LUMBERTON — City employees were scrambling at the water plant off Lowery Street on Wednesday, putting up a berm and working to prevent Hurricane Florence from flooding the facility and shutting it down.
They were inspired by memories of Matthew.
“We lost the generator last time,” said Paul Valenti, facility Operator in Responsible Charge. “That generator was tore up.”
Matthew struck Oct. 8, 2016, flooding the water plant, rendering it inoperable for weeks and costing the city millions of dollars to repair. It wasn’t until the last weekend of October that year that the city began transitioning from the use of temporary, portable water treatment systems and switching plant functions from generators back to the power grid.
Valenti said the current flood-prevention project was the brainchild of Public Works Deputy Director Corey Walters. The project involved city employees led by Walters placing concrete highway barriers around the generator room.
The barriers were left over from a state Department of Transportation highway repair project.
“They went out and grabbed a bunch of them,” Valenti said.
The concrete barriers, about 3 to 4 feet tall, were draped with plastic to make the temporary barrier as waterproof as possible, he said. Dirt was piled behind the barrier to make it stronger.
“The idea is to have the barrier in place before the storm, and they are working rapidly,” Valenti said.
This temporary barrier has nothing to do with the permanent berm that is to be built using Federal Emergency Management Agency money received as a result of the damage caused by Hurricane Matthew, he said.
“That project was on schedule to start in three to four months,” Valenti said.
Sandbags have been also placed around doors at the plant and windows have been barricaded, he said. Plant personnel also are preparing to pump water out of the plant, “if it comes to that,” Valenti said.
A hose has been fed into a pit inside the plant that contains pneumatic valves related to the operation of the plant’s filters, he said. The pit is the lowest point in the plant, and if water gets in it will flow into the pit.
If it becomes necessary, a hole will be made in a window and the hose connected to a sump pump, Valenti said. Then the water will be pumped out.
Florence turned more south on Wednesday, putting Robeson County on the right-side of the eye, where rain is the heaviest. Estimates are for anywhere between 10 to 30 inches of rain.
City officials remain confident there will be no repeat of Matthew flooding, pointing to the fact that the Lumber River was at 13 feet, which is flood stage, when Matthew hit, and now it is at 7 feet. Matthew produced about 18 inches of rain in some parts of Robeson County in a single day.
Reach T.C. Hunter by calling 910-816-1974 or via email at [email protected]