LUMBERTON — The Lumberton City Council could be looking at a $1.5 million bill.
The council held a special meeting on Wednesday to discuss an unfunded mandate by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that requires the city to demonstrate that the levee provides protection against the annual 1 percent chance of a flood — a process that could include a $250,000 to $450,000 engineering study, $500,000 to $1 million in construction repairs and a $15,000 re-accreditation fee.
If the city chooses not to act on the mandate, the levee would not be recognized as a flood-preventing structure, and properties in South and East Lumberton with a federally-backed mortgage could see insurance rates triple. Brandon Love, director of Planning and Neighborhood services, says that could “stifle” growth in the area.
According to City Attorney James Bryan, the city may have another option, one that would put the brunt of the cost on Robeson County Drainage District No. 1, a governing body established in 1967 that is independent of the city or county. Bryan said the district was involved in building the four-mile levee that runs beside the Lumber River, just north of West Fifth Street.
City Manager Wayne Horne said the council would continue to investigate ownership issues.
“We’ve got to do some additional research before we make a decision,” he said.
The FEMA mandate came soon after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 caused devastation throughout Louisiana when levees didn’t hold. In that same year, Lumberton’s levee was reported to have met the requirements by the North Carolina Floodplain Mapping Program.
Lumberton’s levee is one of five areas in North Carolina that have been studied by the North Carolina Floodplain Mapping Program. The other four are in Mt. Airy in Surry County; Speed and Princeville, both in Edgecombe County; and Tyrell County.
Other FEMA requirements include the implementation of a flood-warning system, the availability of a manual back-up for an automatic system, periodic inspections of the levee, and adherence to an officially-recognized maintenance plan.