CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Flooded homeowners are moving up and off an “oversubscribed” list for federal mitigation grant money, although it’s still no guarantee that they’ll be compensated for their losses.
Mike Todorovich, director of the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, made the announcement during a meeting of the Legislature’s Committee on Flooding.
“There is nothing left as far as individual homes on oversubscribed today,” Todorovich said.
That doesn’t necessarily mean the mitigation projects have been approved for funding. FEMA would still need to approve them, Todorovich cautioned.
Among those who viewed that news as good was Senator Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, who has been asking for several years about flood victims being compensated by federal Hazard Mitigation Grant Program funding.
“You have succeeded in making HMGP not a bad four letter word any more, and that is a significant accomplishment,” Baldwin said.
The Hazard Mitigation Grant Program is different from RISE West Virginia, although both are ways that victims of the catastrophic 2016 flood could be compensated for their losses.
RISE is funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and is specifically aimed at housing.
The mitigation grants are funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Broadly, those are meant to mitigate damage from future disasters.
Some of those who want to be paid from the grant have already had their houses demolished. Part of such agreements is never again developing the flood-inclined property. Alternatively, some may choose to build new homes on the same property but elevated out of harm’s way.
West Virginia’s priorities for mitigation grants have come under scrutiny over the past months.
West Virginia has had $67 million in mitigation money related to the devastating 2016 flood.
But $21 million in housing requests wound up on a Hazard Mitigation “oversubscribed” list, where they might receive funding if other requests such as for water projects and generators fell by the wayside.
A memo signed by Todorovich in May outled “the official plan to realign priorities.”
Some of that process meant shuffling some other proposed projects to make way for housing.
Early this year, the state canceled a proposal for an improved, $5 million emergency operations center that would have been paid through mitigation money.
After that, the state started looking for additional infrastructure projects to be canceled.
“I don’t believe anything that would pass the benefit-cost analysis has been taken off the list,” Todorovich said after the meeting. “However, we did reshuffle some projects.”
So the housing mitigation projects moved up, but it’s no guarantee they will be funded.
“Just because their documents are going to FEMA that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to meet the FEMA process for approval,” Adjutant Gen. James Hoyer told members of the flood committee.
Todorovich, speaking after the meeting, concurred.
“They’ll make sure it meets the right criteria,” Todorovich said of FEMA. “They’ll make sure that it meets the benefit-cost analysis, that it really makes common sense.”
Todovorich said the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management website will start next month to include weekly status updates on the projects.
Several property owners who have been waiting years for an answer attended the legislative flood meeting at the Capitol.
They were dismayed to still be waiting for concrete answers.
“We’ve heard a lot of promising things over the last year, and it seems like they just keep getting pushed on down. They find another reason,” said Junior Naylor, 69, of Clendenin.
The flood destroyed his house, a multi-car metal garage, automatic garage doors, and a two-story cinderblock building. He signed papers signaling a buyout that July, had heart surgery in September and watched the demolition of the buildings in October.
He’s been waiting ever since for compensation.
He spoke directly with Todorovich at the legislative flood meeting.
“There’s still much more loopholes they’ve got to jump through. They found the money, I reckon, to maybe pay us. At the last meeting, they didn’t have any money. But I don’t know if they’re going to pay us or not.”
He said he won’t believe it until the money is in hand.
“Until then, it seems like we’re just getting kicked down the road,” Naylor said.
He said the waiting is hard.
“It gets frustrating. You come to these meetings; it takes you three or four nights to where you can calm down and start sleeping again. We’re all getting to the point that is it ever going to happen? I guess I’ve still got my hopes up.