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NC to launch $20 million data collection project to tackle future floods

Fair Bluff, North Carolina
Cornell Watson
Phyllis Ellis, the owner of Johnny's Drive-In, holds a picture on Nov. 29, 2023, of the floods in downtown Fair Bluff after the hurricane in 2018.

North Carolina is developing a new flood data program that will help guide future infrastructure projects.

A legislative oversight committee got an update Tuesday about the Flood Resiliency Blueprint. It's a $20 million project funded through a recent state budget to plan better for flooding that will occur more frequently in the future.

"We're starting to see flooding in communities without major hurricanes," Secretary of Environmental Quality Elizabeth Biser said. "We know that three inches of rainfall is all it takes for the Lumber River (in southeastern North Carolina) to overtop."

The goal is to better map out flood-prone areas from the mountains to the coast, identifying potential projects that could reduce the impact of hurricanes and other heavy rain events.

Biser gave lawmakers some examples. "There was an individual in Burgaw who was stranded due to washed-out roads and couldn't get back to his home for eight days," she said. "That's the type of situation we want to avoid in the future. With the right investments, we can minimize disruption to people's lives.

"By confidently investing in projects that will increase resiliency in our state, we will be able to help communities bounce back more quickly and avoid the worst of the damage when flood events do occur," Biser added.

A chart from an N.C. Department of Environmental Quality presentation shows the increasing cost of flood-related natural disasters in North Carolina
Department of Environmental Quality
A chart from an N.C. Department of Environmental Quality presentation shows the increasing cost of flood-related natural disasters in North Carolina

Biser said a draft report was finished last month, and the program will roll out later this year. Mapping flood-prone areas will begin with the Neuse River Basin.

Some legislators voiced frustration that the project hasn't moved faster. The initial draft cost $2.9 million to produce, but Biser stressed that it was done by the deadline in the budget bill.

"$2 million on a very, very rough draft is probably not the best use of taxpayer money," House Majority Leader John Bell, R-Wayne, said. "You should have a better draft than a very, very rough draft."

Sen. Brent Jackson, R-Sampson, said he's eager to see the project launch this year. "We want to make sure we spend this money wisely," he said. "But by the same token, we've got to get it moving so we can get something done."

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.
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