FAIRMONT — Gov. Roy Cooper made stops in Robeson County on Wednesday, dropping off checks that include $988,553 in Disaster Recovery Act of 2016 funds that will benefit Fairmont’s wastewater treatment system.
Cooper announced the funding Wednesday during a brief stop at the Fairmont wastewater treatment plant that followed a visit in Lumberton during which similar announcements were made of money for hurricane relief.
The Fairmont plant serves the towns of Fair Bluff, Cerro Gordo and Boardman in Columbus counties, and Proctorville and Orrum Middle School in Robeson County. Fairmont relies on revenue from the service it provides these communities to keep its facility operating.
Hurricane Matthew devastated Fair Bluff, causing about a quarter of its businesses and the revenue they generated to disappear and many residents to leave. Fair Bluff’s financial troubles have put at risk wastewater treatment services for the entire area.
“Communities struggling economically since Hurricane Matthew can’t recover without reliable wastewater treatment, an important part of their infrastructure,” said Michael Regan, state Department of Environmental Quality secretary, who was with the governor in Robeson and Columbus counties on Wednesday. “We’re excited to help Fair Bluff, Fairmont and the surrounding communities, and hope this initiative will serve as a model for other North Carolina towns with similar issues.”
Fairmont Town Manager Katrina Tatum called the money a “realistic and holistic approach” to solving current problems and preventing future problems that could result from a hurricane such as Matthew.
Cooper told the small gathering at Fairmont’s wastewater treatment plant that while it’s important to work toward hurricane recovery, it is also important that a plan be developed and activated so there will never again be such devastating storm damage.
“We are going to keep pushing forward,” Cooper said. “We’ve got to look at the long term.”
Although more than $1 billion in state and federal funds already have been spent or designated for North Carolina’s recovery efforts, more federal and state funds are needed to continue hurricane recovery, Cooper said. State officials and North Carolina’s congressmen are working to obtain more disaster relief funds.
Fairmont Mayor Charles Townsend welcomed the governor’s visit to his community.
“This sends a good message to the community and all who are involved in Hurricane Matthew recovery,” Townsend said. “It shows that the governor is concerned.”
After his visit to Fairmont, Cooper visited nearby Fair Bluff.
Cooper toured storm-damaged areas of the community, reopened a boat ramp along the town’s River Walk, and announced that the state Legislature is in the process of approving $5 million to build new homes in Fair Bluff. The money will be appropriated to the Lumber River Council of Governments.
The governor also met with town officials to get an update on how the community is doing with recovery efforts.
Cooper was in Lumberton earlier in the day. There he announced that nonprofits helping in hurricane recovery efforts in 13 counties will get $810,000 to help volunteers rebuild homes. The announcement was made while the governor was visiting a flood-damaged home that was rebuilt by United Methodist Church volunteers.
“Volunteers, nonprofits, and faith groups are doing incredible work helping North Carolinians recover from Hurricane Matthew, and these grants will help continue their efforts,” Cooper said. “Recovering from Hurricane Matthew is a team effort, and I’m grateful to everyone who is pitching in to bring us back from this terrible storm.”
The governor also said that about $70 million in federal disaster recovery money provided through Community Development Block Grants has been designated for Robeson County when it becomes available. The grants will be used mostly to repair or rebuild houses.
The grants are the result of public donations to the North Carolina Disaster Relief Fund. Nonprofits were selected to receive grants based on applications reviewed by the Governor’s Office, the United Way of North Carolina, and North Carolina Emergency Management.
Among the grants awarded that directly affect Robeson County and nearby counties were $368,000 to North Carolina Baptist Men to repair homes in Robeson, Bertie, Duplin, Sampson and Wayne counties; $200,000 to the N.C. Conference of the United Methodist Church to repair homes in Robeson, Cumberland, Edgecombe and Nash counties; and $50,000 to the United Way of the Cape Fear to assist families, purchase building materials and pay contractors repairing homes in Cumberland County.
While in Lumberton, the governor also announced that there will be a $100,000 study of ways to prevent future damage to Lumberton should the Lumber River rise too high again.
“We want to learn why this flooding happened and what can keep it from happening again,” Cooper said. “This study can identify ways to protect Lumberton, keep its residents safe, and help flood insurance rates remain stable so homeowners and businesses can return.”
The study was requested by Lumberton officials. It is expected to take about three months and will document causes of flooding, develop strategies to limit flood damage, and estimate costs for changes needed to protect Lumberton and its residents from future floods.
Lumberton Mayor Bruce Davis said he met with the governor about noon Wednesday and showed him where flood gates could be placed to prevent floodwaters from coming across Interstate 95 and into West Lumberton in the area just off of West Fifth Street.
“The governor listened and was very open to what we said,” Davis said. “He has been very supportive of our needs since he took office.”
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.