Originally in The Robesonian

February 24, 2020

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein brought good news Monday and $150,000 to aid in Lumberton’s ongoing flood recovery and mitigation programs.

The funds originate from a state settlement with Smithfield Foods over environmental issues and will purchase 14 acres of flood prone wetlands along Interstate 95 and Kahn Drive from the former Ramada Inn to McLean’s Pond at Polecat Branch in the Highland Park community.

The project has both flood control and environmental aspects. Wetlands will be restored to increase water holding capacity and to return cleaner water to the Lumber River.

“This is a most worthy project,” Stein said. “It will aid with flooding and improve the quality of water for generations of North Carolina citizens.

“My job is to protect the people of this state, including their environment and health.”

Mayor Bruce Davis thanked the attorney general and praised city administrators for their initiative in applying for the grant. City Manager Wayne Horne identified the opportunity, and Public Works Director Rob Armstrong performed design work and grant writing.

“I am real proud of the work our administrators do,” Davis said. “Even without storms, they bring in about $1 million a year in grants.”

The city is working on two very large flood mitigation projects, Horne said.

“Drainage is one of our major concerns in Lumberton,” he said. “We are working on a $5 million floodgate for the Jacob Swamp Dike and a $9.5 million project to divert water away from the Meadow Branch.”

The two projects are planned to relieve flooding in three areas in South, West and North Lumberton that were hit hard by flooding from Hurricanes Matthew and Florence.

The city will apply to the attorney general for another $135,000 for the Highland Park project, the public works director said.

“This is undevelopable property that we will engineer to help with flood impoundment and to remove pollutants,” Armstrong said. “Our goal is to return it to its natural wetlands state so that it will hold more water and filter the water it returns.”

The Smithfield settlement with North Carolina dates to 2001 and puts $2 million a year into an environmental fund controlled by the Attorney General’s Office.

“We have invested in five projects in Robeson County with this fund,” Stein said. “We helped purchase 800 acres, including a Carolina Bay, and helped close three former hog lagoons.”

The Highland Park area along the Meadow Branch that was flooded is being purchased and the homes demolished. The cost is funded through the state from Federal Emergency Management Agency funding, and the properties will revert to the city, which will maintain them and possibly convert for recreational use.