Our Opinion: Farmers pitch in, saving Silver Lake on their own dime

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THUMBS UP to Wilson County farmers who pooled their money and labor to repair the Silver Lake dam, a fix that’s already begun transforming the dry lakebed into a reservoir for agriculture and a scenic spot on the county’s northern end.

As reported in Tuesday’s edition of The Wilson Times, farmers Johnny Barnes, Zacky Bissette, Jerome Vick and Todd Glover joined forces to make the $110,000 repair. All four men previously used Silver Lake to irrigate their farmland, and the precious natural resource evaporated when flooding from Hurricane Matthew caused the earthen dam to break in October 2016.

Barnes said his father, the late Carson Barnes, suggested a collaborative effort to rebuild the dam and restore the lake before his August 2017 death.

“We have got to give credit to Johnny Barnes’ daddy,” said Vick, of Vick Family Farms. “Carson came to see me two times before he died and he is a pretty good visionary and always has been. He said, ‘This is a project you guys need to get together on. Silver Lake is worth saving and y’all need to get together and fix it.’”

A bid for public funding was denied, but the farmers were undeterred. They received expert assistance from A.B. Whitley, a U.S. Department of Agriculture retiree who’s designed and worked on more than 500 dams. Whitley said Silver Lake’s was “by far the biggest and most challenging one.”

While we wouldn’t have objected to a federal or state grant, the fact that local farmers paid for the work themselves makes their effort all the more laudable. It also shows that government needn’t be seen as the only source of solutions to community problems. When neighbors put their heads together and voluntarily chip in, they can get the job done without having to jump through bureaucratic hoops.

The four family farmers won’t be the only ones to benefit from Silver Lake’s resurgence. The Silver Lake Oyster Bar and its loyal diners will see a scenic upgrade. Thousands of Wilson County residents with ties to the lake are cheering the new dam.

Reporter Drew C. Wilson’s story on the project reached more than 25,000 people, racking up 517 likes and 316 shares. Dozens of folks chimed in with encouraging words and celebratory messages.

Hats off to Barnes, Bissette, Vick and Glover, and to all involved with the repairs. As Dave DiFilippo notes in today’s editorial cartoon, they’ve done a “dam” fine job.

THUMBS DOWN to the North Carolina Department of Transportation for dragging its feet on paying for properties it’s held hostage under a 1987 law that’s been ruled unconstitutional.

The NCDOT failed to meet a May 28 deadline to complete 191 appraisals of private property that had been restricted from development and earned a July 6 sanction from Judge John Craig III in Forsyth County Superior Court, the John Locke Foundation’s Carolina Journal newspaper reported.

In June 2016, the state’s highest court struck down the Map Act, under which transportation officials reserved private land for future highway construction and prevented owners from developing it while offering no compensation. The Map Act restrictions constituted a taking, according to the N.C. Supreme Court, and the state owes property owners for essentially seizing their land.

More than two years later, these beleaguered residents are still waiting for the DOT to pay up.

We support private property rights and oppose onerous restrictions that interfere with people’s full use and enjoyment of land they own. The state Supreme Court made the right call, and it’s time for transportation bureaucrats to pay their debts.

THUMBS UP to Wilson’s Eyes on Main Street photography festival, whose works will be featured later this year in prestigious exhibits planned in China and Malaysia.

Images captured by eight Eyes on Main Street artists in residence will travel to the Pingyao (China) International Photography Festival in September, and photos produced by budding shutterbugs through the Eyes on Main Street kids’ program are bound for the Kuala Lumpur Photography Festival in October.

Both exhibitions are a feather in Eyes on Main Street’s cap. The downtown Wilson expo featuring 100 fine-art photographs on display for 100 days has developed an international reputation.

Time is running out for Wilsonians to experience the sensational exhibition taking place in their own backyards — Eyes on Main Street 2018 will conclude on July 29. If you haven’t spent some time walking down Nash Street and gazing at this year’s featured photographs, you have two weeks left to experience the magic for yourself.