About 100 local and county officials from several counties, emergency management, and representatives from three congressional offices met at the Woodmen Community Center to conduct a Neuse River Basin roundtable and discuss solutions from building a dam to cleaning debris from the Neuse River.
Michael A. Sprayberry, director of the N.C. Division of Emergency Management, said the ideas from the dicussion would be used to help create a Neuse River Basin Plan.
“We’re working together to try to harvest ideas, work as a group with one voice to try to implement some good strategies to deal with the flooding,” Sprayberry said. “There’s already some dredging going on in some counties but I think what we want to do it craft a plan. But I will tell you there is no one solution. There’s going to be many different courses of action that we take to craft an overarching solution, and it’s not going to happen immediately.”
Sprayberry said Hurricane Matthew provided an impetus to start focusing on a solution.
“But I would like to say the leadership of Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy – he’s so energetic and motivated and solutions oriented and so I think that his leadership has really help us focus on this,” he said.
Murphy said he was very pleased with the response and pro-activeness from state partners, emergency management, environmental quality and Lenoir County emergency services when responding to flooding caused by the Neuse River, like before and after Hurricane Matthew last year.
“What we understand is there will be another hurricane,” Murphy said. “There will be another flood and there’s a bigger challenge in reducing the next hurricane’s or flood’s impact on our region than it is to dole money out for flood relief. It’s a much bigger challenge, much bigger task.”
Thursday’s meeting was the beginning of facing those challenges, Murphy said.
“That coalition is what’s going to carry this ball and actually move it forward to have true flood prevention,” he said.
The solution could come in several forms, from building a dam, a dry retention pond, snagging and dragging the river to clean it out or even helping Raleigh with its water supply challenges, Murphy said.
“It’s going to be an all-of-the-above-approach,” he said. “Not one of them is going to be the super bullet to make this work.”
The Army Corps Engineers, which had representatives at the meeting, will be essential to any solution, Murphy said.
But it will take congressional support to fund a Neuse River Basin Study for the Army Corps of Engineers to work on a project, he said.
There has been Neuse River Basin studies done in the past, one in 1965 and a couple since then, leaning more toward an environmental focus, Murphy said.
The new study will have to focus on infrastructure, like a dam, or other ways of dealing with the tremendous volume of water and not necessarily focus on impacts to animal habits. That study has been done. The focus now should be on the flooding impacts to homes and businesses, Murphy said.
“The question is how much does it cost us to study and fund and implement the appropriate changes ahead of the next major disaster versus the cost of doling out money to say we’re sorry this happen to you,” he said.
Gifton Mayor Billy Ray Jackson said his town, which is at the confluence of the Neuse River and Contentnea Creek, has had its share of flooding and the drainage problems have got to be corrected.
“We get flooded,” he said. “We had Floyd. It was devastating. Then there was Irene and Matthew. We’ve really got to get together, everybody who is touched by those two bodies of water, and see what we can do. I don’t know if we can eliminate it, but maybe lighten up the problem a little bit would be a big help.”
Jackson said he wants to hear from the Army Corps of Engineers.
“And what I would like to hear from them is that these bodies of waters that have been neglected for so long could be dredged,” he said.