County officials say upstream dam releases causing major flooding, economic loss in ENC

Published: Mar. 8, 2019 at 2:13 AM EST
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Several Eastern Carolina counties are asking for help as flooding from upstream dam releases threaten their economies.

Bertie County officials say in the last six months they've seen multiple floods that could have been prevented. Now they're calling for state leaders to lower the amount of water being released at Kerr Lake Dam.

High water levels have closed roads like Weeping Mary Road and county commission chairman John Trent says there have been nine floods in that area since 2017.

"This is ridiculous because it's all man-made," said Trent who says besides causing road closures, the flooding is also damaging crops and affecting wildlife habitats.

Trent says the high water isn't caused by heavy rain, instead it's coming from the Kerr Lake Dam on the North Carolina-Virginia state line. Four other counties-- Washington, Martin, North Hampton and Halifax are seeing similar issues.

"Kerr Lake was put in to control flooding in the lower Roanoke," said John Griffin who farms hundreds of acres along the river.

The Army Corps of Engineers increased the amount of water being released from the dam in recent years. Trent says that decision came after a study showed the change would mitigate flooding.

"We are not getting any flood control. It's just a controlled flooding of our low grounds down here," said Griffin.

His family has kept fields in this part of the county for a century. He says he's never seen the area flood like this which damaged his crops in 2018.

"I personally have lost between $250,000 and $275,000 of crop," said Griffin.

His sage fields are set to be harvested soon. They are also flooded.

"Everybody sees the problem but they say, 'Oh well, you know it isn't gonna change overnight'," said Griffin.

He and Trent believe the floods could be stopped by lowering the amount of water released from the dam.

Bertie County recently held a meeting to discuss the flooding along the Roanoke River. More than 200 people came--some from as far away as Virginia to share their experiences. North Carolina State Senator Erica Smith was at that meeting and Trent hopes to bring more awareness to the issue.

The Bertie County Commissioners could consider a resolution to address the flooding at their next meeting in April. If passed, the resolution would go to the other four counties affected, and from there could be sent to state and federal legislators.