A bipartisan group of Senators, including Senators Thom Tillis and Richard Burr, have introduced a bill that would expedite the process of building projects which could be funded through Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) hazard mitigation grant program. On behalf of the Greenville Utilities Commission (GUC), General Manager / CEO Tony Cannon and the Commission’s lobbyists worked closely with North Carolina’s Senate delegation to get the bill. The American Public Power Association (APPA) is actively supporting these efforts.
Under current law, local stakeholders such as governments or public utilities applying for FEMA funding for hazard mitigation projects must wait until they have FEMA approval before beginning land acquisition or construction. That process can sometimes take years with no guarantee the project will be funded by FEMA. If they were to purchase land or begin construction before hearing from FEMA, they would be disqualified from being able to receive the FEMA funds.
Senate Bill 2385 - The Hazard Eligibility and Local Projects (HELP) Act - would change that to allow local municipalities and states to move quickly on land acquisition and simple construction on mitigation projects while applying and waiting for word on the possibility of FEMA grants.
“Hurricane Matthew had devastating impacts on eastern North Carolina,” said Cannon. “One of our power substations flooded and transmission lines were inches away from being submerged in flood waters. We needed to shore up the substation and raise transmission lines before the next hurricane hit. GUC applied for hazard mitigation funds from FEMA to help defray the cost of these improvements. We waited more than one year only to find out we would not receive the requested funds. Due to FEMA restrictions, we were unable to make these vital improvements before the next disaster, Hurricane Florence, without disqualifying ourselves from receiving federal assistance.”
“Following the destruction in North Carolina caused by Hurricanes Matthew and Florence, I worked with our state delegation to secure billions of dollars in disaster relief funding so communities could recover as quickly as possible,” said Senator Tillis. “Unfortunately, red tape has prevented many of these projects from even being started and has drawn out the recovery process for thousands of North Carolinians.”
“Communities that have been devastated by natural disasters should not have to wait on bureaucratic red-tape to begin rebuilding after the storm passes,” said Senator Burr. “This commonsense legislation will give local officials the flexibility to start their smaller-scale disaster relief work while waiting for a final decision on their Hazard Mitigation Assistance grant. I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation with Senator Tillis, and I look forward to the Senate’s passage.”
“On behalf of GUC and the region we serve,” said Cannon, “thank you to Senators Thom Tillis and Richard Burr who, along with a bipartisan group of their colleagues, introduced the HELP Act – that will allow us to make the necessary improvements to our infrastructure without being disqualified from receiving FEMA assistance. This is a commonsense solution to helping communities build resilient infrastructure without bureaucratic delays.”
The House of Representatives passed similar legislation 409-7 on December 17, 2019.