Some Carrboro flood victims find moving back costly too

CorrespondentSeptember 20, 2013 

— Residents of Rocky Brook mobile home park, whose homes sustained thousands of dollars of damage during June flooding, have found moving back is costly too.

Town inspectors required residents to remove porches that did not have permits, saying their construction in the stream buffer was illegal.

Costs to reconnect to the Duke Energy grid reportedly hit residents whose accounts closed automatically when their trailers were condemned.

The extra expenses hit the already low-income, mostly Latino, community by surprise.

“The Rocky Brook community has gone above and beyond what normal communities would do to help themselves recover from the situation,” said Sophie Suberman, a neighbor who volunteered as an interpreter for residents after the June 30 storm.

“I was just coming home and seeing people, folks that have lived there, sitting on the street,” she said of the storm’s aftermath. “I walked down … there were all these families sitting on the corner.”

Building codes

The trailer park sits at the bottom of a slope that drains much of downtown Carrboro, down a creek along Old Pittsboro Road, and another down Sweet Bay Place that empties on the other side of South Greensboro.

Salvador Bonilla thought he would not move back, but he stood this month in what looked like a brand new trailer: new floors, new drywall, trim and soon, paint.

The flood claimed Bonilla’s front porch, not by water but by town building codes, which kicked in when the town re-inspected after condemning the homes during the disaster. Bare footings and a cavity beside the trailer where he tore out his porch are all that remain.

“We no need someone to say we need to build a brand new one,” said Rene Arebdalo, the professional who built the porch. “We need help.”

The town did extend a hand to flood victims, waiving permit and inspection fees.

The Orange County Department of Social Services administered disaster grant applications, and gave flood victims immediate cash for food, clothes and necessities.

One good Samaritan was Bonneville Electric, a nearby business whose owner gave time, energy and materials.

“We’ve got a real community member here in Bonneville. I think he should lead the Christmas parade,” said Pat Garavaglia of the Friends of DSS, which donated money to pay for bedding, furniture and other immediate needs. “He’s been working tirelessly to help people who didn’t have insurance and (whose) trailers have been condemned.”

Socorro Lopez and her family faced a similar request to dismantle their porch, old but solid, sustaining the water that day.

"This trailer is like 20 years old,” she said. “We had to build (to) all the new codes. We had to change all the electric lights."

The storm washed some porches into the streambed, and neighbors have asked the Board of Aldermen to clear such debris out of the natural drainage conduit.

Another factor complicating things is that the town code on porch size may itself be unclear.

“There’s not a clearly defined maximum size for that,” said Marty Roupe, development review administrator. “There has to be some allowance for a reasonable entryway for the home itself, but the ordinance doesn’t have to be a specific size.”

Power bills

Town officials received complaints of high bills for re-establishing utilities, but Duke Power said it is not charging reconnect fees

“There are no connect fees associated with accounts,” said spokeswoman Paige Layne.

When meters are pulled from flooded homes, the residence’s account automatically closes, Layne explained. When that happens, the customer’s deposit is applied to any outstanding charges, including the month’s bill. For any remaining balance, Duke either sends a bill or a check.

Remit checks are addressed to residences that may not be habitable. Bonilla said he had not yet seen to reconnecting his power but was confident that since he was a customer already, it would be easy.

Bonilla and his wife, a housecleaner, bounced from home to home as her clients left for the beach.

Soon, they will move back in. Some trailers remain abandoned.

Hartwell: 504-251-6670

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