Whiteville City Councilwoman Sara Thompson minced no words Tuesday when she read a letter to the entire board.
“Has anyone given thought or concern to what caused this flooding downtown?” she asked.
Thompson was referring to the flooding that struck downtown Whiteville during Hurricane Matthew. Damages are still being evaluated, but some businesses still have not reopened from the unprecedented rise in water from Soles Swamp.
Noting that she mentioned two earlier flooding incidents during a September board meeting – days before Hurricane Matthew swamped downtown — Thompson said she felt like concerns were not taken seriously before Matthew.
“There was an article in the newspaper entitled ‘Planning team considers how Fair Bluff can reinvent itself’,” she said. “What if this read, ‘How can Whiteville reinvent itself”? We very well could have found Whiteville in the same situation after the two floods in September and October.”
Thompson reminded the board that she had asked that city staff consult with the Army Corps of Engineers about a drainage program for Soles Swamp, as well as seeking assistance with the beavers that “infests” Soles Swamp.
“I was advised that contacting ACE was a difficult endeavor and that the beavers are located on private property,” she said. “No one expressed any concern at this point.
“Soon after this meeting, the October Hurricane Matthew came and many more downtown properties were flooded. Some were flooded for a second time … many are struggling to pay for damages as most did not have flood insurance coverage.”
She also asked whether changes to the city’s development ordinance will be sufficient to reduce flooding downtown. The Planning and Zoning Board recently amended some city ordinances to require a drainage plan for new development, including retention ponds and other infrastructure. The rule changes do not affect existing properties.
City Manager Darren Currie said officials are in communication with the Corps and the county’s beaver management committee regarding Soles Swamp. He said that while beavers are part of the problem, eliminating dams is not the only solution to the problem.
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