Virginia Beach citizens question pitch to move federal hurricane funds

VIRGINIA BEACH (WAVY) – Some citizens in Virginia Beach are concerned over a proposal to move millions in federal hurricane funds to another project at the Oceanfront.

“I thought, this can’t be right,” said Virginia Wasserberg, a Windsor Oaks resident whose home flooded during Hurricane Matthew.

Shortly after, Wassberg launched a “Stop the Flooding NOW” group in the city, and has been an active voice in the call for extra stormwater relief.

During a civic league meeting on Tuesday, she informed members of a proposed amendment “for the appropriation of $5,292,784 of reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for expenses related to Hurricane Matthew to CIP 7-041 ‘Central Resort District Drainage Improvements.'”

Wasserberg pressed Thomas Leahy, Deputy City Manager for Infrastructure, for answers.

Leahy stated that after Hurricane Matthew, the city used roughly $11 million from the general fund for cleanup. The reimbursed FEMA funds then returned to the general fund, creating a surplus in the new fiscal year.

It’s now up to the council to decide how to spend that money, and Leahy and his team believe it should go to the central resort area.

But Wasserberg isn’t so sure. She argues that the resort area didn’t see the damage from Hurricane Matthew that her neighborhood did.

“It’s not that [the resort area project is] not important, it is,” she said. “But hearing that federal money is being redirected due to a surplus raises quite a few concerns.”

But Leahy said that the Oceanfront is one of six critical areas that faces serious flooding problems in the city, and that the $5.3 million is a “very, very small” amount compared to the stormwater relief money that’s being dedicated to Wasserberg’s neighborhood.

“Last year, the city enacted a $300 million stormwater program over a 15-year period. $200 million of that was for neighborhood stormwater projects and $130 million of that $200 million was dedicated to Princess Anne Plaza, Windsor Woods and the Lakes,” he told 10 On Your Side.

He said that the central beach district was not funded at all, and they hope to “pull together a little bit of funding that will not take away from the existing projects.” He said the “small incremental project” involves roping the central beach area into an existing pump station.

Wasserberg said she plans to research the matter more extensively and then share her thoughts during a public hearing on the matter next week.

The hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 21 in Council Chambers. According to the notice, the hearing is required by state law considering how much money is involved.

“I’m gonna ask them to use federal taxpayer dollars for what they were given for,” she said. “And that would be to stop the flooding in Virginia Beach.”

Wasserberg said she plans to meet with Congressman Scott Taylor’s staff members on Wednesday, to inquire about additional federal dollars or assistance to prevent future flooding.

During the meeting, Leahy claimed that sea level rise is a main factor, and skeptically wished Wasserberg “good luck” in “getting anyone in Washington” to believe that.