Officials Celebrate North River Farms Project

State says effort is an example of meeting needs of environment, food production and the military


NORTH RIVER — “No wetlands; no seafood.”

The North Carolina Coastal Federation bumper sticker — so familiar to the locals — made quite an impression on a high-ranking federal official when he saw it.

“To me it was a great message and a great way to sum up the impact of our estuaries,” said Timothy Keeney, deputy assistant secretary for oceans and atmosphere with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Another Coastal Federation effort, one that puts the slogan to work, made an even bigger impression.

The North River Farms wetlands restoration project is one of many across the nation to receive money over the past 10 years through a partnership between Restore America’s Estuaries and NOAA’s Community-based Restoration Program.

“This is one of, I would say, the most prominent ones,” Keeney said. “I’ve never seen anything on this scale before.”

Keeney and other dignitaries gathered last week at Ocean Grounds Farm in Carteret County to commemorate the completion of 500 habitat restoration projects under the partnership. It was one of a series of such celebrations around the country, Keeney said.

What makes the North River Farms project so unique is that it is on an ecosystem scale, Keeney said.

It is dealing with land-based activities that impact coastal rivers that feed into ocean waters, Keeney said.

And it is not just restoring ecological benefits, but cultural and economical benefits to the commercial fishing communities, said Steve Emmett-Mattox, vice president of Restore America’s Estuaries.

“We consider the project to be a wonderful investment,” Emmett-Mattox said.

The project is also an example of how to, at once, meet the needs of food production, military space and environmental health, said William Ross, secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

“If ever there was a moment to celebrate the power of partnership, it’s this day; if ever there was a moment to celebrate the power of teamwork, it’s this day; if ever there was a moment to celebrate the power of innovation, it’s this day,” Ross said.

North River Farms wetlands restoration

* The Coastal Federation purchased 4,159 acres of the 6,000-acre North River Farms in 1999 and 2002 with two Clean Water Management Trust Fund grants totaling $4 million.

* So far, 540 acres of the drained farm has been turned back to wetlands.

* A private hunting club, 1804 Wildlife Partners, plans to buy 1,435 acres, which will be restored as a waterfowl impoundment. Restoration Systems, a mitigation company, purchased another 368 acres.

* In all, the Coastal Federation 10-year plan calls for the restoration of up to 5,100 acres to act as a wetland buffer for the 44,000-acre Open Grounds Farm, which drains to North River and Wards Creek.

Source: N.C. Coastal Federation