A group of Beaufort residents have nominated a watershed in the North River estuary to be designated a natural or cultural resource area of environmental concern.
The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Coastal Management is holding a meeting at 9 a.m. Monday in the Morehead City Train Depot, 1001 Arendell St. to discuss the nomination. The meeting was rescheduled from April 19.
Division staff during the meeting are expected to provide a summary of the nomination, review how the AEC nomination process works and cover any existing applicable Coastal Resources Commission rules. Landowners, members of the local government, commission and Coastal Resources Advisory Council members will have a chance to present at the meeting.
The public is invited to observe, however, this will not be a public hearing, officials said.
The Beaufort Citizens Alliance submitted the nomination to make the “upland draining watershed of a tributary tidal creek, Gibbs Creek, located on the North River Estuary” a natural or cultural resource AEC.
“The Gibbs Creek watershed is one of the last remaining relatively large tracks of undeveloped and forested land in the territorial jurisdiction of the Town of Beaufort where the features of the landscape can support a healthy and diverse population of wildlife, including mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds,” said Dr. Jud Kenworthy. A Beaufort resident, Kenworthy, who is listed on the application, is adjunct faculty with the Department of Biology and Marine Biology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
Currently, the property about 2 miles northwest of Beaufort is zoned residential single family and is vacant, the application states.
In recent years, developers have been working through the approval process on the proposed Salt Wynd Preserve subdivision. The project has been met with resistance from residents, as well as an environmental group because of water quality concerns. Applicants argue that larger, undisturbed buffers are needed to protect the watershed.
Recent action by the town board of commissioners on the proposed subdivision include approving in the fall the phase 1 final plat that subdivides a 37.06-acre tract into 47 single-family residential lots, and, for the second phase, approving the voluntary annexation and sewer allocation for 36 lots, according to meeting minutes.
State law defines natural and cultural resources AEC as “areas containing environmental, natural or cultural resources of more than local significance in which uncontrolled or incompatible development could result in major or irreversible damage to natural systems or cultural resources, scientific, educational, or associative values, or aesthetic qualities.”
Natural and cultural resources AECs may be nominated by any person or group at any time for Coastal Resources Commission consideration. The last AEC nomination was submitted was in 1994 for a site in Brunswick County. Previous nominations have included Buxton Woods at Cape Hatteras and Bird Island in Sunset Beach, officials explained in a memo.
The general statute on these types of AEC nominations require the Division of Coastal Management to conduct a preliminary evaluation of the proposed AEC after meeting with the landowners, local governments, and commission and advisory committee members in whose jurisdiction the site is located.
The preliminary evaluation will be presented to the commission for consideration at its next meeting, which is scheduled for June 15. The meeting location has not been announced.
If the commission endorses the AEC nomination during their next meeting, the Division of Coastal Management will review the proposed site and provide a report to the commission detailing the development of a management plan, if applicable, or site-specific use standards, official said in a memo.
If the commission decides to consider formal designation of the site as an AEC and adopts the management plan or use standards developed, a public hearing or hearings will be held. The Commission would determine if the site is designated as an AEC and adopt a management strategy or use standards.