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West Virginia Legislative Interims: Questions remain on financial aid for eastern Kanawha County

By Autumn Shelton, WV Press Association

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Kanawha County officials are still awaiting response from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to determine if financial aid will be provided for the severe flooding that occurred on Aug. 26 and Aug. 28 in the eastern part of the county.

According to Kanawha County Emergency Management Director C.W. Sigman, who spoke during Sunday’s meeting of the interim West Virginia Legislature’s Joint Committee on Flooding, FEMA must still complete audit reports to assess the situation. 

“We don’t know if we are going to get individual assistance or public assistance – public assistance for fixing infrastructure, individual assistance for helping individual homeowners,” Sigman said. 

An estimated 10 inches of rain fell within a 5 to 10-mile radius from Chesapeake to Chelyan that August weekend, Sigman added, noting that the first rain event was unexpected. Yet, multiple agencies from neighboring counties joined forces to carry out water rescues, clear creeks of debris, and provide support to affected residents. 

“Kanawha has worked very hard with all of the agences–the agencies have worked very hard–to make sure we have a robust flood response,” Sigman continued. 

The areas most affected include those near Fields Creek, Slaughter’s Creek, Little Creek, Witcher Creek, and Kelly’s Creek–Horsemill Hollow, Sigman said. Twenty-two private bridges were destroyed, three homes have been declared a total loss, 32 homes have major damage, and 54 homes have minor damage. However, only nine percent of those asking for assistance have flood insurance. 

“So, they’re not going to get compensated 100 percent,” Sigman said. “They will have enough money, if we get a FEMA declaration, to kind of get them back on their feet, but it will not replace all their valuable stuff. It will not happen.” 

Additionally, the Kanawha County Public Service District lost sewer lines in the flood, with repairs estimated to cost $4 million. 

“Sewer is about $1 million a mile,” Sigman stated. “We don’t know what insurance is going to be and how much it is going to be from FEMA.” 

From Sept. 5 through Sept. 21, Kanawha County picked up 400 tons of debris, and disposed of it, Sigman stated. Unfortunately, some homeowners also lost significant portions of their yards as swift waters eroded creek banks. 

Del. Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, asked what, if any, programs were available to those who lost portions of their yards due to creek bed erosion.

“Are there procedures in place, or programs in place, to help stabilize the creek beds?” Hansen asked. 

Sigman responded that he isn’t aware of any programs, but that question may be addressed by other agencies. 

“To my understanding, that’s up to the individual,” Sigman said. 

Senator Mike Caputo, D-Marion, asked if there is an emergency alert system in place for those in vulnerable, flood-prone locations who do not own cell phones, or have cell phone service. 

“Kanawha County has 50, almost 60 sirens throughout the county, and they were originally put in for chemical warnings in concentrated areas,” Sigman said. “We call them outdoor warning sirens because they don’t carry very well inside your home . . . it’s for people who are outside.” 

Sigman said he would like to see more sirens placed, but that a cell phone alert system is still the best warning system available. 

Judith Lyons, executive director of the West Virginia Conservation Agency, then spoke before committee members. 

Lyons said her agency is one of the first to respond after a flooding disaster, and will remain active until a Governor’s emergency declaration has ended. 

She explained that work completed by her agency for debris cleanup has totaled $72,000, with all debris now being cleared from streams, except one giant stump located in the Pocatalico area. 

“We have a pit burner and we’ve transported that from areas of eastern Kanawha County down there and burned this,” Lyons said. “It’s a big process, and we have to do necessary permits with air quality of the DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) and forestry.” 

Lyons added that W.Va. Conservation Agency will enter into an agreement with a federal agency to assist homeowners who have lost portions of their yard following a flood. 

“It’s a 75/25 percent cost share, and that is dependent upon the county that we are in,” Lyons said. “The socio economically depressed counties, sometimes, it can be 90/10 percent that our agency pays for.” 

Lyons also discussed work starting on the state’s dams. 

“There are 170 high hazard dams that we are responsible for,” Lyons said, adding that “high hazard” means there would be a significant loss of life should a dam malfunction. 

The dams are inspected following every high rain event, and are also inspected on a monthly basis, she continued. 

Of the $21.6 million allocated by the state legislature last year, out of the $55 million requested, Lyons explained that the first phase of dam rehabilitation work has begun, including for Brush Creek No. 14 and No. 15 in Mercer County. 

“It doesn’t mean that the dams aren’t safe,” Lyons said. “We are just rehabbing them so they can maintain another 50 years of their evaluated life.” 

Finally, Lyons stated that they are trying to get the “Stream Protection and Restoration” project, which helps remove debris from streams, “back up and running.” 

“People can remove some debris themselves,” Lyons added, but noted that there are guidelines. She said information regarding stream cleanup will be posted on the agency’s website. 

Cutlines: W.Va. Division of Highways response on Little Creek Bridge at Slaughter’s Creek during August flooding in Kanawha County. 

Cutline: Creek bed erosion at a home in Horsemill Hollow.