In July 2003, North Carolina committed its resources to an innovative program to restore, enhance and protect its wetlands and waterways. The EEP combines ongoing wetlands-restoration initiatives by the state Department of Environmental and Natural Resources with existing environmental efforts by the state Department of Transportation. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers joined as a sponsor in the historic agreement, according to materials provided by Michele Drostin, program director.
The program focuses, she said, on each of the state’s 17 river basins. The Coharie Watershed project is part of the Cape Fear basin and was selected because it was at the mouth of the Great Coharie and provided a better area to conduct the research necessary to conduct the program project.
“It is difficult to get accurate information in a more congested area, such as Clinton, where there are so many variants coming into the watershed,” Drostin told the board. The area being studied is 52 square miles and encompasses Newton Grove. This is considered to be a manageable area to study by EEP.
Watershed restoration planning is localized in collaboration with citizens and communities in the area to identify projects and management strategies to restore, enhance and protect the state’s resources. Funding comes from private and state funds, primarily Department of Transportation money.
Drostin said DOT funds are a major source because they have to set aside money when conducting projects that affect the environment, and funding for EEP is supported from those funds in addition to other dollars coming from the state.
“What we are doing now is collecting data,” stated Drostin. “We began with information provided by the local advisory team. So now we are attempting to prove what they are telling us so we can secure the grants necessary to restore the waterway.”
Local advisory team members include Camille Warren of Friends of Sampson County Waterways; community representatives, Ralph Hamilton, Joel Rose, David Willis, Cebron Fussell, Raeford Daughtry, and Gerald Warren; Dan Bailey and Kent Wooten from the Cooperative Extension office; Jacob Giddens of NRCS; Gerald Darden, mayor of Newton Grove; and Jeff Vreugdenhill, county planning director.
A lot of areas that look like ditches used to be streams and those are the kinds of areas that the EEP can restore, shared the program director. “All of this, of course, is on private property and participation is entirely voluntary .” She did state that private citizens can be compensated monetarily through tax breaks should they decide to participate.
Drostin’s presentation pointed to specific goals that the local team has prioritized. Some items addressed included the increased beaver and Nutria problem, fallen trees preventing navigation, vegetation concerns and erosion problems.
Kristin Miguez, project manager for the Great Coharie project, shared specifics of other projects that had been completed nearby, one in Sampson County and one in Columbus County. The one in Sampson involved the acquisition of a conservation tract with over 4,800 acres that are now forever protected. Also there are two stream restoration projects completed, one in Sampson near Roseboro, involving a stream that ran through a horse pasture that have severe erosion due to the horses. After the project’s completion, she said, the horses access has been limited and the stream is now flowing in a more winding traditional manners.
The pasture that contained the stream in Columbus County contained cows and they, too, had caused a great deal of erosion along with the straightening of the stream. This project, according to Miguez, is about three years completed and the vegetation has been restored along with the winding stream. The area, like the horse farm, has been fenced off and restricts access from the cows.
Ralph Hamilton shared with the commissioners that he had a personal interest and dream of being able to put in his canoe at the area just south of Two Dogs Pizza in Newton Grove and paddling all the way to the ocean. “Whether or not my dream comes to fruition, Newton Grove has a great an opportunity here. I can foresee people coming to the landing just south of Two Dogs Pizza with a sign on I-40 saying Southport 82 miles by canoe bringing all kinds of people ready to paddle to the coast. The income from an idea like that is just unimaginable. If you just observe and see how many canoes and kayaks there are in this area. We have over 300 miles of paddling waterways in Sampson County. We have a lot of potential in getting those people here to spend their money.”
The mayor thanked Drostin and Miguez for their presentation and expressed that the board looks forward to future updates regarding the project and its impact on the town and community.
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