The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

August 13, 2010

Watershed buyouts: Officials, residents gather to celebrate purchase of first Dunloup Creek property

By Sarah Plummer
Register-Herald Reporter

GLEN JEAN — Federal, state and local officials came together Thursday with local citizens to celebrate the first voluntary federal buyout along the Dunloup Creek Watershed. Funds for the project now exceed $4 million.

Mike Shumate, member of the Dunloup Creek Watershed Association, explained that for more than 45 years citizens and officials from the area had been trying to find a solution to the flooding problems along Dunloup Creek.

“In 2004, Ernie Wickline and I started a renewed effort. Two hundred and three applications involving 255 structures have been submitted. These properties will get appraised and an offer will be made to the land owners. If they choose to accept the offer, they will go through an official closing and the watershed will be returned to its natural state, without asphalt and septic tanks. Today we are celebrating the first recipient of the buyout.”

Congressman Nick Rahall said, “The Dunloup Watershed project is a rural area of around 280 homes and about 1000 individuals. These steep mountains and valleys provide us with beauty and recreational pursuits, but they also have the ability to intensify floods when they come and increase the destruction of floodwaters.”

Rahall continued by expressing what he considers the depth of the issues. “Since 2001, there have been seven federally declared disasters in this area of southern West Virginia. That does not even begin to count the floods we have had that are not federally declared. That is why, when you look at the figures, there is more pain and suffering behind them than they represent.”

Shumate spoke about his personal experiences with area flooding. “The (federal) Natural Resources Conservation Service has had a deep appreciation for the watershed and for those of us who wade out in the creek and have had to throw out the carpet from our homes. I watched my mother being carried out in chest-high water. This initiative will provide hundreds of West Virginians with relief.”

David White, chief of USDA/NRCS, talked about how he views the project and the massive support it has had on a local level. “This is about communities like this one; it is not about the federal government coming in here and saying you have to do this. This is an option, and we understand it is a tough decision.”

White went on to describe the experience of Kim Sears, the first buyout recipient. “This is about people like Kim,” he said, “who got a knock on her door at 3 a.m. and was told that she had to leave and managed to get her child and get out.”

Sears said she believes the offer for her property was fair and that it is good not to have to worry about waking up in the middle of the night because of water in her home. Sears and her family have purchased land and are in the process of building a new home. “I would urge all the families that are being bought out to get a plan together, to start now and be prepared for when the funding comes through” so that it can be put to residents’ best interests.

Another home owner who has agreed to the voluntary buyout, Van Burks of Mount Hope, said, “I was tired of seeing water in my house. I can’t live in my house now because the mold is detrimental to my health, but I will be closing on a new piece of property this week.”

Wickline, president of the Dunloup Creek Watershed Association, was the owner of one of 31 houses that were bought by FEMA after the 2001 flood. He joked that “when my boots started floating toward out the window and were gone, I told my wife that maybe the Lord was trying to tell me something.”

Wickline has been instrumental in the project, but says he “wants to see people have the same opportunity that I had to get out of the flood zone.”

Shumate said the initial $1.1 million in funding came from the diligence of the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd. The most recent $1.5 million has been due to Rahall’s assistance with stimulus funds. Around $125,000 has been contributed by the state, he said.

Rahall said around $10 million will be needed to complete the rest of the project.