Save Blounts Creek wins conservationists of the year
Published 8:53 pm Friday, September 30, 2016
For nearly five years, the environmental advocacy organization Sound Rivers has been fighting to prevent potential ecological disaster on Blounts Creek, a tributary of the Pamlico River. Joining them in their petition against the state to prevent a mining company from discharging up to 12 million gallons of fresh water per day into the brackish Blounts Creek is another conservationist organization, the North Carolina Coastal Federation. Representing them in ongoing court battles that have bounced from the state Office of Administrative Hearings to Superior Court and back again are attorneys with the Southern Environmental Law Center.
But it’s a grassroots organization called Save Blounts Creek that has Sound Rivers’ back.
Save Blounts Creek was named the North Carolina Wildlife Federation’s Conservation Organization of the Year for 2015 during a gala event in Cary earlier this month. They are group of property owners and marina owners, fishermen, boaters, kayakers and environmentalists with one thing in common: a love of place and the way of life it provides.
“The amazing part to see is I’ve worked on a lot of grassroots campaigns over the years, and this group has more staying power than I’ve ever seen,” said Pamlico-Tar riverkeeper Heather Deck. “It’s been close to five years. That really is a testament to just how connected they are with the creek and the natural environment there and how they want protect the creek for the long run.”
In 1958, the North Carolina Wildlife Federation presented its first conservation awards. Since, the organization has recognized the commitment and creativity of North Carolina residents in their efforts to protect wildlife and wild places, according to a statement by T. Edward Nickens, the awards committee chair, on the NCWF website.
For the members of Save Blounts Creek, their work started with a conversation, according to Cotton Patch Landing owner Jimmy Daniels. Daniels, along with owner of Miss Bea Charters owner Capt. Bob Boulden, and Blounts Creek residents Bob Daw, Ed Rhine and Stan Sheets, launched Save Blounts Creek as the educational arm of the issue. Getting the word out about the potential for lasting damage to the creek was their mission.
“They’ve really done an amazing job. It’s really about storytelling — to tell people why it’s important to protect the creek,” Deck said. “They’ve been able to connect with people beyond our local community with that story.”
Deck said the success of Save Blounts Creek in gathering volunteers and drumming up interest in the court proceedings affirms Sound Rivers’ mission.
“That’s why we do what we do. We’re here to work with community members, and if we’re not successful in reaching out and engaging community members in ways to help protect our rivers and streams for the long term, we’re failing in our mission,” Deck said. “To see this group step up and pretty much take a leading role in the work has just been inspirational.”
In the nearly five years since Save Blounts Creek first gathered its core of volunteers, and notice of a pending state-issued National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit first went out, momentum has not dwindled; in fact, it’s grown, according to its founders. Through events and social media, media coverage and word of mouth, reaching out to elected officials and creating a letter writing campaign — letters which were hand-delivered to the governor’s office — the issue has gained recognition statewide, and even beyond North Carolina borders.
“It’s just a lot of conversation about it. When people come into the store, to rent cabins, that’s one of the first questions they ask: has Martin Marietta started dumping?” Daniels said. “Eight of 10 people that come in the store ask about Martin Marietta and for updates.”
While Daniels relies on Blounts Creek for his livelihood — in summer, his boat ramp and store are filled with recreational boaters; in winter, the anglers come out in droves — and Boulden’s charters are built on guests experiencing the natural beauty of the creek, they and Daw see their work as necessary if the creek is going to provide enjoyment, and catch, for future generations.
“I want my grandkids to catch blue crab 30 years from now from my dock,” Daw said.
“We’re winding down,” Boulden said. “This is for the next generation.”
Currently, Sound Rivers, NCCF and their supporters in Save Blounts Creek are waiting for Administrative Court Judge Phil Berger Jr. to return a ruling after a days-long evidentiary hearing at the Office of Administrative Hearings in June. Berger has seen the case before, and ruled that organizations like Sound Rivers and NCCF had no standing to file a petition against the state’s NPDES permit, and that Boulden or Daniels, whose businesses are tied to the health of the creek, had yet to be harmed by the permit’s issue.
“We do not expect him to change his ruling much, if at all, from the first time around,” Boulden said. “But we would like to be surprised.”
Regardless of the decision Berger returns, Boulden, Daw and Daniels and many other Save Blounts Creek volunteers are committed to the health of their creek.
“That’s all we’re trying to do: keep it in front of people,” Boulden said.
Twice a day the tides rise and fall in Blounts Creek. Twice a day the blue crabs move in and out of the saltmarsh, twice a day the herring and red drum and flounder ride the waters to feed in the creek’s fertile shallows. It’s been this way for thousands of years, down near Chocowinity, down on the Pamlico River. But that all could change if an open pit mining operation is allowed to pour the equivalent of Fayetteville’s daily wastewater discharge into tiny Blounts Creek. A near-pristine saltwater tributary would be changed to a freshwater creek. Life — and ways of life — would be forever altered. Such a radical change in ecology has never before happened in North Carolina. It’s never been allowed. And never should be. This issue spawned and galvanized and energized a local group, Save Blounts Creek, comprised of locals who love their home waters with a special kind of fierceness. Residents and marina owners, anglers and watermen and kayakers have all banded to together to challenge the permits in courts. After years of fighting, there is still uncertainty. Which means there is still time to Save Blounts Creek. This small group, organized around a local marina and a Facebook page, has raised thousands of dollars and the consciousness of an entire community. We hope the tides don’t turn against them. Save Blounts Creek is the Conservation Organization of the Year.
–Introduction to Save Blounts Creek before the grassroots organization was presented the Governor’s Conservation Achievement Award for Conservation Organization of the Year.