One year after the flood District Administrator Weigand: "There are spanners in the works all over the place"
Ahrweiler · Interview Kreis Ahrweiler. One year after the flood disaster, district administrator Cornelia Weigand talks in an interview about the hurdles in rebuilding and explains why it would make sense to revise the complicated application procedures.
It has not been a normal year for District Administrator Cornelia Weigand. On the first anniversary of the flood disaster in the Ahr valley, the non-party district leader looks back on the events of the past twelve months in an interview with our editor Stephan Stegmann. She explains where the reconstruction process is stuck and how she wants to speed things up.
What is currently the biggest challenge with regard to reconstruction?
Cornelia Weigand: To get things moving forward even better. Together with the state government, we want to create a more stable, agile and decision-friendly framework to speed up the many reconstruction projects. That is the goal. But to achieve this, coordination processes are necessary. At times, even legislation at the federal level has to be adapted in. That explains why we sometimes wait weeks for certain approval notices. And if we are talking about seven-figure sums for reconstruction projects, we can't get started without the necessary approval. However, we know that the current situation is asking an awful lot from the people in the Ahr valley. That is why one of our premises is: more speed.
This is also what those affected would like to see in their own homes...
Weigand: It would also be good for private individuals if we could pick up the pace. However, there are areas where the framework conditions are not yet suitable. There are spanners in the works in too many places, which is not surprising given the dimension of the catastrophe and the sums that are often involved. Initially, this was also the case with the advance payments from the reconstruction fund through the Investment and Structural Bank, which in neighbouring NRW had already been raised from 20 to 40 percent in January. Together with the reconstruction staff, I also wanted to achieve this for Rhineland-Palatinate as early as January. I made the urgent request during my inaugural visit to the Minister President, then again with the permanent mayors. After further talks I received a written refusal from the State Chancellery with reference to possible " penalty interest". That was a point at which I, too, could no longer understand the procedure, because I find it cynical. Many people are relying on this money. There is simply no other way for them to cope with extensive renovations, because they can't hire craftspeople or companies. Fortunately, the minister president finally saw it that way, at least in cases of hardship. Here, too, we want to sharpen things up.
Is the application procedure too bureaucratic?
Weigand: I know that the hurdle for those affected is sometimes high. Although there is, among other things, outreach assistance that advises people and encourages them to go to the Info-Points. In my view, it would be a good idea to take another closer look at the very extensive application procedure. Of course, we need clear guidelines for those entitled to benefits, which may also justify random checks. Nevertheless, it can only be in the spirit of reconstruction that there is lower threshold for bitterly needed aid to be paid out.
After the flood some people left the Ahr valley, many stayed. How do you give confidence to the people who are still undecided?
Weigand: We are pushing ahead with reconstruction and want to use our chance as a region to rise like a phoenix from the ashes. Of course, the dynamics of reconstruction play a decisive role in this. As soon as progress is visible, for example because the infrastructure is intact again, the schools or day-care centres are accessible and the restaurants and hotels are open, life also returns to the Ahr valley. In contrast to the more anonymous big city, the familiar neighbourhood will return. The people in the Ahr valley experience a sense of community. It will give them strength when they see that something beautiful is being created in the flood area and that they are part of it. I am convinced of that, and we are working consistently towards that goal.
(Original text: Stephan Stegmann; Translation: Jean Lennox)