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Dispute over ditch ownership in Clarkton

By Erin Smith

During Hurricane Florence, at least two neighborhoods in the town of Clarkton suffered flooding and erosion damage. There have been disputes between the town and its residents over who owns the ditches that cross the town due to the damages suspected to be caused by poor maintenance of the ditches. The questions asked more than once are, “Who owns the ditches and who is responsible for the maintenance of the ditches?”

On Tuesday night, former Town Commissioner Tim Tart addressed the board during the Open Forum section of the town board meeting. Tart requested the town repair a six foot section of his property located behind his warehouse which adjoins one of the ditches in question and was eroded during the storm. 

“I understand the town is supposed to maintain the canals. It has washed it out up under my foundation and I was fixing it myself,” said Tart. 

Town Commissioner Jerome Myers asked, “The canal itself is washed out?”

“Yes,” replied Tart.

Town Commissioner Myers told Tart that he will have to take his issue before the County Commissioners and ask what plans the county has in place. 

“The County doesn’t have anything to do with it. It’s the town,” said Tart.  

Tart explained he used to be able to walk around his warehouse and the property it is situated upon before the storm. He said the erosion caused by the storm washed away a six-foot portion of the property along the ditch. 

He  was also asked if he had spoken with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials about the situation. Tart said no.

“I’m not asking FEMA for nothing,” said Tart. 

He told the board he was attempting to repair the property himself and someone contacted the railroad company and told the company Tart was “stealing their rocks.” 

“I feel like the town should fix it. I’ve spent $2,000 myself there to keep it from washing out. I want it fixed now,” said Tart. 

Town Commissioner Myers stated that this is an issue the board will have to look into further and make a decision. He added the board would not make a decision during Tuesday’s meeting. 

Linda Croom, an audience member at the meeting, stated the situation with Tart’s property is similar to a situation behind property owned by Myrtle Page. Ms. Croom pointed out the canal behind Ms. Page’s property is eroding as well. 

Tart said, “I think the town ought to contact the Corps of Engineers.”

Town Commissioner Lawrence McDougald stated he thought the town should contact the NC Department of Transportation or any other agencies that may be able to offer assistance. 

“Can we call the Corps of Engineers to come down and look at it?” asked Mayor Arthur Whedbee. 

“As far as having FEMA come out and look at it and get it documented as far as what is going on and what the issue is, they may be able to give him some assistance. The town can’t get involved because it is private property,” said Public Works Director Chris Hall. 

“It’s your canal that took it out. If the ditches would have been cleaned out, it would not have happened,” said Tart. 

Town Commissioner Meyers said, “I don’t know how you can blame it on ditches not being cleaned out.”

“Yes, you can,” said Tart. “I’ve been in this town for 70 years. I’ve seen every flood come here.”

Town Commissioner Meyers stated that he did not think there has been a flood as bad as this one. He added that is why a lot of things happened this time that have not occurred in the town before. 

Tart argued that two feet of water entered his warehouse following Hurricane Florence. He also said the same warehouse was flooded in Hurricane Matthew. 

Town Commissioner McDouglad said the town cleans the ditches out once it is cold enough the “snakes won’t bother the people” cleaning the ditches. Tart said that was not correct. 

Mayor Whedbee instructed Public Works Director Chris Hall to contact the Corps of Engineers to come and look at the erosion issues and ditches. Town Commissioner Meyers suggested contacting FEMA first. 

“I want something done soon,” said Tart. 

In another storm related matter, Town Clerk Kentrina Woods presented a matter regarding a request for an adjustment to a water bill made by Susan Creech. During Hurricane Florence, a tree was uprooted in the yard of her brother’s home which broke a water line. Woods explained that it was two weeks following the storm before Ms. Creech was able to come and inspect the property and found the yard flooded from the broken water line.  

Woods told the board Ms. Creech’s account only has water service and no sewer. The bill incurred due to the leak was $1,800. Woods said Ms. Creech was staying at her house in Whiteville during the storm. 

Town Attorney Cliff Hester said the town’s policy is to give sewer adjustments only. Town Commissioner Lawrence McDougald suggested not charging any late fees. 

Woods also said there are two other utility customers, Dr. John Hall and G. H. Bryan, that suffered leaks due to damage from the storm. They have water and sewer on their utility bills. 

Town Attorney Cliff Hester suggested they contact FEMA and apply for aid. He advised the board to go ahead and take action on the sewer issue for Dr. Hall and Bryan. 

After further discussion, it was decided to allow Creech, Bryan and Hall time to apply to FEMA for aid and not charge them late fees while they are going through the FEMA application process.  

In other business: 

*The board designated Public Works Director Chris Hall as the town’s State Disaster Agreement Agent. 

*The board approved the NC DOT agreement for Hurricane Florence.

*The board discussed the Disaster Housing Strategy—Temporary Housing Strategy for camper trailers. The board agreed to waive their policy for one year to allow residents to use camping trailers as temporary housing until their homes are repaired. After one year, the board will take up the issue for discussion once more. 

*The board voted to allow Marvin Burney a second trash can without charging an extra fee. Burney had a second trash receptacle he was not charged for and someone removed it during the clean up following Hurricane Florence. 

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