West Virginia Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin (D-Greenbrier, 10) will now lead a legislative sub-committee on flooding, designed to finally get property owners financial assistance for structure demolition.
Homes and businesses that were destroyed in the June 2016 floods continue to dot the southern West Virginia landscape. For years, owners of these structures have been working with the RISE WV Clearance and Demolition Program to receive much needed financial assistance to demolish those structures, but with no success.
In Greenbrier County alone, 178 applications by property owners in need of structure demolition were submitted to the program. Of those, 31 demolitions were marked as complete; five were counted as active incomplete, seven were active “on-hold” incomplete; and 135 cases were closed.
Statewide applications for structure demolition totaled 657, according to information presented to the Interim Joint Legislative Committee on Flooding during their December 6 meeting. Of those applications, 566 were closed for various reasons.
The frustration for structure owners; town, county and state officials; and nearby residents—who must see the remaining dilapidated buildings daily, has reached an all time high, especially with the recent announcement, made during that December 6 meeting, that the Clearance and Demolition Program is under federal investigation and lacks the funding to provide assistance to all those on the waiting list.
For some, hope was lost on the chance that these structures would be demolished any time soon. As recently as January 5, Baldwin and West Virginia Secretary of Commerce Ed Gaunch met with officials from Nicholas and Greenbrier counties to discuss Clearance and Demolition and the need for property owners to reapply for assistance through the program, but they were met with the realization that funding from Clearance and Demolition was just not there for all those who need it.
However, now it seems that there might be another way to get the financial assistance needed to tear these structures down through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
During the Monday, January 10, Interim Joint Legislative Committee on Flooding meeting held at the Capitol building, Baldwin received confirmation from Jennifer Ferrell, director of the Community Advancement and Development division of the WV Development Office, that ARPA funding could be allocated for structure demolition.
“We have the Clearance and Demolition program. Unfortunately, it just isn’t able to cover all of our needs. It’s around $6 million,” Baldwin stated. “There are projects that can’t continue because we don’t have the funds under that program to do all those demolitions.”
Baldwin then made the suggestion that a sub-committee be formed, to determine how to get that funding into the hands of structure owners for demolitions with guidance from those at the West Virginia State Treasury. His suggestion was approved and the sub-committee was formed.
Also serving on the subcommittee will be Senator Chandler Swope (R-Mercer, 06); Assistant Majority Whip Delegate Caleb Hanna (R-Nicholas, 44), Delegate Ed Evans (D-McDowell, 26); and Senator Eric Nelson Jr. (R-Kanawha, 17).
The West Virginia Daily News will provide updates from the new sub-committee once they become available.