Sandy recovery on track to spend all of the $8.6 million

PRINCESS ANNE — It may have been a slow start, but Somerset County is working its way through the first $4.2 million of an $8.6 million grant to provide housing and business recovery from superstorm Sandy.

In his second six-month status update to the County Commissioners, the director of the Department of Technical and Community Services said “that we’ll be well over the $4.2 million” by a July 31, 2015 deadline, and after that the remaining balance must be spent by August 2016.

The first share of the federal money, provided through the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, broke down to roughly $2.3 million for housing restoration and reconstruction and $1 million for economic development — minus administrative expenses related in part to hiring contractual employees.

Gary Pusey said five houses have been rebuilt for $877,000 and eight are under construction totaling $1.2 million. Another 11 at $1.9 million are “in the pipeline” as approved or nearing approval. All together these costs along with one house rehabilitation total just over $4 million.

To accommodate those who are displaced during reconstruction, $380,000 out of $500,000 was spent for property acquisition to purchase three houses. Mr. Pusey does not anticipate buying a fourth house and the unspent funds can be used for other projects.

On the economic development side, grants for a maximum of $2,500 were approved for 49 watermen, and two business façade grants of $5,000 each were approved. Four business loans totaling $240,000 were OK’d and one for $60,000 is pending.

As the first round is spent, “We’ll go back to DHCD and get the next phase of our grant,” Mr. Pusey said. Several weeks ago the County Commissioners approved spending another $300,000 for a total of $1 million at the Crisfield Housing Authority and $100,000 to hire a consultant to document housing conditions throughout the county.

“Things really did start to pick up when we sent that letter to the property owners,” Mr. Pusey said, referring to a letter from January 2014. “We’re still working through some contact from (it),” he said. “I think we’re in really good shape for the whole $8.6 million.”

Commissioner Randy Laird asked if anything left over could be shifted to economic development, and while it could, Mr. Pusey does not see anything left over. “It doesn’t look like it,” he said.

Mr. Pusey said the county works closely with the non-profit Somerset County Long Term Recovery Committee, sharing projects as volunteers, churches and charities rebuild and rehabilitates houses.

“Some applicants that don’t meet our pretty stringent requirements we refer them to Long Term Recovery, and they’ve been referring new home builds to us if they meet the criteria,” he said.

Crisfield resident Dan Kuebler said he disagreed with Mr. Pusey that it’s taken a long time to get up and running. The storm was late October 2012 but by the time projects were selected and money settled it’s been 16 months since activities have really kicked in. “You’ve turned up the wick and got a lot of work done,” Mr. Kuebler said. “I congratulate you.”

The County Times is delivered weekly to Crisfield and the surrounding Somerset County region.

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