More than $1.6 million in funding has been awarded to the Seven Springs Volunteer Fire Department to rebuild its station after the Golden LEAF Foundation announced its final round of grant winners Thursday.
The Golden LEAF Foundation made final decisions on more than $14.3 million in Disaster Recovery Program funding it received from the North Carolina General Assembly.
The funding is part of the state's $55 million grant program that has provided funding to counties and municipalities that sustained damage from Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
"It's a huge deal," said Seven Springs Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jeremy Price.
"This will, by far, pay for and relocate our station, and it will be used for the purchase of land and all that. We hope to be started right after the holidays."
The old station, built in 1958, had been flooded twice in the last 20 years, along with the facility being too small for the growing department, said Price.
The 36-member department houses two engines, two boats and utility and brush trucks.
Price said the new facility will include generator power and sleeping quarters for the volunteers, and with those upgrades, it will also serve as a shelter in the event of another natural disaster.
Such a large construction project, which includes a 90-by-150-foot station with five drive-through bays and relocating out of the floodplain, could have been a burden hard to bear for the volunteer department that relies on a modest stipend collected from the fire district and the generosity of the community in which it serves.
"We would have had to borrow the money," Price said about what would have happened if they were not granted the money from Golden LEAF.
"It would have been a strain. It would have really put us in a bind to borrow that kind of money."
Price said he and his whole department were grateful to the state legislators that helped them in their efforts to rebuild.
"We are grateful to (Rep.) John Bell, (Rep.) Jimmy Dixon and (Sen.) Louis Pate, and everyone who helped us get this grant," Price said, "We are also grateful to the Golden LEAF Foundation."
The recently announced funding from Golden LEAF isn't the only money that has been awarded to the project in the past year. In late October, the department was allotted $240,000 from the Fire and Rescue Reserve Funds budgeted by the General Assembly.
"It will serve as an economic stimulus for the area - not only just for Seven Springs - but the geography of that fire department. They serve part of Lenoir County also, so in reality, not only will it help the specific area of Seven Springs, but it has regional implications for the entire region of eastern North Carolina," said Dixon, state representative of District 4.
"The benefits are multi-faceted as far as serving as an economic stimulus for the whole area."
WAYNE COUNTY PROJECTS -- THE WINNERS AND LOSERS
Seven Springs Volunteer Fire Department received the largest portion of the Golden LEAF Foundation funding for Wayne County, but it was not the only project to receive money.
Wayne County has received several Golden LEAF grants to date, including $300,000 for the construction of a new EMS station in Seven Springs, $274,474 for stream debris removal in the county and $178,000 to rebuild the Genoa lift station, said Chip Crumpler, Wayne County planning director.
The city of Goldsboro also learned in October that it would receive $285,000 to replace damaged stormwater infrastructure in the Glennwood Trail neighborhood, said Octavius Murphy, assistant to the city manager.
The city applied but was not approved for other grants, including $2 million for adding an earthen berm at the water treatment plant and $2 million to add an emergency shelter at the Herman Park Center, said Dan Gerlach, president of the Golden LEAF Foundation.
Grant decisions related to the hurricane were awarded based on priority, with the repair and replacement of damaged infrastructure being at the top of the list, Gerlach said.
In the final round of grant decisions, the Golden LEAF Foundation received $121 million in requests for the $14.3 million in remaining funds, Gerlach said.
Wayne County picked up additional funding in the final round. The county was approved to receive $150,000 for additional stream cleanout projects to help reduce the risk of flooding homes and businesses, agricultural fields, poultry and swine facilities and surrounding natural habitats.
An earlier $222,250 grant to the town of Fremont to replace the Hillandale Drive pump station increased by $329,450, Gerlach said. The town's $551,700 grant will help with the cost of submerging the pump station, which serves as the main receiving station from the northeast side of Fremont. The station receives wastewater from the town of Eureka.
"Many affected communities faced overwhelming costs associated with rebuilding critical infrastructure that provides services to local governments, schools and public safety services - all at once," Gerlach said. "Our state leaders' direction was clear: get these funds committed rapidly and responsibly to help communities recover as quickly as possible."
For Dixon's part, he said he was glad to see the Golden LEAF Foundation, which was created in 1999, award funding to old tobacco-producing communities as it was originally designed to do.
"From my perspective, the fact that these funds are coming to our area is a welcome event," Dixon said. "Some of those funds, in the past, have gone to projects not necessarily related to tobacco-producing areas, and it is very nice to see these funds being appropriately designated to the areas that were targeted to begin with."
GOLDEN LEAF ACROSS THE STATE
Wayne County was awarded more than $3 million in grant funding from Golden LEAF, and neighboring counties hard hit by Hurricane Matthew were awarded funding, as well.
Wayne County's neighbor, Greene County, was awarded $650,000 for renovations of the recently decommissioned National Guard Armory in Snow Hill. The funding will go to make necessary changes to the facility to house Greene County's Emergency Operations Center, which is something the county currently lacks, according to Golden LEAF.
Lenoir County was granted more than $2 million, with a majority of those funds going to rebuild the county's Cooperative Extension facility on elevated ground as the building received several feet of flooding during Matthew.
Johnston County was awarded more than $2 million as well, with nearly $500,000 going to the town of Princeton to support the repairs to the Beaver Dam ditch. The Federal Emergency Management Agency did apply some funding to repair Beaver Dam ditch after floodwaters damaged buildings on Center Street, but failed to provide enough funding to complete the project.
The county that was awarded the most Golden LEAF funding for recovery was Robeson County. Robeson was given more than $13 million in all the rounds of Golden LEAF awards for issues ranging from the county's schools' infrastructure and equipment to stormwater drainage to a new fire station.
Cumberland and Columbus counties both were awarded grant funding in between $5 million to $5.5 million to rebuild various municipal buildings and to aid in stormwater drainage as well.