Botanist Andy Walker of US Forest Service discusses a failed road and culvert that remains impassable this summer in the Croatan National Forest following storm damage from Hurricane Florence last year. Jack Igelman / Carolina Public Press
Nearly one year after Hurricane Florence pummeled North Carolina’s central coast, Croatan National Forest is still recovering from an estimated $17 million in damage to the forest’s infrastructure and costs to respond to the storm.
The storm inflicted widespread damage to the national forest as well as to nearby coastal communities like New Bern.
However, the Croatan’s native and restored longleaf forests were relatively unscathed by the Category 1 hurricane’s 100 mph winds and, in some locations, more than 2 feet of rain.
“What failed were all of the man-made things, but the forest’s ecosystem is in good shape,” saidRon Hudson,Croatan National Forest district ranger.
The current activities towards Environmental Justice and a Just Florence Recovery will be presented by Naeema Muhammad and Ashley Daniels of the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network and the Just Florence Recovery Coalition.
Date: Wednesday, June 5, 2019 at 6:30 p.m.
Place: The Harrison Center, 311 Middle Street, New Bern
Environmental Justice is the effort to promote health and environmental equity, clean industry, safe work places, and fair access to all human and natural resources, especially for low income communities and peoples of color.
The Just Florence Recovery aims to help these communities get the resources now to continue getting help after the hurricane and flooding devastation, but also to build resilience in affected communities for future climate related events.
Ashley Daniels has been an activist with the NC Sierra Club in Wilmington and a founding member of the NC Sierra Club’s Equity, Inclusion and Justice Committee. She is an organizer for the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network and for the Just Florence Recovery.
Naeema Muhammad has been Organizing Co-Director with NCEJN since 2013. She has served as a community organizer working with communities dealing with waste from industrial hog operations and has co-authored publications regarding community based participatory research. She currently serves on the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Secretary’s Environmental Justice & Equity Advisory Board.
Hosted by the Carolina Nature Coalition, and cosponsored by the Craven County Branch of the NC NAACP and the NC Sierra Club Croatan Group.
All presentations are free and open to the general public. Questions and discussion are always encouraged.
Further Information: carolinanaturecoalition.org or 252-626-5100
Duke Energy awarded a $5,000 grant to Swiss Bear, Inc. and the City of New Bern to be used for flood resiliency planning. This brings the total amount of grant funding for the planning phase to $30,000.
The City received a $10,000 grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Swiss Bear was awarded $15,000 from Wells Fargo. Additional grants are being sought.
The 2018 Atlantic hurricane season brought devastating effects to New Bern and surrounding areas. Hurricane Florence, the first major hurricane of the season, made landfall in mid-September.
New Bern and eastern North Carolina bore the brunt of coastal tidal surge during the storm. In addition to tidal surge, Florence brought an estimated 20 inches of rainfall to New Bern. Damages to residential and commercial properties totaled $100 million.
Then, less than a month later, hurricane Michael came up the eastern seaboard. Although downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it reached the Carolinas, Michael packed 30 mph winds and dumped more rain on an already devastated region of eastern North Carolina.
Swiss Bear and the City of New Bern are spearheading flood mitigation and resilience planning to include all areas of vulnerability.
“We appreciate Duke Energy recognizing the impacts of this storm and assisting the City with funding for the planning phase,” said Mark Stephens, New Bern city manager. “As a utility provider, their crews saw the destruction up close after Florence. Their corporate partnership will help in this process.”
Flood resiliency planning will not only focus on structures and infrastructure, but also on environmental protection and preservation. New Bern’s location at the confluence of the Neuse and Trent rivers makes it home to numerous wildlife habitats, which were disrupted during the storm. The planning phase will address ecosystem vulnerability as well.
Development of the flood resiliency plan is estimated to cost about $90,000. Swiss Bear and the City will work together to publish a Request for Proposals in the coming weeks to engage a consulting firm to develop the plan. After the planning phase, the city will move forward with funding an implementation phase.
Dawn Zimmer, former mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey, is giving a presentation on resiliency in New Bern on April 4.
A special meeting of the New Bern Board of Aldermen was called for 1 p.m. Thursday, April 4 in the City Hall Courtroom located on the second d floor, at 300 Pollock St., for the presentation.
According to Wikipedia, in 2012 Zimmer was widely acclaimed for leadership during the aftermath Hurricane Sandy. On Sept. 9, 2013, she was recognized as “Hero of the Harbor” by the Waterfront Alliance for her work “to make her city a national model for preparedness, meeting with FEMA and state officials, surban planners, scientists and many others to create an ‘integrated solution.'”
For her leadership during Hurricane Sandy, Zimmer was appointed to the President’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force.
Because of the effort put forth by (pictured from left) Don Brinkley (PIE board member), Paul Brown, Pat Gulley, Chip Chagnon, Esther Patterson, Diane Bondurant, Brad Langhans, Mike McCoy (PIE board member), Katy Chadwick, and Debbie Hodges (not pictured), Brinkley said, “we can truly say that we have made our corner of the world a little better.” Submitted photo
In August 2018, Partners In Education (PIE), the local education foundation for Craven County Schools, had just held its Stuff the Bus campaign in preparation for the school year.
PIE received $35,000 worth of school supplies – a record amount – and Craven County Schools was well on its way to start a new school year with lots of school supplies.
Just a few short weeks later, Hurricane Florence hit Craven County, and Eastern North Carolina was devastated. Craven County Schools alone had over $9 million in damage. Many schools were used as shelters, and due to the damage, could not reopen for weeks.
Once the board of directors of PIE realized that much of the supplies received from Stuff the Bus had been damaged, they decided, as Diane Bingler Bondurant tagged it, to #ReStufftheBus.
With Craven County Schools Central Services office unable to accept school supplies, Chip Chagnon, board president of Craven County ABC, quickly stepped up and agreed to accept school supplies from all over the country. The staff at ABC Board hung the PIE “Stuff the Bus” banner on the front of their building so people would know where to go and the ABC office and warehouse became an unofficial annex for PIE.
Supplies were delivered in vans, trucks, the trunks of cars, and any other way that people could deliver the much needed supplies.
The ABC staff of Paul Brown, Esther Blevins Patterson, and Pat Gulley, never hesitated to help those delivering items with unloading their vehicles. Many a hand cart and pallet load full of supplies were unloaded.
As the supplies were delivered, Bradley A Langhans, Diane Bondurant, Katy Gwaltney Chadwick, and Debbie Lynn Hodges (who was not able to attend the presentation) stepped in. They called in an army of teachers who organized the school supplies and personal care items for disbursement.
After the supplies were organized, over 100 teachers who had been affected and displaced by the hurricane came to the ABC warehouse to get personal care items and school supplies for themselves, their classrooms, and their students.
The story doesn’t end here. Because of their generosity, PIE was able to accept supplies well into November. The ABC Board used their truck, and Paul Brown and Brad Langhans were able to deliver the sorted school supplies directly to each school as they reopened, replenishing the lost supplies they received earlier in the year from the original Stuff the Bus.
Don Brinkley, PIE president, says his best guesstimate is that PIE received and disbursed well over $70,000 in donations.
There were many hugs and tears shared as teachers came in to pick up supplies, even those personally affected by the hurricane came to help with the sorting. Brinkley said, “What did we learn? That there are no small acts of kindness. Every kind act creates a ripple without end.”
Six months after it made landfall, Hurricane Florence’s impacts on New Bern’s economy are still being felt throughout the city, but a new development may delay full recovery for some time.
Hurricane-damaged DoubleTree Riverfront hotel is closed indefinitely over insurance coverage issues related to the hurricane. Downtown New Bern will continue to face its worst economic crisis since 2008-10, when access to downtown was crippled by a bridge replacement and road construction projects.
“Business is definitely down,” said Lynne Harakal, director of Swiss Bear Downtown Development Corporation, said about Hurricane Florence recovery. “The best information I can provide is revenues are down about 15-20 percent since the hurricane. In retail, that’s a very large hit. Most small retailers have a profit margin of about 10 percent at the end of the year, so if these percentages continue many of our retailers could be in jeopardy.
“Not having the DoubleTree makes this situation even more ominous. Our downtown businesses need the DoubleTree operational. Furthermore, they need the Conventional Center up and running and a thriving Farmers Market to draw customers to our shops and restaurants.”
New Bern Riverfront Convention Center, a top venue for activities ranging from Marine Corps Birthday balls to corporate shareholder meetings, occupies about 3 acres of the downtown frontage on the banks of the Trent River.
The Convention Center was badly damaged during the hurricane, but is aiming to reopen in the fall. A big piece of its marketing plan has been the presence of a full-service hotel right next door—the DoubleTree Riverfront by Hilton.
Sources said there have already been two cancelled bookings at the Convention Center because of the DoubleTree being closed.
The Convention Center and DoubleTree Riverfront occupy a space previously known as Bicentennial Park and, before that, New Bern’s busy waterfront dating to the 1700s. More
Why does the DoubleTree matter? After all, there are two other hotels downtown, and several others elsewhere in the city.
DoubleTree Riverfront, with 171 rooms, is by far the city’s largest hotel. More importantly, it is New Bern’s only full-service hotel. A full-service hotel offers full service accommodations, an on-site restaurant, and personalized service, such as a concierge, room service, and clothes pressing staff.
The DoubleTree was the hotel Alpha in New Bern, occupying the premiere location along the Trent River between the Convention Center and the N.C. History Center.
Once a full-fledged Hilton and, before that, a Sheraton, the $12 million property in New Bern has been operating under Hilton’s DoubleTree flag for several years.
Singh Investment Group owns one other hotel property in North Carolina (all others are in Georgia), the DoubleTree Oceanfront by Hilton in Atlantic Beach. It, too, was severely damaged by Hurricane Florence and remains closed.
Singh Investment has not answered a request to be interviewed by New Bern Post, and local officials say they have not answered their inquiries since January.
In mid-February, the hotel’s general manager attended a Tourism Development Agency meeting and said that due to litigation with the hotel’s insurance carrier over whether it covered damage from wind-driven rain, the hotel might remain closed.
The hotel owners transferred the general manager and two weeks later laid off the entire staff except the sales manager and a couple of maintenance workers. The sales manager worked to cancel remaining bookings.
This puts downtown New Bern in a bad spot. Take the New Bern Grand Marina, for example. It is under separate ownership, but it partnered with DoubleTree to provide amenities to the marina including showers and laundry.
Then, of course, its impacts on Convention Center bookings, and a large hotel staff that has been laid off.
Then there are other effects. A vast, empty parking lot beside a large hotel is not a good indicator of a thriving downtown.
In short, it puts downtown growth and prosperity at serious risk.
Moreover, the longer DoubleTree remains closed, the harder it will be to bring it back into operation. The DoubleTree may very well go from being one of Downtown New Bern’s crown jewels, to a major liability.
It’s sort of like what the Days Hotel did in Five Points. The Days Hotel went from being in business to derelict to being razed over an eight-year span.
Alderman Sabrina Bengel, when asked what the city could do about the hotel, said, “Nothing. It’s private property.”
She equates DoubleTree with the beleaguered SkySail condominiums right next door to the DoubleTrees and the long-vacant Elks Building smack dab in the middle of Downtown New Bern. They, too, are major properties in the downtown that seek solutions and remain vacant or underutilized.
She said DoubleTree’s owners said they are not interested in selling the hotel, and continue to seek a resolution from the insurance carrier.
Meanwhile, the hotel has not reached the level of nuisance abatement, and is current on its taxes, which total just over $120,000 per year.
While it is true that the hotel is private property, current on taxes, and may not have reached a point where it is a public safety hazard, it is demonstrably true that a vacant and empty hotel has an adverse economic impact on the city.
Cities have used that argument to justify employing eminent domain, the right of a government or its agent to expropriate private property for public use, with payment of compensation.
Whether the city has the stomach for that kind of nuclear option depends on how severe impacts become as the DoubleTree Riverfront remains closed.
GATHERED for a check presentation and celebration of a $50,000 grant award for disaster relief from the national Unitarian Universalist Association are some representatives of the Duffyfield Phoenix Project, the Craven County Disaster Recovery Alliance, and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of New Bern. They are, first row, seated, Paula Saihati, Grace Hudson, the Rev. Dr. Ethel Sampson, Fred Pittinger, and Anne Schout. In the second row, Elijah Brown, Johnny Sampson, the Rev. Robert Johnson, Carole McCracken, The Rev. John Robinson, Robert Benjamin, Jim Schout, and the Rev. Charlie Davis. Standing behind are Mike Avery and Sully Sullivan.
The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of New Bern (UUFNB) received a $50,000 grant from the national Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Disaster Relief Fund to aid in disaster recovery in New Bern, primarily in the Duffyfield area.
UUFNB has partnered with the Craven County Disaster Recovery Alliance (CCDRA) and will coordinate efforts with the Duffyfield Phoenix Project, (DPP).
Individual Unitarian Universalists locally, and from various parts of the country, sent unsolicited donations for UUFNB disaster relief efforts shortly after Hurricane Florence created such devastation in the area.
UUFNB formed a committee to distribute the funds to UUFNB congregants impacted by the storm and in most need of assistance Concurrently, UUFNB strengthened its partnership with CCDRA to undertake a community-wide effort. CCDRA is a group of faith-based, non-profit, government and business organizations formed to provide coordinated recovery efforts to county residents. Of primary concern to the UUFNB is the large number of hurricane victims in urgent need of assistance in New Bern’s Duffyfield area.
UUFNB prepared and submitted a grant application to the UUA’s Disaster Relief Fund and was given $50,000 to support CCDRA efforts in the Duffyfield community. Ten percent is available to respond to emergencies outside of Duffyfield. The remainder will focus on priority Duffyfield cases identified by CCDRA with the assistance of DPP. This is a natural fit as DPP’s mission is to improve both the physical surroundings and quality of life for Duffyfield residents.
On Friday, Feb. 8, representatives of all three entities gathered at UUFNB to announce the grant to the press, answer any questions they had and formally turn over the grant funds to CCDRA.
Buddy Bengel of Bengel Hospitality in New Bern received statewide recognition Monday evening at the 2019 Stars of the Industry Awards, hosted by the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association.
Bengel won the Ken Conrad Award for Service to the Community for his dedication to the people of New Bern and his willingness to go above and beyond in his position.
More than a dozen hospitality industry professionals from across the state were honored during the annual event, who were selected based on their exemplary service, leadership, innovation and dedication in the restaurant, lodging and hospitality industries.
Bengel on his Facebook page, said ” I am beyond humbled and honored” for the award.
When Hurricane Florence hit the coast, Bengel staged his mobile food unit in preparation to feed affected residents and volunteers, according to the group.
But Bengel did much more than that. He helped rescue people trapped by flooding and evacuate others in the path of the hurricane, and more.
Relocates disaster Loan Outreach Center in Craven County
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has extended the deadline to apply for physical disaster damages in North Carolina. Businesses and individuals with physical damages caused by Hurricane Florence on Sept. 7 – 29, 2018, should apply for SBA low-interest disaster loans before the Dec. 19, 2018 deadline.
SBA announced the relocation of a Disaster Loan Outreach Center from the Old Rite-Aid Building, 710 Degraffenreid Avenue, New Bern, NC 28582 to the New Bern Water and Sewer Department, 2825 Neuse Boulevard, New Bern, NC 28582 as indicated below:
New Bern Water and Sewer Department
2825 Neuse Boulevard
New Bern, NC 28582
Opens: Friday, Dec. 14 at 9 a.m.
Hours: Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Closed: Saturday and Sunday
Closes: Thursday, Dec. 20 at 5 p.m.
SBA representatives at the Center can provide information about disaster loans, answer questions and assist businesses in completing the SBA application.
“Businesses and private nonprofit organizations may borrow up to $2 million to repair or replace disaster damaged or destroyed real estate, machinery and equipment, inventory, and other business assets,” said SBA’s North Carolina District Director Lynn Douthett. For small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, small businesses engaged in aquaculture and most private nonprofit organizations, the SBA offers Economic Injury Disaster Loans to help meet working capital needs caused by the disaster. Economic Injury Disaster Loan assistance is available regardless of whether the business suffered any physical property damage.
“Loans up to $200,000 are available to homeowners to repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate. Homeowners and renters are eligible for loans up to $40,000 to repair or replace damaged or destroyed personal property,” said Kem Fleming, center director of SBA’s Field Operations Center East in Atlanta.
Applicants may be eligible for a loan amount increase up to 20 percent of their physical damages, as verified by the SBA for mitigation purposes. Eligible mitigation improvements may include a safe room or storm shelter to help protect property and occupants from future damage caused by a similar disaster.
Interest rates are as low as 3.675 percent for businesses, 2.5 percent for nonprofit organizations, and 2 percent for homeowners and renters with terms up to 30 years. Loan amount and terms are set by the SBA and are based on each applicant’s financial condition.
Applicants may apply online using the Electronic Loan Application (ELA) via SBA’s secure website at DisasterLoan.sba.gov.
Businesses and individuals may also obtain information and loan applications by calling the SBA’s Customer Service Center at 800-659-2955 (800-877-8339 for the deaf and hard-of-hearing), or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Loan applications can also be downloaded at www.sba.gov. Completed applications should be returned to the center or mailed to: U.S. Small Business Administration, Processing and Disbursement Center, 14925 Kingsport Road, Fort Worth, TX 76155.
The filing deadline to return applications for physical property damage is Dec. 19, 2018. The deadline to return economic injury applications is June 14, 2019.
The U.S. Small Business Administration makes the American dream of business ownership a reality. As the only go-to resource and voice for small businesses backed by the strength of the federal government, the SBA empowers entrepreneurs and small business owners with the resources and support they need to start, grow or expand their businesses, or recover from a declared disaster. It delivers services through an extensive network of SBA field offices and partnerships with public and private organizations. To learn more, visit www.sba.gov.
Craven Community College students impacted by Hurricane Florence may apply for the Hurricane Florence Disaster Recovery Fund, which is a specific state fund that provides financial assistance for tuition, fees, transportation, textbooks and living expenses.
Craven CC will receive $408,333, or $1,250 distributed among 322 students per semester, in state funds to assist students through June 30, 2019. These funds are available to students who were enrolled at Craven CC or resided in a major disaster area as of Sept. 10, 2018. Craven CC students impacted by the hurricane may utilize funds for assistance with tuition, fees, transportation, textbooks and living expenses.
“When students are stable financially, they are able to stay enrolled, complete a degree or credential and have the opportunity for employment or to further their education and career goals,” said Zomar Peter, dean of enrollment management.
Thanks to a new $18.5 million relief fund passed by the North Carolina General Assembly on Oct. 15, Craven CC is among 21 colleges in the state to receive funding to help minimize the historic storm’s impact on student success. The package includes $5 million in emergency grants to assist students from disaster-affected counties with tuition, fees and expenses so they can stay enrolled. Colleges were required to begin accepting applications by November 1, 2018.
Applications for the Hurricane Florence Disaster Recovery Fund are available for download. For more information or to download the application, call Peter at 252-638-4597 or visit www.cravencc.edu/florence.