RAEMON — A pastor and his wife are days away from reclaiming the privacy of their personal driveway after 11 months of being forced to share it with their neighbors.
The shared-driveway period began in September when Hurricane Florence, aided by a burst county waterline, washed away a section of the private dirt road shared by Johnny Locklear and his wife, Shannon, and the people in the rural neighborhood served by Blackfoot Trail.
The 46-year-old Locklear, pastor of Benson Chapel Baptist Church in Rowland, said that after months of reaching out to local, state and federal government agencies trying to get help repairing a section of Blackfoot Trail, he had to take out a $21,000 loan to cover the cost, even after receiving $14,831 for repairs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Repair work began July 29.
He is still “frustrated as far as the run around” he and his wife were given by local and state entities, Locklear said. But, he is relieved his life will soon be back to normal.
After four weeks of work, the road became passable on Friday, and all repairs will be completed this week, according to H.G. Locklear, 70, owner of HRS construction. The road, which originally was 25 feet wide, will be 80 feet wide when complete.
“All I know is I’m just glad they’re fixing it,” said Diane Dial, who lives in front of the washed-out section of road.
Traveling down Locklear’s property to gain access to U.S. 501 was frustrating, she said.
“I hated going that way cause I know he didn’t want us going that way,” said Dial, 69.
Noise was one thing Johnny and his wife complained, Dial said. Neighbors would wake the couple in the middle of the night while driving back to their homes.
“I can understand his frustration, too,” Dial said.
Johnny Locklear said he considered moving, but the cost was too high.
“I could’ve closed my property, but I kept thinking what if it was me on the other side,” he said.
The county initially released a statement attributing damages to the overflow of pond water on both sides of the road caused by Hurricane Florence.
“The pond overflowed, which caused the overflow pipe to collapse,” said Emily Jones, Robeson County government’s public information officer. “When the overflow pipe collapsed, it caused the 4-inch county water line to collapse which resulted in a gap in Blackfoot Trail that is 20 feet wide by 10 feet deep. The county’s 4-inch water line did not cause the gap in the road.”
It was discovered during the reconstruction process that the overflow pipe was intact, H.G. Locklear said.
“The reason the pond washed out was because the (overflow) pipe was stopped up and water didn’t have anywhere else to go,” H.G. Locklear said.
When the trees began to uproot, the pipe simply didn’t have anything to hold it in place, H.G. Locklear said.
Johnny Locklear said if the damage had been as the county described, repair costs would’ve been much less. Public assistance through the county would have covered the expense of repairing the road.
“Robeson County does not provide assistance to fix a privately owned road,” Jones said.
“It’s a private road, but I’m paying taxes on it, so what’s the difference?” Johnny Locklear said.
Jones said the county did try to help.
“Emergency measures took place and emergency vehicles had to use the road to access citizens that lived on Blackfoot Trail,” she said. “Robeson County was contacted by N.C. Emergency Management for the county to apply for reimbursements/resources for the property owners along Blackfoot Trail.”
Johnny Locklear said the county could have done more.
“I don’t see why a man would have to take out a loan to get people off of private property he pays taxes on,” he said.
Yet another hurdle he faced in the process was caused by communication errors.
In October 2018, he and his neighbors gathered at his sister’s home, located next to his home, to fill out paperwork for FEMA assistance, Johnny Locklear said.
The federal agency initially told them that they could qualify for up to $30,000 per home, he said.
Later, he was contacted by N.C. Emergency Management and FEMA and was told the assistance had been denied, Johnny Locklear said. On June 21, he was contacted by N.C. Emergency Management and told that FEMA had allocated money to some residents for road repairs in January. But, those residents thought the money was designated solely for home repairs.
According to Melanie Barker, assistant external affairs officer at FEMA, when survivors apply for aid, they identify what damage they are applying for and receive a letter stating what type of assistance they will receive.
“Letters are a bit generic in nature,” Barker said.
Additional communication usually takes place between FEMA and survivors, she said.
According to FEMA’s website, Financial Housing Assistance under Individuals and Households Program covers rental assistance, lodging expense reimbursement, home repair assistance, and home replacement assistance.
“Home Repair Assistance: [is] to help repair an owner-occupied primary residence, utilities, and residential structure, including privately-owned access routes (driveways, roads, or bridges) to a safe and sanitary living or functioning condition,” the website reads in part.
Johnny Locklear stands by Blackfoot Trail, a private dirt road in Maxton that was washed out in September 2018 as a result of Hurricane Florence and a broken county waterline. The road was accessible Friday, but repairs will be completed this week.
H.G. Locklear, 70, left, gives Johnny Locklear, 46, updates on the Blackfoot Trail construction project. The private dirt road in Maxton became accessible Friday, but repairs will be completed this week.