After the Flood

In the dry jargon of weather prognosticators it’s called a 1000 year event – a storm so severe it happens only once in 1000 years. Well, it happens we had a 1000 year event in Catawba County two weeks ago. A storm dropped five inches of rainfall in less than an hour. And caused floods powerful enough to take apart a perfectly good highway, leaving a gaping crater where there was once a road traveled by thousands of people.

The storm, I guess, was Mother Nature run amuck. But what happened next was a study of human quirks.

When local officials frantically set to work to repair a dozen washed out roads and bridges, they ran straight into an unexpected hurdle. They were informed by officials at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Raleigh that, thousand year storm or no storm,  before the first track hoe could begin rebuilding roads they were going to have to go through the normal, routine, business-as-usual state government process of obtaining the appropriate environmental permits – which can take weeks.

I thought, What we need here is a little old-fashioned common sense. After all, when you have a thousand year storm the normal business-as-usual rules don’t exactly apply. It’s a time to cut red tape.

So I called two state officials in the Governor’s office. Neither called me back.

I called Mitch Gillespie, who now serves as Deputy Secretary of the Department – of Environment and Natural Resources – which controls the permits. After I talked to Mitch a polite lady called. Then we exchanged emails. She explained the Department of Transportation and the State Land Quality Officer and the State Environmental Assistance Coordinator would be “happy to provide information” and attend meetings and that there seemed to be “several variables” to sort out to “determine what is required.”

It was courteous to a fault but wasn’t quite reaching the level of common sense.

I wrote back, “What is it you don’t understand about the meaning of the word ‘Emergency.’”

I also sent a copy to the Governor, the Secretary of DENR and the Secretary of Transportation.

In a matter of minutes I heard back from John Skvarla, the new head of DENR. He was already at work cutting the red-tape.

That’s the kind of common sense you need when you have a 1000 year storm.

I’ll keep you posted on what happens next.

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