Every time it rains on Ocracoke, islanders and visitors must run a gauntlet of large puddles on the village streets that often last for days before evaporating. This has been going on for many years and Wednesday night, the Ocracoke Civic and Business Association agreed to be the group to try to move forward to find a solution to this issue.
Justin LeBlanc will be the OCBA representative to the committee of nine to 11 stakeholders with Erin Fleckenstein, a coastal scientist with the North Carolina Coastal Federation, helping to steer the work. Fleckenstein presided over a meeting Nov. 21 about standing stormwater throughout the village. It was agreed at that meeting to form a committee with several in attendance volunteering.
Fleckenstein presented the situation to the Hyde County commissioners at their Dec. 2 meeting and asked them to form the committee, but Commissioner John Fletcher of Ocracoke said that Ocracoke doesn’t need another (governmental) committee.
“I told her to go through the Ocracoke Civic and Business Association, since we already have eight committees that deal with government,” Fletcher said.
But the Nov. 21 meeting, attended by about 40 islanders, including the seventh- and eighth-grade classes of Ocracoke School, covered a wide range of water issues.
Since Ocracoke is not an incorporated town but is governed by the county, the big question is whose responsibility is this?
“We all know where the problem areas are,” said LeBlanc, owner of Ocracoke Coffee. “We don’t know who’s responsible.”
Indeed, Ocracoke needs a management structure to handle such a project, said engineer Joe Anlauff of Anlauff Engineering, Nags Head.
The best plan would be for Ocracoke to form an authority—a drainage authority, for example, or get an existing authority, such as the Mosquito Control Board — to expand its work to include stormwater, Anlauff said. Such boards have the authority to levy taxes for these kinds of community improvements, he said.
However, he added, there’s mixed community support for having another entity to tax Ocracoke property owners, and David Frum, who is on the Ocracoke Sanitary District board and noted that the water board strictly deals with drinking water for the island.
Complicating the issue of stormwater drainage are the inland and coastal marshlands, mosquito ditches, runoff into Silver Lake, varying levels of the ground water table and the paved roads.
Gene Ballance explained that the leveled areas on either side of Highway 12 just outside the village work well to drain water off the road.
Butch Bryant, who is on the Ocracoke Planning Board, pointed out that years ago as more houses were built they began to be placed on lots elevated above the existing road. Runoff from driveways pools in the streets at several well-known spots on the island. Prior to this practice, homes were closer to the ground and the ground along the roads was level or lower than the roads, allowing water to flow naturally off of the roads, noted Rudy Austin.
Mac Gibbs, a retired N.C. extension agent, noted that sand is the best filter of all of this water. Moreover, he said, there is old concrete under the macadam as well as the turf stone placed on some roads decades ago, which could help solve the problems.
All agreed that stormwater on Ocracoke is a many-faceted situation that will take a lot of coordination over a few years.
But Wednesday night, the OCBA agreed that the task force’s agenda would be to collate the various problem areas and prioritize potential solutions, both physical and managerial.
Hyde County manager Bill Rich had said at the commissioners’ meeting that the county has staff available to help.
Fleckenstein asked the commissioners to look into the budget for possible matching grant monies for whatever projects are decided. The Federation will help guide the task force to possible grantors, as well as help write grants, should those be sought, she said.