CHARLESTON, W.Va. — U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito says she believes the message came through “loud and clear” to a top FEMA administrator Friday that it’s time to pick up the pace in replacing schools destroyed by the June 2016 floodwaters.
Capito and fellow U.S. Senator Joe Manchin participated in Friday’s meeting by phone with a group that had gathered in her Charleston office including FEMA Region III Administrator MaryAnn Tierney. Tierney, at Capito’s request, came to the Capital City to meet with Kanawha County school officials, state lawmakers and county and municipal leaders.
FEMA funds will pay 90 percent of the replacement costs for Herbert Hoover High School and Clendenin/Bridge Elementary School. The Hoover and Clendenin schools were destroyed by the ravaging Elk River. Capito and Manchin have both questioned FEMA about the pace of completing environmental assessments for the proposed replacement properties. They’ve urged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to finish its reports connected with the properties.
After the meeting, Capito told MetroNews she’s seeing some improvement.
“Things are moving faster and we’re getting better results,” Capito said. “We still have to go through some public hearings on the plans but we hope to get those done sooner than later.”
The Clendenin/Bridge project is a little further along than the Hoover replacement project. The environmental assessment could be put out for public comment in a few weeks for Clendenin/Bridge. Capito said she expects the work on the Hoover project to move more quickly now.
“Because of the pressure that we’re putting on FEMA I think Hoover is moving a lot quicker,” she said. “I’m hoping there won’t be much space between the time we do the public meetings on both of them.”
Delegate Dean Jeffries, R-Kanawha, said Capito pushed Tierney and other FEMA reps during the meeting. He said it remains a frustrating process.
“It’s still their timeline,” he said. “It is reassuring to know that things are moving but they just aren’t moving any faster than the federal bureaucracy would allow.”
Jeffries wrote a letter to Gov. Jim Justice about the pace of the projects back in January. He said Friday he still hasn’t heard from the governor but is glad the issue has caught the attention of the senators.
Both Jeffries and Capito believe earlier intervention and better communication would have the process further down the road approaching the three-year anniversary of the flood.
“A good way to put it is that no one knew who had the ball. There’s been no attention to it until, I guess, January,” Jeffries said.
Capito said she “absolutely” believes the school replacement could have been done “better and sooner” but, she said, there’s no time for excuses.
“We’ve got to all communicate better, that’s what the meeting in my office was about,” she said. “We realize we’ve made mistakes and mistakes were made but I’m tired of worrying about mistakes that were made–let’s get it done and I think the message came through loud and clear.”
Capito said the school replacement projects in Nicholas County weren’t specifically addressed Friday. She said those appear further along with FEMA than the Kanawha County projects.
Tierney is scheduled to return to West Virginia next month.