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Lake James environmentalists rebuke benefit claims by NC Senate 'buffer bill'

Lake James environmentalists rebuke benefit claims by NC Senate 'buffer bill'

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MORGANTON – Lake James Environmental is asking its members to contact their state legislators as soon as possible to stop a proposed Senate bill that would do away with buffers along the Catawba River and its lakes.

N.C. Senate Bill 434 passed in the chamber April 24, with Sen. Warren Daniel (R-Burke/Cleveland) voting for it.

In an email to its membership, the environmental group says the bill could have a potentially devastating impact to Lake James and the entire Catawba River Basin.

The bill crossed over to the state House of Representatives and has been in the committee on rules, calendar and operations of the House since April 26.

The day it passed a first reading in the House, N.C. Rep. Hugh Blackwell (R-Burke) said he won’t support the bill and will oppose it if it’s not changed.

“I really don’t expect 434 to pass the House without changes,” Blackwell said. “I’m working to exempt or grandfather our rules if we consider the bill at all.”

Not only would the bill take away the 50-foot protective buffer on the Catawba River and its lakes, it also would take away local governments’ ability to set buffers in their ordinances.

The bill would do away with the setbacks (buffers) Burke County officials, Crescent Resources and environmentalists negotiated for Lake James in the early 2000s.

In 2001, Burke County put a moratorium on building at the lake after an outcry from conservationists who were afraid the lack of regulations on building was harming Lake James. Crescent then sued the county. At the time, Crescent was selling lake parcels and homes were being built.

All of the parties eventually agreed to work together to come up with rules and regulations, including buffers, that would govern development around the lake. Once county commissioners adopted the rules, the moratorium on building at the lake was lifted before November 2004.

While the environmental group says it would like to see the entire proposed bill die in the House, its email to members said the language that would remove buffers and prevent local governments from implementing buffers in its ordinances needs to be removed.

N.C. Sen. Andy Wells (R-Catawba/Alexander), who is a primary sponsor of the bill, calls buffers “veneer environmentalism,” which he defined in a blog as environmentalism that sounds good and feels good but creates problems.

However, Lake James Environmental says buffers have been scientifically proven to work. It says buffers stabilize shoreline to preventing erosion, filter nutrients and contaminants, provide habitat, cool water and preserve a natural aesthetic.

The environmental group says the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality “acknowledges and supports the benefits of buffers.”

In addition to removing buffers along the Catawba River, the bill would repeal yard waste permitting requirements, repeal the plastic bag ban at the Outer Banks and gives the Marine Fisheries Commission the ability to adopt rules establishing shellfish aquaculture enterprise areas.

Lake James Environmental says updates on the proposed bill will be posted to the Catawba Riverkeeper Facebook page, website and eNews.

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