Princeville Fire Dept. destroyed by Matthew fights to recover $30K for unfinished project

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

PRINCEVILLE, NC -- Nearly two years after Hurricane Matthew flooded Princeville, the volunteer fire department is finally back in its original station.

But in addition to fighting fires, the fire department has been fighting to get back nearly $30,000 for a hurricane recovery project that was never completed.

Now, only posts stand in the spot where the temporary office building was supposed to be built for the fire department to use while it recovered after the hurricane.

The original fire station was flooded.

A deposit of $27,200 was paid with FEMA funds and went to Wisconsin- based MODs International, which was featured on HGTV for converting shipping containers into structures, similar to what Princeville Fire was supposed to receive.

"They were paid a deposit," said Former Chief James Powell who ordered the project in December of 2016. "The construction was supposed to be completed by July 15 (of 2017). That didn't happen."

Chief Powell first told ABC11 about the issue last October. ABC11 has been following up and the project was never completed.

"I can't think of anything that would impede their ability to produce that contract," Former Chief Powell said.

In May, Briggs Noble, Senior Project Manager at MODs International, admitted to ABC11 they "dropped the ball" on the project.

He said the former person in charge of the project was arrested. Court records showed former MODs owner Douglas Larson was charged with larceny in 2017 in connection to his work with MODs.

A customer alleged he paid more than $95,000 for shipping containers that never arrived. Connecticut court records showed Larson pleaded not guilty and that the case is still pending. Larson reportedly agreed to make restitution payments to the customer.

Powell said the department has been struggling to recover since the hurricane flooded their station. He said the nearly $30,000 is a substantial amount for a volunteer fire department.

Antwan Brown, the current Chief of the Princeville Volunteer Fire Department, said there's no need for that temporary office anymore since they moved back into their original building in July.

He said he wanted the money to be paid back.

Despite telling ABC11 in May that he'd resolve the issue, Noble admitted he hadn't touched base with former Chief Powell until after ABC11 reached out to him again in July asking for an update.

After trying to ask him more questions, Noble hung up on ABC11.

Noble also didn't respond to an email requesting a statement about that.

But two weeks ago, nearly two years after this all started, ABC11 received some good news. After repeated calls from ABC11, MODs finally paid the money back to the Princeville Fire Department.

Keith Acree, a spokesman for N.C. Emergency Management, said that if the fire department recovers the lost money, it could be applied to the new station, only with FEMA approval. He said that the town would need to seek an amendment to the project worksheet.

Now, the Princeville Volunteer Fire Department can focus on fighting fires.