Challenges to mitigating flood damage in Lumber River area

When the levee breaks, we'll have no place to stay:

Robeson County’s “Resilient Redevelopment Plan,” conceived after Matthew, called for upgrades to the Lumber River levee and the construction of a floodgate where the levee opens for a railroad crossing. That would prevent what happened during the 2016 storm, when the river poured through the opening into largely low-income neighborhoods of south and west Lumberton. Hundreds of houses were damaged or destroyed.

But the construction of the floodgate requires coordinating with CSX, the freight company that owns the railroad track — or Gov. Roy Cooper (D) to force the issue by declaring eminent domain. Neither scenario has happened yet.

As you can see from the artist's rendering, this proposed floodgate would not only (temporarily) block off a road, but also a rail line. Which might seem a little crazy, until you consider that huge opening in the levee pretty much makes the levee itself almost useless. During Florence, National Guard troops tried to block it with sand bags, but that effort proved fruitless:

Wednesday News: False Prophets

FRANKLIN GRAHAM SAYS SEXUAL ASSAULT BY KAVANAUGH "NOT RELEVANT": Evangelist Franklin Graham said sexual assault accusations against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh from when he was a teenager are “not relevant” and that the U.S. Senate should confirm his nomination. Graham made the remarks in an interview Tuesday with the Christian Broadcasting Network. Asked by the CBN interviewer what kind of message his remarks send to sexual abuse victims, Graham replied: “Well, there wasn’t a crime that was committed. These are two teenagers and it’s obvious that she said no and he respected it and walked away.” According to an article published by the Washington Post Sunday, Christine Blasey Ford said when they were in high school in the early 1980s, “Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed on her back and groped her over her clothes, grinding his body against hers and clumsily attempting to pull off her one-piece bathing suit and the clothing she wore over it.”
https://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/article218630640.html

Tuesday News: Dreading the inevitable

FLOODING IN SOUTHEAST NC WILL PEAK TODAY AS RIVERS REACH RECORD LEVELS: As the days drag on, Hurricane Florence has taken this deceptive turn: The violent winds that rattled shingles off houses and tore down trees have subsided, and the pounding rain has eased, lulling many in the storm's path into believing they've already weathered the worst of it — even as rivers quietly churn and continue to rise. The storm has claimed at least 25 lives as of Monday evening and an untold number of homes on its slow march across North Carolina, inundating city after city : Wilmington, New Bern, Lumberton. Now authorities are warning that by the time the Cape Fear River in Cumberland County crests Tuesday at 62 feet (19 meters) — 27 feet (8 meters) over its flood stage — it will threaten to swamp anything within a mile on either side of it. Its tributary, the Little River, is expected to flood, too. More than 7,000 people were ordered to evacuate by Sunday afternoon. But many, weary of a storm that's lingered on and on, did their own rough calculus of the odds and decided to stay.
https://www.wral.com/north-carolina-residents-consider-fleeing-as-rivers-rise/17852063/

Tuesday Twitter roundup

Hurricane photo ops:

You should be coordinating your efforts with the Governor, but instead you're touring with Franklin Graham's charity express. Your entire career has been one big campaign event after another, and you should be ashamed. And so should your Legislative buddies:

Dam collapses at Duke Energy coal ash impoundment

Sometimes I really hate when my predictions come true:

Torrential rain from Hurricane Florence caused a slope to collapse at a coal ash landfill at Duke Energy’s Sutton plant in Wilmington. The utility reported about 2,000 cubic yards of material, including ash, was displaced. For context, the average commercial dump truck holds about 10-14 cubic yards, meaning the amount of displaced material at Sutton was equivalent to 142 dump truck loads.

It’s unclear if the rains carried any coal ash beyond the landfill and into the lake — and if so, how much. The landfill, which is lined, is designed to hold 5 million tons of coal ash in three cells. The utility notified state environmental regulators of the slope failure.

Hat-tip to Lisa Sorg and Riverkeeper Kemp Burdette for keeping us informed on this. Kemp was going to do an on-site (or as close as he could get) inspection yesterday, so hopefully we'll have an accurate photo to go with this story. Here's an update from Kemp:

Monday News: Relentless

NC'S DEATH TOLL RISES TO 11 AS RAINFALL RAISES RIVERS TO RECORD LEVELS: Eleven people have died in North Carolina because of Hurricane Florence, and Gov. Roy Cooper urged residents Sunday to beware of treacherous flash flooding for days to come. “As this storm continues to churn through North Carolina, it has dumped more than two feet or more in many places,” Cooper said. He said that’s enough to inundate areas that have never flooded before. Forecasters expected the heaviest rainfall in the southeast and Sandhills through Sunday night, but said there is a high risk for flash flooding from the coast to the western mountains. Some rivers , including the Cape Fear, Lumber, Neuse, Yadkin and portions of the Rocky River and South Fork of the Catawba River, are expected to crest at new record levels, breaking those set during Hurricane Matthew.
https://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/article218496770.html

Sunday News: From the Editorial pages

editorialprinting.jpg

INDEPENDENT REPORTING IS A BEDROCK OF DEMOCRACY, NOT "FAKE NEWS": These days when a president utters out-and-out falsehoods, the reporting that identifies the errors, verifies the accurate information and seeks to correct the record, is condemned and labeled “fake news.” News you do not like is not “fake news.” Not liking something; being embarrassed or uncomfortable at being held accountable, doesn’t make REAL news anything less. The first obligation of journalists is to be fair to the facts – and making sure they are presented accurately, transparently and so citizens understand them. Independent news reporting is a bedrock value of American democracy. For those who don’t like it, stop calling it “fake news.” It is nothing of the sort. Rather than fighting those shedding light on falsehoods, it would be better to foster a closer relationship with the truth.
https://www.wral.com/editorial-independent-reporting-is-a-bedrock-of-democracy-not-fake-news-/17836631/

Superfund sites are ticking time-bombs in flood-prone NC

Containing a cornucopia of deadly toxins:

Among the Superfund sites most at risk from Florence is Horton Iron and Metal, a former shipbreaking operation and fertilizer manufacturing site in a low-lying floodplain along the Cape Fear River outside Wilmington, North Carolina. The 7.4-acre site is heavily contaminated with pesticides, asbestos, toxic metals and cancer-causing PCBs.

Upriver along the Cape Fear is Carolina Transformer Co., a 5-acre Superfund site in Fayetteville that also contains contaminated soil and groundwater contaminated with PCBs. Forecasts call for the river to crest Monday at Fayetteville at more than 62 feet — nearly 30 feet above flood stage.

Some of you younger readers may not be familiar with Poly-chlorinated Byphenyls (PCBs), because they were outlawed before you were born. And in a perfect world, you wouldn't be reading about them now, at least not in the context of current events. But we have a really bad habit of letting polluting industries file bankruptcy and/or change their corporate structure, so they can walk away from toxic nightmares they've created. Superfund sites are scattered all across the country, and efforts to clean them up properly are usually mired in legal maneuvering that can last decades. Anyway, back to the PCBs:

Saturday News: Twitter to the rescue?

NEW BERN DEVASTATED BY STORM SURGE FROM FLORENCE BACKING UP RIVERS: An ominous tweet appeared on a historic North Carolina community's Twitter feed about 2 a.m. Friday. It came as rivers swelled, tides crested and the rain wouldn't stop. And that's when people found themselves trapped in their homes as the water rose. "WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU," the tweet said. "You may need to move up to the second story, or to your attic, but WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU." The city of about 29,000, which was founded in the early 1700s and was briefly the state capital, is near the North Carolina coast and is bordered on the east and south, respectively, by two rivers. When Florence started battering eastern North Carolina with record rainfall, the Neuse and Trent rivers began to swell — and combined with high tide, made for dangerous flooding. Roberts, the city spokeswoman, said preliminary estimates show about 4,300 residences and 300 commercial buildings had been damaged. She said that count is expected to increase significantly.
https://www.wral.com/-the-water-kept-rising-residents-overwhelmed-by-flooding/17845078/

Over-pressurized gas lines destroy dozens of homes in Massachusetts

Thanks for all the clean, safe, reliable, occasionally dangerous as hell energy:

A series of gas explosions an official described as "Armageddon" killed a teenager, injured at least 10 other people and ignited fires in at least 39 homes in three communities north of Boston on Thursday, forcing entire neighborhoods to evacuate as crews scrambled to fight the flames and shut off the gas. Massachusetts State Police urged all residents with homes serviced by Columbia Gas in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover to evacuate, snarling traffic and causing widespread confusion as residents and local officials struggled to understand what was happening.

The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency blamed the fires on gas lines that had become over-pressurized but said investigators were still examining what happened. Columbia had announced earlier Thursday that it would be upgrading gas lines in neighborhoods across the state, including the area where the explosions happened. It was not clear whether work was happening there Thursday, and a spokeswoman did not return calls.

One of the (many) drawbacks to using natural gas is that "all" lines require pressure, and that pressure is relative to the size and distance the gas must travel. The big pipelines require an extreme amount of pressure, which is one of the things that make them so dangerous. But even small lines that serve individual homes or businesses require pressure, and just a modest increase can result in fugitive emissions (leaks). And when those gas lines have been in place for decades, the danger becomes much more acute:

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