Harlowe Canal, Little Swift Creek, Swift Creek among those cleared

Creek cleanup is a major Craven County undertaking, usually far from the view of the general public; limited to property owners along some of the waterways.

But, it is a endeavor county officials say was crucial during last October’s Hurricane Matthew.

Areas to the West of Craven County such as Lenoir and Wayne counties were particularly hard hit with flooding similar to Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

Similar flooding was predicted early on for Craven County, and while it was bad, it did not reach those historic levels.

Chad Strawn, assistant county planner, said the creek maintenance program was a main factor.

“We think that keeping the creeks clear so they can act as overflow and getting the water out as quick as possible in these large events, really lessened the damage,” he said.

The county uses state and federal grants when available to help pay for the projects. With one completed project and others in the works, County Manager Jack Veit said several grants are involved — one for which the county has been approved for funds and a another that should be decided in the summer.

The cleanup has been completed of three waterways — Little Swift Creek, Swift Creek and Harlowe Canal.

Included is an ongoing beaver management program in Little Swift Creek, with 68 beavers trapped and 16 dams dismantled since last year. Debris that was marked prior to last October’s Hurricane Matthew had been marked by GPS coordinates.

New debris markings were made for 74 points, all in Swift Creek. Other creeks have not yet been inventoried.

The county has applied for two other grants for about $1.6 million total, with an $80,000 county match for a Hazard Mitigation Grant through FEMA.

After Hurricane Matthew, as part of the N.C. Disaster Recovery Act of 2016, the county requested $1.2 million and has been approved for about $675,000, with more money potentially coming later through the N.C. Division of Soil and Water Conservation.

Patrick Baker with the Soil and Water Conservation District Board, developed a preliminary priority ranking for the creeks, which has Swift Creek and Little Swift Creek in Group 1, the highest priority. The second group includes Bachelor Creek, Core Creek, Flat Swamp and Upper Broad Creek.

One of the most vivid signs of the cleanup comes from an 18.3-mile section of Swift Creek, where one blockage measured 80 feet across the creek. Water now runs freely through the area.

Baker and Strewn said that keeping creeks clean cuts down on flooding in the event of a hurricane, allowing more water to flow to the wider Neuse River.

Another grant request for $618,000 from the Gold Leaf Foundation would cover Swift, Little Swift, Bachelors, Core and Flat Swamp. It would contain no match. The county expects to hear on the request later in the spring.

Craven also applied for $320,000 in FEMA funding in the fall of 2016 to remove vegetative and woody debris from Brice’s Creek and Great Branch. It also included beaver management activities.

That project would cover 14.2 miles of stream and channel and would benefit 3,604 landowners, 2,318 residences and two historical-loss structures.

Charlie Hall can be reached at 252-635-5667 or 252-259-7585, or charlie.hall@newbernsj.com. Follow him on Twitter @CharlieHallNBSJ