the City’s ongoing work to recover from the effects of last October’s hurricane. Just the day before, Bingham Drive opened for traffic. A major city thoroughfare, the road had washed away during the storm, and restoring it took nine months. It opened ahead of schedule.
The City so far has spent $3,884,251.27 on repairs and cleanup projects, according to an internal memo from Assistant City Manager Jay Reinstein to City Council members.
But it’s going to cost a lot more. The Federal Emergency Management Administration is supposed to reimburse about 75 percent of the actual cost, but only if FEMA determines the project is eligible. And, the state is supposed to reimburse the remaining 25 percent.
Overall, the City asked for around $9.1 million. The State of North Carolina got about $4.5 million from FEMA on behalf of the City. For the state’s part of the deal, it allocated $1.5 million to Fayetteville, but as of early July only forwarded $1.2 million of that allocation.
The day Hurricane Matthew rolled into Fayetteville, the City’s budget gurus, I imagine, could hear the cha-ching ring loud and clear.
The city’s damaged vehicles alone came to more than $1.4 million. Here’s a sampling of what the storm has cost this City so far:
• Temporary Shawcroft Road access: $246,249
• Debris removal: $1.12 million
• Rayconda alternate connector: $242,193
• Greenoch Drive in Arran Lake: $207,599
• Mirror Lake Dam: $1.5 million
And the list goes on.
Luckily, the City has another source of money: the Golden Leaf Foundation. This nonprofit corporation was created in 1999 and got its greatest bulk of money from settlements with major cigarette companies. The companies had to fork over $206 billion to 46 states for their part in forcing people to smoke and get sick. The Golden Leaf Foundation is supposed to award grants for projects that enhance the long-term economic well- being of North Carolina, especially in the rural areas of the state that were dependent on the tobacco trade.
Well, we’re not rural. But Fayetteville somehow got Golden Leaf Foundation money to clear debris in Cross Creek from Green Street to the pedestrian bridge next to Heritage Place. Several other projects are on the waiting list, with some going to bid in August or early September.
The City is still waiting to hear whether they’ll get foundation money for an alternate connector into King’s Grant subdivision, for more waterways cleaning, and for stabilizing the Cross Creek bank. In the meantime, Dietzen and crew are chugging along, taking bites out of the huge task that lay ahead.
Unfortunately, there were a lot of questions Dietzen couldn’t answer from folks at the meeting because they lived outside the City.
Dr. Josee Bourget, from the Wendemere subdivision just outside City limits, wanted to know the status of storm water studies. And Kittie Elrod, who lives south of Hope Mills in the Grays Creek community of Mt. Vernon Estate, is frustrated. Apparently, there is no one she knows of who can give her an update on stormwater-related issues that have plagued her neighborhood. Those are questions that need to be answered.
But John Decker’s question hit the mark. John finally raised his hand, and when called on by the moderator, he said that while he was all for parks, splash pads and downtown baseball stadiums, he wondered why those items seemed to be given priority over people and property recovering from the hurricane.
It was a good question. The answers are for another column.