By Dean Morris, Bladen Soil and Water Conservation District Director
After Hurricane Matthew, the Bladen Soil and Water Conservation District and Bladen County Planning Department were searching for ways to help with drainage issues in Bladen County. In April of 2017, they learned that Golden Leaf may have grant funds available that could help with these issues. Dean Morris, Bladen SWCD Director, and Greg Elkins, Planning Director, wrote a grant proposal requesting funds to remove stream debris in the Big Swamp and other rivers in the county.
The Big Swamp which drains western Bladen, Columbus, and Eastern Robeson County is full of downed trees, beaver dams, and debris. It has been that way for decades. The swamp flows into the Lumber River which also has blockage issues. It is the hope that with the thousands of downed trees and other blockages removed, this effort will improve drainage in the neighboring low lying areas. A multi-county effort was started to clean the Big Swamp and Lumber River to the South Carolina line. Bladen would be responsible for the Big Swamp beginning on the lower end where it intersects with the Lumber River and continue upstream through the Bladenboro Community.
Bladen County received notice that the grant request was approved in June, 2017. The office staff developed a contract that met all state environmental laws and regulations and placed the contracts out for public bid. Ward Stocks Company of Columbus County was the low qualified bidder and was awarded the contract to do the work in the Big Swamp in December, 2017. Cleanout work began on the
lower end of the swamp in May, 2018. The time delay was due to the contractor finishing a contract in Columbus County. During this time, water levels dropped significantly revealing an unbelievable amount of downed trees and blockages in the channel. To date, approximately 4 miles of Big Swamp have been cleaned. This includes removal of some 22 beaver dams.
The cleanout has presented several challenges: accessing the channel with permission from landowners, some landowners not providing access to their property, even threats of a trespassing charge if the contractor proceeded through their property. The Bladen Soil and Water Conservation District and Bladen County Planning Department, offices and Bladen County commissioners have made every effort to obtain funding and select a contractor that will do a successful cleanout job. It is the hope that once complete, it will help some of the drainage issues that plague Bladenboro and other communities. The hurricane that we just experienced was most likely a 1,000 year storm event, which is unprecedented. Keep in mind it saturated us with over 30” of water in a three day period. No water system can handle that kind of volume, especially this one. Even if the project had been completed, the flooding would still have happened.