A major storm struck portions of northern Sampson County nearly a month and a half ago, but piles of debris and downed trees just off Shipp Road make it appear as if the heavy winds and rains hit yesterday.
Residents have raised concerns about the debris still on the roadside from the straight line winds and severe storms of May 29. The heavy impact was isolated to certain areas, with the focal point of the damage occurring around U.S. 701 North, including Shipp Road in the Keener community. Shipp extends between King Road and Hobbton Highway (U.S. 701), just south of Keener Road.
“After many, many phone calls, the residents on Shipp Road have been told by the Department of Transportation that they can’t help because the storm wasn’t severe enough and widespread,” said Shipp Road resident David Shulte. “Obviously it was very serious to the residents on Shipp Road.”
The matter of those leftover mounds of limbs, logs and tree branches was broached briefly at Monday night’s regular Sampson County Board of Commissioners meeting. Board chairman Clark Wooten alluded to the damage during DOT Highway Maintenance engineer Keith Jackson’s quarterly roads report.
“We have a road in this county that unfortunately the citizens were misled to believe if they put their storm debris out beside the road, the DOT would pick it up. It’s a very touchy situation,” said Wooten.
DOT officials initially informed residents, including Shulte, that they would be out to pick up debris that week following the storm, Shulte said. However, that changed.
Governor Roy Cooper signed an executive order declaring a Type 1 disaster in Sampson as well as seven other counties. It authorized state emergency assistance grants to be dispersed to individuals and families in affected areas.
An initial joint assessment conducted by local, state and federal emergency management officials on June 1 indicated that at least 25 Sampson County homes and businesses sustained major damage. The Small Business Association also reported that total home and business damages in Sampson were in excess of $1.3 million, with 17 residential properties or units suffering major damages.
Homeowners and business owners were informed that they could apply to the SBA for low-interest federal loans up to $200,000 to help them repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate. Homeowners and renters were also eligible for loans up to $40,000 to repair or replace damaged or destroyed personal property.
“They said the storm wasn’t classified properly as a major storm, that it was isolated and it wasn’t their responsibility,” said Shulte. “The main issue I had with them is that DOT, or whoever came out — the trees were on the road, they cut them and pushed them off the road. It’s still dangerous as close to the road as it all is.”
Shulte and his in-laws, who live across Shipp Road from him, as well as some other residents, hired Daw’s Tree Service to cut and clear the downed trees.
“We paid a bunch of money out to him to clear up the debris and cut up the rest of the trees,” said Shulte. “We paid to get everything taken care of. The debris is nothing compared to what it was. The debris that is out there now, I don’t even know who owns the property or whether it’s just going to stay out there like that forever.”
Shipp Road curves in spots, and there is debris in close proximity to the roadway on both sides. Should another storm hit, there is also the likelihood that high winds would displace those loose tree pieces into the road. Shulte said it is a dangerous proposition simply traveling on stretches on Shipp Road, “especially when you have two cars coming at each other at the same time.”
Shulte was told by local and state officials that May 29’s impact “wasn’t a tornado or a typical storm.” Many thought that the storm, which caused more than a dozen injuries, was a tornado, but National Weather Service officials said damage was due to straight-line winds. County officials noted damage north of Salemburg, in the Faison area and around Kitty Fork and Keener, which encompasses Shipp Road.
“I don’t understand why a storm has to be classified, or cover a huge area, for them to take responsibility or help out,” said Shulte, who said he spoke with DOT officials as well as Wooten. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
Shulte and some others have already forked over money to clear their own properties of the storm’s mess, he hopes someone can at least clean up the “dangerous debris” by the roadway.
“Some of those logs that are sitting on the side of the road would go right through an automobile. They’re huge,” said Shulte.
Assistant county manager Susan Holder said federal funding often dictates whether cleanup can be provided by various agencies.
“Our ability to provide debris management depends on whether we receive federal funding,” said Holder. “The only time we have been able to do debris removal was when we received state or federal funds.”
While Sampson has received federal funding in the wake of other storms, most notably Hurricane Matthew, that was not the case with Memorial Day’s incident. It was not deemed to have a “countywide impact.” Wooten said Jackson attempted to fight through red tape, to no avail.
“Keith Jackson went all the way up the line and advocated for those people, and I appreciate the work you did and I realize you met with a lot of resistance up the line,” Wooten said to Jackson. “Unfortunately, they’re not going to touch it. Some of it is in the road. I’ve learned that … if it is put on the DOT right of way, it may or may not be picked up. In a lot of cases, without federal FEMA funds to pay DOT, they will not pick it up.”
Wooten cautioned residents to be careful where they put debris in the future.
“Let’s be sure that everybody knows that next time there’s storm, or the next time you have debris, the side of the road is not the place to put it, because it very well could be that you’ll have to move it again.”
Wooten chalked it up to “big government.”
“I don’t like it; nobody likes big government,” the board chairman said, “but you can’t determine that until a month or six weeks after a storm. It’s just unfortunate. I empathize with the people on Shipp Road.”
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.