MOREHEAD CITY — Updating infrastructure, creating a dedicated department, encouraging “green” development and introducing a special service fee are among the recommendations a team of consultants recently offered as potential solutions Morehead City could adopt to mitigate flooding and other related stormwater issues in town.
The Morehead City Council hired Durham-based firm Wood Environment & Infrastructure Solutions Inc. in 2019 to help the city develop a stormwater management master plan. During the first step of that process, the firm carried out a pilot study of downtown Morehead City east of 15th Street and west of 3rd Street to examine existing infrastructure and flooding conditions.
“There’s a reason why we picked this area, first of all it’s the older part of town, it has some of the oldest infrastructure in town…and it has more of the undersized infrastructure pipes in town,” David Stroud of Wood said Tuesday, when he and another representative from the firm, Mary Halley, appeared to share their findings and recommendations from the pilot study with the council. “You also have a lot of smaller lot sizes with higher density development and impervious surfaces, so all those conditions made this area prime for a pilot study area.”
The consultants found Morehead City is subject to flooding due to a variety of factors, including undersized and outdated infrastructure, sea level rise, more frequent occurrences of extreme high tides known as King tides and a lack of future planning or funding to address the problems. Analyzing the data collected from the pilot study, the firm also modeled peak water flow for 10-, 25-, 50- and 100-year storm events under various infrastructure buildout conditions.
Based on the findings, Wood provided the following 13 recommendations and their associated costs, including estimated startup and annual costs:
- Create a stormwater department and hire a stormwater engineer, $192,000 startup, $122,000 annual cost.
- Hire a junior engineer and administrative assistant, $164,750 startup, $124,750 annual cost.
- Develop policies for proactive maintenance of the public stormwater system, $7,500 one-time cost.
- Hire a maintenance crew dedicated to the public stormwater system, $1,796,000 startup, $463,000 annual cost.
- Develop standard operation procedures for maintenance of public stormwater facilities, $39,000 one-time cost.
- Expand the stormwater master plan to all town drainage basins and the extraterritorial jurisdiction, $350,000 by project cost.
- Develop green infrastructure feasibility criteria for public land developments, $7,500 one-time cost.
- Create an ordinance to regulate stormwater on land developments, $15,000 one-time cost.
- Create a local stormwater policy handbook to support the stormwater ordinances, $35,000 one-time cost.
- Align the city’s unified development ordinance and guiding plans with the stormwater ordinance, $42,000 one-time cost.
- Develop and implement a public information and education plan, $15,000 one-time, $3,500 annual cost.
- Implement a stormwater capital improvement plan to repair the drainage system, $9,053,000 by project cost.
- Install a stormwater service fee to fund the stormwater management program, $145,000 one-time cost.
The total estimated cost for all the recommended activities is $11,881,750. Though many of the actions can apply citywide, such as establishing a new stormwater department, the recommendations are based on the pilot study area and don’t include, for example, anticipated capital needs for areas outside the initial study area.
To that end, Wood also recommends conducting similar in-depth studies for the rest of the city, focusing phase two on all other areas within corporate limits and phase three on the extra-territorial jurisdiction. The ultimate goal is to develop a comprehensive, citywide stormwater management program, the consultants reminded the council.
To pay for the various activities, Wood recommended the city adopt a stormwater service fee that could resemble that of other utilities, such as wastewater fees. Ms. Halley said service fees are generally considered a more stable and equitable source of revenue than ad valorem taxes for management of what is being increasingly considered another vital utility.
“The private system delivers (storm)water to the public system and then public services is required to maintain that,” Ms. Halley said. “So, more and more we’re thinking about stormwater as a utility because it operates very much physically and operationally like a utility.”
There are several different ways to implement a service fee, Ms. Halley said, such as charging varying flat or tiered rates for different types of development, with private residences paying the smallest fees and big box retailers paying the highest. Property owners could also gain credit to reduce their fees if they carry out certain flood mitigation activities, such as planting or retaining trees and other vegetation.
Locally, Beaufort and Atlantic Beach have adopted stormwater utility fees.
The consultants also emphasized the need for education and communication with the public on stormwater issues.
“Stormwater is not something people think about, it’s only a problem when it rains. When it’s dry, it’s out of our minds,” Ms. Halley said, “but that public system is still there, aging and all that.”
The council members had some follow-up discussion and asked clarifying questions of the consultants, but they didn’t take any action on the information presented Tuesday. The council agreed to return to the matter within a couple months after members can review the information before deciding on the next steps forward.
Contact Elise Clouser at firstname.lastname@example.org; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.