County working to recover from flood damage

James HowellStaff

March 10, 2013

From the first trickle of rain on Jan. 30 until the final drop, heavy flooding impacted the construction of Ashe County’s airport, the county’s infrastructure, and local businesses; the county is still repairing these damages.

One of the most noticeable damages were to the expansion efforts taking place at Ashe County’s airport, where the flood literally washed away months of work.

In order to extend the airport’s runway, contractors have been adding dirt to fill in an embankment at its end. Once the dirt was level with the runway, paving and other construction was set to begin.

However, the flood eroded some of the dirt embankment.

According to Ashe County Manager Dr. Pat Mitchell, the damage to the airport resulted in $80,000 worth of damage for repairs.

Mitchell said repairs to the embankment are already underway.

In order to fill the runway’s embankment, dirt was removed from a nearby area. This large graded area was also damaged from the flood, said Mitchell. Unlike the embankment, repairs on this area are not yet in progress.

“There’s only so much you can do for a flood,” said Eric Payne, the manager of Ashe County’s airport.

Both Mitchell and Payne said the flood was classified as a 50-year flood, and both called the heavy flooding an “act of God.”

Contingencies were taken by the engineers working on the airport expansion project.

Any kind of construction of more than one acre requires the implementation of an erosion and soil plan, regulated by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

In order to contain excessive rain water, trenches called catchment basins were installed into the project’s work area. However, they were developed to handle a 10-year flood event, according to Payne.

The 50-year flood event overwhelmed the catch basins, leading, in part, to the airport’s damage.

Just before the flooding, Payne said the airport was over 80 percent complete.

Besides the damage to the airport, the Jan. 30, flood also caused damage to the county’s infrastructure and some business and private properties.

According to Mitchell, the N.C. DOT estimated the flood caused $3.7 million worth of damage to bridges and roads in Ashe County.

The flood also caused damages to small businesses, prompting the Ashe County Board of Commissioners to establish a two-week grace period for county businesses to dispose damaged materials into the county’s sanitary landfill without having to pay the landfill’s tipping fee.

During the commissioner’s March 4 meeting, Mitchell reported three businesses took advantage of this two-week waiver, resulting in those businesses saving a total of approximately $1,000.

Also, other small businesses in the West Jefferson area have been impacted by mud slides caused by the flood. The businesses were not damaged, but the threat of another mudslide in the future.

Mitchell said the Ashe County Emergency Management Department attended a meeting about getting grant money for “stabilization,” which would endow money to prevent such mudslides in the future. However, this money would not pay for damages to the businesses themselves.

Some private property was also damaged near Family Central during the flooding, according to Mitchell.