Dealing with high waters — Look to Netherlands as model

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By Gerald E. Saunders Jr.

Editor’s note: Shortly after Hurricane Irene in August 2011, Mr. Saunders wrote a commentary for this newspaper warning us to prepare for future disasters. He later hosted a well-attended seminar and revisits that topic here:

PAMLICO COUNTY –  Shakespeare once said, “A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.” I do not believe the word hurricane by any other name would be sweet, in fact, it may be just the opposite. One rumored international synonym for hurricane is diablo.  Anyone who has lived in Pamlico County, and attended a local church is well aware, this is not a nice word.

Hurricanes viewed from space have the ominous look of a whirling Number Six. When I was a teenager, I recall a sermon in which the pastor revealed that a whirling Six had some biblical implications as well.  It follows, that both attributes have resulting destructive consequences.


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The Greeks used a six in their designs — it is an attribute of Hellenistic culture. In one case, we encounter the armor of engineering.  In both cases, we need the whole armor of God to protect us from powers and principalities in high places, including climate and weather changes that precipitate on our being, and property.

Although, I am praying to God that no hurricane ever hits our beautiful county ever again, it is likely that Mother Nature may have another idea in mind. OK. I get it, faith without works is empty. In other words, good Lordy, you can pray until you pass out that you get healed from a condition, but unless you go to a doctor, healing may not be a logical outcome. In this case, the doctor is an engineer.

I love Pamlico County, and do not want to lose her. I am doing my part to suggest a strong defense against flooding and wind, as I referred to in my article regarding Hurricane Irene in 2011.  In my search for solutions, I have discovered there are locations on the planet that have engineered successful defenses against flooding for centuries.

Not too long ago, I attempted to talk to the county manager’s office to communicate my ideas on how we can set up defenses against the next major storm. They never returned my call. There is an old saying, “pay now or pay later.”  Because by nature of our history as reactionary citizenry, it is likely this writing may fall on deaf ears.  However, I am hopeful the right people are listening.

The Dutch of the Netherlands – who live in a swampy lowland that exists below sea level – have used dikes, levies, dams, and barriers to both protect their land and even construct new land. The Netherlands is a lot like Pamlico County though lower in elevation. It is nearly surrounded by water.

Although, not explained in the history books of my earlier schooling, a variation of Archimedes screws and windmills have been used by the Dutch to pump water from one area to another to drain flooded land. Once the water is removed, and bordered, land masses emerge that over time can be used for farming.

After the Nazis blockaded the Netherlands in 1944 and cut it off, the Dutch faced starvation. Through needed support, not bail out (such as in the current Administration) the government supported farming through programs. Government support resulted in efficient crop production, more cows, and the construction of green houses for farming. The Dutch were able to produce more milk than they could drink, and food than they could eat.

Today, they are the world’s largest producers of cucumbers, chili peppers, and tomatoes. As of 2018, the Netherlands had the second largest agricultural exports in the world due to their ability to produce vast amounts of food per limited hectares of land.

Once again, Hurricane season is upon us, and I do not believe we can stand another Hurricane the size of Matthew, Florence or Michael.  Do you have an emergency plan for flooding and wind season? I plan to get as many sandbags as I can buy.

I also need to dig out ditches and place my vehicle, outside furniture, and other items on higher ground. According to FEMA, the water is reclaiming the land.  Do you have flood insurance? You can get it from FEMA. You will suffer if not prepared.  You must get ready as soon as you hear about it. Preparation saves lives, and the life you save may be your own.

However, this does not have to be the case this season. One thing, I believe, God told Adam shortly after he was created was, in paraphrase, “Oh yeah by the way, subdue the earth.”  I can imagine Adam thinking, what the? You got to be kidding?  After Adam had the thought, one can imagine the sight and sound of thunder and lightning.

You know we have our own way of looking at things, like voting for the next president! On the other hand. There is only one way to look at hurricane preparation — prayer, refining the county’s emergency plan, timeline, defense planning by locality, engineering strategy, economic integration, total citizenry input, evacuation if necessary, and did I say prayer?

If the Dutch have subdued the earth, so can eastern North Carolinians, and specifically Pamlicoans.  How ‘bout them Hurricanes, we have been subduing some schools in sports!  I suggest that we continue in sports, and this season let us better prepare to defend against competition of natural weather disasters. That is not a game, it is for real. Preparation and Defense matters!

We can build mounds [dikes] along the water surge routes. The water flows in from the Neuse River and Pamlico Sound inland through rivers and creeks. I called the Transportation Department to ask them if they could build the shoulders higher for the new highway to reduce flooding. They said everything was set in stone. If we don’t develop a plan to protect the county from the next disaster, it will be set in stone.

We can also do land reclamation projects, and ever ready flood control pumping.  Why not build greenhouses for year round food production?  The county can also excavate and build a man-made lake, which can act as a reservoir.  We must employ more drainage in low lying areas. “DRAIN THE SWAMP!”

Large drainage pipes can be laid parallel to Route 55, other roads, and drain water upstream or downstream past Grantsboro, Arapahoe and pump water to higher ground.  Windmills can be installed in the Oriental river area that can be used as pumps and double as energy producers.

Although ambitious in concept, we can also build concrete or steel drainage barriers that can open or close when the big surge happens.  Another route of defense could be to connect the Havelock area with a bridge that can double as a gated barrier.  There is nothing new under the sun. The technology exists that can keep Pamlico County out of future history books as having become extinct.

Green Energy Systems recommends all of the above including dredging, oyster bedding, and island making [i.e. Flevopolder, Netherlands] through sand blowing.  I suggest that our County Commissioners get in touch with the Dutch Delta Commission of the Netherlands immediately. They should take a trip there so they can see what is possible in ENGINEERING swamp lands with their own eyes.

You may say, how do we pay for it?  We can float a bond through referendum. In addition, there are government grants. It is not about money. We can pay now, or pay lots more later. It is not about the money. It is about saving our land, our homes, our property, boats, passion and quality of life. It is about saving this beautiful lady we call Pamlico County, who we love dearly.

God Bless all of you, and God Bless Pamlico County!

Gerald E. Saunders Jr. is CEO/President of Green Energy Systems, Inc. The company is involved in educational, environmental, alternative energy solutions and development. He is also the son of the late Principal of Pamlico County Middle School, Gerald E. Saunders Sr.  The email is greenenergysystemsinc@hotmail.com.