Raleigh News & Observer Mar 22, 2005

Innovation wins praise

By Wade Rawlins
Staff Writer

A state program that permits highway building while protecting undeveloped land is one of 50 semifinalists for a national award bestowed by Harvard University honoring innovative government programs.

The Ecosystem Enhancement Program, part of the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, provides grants to conserve land years ahead of roadbuilding in an area.

The program was created in 2003 to resolve the kind of delays that highway builders experienced increasingly in the mid-1990s; the state's restoration of wetlands was not keeping pace with the destruction caused by road building. By law, the state Department of Transportation must make up for streams and wetlands it damages by restoring, enhancing or preserving wetlands elsewhere.

The program has preserved 27,000 acres of natural areas and avoided any highway construction delays to date.

"North Carolina's bold approach to challenges that affect every state has brought about this prestigious designation," said Bill Ross, secretary of environment and natural resources.

The Innovations in American Government Awards program is part of the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. Six winners will be announced in July.

The semifinalists were chosen from a pool of more than 1,000 applicants for their novelty, effectiveness in addressing important problems, significance and potential for replication by other government entities.

By staff writer Wade Rawlins.