TARBORO — A plan to offer Princeville residents the opportunity to get out of the Tar River flood plain that has plagued the community for the entirety of its existence is advancing following the approval by the town’s Board of Commissioners of a master plan developed by S&ME, a Raleigh engineering firm.

The plan calls for the planned development of a 53-acre tract of land cradled in the northwest corner of the intersection of U.S. 64 and Shiloh Farm Road and abutting Princeville’s existing Southern Terrace neighborhood.

“S&ME is now working on a preliminary engineering plan, which will eventually allow for the planning and installation of infrastructure,” said Andrew DeIonno, community development manager for the Wilson-based Upper Coastal Plain Council of Governments. DeIonno is working with Princeville Town Manager Glenda Knight and the myriad agencies participating in the community’s recovery from Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

While visible work has languished in the 37-plus months post-Matthew, DeIonno said a number of things are getting ready to happen following the approval of a floor plan for the Town Hall building.

“Oakley Collier is the architects for the senior center and museum and is the construction administrator for the town hall,” DeIonno said. “Once the plans are (sent) to the building officials, work can get underway (after permits are issued).”

The town hall will not involve any exterior tear down, but the project will include selected demolition, the placement of CMA concrete walls and the elevation of the building’s HVAC units.

“We will basically be able to hose it out if needed,” DeIonno said.

The museum and welcome center will involve more work, as that older, all-wood former Princeville grade school building suffered damages that the metal and concrete construction of the town hall were not subject to.

The senior center is an entirely different situation, where the building will be completely razed and rebuilt in its entirety.

DeIonno said taking care of those three buildings helps preserve a key portion of historic Princeville.

Princeville Elementary School is also scheduled to open in January following a total renovation at a cost of more than $4 million.

Other operations, however, will be relocated once infrastructure is in place on the 53 acres.

The town will relocate its Public Works Department, currently located behind the museum on Mutual Boulevard, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is requiring the relocation of the Princeville Housing Authority.

Additionally, the town will relocate its Volunteer Fire Department to the new development, as well.

“That (relocation) will happen, but not until the actual construction of infrastructure takes place,” DeIonno said.

He said work on the 53-acre project is a steady process.

“Sometimes, we make leaps — and sometimes, it’s a shorter process. The funding is out there for the infrastructure, it’s just a matter of having the plans (for permitting) in place,” he said.

Knight said an environmental assessment had been completed and at the October meeting of the Edgecombe County commissioners, S&ME’s Sam Watt gave an update on the project that included showing a proposed FEMA flood map that has yet to be adopted.

Watt told commissioners that while the map, which shows virtually all of Princeville being in the flood zone, has not yet been adopted, it will be.

“We just don’t know when,” he said.

“I don’t want to get into it with (Watt),” DeIonno said, “but that working map is far from a done deal. That plan is based on the decertification of the levee and it is as much a political process as it is anything.”

But if adopted, that would place a flood insurance requirement on residents whose property lies within the flood plain, which is virtually the entire town.

There are programs in place to elevate a number of residences and to relocate others who have opted for buyout, such as town Commissioner Milton Bullock.

“My first flood was 1940 and I’m tired,” he said at a recent commissioner’s meeting. “I’m going to higher ground.”

The arrival of the money to facilitate those programs is closer than it ever has been.

“We talk to residents every day who want to be back, but they are still waiting (on recovery funds),” Knight said.

DeIonno added, “It’s not hard to understand their frustration. After all, we’re talking three years and the money is there. We understand why they are upset when they call or come out here.”

“We still have citizens displaced post-Matthew and they want to come home.” Knight said.

“The thing that makes it a much more painful process,” DeIonno said, “is that we know there are Princeville residents who are suffering. They may have been relocated elsewhere, but that has increased their commute to work, for example, and that adds another financial burden.”

Knight said everything is being done on a measured basis.

“We’re working to change perceptions (of Princeville),” she said. “We’re not doing these things just for the moment or the immediate future, but for the long-term. We’re putting down the foundation for many tomorrows and investing our time.

“It’s exhausting work, but we’re starting to see results.”