North Carolina Wetlands Protected, For A Moment

A recent change in the method of calculating the size of developable land took the state's wetlands out of the acreage. The result could have been vastly expanded stormwater-runoff infrastructure requirements for developers. But it wasn't.

Developers in North Carolina, fearing a large increase in costs and effort to build the infrastructure to reduce stormwater runoff, lobbied the state's legislature recently to go back on changes it had made to the calculation of the size of land available for development. The new changes, issued by the state's Division of Water Quality, removed any wetland areas from the total amount of buildable land acreage in North Carolina's coastal counties. This was a blow to developers who had relied on the state's guideline that eliminated stormwater infrastructure requirements for parcels with 25% or less impervious surfaces. With wetlands taken out of consideration, tens of thousands of projects already in progress would no longer qualify under then 25% mark.

Lobbying by homebuilders associations pushed the legislature to rescind the change, which was in effect for only three weeks. Environmentalists are adamant that the threshold of impervious land should be reduced to about 10-15%, requiring most projects to include stormwater runoff infrastructure.

"After a hurried conference call with the state's top environmental officials, DWQ issued a memo suspending the change due to 'unforeseen and unintended consequences.' DWQ instructed its engineers to go back to reviewing plans on a case-by-case basis. The proposed change will instead undergo a full review by the state's Environmental Management Commission."

"A recent study by UNC-Wilmington marine science professor Michael Mallin, which includes a study of New Hanover County's building boom, is an indication of what's to come. Without tighter standards, the study points to continued degradation of shellfishing and beaches and other public access areas. In an article in this month's Scientific American, Mallin's work tracking microbial pollution says a 25 percent rule is set way too high. Ten to 15 percent would be better, he says, especially near shellfish beds."

Full Story: Backlash defers stricter wetland building standards


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