Behind the scenes, Rogallo Foundation scrambled for legislative support for ill-fated museum at Jockey’s Ridge

The sand dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Dare County are 80 to 100 feet tall. (Photo: State Parks)

Republican State Sen. Norm Sanderson was reportedly working on a bill that would have teed up a long-term agreement for the  Rogallo Museum. a private entity, to lease public land at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, for as long as 99 years – for free.  

On July 28, John Harris, president of the Rogallo Foundation, wrote to Brian Strong, deputy director of planning and natural resources for the Parks Division, saying that “my understanding from Sen. Sanderson is that legislation is in place to put together a long-term lease for the Rogallo Museum.”

A five-term senator, Sanderson represents three coastal counties: Carteret, Craven and Pamlico. He is also co-chair of the Appropriations committee for Agriculture, Natural and Economic Resources.

Jockey’s Ridge State Park is in Dare County.

Sanderson didn’t respond to an email from Policy Watch asking for more details. Harris contributed $500 to his campaign in May, according to recent campaign finance reports.

Sen. Norm Sanderson (Photo: NCGA)

The next day, Sen. Bobby Hanig, who represents a swath of coastal counties, including Dare, also wrote to Harris: “Let me know how I can help throughout the process.”

Hanig told Policy Watch in email that Harris approached him “as a constituent.”

“As I would any other proposal from a constituent, I told him I would look in to it and offered to assist if needed,” Hanig wrote. “Preserving our history of flight in all capacities is very important, as you can imagine. I understand the issues with having it at Jockey’s Ridge. I appreciate the input from the citizens and also appreciate the folks at Cultural Resources taking the time to look in to it.”

The Parks Division is under the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

The Rogallo Foundation, headed by individuals active in real estate and the kite-surfing and hang-gliding business, had asked the state for permission to construct the museum to honor Francis and Gertrude Rogallo, inventors of the flexible wing – the same type of wing used in kite-surfing and hang gliding.

After Francis Rogallo retired from NASA, he and his wife, Gertrude, settled in Kitty Hawk.

The Rogallo Foundation has few assets, just $100,000, which have come from donations, according to Harris. Nonetheless, it had planned to raise money to build a $7 million, 12,000-square-foot museum on environmentally fragile park land.

On Oct. 28, state parks officials rejected the proposal, citing environmental concerns and the “appropriateness of leasing land to a private entity whose mission and objectives may vary from the parks division.”

Until then, emails and letters show that behind the scenes Harris was scrambling to gather support for his project. He successfully petitioned Dare County Commissioners to pass a symbolic resolution in support of the museum. However, he was stymied by the Towns of Nags Head and the nonprofit Friends of Jockey’s Ridge, which opposed it.

Sen. Bobby Hanig

Sen. Bobby Hanig

Friends of Jockey’s Ridge members spoke against the proposal at an Oct. 5 Nags Head Commissioners meeting. Shortly afterward, Harris again wrote to Strong, and copied nine other state and local government officials: “Not presenting the concept to the Friends of Jockey’s Ridge earlier was an oversight on my part, and I apologize.”

Harris also said the plan was “at the concept phase,” and that the issues of “environmental impact, tree removal and sand movement would have to be worked through as the plan develops.”

Jockey’s Ridge State Park is known for its breathtaking 100-foot sand dunes The US Department of the Interior has designated the park as a National Natural Area. The Parks Division wrote in 2017 that Jockey’s Ridge “provides an important and increasingly limited habitat for native plants and animals,” including dune grass, maritime evergreen forests and brackish marshes.

A state agency can’t unilaterally lease state land. A lease agreement would have to go through the state property office, and from there to the Council of State for a vote. Ultimately, the lease could become valid only with the governor’s signature.

Harris also noted that concerns about a commercial development on state park land were misplaced. “The Rogallo Foundation is a nonprofit,” Harris wrote. “The museum will be educational and inspirational.”

Nonprofit organizations can still earn money, though. And the draft Memorandum of Agreement showed how the project would have favored the museum and the foundation at the expense of taxpayer dollars. For example, the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources would have paid for the museum’s utilities, costs of building maintenance, and any major facility improvements. Donations, admission fees and gift shop revenue would have stayed with the foundation to operate the museum, which presumably would include staff salaries.

ReBuild NC’s inflation problem, election deniers primed to challenge votes, and steps to building and keeping a strong, diverse teacher workforce: The week’s top stories on Policy Watch

Click here for the latest radio interviews and commentaries with Policy Watch Director Rob Schofield.

12. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

Legislative committee on hurricane recovery to meet Sept. 14 to probe reasons behind massive disaster relief delays

(Photos: Lisa Sorg)

Thousands of survivors of Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Florence remain out of their homes — some for nearly three years — prompting lawmakers to investigate why disaster relief has been so delayed. The first meeting of the Subcommittee on Hurricane Response and Recovery will meet next month. Although the format has not yet been announced, expect the director of the NC Office of Recovery and Resiliency, Laura Hogshead, to testify.

In May, Policy Watch launched an investigative series about the problems at NCORR, also known as ReBuild NC. Interviews with dozens of homeowners have shown how the program has been mismanaged to the detriment of the displaced people. The state has spent upward of $10.6 million on housing hurricane survivors in motels and on mobile storage units for their belongings.

Homeowners have complained that their houses have sat idle for years with no work being done on them. Weeks, even months pass before they hear from their case managers, who are their liaisons with the ReBuild NC Program.

Several have told Policy Watch they could not perform emergency repairs on their homes — in one case, the roof has been leaking for four years and has shorted out electrical wiring — or be deemed ineligible for the program. Others have been told they cannot have financial documentation about their repairs until the work is done — and then only by filing a public records request.

At least 10 people have died while waiting to return to their homes.

Laura Hogshead, director and chief operating officer of the ReBuild NC program. (Photo: NCORR)

What to know before you go

When: Wednesday, Sept. 14, at 9 a.m.
Where: Auditorium (Third Floor) of the Legislative Building, 16 W. Jones St., Raleigh. The auditorium holds 250 people.
Tips: If you’ve never been to the legislature, arrive early because you will have to pass through security and metal detectors. You can bring in laptops, cell phones and electronic devices. The building is accessible for people with mobility issues.
There are parking garages and street-level lots near the legislative complex.
If you have questions once you arrive in the building, there is an information desk near the building entrance. And here is more visitor information.

Here are the subcommittee members, with links to their contact information.

Senate                                                                                     House

Danny Britt (R-Columbus, Robeson)                                    Brenden Jones (R-Columbus, Robeson)
Jim Perry (R-Lenoir, Wayne)                                                  Mark Pless (R-Haywood, Madison, Yancey)
Steve Jarvis (R-Davidson, Montgomery)                              Sarah Stevens (R-Alleghany, Surry, Wilkes)
Kirk deViere (D-Cumberland)                                                 Charles Graham (D-Robeson)
Joyce Waddell (D-Mecklenburg)                                            Shelly Willingham (D-Edgecombe, Martin)

 

Plagued by construction delays, ReBuild NC has spent $10.6 million to house Hurricane Matthew survivors in motels, rent storage units

A house in Wayne County whose homeowner has been displaced by Hurricane Matthew since the storm hit in 2016. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

This story has been corrected to reflect the first TRA payment was in August 2019, not January 2020.

ReBuild NC has spent $10.64 million on motels, moving and storage unit expenses in three years for displaced Hurricane Matthew survivors, as construction and administrative delays have kept people from returning to their homes.

The figures were included in Temporary Relocation Assistance (TRA) data provided by ReBuild NC, also known as the NC Office of Recovery and Resiliency. The data also includes expenses for apartment leases and stipends for friends and family of Hurricane Matthew survivors who privately house them.

As part of an ongoing investigative series, Policy Watch reported earlier this month that ReBuild NC had been unable to provide detailed expenditure documents as requested under public records law. The agency then agreed to send totals, but without supporting documentation.

In providing the new information, a ReBuild NC spokesperson noted that TRA funds come from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, although this type of assistance is not a HUD requirement. “It is an additional benefit that NCORR decided to provide to make the recovery process easier, especially for those applicants who have no other housing options during the construction process. Without this benefit, many of our applicants would not be able to participate in the program,” the spokesperson wrote in an email.

Under the TRA program, once construction begins on a home, ReBuild NC pays to move and house low-income hurricane survivors, as well as covering the cost of renting mobile storage units.

ReBuild NC incurred its first TRA expenses in August 2019. Since then, ReBuild NC has paid $6.5 million in motel bills, $1.7 million to PODS Enterprises, and $70,000 to 1-800-PACK-RAT for mobile storage units, as well as other expenses.

The relocation is supposed to be temporary — usually up to six months — but because of ReBuild NC’s mismanagement of the program, some hurricane survivors have lived in motels for more than two years. This includes the Williams family, who have been stuck in one room without a kitchen for 862 days.

Another homeowner, who asked not to be named for fear that work on their home would be delayed, told Policy Watch they have been in a motel since early 2020. However, the motel does not have a kitchen and the person receives food stamps, which don’t cover restaurant meals. As a result, it has been difficult for them to afford food, they said.

Construction delays have long plagued the program. Although some lag time can be attributed to the pandemic and supply chain issues, that does not explain all of the inefficiencies. In other instances, homeowners have been moved from livable, if damaged houses with the expectation construction would begin immediately. Instead, months, even years pass.

Several contractors have told Policy Watch that they have completed the work but have not been paid by ReBuild NC. Multiple contractors told Policy Watch that it can take months to get approval for change orders; these occur when contractors uncover additional work that needs done and that was beyond the estimate cost of repairs, such as lead paint or asbestos abatement.

According to state data that had been sent by ReBuild NC to the governor’s office and obtained by Policy Watch, 740 homes are listed as complete as of July 11. In early May that figure was 717.

The average cost per house — including new construction and rehabs — is $136,882, according to state cost estimate and invoicing data obtained by Policy Watch. Depending on the type of home, the cost of a motel stay could exceed that of new construction or repairs.

The recent TRA figures don’t capture the full extent of displaced homeowners. Hurricane survivors whose income is too high must pay for their own relocation expenses. However, several homeowners, such as the Dillahunt family, have told Policy Watch their income was miscalculated and they were in effect, homeless. The Zerby family didn’t qualify for TRA and lived in a travel trailer in a church parking lot for more than a year.

ReBuild NC operates its homeowner disaster recovery program using an eight-step process. In the first five steps, the process is primarily administrative: determining an applicant’s eligibility and benefit amounts, as well as inspecting the home.

In Step 6, ReBuild NC puts a project out for bid, and an eligible household can then move using TRA assistance. (If repairs are minor, a homeowner can remain in the house.) There are 819 households in Step 6, according to an eight-step status report dated July 11.

Construction begins in Step 7, the current status for 173 households. Another 740 are in Step 8.

Hurricane Matthew devastated eastern North Carolina in October 2016. HUD subsequently allotted North Carolina a $236 million grant for a disaster relief homeowner recovery program related to the storm. However, the recovery program, initially run by the state Department of Public Safety and the Department of Commerce was slow to launch, and cited by HUD as a “slow spender,” jeopardizing the grant.

The state legislature created the NC Office of Recovery and Resiliency in late 2018; Gov. Roy Cooper appointed Laura Hogshead as ReBuild NC’s director; she has been in charge since early 2019. Ivan Duncan is the chief program delivery officer, responsible for dealing with contractors.

Last week, state House and Senate leadership announced the formation of a 12-member oversight committee to investigate the delays and problems with the program. the first meeting has not been scheduled.

 

From Ivan Duncan’s LinkedIn page: Duncan is the chief program delivery officer at ReBuild NC. He was commenting on a United Nations post to LinkedIn about disaster relief. Multiple contractors and homeowners have complained that he is responsible for many of ReBuild’s problems. The agency has declined to make Duncan available to Policy Watch for an interview.

A key to less financial stress? Medicaid expansion.

Image: Adobe Stock

North Carolina lawmakers returning to Raleigh on Tuesday are not expected to cast any decisive votes. But they will be greeted by advocates for Medicaid expansion, hoping to move lawmakers closer to a decision to finally close the coverage gap.

Tuesday’s vigil comes on the heels of new and promising research by Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Medicine.

According to VCU, the first-of-its kind study analyzes the changes in subjective financial distress for a population of newly eligible Medicaid enrollees both before and then after enrollment.

Here’s more from VCU’s Olivia Trani:

“Since Virginia’s expansion of Medicaid in 2019, health insurance coverage has been extended to more than 500,000 adults,” said Hannah Shadowen, an M.D.-Ph.D. student within the VCU School of Medicine’s Department of Health Behavior and Policy and lead author of the new study. “Through this research, we are getting a closer look into how Medicaid expansion could be creating positive financial changes and improving equity for low-income families.”

The research team conducted a baseline survey of individuals newly eligible for Medicaid to understand their health care experience and financial situation in the year prior to enrolling. Follow-up surveys were then sent more than 18 months after enrollment. The team collected over 3,000 responses in total.

Using data from the surveys, the researchers examined how financial concerns about medical and nonmedical needs changed for beneficiaries one year after enrollment. This included worries related to paying for housing, food, monthly bills, credit card and loan payments and health care.

“Most studies that look into the financial implications of Medicaid expansion concentrate on health care affordability or catastrophic financial events like bankruptcy. In this research, we wanted to see whether enrolling in the program also impacts a person’s ability to pay household expenses like housing and food,” said Barnes, a co-author of the study.

The research team’s analysis showed that, after 12 months of Medicaid enrollment, enrollees were 33.7% less likely to be concerned about normal health care costs and 23.8% less likely to be concerned about catastrophic health care costs compared with the year before. The enrolled respondents also reported having less trouble paying medical bills and paying off medical debt over time.

Additionally, researchers found that enrolled individuals showed reduced concerns about general expenses not associated with health care. These findings were consistent with previous studies that have shown the positive impacts of Medicaid expansion on nonmedical costs.

Additionally, researchers found that enrolled individuals showed reduced concerns about general expenses not associated with health care. These findings were consistent with previous studies that have shown the positive impacts of Medicaid expansion on nonmedical costs.

Medicaid expansion would benefit more that 600, 000 uninsured North Carolinians and bring more than $1.5 billion in new federal funding to the state.

Read more about VCU’s research here. Tuesday’s vigil to pass Medicaid expansion will be held at 10:00 a.m. in front of the General Assembly (16 W. Jones Street, Raleigh) and will be live streamed here.