Failure to Protect: Citizens demand answers regarding White Oak Dike

White Oak Dike Community Meeting

KELLY, NC (WECT) - Exactly six months after the White Oak Dike breached and sent floodwaters spilling into the community of Kelly, the small community’s residents took their local elected officials to task.

The Bladen County Commission held a special meeting Tuesday night at Centreville Baptist Church on Highway 53 to discuss the dike, and what options there are to fix it.

The public forum began with a word from Mitch Hall from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the agency that originally built the dike. Hall walked the audience through the dike’s history, ending with the agency declaring the dike “inactive” in 2001, which took it out of the USACE’s program that funds repairs.

Members of the community were then invited to ask questions, offer suggestions and speak to their experience living near the White Oak Dike.

They were not shy about expressing their feelings.

“We’ve been left behind,” Norwood Bollinger said. “There’s no excuse whatsoever for this dam to be in the shape it’s in.”

Bollinger was joined by others who described how the flooding from Hurricane Florence caused them to lose everything — bringing many to tears.

Emergency evacuations were ordered in the Kelly community in the days after Hurricane Florence (Source: WECT).
Emergency evacuations were ordered in the Kelly community in the days after Hurricane Florence (Source: WECT).

Residents wanted to know who was responsible, an answer commission chair Charles Ray Peterson said he didn’t have.

WECT found the USACE believes the responsible party is the Lyon Swamp Drainage District, but Bladen County officials were under the impression the Kelly Water Dike and Drainage District had jurisdiction — which according to a bill passed in 1961 it does.

Attendees also wanted to know why the USACE can’t fund the repairs, which Hall again explained goes back to the dike’s “inactive” status.

Among the ideas tossed out were reinstating the tax that was originally collected from Kelly residents in the 1960s, launching a “GoFundMe” or other crowd-sourced fundraiser and incorporating the community into an actual town.

Commission member Ophelia Munn-Goins and former chair Billy Ray Britt encouraged attendees to write letters or call their federal representatives to ask for help.

Peterson said the county would take the ideas and information gleaned from the meeting, and come back to the community before anything like a tax or other measure is pursued.

“We really do come in peace,” Peterson said, after the emotional testimony from residents concluded.

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