Legislature could take up reworked hurricane disaster relief bill next week

Debris removal is one of the main challenges on Ocracoke. [Connie Leinback/Ocracoke Obsever photo]

The North Carolina General Assembly returned to Raleigh on Wednesday to work on another court-ordered alteration to the state’s Congressional maps, but there could also be action coming on a hurricane relief package.

Last month, the state House and Senate approved dueling bills to help fund repairs and cover damage caused by storms in North Carolina dating back to 2016.

House Bill 1023 would appropriate $1.7 million for Ocracoke School, portions of which were flooded by nearly three feet of soundside storm surge during Hurricane Dorian in September.

Elizabeth City State University would receive $5.2 million for Dorian-related repairs to the roofs of academic and residential halls.

Another $1.8 million was designated for construction of a pump station and related watershed restoration infrastructure for Lake Mattamuskeet.

And the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission would be granted more authority to remove abandoned vessels from navigable waterways.

But the Senate approved H200, a striped down version of a disaster relief package, with just $102 million in state funds that would only match federal disaster aid allocated after hurricanes Matthew, Florence, Michael and Dorian.

Coastal Review Online reported that among the top difference is the House’s inclusion of resiliency funding and a handful of significant policy shifts, initiatives Senate leaders say should wait until next year.

The Senate’s bill is aimed mainly at replenishing state matching funds for federal recovery programs.

A conference committee of House and Senate members was appointed before the legislature took a two week break at the end of October to work out the differences.

Rep. Bobby Hanig of Currituck said Wednesday morning the Ocracoke, Hyde County and ECSU provisions that were in the House version are included in the compromise legislation.

“I’ve been working with Rep. Chuck McGrady and Rep. John Bell to make sure those funds are in the final bill,” Hanig said Wednesday morning. McGrady is a co-chair of the conference committee and Bell is a member of the panel.

“I’m focused on the immediate recovery needs,” Hanig told Coastal Review Online last week. “Resilience is something we have to look for down the road, but we have immediate needs that need to be met. We can’t make people wait for that.”

Ocracoke faces a long recovery regardless, Hanig said, given the difficulties of getting needed materials to the island and getting debris off it.

“The logistics are the most severe you could imagine to get things done there,” Hanig said. “You have construction workers on a ferry five hours a day just going to or from work because there’s no place for them to stay.”

Hanig said the conference report should be released either Thursday or Friday, and votes on the bill could happen early next week.

This story originally appeared on OBXToday.com. Read More local stories here.

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