RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – State lawmakers took a closer look on Tuesday at efforts to mitigate the effects of damaging floods as they questioned North Carolina’s environmental quality secretary about a new project aimed at better preparing the state for more frequent, intense storms.
Hurricanes Florence (2018) and Matthew (2016) had widespread impacts in North Carolina, as the deadly storms flooded interstate highways, destroyed homes and devastated communities.
“It’s a matter of when and not if we get another major storm event, so we’re working as quickly as possible with urgency because we know the floods aren’t going to wait on us,” said North Carolina Environmental Quality Secretary Elizabeth Biser.
Her agency has led the effort to develop the Flood Resiliency Blueprint, which she said is a first-of-its-kind tool that will help guide decision-making on projects to fund that would have the greatest impact on mitigating the effects of flooding.
“What we’ll notice is people bounce back faster. We’re not gonna say we can eliminate every impact from flooding because we can’t. But, what we can do is make sure those disruptions are more minimal, that people are able to get back to work, back to their homes,” said Sec. Biser.
Republican lawmakers have put the focus on Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration’s handling of hurricane response after hearing from thousands of people who were still waiting for their homes to be rebuilt years after Matthew and Florence.
At an oversight hearing Tuesday, some lawmakers questioned why the blueprint isn’t further along after about a year of development and nearly $2 million spent on it.
“It was mentioned we have a very, very rough draft. I would think for about $2 million you should have a very good draft and then tweak as you move along,” said Rep. John Bell (R-Wayne). “I do think we’ll get there. It’s gonna take a while to get there, but we’ve got to move faster than what’s been happening.”
The blueprint will help in determining how to spend about $96 million that state lawmakers have set aside for flood mitigation.
“It’s still sitting there. So, the good news is we didn’t have a bunch of frivolous spending that was not done with intent. It’s not moving as fast as I would like for it to move. I think that was very evident today,” said Rep. Bell.
Biser noted that DEQ has met the deadlines set out in law for developing the blueprint, adding that her agency is “building the plane as we’re flying it.”
“It’s a matter of when and not if we get another major storm event, so we’re working as quickly as possible with urgency because we know the floods aren’t going to wait on us,” Sec. Biser said. “The timelines on this project were ambitious, and we have met those timelines and are on schedule.”
Biser said once the project is complete it will need to be adjusted in the years ahead so future generations can continue to utilize it, especially as North Carolina’s population continues to grow.