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Fixing local flooding when feds deny it’s in a flood plain

Fayetteville works without FEMA help to improve drainage in Locks Creek area, with bigger plans ahead, but efforts wouldn’t prevent flooding after another major hurricane.


Fayetteville is making plans to address recurrent flooding in a neighborhood in the southeast part of the city.

The City Council on April 4 unanimously gave approval for an effort to design a flooding mitigation plan for the Locks Creek area. It’s estimated to cost $8.8 million.

The project would improve drainage among roadways in the neighborhood, including the primary thoroughfare, Locks Creek Road, which will also be elevated as part of the construction.

Byron Reeves, the city’s stormwater manager, said the purpose is to give access to emergency help to households in the event of a flood.

“When you get certain storm events, you can’t get in and out of the neighborhoods, no emergency access, people can’t get in and out to their homes,” he said.

This is the first phase, the only one approved April 4. A second phase would call for a bridge on nearby State Road 53.

If that second phase is eventually approved, the entire construction, including the initial phase, is estimated to cost $24.5 million.

Reeves said the primary purpose is to serve the 180 houses in the neighborhood that do not flood. The flooding among the homes along Bombay Drive and Turkey Run, however, would continue.

At the April 4 council meeting, Mayor Mitch Colvin said the plan is a partial fix.

“You still have Bombay Drive, which is one of the most impacted ones,” he said. “Those are the folks that come in year after year — after the two hurricanes — about flooding.”

To address the flooding of the homes, Reeves said, little can be done in terms of new construction.

“We can’t fix everything out there; however, we can do some things out there to improve the infrastructure for some in the neighborhood,” he said.

FEMA flood plains

Another option presented to the council was to pay fair market value for the homes that flood and turn them into levees to prevent further flooding in the area.

However, this buyout cannot be funded federally as the Federal Emergency Management Agency does not consider the area a flood plain, a requirement for FEMA’s hazard mitigation assistance program.

The current flood designation only extends within the immediate area of the Cape Fear River, miles west of the homes.

If the houses were in a FEMA flood plain, a buyout could be issued in which the federal agency would pay for 75% of the costs. The rest would be paid by either state or local funds, if the homeowner agreed.

Since FEMA funds aren’t on the table, however, the council was presented with a second option, which includes all the roadway mitigation efforts from the first, whereby the city would front all the costs of property acquisition. It costs much more, $45 million in total.

If they wanted to consider that plan in the future, council members were encouraged to search for grant funding, as the stormwater budget wouldn’t cover such a price.

‘Water always wins’

Even if the city obtained enough funding for the $45 million option, it wouldn’t stop all the flooding in the area.

The levees wouldn’t completely stop waters reaching north of the neighborhood around L.A. Dunham Drive.

“It’s very challenging to mitigate all the flooding out there,” Reeves said. “You’re putting a lot of money in. It’s not solving the problem. You’re mitigating it, but you’re not completely mitigating it.”

Matthew in 2016 and Florence in 2018 were historic hurricanes for Fayetteville. They resulted in two floods that are typically only seen once in a 500-year span, according to research from the U.S. Geological Survey.

The study presented to the council April 4 for the Locks Creek watershed only accounted for 25-year flood events.

If another hurricane of the same magnitude hit the area, it would likely surpass these expensive mitigation measures, Reeves said.

“There’s some storm events that you just can’t design your way out of,” he said.

Mayor Pro Tem Kathy Jensen said at the  meeting that further discussion is needed before the council considers paying $45 million to address only a 25-year flood.

“Water always wins,” she said. “It always winds up taking.”

Ben Sessoms is a Carolina Public Press staff writer based in Fayetteville. Send an email to bsessoms@carolinapublicpress.org to contact him.

Carolina Public Press is an independent, in-depth and investigative nonprofit news service for North Carolina.

Fayetteville, City Council, flooding, FEMA, Locks Creek