City asks for patience on drainage

Changes in administrations, the loss of sales tax revenues and other issues have shoved drainage work to the back burner since the 1990s, the Whiteville city manager said Tuesday.

“Unfortunately, things sometimes fall through the cracks,” Darren Currie told a packed house of downtown business owners.

J.E. Thompson asked to be placed on Tuesday’s agenda to seek answers from the city regarding a lack of beaver control efforts and other problems that exacerbated the flooding in downtown Whiteville during Hurricane Matthew. Thompson thanked Currie, and told the board that city staff had answered some of his questions before Tuesday’s meeting.

“We still have a major problem,” Thompson said.

During Matthew, Thompson said, his office on Main Street flooded for the first time in memory. Roughly 50 businesses downtown had flooding to some extent during the storm, and damage estimates are still being calculated.

“They go from $50,000 to a million for the dry cleaners,” he said. “A lot of people, they just opened their letters, saw ‘$50,000’ and threw the letter in the trash can. They didn’t have flood insurance. They’d never needed it.”

Thompson said that while eliminating the beavers, breaking dams and clearing the run of Soles Swamp won’t solve all of the problems, they will make a major difference. He said he saw the impact firsthand while touring the downtown area of the swamp with Edward Davis of the county’s beaver management committee.

“In a 1,200-foot stretch,” Thompson said, “We found five beaver dams. They’ve been repaired now, but we kicked them open, and the water dropped.”

He compared the swamp to a retention pond, but said beavers make it work more like “a swimming pool.

“When it rains, those dams are holding back 24 inches of water,” he said. “That’s how much it takes to flood downtown. It’s not like it was years ago, when Madison Street was two feet lower, and the streets were dirt. The water could soak up or run off. Businesses didn’t get flooded. We aren’t like that now, and something needs to be done.”

For more on this story, see today’s edition of the News Reporter.