Alderson flash flood damage not eligible for federal funds

By Bobby Bordelon

Although the recent Friday, June 20, flash flood has caused hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage to property and infrastructure, federal money will not be going to aid those impacted by the storm.

“As I sit here and write this, I feel defeated,” wrote Mayer Travis Copenhaver in an open letter to the residents. “If you were in the meeting this morning, you would have seen the pleading and conjuring every possible way to try to get this to reach the FEMA level, it just isn’t enough.”

“If you have put your stuff out to be picked up, they are staying in town until it’s done,” Copenhaver wrote.

After reaching out to the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the office of Governor Jim Justice, and senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito, a meeting was held on Friday, June 26, to establish how a federal disaster could be declared for Alderson and the area impacted by the flash flood.

In order to qualified for a Federal Disaster Declaration, the damages must surpass $2.8 million. According to Copenhaver’s letter, homes and town infrastructure damages are currently estimated between $500,000 to $700,000 and the Department of Highways estimates approximately $900,000 in damages.

“Our hopes were that the three counties (Monroe, Summers, and Greenbrier) highways damages and our local damages would put us over the necessary amount. That is not the case,” Copenhaver wrote. “The positive side is, damages were not that bad. The negative is that the town and those people who have loss/damages won’t be able to receive FEMA assistance.”

About 30 homes on the Monroe County side and 30 homes on the Greenbrier County side of Alderson were impacted by the flooding, much of which came off the mountains, rather than rising up from the river. This caused a different pattern of damage than that seen in the flood of 2016. Copenhaver explained that about 10 structures could be condemned as a result of the flooding and the cost of demolition could fall on the owners.

“In light of no assistance in doing, the burden of clean up and demolition would be on the property owner,” Copenhaver wrote. “We are working to try to avoid any that are not an immediate threat to life safety. … I wish I was able to wave the magic money wand and make things perfect, but the sad reality is the wand doesn’t exist,” Copenhaver wrote. “I also wish there was something more that my staff and I could do, but we can’t.”

Volunteers will continue to be a big part of Alderson’s recovery, with clean up continuing on Saturday, June 27.

The Greater Greenbrier Long Term Recovery Committee entered Alderson shortly after the flooding, coordinating with volunteers, the town, and the National Guard to provide support to those impacted. The lack of federal or state funding means the recovery is dependent on the Greenbrier Valley itself.

“An absence of a federal declaration doesn’t make recovery for Alderson impossible; it just means we go about it differently,” said Kayla McCoy, executive director of GGLTRC. “In the coming months and years, we will rely heavily on the generosity of our donors, volunteers, other nonprofits in the Greenbrier Valley and beyond, and our partnering voluntary agencies to help ensure every affected Alderson resident returns to a safe, warm, and dry home.”

Those looking to help can donate funds by visiting ggltrc.org, going to facebook.com/GGLTRC and clicking the fundraiser, or by mailing checks to GGLTRC, 945 Washington Street W, Ste 5, Lewisburg, WV, 24901.

“So, I’ll leave this to neighbors, friends, and anyone who sees the post, if you can make any size donation to help those affected, make it to The Greater Greenbrier Long-Term Recovery Committee,” Copenhaver wrote. “Unlike National response agencies, your dollar goes where it’s needed. … The only hope that I can say there is the Greater Greenbrier Long-Term Recovery Committee. Kayla and her team are amazing. They are here for us. As you see their efforts for fundraising, have no doubt that it is going directly to where it is vitally needed.”

Initially expected on Wednesday, June 24, the National Guard passed through the town, picking up debris laid on the side of the streets. However, the pick-up has been extended beyond this original deadline.

“If you have put your stuff out to be picked up, they are staying in town until it’s done,” Copenhaver wrote. “Their Brig General and I have spoken and they may be getting more resources to help that crew from other agencies. We anticipate them being done by mid next week.”

The flash flooding in Alderson is not the only example of a town hit in the 2016 flood falling through the FEMA cracks – less than two weeks ago, damage in Minden due to flooding, not including dumped industrial chemicals leeching into the soil, was also found not to rise to the financial level of a federal disaster declaration.

Those impacted by the flood that have not reached out for assistance can find it by calling the long term recovery committee at 304-992-2062.

Copenhaver’s full letter reads as follows:

As I sit here and write this, I feel defeated. But honestly, I guess it is a good thing. We met with WV Division of Emergency Management and the Division of Highways. In order to work towards a Federal Disaster Declaration, the damages must amount to roughly $2.8 million dollars.

Our hopes were that the three counties (Monroe, Summers, and Greenbrier) highways damages and our local damages would put us over the necessary amount. That is not the case. The DOH part of the equation is about $900,000. Town infrastructure and home loss is estimated between $500-700,000.

The positive side is, damages were not that bad. The negative is that the town and those people who have loss/damages won’t be able to receive FEMA assistance.

We are blessed that the National Guard is here to help get rid of debris. As such, our town staff is committed to doing the right thing and continuing to assist them, it’s coming from an already strapped general fund. It won’t be reimbursed from public assistance.

If you were in the meeting this morning, you would have seen the pleading and conjuring every possible way to try to get this to reach the FEMA level, it just isn’t enough.

There are about 10 structures that could possibly be condemned. However, in light of no assistance in doing, the burden of clean up and demolition would be on the property owner. We are working to try to avoid any that are not an immediate threat to life safety.

So where are we now? The only hope that I can say there is the Greater Greenbrier Long-Term Recovery Committee. Kayla and her team are amazing. They are here for us. As you see their efforts for fundraising, have no doubt that it is going directly to where it is vitally needed.

I wish I was able to wave the magic money wand and make things perfect, but the sad reality is the wand doesn’t exist. I also wish there was something more that my staff and I could do, but we can’t.

So, I’ll leave this to neighbors, friends, and anyone who sees the post, if you can make any size donation to help those affected, make it to The Greater Greenbrier Long-Term Recovery Committee. Unlike National response agencies, your dollar goes where it’s needed.

It is my prayer that God continue to bless our Town and these United States in our greatest time of need.

Travis L. Copenhaver, Mayor