RISE WV, the long-term recovery effort following the devastating flood two years ago this month, should be providing a badly needed hand up for West Virginians who lost their homes and for communities that were heavily damaged. But instead it has degenerated into an example of how something so well-intentioned can too easily slip off the rails.
MetroNews and other media have been reporting for the last couple weeks about how RISE’s efforts to allocate $150 million from Housing and Urban Development slowed to a crawl and eventually stopped entirely. The Justice administration said it halted RISE earlier this year when questions surfaced about a contract with Horne LLC to help navigate the myriad requirements of a federal program.
Our Brad McElhinny obtained, through a Freedom of Information Request, a series of emails among government agencies involved in the contract dispute that demonstrated how the purchasing process became bogged down. The inside look at the process is revealing, although it’s doubtful that someone who lost their home in the flood and was promised help through RISE cares a whit about such details.
So far, the Justice administration has not been forthcoming about the problems with RISE. Yes, there have been dribs and drabs from the Governor about how he’s supposedly saved $8 million from being wasted on the contractor, but he has been vague on the specifics.
Last Friday, McElhinny submitted lists of questions to the Governor’s press office and the state Commerce Department (which is managing the HUD grant) about RISE, the delays and the contract dispute. He’s still waiting for answers. More importantly, so are flood victims, community leaders and the managers of local, short-term flood relief efforts.
Last evening, Justice announced he is holding a press conference at 11:30 a.m. Monday “to address the RISE flood recovery program.” Finally.
West Virginia still has a number of communities left fragile by the flood that killed 23 people, caused millions of dollars in damage and altered parts of our state forever. These people who have suffered so much deserve answers and explanations.
It appears the administration simply dropped the ball on getting the RISE money out in a timely fashion, but who knows? Maybe there is a logical explanation for the delays, but the communication from the Governor’s office has been so poor that those seeking answers are consistently left hanging.
We have said many times, and it’s worth repeating, that Justice was among the first to pitch in with money and manpower after the flood. He spearheaded the successful “Neighbors Loving Neighbors” program that helped rebuild homes and lives in hard hit areas. Justice opened the Greenbrier Resort to flood victims and then rebuilt the destroyed Old White golf course in record time so the PGA Tour could return the following year.
Only a person with considerable means, work ethic and an enormous heart could do what Justice did. West Virginians should be grateful for how Justice suspended his campaign for Governor and turned his attention to flood relief.
However, that does not change the fact that RISE WV has so far failed to deliver on the nearly $150 million that can provide life-changing aid to flood victims and communities. This program is being run through the Commerce Department, an office in the Justice administration. The buck stops at the Governor’s desk.
Also, for some unknown reason, Governor Justice chose to keep people in the dark rather than fulfill the obligation of the office and demonstrate leadership by being forthcoming about RISE. We hope that changes, starting with this morning’s press conference.