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Million dollars awarded for snagging streams

The first major drainage projects by the county in the wake of Hurricane Matthew will soon get under way.

A state grant from the  Department of Agriculture and Division of Soil of Water Conservation will be used to clear debris from a number of streams and creeks that help drain the major watersheds. The waterways were in need of work before the destruction caused by Tropical Storm Hermine and Hurricane Matthew, said Edward Davis of the Soil and Water Conservation Service. The grant award was $1.088 million for this round, Davis said, and the county will apply for an additional $1.2 million funding for future work.

The work is expected to take six to nine months, Davis said, and the projects are spread throughout the county, from Fair Bluff to Livingston Creek in Delco.

When the work begins, Davis said, contractors and heavy equipment will become frequent sights along area waterways. The machinery will sometimes be deep enough in swampy areas that it will be heard, but not seen, Davis said.

“Please rest assured that these individuals are there to perform debris removal only and the completion of these projects are critical in order to reduce flooding of the citizens and businesses of Columbus County,” he said. “We want anyone with any questions to feel free to call us.”

The snag-and-drag operation will move trees, brush, debris and blockages at least 20 feet from the edge of the bank to prevent t being washed back into the channels, Davis said. Due to federal environmental regulations, the debris will remain on the side of the stream where it was removed whenever possible.

The types of debris facing the contractors are varied, Davis said. He recently completed an inspection tour of the Lumber River and has inspected parts of the Waccamaw.

Large and small trees, as well as broken limbs, treetops and other debris are blocking parts of the channel in nearly every waterway in the county, Davis explained. The large trees gather additional debris that is floating downstream, making an even larger blockade.

In time the debris catches mud and sand, and can create islands, sandbars and small peninsulas that prevent free-flow of the water and slow stormwater runoff.

The waterways to be improved include:

·      Unnamed tributary from White Marsh Swamp to Bentmoore Drive in Whiteville (approximately 11,195 feet)

·      Unnamed tributary from Soules Swamp to Bishford Road in Brunswick (approximately 7,710 feet)

·      Several tributaries of the Dunn Swamp Watershed District (approximately 203,777 feet). Due to the scope of this part of the project, Davis said, Dunn Swamp was divided into two sections.

·      Livingston Creek from the outlet on the Cape Fear River to Swimming Hole Road (approximately 69,580 feet)

·      Lumber River from the state line to the N.C. 904 Bridge in Fair Bluff (approximately 20,000 feet)

·      Mollie Branch from Soules Swamp to U.S. 74/76 (approximately 12,725 feet) 

·      Soules Swamp from White Marsh Swamp to Mollie Branch (approximately 22,387 feet)

·      Waccamaw River from the South Carolina state line to Lake Waccamaw dam (approximately 259,354 feet). This area was divided into three sections.

·      White Marsh Swamp from the Waccamaw River to Jefferson Street (approximately 107,870 feet).

Work will begin to solve some of the problems even before the first dragline is cranked up and rolled off its truck, Davis said.

“We will be doing some more beaver trapping, beaver dam removal and other work prior to the clearing,’ Davis said. “Beavers aren’t the only problem, of course, but in some areas they are a major contributor. If you don’t get the beavers out of the way to begin with, you’ll be fighting them the whole time.”

Whiteville Fire Marshal Hal Lowder said he looks forward to the project, part of which is targeting the Mollie’s Branch floodplain. Mollie’s Branch contributes significantly to the problems in downtown Whiteville, even during regular rainy weather.

“Every little bit helps,” Lowder said. “Anything that can be done can make a difference, and this is going to be a big deal.”

Lowder noted that many factors play into both urban and rural flooding. Even paving repairs can cause problems, he said.

“During those last storms we had,” he said, referring to the heavy thunderstorms earlier this month, “we noticed that the gutters were underwater. They’re supposed to be something like eight inches tall, but there are places that they’re less than two inches deep. It’s where the roads have been paved and repaved, and the water can’t go down the stormwater drains fast enough. It spreads out and goes into the downtown businesses.”

The city was recently awarded a stormwater management study grant that will be used as a blueprint to improve drainage. Lowder said that the combination of improving drainage through Soules Swamp and rehabilitating the city’s system of ditches, laterals, canals and drains will have an impact on flooding problems.

“There is only so much you can 

do when you have a situation like Matthew,” he said, “but everything that you do can help.”

As soon as contractors are approved, Davis said, work can begin on the streams throughout the county.

“We hope to have the contractors at work in September,” Davis said. “It will have cooled off some then, and maybe some of the snakes will be slowing down. We can beat some of the heavier rains from later in the winter as well, as long as we can avoid another tropical system.”

For more information, contact the Soil and Water office at 642.2196 ext. 3.


Stuart Rogers