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Council approves drainage plan; large portion of project unfunded

By Jefferson Weaver, The News Reporter

A $400,000 grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation will be the first part of a plan to renovate the downtown Whiteville drainage system.

The funding came to the city through LEAF grants that came available as part of a Hurricane Matthew recovery package. City Manager Darren Currie said the city wasn’t approved for a $1 million plus request, but the two projects that were approved will provide some real relief in the flood-prone downtown area.

“This is going to help a lot,” Currie told the city council Tuesday, “but there is no way to design a project to get all the flooding problems solved.”

The downtown area rests at the foot of a significant drop between the courthouse and Soules Swamp. Virtually all the storm water in the city drains toward the swamp. While much of the water is carried through Mollie’s Branch into the swamp, city storm sewers have to bear the bulk of storm runoff.

The areas that will see improvements are along Todd Alley to West Main Street, and from Moore to West Walter Street, Currie said. Much of the infrastructure in those areas consists of eight-inch clay pipes draining into culverts that were sufficient before the construction of parking lots and paved streets downtown. The loss of permeable ground surfaces to soak up excess rainwater means the water ends up overwhelming the current drains.

The plan calls for funneling water into 30-inch then 48-inch storm drains, capable of handling both stormwater on the ground-level surfaces and from rain gutter systems falling from private buildings. A new outlet to Mollie’s Branch will leave West Main at a right angle just west of a commercial structure at the edge of the business district. 

The city will be responsible for around $38,000 in surveying and design costs, Currie said, but Finance Officer Colburn Brown reported that there was sufficient money in several related areas of the budget to cover those costs. The grant also does not cover administration costs, but Currie said the size and scope of the project can be handled in-house.

Currie also gave the council a brief report on progress with snag clearing efforts along Soules Swamp. He said the contractor, Ward Stocks, recently reported that the run of the swamp has been cleared as high as the Madison Street bridge.

“That’s going to pull a lot of water from downtown,” he said.

Efforts are also underway to remove much of the fill from the old city dump – located under a narrow strip extending roughly from Madison Street to the power substation off Franklin Street – to be used as fill in a wetlands mitigation project. Removing the nearly-century old fill will provide a large “basin” capable of radically increasing the swamp’s retention capability. If and when the two-plus acre section of filled wetlands can be reopened, the resulting drainage would create approximately 320,000 cubic feet for water in the swamp, based on a U.S. Geological Survey calculation website.

“That will make a lot of space for a lot of storm water,” Currie said.

Currie said that while the city was turned down for a $1 million grant request, efforts are underway to locate additional funding.

“We don’t have anything solid yet, but we understand there may be more funds available later,” Currie said.

Stuart Rogers