Charlotte Observer Jan. 6, 2007

Wetland recovery begins at lake cove

Work at Reeds Creek inlet getting funded by new state program

by KATHRYN THIER
kthier@charlotteobserver.com

Work is under way to restore a Lake Norman wetlands area in Mooresville, thanks for a relatively new state program.

The project location is a cove where Reeds Creek meets the lake on U.S. 21 just north of Interstate 77 Exit 33. It's just south of the new Cypress Landing townhome community.

The goal is to improve water quality and aquatic and wildlife habitat on the site.

The land will be protected with a conservation easement, meaning it can never be developed.

That's important because "wetlands are the kidney of the planet," said Rich Mogensen, director of Mid-Atlantic Mitigation, LLC of Concord, which is leading the effort. "They cleanse the waters of the system."

The state is paying Mogensen's company $378,000 to restore the wetlands and monitor the project for five years to ensure its success.

It's part of a state effort begun three years ago called the N.C. Ecosystem Enhancement Program, which offsets damage to streams and wetlands during private development or state road construction with other restoration projects.

For instance, the Reeds Creek project is supposed to mitigate for wetlands damage elsewhere in the Catawba River basin.

Through the federal and state permitting process for construction near wetlands and streams, the state requires compensation for wetlands damage.

There's several ways developers and the N.C. Department of Transportation can offer compensation, such as doing the work themselves or paying into a money pool the state spends on wetlands repair projects.

The Reeds Creek site is 15 acres Mogensen bought from father and son Peanut and Tony Miller of Mooresville. The Millers used the land to graze goats.

"I think that will be nice when they get done over there," Tony Miller said.

The land was graded a few weeks ago to allow flooding and create planting areas. A berm from an old sand-mining operation was preventing creek stormwater from flowing over the site.

Already, ducks and geese have returned to the now wetter site, said Paul Petitgout, a technical consultant on the project.

Workers last Thursday started planting between 4,000 and 5,000 tree seedlings, all species that can survive flooding. Planting will finish whenever the lake's water level declines.

The improvements should create habitat for everything in the wetlands food chain, from nearly microscopic water organism to fish and birds.

"You live in a world here and you have to take care of that world," Mogensen said. "This is what it used to be everywhere and now there's almost no (wetlands) left."