- Associated Press - Monday, February 20, 2017

LUMBERTON, N.C. (AP) - Cars are rolling past Geraldine’s Peaches and Produce again. That’s a big relief for Geraldine Herring.

“For the longest time, there was no one,” said Herring, who has managed the business on N.C. 41 in Robeson County for more than a decade. “There was no traffic to speak of.”

Four months after Hurricane Matthew isolated large chunks of the Cape Fear region, washing out nearly 1,000 roads, things are much better.

But in a few scattered spots, a wet winter and a shortage of culvert pipe have some farmers and roadside merchants fretting.

“Some farmers will have to come up with alternative routes to get into their fields,” said Mac Malloy, a field crop specialist for the N.C. Cooperative Extension in Robeson County. “It definitely will have an effect in some areas.”

The North Carolina Department of Transportation is scrambling to reopen as many roads as possible before farmers begin moving their equipment into fields for spring planting. That usually begins around March 1, agriculture officials say.

“If there are no weather delays or shortages of pipe, we hope to have the majority of those roads back in business,” said Richie Hines, the Cumberland County district engineer for the DOT. “We’re optimistic and should have all work under contract by the end of January.”

In all, more than 900 roads were either damaged or washed out in the wake of Matthew in Bladen, Columbus, Cumberland, Harnett, Hoke, Robeson and Sampson counties.

According to a survey by the N.C. DOT, 198 roads under the division’s care were “total washouts.”

As of the last week of January, that number had been reduced to 85, including nearly two dozen roads still closed in Sampson County.

A large majority require pipe culverts, the metal tubing that allows water to flow beneath roads. An additional three bridges will need to be replaced, and five more will require extensive concrete box culverts.

In total, if the DOT schedule is met, fewer than 10 roads will remain out of action by April; that doesn’t include private roads and roads in communities under local maintenance.

That news was welcomed by farmers in the Cape Fear region. According to Georgia Love, the region agronomist with the N.C. Department of Agriculture, some areas are still facing challenges, especially as strawberry season nears.

“How good things look depends on where the washed-out road is in relation to your fields,” Love said. “After the initial work, most areas look good.

“But there are some exceptions.”

She noted one strawberry farmer in Robeson County whose roadside stand remains isolated.

“The stand is on (N.C.) 904, below where traffic is being re-routed because the road is closed,” she said. “His concern is for the beach traffic. If the road is still out when the strawberries are in, he’ll miss that traffic.”

That was the situation facing the Herring family in the wake of Hurricane Matthew in October. The Herrings manage several farms, totaling roughly 1,600 acres, Geraldine Herring said.

After upwards of 15 inches of rain fell, many of their fields were flooded. Others became islands, inaccessible because roads were ruined.

The crops they were able to salvage couldn’t be taken to processing facilities because roads were washed away.

“And the road in front of our place was cut in both directions,” she said. “We couldn’t get to some crops, and others we couldn’t get to market.

“Our season effectively ended when Matthew came through.”

They were isolated, but not alone. Neighboring farmers were unable to salvage sweet potatoes from soggy fields, and peanuts were left to rot. Rather than prepare for the upcoming season, many were still cleaning up from the Oct. 8 storm.

“There’s a lot that’s done during the winter,” Herring said. “We’ve been having to play catch-up. People are still clearing debris, and haven’t had time to even think about the roads.

“It’s been very difficult on farmers here.”


Information from: The Fayetteville Observer, https://www.fayobserver.com

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