The dam at Little River Park belongs to the City of Raleigh by contract, but the deed for the property lists the Town of Zebulon as the owner.
That’s caused a bit of a headache in the process of securing support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to fix the nearly 150-year-old dam, which was breached as the Little River swelled during Hurricane Matthew in October. But it doesn’t appear the confusion will cause any setbacks to the two-year restoration project Zebulon plans to lead.
“We want to rebuild it because it’s part of the history of the town, part of the park, and it’s very iconic,” said Zebulon Mayor Bob Matheny.
When it came time to apply for repair funding, both Raleigh and Zebulon filed requests, and FEMA wanted to know why.
At a recent meeting, Zebulon Public Works Director Chris Ray told commissioners the property was supposed to be deeded from the town to the city when Zebulon merged with Raleigh’s utility system in 2006. But that never took place.
Zebulon leaders agreed to ask FEMA for a 45-day extension to determine whether the city or town would take the lead on the project and revisit the property’s ownership.
On Wednesday, the mayor said FEMA had declined the extension, saying the time to ask for one was on the tail end of a project rather than on the front end.
“The bottom line is (Zebulon) should run the project because, really, Raleigh doesn’t want to, and it is our park,” Matheny said.
The dam is part of the surrounding park property, and Matheny said the town should have never been in a position to give up any of the park land. The mayor said he wanted to ensure all of the property transfers back to Zebulon if and when it no longer has a utility use.
The town plans to redraw the deed to retain the dam and park and more clearly define the water plant.
“We would clean it up where Raleigh only owns what they absolutely need to own,” Matheny said. “I’m all for them getting what they need to get, but I don’t think we ought to give part of our park system to City of Raleigh, because then we have no control over how it’s used or maintained. There’s a lot of affection for that park.”
As it stands, the town is pursuing a $344,000 option that would restore the dam to its previous state. The alternative was $1 million to restore and reinforce the dam.
For the restoration-only project, Ray told the board, FEMA would reimburse the town 75 percent and the state the other 25 percent. The money will cover upfront for work that would take up to two years to complete.
“I think it makes sense to do some reinforcement, but it becomes a much more convoluted process,” Matheny said. “If we go beyond simply replacing, we would run into some permitting and getting involved with environmental issues.”