BIRMINGHAM, Ala. „Ÿ Phil Campbell’s first long-term community recovery workshop seemed to defy the prediction of a reporter who said the city may never recover from the EF-5 tornado that ripped through the small Alabama town April 27.
The town, population 1,000, had fallen on hard times before the tornado. Its youth were leaving because there were no jobs. The lack of a retirement center forced seniors to leave when they can no longer care for themselves. And, the downtown had many empty buildings in part because of the recession and competition from retail development in neighboring cities.
Many of the 65 people attending the July 21 workshop said this state and federal program may be the community’s opportunity to save itself.
And that’s the intent of the long-term community recovery program – residents help determine what they want in their town and where the homes, churches, businesses, parks and green space should go. The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, the Alabama Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Emergency Management Agency take these ideas and put them in a plan that outlines the type of structures, costs and where funding may be available.
“You’re all part of Phil Campbell, and if you want to see it come together, to see it flourish even more so than it has in some ways, we hope you will join us,” said Charles Smith, chairman of the Phil Campbell Recovery Committee, which has met weekly since the storm hit.
As attendees entered the meeting room lined with posters and pictures of their community, workshop organizers urged them to make comments on yellow sticky notes, which were affixed to the posters. One poster about commercial improvements contained notes suggesting the building of a library and a family restaurant. Another poster, themed economic development, contained notes that suggested seeking factories and big business as well as capitalizing on the railroad.
Following opening remarks, groups gathered at tables and began drawing and writing their vision of Phil Campbell on big sheets of white paper. One man had a cure for the empty downtown buildings. He said high overhead costs were killing the retailers and suggested rehabilitating the structures to be more energy efficient.
Most wanted a new high school to replace the existing heavily damaged school. Franklin County School Superintendent Gary Williams said the new school would come once an insurance settlement was made.
“FEMA is also helping us with a [safe room] in the high school,” he added.
Other groups recommended bringing in industry, redeveloping the downtown and building community centers. Two tables recommended a memorial to the more than 25 residents who died during the storm.
ADECA Director Jim Byard, Jr., said he was impressed with how quickly Phil Campbell residents started work on cleanup and recovery efforts and promised that his agency would assist the town to reach its objectives.
The suggestions offered by workshop participants drew praise from both ADECA and FEMA officials, but they urged more attendance at upcoming workshops.
“We need a lot bigger group involved in this process,” said John Boyle, a community planner made available to the community by FEMA. “Bring your neighbors back. Together we will develop a vision, goals and objectives and a strategy. The plan that we will develop is not something you stick on a shelf. This is something you get done.&rdq...