By JIMMY WILLIAMS
Tideland News Writer
As Swansboro commissioners were approving a watershed management plan on Feb. 28, the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries was shutting down thousands of acres of shellfishing waters along the state’s coast. (See related article.)
Yet, as dire as the situation may seem, DMF officials say the steps local governments take could reverse the trend of closures. That is certainly the hope behind Swansboro’s action last week.
“This plan is important for a number of reasons,” Scott Chase, town manager, told the commissioners as he introduced the item during the board meeting.
He then turned the presentation over to Mariko Polk, GIS watershed specialist with the N.C. Coastal Federation, who outlined those reasons prior to the board’s unanimous vote to approve. The town partnered with the federation to produce the plan, according to Chase. The cost of the 167-page plan, $5,000, was shared equally between the federation and the town.
The goal of the Swansboro Watershed Restoration Plan is “to reduce water quality impairments within the Swansboro region, and will be accomplished by reducing the bacterial load entering the waterways of the watersheds,” according to the plan Polk presented.
“This goal will be accomplished over 20 years by achieving the objectives and management actions identified … Over time, reductions in the volume of storm water runoff will be achieved through implementation of this plan and should result in measurable water quality improvements, signified by gradual increases in open shellfish waters and more recreational activity. This restoration plan relies on reducing runoff volumes within the Swansboro watersheds to reduce existing water quality impairments and restore water quality.”
Five areas of the community were taken into account for the study. They are Halls Creek, which would impact Queens Creek; Foster Creek (Bogue Sound-Bogue Inlet); Ward/Hawkins Creek (Bogue Sound-Bogue Inlet); Hammocks (Queens Creek and Bogue Sound-Bogue Inlet); and Historic (Bogue Sound-Bogue Inlet and White Oak River).
Polk, as she has explained since the process began in the fall, said the plan established the restoration goal – “turning back the clock” – of limiting the amount of runoff in the community to the amount of runoff measured in 1993.
That year was selected, in part, because data on runoff from that year is available, according to Polk. Swansboro’s runoff generated within a specified period of time was compared with the amount generated in 2016. In order to return to the 1993 milestone, runoff will have to be reduced by about 13 million gallons.
That increase is attributable to a number of factors – more roads and driveways, more rooftops, more ornamental lawns and so forth – and the plans offers tips on how to reduce the flow of storm water that has resulted from these features.
“As with other plans that incorporate this volume reduction philosophy, this plan emphasizes six management objectives to accomplish its goals,” the plan states.
Those goals include …
• New development and redevelopment does not create additional water quality impairments.
• The targeted volume of stormwater runoff is reduced from existing private land uses.
• The targeted volume of stormwater runoff is reduced from existing public land uses and paired with capital improvement projects.
• Water quality is appropriately classified by existing uses.
• Periodic monitoring and review is conducted.
• Community is educated about storm water pollution and engaged in accomplishing objectives.
NCCF Deputy Director Lauren Kolodji, who joined Polk at last week’s meeting, praised the town for taking on the plan.
“Having a good plan will help position the town for future funding,” she said.
Commissioner Frank Tursi, a former NCCF staff member, has explained that federal funds are available to local governments interested in mitigating problems created by storm water runoff. He said the Section 319 Grant program, established by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1987, provides funds for efforts to reduce pollution from storm water runoff.
In North Carolina, the Division of Water Resources administers the 319 Grant Program. The state receives about $4.5 million annually for efforts to reduce storm water runoff, also referred to as non-point source pollution. One of the first steps toward earning a share of those funds is to create a watershed management plan.
Kolodji said that even though the future of those funds is unclear with the Trump administration, there are many simple steps that can be taken by individual property owners to reduce the deleterious effects of runoff.
“I really commend the town for considering it,” she said of the watershed management plan.
Prior to voting to approve the plan, commissioners opened the floor for comments.
Junior Freeman told commissioners he opposed any aspect of the plan that could force compliance.
“My main concerns is … specifically, this will be voluntary,” he said. Already, there are “so many layers” of regulations. And, Freeman added, people in business already know that, “protecting our waterways and our environment (is of) utmost importance.”
Freeman also offered a mild chastisement of the town. He claimed Swansboro has failed to properly maintain existing storm water runoff reduction projects, referred to as Best Management Projects, or BMPs.
Those BMPs are cited in the Watershed Restoration Plan as “supporting projects.”
“Plan partners intend to gather the information regarding the specifications of each project so that the volume reduced by each project can be calculated and incorporated into the tabulations that will be kept on the total reduction that has occurred in the watersheds,” the plan states.
Freeman, a Swansboro resident, also said that he believed extending centralized wastewater treatment – sewer service – would reduce the potential for surface water impairment.
Finally, he does not believe Swansboro should take on the task of administering storm water rules, which is primarily a function of the state. To do so would place an undue expense on taxpayers and an undue burden on staff.
In his comments, Mayor Scott Chadwick addressed one aspect of Freeman’s remarks, referring to the town’s BMPs. most of which have been installed since 2010,
“What I like about this plan,” Chadwick said, “is the town has led by example.
“Plus,” he added, “there are things we can do that are not terribly expensive. I like the plan. I think y’all did a great job.”
Brent Hatlestad of Swansboro encouraged the town to take a more proactive approach to requirements.
“I’m in favor of it being in a regulation,” he said. He then told the elected leaders of a situation in his neighborhood in which a developer – in draining a property – piped the runoff directly to the river. The state may allow that, according to Hatlestad, but there is probably a better, less harmful, way to drain the property. “Whatever the cost is, it’s worth it.”
Also commenting was Lee Combs of Swansboro.
He praised the board for taking the steps it has and encouraged the officials to do what it takes to reduce runoff.
“It’s something we need to do,” Combs said.
In his comments, Tursi noted that he worked with the nearby town of Cedar Point in adopting a similar plan in 2005.
That experience, and the study and monitoring that has followed, has shown that much of the bacteria reaching the surface waters is coming not from properly working septic tanks, but from animal waste.
He also said that since it was put in place, the EPA has spent about $1 million in Cedar Point area projects to reduce runoff in the community, including working with the state Department of Transportation to reduce the impact of runoff from N.C. 24.
Other projects included improvements at the boat ramp at the Tideland Trails campsite; improvements at Western Park athletic fields; and installing cisterns at Western Carteret Fire Department.
“Those are the kinds of things that are possible,” Tursi said.
A motion to approve the plan passed by a 5-0 vote.
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