With the WV National Guard taking over flood recovery efforts for Gov. Justice this summer, Senator Stephen Baldwin invited a group of state recovery officials to visit southern West Virginia last week to meet with local municipal, county, and nonprofit leaders.
“It was time to get everyone around a table and hash out details moving forward,” Senator Baldwin explained. “Recovery is difficult work, and this allowed us to all be on the same page so we can work together.”
State officials present included Jeff Wood (Director of RISE for Gen. Jamey Hoyer), Major Justin McIntyre (Project Manager for RISE), James Young (FEMA), and representatives of WV Homeland Security and Emergency Management. In addition to county and municipal leaders, they met with Appalachian Service Project (ASP), WV Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (WVVOAD), Greater Greenbrier Long Term Recovery (GGLTR), Meadow River Valley Association, The Great Barrel Company, Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation, and more.
Walter Crouch, CEO of Appalachian Service Project (ASP) which has rebuilt 69 homes in southern West Virginia since the flood through private donations and volunteer groups, attended the meeting and summed up the day when he said, “It feels like the heart is back in recovery now.” The state is now contracted with ASP to do many of the renovations and rebuilds in the RISE program in the coming years.
Senator Baldwin was particularly pleased with that news. “Their folks hung with us through tough times, and now their project managers on the ground just want to get to work. They say, ‘Bring it on! Give us as much work as you can.’”
Major Justin McIntyre of the WV National Guard is a Greenbrier County native who now oversees day-to-day operations of RISE. He reported on their caseload, saying over 400 cases remain. Those clients can expect to hear from VOAD case managers soon. It’s also still not too late to see if you qualify. Call 1-304-220-2570 to talk to the WV National Guard about your case.
Some 700 additional cases are in the system but do not qualify for RISE. For example, folks may make too much for that program but still have real needs. Cathy Rennard of VOAD said, “That means we still need to identify resources for those folks, and we will.”
Jeff Wood agreed they would not stop until every family’s needs were met. “While I direct the RISE program, Gen. Hoyer wants me to focus on meeting people’s needs. We will do whatever we have to do in order to meet that goal. It’s less about a particular program than finding the resources folks need whenever that may be.”
James Young reported that FEMA placed 20 staff members in WV to stay. They even plan to open a permanent office. West Virginia would be one of only a few states in the nation to have a permanent FEMA office. Senator Baldwin sees that as a huge step in the right direction. “All the towns tell me they’ve had little to no consistency with FEMA for the past two-plus years. A permanent office should allow that consistency so they talk to the same folks and can actually solve problems rather than getting the run-around.”
Remaining work also includes some 75 bridges and dozens of demolitions that still need to occur. VOAD is working to assign the bridge work and the Guard anticipates demolitions to begin in the next three weeks.
Several economic development projects, such as the Great Barrel Company, are also progressing. They began clearing land by the interstate in White Sulphur last weekend. Tom Crabtree is leading the barrel company effort. Early on, he worked to establish Hope Village with other community leaders and volunteer groups, but that was just part of his vision for recovery. He also remained firm that we needed good jobs once folks were in safe homes.
Baldwin sees this series of meetings as the first step in bridging the gap between local, state, and federal flood recovery efforts. “The initial recovery effort was the most remarkable thing I’ve ever seen, because everybody worked together. We’re getting back to that. It will take time and many more trips. They couldn’t visit everyone this first time, but they’ll be back. I’ll make sure of it.”