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Officials at odds with DCM

WINTON – Hurricane Floyd demonstrated how vulnerable this region is to severe flooding.

The commissioners of the Bertie Hertford Northampton Drainage District #1 have serious concerns that future hurricanes could cause even more damage if a state agency gets its way.

In September, Paul Boone, of the Soil and Water Conservation Office presented a letter to the Hertford County Board of Commissioners from the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR) that details the denial of a permit request from the local Watershed Commission to perform maintenance on the Ahoskie Creek.

The letter claims that a portion of the waterway has been designated as inland fishing waters, according to an agreement between the NC Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) and the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries (NCDMF).

Jack Brinkley, Chairman of the drainage district, says the NCDENR’s position does not bode well for the future of Watershed Project.

&uot;The creek is in need of maintenance,&uot; Brinkley said. &uot;Our hands have been tied by the Division of Coastal Management (DCM).&uot;

DCM is a subsidiary of NCDENR and is tasked with enforcing the state’s Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA).

DCM, based in Morehead City, has deemed Bertie, Hertford counties and all waterways within as coastal areas and requires special permits for any activity within 75 feet of either side of the creek or the canal’s edge.

The area that the commission feels needs to be renovated stretches from Stoney Creek past the town of Ahoskie and includes the lower 13 miles of the Watershed Project.

While Brinkley understands the necessity of protecting the state’s waterways and wildlife, he is concerned that DCM has not grasped the potential affect their position could have on the Roanoke Chowan region.

&uot;&uot;Hurricane Floyd caused untold property damage to homeowners and local government,&uot; Brinkley explained. &uot;The creek does indeed assist drainage in the event of storms that produce heavy flooding.&uot;

Brinkley noted that after Hurricane Floyd, flooding waters had come up to the back of Roanoke Chowan Hospital.

The flooding was so severe that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) stepped in to assist with recovery by purchasing 60 residential homes that had been damaged and helping in debris removal.

Brinkley said that if the creek was not maintained, the next time a major hurricane strikes the region, the results could be significantly worse.

&uot;We have maintained that creek for over 40 years now,&uot; Brinkley said. &uot;Abandoning it now would make it very difficult if not impossible to rejuvenate.&uot;

The Watershed Commission has solicited support from various local and state officials as well as legal counsel in order to help determine the validity of DCM’s jurisdiction over the region.

&uot;Right now we are in fact finding mode,&uot; Brinkley stated. &uot;We are not attempting any new construction; we just want to maintain the creek to protect the region.&uot;

Officials at DCM declined to comment on the matter.