WASHINGTON, D.C. (WECT) - One month out from the 2019 Altantic hurricane season, Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo is in Washington, D.C.
On previous trips, the mayor has advocated for disaster relief funding, but this time Saffo and a bipartisan group of more than 50 regional leaders are there to advocate for improved policies and other resources before the next storm.
“Simply put, we are sounding the alarm that continuing the status quo of simply building back to our pre-disaster condition is not a sustainable answer to this increasingly costly problem,” Saffo said. “We need better policies and more resources to strengthen our infrastructure.”
Picked as a key player by The Pew Charitable Trusts, Saffo is leading a three-day lobbying effort with members of Congress across both chambers in an effort to advance legislation designed to provide funding for hazard mitigation nationwide. The mitigation efforts are specifically aimed at flood mitigation, which Saffo said is significant given the acute stress Wilmington was under after being nearly isolated when Interstate 40 closed after Hurricane Florence.
Saffo is one of more than 250 local and state officials from across the country working with Pew and calling on the federal government to ensure that the nation’s infrastructure is flood ready, but is the only local elected official who was asked to be part of a meeting with members and staff of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
The mayor is also representing the Eastern North Carolina Disaster Recovery & Resiliency Alliance and will be submitting a letter from the alliance to the transportation and infrastructure committee on behalf of the effort.
Legislative liaison Tony McEwen said it’s too early to know when the proposed legislation will be introduced, but the group in Washington this week hopes it will be sometime in the next two or three months.
He said the scope of the appropriation, either through a supplemental funding mechanism or a stand-alone funding bill, could be of $100 million or more just for transportation.
Additionally, McEwen said, lawmakers are looking at appropriating 6 percent of FEMA dollars to hazard mitigation efforts.
After sitting through several meetings, Saffo said he was largely encouraged by the conversations.
“You don’t get a lot of bipartisan support up here, but there seems to be a broad bipartisan support to get something done,” he said.
Southeastern North Carolina isn’t the only region that sustained catastrophic flooding in 2018, he said, so representatives from Florida, Nebraska and Texas are equally enthusiastic about the possibility of shoring up infrastructure before the next major event.
In Wilmington, as hurricane season approaches, Saffo said it’s the right time to be thinking ahead.
“In the aftermath of what happened to us with Hurricane Florence, it is critically important that we raise Interstate 40, Interstate 95. They’re both critical roadways to our community," Saffo said. "But it also has to do with, what are we going to do with our floodplains in the future?”
On Tuesday afternoon, Saffo was the featured speaker at a congressional briefing and reception hosted by Pew and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, where he spoke to members of Congress and other national leaders about the need for improved infrastructure to make communities more resilient during severe weather.
During his remarks, Saffo said if those representatives had witnessed the near civil unrest that Wilmington and Jacksonville experienced when floodwater cut off supplies, they wouldn’t hesitate.
He said he was glad to see a bipartisan effort, and said he hopes that will carry through.
“It’s high time we get this job done, and anything we can do to make it happen, we can do,” he said during his remarks.