Storm water woes worsening

The Town of Wilkesboro has a new sinkhole to address. This scene is along School Street, near the Wilkesboro Civic Center (in upper right).

Flooding and other storm water-related problems in the Wilkesboros are worsening, say local business and government officials.

Aging drainage systems and increasing severity and frequency of heavy rain have been cited in local discussions of these issues.

Recent heavy rain events caused storm water flooding at the Tyson Foods Inc. chicken processing complex and at least one new sinkhole in Wilkesboro, said Wilkesboro Town Manager Ken Noland during the Wilkes Economic Development Corp. board meeting Friday.

“Tyson had to shut down their plant three times in the last month over flooding into their facility, primarily because of a worn out and inadequate storm drain system on Main Street” and storm water volume exceeding its capacity, said Noland.

“We’re working with Tyson to see if we can’t help them manage this right now…. The state really doesn’t have the ability to go out and do storm water work right now. Their hands have been tied to not spend on anything.”

Storm water unable to drain off during heavy rain events has flooded the portion of River Street in front of the Tyson Foods processing complex in the recent past. Motorists attempting to drive through it have had to be rescued by emergency personnel when their vehicles stalled out.

Wilkesboro’s sinkholes

Also at the EDC board meeting, Noland gave an update on plans for repairing a sinkhole that has received extensive publicity and announced the recent appearance of a large sinkhole on another end of town. Both are the result of collapsed culverts unable to carry storm water.

He said the N.C. Department of Transportation is accepting bids for the state’s portion of a new storm water culvert system planned to address sinkholes on and near the Taco Bell restaurant property at the intersection of U.S. 421 and Winkler Mill Road.

Noland said that if the DOT receives a bid within budget, the state could approve a contract within 30 days. “We just hope we can get all that work done within a year or so.”

Division 11 Engineer Mike Pettyjohn said recently that after bids submitted late this winter for the DOT work came in well above an engineer’s estimate, geotechnical borings were conducted and plans were revised to help eliminate unknown risk for the bidders. Re-advertising for new bids was delayed due to DOT budget shortfalls.

About three years ago, a section of storm water culvert installed several decades earlier beneath what later was the Taco Bell parking lot collapsed, blocking storm water and leading to sinkholes in the parking lots of Taco Bell and nearby Winkler Mill Shopping Center. The property is owned by the J.C. Faw estate, which is funding the town’s work to address the sinkholes under a court order.

Noland said another sinkhole of the same caliber recently appeared along School Street, near the entrance to Wilkesboro Elementary School and across from the Wilkesboro Civic Center.

“It’s 30 to 35 feet deep. We basically took an entire lot and cleared it. We’re at the bottom of it and found some obstruction in the pipe. We’re in the process of getting the obstruction out and rebuilding that portion of the pipe.”

Town personnel used heavy equipment to dig out the site of the failed culvert and sinkhole, resulting in a huge conical crater that will be filled in when repairs are completed.

In North Wilkesboro

The North Wilkesboro commissioners were asked to address repeated flooding of 10th Street buildings from storm water runoff during the public comments portion of their Sept. 8 meeting.

Callie Walker, a local Realtor who manages rental properties on 10th Street, said the entire 10th Street block experienced extreme flooding after heavy rain recently, referring to mid-August. “We need a long-term solution to this problem,” she said. “I believe the problem lies in the (storm water) drainage system.”

Wilkes Hardware owner Richard Scercy said, “I’m worried about my business and everybody’s businesses on 10th Street. As a business owner, I’m pleading with y’all to find some solution down the road.”

Valery Guevara, owner of Bliss Hair & Nail Salon on 10th Street, called the flooding a “huge inconvenience and a danger to our clients. Every year it’s getting worse and worse. I would like you guys to help us with this.”

Dale Shumate, North Wilkesboro director of public works, said the town put dye in storm drains recently and discovered a clogged pipe that apparently led to the recent flooding. He said a company hired by the town unclogged the end of the pipe with an excavator last week was so it will drain better.

Shumate noted that the clogged culvert is owned and maintained by the N.C. Department of Transportation, “but it’s just easier for us to get it done. We can’t wait around for another heavy rain.”

Commissioner Michael Parsons asked if the town could install a short-term diversion wall protecting businesses along 10th and D streets from storm water runoff until a permanent solution is found.

Town Manager Wilson Hooper said a diversion wall would be an expensive option and couldn’t be implemented right away. “We’d have to bring that into our budget process,” he added.

Shumate said the pipe being unclogged will help more than any temporary fix.

Mayor Robert Johnson assured the flood victims, “We are trying to work on finding a solution. We’ll keep digging and scratching.”

The Copper Barrel Distillery gift shop on East Main Street, North Wilkesboro was flooded when a storm water drain was clogged during a recent heavy rainstorm, said George Smith, Copper Barrel president and CEO, during the Wilkes Economic Development Corp. meeting Friday.

The gift shop had to be closed for about a day and a half, said Smith, who is on the EDC board. He said it was the second time this has happened, even though the storm water drain is checked daily.

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