Wilmington Daily Star-News February 10, 2004

Some Pine Valley golfers wary of proposal to restore stream

By Gareth McGrath, Staff Writer (gareth.mcgrath@starnewsonline.com)

The second phase of a stream restoration project at Pine Valley Country Club has run into choppy waters.

But officials hope they can navigate a calmer course before more of the South Wilmington golf course's back nine washes into Hewletts Creek.

The streams that crisscross the country club, which straddles the middle branch of the tidal creek, have been eroding for years.

Course superintendent Keith Noxon said that as more and more development takes place in the creek's 2,000-acre drainage basin, an increasing amount of runoff – along with any contaminants it carries – is pouring into the tributaries.

"The water has to get to Hewletts Creek somehow, and a big amount of it is coming through here," he said, standing by the eroded stream bank along the course's ninth hole.

Not only is the water eating away at the banks, creating deep gullies in places, but it is flowing too quickly to allow sediment and other potential pollutants to drop out.

Worried about what the high-speed flow was doing to water quality farther downstream, several organizations teamed up four years ago to stabilize about 800 feet of crumbled stream bank.

Along with planting low-lying shrubs and trees, crews also created a wide meandering path for the stream that slows down the water flow, allowing the creek to filter out pollutants.

The result has been a largely maintenance-free natural buffer that helps control flooding.

"What the project did was restore the natural function of the stream," said Chris O'Keefe, a New Hanover County planner and coordinator of the county's Tidal Creeks Program.

The roughly $150,000 project, funded through the state's Clean Water Management Trust Fund, also re-created the waterway's natural flood plain – albeit by eating into some of the golf course's playing area.

"It gives you a double benefit," said Barbara Doll, a water quality specialist with N.C. Sea Grant. "You get additional storage area and a chance to cleanse the water."

With the restoration of one of the streams that feeds the middle branch of Hewletts Creek, officials now want to tackle the middle branch itself.

But the proposed project is both expensive, more than $700,000, and potentially intrusive.

Mr. Noxon said the restoration of more than 2,500 feet of stream bank could force Pine Valley to shut several holes between mid-November and mid-March.

Some members of the private club also are worried about the loss of additional playing surface and potential privacy if a lot of the heavy undergrowth that now envelops sections of the stream – and screens the course from nearby homes – is removed.

A delay in the project hasn't helped the relationship between the state Environmental Enhancement Program, which would finance the project, and the golf course, either.

That's led to some grumbling among Pine Valley's members about whether to approve the project for this fall.

By funding the stream restoration, the state could use the work as compensation for impacts tied to N.C. Department of Transportation projects.

EEP spokesman Tad Boggs said the state remains interested in working with the club.

City officials also are trying to facilitate the project, which could have a host of positive water-quality impacts, said Dave Mayes, Wilmington's stormwater services manager.

While admitting that the stream restoration work could cause hardships for golfers, Mr. Noxon said he feels the project's benefits vastly outweigh any drawbacks.

"It's a win-win for us and definitely one for the environment because this erosion isn't going away," he said.

Gareth McGrath: 343-2384 or gareth.mcgrath@starnewsonline.com