Rocky Mount farmers concerned about flooded crops following police investigation

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Some farmers hope the search for a Nash County murder weapon did not cause lasting problems for their crops.

The city of Rocky Mount lowered the gates of the Tar River Water Supply Reservoir Dam on Saturday, which sent a large amount of water downstream past several sweet potato farms. City spokesperson Tameka Kenan-Norman said the goal was to help the Nash County Sheriff’s Office.

“The purpose was to create a period of reduced downstream river flow on Monday, March 25, 2019 to improve effectiveness of a police investigation,” Kenan-Norman said.

Divers hoped to search areas of the Tar River for a knife the sheriff believes Rexford Lynn Keel used to kill his wife Diana earlier this month. Investigators said Keel dumped her body about 30 minutes away from their Momeyer home, and ditched the weapon somewhere else.

Kenan-Norman said the city sent an email alert about the dam decision Saturday to the fire department, police department, emergency services employees, and some members of the community who have asked to be included on such notifications.

“I got an advance warning about an hour before they were going to turn it loose, in an email. I look at my emails about once a day,” farmer Kent Smith said.

“I needed a text message or something of that sort where it pops up on my phone. With email I have to go into my email account and look at it, and that’s not something I do an hourly basis.”

Smith and farmer Joel Boseman went Sunday morning to check the levels of the Tar River near their crops, and found the water level was up several feet. The irrigation pump they use to provide water for hundreds of acres of soybean seedlings was under water.

It will need to be disassembled and rebuilt, which the farmers estimate will cost $18,000 to $20,000.

“We’ve got to get a pump back in there pretty quick, because we need to keep the beds moist so we can get the sweet potato seeds to germinate the plants for the transplanting for the crop. Hopefully we’ll have this thing up and running in the next few days,” Smith said.

Right now it’s just an inconvenience of cost and repairs,” he said.

“We’re okay right now with the temperatures being cool, but if it was to get up to 70, 80 degrees, then it could get really hot under those covers. We use the irrigation to keep them cooled down.”

The forecast looks good and the crops should not be in danger of significant damage.

Smith and Boseman met with Rocky Mount officials Monday to discuss their concerns about how the water release took place and complaints about the notification system. The farmers said this incident is part of an ongoing issue involving the levels of the water and the river beds.

Sandbars and silt deposits have made the river shallower over the past several decades. Smith said trees along the bank tip over into the water, and the loss of the roots leads to erosion which creates more obstacles.

They would like for some of the leaning limbs to be cut and removed, leaving the stumps to hold the banks where they are. Smith also wants the river to be dredged to remove some of the large accumulations of sand and silt.

Both of the farmers said they were glad to have the meeting with city leaders. They hope it will lead to increased consideration of issues along the river as well as proactive decisions going forward.

“If we can get a little room so when big storms come, they don’t have to get (the reservoir) full and let it down on top of us, that’d be great,” Boseman said.

The farmers also criticized the approach used to assist the dive team.

“I think it muddied up the river so bad they couldn’t see what they were doing then. I don’t know if enough thought process went into before they did it,” Smith said.

“It ain’t no lower today than it was last Wednesday,” Boseman said. “They should have blocked the gates and let the river dry up.”

A written statement from the city said:

Please note the river crested at 16.9 ft at 3:30am on Sunday at the Atlantic Avenue station, which is approximately 6 miles upstream from the Wastewater Treatment Plant. This is about 5.4 ft higher than the general forecast of the river. It should be noted that minor flood stage for the river is 21 ft, moderate flood is 23ft and major flood is 25ft.

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