The U.S . Army Corps of Engineers has agreed to spend $39.6 million to help preserve an eastern North Carolina town founded by freed slaves that's been damaged repeatedly by floodwaters from hurricanes.
The project money, which comes from $740 million allocated to the Corps in a disaster relief funding bill approved in June, should help better protect Princeville, members of North Carolina's congressional delegation said in news releases Thursday.
President Donald Trump called Princeville Mayor Bobbie Jones on Thursday to notify him of the project funds, the White House said in a statement.
Princeville, a town with 2,200 residents about 75 miles (120 kilometers) east of Raleigh, was the country's first town incorporated by black Americans. Repeated flooding has made it difficult for residents to remain.
"The protection of Princeville and the preservation of its place in our nation's history cannot be overstated," said Democratic U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, whose district includes Princeville. "The completion of the levee project will ensure the longevity of this historic town for current and future generations."
The money will help increase the elevations of highways and install levees around the Tar River, near where Princeville sits, according to the offices of Republican Sens. Thom Tillis and Richard Burr.
"After the historic damage inflicted by recent hurricanes, it's clear that it's not enough to simply rebuild," Burr said in a release. "We have to rebuild in a way that applies the lessons of the past to mitigate future risks."
In 1999, Hurricane Floyd's rains overwhelmed a dike originally built in the 1960s and submerged the town in water 23 feet (7 meters) deep in spots. Most of the town was submerged in floodwaters after Hurricane Matthew in 2016, with about a third of the town's 750 single-family homes taking major damage. Flood control improvements and efforts to preserve the town have been discussed for the past 20 years.
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper also praised the funding decision Friday. Writing the Corps' commanding general in July, Cooper sought a commitment on levee funding. The type of aid for Princeville homeowners, such as raising the elevation of their houses, depended on what decision the Corps made, he wrote.
Slaves fled to Princeville late in the Civil War because it was a Union encampment. After the war, these black residents settled on low-lying tracts that white residents, who lived on higher elevations instead, didn't want. The town now known as Princeville was chartered in 1885.
The $740 million directed to the Corps for flood and storm damage reduction projects was part of a broader $19 billion emergency funding bill to help states deal with natural disasters.