By Shelby Harris, originally published by Carolina Public Press. Carolina Public Press is an independent, in-depth and investigative nonprofit news service for North Carolina.
Heavy rainfall may soon be more manageable in the heart of North Carolina’s wettest county after the city of Brevard committed federal pandemic recovery funds to updating stormwater infrastructure.
Each year, copious amounts of rain saturate the ground of Brevard, which sits near the center of Transylvania County. According to the National Centers for Environmental Information, roughly 413 inches of rain fell in Transylvania County from January 2017 to December 2021, making it the wettest county in the state for that period.
Recognizing the challenges that such intense rainfall poses for potential flooding and water damage, the Brevard City Council designated $670,000 of its American Rescue Plan Act funding toward enhancing the city’s stormwater infrastructure, Brevard Mayor Maureen Copelof said.
Businesses and homes in Brevard, the county’s largest city with a census-reported population of about 7,700, have borne the brunt of the city’s outdated stormwater system, much of which Copelof said was in place before paved roads reached the area.
“All the [downtown businesses] have experienced some amount of flooding,” said Parker Platt, owner of Platt Architecture, which has been in downtown Brevard for nearly 30 years.
“The alley that people have to walk through to get to the restaurants regularly floods. It’s just sort of a constant challenge to deal with.”
Infrastructure improvements with federal recovery funds
Brevard’s ARPA funds earmarked for the project will be used to install stormwater basins, large bowllike structures that catch runoff rainwater, near Estatoe Trail and Times Arcade Alley.
“Most of [what we’re using ARPA funds for] is stuff that nobody’s going to see because it’s underground,” Copelof said.
“But it’s important because when your stormwater doesn’t work, or your water/sewer system isn’t functioning, then you definitely know about it.”
The American Rescue Plan Act, multibillion-dollar federal legislation intended to help communities recover from negative economic and social effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, distributed money to municipalities according to population.
Brevard, Western North Carolina’s seventh-most populous city, received the first half of its more than $2.5 million ARPA funds in August 2021. Shortly thereafter, the City Council decided a large portion of the federal money should go toward stormwater improvements.
“We knew pretty quickly,” Copelof said.
“We already had a very good idea of some of the issues with our aging infrastructure that we had already prioritized. We just didn’t have the funds to do them.”
Infrastructure improvements fall in line with the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s ARPA guidelines, which only allow the money to be spent on certain expenses. Other WNC municipalities, such as Lake Lure and Black Mountain, are also using ARPA money to improve infrastructure.
Preparation for Brevard’s stormwater system repairs is underway. Copelof said the city hopes to have the project contracted within six months. That’s more than enough time to meet Treasury’s deadline, which requires ARPA dollars to be allocated by December 2024 and spent by December 2026.
Once completed, runoff from Brevard’s frequent rainfall — such as the 4.1 inches reported by the National Weather Service on March 24 — will be mitigated by the water flowing into underwater basins rather than buildings.
When the stormwater issue is at bay, Copelof said, Brevard has additional plans for improvements to Times Arcade Alley and the Estatoe Trail, which will not be ARPA-funded.
While construction for a currently undetermined amount of time could interrupt Brevard’s quaint downtown aura, business owners like Platt welcome the project.
“Brevard is the center of the county and is an economic driver and hub, and these projects are important for a lot of reasons,” he said.
“This sort of help and … long-term investment in our infrastructure gives us more opportunity to improve and grow.”
Brevard’s other ARPA-funded projects
After the stormwater repairs, Brevard still has more than $1.8 million in ARPA funds.
The largest portion of that — about $700,000 — will go toward repairing the 55-year-old, city-owned Railroad Avenue bridge, which Copelof said “gets a lot of truck traffic.
“We’ve been wanting to replace this bridge for several years,” she said. “We’ve been working to try and get the funding to be able to do that.”
Bridge repairs will start in the summer and cost a total of about $1.7 million. What’s not covered with ARPA will be paid for through grant funding, Copelof said.
Brevard will also use just more than $1.1 million from its ARPA funding to repair residential waterlines that have become outdated as the city has grown.
“Some [waterlines] now run in areas that people have actually built houses over the top of the waterline, which is not good,” Copelof said, explaining that the city will reroute waterlines out from under houses, which will consequently expand water access to more residents.
Only $74,000 of the total funds needed for waterline enhancements will not be covered by ARPA and require city or outside funding, Copelof said. No contract has been awarded for the project.