We can’t fathom a county, a county seat, a school system and a community facing greater challenges than those here in Robeson County on this day, a week removed from a second catastrophic hurricane in 23 months.
We are collectively, figuratively at least, on the ropes — and recovery is more difficult because of spotty leadership, petty politics, and the reality ours is a poor county, not only in terms of treasure but one lacking much of the ingenuity that these times will demand.
Two things are fundamental if Robeson County and Lumberton are to reemerge as a reasonable facsimile of what they were on Oct. 7, 2016.
No. 1, a promise that was made last week by Tim Moore, the speaker of the N.C. House, cannot be empty. Moore said that the General Assembly would put in place a plan that would enable the Lumber River to absorb subsequent 1,000-year flooding events — and never again morph from a tranquil friend into a frightful foe.
We don’t pretend to understand the engineering, but it seems plain to us that the Lumber River and all the tributaries, canals, streams and ditches that nourish her, must be swept clean of the clogging garbage and debris, and that it must as well be deepened and widened.
In other words, it must be fortified to endure the torrential rains that Hurricanes Matthew and Florence unleashed because, we fear, these biblical events may be the new normal.
To be sure that job will be a costly endeavor, but to do otherwise would be much more costly. Florence’s damage once again will be measured in the billions, so spending a significant fraction of that making the river more robust makes sense economically.
Some good news is that the Republican leadership in Raleigh, often criticized for its frugality and insistence on saving dollars for a rainy day, can reach for $2 billion in reserves to help get this task done. Surely federal money will be made available as well.
No. 2, the hole through which the Lumber River has now rushed twice to destroy South and West Lumberton must be plugged. We know there had been plans to put floodgates underneath the Interstate 95 bridge through which the CSX railroad runs, and there is plenty of anger that has not already been done.
We have heard one side of the story, and we need to hear the other. But somehow these communities have to be protected from another epic flood — and they also must be wrung dry, bulldozed in places appropriate and space made so that they can grow again.
There are, we know, other measures that must be taken, and we will count on keener minds to point them out. But the jobs we have outlined are the first of many steps that must be taken.
It could be never before we see hurricanes with the force of destruction that Matthew and Florence visited upon us — but it doesn’t matter. The threat that it could happen is enough.
Robeson County and Lumberton are now known as places that flood — and that is just another excuse that industry and professional people have to go elsewhere when looking for a place to locate. We must be able to provide assurance that there will never be another Matthew or Florence, no matter how angry Mother Nature becomes.
We also worry about our ability to hold on to the talent that is here. Look at Mayfair, which is affluent, populated with people who make this county a better place to live. What can be expected of them at the point? To stay put, cross their fingers, and know that a 1,000-year event can’t happen three times in a generation?
Their confidence that it could not happen twice has already been betrayed.
The time is now to get this done. Actually, it has passed.