Money well spent in Tarheel State

Published 8:29 am Monday, October 12, 2015

You don’t need another reminder that we dodged a huge bullet when Hurricane Joaquin veered northeast and avoided any landfall in the Tarheel state.

One or two minor meteorological events could have positioned that moisture-laden merry-go-round that we suffered through the last 10 days right off our own coast instead of the coast of South Carolina.

But while you’re thanking the man upstairs, you might want to also send some kudos and thank-yous to the folks in Raleigh who manage and finance our state’s bridge and dam infrastructure.

But for that good fortune we just came through, we’d be worrying about a lot more than drowned crops here in North Carolina. We’d be burying our dead like they will do down there once the ground becomes dry enough again to do it.  Record rainfall depth was measured in feet instead of inches down there. Sadly, that was enough to float coffins and caskets right out of the ground in at least six South Carolina counties.  That’s not a pretty thought, and an even worse sight.

Countless roads washed out in the Low Country and so did a lot of bridges. South Carolina is right now monitoring 62 dams; 13 of which have already failed – nearly one-fifth. More failures may follow as massive amounts of stormwater continue to flow toward the Atlantic, running down from saturated land all across the state.  It crippled the capital, Columbia, so severely that the Gamecocks’ football game with LSU on Saturday had to be moved to Louisiana.

The recovery price tag for the Palmetto State will be high; it’s likely to top $1 billion. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham has said that much aid having to be spent for his home state’s recovery could, in his words, “break the bank” of federal emergency funds. This was interesting coming from a politician that I recall voted against additional federal aid to Hurricane Sandy victims in the Northeast three years ago.

Interesting more that here in North Carolina we spent over $2 million on bridge and dam maintenance.

And as of Thursday, not one bridge or dam in the state has failed.

Despite such foresight I hope North Carolina leaders noticed the warning shots from nature and from Washington. We’re in an era of climate change and extreme-weather surprises here in the 21st century and preparedness for these extremes is becoming a lot more difficult.

The General Assembly made some good progress this year in rebuilding the state’s “rainy-day” fund, while right across the state line much of South Carolina depends almost entirely on its gas tax to fund highway maintenance, and it hasn’t raised its gas tax since 1987.

Even before this flooding, 20 percent of South Carolina’s over 8,000 bridges were rated structurally deficient or structurally obsolete.

But before I totally applaud our legislators I need to ask have we done enough with our highways infrastructure to cope with the kind of rainy days that just whacked South Carolina?

I can’t say our lawmakers have been the most steadfast in grasping climate reality, but whether you believe scientific analysis or not, the preventive steps the state took over time since we were inundated with the kinds of killer storms and ravenous flooding that are plaguing our neighbors, is commendable.

I don’t know what South Carolina legislators will do in the aftermath but I hope that some hard lessons have been learned.

Perhaps what we have just seen in South Carolina will change a few legislative minds moving forward. It should, because Mother Nature never seems to run out of bullets.

Gene Motley is a Staff Writer with Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be contacted at or 252-332-7211.