Virginia lawmakers on Thursday sharply questioned the costs of the state’s preparations for Hurricane Florence, saying they were shocked to learn officials committed to spend up to $60 million to set up shelters and deploy response teams for a storm that ultimately veered south.

Members of Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration have stood by the decision to order the first-ever mandatory evacuations of low-lying coastal areas, saying it was a call based on scientific predictions about the potential path of a storm that had minimal impacts in Virginia but devastated eastern North Carolina.

At a Senate Finance Committee meeting in Richmond, some lawmakers demanded a more detailed accounting of costs they called “shocking.” Several Republican senators acknowledged their questions could be seen as second-guessing decisions made in crisis, but they said the price tag alone warrants further scrutiny.

As of Thursday, the state had spent roughly $44 million of the $60 million authorized.

Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne told legislators the state had to hire a Texas-based company, DRC Emergency Services, to assist with hurricane response because in-state vendors who already have relationships with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management were unable to provide the services needed.

Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Stafford, pointed Thursday to the costs associated with standing up disaster response teams. According to financial estimates, it cost an estimated $693,308 to have a 30-person hazmat team on standby for two weeks, including paying for the team’s meals and lodging.

“Where in the world are they sleeping? And what in the world are they eating to cost in excess of $20,000 for two weeks?” Stuart said. “Somebody’s gouging us. Those costs ... shocking is one word. Unconscionable is another.”

State officials have said they’ll eventually get most of the money back through reimbursements from the federal government, and Layne said the state worked to defray some of Virginia’s costs by redirecting some of its resources to the Carolinas.

Several Democratic senators said they were glad state agencies were proactive and did everything possible to prepare for what could have been a major disaster.

“A week ago we were all terrified about what might happen to our commonwealth,” said Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax. “And I believe everyone used the best available information about what was likely to happen.”

At an estimated cost of more than $31 million, the three shelters set up at Christopher Newport University, the College of William & Mary and Virginia Commonwealth University to house and feed 5,775 people for at least seven days were the state’s biggest hurricane-related expense.

The evacuation order affected roughly 245,000 people. The shelters took in 52 people.

The Newport News and Williamsburg shelters, which were scheduled to begin operations last Wednesday, cost a combined $20.1 million, according to a purchase order provided by VDEM.

The VCU shelter, which was supposed to be ready to accommodate 2,064 people by midafternoon Sept. 13, cost $11 million, but never opened to the public.

The state’s contract

According to the state’s contract with DRC Emergency Services, the shelters had to provide blankets, cots and pillows; four meals per day, consisting of a hot breakfast, a box lunch, hot dinner and midnight snack; showers, toilets and towels; and generators to power the mobile equipment.

Combined, those services would cost $650 per person per day, according to the company’s pricing, or $4,550 for a week’s stay in a shelter.

Even though few evacuees used the shelters, the company’s contract specified that the shelters would be set up for “full capacity” because the company had to have the food and other supplies in place.

The signed agreement on DRC letterhead seems to suggest a rush to get the shelter plan in place. The company noted that services on the first day of operations could be “choppy.”

“Unfortunately, with 36 hour notice, this is the best we can do,” the document says. The company declined comment, deferring to state officials.

Several lawmakers questioned whether the need to find a new contractor during an emergency pushed the costs higher than they would have been under pre-existing price agreements.

“That’s truly supply and demand. You want it, you pay for it,” said Sen. Rosalyn Dance, D-Petersburg. “And it looks like that’s what we got stuck with.”

Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, asked if negotiating during a “moment of crisis” meant the state paid “accelerated prices.”

Layne said he assumes the process led to higher prices, but he couldn’t give an exact dollar amount.

The second-biggest expense was an estimated $20 million to pay two Virginia-based urban search and rescue teams for 10-day missions.

Dance said lawmakers were lucky to be discussing dollars spent instead of lives lost.

“Our plan looks like it’s been on the shelf too long. We had to pull it out. It wasn’t good,” Dance said. “We can do better.”

“It’s the first time it’s ever been executed with an evacuation and standing up the shelters,” Layne said. “I’m sure it was an expensive lesson. We’ll go back and make sure ... that we did it right. But I am very comfortable with the decisions. And that we were prepared.”

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(32) comments

LINDA VIGLIETTI

Show me the money!!!!!!!

LINDA VIGLIETTI

And they want to raise the taxes again? If I spent my money like this I would have gone broke years ago but since it’s other people’s money they think it’s ok

P. SWEET

Only Term Limits will help.

HOWARD CROSBY

What does the Emergency Management Agency cost per year. And all they were ready for was to call for bids, Did they have more than one?
Does someone at the agency have relatives in Texas?

jim peace

This is bad but I don't remember the same outcry from Republican leaders when McDonnell wasted 250 million on the Suffolk to Richmond express way.

Terri Sweeney

You are comparing a highway to provide critical access to tidewater and the potential for business and industrial growth to this? Really? Is that all you have?

jim peace

You do know this never got built, don't you? And $250 million was spent and not a single shovel of dirt was dug up? So, yes, I am saying while spending $60 million in spending for a hurricane that did not come here is bad, spending $250 million for a road that did not get built is far worse. And that the same guys screaming about this hurricane were as quiet as church mice when it came to the imaginary road. And in case the fact that the road did not get built and the money was wasted escaped you, the WAPO can refresh your memory. How Virginia paid more than $250 million for a road that never got built
https://www.washingtonpost.com/...built/.../39a1a222-062d-11e5-a428-c984eb077d4.

Ron Melancon

The Russians ..... that is who and this money is being re-directed into the re-election of TIM Kaine and other Amazing tax and spend socialism Benefits

James McIntyre

Just goes to show that even Democrats make mistakes too ! You will Never out guess a hurricane ! Democrats now realize that even the best monkey can drop the banana !

William Howard

Getting money back from the Federal Government is not the answer as our tax dollars also pay for that! I think the Governor has a lot of explaining to do and have the State Police do some investigations!

SUSAN MASSEY

Yup. That was my thought as well.

HOWARD CROSBY

Interesting it was spent to a Texas company, so forget Va. State Police being able to investigate that end. The Governors staff, Secretary of Finance and the Emergency Management Agency should be drilled, and removed.

Could have put the evacuees in hotels for a fraction of the cost, Virginia hotels.

WALT PULLIAM JR.

We should be outraged at this apparent rip-off. Our guys make FEMA look good.

NANCY SCHWARTZ1

Absolutely Walt - this is an outrage ----- pure rip off of the State (or Federal) money. Over $600 a day per person ----- a contract with they Hyatt would be far cheaper.

MR.LARRY EAVEY

They will probably get most of the money back from the Federal government so they feel better but taxpayers don’t since it is like picking our left pocket rather than the right!

SUSAN MASSEY

Dems don't understand that's where "federal funding" comes from.

LINDA VIGLIETTI

You hit the nail on the head

JAMES DAVIS

That is a joke. You can stay at the Jefferson Hotel for $300 less per night.

DAVID MONTGOMERY

It is far better to be prepared for a disaster and not need it than to not be prepared and then need it. A Category 4 Hurricane potentially headed for Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Hampton and Newport News is not to be taken lightly.

Bill Noth

$11 million for a shelter. Did they erect a new building? Here's a plan, mobilize our area churches and volunteers. They would do a better job and do it for free. Typical government program run amok.

HOWARD CROSBY

To Emmitt & Richard Preston, please let us know when the hangings will take place.
Or will there be no 'corrections'?

HOWARD CROSBY

And the money already spent to have an emergency management agency in place?
That was not ready to manage emergencies. Where is head of the agencies well paid leader?
Where else has the Sec. of finance tossed out bundles of money?
Where are all the materials and equipment we paid for? Arriving in Texas?
Money from the fed doesn't make it better, that came from Virginia too.
And this is just one extreme of the norm.
Trickle down thievery has become the norm.

Steve Powell

The VCU shelter, which was supposed to be ready to accommodate 2,064 people by midafternoon Sept. 13, cost $11 million, but never opened to the public. Only with the Dems. This is outrageous . Just another reason we need term limits in Government.

DENNIS PINNER

[thumbup]

TRACY PETERS

Sounds a little like the kid who takes out a loan for a college education, and surprised how much he owed on graduation day. Sticker shock should not be a concern if the person taking out the loan or the group dealing with the service company who promised the service …. Was there no bidding process or at least some kind of quote for said services, completed or not?

Another case of no concern for cost when it is someone else’s money. Duh …. and period/

ALLISON WILLIAMS

"four meals per day, consisting of a hot breakfast, a box lunch, hot dinner and midnight snack;" And chocolate kisses on their pillow at bed time?

DAVID BELL

No kidding, and for $650/ day? Three MRE's, a box of water bottles, porta potty & a cot should run under $50/ day.

Tom Terrific

Emergency preparedness is expensive and totally justified. Now the legislature will spend $4 million studying where the money went. Although I’m sure the accountants can summarize it quickly. Can you say “pre-election grandstanding”?

JANE BALLARD

Absolutely.

JON FIELD

What's ironic is that it's Republicans (here and in the GA) complaining about inflated prices in an emergency. Yay capitalism!

RONNY MELANCON

Where did the money Go????

Terri Sweeney

The "right" pockets. Rest assured.

Welcome to the discussion.

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