BLADENBORO — Bladenboro residents demanded action from their commissioners Monday night, when the board met to discuss Hurricane Florence clean-up before a standing room only gathering.
“FEMA’s requirements for reimbursements have been more stringent this year, so we have to be more cautious about spending money for clean-up,” Bladenboro Town Clerk Melanie Hester began the meeting.
After approving $10,000 for Sykes Paving to haul construction debris to the Elizabethtown landfill, the board stressed the need for residents to remove metal items from construction material in order that the load not be rejected by the landfill. After further agreeing to waive utility fees and cutoff fees until the end of October, the board seemed poised to end the discussion when Commissioner Greg Sykes gestured to the audience.
“These business owners are seeking answers,” he said. “If we can’t answer their questions, how can we expect these guys to go back into business?”
That seemed to be all residents needed to begin voicing their concerns. Opinions ranged from “I think there should be some responsibility of the town board of help” to “if we can alleviate flooding … people will want to build.”
Questions were levied at the board like “What are you going to do to eliminate flooding in the downtown area, and until it’s taken care of, why would anybody move in?” Another asked, “What am I going to do with the building I spent 12 years paying for?”
By the end of the meeting, everyone seemed to agree that something must be done to clean out the drains or canals that cause Bryant Swamp to flood. Commissioners were questioned why the cleaning has not been done.
“Two years ago, they were supposed to start at Big Swamp on Highway 41 and clean until they got to Davis Canal, which is what comes into ours,” explained Mayor Rufus Duckworth. “That is a federal mandate by the state … and they don’t have the people here yet to do it.”
“Can’t we hold them liable?” questioned one audience member. “If they had done their part, we could have done ours, and it won’t flood.”
“The state has not released the money yet,” Duckworth said. “The governor is still sitting on $478 million from Matthew.”
“We need to start pushing buttons of people in federal government or state government,” suggested Bladenboro resident Ricky Walters.
Many attendees, however, believe commissioners should be the first ones making the calls.
“We’re all scared of what’s going to happen to Bladenboro,” said one audience member. “We’re worried our commissioners are going to sit back and watch it fall.”
When one guest questioned how many commissioners have made calls to elected officials or state or federal leaders, only commissioners spoke up saying they had done nothing.
“We shouldn’t be here pushing you to do anything,” was the angry response.
Bryant Swamp Control Corporation President Jerry White explained the heart of the issue for Bladenboro’s flooding problems.
“The town of Bladenboro is right in the middle of … a watershed,” he said. “There is a tremendous area of water that comes right into Bladenboro … (so) it has got to have really good drainage.”
“I think we need to look at William Brisson and Brenden Jones and county commissioners and have a meeting,” offered Jeff Atkinson. “We need everybody here to attend. We need a lot of voices.”
The board took no action on the matter but encouraged attendees to call Raleigh.
In other business, the board hired Randy Sykes as interim police chief.
Bladenboro was heavily flooded in the days after Hurricane Florence. Town residents now want answers, and fixes so that it doesn’t happen again.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-247-9133 or emailing email@example.com.