Give the city of Charleston an A for effort. It saw a need and tried to fill it with a public meeting aimed at unraveling the intricacies of state and federal grants for flood-damaged homes in the city.
But when all was said and done, the unresolved questions on how to get state and federal money to rebuild and resume interrupted lives still loomed large. So did the issues of prevention of home and property flooding.
The Feb. 8 meeting was organized and run by Mark Wilbert, the city’s newly minted chief resiliency officer, after months of tireless prodding by Beatrice Bernier of Groundswell! She became an authority on flood-mitigation grants after three watery onslaughts to her Peninsula home in three years.
The purpose of the meeting, according to Wilbert, was “outreach and education” to “demystify” the grant process and explain details of the ever-more-costly federal flood insurance program.
Two bottom-line takeaways:
Despite three years of destructive flooding, of repetitive, and in some cases severe, damage to the homes of Charleston residents, they may not get grant help. And if they do, it could take years.
Also, when it comes to obtaining government grant money, each homeowner will find a long, lonely path ahead that requires individual persistence, with no guarantees. That’s why Groundswell! has been advocating for a fully staffed flood office at Charleston City Hall.
The state sent three articulate officials who administer the grant and mitigation programs to the meeting to explain the tangled sources of funding. These state officials profiled some of the requirements needed for financial help to elevate houses, or move toward a buyout. The speakers explained that the timelines for applications and for the start of construction can be confusing, to say the least.
From the state officials, the 200-odd residents of the city, nearly filling the Charleston Museum auditorium, heard about the federal Hazard Mitigation Assistance Grants, which are administered by the state. And the assembled crowd heard about Flood Mitigation Grants, also federal, administered by the state to help fund projects such as elevation and buyouts. And there was mention of updated flood maps and technical assistance on grants for increased cost of compliance. (FEMA tried and failed to send a representative to the meeting, citing an impending federal funding shutdown.)
Each program had differing qualifications and requirements.
Sound complicated? Undeniable.
The presenters tried hard to demystify. But it became clear as the two-hour meeting wore on that the myriad of details verged on overwhelming. Questions from the audience made it obvious that one homeowner’s problem was not necessarily like another’s.
Perhaps the most useful advice to baffled members of the audience was a phone number, plus an email, for one of the presenters– Jennifer Artz of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. She encouraged a call and pledged to determine whether you are eligible to apply for any of the grants, or all. Her number is 803 734-4012. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Or try Allen Fountain of the state Emergency Management Division, at 803 413-5242. Or try Maria Cox Lamm, the state coordinator for flood mitigation, at 803 734-3672.
In addition to the Charleston Museum session, Wilbert ran a similar two-hour meeting at the Bees Landing Recreational Center in West Ashley. The slides from this program are to be posted on the city’s website in coming days.