Even with work being completed at a rapid pace, the RISE West Virginia flood recovery program likely will miss its goal, by about a year, of finishing the construction of more than 400 houses for people who were displaced by floods in Southern West Virginia in June 2016.
Instead, officials are looking at completing construction on 406 houses by the end of 2021, Bobby Cales, state resiliency officer told the West Virginia Legislature’s Joint Committee on Flooding Friday afternoon.
Under questioning from the committee co-chairman, Sen. Chandler Swope, R-Mercer, Cales said wrinkles in the administrative process had to be ironed out before officials were able to standardize the process to spur construction.
“With the due-diligence process, it’s still an animal for us,” Cales told the committee. “We have had a working group established that now has come up with a way forward on how to move the homeowner agreement stage to case management to roll everything into a notice to proceed [with construction]. We have a way forward to move through now.”
Swope said it is the task of the committee to ensure officials and builders are able to set reasonable deadlines for themselves “and then be able to hold those dates for the families that are still out there.”
As of Dec. 31, 2019, 101 houses had been constructed through RISE West Virginia, an organization established by state officials to provide aid to low-income West Virginians in repairing, replacing and reconstructing houses that were damaged or destroyed in the 2016 flood.
To date, RISE West Virginia has spent $43 million of the $149.87 million it was awarded in federal grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Jennifer Farrell, director of community advancement at the West Virginia Development Office, told the committee.
As of Friday’s meeting, construction had been completed on 226 houses, with 180 projects remaining, Farrell said.
“During the [coronavirus] pandemic, we have doubled our accomplishments in 2020,” Farrell said. “Our program has continued to be able to do well, even with the situation we’ve all been faced with.”
Swope said he understands there often are delays in construction that can’t be predicted but that any progress happening during the COVID-19 pandemic is encouraging.
“When we started this committee two years ago, virtually zero was done,” he said. “We had to go from zero to 100 mph in a very short amount of time, and I would like to compliment you all on the fact that you all did that.”
A timeline for bridges to be repaired or rebuilt was less clear Friday. Cales told the committee that bridge construction has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic.
Most of the bridges, he said, were being constructed by volunteers through the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, referred to as VOAD. Cales said volunteers with the organization were hesitant to travel at all over concern of contracting or spreading the coronavirus. But he said volunteers are slowly returning to work.
Cales told the committee it is the estimate of RISE officials that bridge construction will go beyond the end of 2021, but he didn’t provide an exact end date.
“We are going to pick up the pace on bridge construction,” Cales said, telling the committee he expects construction volunteers eventually would be building more than one bridge per month.
Under questioning from Swope, Cales said none of the to-be-constructed bridges is holding up construction on any of the RISE houses.
During the committee meeting, Farrell said RISE officials are in the very early stages of planning for construction of three multi-family structures that would have about 115 units each. The multi-family buildings aren’t part of the original plan, but Farrell said a needs assessment conducted by officials with the West Virginia Housing Development Fund identified West Virginians displaced by the flood who could benefit from access to such residences.
Farrell did not say during the meeting where those units would be constructed, but Cales told the committee the units are likely to be completed by 2023.