CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Lawmakers who represent constituents recovering from the 2016 floods say they have seen the pace pick up on progress.
“There have been some significant changes over a short period of time,” state Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, said today. “I think there was some talk last week of lightning speed. I would say it seems like they’re off to a running start.”
Last Monday, Gov. Jim Justice called a press conference to address complaints of stagnation with long-term flood recovery in West Virginia.
Justice said he was placing Gen. James Hoyer of the West Virginia National Guard as point man on the overall relief effort.
The governor also proposed greater involvement of West Virginia Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster with all aspects of flood relief.
“Give us a month. Give us a month and find out what happens,” the governor said at the conclusion of last week’s news conference at the Capitol.
Baldwin, who has known Justice for several years in the governor’s other role as a basketball coach, praised the changes.
“He makes good halftime adjustments. I think this has been a good halftime adjustment moving responsibility to the Guard,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin said some of his constituents are receiving increased attention already.
“I’ve seen better communication so far with clients, with service providers, with contractors, myself as a legislator,” Baldwin said. “After the announcement on Monday, I sent General Hoyer a list on Tuesday of the constituents who had contacted me who were RISE clients and their needs. They were on that list immediately.”
One particular family has been living in a local church, Baldwin said. The demolition of their damaged home has now been scheduled — a sign of progress, Baldwin said.
“So they’re the most pressing case that I know about in my district, and they achieved results in just a couple of days.”
West Virginia RISE in the Department of Commerce in the Justice administration is the state agency designated to manage Community Development Block Grants for disaster relief authorized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Of the $149,875,000 West Virginia has available, the state still has $148,736,333 left on hand.
West Virginia made its request to start using the money this past Jan. 29. HUD gave its OK on Feb. 20.
Commerce is to remain involved with long-term disaster relief — particularly since it is the designated agency to administer the HUD funds — but Hoyer is coordinating efforts.
Senator Glenn Jeffries, a Democrat who represents the northern parts of Putnam and Kanawha counties, said he also is feeling better about long-term flood relief.
“I do know that what they have accomplished in a week is a lot more than my understanding of what Commerce has done,” Jeffries said Monday.
Jeffries said he has met several times already with West Virginia Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster.
He said he has seen required environmental reports moving through the bureaucratic pipeline. And he has seen a handful of homes ready to be demolished or to receive a mobile home for the property.
“It gives me a whole lot more confidence,” Jeffries said. “I have been meeting with VOAD since he put them in place. I’ve met with them three times and I’ve seen significant progress.”
Hoyer, providing an update during a news conference last Thursday, concurred that progress has improved already.
“Yesterday because of getting through a communications breakdown, we were able to release six more homes for mobile home replacement,” Hoyer said Thursday.
“Today we’re going to get through a process in that environmental piece that I think is going to get us through another five. Next week, you’re going to see us continue to surge. As opposed to responding to you with words, let people look at our actions over the next 30 days.”
Hoyer promised to provide regular updates about momentum on long-term flood recovery.
“We’ll keep you engaged and keep you informed,” Hoyer said.