Council gives blessing to the $100,000 DOT project

Published 12:21 pm Wednesday, July 11, 2007

By Staff
Belhaven accepts plan to alleviate downtown flooding
Staff Writer
BELHAVEN — A plan to alleviate some of the nuisance flooding in downtown Belhaven was given the go-ahead by this town’s council Monday after months of vigorous debate regarding the prudence of the plan.
The project, which includes installing three flap gates and new pipe work and building about 60 feet of bulkhead along Wynne’s Gut, will be managed by the state Department of Transportation. The project is fully funded by the state. State Rep. Arthur Williams, D-Beaufort, sought $100,000 in discretionary funds to alleviate tidal flooding in Belhaven.
When Main Street floods it forces Fish Hooks Cafe to close its doors and send staff home without pay.
The water, which backs up with the tide, will sit on the street for 12 hours a day sometimes. Other times, it may stay there just a couple hours.
Neal O’Neal, who owns the drug store, gift shop and eatery a block away from Fish Hooks, said his business is also affected when the streets are closed off because of tidal flooding.
Fixing the flooding nuisance has been heavily debated by the council in recent months.
Monday, an amended motion put forth by Councilman Steve Carawan to back the DOT plan passed unopposed. Following the vote, Mayor Adam O’Neal said council members Cynthia Heath and George Ebron were abstaining from voting.
Heath said she was abstaining “with prejudice.”
Voting with Carawan for the measure were Dr. Charles Boyette and Al Baker.
Prior to seconding Carawan’s motion, Boyette requested that resolution of support be amended to include a DOT-requested stipulation that the town accept responsibility for maintaining the flap gates. Boyette’s amendment also called for town officials to work with DOT officials on drafting an agreement regarding the project.
DOT officials were at Monday’s town meeting at the request of the council. When the issue was discussed at last month’s meeting, some members of the council had reservations about the plan.
Some of the opposition to the project discussed at the meeting was that it only addressed flooding at one intersection in town.
O’Neal’s real estate business has its office at that intersection.
An area resident pointed out that the state would be spending $100,000 to alleviate the flooding next to the mayor’s business.
O’Neal addressed that insinuation, saying it would help all downtown businesses, pedestrians and motorists.
Town Manager Tim Johnson pointed out that the entire drainage area of Wynne’s Gut, which runs through the heart of Belhaven and covers nearly 90 acres, could be addressed if flap gates were installed at the bridge that crosses the gut at the edge of town.
DOT division maintenance engineer John Rouse said the town wouldn’t be allowed to close off the gut, considered a navigable waterway.
The only cost to the town for the proposed project, DOT officials said, is the cost required to maintain the flap gates.
According to Rouse, siltation can “jam the gate open.” Rouse said if the flap gates cannot completely close, they will not work. But if those gates are maintained correctly, some of the downtown flooding would be alleviated, he said.
O’Neal said the project would be a big benefit to the town.
Heath asked if there were other scenarios the DOT could offer to alleviate tidal flooding. She said she was concerned solving the problem at Allen and Main streets would “create another problem elsewhere.”
Boyette said the most logical place to address flood control was at the Water Street bridge, which is in need of replacement.
The appointed councilman, who has filed to oppose O’Neal in November’s mayoral election, proposed seeking outside funds for a feasibility study on replacing the bridge and constructing modified flap gates under the replacement bridge that would preserve the navigability of Wynne’s Gut.
Boyette said he supported the DOT project but also wanted to explore the larger issue of tidal flooding.
Johnson asked if the flooding were addressed at the bridge later would that render the flap gates near Allen Street “obsolete.”
The $100,000 in discretionary funds, according to Johnson, was earmarked by Williams to be used for “whatever the town council as a whole wanted.”
Jarvis agreed, saying the funds could be used for what the council considered would help the town the best.
At the council’s June meeting, Carawan made a motion to endorse the project; there was no second made, but he was asked to consider amending his motion.
Boyette asked for a presentation by Rouse before any council endorsement. Carawan allowed the amendment, which passed unanimously.
In a letter he wrote to the town in February, Rouse advised town officials that the project “may only provide minimal improvement to the tidal flooding problems.”
Rouse said the Wynne’s Gut improvements would not stop the flooding of Main Street.
For more on the council’s meeting Monday, see future editions.