Heavy rain erodes Richland Creek
by David Leone
WAKE FOREST — Live in Olde Mill Stream? There’s good news and bad news. The bad news is, it’s going to be months before the Richland Creek Greenway reopens.
But the good news is town engineer Holly Miller has quickly put together an action plan to fix the eroding stream and got approval from town commissioners during a work session Tuesday to get started on it.
“We’ve received quite a number of calls from area residents concerning this greenway closure,” said Bill Crabtree, Wake Forest’s public information officer.
The closure came last month, following inspection by town forestry and engineering officials and creek restoration experts.
Their assessment revealed a rapid increase in creek erosion along the greenway brought on primarily by heavy rains during the spring and early summer — there have already been seven extra inches of rainfall recorded in 2013. Increased upstream development was also cited as a cause.
The erosion has undermined the greenway’s foundation. A number of trees have fallen or are leaning dangerously on both sides of the trail. Aside from the danger to people, falling trees may damage power lines or a large sewer pipe along the trail.
“When I was out there doing the survey I heard two trees fall, so it could be dangerous,” Miller said Tuesday, acknowledging that some people continue to use the closed greenway. “All the people that live out there absolutely love that trail. It’s a great trail.”
Miller presented the board with four choices to fix the erosion. Options ranged from mildly riprapping the bank to digging out the stream entirely with backhoes and excavators.
Commissioners agreed to a combination option, which includes some grading without requiring years of replanting and reconstruction.
The creek direction has become strongly snaked, Miller said. To keep erosion down, the direction should have slighter curves.
The work also entails establishing natural barriers like logs and rocks to direct the water flow and replanting vegetation.
The restoration will be performed on the east side of the creek, because several homeowners on the west side, who don’t have direct access to the greenway, have refused to grant easements, Miller added.
The work should take a few months to complete and will cost approximately $7,500, she said, adding, “Winter is a great time to replant.”
Hard times, for some
A Wake Forest woman swallowed her pride to plead with commissioners at the start of the work session to waive a $100 utility bill penalty.
The fee is levied when people ask to reconnect after having their power shut off from failure to pay their bill.
“You understand the paper you signed? You knew they were going to charge the extra $100,” Mayor Vivian Jones demanded.
“Yes,” the woman answered, adding she thought she’d have more time and hoped it would be forgiven. She didn’t want the food in her refrigerator to go bad because she couldn’t raise enough to pay for the power to go back on, she said.
The 20-year resident is a single parent who had been helped along by a friend who has since suffered a heart attack. She doesn’t have a job and has trouble paying bills, she said.
Drew Brown, customer service supervisor, said town staff tried to work out a payment plan with the woman, but she still ran late.
With the penalty and unpaid utility costs, she ended up owing $149, he said.
Jones noted that the woman has been late with utility bills over a six-month period.
“She was chronically running a month behind,” Commissioner Frank Drake agreed, later stating that exceptions for one person will lead others to ask for it.
“Jiminy Crickets!” exclaimed Commissioner Margaret Stinnett. “Sometimes I think we need a little heart. It looks like she’s trying to pay her bills.”
“Sometimes people just have a hard time,” she added. “I just think there need to be exceptions sometime for people who are struggling.”
Her situation isn’t so unique, Brown warned.
“I probably see 20 to 50 people like that every cutoff,” he said, referring to single mothers.
Commissioners overruled Stinnett’s objection and did not waive the fee.
On Wednesday, Brown clarified he does what he can to help people who are struggling.
“It’s the hardest part of my job, we hate to do it,” he said. “We try to help. We make arrangements with people whenever we possibly can.”
One place people can go for help is Churchnet. The privately run fund gets an annual $5,000 contribution from the town. The town also collects money through Hope, which is a box people can check on utility bills to pay extra money to help their neighbors. That money also goes to churchnet.
People can use the Churchnet fund once a year for utility bills.
Brown revealed that on Wednesday, Churchnet paid $109 of the woman’s $149 balance.