Archive for June, 2011

A Blow to Land & Water- Elizabeth Ouzts & Reid Wilson

ELIZABETH OUZTS AND REID WILSON

Tags: news | opinion – editorial | point of view

The scenic Blue Ridge Parkway … our award-winning state parks (which drew record numbers of visitors in 2009 and 2010) … large stretches of gamelands along the Alligator River … family farms that are a way of life for tens of thousands – these are just a few of the signature green spaces that make North Carolina special. They provide us with clean drinking water, draw us into the outdoors and sustain a $17 billion tourism industry that last year employed 185,000 North Carolinians.

We have the wisdom of past state leaders to thank for protecting many of these lands. Beginning in 1986 the General Assembly created four conservation trust funds and charged them with protecting farmlands, creating and maintaining new parks, sheltering wildlife and cleaning our rivers and lakes. These natural resources trust funds have protected hundreds of thousands of acres of green spaces since their inception, leveraging $4 in clean water, flood control, clean air and other natural benefits for every $1 expended.

There’s plenty more work to do to safeguard our state’s natural beauty. Two-thirds of the forests and farms that surround the Blue Ridge Parkway are vulnerable to development, logging or other harms. Key natural areas, from those adjacent to Roan Mountain to the Green Swamp to the Alligator River, are also at risk.

These are lands that local governments and nonprofit land trusts are seeking to protect through applications to the state’s natural resource trust funds. Unfortunately, none are likely to gain protection under the General Assembly’s proposed budget.

The legislature has voted for a virtual end to land conservation, slashing funding for it by nearly 85 percent. It has cut the state’s largest conservation program, the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, by almost 90 percent. It has raided another $16.5 million from the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund and the Natural Heritage Trust Fund.

What’s more, lawmakers want to prohibit the uses of the funds that remain in the Clean Water Fund, disallowing all conservation projects except for a very small number around military bases. Without doubt, in the next two years some of the green spaces that don’t meet this narrow criterion – from lands that abut the Parkway to portions of the Green Swamp – will be lost forever.

Why not let the state’s largest water and land protection program do its job, even with drastically reduced funds? Why not allow grants for the purchase of land from those wanting to sell it, protecting rivers and lakes and putting one of North Carolina’s greatest assets in the public trust?

We can’t think of any good reason. And neither, apparently, could a single member of the 24-member Senate budget committee. The special provision handcuffing the Clean Water Fund was temporarily removed two weeks ago by a unanimous vote. Yet when the budget deal between the House and Senate unfolded late last week, the handcuffs were back.

On Gov. Beverly Perdue’s desk, then, sits a spending plan that smears our state’s proud legacy of land protection – first by delivering debilitating cuts to our conservation trust funds and second by explicitly preventing the largest of them from fulfilling its mission with what little is left.

Perdue should veto the budget and continue her insistence for more funds to protect our land and our water. And legislative leaders should take the handcuffs off and let the Clean Water Fund continue its work in preserving the natural resources that are one of the many reasons North Carolina is such a special place to be.

Elizabeth Ouzts is state director of Environment North Carolina. Reid Wilson is executive director of the Conservation Trust for N.C. Both are on the steering committee for the Land for Tomorrow Coalition.
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Let me first state for the record that I am a big advocate of good stewardship of our environment & natural resources. I am a developer but one of the rare ones who actually has a conscience about working w/ natural settings & resources. My projects were small in comparison w/ other huge developments thru’out our beautiful state & suddenly I found myself switching careers to become an investigator & alternative media publisher.

Perhaps the Clean Water Mgmt Trust Fund was set up w/ the best intentions but eventually it became a slush fund accessible by those folks who are ‘pay-2-players.’ Anyone who wasn’t a part of the inner circle of campaign contributors, back scratchers, etc found themselves fighting an uphill battle & squeezed out by a Monopoly Board of corrupt politicians, public officials, big business, big developers & everyone who stood to profit from gaming the system.

Case in point…all the inner coastal real estate Ponzi schemes by the Allen brothers (& others) that relied heavily on express permitting, water/sewer monopolization, churn-n-burning lots to artificially inflate appraisals, & the misappropriation of CWTF & federal funds being co-mingled to bypass residents w/ existing needs to only provide infrastructure for high end real estate Ponzi schemes (River Dunes, Arlington Place, Cutter Bay, & the one that got Easley & Ruffin Poole in hot water…Cannonsgate).

Conservation easements are great & much needed but I personally have a serious issue when they are used inappropriately for the ‘pay-2-play’ crowd….case in point, how Gum Thicket (swamp in Pamlico County) ended up being a nifty tool for River Dunes.

These are just a few examples of how a handful have wrongfully benefited from manipulation of environmental policies at taxpayers’ expense. I seriously hope our current legislators will learn from the past & rectify gross mistakes to prevent future environmental injustices. It’s time for greed to be replaced w/ altruism.

Dale Swiggett
Waterfront Sportsman & the Environmental Investigation Coalition

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