Brunswick Beacon Mar. 22, 2007

Commissioners ready to hear Lockwood Folly recommendations

By CAROLINE CURRAN, Staff writer

More than half of the shellfish beds in the Lockwood Folly River are permanently closed and if measures aren't taken to combat the river's dwindling water quality more closings will occur.

Oyster and other shellfish beds are important to the river, because oysters regulate and filter water, so as their habitat depletes, so does the water quality in the river, N.C. Coastal Federation biologist educator Ted Wilgis said, echoing the findings of the Lockwood Folly Watershed Roundtable.

During a community boat trip last week along the Lockwood Folly River, Wilgis described oysters in the Lockwood Folly as "the canary in a coal mine," serving as a gauge of the river's water quality.

Assistant county manager Steve Stone, who serves as the liaison between the county and the commissioner-appointed board, the Lockwood Folly Watershed Roundtable, said last week "we're going to have to adopt technologies to protect the river."

With 150 square miles of stormwater runoff draining into the river, oysters and other shellfish are an integral part of maintaining water quality.

Stantec Consulting and the N.C. Coastal Federation recently completed a 2-year study and its results are expected to be reviewed by County Commissioners next month.

But implementing all mechanisms will not return the river's water quality to its original state.

"Even if we used every resource available today, the water quality will still decrease and pollutant loads will still increase," Stone said.

The modeling study, completed by Stantec senior scientist and project engineer Jason Doll, determined that if no mechanisms or retrofits are employed, the watershed would see a 95 percent increase in nitrogen, 122 percent increase in phosphorus, 62 percent increase in total suspended solids and 486 percent increase in fecal coliform.

"Unless we change development patterns and/or methods predicted increases in pollutant loads are likely to result in further degradation of the Lockwood Folly," the study states.

At the Board of County Commissioners meeting Monday evening, board members approved their joint workshop with the Lockwood Folly Watershed Roundtable and officials from the four municipalities, which abut the watershed: Varnamtown, Oak Island, Holden Beach and St. James.

The workshop was scheduled April 16, at 3:30 p.m.

Board members and municipality officials are expected to hear the nine draft strategies developed by roundtable members at the workshop.

Draft strategies

The first draft strategy is for County Commissioners and town officials to consider land use decisions involving sewer extensions, stormwater ordinances and other land use activities.

The promotion of low-impact development (LID) is the second draft recommendation. The draft defines LID as "a comprehensive land planning and engineering design approach that seeks to maintain and improve the predevelopment hydrology of a developing watershed."

LID utilizes more narrow street widths than conventional development, the use of smaller lot sizes, and the use of rain gardens, shallow depression that capture stormwater runoff from impermeable surface such as driveways and roads.

Woodsong in Shallotte is an example of LID in Brunswick County.

And while the roundtable suggests requiring LID or offering LID incentives in county ordinances, county planning director Leslie Bell said all bordering municipalities would have to agree for the incentives to work.

The study also encourages board members to approve a county-run watershed management program, which would require local, state and federal cooperation.

The development and implementation of a working waterfront is a strategy to encourage protecting the traditional waterfronts, such as fish houses, fishing piers, boat ramps and commercial marinas.

County Commissioners have previously supported the preservation of working waterfronts.

Additional draft strategies include:

-The acquisition of strategic or critical lands by the county to protect the fragile watershed was another strategy proposed by the study.

-Educating and involving the public by including public education, information and outreach.

-Implement a living shorelines program, which is an alternative to traditional bulkheads. Living shorelines provide stabilization, erosion control, wildlife habitat restoration and stormwater control.

-Retrofit land uses to reduce or eliminate existing stormwater discharges. The study suggests that the county should work with such agencies as the N.C. Ecosystem Enhancement Program and other nonprofits to secure funding.