By Connie Leinbach and Peter Vankevich
Getting compensation from an economic disaster on the scale that affected Hatteras and Ocracoke islands with the recent power outage will be a drawn-out process, and those with losses have options on how to attempt to recover their lost income.
As this meanders through some form of resolution, there will be some confusion at various stages for those seeking relief. Here are some details.
Several class action lawsuits have already been filed in federal court and at the state level including Dare, Hyde and Wake counties.
Additionally, Hyde County government officials in a community meeting on Aug. 4 offered to compile claims by those on Ocracoke who have been adversely affected that could help speed up the process once settlement monies become available. Those affected can be businesses, nonprofits, individuals and vacationers. Hyde County will submit its own claim for lost occupancy and sales tax revenues.
At that public meeting attended by more than 70 islanders, Hyde County Manager Bill Rich said the county will be the liaison with PCL and it has developed its own claim form that islanders can fill out and submit to the county if they want to go that route. He indicated he had no idea how long it would take to reach a settlement, but said this route involves no legal fees that would be deducted from plaintiff’s awards in class-action lawsuits.
“Hyde is not going to the negotiating table with anyone,” Rich clarified in an Aug. 9 interview. “It will all go through attorneys. PCL had to turn this over to a legal team.”
Rich said the PCL claim form is a complement to what the county is doing. While the county established a deadline of Aug. 11 for islanders to submit these forms, Rich said the deadline is fungible and that the county will update the data received every two weeks.
Today, Assistant Hyde County Manager Kris Noble released a letter to the community clarifying the county’s role.
“We took a lead position at our Aug. 4 community meeting to help protect the citizens of Ocracoke and ward off the frenzy of lawyers circulating the island and creating a sense of urgency looking for class action,” she wrote.
Since that meeting, the county has had several discussions with PCL, their advisors and the Attorney General’s office concerning this matter and all agree that “direct contact between each person and PCL is now the most effective means to a timely and successful end,” Noble wrote. “PCL has set up a website where businesses and individuals can file their claims directly. This website was not available when we started this process.”
Noble said in an interview Monday that the county can assist people in filling out the claim forms or who are unable to do so electronically. She already has a stack of forms eight inches high on her desk that she will go through in the next few days and call each person.
The county wants to remain in the claims process to “ensure everyone is treated in a fair manner,” she said. “We don’t want anyone left behind.”
Noble’s complete letter is below.
Robert Zaytoun of Zaytoun Law Firm in Raleigh, whose firm also has filed a class-action lawsuit, contacted the Observer after a story on the meeting was published disputing Rich’s claim about PCL’s “reaching out” to Hyde County.
“No admission of liability has been made by PCL,” he said in an interview Aug. 9.
Zaytoun said that a Raleigh attorney representing PCL, Rod Pettey of the Raleigh law firm of Yates McLamb & Weyher, said there was “no direct contact” with Hyde County and that PCL is “not collaborating in any manner. There’s no process with the county.”
He added that this claim form “does not go beyond out-of-pocket losses.”
The Observer also contacted Pettey on Aug. 10, who said originally one claim form had been posted on PCL’s website and a link from its Facebook page but they were in the process of creating three categories for residents, businesses and vacationers, which has been done.
The online claims form found here states: “For those affected by the Outer Banks power outage, a claims process has been established and a form is available. To submit a claim, download one of the claim questionnaires and follow the instructions.”
There are three options, and the website includes the PCL Outer Banks Claim Team at 844-402-8570.
The Observer called that number and the recorded message provides prompts for information on the losses and requests a name, phone number and email address and someone will call them back with 48 hours.
“We are making this (claim form) available to people who were affected,” Pettey said about the website. “It’s available to anyone who feels they have a claim.”
PCL’s also has the claim form link on their Facebook page here. It requires some scrolling and lots of comments and shares to others have been posted.
Also on Facebook are paid ads for class-action lawsuits by law firms. Stay tuned.
The power outage occurred July 27, in the height of the tourist season, when PCL Construction crews rebuilding the Bonner Bridge accidentally damaged the main electric transmission cables, severing the power to Hatteras and Ocracoke.
When it became clear the power would not be restored quickly, Hyde County declared an evacuation of visitors effective 5 p.m. Jul. 27 that lasted until noon on Aug. 4.
During that week, the island was powered by three portable generators with enough electricity for residents but not enough for the full complement of summer visitors.
During the crisis, the Ocracoke Advisory Control Group met twice daily to get updates on the power restoration status and other related issues.
Two lawyers with the N.C. attorney general’s office attended one of those meetings and during the crisis and private lawyers began filing class-action lawsuits against PCL.
Laura Brewer, a spokesperson in Attorney General Josh Stein’s office, said on Aug. 10 that the attorney general’s office “is focused on information gathering and hearing from concerned citizens, local businesses and officials. We aren’t playing an official role in negotiating any settlements.”
That website is www.ncdoj.gov.
At the same time, Hyde County officials began investigating if island businesses and individuals could come together on their own to aggregate the island’s total loss and present that bill to PCL for restitution.
“We wanted to put out the fire from the circling attorneys,” Rich said in an interview Aug. 9. He added that the state attorney general’s office “said we were doing the right thing going the high road.”
Dennis Rose of the Rose Law Firm in Kill Devil Hills, who is local counsel for a class-action lawsuit filed July 31 by Salisbury firm Wallace and Graham, contacted the Observer after we ran the story about Wallace and Graham’s filing of a class-action lawsuit, which already included several Hatteras Island businesses, to tell us he is local counsel.
A representative from Wallace and Graham visited the island on Aug. 1 and met with several islanders but the Observer did not attend that meeting.