Goldsboro News Argus Sept. 26, 2007

U.S. 70 project might help with wetland area

A piece of the planned U.S. 70 bypass around Goldsboro would cut through Claridge State Nursery, where millions of tree seedlings are produced each year.

But the "credits" that N.C. Department of Transportation needs to make up for the road's environmental impact might actually improve tree growing there, a state hydrologist says.

N.C. Division of Forest Resources hydrologist Bill Swartley says the bypass will be tied to a $2.5- to $3-million project that will re-hydrate wetlands and restore more than 10,000 linear feet of a stream called "The Canal."

The project will take about a year and begin sometime in 2008, the same year bypass roadwork is now expected to begin, Swartley said.

The Canal is a steep-banked stream that jags through Claridge State Nursery's acres of seedling operations on Claridge Nursery Road off of U.S. 70.

The man-made stream probably was made to dry out swampy land and make it suitable for farming or tree growing, the hydrologist said.

"It was more than likely a federal de-watering project," Swartley said. "Back in the early 1900s, they said 'Put them (streams) in a straight line and keep it in a ditch, get them out of our way.'"

"Now, we're going to reverse it," he said.

Similar practices historically were quite common in North Carolina, Swartley said.

He and Tracy Morris, a project manager with the state's Ecosystem Enhancement Program, said not many streams in the state escaped modification for human purposes.

"Virtually every stream in North Carolina has been channelized or moved at one point or another," Swartley said. "You have the opportunity to restore these streams."

Restoring The Canal will include enhancing the riparian buffer. A riparian buffer is plant life that prevents erosion and filters out contaminants before they can enter streams and groundwater.

Beefing up that plant-based buffer zone means fertilizers the nursery uses might get sucked up by the new plants -- important in this particular area, Swartley said.

"We're in a nutrient-sensitive basin," the hydrologist said. "Any nutrients that do (run off) to the flood plain will be subject to uptake by the new vegetation."

The effect lasts quite some time, Swartley said, as new plants in the refurbished riparian zone grow and adapt to their new environment.

Up to 25 acres of riparian buffer and 30 acres of wetland -- often referred to as the "kidneys of the earth" -- will be restored by the project, he said.

The project will also lower the flood plain itself by about six feet, Swartley said, making nursery floods less likely.

Another step is getting neighboring property owners to agree with the plan.

Ms. Morris of the Ecosystem Enhancement Program said three out of six neighbors have signed on, and she expects the others will want to sign on as well.

The Division of Forest Resources' Greg Pate, who oversees Claridge's seedling program, said he's excited the facility is part of the project.

And like any person in an agriculture-related field, he is also currently wishing for rain.

The nursery can pump water out of the Little River for irrigation, but the seedlings grow better with natural rainfall, Pate said.

Right now, the seedlings are in pretty good shape, but the Little River is not, he said.

"The seedlings look fairly healthy. Our problem has been the level of the Little River in the last month or so."