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Officials say flooding assistance possible

Several roadways throughout Unicoi County have been heavily damaged by three floods this year. (Photo contributed by the Unicoi County Highway Department)

By Richard Rourk

The rain came and flooding followed, pummeling Unicoi County for the third time this year.

The flooding, which occurred on April 13, caused damage to private property as well and many roads in the county.

Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely and Unicoi County Road Superintendent Terry Haynes were joined by Unicoi County Emergency Management Director Ed Herndon, U.S. Congressman Dr. Phil Roe and State Senator Rusty Crowe as they toured Unicoi County on Monday, April 13.

“My heart goes out to those affected by this flooding,” Crowe said.

Evely saw first hand the damage the floods caused and echoed Crowe’s sentiment.

“My heart goes out to those that are experiencing property damage,” Evely said. “Luckily there was no loss of life.”

To make matters worse, Haynes and his crew are having to work while social distancing and running into Environmental Protection Agency regulations that prevent the highway department from resolving the issue.

“EPA regulations prevent us from getting into the creeks and dig,” Haynes said. “I can clear branches and debris from under the bridges but I cannot get into private property. I could see a thousand dollar fine if I do so. People don’t understand that myself, the mayor or the county commission can’t get permission to get in there to make adjustments that are needed, but Senator Crowe and Congressman Roe are on board with us.”

Haynes said he feels for the citizens who are impacted by the constant flooding.

“I pray for those people that have to live in fear of washing away every time the news announces the possibility of floods in Unicoi County,” Haynes said. “That’s not right. Those people should not have to lay down at night and worry about the floods taking their house or losing a loved one over the EPA won’t allow us to dredge the creek and widen it out.”

According to Haynes, the recent floods hit the whole county hard.

“Diamond Creek Road on the south end of the county, Tilson Mountain Road, McInturff Springs Road, the Old Asheville Highway, both the Town of Erwin and Town of Unicoi have several roads that received damage,” Haynes said.

As of The Erwin Record’s press deadline, damages to the county were still being estimated. “We are currently doing a damage assessment for the state and we are currently looking at $450,000 in road damages,” Evely said. “That damage will pair with the flooding damage from neighboring counties and damages from tornadoes throughout the state. Once all that damage is compiled and it reaches a certain threshold before TEMA and FEMA will pay out.”

The threshold for Tennessee is $9 million in damages statewide and $70,000 on the county level.

According to Crowe, relief may be on the way for Unicoi County.

“I know whenever Dr. Roe is able to go back to Washington, D.C., and I’m able to go back to Nashville, we are going to see what we can get done,” Crowe said. “Before COVID-19, we had a program that would provide $100 million for infrastructure needs for our counties and when COVID-19 hit, we doubled that to $200 million. We can look at passing a resolution that will allow the law to state that the county could go on private property in cases of emergencies.”

A week following the flooding, many private residences are having a tough time getting damage cleared.

“We’ve seen mudslides, busted tiles and washed out drives,” Harris Excavation and Construction Owner Jamie Harris said. “I have cleared several properties and have six roadways and tiles to move.”

If you need excavation work you can contact Harris Excavation and Construction at 735-9513. To voice your concerns to the EPA, you can leave comments at regulations.gov.