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Drainage concerns top commissioners meeting


By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Pitt County Board of Commissioners got a quick lesson in the formation and operation of drainage district during its Monday meeting.

Commissioners Glen Webb and Mary Perkins Williams asked for the presentation. Both represent large swaths of rural Pitt County that struggle with flooding issues.

“It almost seems like we are on the bubble of (drainage) capacity and it almost seems like it’s going to get worse before it’s get better,” Webb said. “Our drainage system hasn’t kept up with the county. While we are rural in many parts of the county, we are not sparse.”

Drainage districts are entities authorized by the state of North Carolina which oversee the maintenance and operations of drainage systems in defined geographical areas.

Portions of seven drainage districts are located in Pitt County. Most were created beginning in the early 1960s through the 1980s, said Tim Etheridge, maintenance supervisor with Southeastern Drainage Office. That office works with drainage districts in 13 counties maintaining and updating land ownership records and providing maintenance assistance when needed.

Etheridge oversees maintenance in Pitt 3 & 7, Pitt 2, Pitt 9, Pitt 4 and Pitt 8. Two other districts are maintained by other entities.

The state legislation authorizes the creation of drainage districts. The drainage districts formed in Pitt County required owners of 65 percent of land acreage in an area to sign up before a district can be formed.

The districts are overseen by a board of commissioners appointed by the county clerk of court, Etheridge said. A district board of commissioners set an assessment to fund maintenance projects, he said. The county tax office collects the assessment with the yearly tax bill.

An average residential assessment is $10 a lot, Etheridge said. Assessments charged farmland owners are based on factors such as acreage draining into the system.

The systems were designed to meet the drainage needs of agricultural lands, he said.

“It was understood that once these projects would be preserved, they would be maintained in perpetuity,” Etheridge said.

However, as more housing and commercial development has occurred in the drainage districts, more water is flowing into the systems, creating flooding problems.

Etheridge presented a map highlighting where the drainage district are located.

Most of western Pitt County has no established drainage district. There are no districts along the county’s eastern border and most of N.C. 33 East.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture funded the original drainage projects because it created more farmland. Drainage projects have fallen out of favor with the USDA because they are seen as damaging to wetlands, Etheridge said.

Webb asked if there are plans to expand the capacity of existing drainage systems.

Expansion isn’t simple. The state transportation department alone would have to spend millions widening culverts, replacing bridges and making other infrastructure improvement to handle the increased water flow, Etheridge said. The system also would have to be designed so improving drainage in Pitt County doesn’t result in increased flooding in Vanceboro, he said.

“We are talking about millions of dollars to fix it, but we’re talking millions of dollars in property damage,” Webb said.

Following Monday’s meeting Webb said he hopes the presentation will launch discussions addressing the need for improved drainage systems throughout eastern North Carolina.

Etheridge said people can determine if they live in a drainage district or if they live near drainage mains and laterals by visiting https://gis.pittcountync.gov/opis/ and clicking on “drainage district” or “drainage lateral” and then entering their address or land parcel number.

Other action during Monday’s meeting included:

• Unanimously elected Commissioner Mark Owens Jr. chairman and Commissioner Glen Webb vice chairman of the board.

• Unanimously voting to give the Salvation Army $5,000 for its breakfast program.

Major Ken Morris said it costs $25,000 annually to provide breakfast three days a week but the Salvation Army only raised $5,000 in donations for the program.

“I think $5,000 is a small amount for what is done,” Commissioner Melvin McLawhorn said.

• Unanimously voted to accept $561,162 to remove debris from Little Contentnea Creek, Contentnea Creek and the Neuse River and to develop a request for proposal to solicit contractors for the project.

• Appointed Ramon T. Revilla to serve as interim tax collector and Chip Main to serve as interim tax assessor once tax administrator Cathy Booker retires effective Jan. 1. Both men serve as deputies to Booker in their respective divisions.

The Board of Commissioners is advertising for a tax administrator who will manage both divisions in the tax office, said County Manager Scott Elliott. Until then, the commissioners believe the double appointment is the most effective way to manage the office.

• Presented a certificate of recognition to Rev. Tyrone Turnage recognizing his 45 hours of service in Pitt County.

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