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By Erin Smith

The issue of cleaning the towns canals and ditches and who is responsible for their maintenance was discussed in Clarkton on Tuesday night.

Jim Perry, Special Projects Planned for the Lumber River Council of governments, wrote a letter to the Clarkton Town Board attempting to clear up the questions surrounding the ownership of the ditches and who is responsible for their maintenance.

Perry wrote, the ditches beside the railroad tracks are the responsibility of the railroad. Perry wrote the railroad has easements for those ditches and is responsible for their upkeep.

He wrote the NC Department of Transportation (NC DOT) is responsible for the maintenance of ditches located along state highways.

Perry also said the railroad and NC DOT do not always connect their drainage ditches to one another. He wrote, “The problem with these two entities is that they don’t always tie into a comprehensive drainage plan that makes sure their systems work together and are not at odds with the flows.”

Perry also addressed ditches that pass through private property. His letter states if the town does not have an easement for the ditches, the town cannot legally do anything to the ditch.

“The law does not allow public funds to be spent on private property except in certain circumstances,” wrote Perry.

He added if the town does go onto private property to clean the ditch with the proper easement, the town could be liable for anything that goes wrong.

Perry also cited the Bryant Swamp Drainage project was an example. He noted that the Bryant Swamp Watershed Authority acquired easements from property owners along the length of the ditch leading into and out of Bladenboro in order to clean and maintain the ditch. The Bryant Swamp Drainage ditch is no longer maintained.

Perry also notes there is more to maintaining the ditches than just cleaning them out. He stated the elevations of the ditches must also be correct or the ditches will not drain properly and could possibly drain water onto someone’s property.

“We’re going to have to continually address this situation if we don’t make a decision now,” said Public Works Director Chris Hall.

He added that Perry was very clear in his letter regarding easements.

“We have been cleaning the ditches for years, cutting the grass in the fall,” said Town Commissioner Jerome Myers.

He added the town needs to request permission to go onto the property so the property owners understand that they own the ditch. Myers suggested having the homeowners complete a consent form to have the ditch cleaned. Hall clarified the form is not an easement.

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