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In flooding aftermath, commissioners tackle storm water issues

Dare County’s commissioners are tackling storm water management for unincorporated portions of the county.

On Aug. 20, the county’s board of commissioners held a special afternoon session about storm water. Close to 50 people showed up and jammed the first floor conference room in the Administration Building in Manteo.

Many of those people came from a section of northern Roanoke Island that remained flooded with rainwater for several weeks. That situation was graphically described to the commissioners and the public at the Aug. 6 board meeting.

Dare immediately engaged four vacuum trucks to drain the storm water. The North Carolina Forest Service brought pumps. Dare County’s Public Works staffers cleared culverts. From Aug. 6 through 17, the trucks and pumps removed 3.4 million gallons of water from the area close to the Dare County Regional Airport on Roanoke Island. The effort cost an estimated $50,000.

The county’s disaster recovery plan was implemented with social services staffers and non-profit organizations on the scene.

In opening the meeting, board Chairman Robert L. Woodard told the crowd “I took a pretty hard shot at DOT.” He apologized to North Carolina Board of Transportation member Allen Moran.

Woodard explained he had no idea about NCDOT’s Division 1 budget or what it had done last fiscal year. The division’s maintenance staff had cleared 42.7 miles of ditches and culverts along the 297 miles of state-maintained primary and secondary roads in Dare County. The division’s maintenance staff also installed 650 feet of new culvert.

Woodard announced that Dare County would partner with NCDOT on a drainage study. Moffatt & Nichol, a “global infrastructure advisory firm,” will conduct that study, which will take 90 to 120 days to complete.

That drainage study will cover only northern Roanoke Island, reported Robert L. Outten, Dare’s County Manager.

Dealing with roads and ditches presents challenges for Dare County, commented Woodard. The county has no roads or ditches and no road maintenance staff. The roads are state or town or private.

Some towns have secured permits to pump storm water to the Atlantic Ocean. That pumping is triggered when public safety vehicles cannot respond due to high water on roadways. In the rain episode in July, public safety vehicles could still transit roads in unincorporated Dare County.

Identified problem areas included Brakewood, Daphne, Bradford, Langley, Holly Ridge and north of Holly Ridge, Steve Basnight Road, on northern Roanoke Island.

The westside of Roanoke Island was added by former commissioner Virginia Tillett. She mentioned Fernando Street, California, Elsie Daniels Lane, Scarborough St. and Bowsertown Road. “It was a bad water event,” said Tillett.

Also added to the list were Old Lighthouse Road in Buxton, Colington Road, Tower Lane in Colington, East Lake and Stumpy Point.

Outten said “challenges are different in different places.”

Said Commissioner Danny Couch, “no part of the county is immune from flood waters. We’re going to see more stormwater issues.”

Cape Hatteras National Seashore Superintendent Dave Hallac said “if this is a new normal, we need to plan for it.”

The stated purpose of the meeting was establishing short- and long-term goals. Some of the ideas floated at the meeting include:

  • “If DOT can get culverts cleaned out the first time, we could keep them open,” said Outten.
  • Where septic systems are flooded, provide portable toilets, washing machines.
  • Purchase pumps and hoses.
  • Develop outreach materials and work with incorporated towns on messaging. One video is already produced. The video encourages owners to clean out ditches and culverts.
  • Continue to emphasize purchasing and maintaining flood insurance.
  • Look at creating storm water management plans and implementing those plans by using drainage districts.
  • Create open spaces with conservation easements.
  • Control tree removal and fill
  • Fund a county engineer
  • Acknowledge that the options presented in the study will take time to implement.

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