U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones holds Florence Q&A with area leaders
Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-NC3) fielded questions and inquiries Friday during a meeting at the Lenoir County Cooperative Extension. Photo by Junious Smith III / Neuse News
Lenoir County leaders had an opportunity Friday to address the state of the area to a United States Representative Friday.
Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-NC3) fielded questions and inquiries Friday during a meeting at the Lenoir County Cooperative Extension, learning about the damages Lenoir County suffered after Hurricane Florence, along with some of the area’s biggest needs.”
“I wanted to be with the local leaders to see what we can do in Washington to help with the recovery,” Jones said. “(I want) to make sure the federal agencies who are supposed to help people recover are working properly. In addition, I was concerned about people who lost their houses — there are a multitude of problems.
“We’re going to put a bill in working with the Governor of North Carolina and local officials when we go back in January 2019 to continue to make sure that agencies who are helping recover have the money they need and see if we come up with ideas for flexibility.”
In Lenoir County, about 120 families were displaced due to the storm. Lenoir County Board of Commissioners Chairman Craig Hill said the ferocity of the storm dropping from previous predictions prevented further damage, but there’s still a long road to recovery.
“We’re very much aware if Florence came in as a (Category) 4, we would be in a completely different situation, so we’re very grateful for that,” Hill said. “The impact on the southeast region of the state from this particular storm is probably greater than any storm we’ve had in my lifetime — we’ve basically had four catastrophic events in one: we had wind damage, flash floods, surge floods and then the river flooding. These communities in Eastern North Carolina cannot withstand not only the impact from a personal standpoint, but the economic impact as well.
“We have to step up and get our resources to help us with prevention rather than response.”
Kinston Mayor Don Hardy said a plan is on his desk with recovery concepts and he has been appreciative for the assistance locally, statewide and nationwide throughout Florence.
“There are a list of things that can be done — the thing is, where are we going to get the funding from,” Hardy said. “We’re going to keep trying until we get a solution to the problem and (hope) to get funding from the federal government.
“We’ve been very proactive (and) everybody’s been working together on every level. We applaud those folks who came out to help us and we always pay it forward. I think we’ve had more support than we’ve ever had.”
During the meeting, Lenoir County Commissioner J. Mac Daughety raised concerns about small businesses and alternative options besides loans. With two major storms in the past two years, Daughety said there has to be change when thinking about small businesses and the agricultural aspect of Lenoir County.
“We need to start thinking different,” Daughety said. “We need to treat our small businesses different and we need to start looking at how do we prevent this rather than trying to catch up after it’s over. We saw it in Floyd, we saw it in Matthew and we’ll see it in Florence — it’s slowly eroding the economy of Lenoir County and Eastern Carolina.
“We need our farmers and we need them in Lenoir County. The (agriculture) business community employs so many people in Lenoir County and if it starts to erode, it (hurts) our economic base and we can’t afford that.”
There was a reported $8.3 million in row crop damage in Lenoir County and a loss of about 20,000 fowl, although livestock was relatively unaffected. Still, N.C. Cooperative Extension Livestock Agent Eve Honeycutt said it’s going to be a process for farmers, especially with some pathways damaged to transport materials and an already rough season.
“Farming is usually urgent, seasonal and it’s got to be done right away,” she said. “It’s going to be a long road and farmers in our area were already struggling greatly with costs, commodity prices (and) labor issues, but this is going to knock them for a loop.
“For a small farmer, it’s going to be really difficult for him to recover from this type of loss.”