Reprinted from Carteret County News-Times
OCEAN — The North Carolina Coastal Federation this month received a $1.6 million grant from the North Carolina Land and Water Fund Flood Risk Reduction Program to design and implement the restoration of 1,100 acres of ditched and drained timberland to wetlands within the Newport River watershed.
Located east of Newport and north of Morehead City, North Carolina Coastal Land Trust recently purchased the 1,400 acres that are adjacent to the Croatan National Forest.
The land will be transferred to the nonprofit Coastal Federation later this year. The tract includes 1,100 acres of timberland and 300 acres of high-quality wetland habitat. It had been owned by Weyerhaeuser, the timber and paper company.
The restoration will include blocking the flow from the drainage ditches to decrease the amount of water moving to the river during a storm. The project also will restore the floodplain area along the tributary running through the center of the property to allow for floodwater storage.
Once the work is complete, according to Coastal Federation founder and Executive Director Todd Miller, it’s estimated that the property should be able to retain approximately 165 million gallons of runoff during a large storm, significantly reducing the volume and flow of polluted runoff entering the Newport River following each heavy rain.
The North Carolina Land and Water Fund was appropriated $15 million in the North Carolina 2021-22 state budget for projects that protect and restore floodplains and wetlands for the purpose of storing water, reducing flooding improving water quality providing wildlife and aquatic habitat and providing recreational opportunities.
The federation has done similar, even larger projects, before. In December 2022, after more than 20 years of planning and work, the nonprofit announced it had completed restoration work that transformed North River Farms in Down East Carteret County into a wetlands preserve.
The 6,000-acre restoration project was among the largest of its kind in the nation.
The North Carolina Coastal Land Trust last year was awarded a $1.65 million state grant from the North Carolina Land and Water Trust Fund to help pay for the purchase and preservation of the property.
The land includes about 4 miles of frontage along the river and Little Creek, according to Janice Allen, the trust’s director of land protection. It has a rare coastal estuarine fringe forest, and it’s across the river from property the trust already owns.
There are loblolly pine trees and maritime oaks, and the marsh is in good shape, Allen said last year.
Allen said Monday the land trust has bought the property with the grant from the Land and Water Trust Fund and another from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, plus some loans, which need to be paid back before the property can be transferred to the federation.
“We’re working on it,” she said, and “hopefully” it will happen soon.
The N.C. Land and Water Fund, formerly known as the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund, gets money from the state budget, and since its creation in 1996 by the state General Assembly, has conserved well over one-half million acres and protected or restored 3,000 miles of streams and rivers.
At the time the land trust announced its grant in October 2022, a news release said the trust would likely turn the property over to the N.C. Coastal Federation.
The N.C. Coastal Land Trust is headquartered in Wilmington. It conserves lands with scenic, recreational, historic and/or ecological value. The mission of the organization, which is supported by grants and donations, is to “enrich the coastal communities of our state through conservation of natural areas and working landscapes, education and the promotion of good land stewardship.”
Since its inception in 1992, it has protected more than 85,000 acres in the state’s 31 eastern counties, including Carteret.
This story is provided courtesy of the Carteret County News-Times, a twice-weekly newspaper published in Morehead City. Coastal Review partners with the News-Times to provide our readers with news of the North Carolina coast.