WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – Hurricane Florence was an eye-opening event for southeastern North Carolina. While the storm itself was only a category one hurricane when it made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, the devastation from the sustained rains caused unprecedented flooding.
That’s why elected officials in the Cape Fear are advocating for flood resiliency measures to be put in place by state legislators and are heading to Raleigh to make their case. On Tuesday, Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo along with Whiteville Mayor Terry Mann and Pender County Commissioner Jackie Newtown met with leaders in both chambers in the hope that their requests make it into the final budget.
“The Senate has passed its budget. It had some impressive stuff related to flood resiliency — both resources and policy. The house budget, led by Representative John Bell has basically incorporated almost 100 percent of what our organization has asked him for, so we want to see that that particular budget wins out,” said Tony McEwen, a legislative affairs specialist for the City of Wilmington.
Storm damage does not just impact those who live on the coast; in fact, according to a flood resiliency study presented to the General Assembly in June of this year, Florence caused $22 billion worth of damages across the state.
The Eastern NC Recovery and Resilience Alliance, comprising elected officials from across the region, is tasked with coming up with ideas and solutions to strengthen communities from future flooding events. In March, the group shared six priorities with the General Assembly to help the region deal with flooding.
The six priorities:
- Fund an actionable Flood Resilience Blueprint
- Ensure resilient critical transportation infrastructure
- Support riverine and stream management to reduce flooding
- Incorporate resilience investments as an allowable use into any new local revenue authority
- Increase resiliency capacity and technical assistance to local governments
- Fund flood mitigation and innovative pilot projects
It’s not just the densely populated places like Wilmington and New Hanover County facing flood problems. During Florence, rural Pender County saw devastating floods, and things seem to be getting worse.
“Every storm it seems like our floodplain levels go up and up. We’ve got to clean out our streams, we’ve got to clean out our rivers, we’ve got to get back to baseline because we can’t keep on flooding the way that we have been. It’s just too costly,” Newtown said.
So just how much could this plan be?
“Right now, the House bill that Representative Bell is sponsoring is $200 million. That is a significant amount of money for a resiliency plan for the State of North Carolina,” Saffo said.
After meeting with members of both the House and Senate, all three local representatives agreed that there would be funding included in the final budget, but how much funding is still yet to be decided.
As far as types of programs that could be funded, one of the biggest issues the region is facing is due to build-up in rivers and streams.
“A lot of it is cleaning out the river. Actually, a full cleanout of the river basins has not been done in North Carolina, to my knowledge, in 60,70,80 years, and over time, silt, trees, trash gets in those things and in the rivers and it impedes the water flow, so I think that’s one of the major things that could be done,” Mann said.
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