By Outer Banks Voice on August 24, 2018
While a detailed study is being done to find a workable solution to flooding in several northern Roanoke Island neighborhoods after last month’s record-setting rainfall, Dare County leaders met this week to discuss potential short-term and long-term goals and update residents on their efforts.
The panel included all seven commissioners, county staff and N.C. Transportation Board member Allen Moran.
The meeting was intended to talk about problems throughout unincorporated sections of Dare County, but most of the discussion focused on northern Roanoke Island’s problems.
Dare County Board of Commissioners Chairman Bob Woodard said four trucks from a Virginia company pumped out 1.9 million gallons, while the N.C. Forest Service used their large pumps to remove another 1,380,000 gallons from neighborhoods northwest of the Dare County Regional Airport.
The water was then pumped into large ditches on the airport property and a nearby dry-creek bed, so it could be naturally filtered and drain rather than being dumped directly into nearby Croatan Sound.
Atlantic Heating and Cooling of Virginia Beach was paid roughly $50,000 for their part of the pumping, according to Woodard.
Woodard praised the efforts of the county’s emergency management and public works departments to get the pumps in the right places and some culverts and ditches cleared to help with the drainage problems.
Nonetheless, standing water remained on many properties in the neighborhoods, and some have taken on more water from thunderstorms earlier this week.
Several homeowners said they still could not use their showers and clothes washers because their septic tanks are inundated by groundwater.
Resident Tom Higgins pointed out that a pond near Airport Road was in danger of overflowing again if more heavy rain fell this week, and Jamie Head said he is still having to walk through “septic infested water” to get in and out of his home.
One issue of contention has been that some of the blame on the flooding issues fell on the N.C. Department of Transportaton’s ditches and culverts along state maintained roads.
The NCDOT maintains 297 miles of primary and secondary roads in Dare County alone, and is budgeted roughly $500,000 a year for drainage maintenance.
That allows around 40 to 45 miles of ditches, culverts and shoulders to be cleaned in a fiscal year.
North Carolina state law since the 1930s mandates that NCDOT maintain public roads in the counties. Towns are allowed to maintain roads in their jurisdictions, but there are no “county roads.”
Dare County Manager Bobby Outten said the county is willing to partner with NCDOT on maintaining ditches and culverts, if NCDOT can get them cleaned out with the more effective equipment they have available.
The county is now partnering with NCDOT on an engineering study of the hydrology of the area as a first step to addressing the drainage problem.
State Transportation Board member Allen Moran said earlier this month that a preliminary review from the study showed that neighborhoods northwest of Airport Road were designed with ditches and swales intended to allow rainwater to soak into the soil. But there are no drainage outlets.
A detailed topographic survey map of the northern end of Roanoke Island presented at Monday’s meeting showed that many of the problem areas during last month’s flooding are natural troughs. While the areas that flooded the worst are flat, they are surrounded by higher elevations on all three sides.
And once the pumps were stopped for the night, some areas would fill right back in because the water table is still so high.
Woodard apologized for his comments at the Aug. 6 boasrd meeting about NCDOT after learning it was determined that the DOT-maintained systems were not what excaerbated the flooding caused by 20 inches of rain in 10 days.
Moran said the study by engineering firm Moffatt and Nichol will be expanded to a larger area, and the complete analysis is expected to take 90 to 120 days.
Outten said getting pumps of their own to be able to respond more quickly to future flooding is already being looked into.
Commissioner Jim Tobin suggested the county look at a way to incorporate a design similar to the emergency pumping system in Kitty Hawk. Drains have been placed at strategic low-spots between N.C. 12 and U.S. 158, with pipes running to the beach road where pumps can be attached to move the water out.
Woodard noted that residents also need to “put some skin in the game” by making sure to keep the ditches and culverts that run along their properties clean.
A short video produced by the county to promote how residents can help was shown at the meeting:
County Commissioner Rob Ross called for a clear definition of an attainable long-term goal.
While northern Roanoke Island has been at the forefront of the flooding discussion, areas in Colington, in Martins Point and on Hatteras Island were also affected by the record rainfall.
Many of those problems appear to be more that the water is draining to the roads and having no place to go, then backing up onto adjoining properties.
National Parks of Eastern N.C. Superintendent Dave Hallac said in his five years since becoming head of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Wright Brothers National Memorial and Fort Raleigh National Historic Site that parts of the Outer Banks have seen five unprecedented rain or soundside storm surge flood events.
Hallac pointed out that the Cape Point Campground near Buxton had one foot of water covering 40 acres, equaling an estimated 14 million gallons alone, with millions more on the surrounding land.
In the past, ditches would have been opened to just let that water drain into the ocean. But state and federal regulations have prohibited the practice for some time, and the Park Service is trying to find ways to address those problems.
His final comment drew agreement from all in attendance that storm water issues, whether from rainfall or overwash, on the Outer Banks will not going away anytime soon.
“We need to plan for this being the new normal,” Hallac said.
The group has set a follow up meeting for October 1 at 1 p.m. at the Dare County Government Complex.