Kinston City leaders head to Raleigh for talks on preventing severe flooding


Many residents and business owners in Kinston were hit hard during past hurricanes. Now the city's mayor and council members are bound for serious talks with state lawmakers in Raleigh Wednesday.

The city leaders want more action to help prevent flooding that occurs from hurricanes.

"What happens with the Neuse River when it comes to these hurricanes is becoming historic but also catastrophic. The loss of property is concerning but the loss of 28 lives is not something we want to see happen again," said B.J. Murphy, the city's mayor who is leading the team of council members.

The city leaders want legislation to deal with the flooding. They're asking that more money be put into prevention and practical solutions and not just relief.

"The reality is that towns and counties really have our hands tied," added Murphy who said state and federal agencies take the lead when natural disasters happen. He added that their input is needed in order to craft practical solutions they hope this bill would bring.

Businesses are still trying to recover after many had to shut down for many weeks and some for months. "If it gets to the point where it happens every year we might have to close down," said Joe Hargitt, who owns King's Restaurant on Highway 70. He is very familiar with dealing with the aftermath of devastation from hurricanes. He says he has spent more than $800,000 on hurricane related damages and equipment replacement.

Kinston is in the Lower Neuse River Basin, an area which is prone to flooding. The river overflowed its bank days after the Hurricane Matthew in October, last year. It crest at a record 14.3 feet above flood stage and left many homeless. The city leaders believe this meeting will lead them towards finding a permanent solution to what has become a costly problem. They have proposed that the state should consider constructing flood control reservoirs, address storm water impact from highway construction by the Department of Transportation, snag and dredge the river and its tributaries and even build a dam.

All through the city's business district, water marks from the flood are visible on buildings. Many businesses shut down or relocated. Those that recovered and remained are worried they will have to deal with the same situation once again. The idea of a permanent solution as proposed by the city is a welcome development, but Hargitt is skeptical. He wondered if there was really any way to stop or control the forces of nature, especially with the city being so close to the coast.

"People have talked to me about building a dam between Kinston and Goldsboro to control the flooding. Now that may be a viable option I don't know but that's an awful lot of water to try to stop from coming, I don't see a viable solution," said Hargitt. He added, "Unless they are going to figure out what to do with a hundred billion cubic gallons of water I don't think there is anything they can do about it." But the mayor is optimistic the meeting would be a beginning, towards something more tangible than just providing relief after the fact. "We can't stop a hurricane from coming but we can minimize its effects on us," said Murphy.

Murphy also added that this meeting is not about highlighting the obvious but rather, with dialog and subsequent legislation they hope will follow, the next flooding won't be nearly as severe when the a hurricane comes along.

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