Politics & Government

Estimated cost of Hurricane Matthew recovery on Hilton Head: $65.9M. FEMA reimbursement so far: $0

Drone footage shows the steps to removing island's debris

CrowderGulf created this handout video to inform residents in the Lowcountry the steps that are taken to remove the debris caused by Hurricane Matthew on Hilton Head Island.
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CrowderGulf created this handout video to inform residents in the Lowcountry the steps that are taken to remove the debris caused by Hurricane Matthew on Hilton Head Island.

Almost 10 months since Hurricane Matthew hit the island, Hilton Head has not seen a penny of reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The recovery to date has cost the island about $46.2 million, though the total cost is projected at $65.9 million, according to town documents.

Steve Riley, town manager, said Tuesday the town in a few weeks should start receiving FEMA reimbursement payments for storm costs in public areas. Reimbursement for costs in private communities should follow in September, he said.

The town, however, has been anticipating FEMA money for months.

The town expects to receive about $37 million from FEMA and a separate $1.1 million Natural Resources Conservation Service grant the town applied for, said John Troyer, director of finance.

Derrec Becker, public information officer for the S.C. Emergency Management Division, said in an email Monday the state is working closely with the town to make sure it is reimbursed.

“We work with each organization that applies for federal reimbursement to help them get funds as quickly as possible, given the requirements under FEMA’s Public Assistance program,” he said. “We believe that the town will see its federal reimbursement very soon.”

The bulk of remaining recovery work includes stormwater debris removal, beach restoration, and cleanup of town properties and open spaces, according to Jennifer Ray, planning and special projects manager.

Riley said there is no set date for hurricane-related work to be completed given the town’s cash-flow situation, but drainage-ditch debris removal should be done by the end of this month. He said the town doesn’t have a specific list of remaining recovery projects, though stormwater debris removal and beach restoration are top priorities.

Most of the completed work includes debris removal from roads and rights-of-way; parks and pathway cleanup and repairs; emergency beach work; and repairs to buildings, equipment and utilities, Ray said.

Without any FEMA reimbursement, the town put certain capital improvement projects, including the Coligny Park project, on hold, Riley earlier announced. The Town Council recently approved a five-year, 5-mill property tax increase to replenish the town’s hurricane recovery fund.

Riley said the town will apply the first FEMA reimbursements toward repaying a $20 million loan used to help the town’s cash flow after the hurricane. After the loan is repaid, the town’s reserves will be replenished before any delayed capital improvement projects are restarted, he said.

FEMA will reimburse up to 75 percent of hurricane costs, and the state has set aside money to help municipalities with covering some of the remaining 25 percent, Riley said. Beaufort County also might help the town, though that isn’t guaranteed, he said. The town’s share of the estimated total $65.9 million recovery cost is $27 million, town records show.

One of the biggest storm costs has been beach recovery efforts, which are expected to cost $14.4 million, with $3.7 million of that to be reimbursed by FEMA, according to town documents.

The town plans to begin its South Island Emergency Beach Fill project this month. About 300,000 cubic yards of sand will be pumped onto Sea Pines-area beaches to replace what was lost in the hurricane.

Riley said more work is expected to be done on north end beaches, though damage there was not as extensive as on the island’s south side. A federally protected shorebird roosting on the island’s north side will make restoring portions of those beaches difficult right now, he said.

Initial recovery efforts in the days after the Oct. 8 storm involved clearing access to the hospital, airport, fire stations and public service districts. The town is now trying to finish recovery projects while hoping that another hurricane doesn’t come anytime soon.

“I think it’s gone amazingly well,” Riley said. “Not perfect, but amazingly well. It’s really been a great team effort.”

Hurricane Matthew Expenses:

▪  Expected total cost: $65,948,400

▪  Expected reimbursement: $38,260,116

▪  Estimated insurance reimbursement: $603,900

▪  Final town share: $27,084,384

Source: Town of Hilton Head