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City submits Golden LEAF grant for flood help

By: Jefferson Weaver, The News Reporter

Whiteville city officials hope a grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation will help alleviate some of the flood problems in the downtown area – thereby helping the entire city.

Much of Whiteville’s primary drainage flows to Soules Swamp, which runs just south of downtown. The swamp flooded to unprecedented levels during Hurricane Matthew, with some businesses and residences seeing floodwaters of several feet in areas that had never flooded before.

Much of the same area saw flooding again this year during a period of torrential rains on Aug. 8. The problem is made worse due to a number of factors, according to city manager Darren Currie.

Much of the city’s infrastructure is outdated, and in some areas, curb and guttering have gradually been filled in by state repaving projects. The city’s terrain is nearly flat, with all runoff going to Soules and the White Marsh, which both flank downtown.

The city has submitted a $1.462 million request to the Golden LEAF fund in hopes of updating much of the older or neglected drainage system, primarily in the downtown municipal service district.

After Matthew, Currie said 322 business and residential properties in the downtown area saw some level of flooding damage, with additional damage in an area from Soules Swamp to Virgil Street, and from Franklin to J.K. Powell.

“Our recent stormwater survey also identified choke points, undersized piping, and shallow inlet boxes that contribute to flooding,” Currie said. “The lack of infrastructure along Madison Street from Commerce to Pecan streets exacerbates flooding by channeling runoff into downtown.”

Repaving by the N.C. Department of Transportation along Madison Street from South Walter to Main Street virtually eliminated the curb and gutter system, Currie said, leaving stormwater nowhere to go except the roadways when storm drains are full.

The proposed project  will address flooding issues through the construction, replacement, and improvement of public stormwater infrastructure, Currie said.

Some of the city’s primary problems occur near the Public Works Department on Main Street, where 48-inch drain pipes carry everything from north and east of the railroad to Soules Swamp.

The outfall of the pipes quickly fills, leading to several feet of water flowing through the Public Works campus and surrounding neighborhoods.

Farther down Franklin Street, 24-inch pipes collect stormwater from larger pipes, leading to additional backups. The project does not include funding for removal of properties damaged by the storm, but only addresses infrastructure improvements to the retail and financial center of the city.

The Golden LEAF application is separate from other disaster applications, and is separate from federal hazard mitigation projects that are being considered, Currie explained.

The Golden LEAF fund was established to help communities rejuvenate economies that suffered with the loss of the tobacco markets. Funding has been used by formerly tobacco dependent areas to rebuild and improve retail districts and other areas that were damaged by Hurricane Matthew.

If the grant is approved, work could begin in January, and should be completed by June 30, according to the application.

Stuart Rogers