November 18, 2016 –
KINSTON, N.C. – As Hurricane Matthew churned towards North Carolina on Oct. 8, the Lenoir County Sheriff’s Office was ready for any weather-related situation he would bring their way. Or so they thought.
Unfortunately, torrential rain inundated the area causing the Neuse River to crest its banks.
The Neuse River snakes its way into downtown Kinston to a point less than half a mile from the Lenoir County Courthouse. Rising water overwhelmed downtown streets and the city sewer system flooding the basement of the courthouse where the sheriff’s office is housed.
This was the third time the courthouse has flooded after the Neuse overflowed its banks – first in 1996 from Hurricane Fran (23 feet, 9 feet above flood stage), and in 1999 from Hurricane Floyd (27 feet, 13 feet above flood stage). The flooding from Hurricane Matthew surpassed both of those earlier marks.
Sheriff Ronnie Ingram knew something had to be done.
“It really set us back, there was a lot of flash flooding and we are a in a state of disarray right now,” Ingram said. “We pumped water out of here for four or five days. We had water and feces out in the hallway covering everything. The water levels got so high (in the city) that everything started backing up. The smell was overwhelming. The last time I looked, there was 2-feet of water in the elevator shaft and it’s out of service now.”
In the basement, the sheriff’s office housed their patrol and civil divisions. Ingram knew he had to continue day-to-day operations but he couldn’t do it in the courthouse basement.
“What I’m looking for is a permanent fix. I’m looking to pull up stakes and work somewhere else. If it was a one time thing (that would be different) but if you get settled back in and we have another hurricane we’ll go through the same thing all over again,” Ingram said.
That more permanent fix might just be in a former U.S. Army Reserve Center located at the town’s airport. The center, which was underutilized, was a good place for the sheriff and his staff to temporarily continue their day-to-day operations pending U.S. Army Reserve and Department of the Army approval.
Jan Haigler, the 81st Regional Support Command director of plans and training at Fort Jackson, S.C., said the sheriff’s office submitted a request to use the center.
“We were able to allow them to occupy the building under Stafford Act (Disaster and Emergency Act), which the U.S. Army Reserve has to cover about the first 72-hours of a disaster,” Haigler. “We’re allowed to do that based on preventing loss of life, human suffering, or mitigating great property damage. It was determined by the U.S. Army Reserve Homeland Operations Division that this would qualify as mitigating great property damage.”
The request for use of the facility was extended, Haigler said, in order to allow the processing of paperwork for a long-term agreement. That agreement was staffed and signed at the Army Reserve Installation Management Directorates at Fort Bragg, N.C. and Fort Belvoir, Virginia, then approved at the Department of the Army.
“It has to go to the Department of the Army for approval because this is a law enforcement agency and under posse comitatus and other ancillary parts of that we can’t grant that approval, it’s held at DA-level,” Haigler said. “That process will be expedited because this is a major disaster declaration area.”
Haigler said this community partnership is an important milestone for the U.S. Army Reserve.
“The American public sees a uniform and wonders why we are not helping,” she said. “They are used to seeing the National Guard in the communities. Well, the U.S. Army Reserve is in the communities as well. This gives us a chance to showcase what we can do (to help our neighbors). Under the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) and Immediate Response Authority we’re allowed to do this and become a real community partner.”