IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

NC Spent Years Fixing Flood Damage. New Budget Prevents It

The proposed budget includes several resilience efforts that, when put together, show an approach where the state will try to help local governments better prepare themselves for future flooding.

(TNS) - The state budget that Gov. Roy Cooper plans to sign could offer North Carolina officials an opportunity to start focusing on how to prevent the next flooding disaster instead of spending all of their efforts on repairing damages from the last one, according to environmental groups who have reviewed the document.

Since 2016, the state has suffered widespread damage from Hurricanes Matthew and Florence. More isolated storms like Hurricanes Dorian and Isaias and Tropical Storm Fred have also caused heavy damage in pockets of the state. Those storms have raised awareness among legislators and residents about the importance of planning for future floods, with polls taken after Hurricane Florence showing widespread concern about climate change.

The proposed budget includes several resilience efforts that, when put together, show an approach where the state will try to help North Carolina’s local governments better prepare themselves for future flooding. It also restores conservation trust funding to levels not seen since the Great Recession.

“We’ve spent the last number of years really on defense, trying to rebuild and recover and that work continues but I think this is really allowing us to go on offense, to start helping people not just recover but to think about and prepare for a better future,” said Will McDow , director of the Environmental Defense Fund’s Climate Resilient Coasts and Watershed initiative.

For example, the budget includes $25 million for Golden L.E.A.F. that the foundation will use to help local governments plan or pursue resilience projects. Another $20 million will fund a Flood Resiliency Blueprint that is intended to help North Carolina prioritize mitigation projects and inform local stormwater mitigation plans. And $15 million will be used to establish the Division of Emergency Management’s Disaster Relief and Mitigation Fund , a grant program that will help local governments build flood mitigation projects and help develop and design projects to unlock federal mitigation funds.

Resilience projects funded by the budget range from $20 million to repair Oak Island’s beaches after Isaias devastated sand dunes there to $5 million to tests efforts to use natural infrastructure to capture floodwater in a flood-prone part of Wayne County .

The N.C. Senate voted Tuesday to approve the budget. The Senate is exepcted to vote again Wednesday, and the House is expected to vote Wednesday and Thursday. From there, it will head to Gov. Roy Cooper , who said Tuesday that he expects to sign the budget because “the good outweighs the bad,” marking the first time he will do so since being elected in 2016.

Climate change is expected to exacerbate flooding in  North Carolina in the coming years, with a warmer atmosphere causing heavy rains to become more common and warmer ocean water helping make tropical storms more powerful.

In a written statement, Melissa Roberts , the founder and executive director of the American Flood Coalition , said, “North Carolina has experienced multiple 1,000-year floods over the last five years, and many communities across the state are still recovering. Coming off yet another active hurricane season, this budget proposal lays out a comprehensive strategy to address flooding, build resilience, and invest in the future before the next disaster strikes.”

Among the budget’s resilience policies is making permanent North Carolina’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency , a state office created after Hurricane Florence to manage billions of dollars in relief funding associated with the 2018 storm and 2016’s Hurricane Matthew.

When NCORR was created, the positions were time-limited to three years. A provision in the proposed budget lifts that limit.

Another provision requires NCORR to assemble an interagency working group that will meet quarterly with local governments and other stakeholders to identify challenges associated with stream management and flood reduction, with recommendations passed along to the General Assembly .

“One of the reasons that NCORR was created was to begin to bring some of these cross-cutting functions to the recovery effort and now we’re bringing it to the resilience effort,” McDow said.

The budget proposal also includes $290.74 million over the two-year biennium to the state’s conservation trust funds. Those include the Land and Water Fund , which is used to protect land around waterways and build trails; the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund , which helps the state maintain its parks and local governments build new parks; and the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund , which is used to preserve and conserve farmland.

Funding levels of $151.37 million and $139.37 million are the highest for conservation trust funds since the 2008 recession impacted the state’s budgets. Greg Andeck , Audubon North Carolina’s director of strategy and government relations, called the funding “a critical down payment on conservation and recreation.”

“This level of funding is historic. It’s a big deal,” Andeck said. “We view it as an investment in a future for birds and people.”

In 2020, at the height of COVID-19 restrictions, 19.8 million people visited North Carolina’s state parks, a high that topped the previous record by 400,000 visitors. While parks provide recreation and wildlife habitat, they also serve as flood mitigation, with forests and protected wetlands more effectively soaking up and holding water than developed areas.

Andeck said, “It’s important that we continue to have those places available for people, we create really important areas for wildlife at the same time and we keep pace with the growth and development that’s happening in the state.”

This story was produced with financial support from 1Earth Fund, in partnership with Journalism Funding Partners , as part of an independent journalism fellowship program. The N&O maintains full editorial control of the work.

©2021 The Charlotte Observer. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


Special Projects
Sponsored Articles