Leaders eyeball crop damage

Published 6:27 pm Sunday, August 28, 2011

Jim Chrisman (left), Beaufort County’s interim manager, talks about storm damage Sunday with (from left) N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger at Warren Field Airport in Washington. (WDN Photo/Jonathan Clayborne)

The president pro tem of the N.C. Senate isn’t ruling out the possibility of appropriating state money to help victims of Hurricane Irene, but he wants to wait and see how far federal emergency aid extends.

“Once we see that we can see what kinds of gaps we have in terms of coverage of different needs,” said Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham. “Then we can make some decisions. It’s a little early to tell right now.”

Berger was helicoptered into Washington’s Warren Field Airport today with N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, and state Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler.

The trio was here primarily to eyeball crop damage, but the Daily News also asked the legislative leaders how the state could assist with the broader destruction being seen in places like Beaufort County.

During its budget deliberations, the Legislature set aside money in a rainy-day fund, Berger pointed out.

The current state budget includes a $185 million rainy-day fund, according to Berger’s 2012 campaign website.

A lot also depends on ongoing damage assessments, he pointed out.

Tillis said the state will have to wait and assess any gaps between federal disaster aid and money the state could supply.

“Then we’ll be working with the federal government and supporting (Gov. Beverly Perdue) to figure out what we need to do to get the recovery moving as quickly as possible,” he commented.

President Barack Obama, in a pre-emptive move Thursday, declared an emergency for a number of North Carolina counties as Irene approached.

That action authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate all disaster-relief efforts which have the purpose of saving lives, alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency and providing appropriate assistance for required emergency measures. It also allows local governments to seek federal reimbursement for money spent on certain disaster-related services, such as debris removal.

(See future editions of the Daily News and visit its website — www.wdnweb.com — for details of disaster-relief programs as they become available.)

Local governments are entitled to be reimbursed for some of their expenditures related to recovery efforts after natural disasters, but sometimes those reimbursements are slow to arrive, City of Washington officials said. Having reserve funds that would allow the city to begin recovery operations in the wake of a storm as it waits on federal and/or state assistance funds is a plus, city officials said.

Several years ago, the City of Washington set up a reserve fund to pay for disaster-recovery operations.

In a separate interview, Troxler zeroed in on crop damage.

“What we’re doing right now is assessing damage to see what types of damage there is out there. Right now, we’re looking at all the crops to see what kind of damage, overall, we’re going to have. … In the department, we’re particularly interested in making sure all the livestock operations are in good shape and things we can do to help them out,” Troxler said in a brief interview at Warren Field.

“Well, the help, as far as help, we’re assessing that right now. The state does not usually participate in disaster programs, and if it does, then it’s an ad-hoc-type situation,” Troxler said when asked about aid available to farmers and others involved with agriculture. “There could be a federal disaster program of some sort. I’m sure these counties are going to be declared agricultural disaster counties and the federal help will kick in.”

Troxler said he saw plenty of devastation from his aerial platform.

“Well, I think what we expected was what we’ve seen,” he said. “We knew the tobacco crop in eastern North Carolina was particularly late because of the (dry growing) season and because there was so much in the field at this time of year that normally would not be there. … We’ve seen a lot of it blown down, blown off, bruised, on the ground. The tobacco crops have really took a licking.”

Tillis, Berger and Troxler took a tour of pieces of county farmland with a guide team that included Pinetown farmer James R. Boyd. Also on the tour was state Sen. David Rouzer, R-Johnston, who flew in ahead of the three state officials.