As crews worked to repair the N.C. 97 bridge Tuesday, one of the town’s oldest features – if not the oldest – remained in disarray at Little River Park.
It appears a pending response from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will play a big role in the fate of the historic dam that failed to stand up to Hurricane Matthew’s floodwaters. As for the bridge, officials estimate it will be at least another month before it is passable again.
Kenny Waldroup, assistant director of Raleigh’s public utilities, said Tuesday that the damages to the dam are likely to exceed $130,000.
“We provided FEMA with preliminary cost estimates, and we’re waiting to see if FEMA recognizes the repair of the dam as a reimbursable cost from this (weather) event,” Waldroup said. “If the federal government recognizes that as a reimbursable cost, that will go into the city’s calculation on if (the dam) should be repaired. It will be a big factor in that decision.”
Waldroup said the estimate is based on the cost of repairing the dam following other major storms over the past two decades. The barrier was breached by Hurricane Fran in 1996, when the town received $43,040 in repair funds from FEMA, and again by Hurricane Floyd in 1999.
“The last repair was $75,000, plus engineering and inspection,” Waldroup said. “It appears much more damage was done this time around.”
‘It’s important to us’
Both previous hurricanes, which damaged the dam – Fran and Floyd – occurred when the Little River served as a water source for Zebulon residents, prior to the town’s 2006 utilities merger with Raleigh.
Waldroup said the city continues to assess whether there is a public utility benefit to repairing the dam, which prior to Matthew featured markings indicating a history dating back to 1871.
That history element makes another repair to the dam worth lobbying for, according to Zebulon Mayor Bob Matheny.
“It is such an icon for the town, we certainly need to explore all options and have conversations with the City of Raleigh and figure out a way to fix it,” Matheny said. “It’s important to us from an iconic and historical standpoint. I really want to see that it gets fixed.”
Waldroup said it will be many weeks, maybe months, before a decision is made.
He said the need for the dam has to be evaluated from several angles: as a potential water supply, as an emergency rural fire pumper supply, and for its cultural and recreational aspects.
But the city, Waldroup said, will not make its decision based on the cultural and recreational factors.
“It’s not in our wheelhouse, so-to-speak,” Waldroup said. “The purpose of our organization is the provision of water and wastewater services ... but there will be other people who want to talk about its historical significance and its importance to the park. It is an important cultural touchstone and we want to be sensitive to that, but our decisions have to be made from the financial standpoint of its value to our collective utility.
“This is a situation, in its complexity and uniqueness, that there are no quick answers in short time.”
Crossing that bridge
Reese Briley, Division 5 bridge maintenance engineer with the N.C. Department of Transportation, said environmental risks ruled out what would have been a faster alternative for repairing the N.C. 97 bridge over the Little River.
Floodwaters washed out the approach on the west side of the bridge, forcing a 2.7-mile detour for the Wendell-Zebulon connector.
Rather than filling the void from the underside and retaining the existing concrete structure, workers by Tuesday had gouged the entire approach section with plans to fill it back in from above.
“We were encouraged to see them get started,” said Zebulon Public Works Director Chris Ray. “Anytime you get started sooner, the sooner you’re going to get finished.”
But getting finished, Briley said Wednesday, is still going to take a month or more.
“We’re hoping we’ll have a contract out to bid next week, then it has to be awarded,” Briley said. “The actual work will go pretty quickly but before that can happen the concrete will have to cure, which takes two or three weeks.
“We’ve got multiple projects going on at multiple places. We’re trying to get to them as quick as we can, with the resources we have available to us.”