Collettsville residents sounding off on flood sirens

Aug. 22, 2013 @ 08:29 AM

Greg and Susan Duncan moved to Brown Mountain Beach from Hudson six years ago because of the serenity and undisturbed beauty of the mountainous area around Wilson Creek.

But the installation of five emergency sirens in the area, designed to blast at 120 decibels in case of a flash flood or tornado, to warn visitors to quit swimming or kayaking in the creek may instead drive the Duncans away.

One of the sirens is between 200 and 300 feet from the bedroom window of 10-year-old Grace Duncan. That may be nearly the length of a football field, Greg Duncan said, but "It's designed to be heard three miles away."

"It tees me off to no end," Susan Duncan said. "My blood pressure has gone sky-high over this."

The sirens, which are not yet operational, have been erected at Edgemont, Mortimer, the Wilson Creek Visitor's Center, the Deer Horn campground and the Brown Mountain Beach campground. An estimated 50,000 tourists come to the area each year, including fishermen, swimmers and nature enthusiasts. Because Wilson Creek is fed by a vast amount of mountainside, heavy rains far away can cause flooding far downstream, where it may not be raining at all. Water can quickly rise 12 to 15 feet without warning, and every summer a number of visitors have to be rescued during periods of high water. The sirens are supposed to help prevent that.

The Duncans and others, though, are voicing complaints.

Greg Duncan said a big complaint is that local residents were not given much notice about the sirens, paid for by a $120,000 grant.

"I first heard about this two weeks ago from an older man from Winston-Salem who fishes up here and who heard about it on Facebook," he said. "It's how they did it. It's arrogance."

Kenneth Teague, Caldwell County Emergency Management Services coordinator, said he has fielded complaints from a number of local residents, including the Duncans.

"The No. 1 concern I've heard is we've not notified people who live in this area," Teague said. "We have had meetings with the fire department, but there's no civic organization in the area. Between them and Friends of Wilson Creek, we've notified everybody that we thought would be interested."

The News-Topic ran a story about the sirens on June 5.

Susan is worried about the noise's effect on Grace and the family pets.

"That thing will go off who knows when, even in the middle of the night," she said. "That's our house, we shouldn't have to hear that."

Teague said the sirens will not be as loud as people seem to think.

"They will produce about 120 decibels, but a regular leaf blower is at 140 decibels," he said. "These will only go off for three minutes. They will power up for 10 seconds and power down for four. They will keep that oscillation up for three minutes, to warn of a flash flood.

"We have 13 volunteer fire departments, just about all of them have sirens like these. They go off one or two times a day. They are in more populated areas (than this)."

LouAnn Kincaid, Caldwell County's public information officer, said some "gossip and rumors" are being fed by misinformation.

"They're thinking they're going to go off all the time, at fires, during flood watches. That's where a lot of this push-back is coming from. This will only go off during flash flood or tornado warnings, and test blasts," Kincaid said.

That the main reason for the sirens is out-of-town visitors who get themselves in trouble -- "The local residents are pretty familiar with how this water rises and falls," Kincaid said -- is an additional source of irritation for the Duncans.

"We know people shouldn't go in the water," Susan Duncan said. "People have TV, the Internet. We're having to pay a price for ignorant people."

Grace agreed. "We can just walk 200 feet and see the water rising," she said.

The siren system is not expected to start working until sometime in September, but the Duncans already are talking about moving to Gamewell.