BEAUFORT — Road and street flooding in Carteret County seems to be directly linked to the tides, according to local and state officials.
Beaufort officials also say studies show flooding events are becoming longer and more frequent, and they’re taking steps to try to address the problem.
Beaufort saw one such flooding event Jan. 3. A rain event that occurred Jan. 2-3, coupled with a high tide, resulted in flooding on Front Street from the intersection of Orange Street to Sea View Street, closing that section of the road to traffic for about an hour the morning of Jan. 3.
Morehead City saw similar flooding along Shepard Street, where the public floating docks sustained damage from the flooding.
Beaufort public information officer Rachel Johnson said Jan. 5 in an email to the News-Times flooding of this nature “isn’t a new trend” in town.
“According to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) data, sea level has risen a little over 8.5 inches from 1953-2020,” she said, “trending up at an eight of an inch per year…NOAA predicts that by 2030, annual high tide flooding is likely to be in the range of 7-15 days (per year) and by 2050, between 25-75 days per year.”
Ms. Johnson went on to say historically, areas close to the coastline tend to flood during king tides, hurricanes and other major weather events. NOAA reports show from May 2020-April 2021, coastal communities saw twice as many high tide flooding days as they did around 2000.
“This trend of near record high tides is expected to continue through April 2022,” Ms. Johnson said. “During these types of flooding events, areas along Front Street and the western end of Pine Street tend to flood from tidal overwash and/or stormwater overflow. There’s also potential for streets intersecting Front Street to flood as water backs up into stormwater drains.”
The drains in this area empty out into Taylors Creek, according to Ms. Johnson. She said as the water in the creek rises, the stormwater rises, as well, and overflows out of the inlets.
Such flooding events aren’t unique to Beaufort. Carteret County public information officer Nick Wilson said in a Jan. 12 email to the News-Times roads Down East have historically been prone to flooding.
“A combination of high winds, high tides and roads just a few feet above sea level play a role in some roads flooding,” Mr. Wilson said. “Most of the time, these waters recede quickly and motorists use common sense to navigate these areas without the need for road closures.”
The flooding events haven’t escaped the notice of the N.C. Department of Transportation, either. NCDOT communications officer Tim Hass said this type of flooding occurs mostly when high, sustained winds push water inland in conjunction with high tides and/or storm surge.
“Flooding in Carteret County isn’t typically the result of the performance of the diches or pipes leading towards and away from the roadways,” Mr. Hass said. “Most of our drainage is tidally influenced. The water in the ditches will be at the same elevation as the body of water that it drains into. A few examples are Bogue Sound, Core Sound, Newport River and North River, along with many more large and small basins.”
Storm system movement plays a part in flooding events, according to Mr. Hass. He said winds and storm surge will usually cause flooding in communities facing into the wind and surge.
“But in all cases it only happens in the low-lying areas and typically on those roadways directly adjacent to the tidally-influenced water,” Mr. Hass said. “The best example would be the N.C. 12 thoroughfare between Atlantic and Cedar Island. This section of roadway is directly adjacent to two large drainage basins, Core Sound and Pamlico Sound, and can receive floodwaters from multiple directions.”
Beaufort officials aren’t sitting idle while this flooding occurs. Ms. Johnson said the board of commissioners voted at its Nov. 8 meeting to allocate $90,000 from the town’s American Recovery Plan Act funds to a project to mitigate stormwater flooding on Front Street.
Beaufort public services director and town engineer Greg Meshaw said in the Jan. 5 email town staff is creating a project to put out to bid. This project will involve installing a “flexible duckbill check valve” in the stormwater pipe discharging into Taylors Creek.
“The intent of the valve is as the tide rises in the creek, the valve will stay closed,” Mr. Meshaw said, “so the tidal water won’t back up into the stormwater drains and onto the creek.”
Mr. Meshaw went on to say if the project proves successful, town officials will consider installing more valves at other stormwater outlets.
In addition, Ms. Johnson said the N.C. Division of Coastal Management awarded Beaufort officials a $30,000 grant to participate in the N.C. Resilient Coastal Communities Program. As part of this program, the town planning department is creating a resilience strategy, including a risk and vulnerability assessment and project portfolio.
“The risk and vulnerability assessment currently underway is assessing the impacts of sea level rise, storm surge and tidal flooding to community assets, vulnerable populations and natural infrastructure,” Ms. Johnson said. “The project portfolio will outline a number of policy and on-the-ground projects to enhance Beaufort’s resiliency to these hazards.”
Town officials are accepting public input on both the assessment and the portfolio. Those who wish to provide input have an opportunity to provide it at a meeting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 27 online via Zoom. More information is available on the website www.beaufortnc.org/planninginspections/page/resilient-beaufort-public-meeting.
Other efforts to address flooding issues include work on a new draft Coastal Area Management Act land-use plan, the most recent update to the town’s harbor management plan and collaboration with both the Eastern Carolina Council of Governments and N.C. Coastal Federation on a voluntary watershed restoration plan for Town Creek, Taylors Creek and Davis Bay.
“The town was the first in the area to adopt a watershed plan,” Mayor Sharon Harker said in the Jan. 5 email. “Having a plan better positions the town to receive grant funding for stormwater reduction projects…The plan seeks to restore and maintain water quality, reduce instances of localized flooding and prioritize cost-effective stormwater retrofits.”
NCDOT, meanwhile, said any flooding experienced on the roads it maintains “is usually resolved when the storm passes and the wind switches direction.”
“NCDOT will close roads when flooding occurs and is a hazard to the traveling public,” Mr. Hass said. “If travel can still be performed safely, we alert drivers to potential high water by the use of signage. During (flooding) events, we monitor the roadways to provide these safety measures to the traveling public.”
Contact Mike Shutak at 252-723-7353, email firstname.lastname@example.org; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.