Defense Secretary Mark Esper visited Camp Lejeune, N.C., Tuesday and toured on-base housing that remains under repairs one year after Category 4 Hurricane Florence struck the Marine Corps training installation, Military Times reported.
About 3,800 Atlantic Marine Corps Communities (AMCC) properties were damaged by the hurricane and about 90% of repairs and renovations are done, according to a privatized housing official who accompanied Esper as he toured a 1940s mid-grade officer quarters that the storm stripped to its wooden studs.
“Why did it take so long?” Esper asked.
The response was complex, according to the report.
In total, 4.5 million square feet, or 30% of Camp Lejeune’s buildings were damaged, requiring billions in repairs and reconstruction from three feet of rain, but not the violent winds the hurricane brought, the report said.
When the storm struck it took days to access some of the homes and assess damages, according to Ron Johnson, project manager for AMCC.
“The first thing is, you do want to do the roof, because you want to stop that water penetration,” Johnson said.
Almost 400 of the residences have been designated for demolition and 600 families had to be relocated on base following Florence, Johnson said.
The mid-20th century home they were touring and many others like it, Johnson added, couldn’t be fully restored until they were made safe on another level.
“When you stripped this down, did you also check for – you mentioned asbestos – lead? Paint, piping?” Esper asked, according to the report.
Those concerns hit home for Esper who was Army secretary in 2018 when reports surfaced of potentially dangerous levels of lead had been detected in privatized on-post housing throughout the service.
Remediation of homes took much longer than fixing roofs, which were fully repaired by last April, Johnson said.
However, in June another delay when 90% of repairs were complete but funding ran out, according to the report.
“They basically had $125 million in insurance money, and $175 million worth of damage,” Johnson said, noting the shortfall prompted many contractors to move onto other projects, extending delays.
“You guys are competing with just one of many disasters,” Esper said, according to the report.
He also noted contracted labor moves around the nation to repair other damaged bases like Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., and Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C.
The funding has been restored, Johnson said, and work can now resume on the remaining 17 occupied on base homes before AMCC move onto repairing unoccupied residences.
Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Isaiah Gomez