BY CASEY MANN
News + Record Staff
Residents on Jeremiah Drive were informed by email last week that the N.C. Dept. of Transportation, working in coordination with local elected officials, will …
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Residents on Jeremiah Drive were informed by email last week that the N.C. Dept. of Transportation, working in coordination with local elected officials, will be funding improvements to raise the road to help alleviate flooding during rain events.
“While we are very pleased to hear that, we want to monitor the benchmarks moving toward that goal,” resident of Jeremiah Drive Faye Stanley said.
Residents of Jeremiah Drive, which is located adjacent to Jordan Lake, have experience regular road flooding events since the summer. After two hurricanes and heavier than normal rainfall, those living along the road have repeatedly been forced to use boats and kayaks to leave their homes. Stanley, with the help of her neighbor, Todd Massey, worked to alert officials to the problem.
“We started to seriously begin to advocate for help with this problem in October of 2018,” Stanley said. “There had been floods prior to that time, but the frequency had been increasing radically, and the length of time without access had become a danger to everyone in the community, since we had no emergency services, mail, or the simple ability to get home.”
“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineering controls the elevation of Jordan Lake and they must consider many factors to determine when to release water,” NCDOT Division Engineer Brandon Jones said. “This past fall we have had record rainfalls over a very large area of the watersheds and downstream rivers. This has meant the road has been flooded for a much longer duration than in the past.”
“We have residents out here who have serious illnesses - one with Parkinson’s disease, and one who requires daily home health care visits,” Stanley said. “We are a largely older group of residents, and there are many who are unable to manage the boating and paddling required to get in and out, so they simply have to leave when the flooding happens.
“Some stay with family or friends, but can you imagine having to pay for a hotel for more than 50 days since September 18th, when the first of these last three floods began?” she asked. “Or can you imagine falling up to your waist in water, in the dark with freezing temperatures, trying to access your home? This has been our reality.”
The residents brought their concerns to both their legislative leaders and the Chatham County Board of Commissioners. The local delegation reached out to the NCDOT, specifically Jones, to work together to resolve the problem, according to Rep. Robert Reives II (D-Dist. 54). Jones immediately responded to the request and reached out to his superiors while residents continued to inform the group of the changing situation in real time.
“The local county officials, Senator Valerie Foushee, and Representative Robert Reives have strongly supported a resolution to this issue,” Jones said. “NCDOT Secretary Jim Trogdon and Division 8 Board of Transportation Member, Pat Molamphy, fully support helping the residents and have tasked me to make this happen.”
“I believe [the project] was largely due to a great deal of work to have all parties - the Jordan Lake Army Corps of Engineers, Chatham County, the Department of Transportation, as well as Senator Foushee and Representative Reives and the public - knowing about our situation, and understanding the crisis that exists for our neighborhood,” Stanley said.
“Both Steve Newton, the Chatham County Director of Emergency Operations, and Mike Roberson, the Chatham County Sheriff, were kind to provide us with very specific information about the impact on their capacity to provide safety and emergency services to Jeremiah residents during these flood events,” Stanley said. “Their information of the vastly increased response times, resources and personnel required to respond to the needs of Jeremiah residents was most helpful in helping folks understand the severity of the problem.”
The project will raise a portion of Jeremiah Drive six to seven feet. Jones has been working with the Army Corps of Engineers who Jones said have been “extremely helpful in guiding” them through their processes and their required permitting.
“NCDOT is committed to funding the improvements and constructing this much needed project,” Jones said. “Our current timeline for completing this project is July 2019 and we are making every effort to meet or improve upon this timeline.”
“This is a great example of how government ought to work,” Reives said. “It was a really great process to be a part of because to me, that’s how the government should work.”
Reives voiced his appreciation for the residents’ role in the process. Noting that while the residents were “getting hit” by successive floods, they were patient, understood the process, and participated in finding a resolution.
“We particularly appreciate the attention of our DOT Board representative Pat Molamphy and Brandon Jones, our Division 8 engineer, who are now communicating directly with us about progress toward raising the road,” Stanley said.
Reives also praised Jones for his efforts.
“Brandon is a great example of how a government employee or liaison should work for the people,” he said.
“I am excited to be a part of this project that will improve the lives of the residents of Jeremiah Drive,” Jones said.
“We are hopeful that the end of this extremely difficult period is in sight,” Stanley said. “We look forward to a resolution for all of us. We’ll watch and wait and track the situation until the work is complete. I am aware that getting out the word through news outlets was an important part of developing the awareness of folks about our situation. We appreciate your work and that of others in accomplishing that.”