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Local & State

Hurricane Matthew plagues NC coast as other storms loom
Infrastructure concerns lead to worry about future
Published Thursday, September 21, 2017 7:20 pm
by Stephanie Carson, N.C. News Service

LUMBERTON, N.C. – Hurricane Maria is expected to impact weather on the North Carolina coast at the top of next week, and the rainfall expected to follow will be another strain on already struggling communities.

Some counties only now are receiving Federal Emergency Management Agency dollars almost a year after Hurricane Matthew.

While cleanup and rebuilding still are ongoing, there is a growing concern about the infrastructure in place in the event of future extreme weather.

Larry Cahoon, professor of biology and marine biology at University of North Carolina Wilmington, recently conducted a study of coastal water and sewer systems for Environment North Carolina. His verdict: The state isn't prepared for the next big storm.

“We have a compelling set of problems creeping up on us,” he said. “They don’t appear as dramatically as potholes in roads or bridges that fall down, but again, this is about public health, ultimately.”

Nationwide, the Environment North Carolina report estimates a $271 billion backlog in wastewater system project needs.

The 2018 budget proposed by President Donald Trump includes a 31 percent decrease in funding for the Environmental Protection Agency and with that, programs that protect water quality and coastal areas.

Adrienne Kennedy of Lumberton lost her car after Hurricane Matthew, and now helps others trying to rebuild. She says relief from Matthew has been slow to come, as is assistance on how best to rebuild.

“The timeline just doesn't add up for us, especially for rural towns and communities that just have no idea what to do,” she said. “So we're left to try to pick up the pieces.

“To me, and to a lot of people that come to my disaster relief center, we feel like the hurricane happened yesterday.”

Cahoon and multiple bodies of scientific research point to sea levels rising along the Atlantic coast, largely due to climate change.

He says with water collection systems already antiquated and unable to keep up with extreme weather, the problem will only get worse.

“If the groundwater levels are coming up because sea level itself is rising, then we have an increasing problem to face, and we're going to have to figure out how to fix that or find some other approach,” he said.

North Carolina currently receives $2.5 million in grants that help communities to protect their coasts. Those funds would be eliminated in the current Trump budget.


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