Elizabeth City Daily Advance March 1, 2004

Erosion, drainage aid planned for area

By RYAN BURR

Bonnie Duncan believes Elizabeth City has earned its title as "The Harbor of Hospitality," but she worries memories of foul odors may overtake hospitality in the minds of visitors.

"What if our harbor stinks?" said Duncan, eastern planning supervisor with the state Department of Environmental and Natural Resources. "The whole reason Virginians come down here is because it's so pretty."

Duncan spoke with nearly 70 landowners at a meeting on watershed protection hosted by her department Thursday. To stop storm drainage, stream erosion and other water-related problems, the department has targeted 10 sites among various watersheds in the Albemarle area to involve in an Ecosystem Enhancement Program.

Sites in Camden, Pasquotank and Gates counties deemed ideal for the project include Charles, Newbegun, Sawyer's and Joyce creeks. Many of the selected creeks have little or no buffer and are experiencing erosion and other problems. the program works to correct such problems.

The department's program is voluntary and it is now up to individual landowners to contact the department for participation, Duncan said.

Several key points she and other department representatives stressed were that fair market value is given to the landowner for the property used. The program itself is non-regulatory, but landowners cannot interfere with the project once its started. Sites do not become a public access areas. The department will oversee each project for at least five years.

Duncan and other staff flashed pictures of watersheds in the area that are already degrading. They highlighted numerous reasons for why intervention is imperative: many streams are flooding, metals are getting into streams, widening streams are chewing up land and decreasing property value and fish kills are inevitable.

The department began a study of local watersheds in December 2001 with the assistance of a stakeholder team which consisted partly of local officials. They completed the update in December 2003 and one of their specific goals was to reduce the nitrogen in water by 30 percent.

In addition to geological processes affecting watersheds, Duncan said the department selected this part of the state to focus its programs because of increasing growth and development and the need to protect historical landmarks and property.

(Contact Ryan Burr at rburr@coxnews.com)