Workers hired under a National Emergency Grant cleaned up debris in the wake of hurricanes Ivan and Frances. Photo submitted
Workers fight future flooding
By Scott Nicholson
A federal grant program wrapped up Friday that gave displaced workers jobs and also cleaned up debris from streams that threatened to cause future flooding.
The National Emergency Grant program was launched in 2004, in the wake of hurricanes Ivan and Frances. The program was administered by WAMY
Community Action through the local JobLink office, and was successful on several fronts according to those who were involved.
Derek Goddard, who supervised some of the clean-up as a district conservationist, said it was an intriguing opportunity for the county. “One, we were able to use local labor forces that were currently out of work. We had to provide a local match, but the state ended up funding that portion of it by providing in-kind services.”
The work consisted of everything from chainsaw work to riparian plantings, all meant to stabilize stream banks and reduce the chance of floodwaters being backed up by fallen trees.
“In some cases, it was in very remote areas,” Goddard said. “Crews had to hike in with their chainsaws, gas and equipment, then hike back out. WAMY paid for removal of stumps and brush. I can’t say enough about the WAMY crews.”
Goddard said the work was physical, but there were no serious injuries. “Sometimes they were running chainsaws in waist-deep water,” he said. “Our number one priority was to be safe.”
Laurel Creek and sections of the Watauga River in Cove Creek received most of the attention. It also created an oddly cyclical pattern, according to Colleen Bare, who oversaw JobLink’s role in the grant.
“We started work at the Valle Crucis Park and school in October 2004,” she said. “Last week, as we were finishing up in Cove Creek, we found a Valle Crucis park sign, minus a chunk out of one corner. It was eight miles downstream. We’re going to return it and see if they can salvage it.”
Bare said 96 people were employed through the grant program during the 18 months of the project. “These were long-term unemployed and people that were drawing unemployment benefits,” Bare said. “Forty-five to 50 percent of them found permanent jobs, partially as a result of the training they got here. They got first aid and CPR training, and some of the things we did helped off the job as well.”
Tom Ward, a former farmer, saw an ad for the job in the newspaper and just finished two months of work. He cut trees and collected trash along Laurel Creek and the Watauga River. “It was a good job,” he said. “You could do it and look back and see all that was accomplished.”
Sherry Moody, a babysitter, said she enjoyed it because it was outdoor work. “I wish it would have lasted longer,” she said. On the last day of the program, she and several others were filling out resumes at the Watauga Employment Security Commission to list their new job skills.
“Hopefully, it provided good training, and a lot of them will move on to jobs working with stream design or landscaping,” Goddard said. “They were responsible for the upkeep of the equipment. The beauty of it all is the debris couldn’t have been removed without the hand work.
“It looks better, and it flows better, so if we get another rain, you won’t have big trees blocking the water,” Goddard said. “There were some aesthetic goals, but the main thing was safety so the water would flow in its natural course.”
“We had so many people thank us and stop and thank our workers,” Bare said.
The emergency grants were distributed as part of the U.S. Workforce Development Act. WAMY’s job coordinator Bobbie Willard said about $1 million was spent in Watauga and Avery through the program and that the best part of the job was the cooperative efforts with the Blue Ridge Parkway and town of Boone. The crews logged a total of 112,000 work hours at 16 different sites.