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Snagging some help: Grant secured to clear debris from Contentnea Creek

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Trees have created blockage in a section of the Contenenta Creek.

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By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Monday, October 23, 2017

When five inches of rain fell west of Grifton in May, about a foot of water flowed over the east bank of Contentnea Creek, damaging the town’s recreational vehicle and trail park.

The site had sustained damage during Hurricane Matthew and the May event worsened the problems.

“It was just like reopening a sore that was just about healed, it made the wound even worse,” Grifton Mayor Billy Ray Jackson said. The RV park remains closed.

The N.C. Division of Soil and Water Conservation recently awarded a $561,162 grant to Pitt County to clear fallen trees and other obstructions debris from Contentnea and Little Contentnea creeks. The goal is to eliminate flooding events like the one that occurred in May.

“When trees come down they catch sediment, catch other things and create a barrier for water flow,” said P.J. Andrews, Pitt County Soil and Water Conservation director. His office prepared the application that secured the grant.

When large volumes of water can’t escape to the Neuse River, it backs up and overflows the creek’s shores, causing flooding like the event that damaged the Contentnea Creek RV and Trail Park.

The snagging project will begin at the confluence of Contentnea Creek and the Neuse River and work upstream to Grifton and then into the town of Farmville, Andrews said.

The goal is to clear the entire 43-mile stretch of waterways, Andrews said.

 

Slow flow

Last year’s Hurricane Matthew caused numerous trees to fall into the two creeks, creating barriers of vegetative debris and sediment buildup. The blockage slows the flow of water to the Neuse River and creates flooding, especially in Grifton.

“It will help the water flow a little quicker, hopefully flow out a little faster and hopefully keep it was backing up,” said Joe Johnson, Grifton town manager. “Once the water starts backing up, it backs up into the low-lying areas and then into the streets here in Grifton.”

The project won’t prevent flooding, Johnson said, but it should reduce the period of flooding.

“When heavy rains come down it will hit the Neuse (river) and water starts to back up,” Johnson said.

The May thunderstorm didn’t get high enough to cause any damage to houses or other structures in Grifton, Johnston said.

But the foot of water that went through the RV park created deep ruts in the trails, broke a water main and did other infrastructure damage, Jackson said.

“Hopefully the snagging will prevent a future scenario like that, where it’s not a hurricane but a rain event that hopefully will flow out a little quicker,” Johnson said.

The project also will increase recreational opportunities along the creek.

“It’s a fairly good size creek with a lot of recreational use so storm-related debris really wrecks havoc,” said James Rhodes, director of Pitt County Planning and Development.

Contentnea Creek is a popular fishing spot, especially for shad in the spring. It’s also popular among kayakers and canoeists.

However, there are several places along both creeks where downed trees prevent boat travel, Andrews said.

“You can ask anyone who puts in at Grifton and fishes, they can tell you they can’t go far either way because of debris,” Andrews said. Boaters currently can’t reach the Neuse River from Grifton, Johnson said.

Disaster recovery

The grant is part of the state’s Disaster Recovery Program authorized by the General Assembly last December which included a $32.2 million allocation for stream debris removal, non-field farm road repairs and supplemental for the Agricultural Water Resources Assistance Program.

The last time a snagging project was done along Contentnea Creek was several years after Hurricane Floyd, Rhodes said. The county obtained a grant from the state Division of Water Resources to snag Little Contentnea Creek, beginning at its confluence with Contentnea Creek upstream for 13 miles.

It’s unclear when the current work will begin, Andrews said. He and his staff are still identifying areas that need to be cleared. Bids for the project must be obtained and a contractor selected.

Then there is timing.

“You want to do it when the water is as low as possible so you can get as much debris out as possible,” Andrews said.

“The protocol is to take care of the debris above water levels so it stands to reason we want to wait until there is low water levels,” Rhodes said. “Which mean we are missing the opportunity right now.”

Depending on how quickly a contractor can be selected, some work could begin this winter, he said.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570. Follow her on Twitter @GingerLGDR.

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