New Bern, NC – INTRO - The release this month of nearly 85-million dollars in federal stimulus dollars for watershed projects across the country includes nearly 5-point-3 million for the completion of a Hyde County project in the works since the 1960s. George Olsen has more.
The Swan Quarter watershed project has been a work-in-progress since the1960s.
"It's a recognition that the village of Swan Quarter and the very productive farmland all around it are surrounded on three sides by salt water."
and when that salt water comes rushing in during severe weather it can cause tremendous headaches for the rural coastal area.
"And hurricanes, the most notable one recently was Hurricane Isabel where the average elevation of the village is about 2 feet over sea level and in some instances its at or a little below sea level, and when Isabel came in it put about 8 feet of water in, so it not only flooded the courthouse and a number of homes, it also created a huge amount of saltwater intrusion on farmland in Swan Quarter."
Carl Classen is the Hyde County manager. In an effort to protect Swan Quarter, the National Resource and Conservation Service has been working on a dike to protect the region since the 1980s. The dike will ultimately run about 12 miles. After two decades dike work has been completed helping to protect farmlands but the village remains unprotected. The timetable on completion has been unsure to say the least, but an infusion of funds from the stimulus package has altered the timeline significantly.
"If the NRCS had not received the stimulus funding to finish this project, we don't know when it would've been completed. Given the fiscal times we're in, we don't know when the NRCS would've had the 5.3 million to complete the project, so without it, I have no idea what year it would've been completed."
Now, Classen says they hope to have the project bid out by the summer and completed in spring 2010 prior to that year's Atlantic hurricane season.
"What the dike will do when the work is done is, hopefully, it will always keep out the water, but those of us who live along the coast know that some of these storms can get pretty massive, they can come for different lengths of time, they can come from different angles, the dike will certainly knock down the power of any surge and we hope in many or most cases it will keep the water out from doing so much damage to the village and doing so much damage to the farmland with so much saltwater intrusion."
Completion of the dike, while not exactly an incentive to businesses or families thinking of relocating to Hyde County, will at least remove one hurdle in convincing people that Hyde County is worth their consideration.
"It allows us to go to businesses and talk to businesses and say whether you're going to Englehard or Fairfield or Swan Quarter, we want you to come to Hyde County and if you're coming to Swan Quarter, this is an issue you can take off the table. We live on the coast, we love being on the coast, we accept the risk of being on the coast, but here's an investment that was made in the Swan Quarter community that has reduced the likelihood or the chances that you'll have to deal with the impact of a storm. We'll never say never, but this certainly reduces that impact and helps protect the soils and the village, the agricultural village."
Carl Classen is County Manager for Hyde County. I'm George Olsen.