There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
On Wednesday evening’s regular meeting of city council, White Sulphur Springs Fire Chief Brian Dolan thanked the council for their support during the June 23 flooding that devastated the Spa City.
Dolin reported that the flash flooding was so sudden, the city quickly found itself completely cut off from the outside, as high water made it nearly impossible to go in or out of town.
“White Sulphur Springs was surrounded,” Dolin said. He commended his crew and ordinary citizens who helped with water rescues and other emergencies. He reported that the fire department worked 820 hours during the flash flooding and immediate aftermath; other organizations clocked over 90 hours of assistance. Dolin thanked the Lewisburg, Ronceverte, Fairlea, Alvon/Neola and Frankford fire departments for their assistance, along with the West Virginia State Police, Sheriff Jan Cahill and the Greenbrier County Sheriff’s Office, the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, and the full cadre of EMS services from around the county who helped White Sulphur Springs EMS during the emergency.
Dolin also thanked Mountaineer Guns owner Ryan Ellis for his help running a bulldozer to help divert water throughout the town. Further, Dolin stated that the citizens of White Sulphur were indispensible in their immediate responses and relief efforts, both during and after the flash flooding.
“Emergency services were overwhelmed, and if it weren’t for citizens helping each other, it could have been a lot worse,” said Dolin.
White Sulphur Springs Main Street program representative Pat Harper echoed Dolin’s sentiments: “The faith-based community and non-governmental organizations have organized and pulled through,” she told council.
Harper also announced that the town’s summer concert series and Main Street sponsorship drive have both been postponed.
“Now is not the time,” said Harper. “We are trying to help White Sulphur Springs businesses by helping to fill the gaps in communication” through phone calls and on the group’s Facebook page.
Also placed on the back burner is the city’s plan to replace the leaky municipal pool, out of commission for three years. The pool is located in White Sulphur’s Memorial Park, which lays along Howard’s Creek and was demolished by the flooding.
Parks and Recreation Committee chair and council person Audrey Van Buren told audience members, “Memorial Park is a mess. We’re looking at repair estimates, but right now we’re looking at more important things, like homes for flood victims.” Further, she said, fundraising for the municipal pool has been placed on the “back burner” for now.
At the end of the meeting, Greenbrier Sporting Club member and 50 East restaurant owner Tom Crabtree approached council with a plan to build a new community for flood victims on Big Draft Road, near the city water treatment plant.
Crabtree, accompanied by area building contractor Rob Vass, pitched the community to council, stating that he and a lot of wealthy “movers and shakers” have the funds and the ability to convert seven acres of city-owned property into a planned neighborhood of 40 houses specifically built for people who cannot rebuild their homes due to their location in the flood plain. The proposed property took on no water during the flooding, he said.
“We would provide good, low-cost affordable housing for people who need it most,” Crabtree told council.
Further, he said, there would be no cost to the city of White Sulphur Springs, because money is available for the project through various charitable organizations. He requested that council convey the property to the ad-hoc organization for the cost of $1.
Crabtree requested that council draft an option to purchase at once. Council voted to go into executive session, joined by City Attorney Steve Hunter, where they remained for about 25 minutes.
During the council’s absence, Crabtree told reporters that potential homebuyers could use government funding to purchase the homes.
“Somebody who’s getting money from FEMA can afford one of these homes,” he told The Register-Herald.
FEMA can grant up to $30,000 to disaster victims. The $30,000 amount is based on a home valued at $200,000. FEMA and Small Business Association Disaster Relief representatives told the Mountain Messenger that if a house is valued at less than $200,000, then less money would come to the homeowner. For instance, an owner of a home valued at $65,000, pre-flood, can expect to receive about $3,000 from FEMA.
Further, many houses were destroyed in the flood were occupied by renters. When asked about renters, Crabtree agreed that there is a need for quality homes for renters as well.
When council and Hunter returned from executive session, council did not vote on Crabtree’s proposal. White Sulphur Springs Mayor Lloyd Haynes invited Crabtree and Vass to join him, Hunter and another council member to discuss the matter following the meeting.
Council will continue to discuss and decide how to re-home flood victims in coming meetings. The regular meeting of city council is held on the second Monday of each month at 7 p.m.