Following Florence, long-awaited project on track to prevent flooding in Lumberton

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— Six months after Hurricane Florence slammed into North Carolina, a long-awaited project is on track in hopes of preventing massive flooding that swamped west Lumberton.

West Lumberton suffered historic flooding not only during Florence, but also in Hurricane Matthew in October 2016.

The earthen levee along the Lumber River was built to prevent floodwater from invading the neighborhoods, but where it intersects Interstate 95 and the CSX railroad, the levee has a gap.

A class-action lawsuit was filed after Florence, claiming CSX has long derailed efforts to close the gap with floodgates because it was concerned about the impact on trains, something CSX denies.

“It’s a really slow-moving process,” said Corey Walters, Lumberton’s deputy director of public works.

He says the one-two punch of Matthew and Florence lent an urgency to the project, and CSX is on track.

Lumberton has secured $2.25 million in grants, including federal money, to design and build the floodgates. Still, Walters says, the project could take three to five years.

“If we were just designing it and didn’t have to worry about the railroad, say it was somewhere else in town, I would anticipate that time to be an whole lot shorter,” he said.

Until then, the city will do as it did before Florence by building the best temporary berm possible.

According to Walters, despite the flooding, the berm held back a bunch of water.

“It’s proof in concept that a blockage at that hole works,” he said.

In a statement, CSX says it will continue to keep an open dialogue with officials in Lumberton. Company officials say they are fully committed to working with the city on a permanent solution for storm water management.