Finishing Touches

46 Years in the Making...

The town of Swan Quarter rejoices as USDA works to finish the final phase in a 46 year project to help solve problems with flooding and salt water intrusion. Swan Quarter is located in Hyde County, North Carolina next to the Pamlico Sound. Hyde County is one of North Carolina’s largest counties by acreage, but only has about 5500 residents. Most people who live there farm or fish for a living. From first glance, it appears that there is not much in Swan Quarter. Little do tourists and outsiders realize, but there is wildlife, farms, crops, the Pamlico Sound, and the personality of the people that make up this small town. Driving by, one can see bears, birds, plant life, and their natural habitat.

Even though the Pamlico Sound seems far away, Swan Quarter has always had a problem with the sound major flooding from the sound and strong wind tides. Therefore, valuable crops, such as corn and soy beans, the staple of Hyde County, are damaged. Soy beans and corn are used to produce ethanol and high fructose corn syrup. These two crops are also sold particularly in farmers markets across NC and other states. Houses and buildings are also damaged to the point where all buildings have been raised up on stilts or on thick concrete foundations.

Regardless, these floods and wind tides are threats to life and personal property; they cause structural damage from mildew and rot, cause septic tank systems to fail, and destroy agricultural gains and profits.  The county loses public records and service delivery could potentially be impaired when there is damage to public buildings. The flooding of salt water instigates damage to the current crops and it restricts future crop production. Saline levels build in the soil to prevent normal crop rotations. Crop choices are limited to only salt tolerant crops. In some areas of Swan Quarter, the land will turn back to its natural habitat, wetlands. Hurricanes are a main contributing factor to these flooding crises.

J.C. Morris, Chairman and H.W. Cohoon, Secretary of the Pamlico Soil and Water Conservation District which was later renamed to the Hyde Soil and Water Conservation District signed off on the original Swan Quarter Watershed Work Plan on February 2, 1965 that became effective on October 20, 1965. The change of the name includes what are currently the Beaufort, Hyde, Washington, Tyrrell, and Dare Districts. The project was signed between Hyde County Board of Commissioners and Hyde Soil and Water Conservation District (sponsors from the State of North Carolina) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) from USDA. Five years prior, congress authorized this project because between the years 1954 and 1960, five hurricanes caused severe damage.

In 1984, the West, Quarter, Double, and Bay Supplement to the Swan Quarter Watershed Project were published to protect cropland east of Swan Quarter. Tests were completed to ensure that known endangered species would not be affected, bothered, or harmed. Finally, in 1987, work in Swan Quarter began with salt water intrusion. After going through seven contracts or phases, USDA completed six miles of dike and six major tide gate structures by 1995. In the mid to late 1990s, six hurricanes caused citizens of Swan Quarter to push the efforts of the project to be completed.

Swan Quarter is a small town of friendly people who wave at everyone driving by. Even the construction workers stopped to wave. They remember all the harsh storms, hurricanes, and floods. They tolerated damages as well as construction to fix their houses. They raised their houses so that if it were to ever flood again, their properties would not be destroyed from mold, mildew, and other water damage. Even through all the damaged losses, they are grateful for USDA building the dikes to protect their homes, land, and harvest. Farmers are happy for this watershed project because the plan included conservation of 7,293 acres of 11,440 acres, almost 65 percent, in cropland. One man told me how grateful he was and how USDA was his savior in controlling the floods. In the center of Swan Quarter, a sign is always updated with big news of birthdays and current events. The most recent message displayed excitement of the project being completed.

After approximately 46 long years and 13 phases of negotiating, working, building, and constructing, USDA is proud to present the final product of their project. Engineers, geologists, conservationists, inspectors, contractors, and construction workers have worked long days to help save and protect grateful small farm owners’ land, crops, and houses as well as saving the wetlands in Hyde County.

~ Written By: Allison Kroeger