Jones County delivers updates on Buzzfeed story, recovery plan
From left, Jones County assistant superintendent Otis Smallwood, Riggs Brothers Farms owner Randy Riggs and Jones County Manager Franky Howard field questions Wednesday at the Jones County Public Schools building. Photo by Junious Smith III / Neuse News
Jones County looked to dispel a BuzzFeed story while also giving an update of the region’s state.
Jones County Manager Franky Howard and Riggs Brothers Farms owner Randy Riggs fielded questions about nearly 35 to 40 migrant workers stranded due to Hurricane Florence. Howard said he took a call from the area on Sept. 15 and several attempts were made to get crews out to the farm.
“In the process of that, I made direct contact with the farmer who employs the workers, Mr. Riggs, and a neighboring farmer, along with the (N.C.) Growers Association,” Howard said. “After talking to the farmers and the Growers Association, we were made aware the workers were safe. They weren’t in need of rescue at that time and we were satisfied with that information, (moving) on to the several hundred calls we were getting at the same time.”
According to the BuzzFeed article, which was published Monday evening, the Jones County Emergency Management team cancelled efforts to extract them after Riggs said the group was fine. Riggs said there was frequent conversation between parties and there were no injuries.
“We stayed in constant contact with them,” Riggs said. “We had another place for them to go and they were in a dry area (and) when they left, they left with the transfer station I had supplied them. They went to the (Emergency Operations Center) and everything went from there.”
There are about 20 workers still with the company, while the rest went back to Mexico.
As Jones County continues to transition toward a sense of normalcy, Howard said there are meetings set for the public in terms of disaster relief.
“We’ve arranged for a public information meeting with FEMA, 7 p.m. Monday over at the community college of Jones County center of LCC,” Howard said. “Pollocksville is holding their meeting tonight at 6 p.m. at Pollocksville Elementary (and) we have the Disaster Recovery Center set up (with) several state, federal and local agencies.
“We’re still encouraging folks to go there if they haven’t already and register with FEMA. We were approved for TSA, which is transitional sheltering assistance, which we hope will lead to temporary housing. Unfortunately, they didn’t give us an exact time when it would be brought to Jones County.”
Jones County schools are looking to open up soon and Assistant Superintendent Otis Smallwood said there is a plan for students who originally went to Trenton Elementary and Jones Middle, a pair of schools uninhabitable due to flooding.
“The plan for now is to hopefully have those kids back on Oct. 15 (and) for staff to return on Oct. 8,” Smallwood said. “The kids at the middle school and the teachers will transition to the high school campus and the students at Trenton Elementary in grades Pre-K through two will transition to Comfort Elementary. Grades three through six will transition to Pollocksville Elementary for the remainder of the school year.
“We’re locating desks and other materials to make it work for the rest of the year. We’ve got a lot of school districts across the United States that have been reaching out to help us with any materials we may need, so we’ll (go) through that now to make sure we’ll be ready.”
The N.C. General Assembly approved legislation, allowing 20 days of forgiveness. If students go back to school Oct. 15, it would mark 23 days missed, which means three makeup days in Jones County. Teachers and staff won’t have their money affected in the storm, as checks weren’t shortened.
A Family Day is slated for 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Jones County Civic Center with activities for children. There will also be resources for families, such as food and cleaning boxes packaged by county organizations.
The Jones County Landfill opened up Wednesday for the first time since Hurricane Florence. Household waste is permitted and the tipping fee will be waived for the next two weeks, but yard and storm debris will not be taken at the landfill.
The Register of Deeds and the Tax Office is still in the County Administration Building, as repair efforts continue at the Jones County Courthouse. There is no reported timeline of when the building will be operational, but a temporary site is in the works.