Lancaster property owners dealing with destruction from Storm Isaias won’t be getting debris removal assistance from the county. Although several supervisors empathized with the affected homeowners, the board left a recovery assistance option on the table, effectively letting it die.
EMS chief Matt Smith told the board that the county qualified for funding through the Virginia Department of Emergency Management’s Emergency Fund, which would have reimbursed the county for a portion of the costs for debris removal from public right-of-ways, the staging area expenses where the debris would be gathered, and a reduction plan to eliminate it.
Homeowners could have benefited because any debris that was moved from their property into a right-of-way would have been picked up by the contractor working for the county and hauled to the staging area.
Smith didn’t know exactly how much of the bill the state would reimburse but he said he expected it to be between 70 percent and 75 percent. District 1 Supervisor Jack Larson pointed out the costs could be open-ended and endless.
District 5 Supervisor Robert Westbrook expressed concern about the precedent that taking this type of action would set. “If we spend the money this time, then when the next storm comes and does something, we’re going to be obligated to do something there. And I just don’t see it… I don’t think we want to go down that road at all,” he said.
“I’m in agreement… as much as I want to help, I just can see us doing this—moving stuff from private property,” William Lee, Supervisor for District 4.
“So [apart from helping the homeowners] how do you feel about the right-of-way pickup?” Smith asked the board.
Larson questioned whether it was VDOT’s responsibility to clear the right-of-ways for public roads since the county doesn’t own the roads. Smith said he was looking into that but wanted a back-up plan in case that falls through. But county administrator Don Gill crushed any hopes that VDOT was going to rectify the situation. He said VDOT agreed to come back and handle a situation with one particular property owner who had raised an issue but Fredericksburg district engineer Marcie Parker told him “any further pickup by VDOT was highly unlikely.”
“Well, there’s a limit to what we as a government can do in providing services and helping people and this exceeds that limit in my mind. We just can’t do it all. We can’t help everybody out every time something happens. And there’s absolutely no history of [the county doing something like this,]” said Larson. And with that the board chose to take no action.
“My next play is to do everything I can to try to get the federal small business administration loans,” said Smith. He explained that county residents may be able to get access to low-interest 30-year loans through the SBA to handle the destruction. But to do so, he needed to collect and submit information to see if Lancaster qualifies.
Lancaster EMS was already collecting that information before the board meeting last Thursday. Friday was the deadline to push the information into the system, but Smith said he will continue accepting information from homeowners this week.
And this is the final play. Without the SBA loan, Lancaster property owners won’t have any aid. It’ll be up to the homeowners and their insurance companies, he said.