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Bertie ‘cool’ to Hertford request

WINDSOR — A request from Hertford County was met with a cool response from Bertie County officials Monday.

During the regular session of the Bertie County Commissioners, the board received a request from Hertford County to help hire a lobbyist to have the Ahoskie Creek removed from the Coastal Area Management Authority’s (CAMA) jurisdiction.

Hertford County Commissioner Johnnie R. Farmer appeared before the board requesting up to $30,000 of the $90,000 that would be required to hire the lobbyist.

Farmer said Bertie County was involved because areas in Aulander drained into the Ahoskie Creek. A total of $35,000 per year is paid by property owners as an assessment to keep the creek, or ditch, cleaned out, according to Farmer. Of that, Bertie County residents pay roughly $6,000.

Farmer said the problem began after Hurricane Isabel struck the area. During the process of cleaning up, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provided funds to clean out the drainage ditch. It was at that time that CAMA, for the first time in history according to Farmer, claimed jurisdiction over the Ahoskie Creek.

“That drainage ditch had been maintained for 39 years without CAMA,” Farmer said. “Still, we went through the process and CAMA said it was too much work and needed to be toned down, so we did that and it was still rejected.”

Farmer said he wasn’t opposed to CAMA, but did have objections to the current project.

“We are not opposed to CAMA or to clean water,” Farmer said. “We are opposed to applying the same standards to a ditch in Aulander and the Albemarle Sound.”

Bertie County Commissioner Charles Smith asked if the main intent was to keep the Ahoskie Creek from flooding and Farmer said it was.

Commission Chairman Norman M. Cherry Sr. asked if he could get specific information including cost.

Farmer said the lobbyist would charge $90,000 and they were hoping each of the three counties – Bertie, Hertford and Northampton could contribute $30,000 each.

He also indicated there would be a two-pronged approach taken by the lobbyist. The first would be to go to the North Carolina General Assembly to seek help removing Ahoskie Creek from CAMA jurisdiction and the other was to apply for a variance through CAMA.

Commissioner Rick Harrell said he was concerned that $90,000 in addition to being a large sum, did not guarantee success.

Bertie County Manager Zee Lamb said the fee itself seemed excessive for the work being done and also indicated he thought the project was mainly to the benefit of Hertford County.

“The bulk of the creek or ditch is in Hertford County,” Lamb said. “With that being the case, it would seem there should be a more equitable distribution if we were to help. My figures say Bertie County has only about one-sixth of the fees being paid so it would seem one-sixth of the cost was more equitable.”

Lamb also said he wasn’t sure that going to the General Assembly would have any positive results and suggested the Bertie-Hertford-Northampton Drainage District One (the governing body for the Ahoskie Creek) apply for the variance from CAMA on their own.

Cherry said he appreciated the information from Farmer and that the board would consider the proposal at a later date.

“We appreciate you listening and we appreciate your moral support,” Farmer said.