CAPE CARTERET — A contractor for the N.C. Coastal Federation has finished repairs at the tidal wetlands stormwater management system the organization created last year in front of Cape Carteret Baptist and Presbyterian churches along Highway 24.
Dr. Lexia Weaver, the scientist in charge of the project for the federation, said the contractor replaced a collapsed pipe that had caused significant erosion of the bank of the former pond on the Presbyterian church property, and used rocks and new dirt to firm up and stabilize the bank.
Total cost of the work was about $20,000 – the entire pond-to-wetlands conversion project cost close to $500,000, with the federation footing the bill.
The old concrete pipe connected the two ponds, and the federation decided to use it when doing the project, but it eventually failed.
“It broke into pieces, and the dirt that was on top of it fell in, resulting in erosion along the bank of the Presbyterian church basin,” Dr. Weaver said. The erosion was exacerbated by heavy rains in the spring and early part of the summer.
Some, however, think the repairs came too late.
Cape Carteret Planning Board Chairman John Ritchie, speaking during that panel’s meeting Wednesday, called it a catastrophe, and said rains “washed untold amounts of silt into the pristine waters of Deer Creek,” a Bogue Sound tributary that provides the salt water tidal flow that feeds into the wetlands system.
Mr. Ritchie, a homebuilder who lives on Quail Run Court, on the opposite side of the creek from the churches, said at least a half inch of silt entered the creek.
“This organization is about conservation, but they’re not cleaning the creek,” he said during the meeting. “Some people told me that after one of these recent heavy rains (before the repairs) it looked like milk chocolate.”
Dr. Weaver, however, denied there was a silt problem.
“That dirt was all piled up on the upper end of the Presbyterian church pond and it was removed,” she said.
As for the creek, she said, oysters in the creek are still visible, not under silt.
“There’s no new silt,” she said. The federation, she also said, has measurements of silt in the creek dating back more than two years, up to the present.
The project had been a long time coming. Problems with the stormwater collection ponds were exacerbated in November 2012 when a water control structure failed and the water drained into Deer Creek.
The N.C. Department of Transportation declined to help, despite having four pipes that brought water into the ponds from Highway 24 and commercial areas along it, including Carteret Crossing shopping center’s parking lot.
Cape Carteret officials contacted the federation to see what could be done, and the organization suggested that the ponds, which were choked by non-native water hyacinths, be turned into wetlands.
Then the federation closed on the sale of an easement at its North River Farms wetlands project east of Beaufort and collected $3 million. Because the farm project was funded with a state Clean Water Management Trust Fund grant, the proceeds from the sale had to be used for similar restoration projects. Federation founder and executive director Todd Miller thought cleaning up the ponds would be a neighborly, and environmentally significant, thing to do with a portion of proceeds, since it would protect water quality in Deer Creek.
Eventually, the federation started working with the town and the churches, and agreements were reached and all the necessary state and federal permits were obtained. The town’s planning board and board of commissioners signed off on the project in 2015, and drainage work began in the winter.
Once that was done, Andy and Carson Wood of Habitat Environmental Services of Hampstead, hired by federation, set traps and removed fish and many turtles and frogs that had called the ponds home, relocating them to nearby suitable habitat.
With the ponds drained, workers used heavy equipment to muck out the basins, removing mud, vegetation and debris in preparation for planting.
When the mucking was complete, workers put in thousands of wetlands plants during the last full week of May 2016. Since then, the system has been the beneficiary of daily tidal flows from the creek, which flows into it through a culvert under Yaupon Drive.
Stormwater enters the smaller, upper (farthest from Deer Creek) of the two basins, on the Baptist church’s property, which was rebuilt to have sand and rock layers below the planted vegetation and serves as a bio-retention area, filtering as much of the pollutants as possible from the collected stormwater.
The water that remains flows, as a creek, to the larger basin on the Presbyterian property. Part of the system is a tidal salt marsh, flooded regularly by water from the creek, which connects to Bogue Sound. The goal, eventually, is to improve the water quality in Deer Creek and preserve the nearly pristine quality of that section of western Bogue Sound.
Dr. Weaver said other than the erosion caused by the pipe failure, the project has succeeded, with growth of the marsh vegetation perhaps even exceeding expectations.
“It’s been great,” she said of the growth. “And it has been working as it is supposed to.”
There are plenty of fish in the system, plus crabs, turtles and birds.
Mr. Ritchie, however, called it “a failure.” He insisted the silt is new, and said the federation should remove it.
Mr. Miller, however, said last week that the overall project actually averted a disaster for the creek.
“We removed more than 400 dump truck loads of silt and muck out of the ponds to create the salt marsh and wetlands that now exist on the original stream bed,” he said.
“If a storm ever washed over the road, and let this massive amount of silt escape, that would have been a real catastrophe for the creek downstream.
“We discovered that the old concrete pipe between the ponds had been placed on wood decades ago, and that wood had rotted away and caused the pipe to fail,” Mr. Miller said.
“That has now been corrected with a new pipe, properly embedded on rock, and an emergency spillway as insurance, given all the new development that has occurred upstream since the original ponds were built.”
Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email Bradl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.