Cleanup and repair from Hurricane Matthew likely will take two or more years, Hilton Head Island’s town manager said during a Town Council workshop retreat Thursday.
“We don’t quite understand yet how to comprehend it all,” said Steve Riley, town manager.
Debris cleanup alone could extend another four months or more, other town staff said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s deadline for debris cleanup is six months from the hurricane, which would be April 8 for the town.
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“If I had to make a choice today, I would say this is going to linger longer than six months,” said Scott Liggett, the town’s director of public projects and facilities. “Yet, I haven’t fully identified the scope of the project, and we probably won’t until January.”
It’s possible the town will have to ask for an extension, Liggett said.
Despite 80 haul trucks working seven days a week, only about 20 percent of storm debris has been cleared from Sea Pines and 15 percent from Hilton Head Plantation, Liggett said.
Whether the town can meet the deadline impacts the type of FEMA programs staff should apply for, Liggett said.
“FEMA offers two programs,” he explained. “One operation is a pilot program and offers a greater level of reimbursement — the money will come sooner, but there is no history whatsoever of FEMA ever extending that window past six months.”
Charles Cousins, town director of community development, said the town could receive up to 85 percent reimbursement from FEMA if it meets the six-month mark under the pilot program. If the town misses the deadline, it will receive nothing, he said.
The second “more traditional” program provides up to 75 percent reimbursement, and officials are likely to extend the deadline, Cousins said.
Other future FEMA deadlines are looming for the town as well, Cousins said, including an 18-month deadline to complete repairs to roads, the beach, parks and pathways.
Riley said 18 months may seem like a long time, but the process to do the work can be time-consuming.
“Everything has to be bid, and everything has to have proper permits,” he said. “These timelines get crucial.”
FEMA also will cover some “mitigation efforts,” including improvements to stormwater management systems, Riley said, noting there is no deadline for those projects.
The town has a long recovery road ahead, Riley said.
“Just because you adopted a budget, just because you approved doing something — that doesn’t mean we can go forward with it, because our needs have changed,” he said.