Heavy rains and high waters in December have resulted in more than $1 million in flood damage in Macon County.
Weather Hazard: An Upper Low moving across our WNC Mountains, coupled with Hurricane Joaquin will produce heavy rain and wind gusts in Haywood County. From now through Monday morning communities south of Maggie Valley, Waynesville, Clyde and Canton can expect about 10” of rain, while the municipalities and northern communities can expect about 7” of rain. Wind gusts of 20-30mph are possible, with the highest gusts over our mountain tops.
Haywood County convened an emergency joint conference Friday to ensure response readiness in the event of flooding or mudslides triggered by the heavy rain expected over the next three days.
With September’s tropical storm season gearing up, residents living downstream of large Duke Energy dams in Western North Carolina may spend the fall on high alert, wondering when and if Duke will open the flood gates to release pent-up water from its dams on the Nantahala and Tuckasegee rivers.
The Macon County planning board signaled its intent this month to loosen rules on development in floodplains.
Macon County is weighing whether to relax its existing rules that ban fill dirt in the flood plain.
The county’s planning board is split on the issue and struggling to find mutual ground to stand on.
A four-day stretch of heavy rains fell on Western North Carolina, leaving residents wondering if it would ever end. Some areas witnessed up to 10 inches.
The following collection of stories and interviews captures the drama and tension of the unrelenting rains as they wreaked havoc across the mountains.
The redrawing of flood maps for North Carolina has made one of Jackson County’s million-dollar properties a tough sell.
The Jackson County Industrial Park, which was formerly the Drexel furniture factory in Whittier, sits along the Tuckasegee River. But starting in 2010, when the new flood maps were drawn largely based on aerial photography, the property was flagged as being in a floodway — the most severe of floodwater classifications.
A flash flood struck the Cherokee fish hatchery last week, pummeling fish in the raceways with a wall of water laden with mud, rocks and branches.
It wiped out hundreds if not thousands of trout and left a massive clean-up job for hatchery workers.
“We had dead fish all over the raceways,” said Robert Blankenship, manager of the Cherokee fish hatchery and stocking program. “A lot got washed out.”
Some were swept down stream and lived, based on fishing reports below the hatchery, but many others suffocated under mud or were struck by debris.
Blankenship estimated the creek the hatchery sits on swelled to four to five times its normal size. A worker who lives at the hatchery heard rocks tumbling down the mountain as the wall of water hit around midnight last Thursday, Blankenship said.
The flashflood flattened 75 feet of chain link fence surrounding the property in the Big Cove community. There is no data on the amount of spot rainfall the area must have received.
Just how many fish were lost won’t be known until clean-up is completed and workers can do an inventory.
Cherokee’s hatchery is a $1.2 million operation, raising 400,000 trout a year from eggs. The tribe’s waterways are the best stocked in the state — 13,000 trout per mile compared to only 800 per mile on average in waters stocked by the state of North Carolina.
And that’s not going to change, Blankenship said.
“We put out three big truckloads of very nice fish Friday,” Blankenship said. “We are going to continue to keep the river well-stocked.”
The hatchery will buy fish if necessary in order to keep pace with its stocking reputation, Blankenship said.
Cherokee is well known not just for its quantity, but size of trout. Blankenship makes sure trout bound for fishing waters are least 12 inches, but regularly stocks trophy trout over two pounds, some reaching nearly four pounds and up to 26 inches long.
Cherokee has worked hard to build its reputation as a top fishing destination in the Southeast — it’s a regular stop for fly-fishing TV shows and recently hosted the U.S. National fly-fishing competition — and will fight to keep that standing.
“The Cherokee fishing program is alive and well,” said Matt Pegg, director of the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce. “The team at the hatchery has worked very hard to restore the facility and will continue to do what they have always done to ensure the fishing program in Cherokee is strong.”
Steve Mingle, owner of River’s Edge Outfitter, has been fielding phone calls at the shop from people asking about the hatchery disaster but has put their fears to rest.
“I told them the fishing was still good,” Mingle said.
Each trout lost in the flash flood represents time, money and energy. It takes 10 to 12 months to raise a trout — from an egg in the incubation tank to a catchable fish.
Eggs are hatched in an indoor facility, and kept in tanks until they reach three to four inches. Those fish weren’t harmed, which bodes well for long-term production. It’s also good news for the five different fly fishing tournaments being held in Cherokee next year.
Meanwhile, however, the clean-up is ongoing. After hauling away piles of dead fish, hatchery workers are using track hoes to scrape a foot-and-a-half of muck off the bottom of the raceways.
That means lots of juggling trout around, shifting them from one run to another as each one gets a clean out.
The surviving fish had to be sorted out anyway though, Blankenship said. The hatchery keeps fish segregated by size, so when it’s workers can easily net liked-size fish on stocking days. But the flash flood overtopped the raceways, and fish of different sizes were mixed up.
“We got 2-inch fish mixed in with 12-inch fish,” Blankenship said.
Blankenship said he hopes the tribe’s insurance will cover the losses. They may also be eligible for federal farm disaster aid that covers crop losses.
“We are going to explore all avenues,” Blankenship said.
By Jennifer Garlesky • Staff Writer
Macon County’s eight-month moratorium on the permitting of recreational vehicles in the floodplain will be lifted next month.