An eye toward protecting the river

Published 6:33 pm Friday, June 17, 2016

To the Editor:

I recently wrote N.C. Senator Bill Cook a letter to express my disappointment with his support of the N.C. Senate’s efforts to dilute protections afforded the Pamlico-Tar River under the nutrient sensitive strategy and also sent a copy of the letter to Rep. Paul Tine in hopes that he will work to reverse this measure in the North Carolina House of Representatives budget proposal.

As a relative newcomer to Beaufort County, Sen. Cook was not present in the late 1980s and early 1990s when literally millions of menhaden and other fish species began dying in the Tar-Pamlico Watershed.

He was not present when then-Marine Fisheries Director William T. Hogarth declared the waterway “commercially dead” and commercial fishermen like Willie Phillips were moving away from Beaufort County because they could no longer make a living crabbing in this river.

He was not present when waterfront homeowners had to deal with the odor of thousands of dead fish washing up on their property every day during the hot summer time.

He was not present when then-Gov. James G. Martin, a member of Sen. Cook’s own political party, met with commercial fishermen, environmental groups and local property owners devastated by the declining water quality or when the Environmental Management Commission, led by Martin’s own appointees, gave the river a nutrient sensitive designation.

But I was.

And I have seen the improvements in the Tar-Pamlico River since then as a result, to no small degree, of the nutrient sensitive designation.

And unlike what Sen. Cook and his fellow Republican leaders may think, that designation has not stopped development along the waterway. All you have to do is walk along the Washington waterfront, as I do often, to see the homes and condominiums that have been built since the designation was put in place — despite the recent turndown in the economy!

What it does require is that the construction and other activities within the watershed take place with an eye toward protecting our river — a valuable economic development tool in its own right.

The pollution-control strategies the Senate would repeal include wastewater treatment upgrades, controls on runoff from new developments and farm fields, and protections for riparian buffers along the state’s waterways.

As a result, it would not be long before large fish kills and algae blooms would be seen again along our precious river — likely by some of Sen. Cook’s own neighbors at Cypress Landing.

I urge Sen. Cook to take another look at this portion of the Senate budget bill and urge Rep. Tine to oppose any legislative effort to block these science-based strategies to have clean water in North Carolina.


Betty Mitchell Gray