Fort Bragg’s garrison commander told a Fayetteville audience on Wednesday that the military post suffered about $55 million in damages from Hurricane Florence.
Army Col. Kyle Reed, who oversees day-to-operations on the base, was one of seven speakers who presented updates during the annual Greater Fayetteville Chamber State of the Community in the Crown Coliseum Ballroom. About 225 civic, business and political figures attended the program that’s designed for leaders to share perspectives on what is happening in their respective communities or fields.
Disaster recovery and relief from Hurricane Florence’s considerable destruction provided key talking points for all the speakers.
“We suffered, as well,” Reed said.
Of the installation’s 52 million square feet of office space, he said, about 600 buildings were assessed as having been damaged. Reed did not delve into the extent of those structural damages.
“At the end of the last year — and fiscal year ends for us Sept. 30 — I received about $6 million for help with those damages,” Reed said. “There’s still a vacancy of about $48 million there I need to help … I’m working on that. It’s not just the surrounding community that suffered. We all suffered.”
As he has previously mentioned, Reed said that military personnel on Fort Bragg will grow by about 2,500 over the next two to three years. The post already is seeing some of that population growth.
Last year, the total military personnel on Bragg counted about 52,000.
It has since grown to about 54,000, Reed said.
“And it’s going to continue to grow a little bit more over the next two to three years,” Reed said. “Why do I tell you that? Because more people, more families, there’s more community injected into this surrounding area. Right now, we’re about 96 percent occupancy rate on the installation on the (residential) facilities — 6,150 houses. I’m going to need to keep some as people transition in and out of the installation.”
Speakers also included Larry Lancaster, chairman of the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners; Mayor Mitch Colvin of the city of Fayetteville, Mayor Jackie Warner of the town of Hope Mills; Larry Dobbins, mayor of Spring Lake; Robert Van Geons, president of the Fayetteville-Cumberland County Economic Development Corp.; and N.C. Secretary of Commerce Anthony Copeland.
“Four weeks ago, we all know Hurricane Florence punched us in the gut with a lot of wind damage, power outages, severe flooding and things we’ve never seen in this town that resembled C-130s — the largest mosquitoes that mankind has ever seen,” Lancaster said to a round of laughter.
Large populations of black mosquitoes emerged in Fayetteville neighborhoods and in the county days after the storm’s heavy rains produced flooding and standing water.
“Our county is strong and we’re ready to rebound, not only from the mosquitoes, but from this disaster,” Lancaster said. “We’ve been here before. Just two years ago we learned a lot of lessons from Hurricane Matthew, and we used those lessons this time during our response to Florence. I’m very proud of how the county performed in response to Florence and as we move forward with recovery efforts.”
Lancaster noted that for the second time in two years the Federal Emergency Management Agency and N.C. Emergency Management set up a Disaster Recovery Center at the Cumberland County Department of Social Services to assist residents. As of last week, he reported:
• An overall 1,280 survivors in the county had been approved for about $3.4 million in storm damage assistance.
• More than 33,000 households had been approved for more than $11.3 million in replacement and disaster food stamps.
• Early damage reports indicate that more than 1,850 parcels of land throughout the unincorporated areas of the county, as well as Fayetteville and Hope Mills, experienced some damage.
• The county tax office has estimated more than $30 million in losses “in our unincorporated areas of Hope Mills and six smaller towns.”
• Seventy-nine structures were destroyed in unincorporated areas and smaller towns.
• And “to the best of our knowledge,” Lancaster said, “35 properties in unincorporated areas were damaged in Hurricane Matthew and Florence.”
As for those pesky mosquitoes, he said, the county has conducted two rounds of spraying.
Stormwater, infrastructure bonds
Colvin said the destructive run of hurricanes that Fayetteville and the surrounding areas have sustained over the last couple of years could indicate a new reality. As a result, the city mayor said, it’s time to think differently and plan accordingly.
“We must begin to invest in infrastructure resilience and stormwater management initiatives,” he said. “Update our flood plain maps. Expand the ability of local governments to help mitigate and, if necessary, prevent construction in flood prone areas. Finally, invest in our stormwater management systems.”
With those proposed initiatives in mind, Colvin said, he has asked Fayetteville City Council to meet Oct. 30 to formulate a plan and discuss the city’s stormwater systems. Colvin will be asking colleagues to consider “different mechanisms we’ve never done before, such as a stormwater and infrastructure bond.”
Colvin spoke of the nearly $29 million in disaster response the city has received from state and federal officials for Hurricane Matthew relief. He said he is grateful for that funding, but then Colvin brought up the many city residents who remain out of their homes today nearly two years later.
Matthew hit the area Oct. 8, 2016.
“This cannot be an acceptable fact for us,” Colvin said. “We sustained over $50 million in damage, and we’ve only received a portion of that. We need to work with federal and state officials to get the resources we need to take care of our people.”
‘Test of a lifetime’
Warner, the mayor of Hope Mills, said all the naysayers were proven wrong when the town’s new dam survived the heavy rains of Hurricane Florence. During the September storm, water was released from Hope Mills Lake in hopes of preventing floodwaters from overtaking the dam and spillway.
“It probably took the test of a lifetime,” she said.
When discussing the dam and what it meant to Hope Mills, Warner said it has been a life’s work.
“Almost like raising a child,” Warner said. “And now it’s back.”
Spring Lake’s new face
Spring Lake Mayor Dobbins, speaking at the State of the Community for the first time, reported that the town had recently hired a new economic development coordinator who “has hit the ground running.”
“The little town in the northwest corner of Cumberland County,” as he called the municipality, is working diligently to change the perception that it’s “an island.” There’s also a perception, Dobbins said, that Spring Lake’s schools are not performing well.
“We intend to change all that,” the retired educator said.
© 2018 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)
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