Flooding roads have residents needing boats

Posted 12/27/18

BY JOHN HUNTER

News + Record Staff

Depending on the weather, Todd Massey has to decide whether he’ll drive – or kayak – to his house.

Massey is one of 26 residents of Jeremiah Drive in …

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Flooding roads have residents needing boats

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Posted

BY JOHN HUNTER

News + Record Staff

Depending on the weather, Todd Massey has to decide whether he’ll drive – or kayak – to his house.

Massey is one of 26 residents of Jeremiah Drive in northeastern Chatham County who has been dealing with severe flooding on their road for several years.

“It depends,” Massey said. “I have a big truck, so I can get further than most people. I’ll drive until the water is up to my doors. Otherwise I boat home.”

When the flooding is bad, as it was again last week, “nobody can get to their house by car,” Massey said. “They have to park up the street and boat in.”

The problem is a portion of the road, Massey said.

“We are talking about 800 feet at the bottom of a hill,” he explained. “But when it floods, it can get six to eight feet deep at that point. You can’t get past. It takes over two weeks normally for the flooding to clear each time. It doesn’t just go right away.”

Last Thursday, Jeremiah Drive residents received the latest flood warning from Chatham County Emergency Management. The warning stated that water from Jordan Lake was expected to rise 231 feet – or four feet deep over Jeremiah Drive – and prevent vehicle access to the neighborhood.

While last week’s flooding was the most recent, such conditions aren’t new to the residents on Jeremiah Drive, who have been dealing with flooding for the last three decades, according to interim Chatham County Manager Dan LaMontagne.

“This has been going on since the 80s,” LaMontagne said during the Dec. 17 Chatham County Board of Commissioners meeting. “This has been talked about and talked about, and then it stops raining. It gets dropped and people don’t think about it again until it gets flooded.”

Instances of flooding have intensified in recent weeks because of Hurricane Florence.

According to Jeremiah Drive resident Faye Stanley, the entire neighborhood was cut off by more than five feet of water covering the roadway. The neighborhood did not receive mail for 16 days. During the Florence flooding, one of the residents had a medical emergency and had to be paddled out to get help.

In November, Chatham County Emergency Management Director Steve Newton wrote an open letter expressing concern for the lack of emergency access to the roadway during the flooding.

“With normal road conditions, first responders routinely arrive on Jeremiah Drive within five minutes,” the letter said. “It took the fire department 28 minutes to reach the patient’s side, and an additional 24 minutes to evacuate the patient to an ambulance. A response that normally requires three responders, one ambulance and a utility truck required 11 responders, an ambulance, five fire department vehicles, emergency management, and a rescue boat to achieve safely.”

Out of the 21 residents whose ages are known, 81 percent are more than 50 years of age. Nearly 40 percent are over 60. One resident has Parkinson’s disease, one has controlled diabetes, and one elderly resident requires daily home health aide services, Stanley said.

Less than a month later from the Hurricane Florence flooding, Jeremiah Drive was under five feet of water again because of strong rains from Hurricane Michael. According to Stanley, the water levels reached over five feet, and residents had no access to their homes for five days.

In the 74 days since the September flood began until the November flood ended, residents had no access for 33 days, according to Stanley.

“We spent Thanksgiving cut off from our homes,” she said.

Jeremiah Drive serves as part of an overflow basin for Jordan Lake, a detail that homeowners were not informed when purchasing land, according to Stanley.

The Jeremiah residents presented their concerns to the Chatham County Board of Commissioners in October. State Sen. Valerie Foushee wrote a letter in October to Jordan Lake officials, Chatham County Board of Commissioners, and the Department of Transportation seeking a response outlining a plan of action.

The residents of Jeremiah Drive have also contacted attorneys and discussed options, but are awaiting responses from governmental organizations before moving forward.

Chatham County Sheriff Mike Roberson also wrote a letter in November to state Rep. Robert Reives expressing his concerns about safety of Jeremiah residents.

Mark Ashness, of CE Group, a Raleigh-based firm licensed to practice landscape architecture, civil engineering and land surveying, emailed the Jeremiah Drive residents about the situation.

“This situation is created by the ACOE’s [Army Corps of Engineers] need to make use of the complete temporary flood pool,” the message read. “It is reasonable that use of the full flood pool is required for ACOE management of the lake. It is also reasonable that the residents of Jeremiah Drive have either a second point of access or the existing road raised to allow safe access when the ACOE needs full use of the flood pool.”

Chatham County officials are currently working with the N.C. Dept. of Transportation to get cost estimates to elevate the affected part of the roadway.

“Once we get the cost estimate for that, then we have to figure out how we will pay for that,” LaMontagne said during the Dec. 17 meeting. “I don’t believe that DOT will fund that initially. They could certainly apply some pressure and try to get some funding from the state.”

LaMontagne said that the NCDOT will explore different options and elevations and will bring the results to county officials after the holidays.

“Each elevation will have different costs likely,” LaMontange. “It may be that raising it one elevation will fix the flooding 100 percent, but will come at a high price. Then another option may fix 99 percent of the flooding at half the price. Those are all factors that we will look at.”

To elevate the road, the NCDOT will have to remove soil from that same elevation near the lake.

“If you bring in fill, you’re removing potential (overflow) storage of the lake,” LaMontagne said. “By Army Corps rules, you have to remove that equal soil somewhere else.”

Officials are also looking at the option of creating an emergency access to the road as a second option.

“If [elevating the road] doesn’t work, we are looking at a plan B,” LaMontagne said. “We are trying to find a back road in there that we would just give a key to the fire department and emergency management to gate off both ends, so it’s not a through-road. It’s only open when we say it’s open. There would still be a required funding for that. We’d also have to talk to the residents at that time to see if they’d like to have that road.”

The road would not be a state road, LaMontagne said.

“It would just be a gravel road,” LaMontagne said. “There would be maintenance requirements as the road would grow over, but we were really focusing on it being for emergency management access.

“There’s a lot that we have to do after we get these two options laid out,” he added. “One thing that (NCDOT Division 8 Engineer) Brandon Jones and I agreed on is that we will not let this slide this time. We’re both committed and we’re not just going to leave it this time.”

“We do need to something as soon as we can, because it is going to happen again,” Commissioner Jim Crawford said.

Officials are also looking at releases right now downstream.

“But the Cape Fear and Fayetteville are at such high stages right now, there’s only so much release we can do,” LaMontagne said.

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