LUMBERTON — Work to clean out debris in the Lumber River in a bid to prevent the type of devastating flooding Robeson County residents have endured in recent years is about to begin.
“One of the projects to start clearing out the Lumber River in Robeson County is set to start Monday,” said state Sen. Danny Britt Jr.
The project will cover the river from Boardman, which is Columbus County at the Robeson County line, to Lowe Road, which crosses the river between Deep Branch Road and U.S. 74 Alternate west of Interstate 95, a distance of almost 20 miles. The cost of about $457,000 is to paid using a mix of federal and state dollars.
“There’s going to be some cutting of trees and some dragging of the river,” the Republican from Lumberton said.
Britt could provide no more details. And none could be had Wednesday from the Robeson County Soil & Water Conservation office or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office in Wilmington because the people said to have details were out of their offices and did not return telephone calls.
Still, the news was welcomed by local leaders.
“Wonderful. I’m glad they’re doing it. I look forward to seeing it get done,” said Jerry Stephens, county Board of Commissioners chairman.
Stephens represents South Lumberton, which was the victim of destructive flooding caused by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016 and Hurricane Florence in September 2018. Stephens was unaware the river-cleaning project was to begin Monday.
“It needs to be done,” Stephens said.
Eric Chavis, who represents Precinct 7 on Lumberton City Council, said he wasn’t aware of the project’s start date. There has been talk of it starting soon, but he hadn’t heard it was starting Monday, Chavis said.
“I’m not opposed to it,” he said with a chuckle.
The Lumber River crosses part of the precinct he won in a special election in January as the river’s black water flows through downtown Lumberton. Like many people with whom he has spoken since Hurricane Matthew hit, he has noticed how the river’s water level doesn’t drop as fast as it once did, perhaps because of the debris in it. The water level might rise and it takes weeks or months to drop back to something like a normal level, when in the past it might take only a few days, he said.
“It would mean a lot,” Chavis said of the cleaning project. “It would give some relief to some of the residents.”
The project is a welcome step toward preventing another catastrophic flood, said state Rep. Charles Graham, a Democrat from Lumberton.
“It’s long overdue,” he said.
The clearing out and cleaning of canals, the Lumber River and other waterways has been on his mind and something for which he has advocated since Hurricane Matthew, Graham said. Since then he has spoken with government agencies responsible for storm drainage and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about developing and initiating a plan to clear out Robeson County’s stormwater drainage system and the river.
The Lumber River, in particular, has been a concern for people who witnessed and endured the devastating flooding produced by hurricanes Matthew and Florence, he said. Many people have pointed fingers of blame at the river and called it a contributing factor to the destructive force of the floods generated by the two storms.
“I hope we never again have another flood like those of the past few years,” Graham said. “But if the river is cleaned out it will help prevent that type of devastating flooding.”
But the river project is just one step in the right direction, he said. It follows the work done in recent months to clear out miles of canals and ditches in and around Lumberton. But, more drainage canals, ditches and creeks need to be cleaned out.
“I’m not going to become complacent,” Graham said. “There are many other areas of the county that need attention.”
As of early June, the city of Lumberton had cleared about 12 miles of canals at a cost of about $2 million. The city also is moving forward with a plan to build a floodgate to block water from running through the Jacob Swamp Dike at the CSX railroad tracks.
Reach T.C. Hunter by calling 910-816-1974 or via email at [email protected]