Major storm response could be impacted as NCDOT is forced to lay off up to 1,100 workers

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Response to a major storm could be impacted as North Carolina prepares to lay off hundreds of workers.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation is trying to determine which employees will be impacted.

In the last few years, this state has seen major flooding from hurricanes. Several other storms have also caused the state to have to spend much more to clean up damage than in the past.

Because there’s less money available, the NCDOT is looking at about 1,100 temporary and contract jobs that could be cut.

About half of those workers could be laid off in the next couple of weeks.

For about a decade, the state spent around $65 million a year on storm response. That has recently jumped to more than $225 million.

NCDOT’s Chief Operating Officer Robert Lewis explained what will happen if we have another major storm like Matthew or Florence.

“We’re very limited on how we can respond. That’s a lot of the reason why we’re trying to reduce our expenditure now. We know we have an obligation to the people of North Carolina to keep the roadways safe.”

He added the department is required to keep about $282 million in cash reserves, which equals 7.5 percent of its state appropriation. The agency has about $300 million now.

“Just putting into perspective how much time that buys us, about a month,” said Lewis.

He added that the state is seeking reimbursements from the federal government for the cost to repair damage after Hurricanes Matthew and Florence. He said the state has received about 55 percent of the reimbursements needed from expenses tied to Matthew and 11 percent from Florence.

Ryke Longest, director of Duke University’s environmental law and policy clinic, said climate change is exacerbating the issues the state is facing.

“Globally the cost of disasters continues to rise because the same phenomenon that’s happening in North Carolina is happening in South Carolina, Virginia. It’s happening in Italy,” he said. “The climate is changing and we have to adapt the way that we live but also the way that we budget, the way that we insure.”

He said the development along the coast and in the Triangle is also contributing to flooding occurring in places that might not have previously.

“We are seeing larger and larger rainfall events,” said Longest. “As we have grown on our coast, as we have grown in our interior, we’re putting this infrastructure in place which actually makes our flooding worse.”

Road projects already underway will continue despite any layoffs, officials said.

The funding for those comes from a separate pot of money.

Another issue driving all of this is lawsuits.

North Carolina has spent more than $300 million settling cases tied to the Map Act. North Carolina’s Supreme Court found it was illegal the way the state was holding onto land for future projects without letting property owners develop it.

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