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North Carolina Bill Would Allocate $200M To Prepare For And Prevent Flooding

Floodwaters from Hurricane Florence inundated sculptures at a roadside attraction in Columbus County, N.C.
David Boraks
Floodwaters from Hurricane Florence inundated sculptures at a roadside attraction in Columbus County, N.C.

On the first day of the Atlantic hurricane season Monday, a North Carolina House committee approved a bill that would help communities plan for future storms and flooding.

House Bill 500 unanimously passed the House Environment Committee. It would spend $200 million to help state and local governments and nonprofits with planning and projects to prevent flooding. It would also include money to prepare interstate highways and other transportation infrastructure for storms, mudslides and flooding.

The bill also would reauthorize and make permanent the state Office of Recovery and Resiliency, which was established in 2018 but is set to expire this year.

The Disaster Relief and Mitigation Act now goes to the House Appropriations Committee.

House majority leader John Bell, a Republican from Wayne County, introduced the bill.

“North Carolina has now been hit by two 1,000-year floods within the past five years,” Bell said in a news release. “This legislation reflects input from leaders within our local communities who have taken the brunt of these storms. It is the largest and most comprehensive statewide investment that North Carolina has ever made to prepare for future storms. Today’s vote marks an important first step as we work to make North Carolina more resilient."

Environmental groups support this measure and other efforts to help North Carolina prepare not just for hurricanes but also for more frequent and intense summer thunderstorms that bring costly flooding.

"Investing in protecting those communities with natural solutions before the disaster hits will be a sound and cost-effective way to both keep people safe and reduce the damages that flooding causes," said Will McDow of the Environmental Defense Fund.

Officials say more than $3.5 billion has been spent so far to help the state recover from hurricanes Florence in 2018 and Matthew in 2016. Those recoveries are continuing, but smaller storms that don't grab headlines are also a problem, McDow said.

Federal officials also are also investing more in disaster mitigation programs, he said.

"President Biden just announced $1 billion in funding for the FEMA (Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities) program, which is an exciting opportunity for North Carolina to compete and secure federal funding to help build this resilience as well," McDow said.

But to win those funds, communities need to build expertise in identifying vulnerabilities. Money from the state bill could help them do that, he said.

"That's why we're looking to the legislature to provide more funding to help communities build these projects out to compete for these federal funds," he said.

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David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.