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Senate passes wetlands bill in last ditch effort

Posted July 25, 2013

— A bill making its way through the General Assembly in the closing hours of the legislative session would make it easier for developers to pave or build on small wetland areas.

Senators voted 27-15 to send the measure to the House Thursday night. 

The measure in question had been part of a "farm bill" that worked its way through the legislature earlier this year. The provision had been stricken in that earlier bill because, according to some reports, it had not been pushed by agriculture interests. 

Under the bill, developers would have to pay to replace far fewer wetland areas than is currently the case. 

Environmental lobbyists said they had been under the impression that Sen. Brent Jackson, R-Sampson, would no longer pursue the measure. But during an 8:15 p.m. committee meeting, Jackson stripped another wetlands measure out of House Bill 938 and replaced it with language that would allow developers to build on so-called "isolated wetlands" without a permit unless required to do by federal law. 

Federal law doesn't require developers to get a wetlands permit unless a government agency or outside group can prove the wetland in question is connected to the "waters of the United States." That's an expensive and time-consuming process. 

"This may be the biggest thing they've done all session," said Mary Asbill with the Southern Environmental Law Center., decrying the move. 

There was little debate about the bill during the committee. But as Jackson left the meeting, he met Asbill and other environmental lobbyists who tried to convince him that the provision was a problem. 

"It's killing us in the east," Jackson replied. Lawmakers backing the bill say it is impeding economic development. 

Under current law, wetlands of less than one-third of an acre located east of Interstate 95 do not have a permit, which means that builders don't have replace them in order to build upon them. That threshold is one-tenth of an acre west of I-95. For wetlands that meet those thresholds, developers must either build replacements or buy credits from others that have created wetlands elsewhere. 

Asbill said small wetlands play an important role in controlling flooding and cleaning water.

"If you remove them, they're not there to filter water that's heading somewhere like Jordan Lake," Asbill said, referencing a local water reservoir that has struggled with pollution issues. 

 During floor debate, Jackson called it "a common-sense bill."

Asked by Democrats if the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources supported the measure, Jackson said, "DENR is not in favor of this bill."

He added,"We have spoken with DENR several times but not had any language from them that would get at what we're seeking."

It's unclear what, if any, action the House might take before they finish work for the year Friday morning.

8 Comments

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  • Bill Brasky Jul 26, 9:22 p.m.

    " This wetlands thing is a real farce just like so called "global warming"."

    You get em Tax man, you tell those thousands of scientists around the world who believe global warming is real, you give them your findings that its false, im sure they would love to hear it. You do have evidence to prove these 90 some percent of scientists wrong that have devoted their entire lives to studying te earths climate?....Right? Or you playing politics with the Earth?

  • caryzoo Jul 26, 4:46 p.m.

    Oh yeah, such a good bill. Only for those who do their business, pollute everything around them...and then be protected from paying the cost of their doing business.
    Wrong and unfair to the taxpayers of this state. We will be left paying for THEIR getting rich with our bank accounts.

    I applaud the NY Times for their position on North Carolina. This state has sunk to new lows not seen for at least 15-20 years. From an environmental, educational, and tax rate standpoint.

    I have no idea why they would dilute the environmental regulations on landfills. Fewer inspections mean more people may be exposed to deadly bacteria, carcinogens or toxins in their drinking water.

    Is this really all about money?

    I really thought governance was about the people, not the big money. The lives of your citizens...taxpayers.

    My opinion only...you go forward with laws and regulations. NOT backward.

  • Tax Man Jul 26, 3:50 p.m.

    This makes absolute sense. I had a client who had to pay hundreds of thousand of dollars to "reroute" a stream that only appeared across his land when it rained very hard because they determined it was a protected wetlands. His neighbor waited until the dry season to build "over" the stream and put in a diversion pipe and saved about $800,000 in construction costs. This wetlands thing is a real farce just like so called "global warming".

  • jttm69 Jul 26, 1:16 p.m.

    How dare all those critters put waste on the wetlands!

  • Couriernew Jul 26, 12:49 p.m.

    NC GA, you are the WORST

  • perseusomega9 Jul 26, 8:36 a.m.

    Another move to privatize profits and socialize pollution.

  • jttm69 Jul 26, 8:32 a.m.

    One step further Rcherry, they will then have to pay to have companies come in and try to clean up the mess. Guess who will get that?

  • rcherry132004 Jul 25, 11:24 p.m.

    sooo, destroy the wetlands, allow dumping of trash (in mass quantities and from other states), open up fracking to destroy the land and water, offshore drilling to destroy the coast and the beach industry. That's how they will balance the budget. Make everybody leave the toilet they create and then there will be plenty of money to spend on the rest who stay and the big businesses that remain. Good job congress we finally understand.