MILLS RIVER — State DOT engineers have responded quickly to a severe flooding situation that Mills River residents blamed on a nursing home construction site, a Mills River town councilman says.
Residents of N.C. 191 at the Buncombe County line last week urged the Town Council to do something about the flood-prone area along Countyline Branch. They said they fear the flooding will be made worse by The Lodge, a new nursing home the Town Council authorized in January.
When the 9.4-acre site is covered by roads, parking lots, a 34,000-square-foot building and a separate office building, they said, flooding across the highway into their yards can only get worse.
Councilman Larry Freeman said Tuesday that DOT engineers have responded. Crews plan to replace an inadequate 15-inch drainage pipe under N.C. 191 with a new 42-inch pipe and will also replace a pipe under Laurel Terrace with two 30-inch pipes. Freeman said Jason Willis, a DOT maintenance engineer, told him about the fix.
"They're going to go ahead with this work," Freeman said. "They're wasting no time."
The 60-bed nursing facility will house the patients that are currently living at the Beystone Health and Rehabilitation Co. facility in Fletcher. The new 34,000-square-foot facility is going up on 9.4 acres of vacant farmland across from Laurel Terrace and next to the old High Vista driving range.
On Sunday, June 9, two residents called the consulting engineer for the project, Bill Lapsley, and told him about flooding they blamed on two overflowing holding ponds on the property, plugged up ditches and undersized drainage pipes. Lapsley drove out to the property to look at the situation, which occurred after heavy downpours that dumped 8 inches of rain from noon Friday to early Monday.
Lapsley drove out to the property and spoke with the two property owners, Jack Carver and Jerry Metcalf. Their houses are on N.C. 191 on either side of Laurel Terrace.
Carver said the water from the construction site had filled a 15-inch pipe under N.C. 191, causing the rainwater from the property to flood the highway. "It stopped traffic," Lapsley said in an email to Town Manager Jaime Laughter.
"My assessment of the situation is that we've done nothing wrong," Lapsley said in the email. "The ditch line along the edge of Hwy. 191 is overgrown and does not have enough capacity to carry the runoff."
The engineer said the problem appeared to have been caused by the inadequate pipe and the volume of water caused by 8 inches of rain over less than 72 hours.
The water overfilled two culverts and runoff plugged a third culvert, he said. That caused the water to top the road and a gravel driveway next to Metcalf's property.
The DOT is scheduled to replace the 15-inch pipe with a 42-inch culvert under N.C. 191 and two 30-inch pipes under Laurel Terrace. Both projects are being designed by the DOT, Jason Willis, a DOT county maintenance engineer, told the town of Mills River in an email Thursday morning.
"I'm afraid that is if happens one time it might again, and I think the sooner we can get this resolved ..." said Mayor Roger Snyder, urging the town manager to communicate with the DOT.
"We have been asking but we'll keep prodding," Laughter said.
Councilman Wayne Carland, a farmer, said he was sympathetic with the property owners. But he said the rainfall had caused great problems throughout the area.
"I know you saw a lot of red mud," Carland said. "We saw a lot of destruction on North Mills River Road to our farmland from this same event. It was a bad event, and I'm sorry that you folks had the red mud."
Councilman Larry Freeman confirmed from his observation that day that the flooding was widespread.
"It turned the whole stretch of 191 into a great big creek," Councilman Larry Freeman said. "It wasn't just at the construction site."
The property owners were not swayed. The volume of rainfall was big, they acknowledged.
"My point is that this situation is being exacerbated by new construction," said Leo Blair, who lives at 190 Creasman Hill Road. "They have absolutely stripped it. They have gone in there with monster equipment. That's where the excess came from. The point is, it never happened anywhere close to like that before. I'm wondering if the environmental protection agency would have approved that."
Sam Ray, another landowner, agreed.
"I never seen it (that bad), in 77 years," Ray said. "When I was out there, Metcalf's and Carver's garden was just mud."
Lapsley said it was "unfortunate that the new culvert pipes and connecting pipes have not been installed." He added, "No one can say for sure that if the new pipe had been installed there would not have been a similar problem but the expectation is there would have been less impact on Carver and Metcalf. A critical component of this system is the drainage ditch along Hwy. 191. This needs to be cleaned out by NCDOT and maintained as a clear channel for the water or there will be similar future problems."