House Bill 500 would fund levees, buyouts in some flood-prone areas of NC

Seven Springs in Wayne County is on the banks of the Neuse River. The slashed blue lines represent a floodway, which encompasses the Whitehall Cemetery. The solid blue color indicates areas that are in the 100-year flood plain, meaning in any given year the chances of a major flood event are 1%. Yellow areas represent the 500-year flood plain, equivalent to a 0.2% chance. However, as climate change contributes to stronger storms, these metrics are becoming outdated. (Map: www.flood.nc.gov)

Main Street in Seven Springs, a tiny town in Wayne County, sits squarely within harm’s way. Sandwiched between a bluff and the Neuse River, the entire town lies within the highest-risk flood zones, according to state and federal maps, and risks being swept away altogether during the next major hurricane.

The town would get a new $5.2 million levee, under legislation discussed in the House Environment Committee Tuesday afternoon. House Bill 500, the Disaster Relief and Mitigation Act of 2021 would allocate $200 million for various projects to make communities more resilient against hurricane and severe storm damage.

“At one time Seven Springs had 200 residents,” said Republican Rep. John Bell, a bill co-sponsor, whose district includes Wayne County. “Now it has about 20. We need to help revive that town.”

Seven Springs has already moved offices for its first responders and emergency medical services to higher ground, Bell said.

Other areas in eastern and southeastern North Carolina would also receive funding improvements; the money would flow through the state Office of Resilience and Recovery.

Neuse River flood mitigation

$5.2 million for a Seven Springs levee
$5 million for Stoney Creek acquisition, also in Wayne County
$12 million for 301/railroad elevation
$10 million for buyouts

Lumber River flood mitigation

$18 million for channel widening
$5 million for Lumberton/CSX floodgates
$3.5 million for a Fairbluff levee
$10 million for buyouts

Rep. Edward Goodwin, a Republican who represents six northeastern counties — also flood-prone — asked Bell to consider spreading the largesse to other parts of the state.

“Is there any hope for us?” Goodwin said, referring to his district: Bertie, Camden, Chowan, Perquimans, Tyrrell, and Washington.

“Yes, I’d be happy to talk with you,” Bell replied.

The bill lacked some details, such as which channel would be widened and what properties would be eligible for buyouts. The money would allow local and state government to apply for federal grants.

The legislation will likely undergo several iterations before going to the full House. Its next step is House Appropriations.

You can plug in an address or city into www.flood.nc.gov and learn if that location is in a flood-prone zone.

 

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