Online Originals: Pine Knoll Shores showcases innovative storm water project

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PINE KNOLL SHORES, N.C. (WNCT) — Sheila Bupp lives in Pine Knoll Shores.  

 “[We] moved in July 4th weekend, and then Florence came in early September,” said Bupp.   

She knows firsthand the damages flood waters can cause.   

“We had about two and a half feet of water in the first floor,” Bupp said. “And ended up gutting the whole first floor and two-thirds of the second floor.  We purchased a camper and lived right here in the front yard while we remodeled.”  

Moody Analytics estimates property damages from Florence range between $17 billion to $22 billion.  

 “This is traditionally where we’ve had the greatest impact of stormwater and flooding,” said Brian Kramer, the town manager of Pine Knoll Shores. “And during the worst events, such as hurricanes, this area was under three or four feet of water.”

Kramer is talking about the eastern part of Pine Knoll Shores, where Bupp lives. Kramer says Hurricane Florence magnified many problems in the area.  

“So we had our first responders, initially, driving through, or working in, those polluted waters,” Kramer said. “A biologist told the mayor and I early on after Florence, not to have people in that water right away, and it was hard to reopen the town, given that, but we eventually did.

Issue first and foremost was health and safety, and then following that, a lot of property damage.” 

The town began an innovative stormwater project. Part of that project lies behind Bupp’s house. Above ground, it looks like a simple street drain, but Kramer explains how it’s much more.   

“And what this system does, there’s a perforated pipe underground here that runs from this street to the lowest elevations. Over to the next street, over to the lowest elevation areas, and then it’s pumped to the golf course pond network,” Kramer said.

When it floods, water fills the ponds of Crystal Coast Country Club.  

“We’re on the east end of the pond network of the Crystal Coast Country Club,” Kramer said. “When the water’s rising, this water is going to be pumped down a 12-hundred-foot, 24-inch line into the infiltration chamber that we have down at the sound.”  

The infiltration chamber is the novel approach the town is taking. This helps keep the environment safe when floodwaters are extreme.   

“And it doesn’t take much if the water table is high, and we have 3, 4 inches of rain, in a 24-hour period, we’re going to have impacts, we’re going to have water from septic fields, garages, possibly homes certainly covering roadways, coming down from state highways. And everything I just mentioned certainly introduces pollutants,” said Kramer.

“So what we’re looking at is the last of a treatment train of a stormwater system installed in town,” said Bree Charron, who works for the North Carolina Coastal Federation.

The Federation and the town partnered to create an innovative stormwater project. Projects like these are funded by the North Carolina Land and Water Fund. 

“Water will come down here and infiltrate through the sand, rather than being drained straight into the sound,” said Charron.   

The infiltration chamber is disguised as a sand trap at the country club.   

“So stormwater is the number one polluter of our coastal waterways. It can carry nutrients, sediment, bacteria,” said Charron.   

The infiltration system acts as a filter. When it storms, polluted waters go through the infiltration system, that’s where bacteria, nutrients, and other contaminants will “settle” before the water reaches the sound.  

“On the coast, we’re really worried about bacteria because that’s what affects our recreational water quality, so if you want to swim, the sound can be closed to recreational activities. And in addition, shellfish harvesting can be closed due to bacteria levels,” said Charron.   

Charron went down to the infiltration basin. She said this area acts as a “last resort.”.This area won’t be used unless a major event like Hurricane Florence occurs.   

 “So it’ll already be settled from reaching the infiltration basin and moving through. And if it reaches a point where it overtops, then we have the added factor of the grass filtering as well,” said Charron.   

The project is about 95% complete.   

Back in the neighborhoods of Pine Knoll Shores, Sheila Bupp says she’s already noticed a difference.  

“Am I looking forward to seeing how this works? Very much so,” Bupp said. “Just from what we’ve seen, our land has not been dry since Florence, since the pipeline started. The fact that it’s crunchy when you walk across it, now, and it’s dry, we’re encouraged by that. And working towards hurricane season, we’re like, alright let’s test this and see.”

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