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  • By Allen Turner

Cooper visits Fair Bluff, repeatedly says “Help is coming soon”

Gov. Roy Cooper visited Fair Bluff Monday, his third visit to the flood-ravaged town since taking office. He spent an hour here after having earlier in the day toured areas of Lumberton damaged in the October 2016 flood. He declined to put a timeline on when disaster relief dollars will be distributed to homeowners here, instead saying repeatedly, “Help is coming soon.”

Gov. Roy Cooper is pictured during a visit to Fair Bluff on Monday, Aug. 13.

The chief executive began his local visit with a tour of the new Fair Bluff Fire and Rescue building being constructed to replace the old fire house that was destroyed in flooding from Hurricane Matthew. He ended by popping into the state Emergency Management Services (EMS) Columbus County ReBuild NC Application Center at the Fair Bluff Baptist Church, where he conducted a news conference after greeting EMS employees tasked with processing applications for assistance from flood victims.

Gov. Roy Cooper is pictured during a visit to Fair Bluff on Monday, Aug. 13.

Lt. Ken Elliott and Chief Travis Causey of Fair Bluff Fire and Rescue led the governor on a tour of the new fire station, which is being built primarily with funds provided by the Golden LEAF Foundation. Area politicians and officials on hand to greet the governor included Sheriff Lewis Hatcher, Chairman Amon McKenzie of the county commissioners, Democratic county commissioner candidate Jerome McMillian, Democratic N.C. House of Representatives candidate Barbara Yates-Lockamy, Fair Bluff Mayor Billy Hammond and Commissioners Lester Drew and Randy Britt and Fair Bluff Police Chief Chris Chafin.

At the church Cooper said in response to a question about a timeline in which people can get help, “It is important for people here in Fair Bluff to get relief, and I know that people are frustrated. It needs to move faster. We’ve gotten hazard mitigation money that’s going to help 71 pieces of property right here in Fair Bluff, about $8.5 million, but they (EMS) are waiting for the environmental permits that have to get approved by the federal government. Hopefully, that’s going to happen soon.”

A skeptical television reporter asked, “One county, Robeson, has been approved and there are three more that are going to be approved this month, but there’s no timeline for Columbus County, so how can you with a straight face tell residents here that they’re going to see any more CDBG-DR (community development block grant-disaster relief) money anytime soon?”

The governor replied, “I know they (EMS) are working hard to get the environmental review permit done for all the rest of the counties and other preliminary work besides the environmental permits has been done so they’ll be ready go to once they get the positive go-ahead from the federal government, so I think you’re going to see a lot of positive movement with the CDBG money very soon.”

Reporters kept asking Cooper for a timeline and four more times he replied, “as soon as possible” without committing to a specific time frame before people here will see relief.

Gov. Roy Cooper is pictured during a visit to Fair Bluff on Monday, Aug. 13.

Cooper denied a charge made earlier in the day by Rep. Brenden Jones, R-Columbus, that Tuesday’s tour of Fair Bluff and Lumberton was scheduled to try to divert attention from a meeting in Raleigh the same day of the Select House Committee on Disaster Relief, which has been critical of the slow pace of state recovery efforts. Although Jones, vice chair of the committee, was instrumental in getting the meeting scheduled, he couldn’t attend the Tuesday session because of a medical emergency with a family member.

The governor would not directly answer when asked whether Jones had invited him to appear before the committee, but he said he had declined to attend. He said that he had sent EMS Director Mike Sprayberry to appear before the committee on his behalf. “We don’t need this to be a political football,” Cooper said. “Mr. Sprayberry, who is intimately familiar with all the details, is providing answers to the committee. I know it’s important for all of us to work together because people are hurting.”

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