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Local 'wetland' transformation sparks controversy

By Ellen Bacca
Published On: Feb 25 2014 05:25:19 PM CST
PAMLICO COUNTY -

An almost 5,000 acre plot of land in Pamlico County called the Atlas Tract used to be a good spot to hunt. Now it is undergoing a transformation into farm land after being bought by an Illinois company, but this transformation could be deemed illegal.

The company is called Spring Creek Farms LLC. The company got signed permission by the Corps of Engineers to begin cutting down trees and digging new ditches after the purchase of the tract. Now, questions are surfacing on the legality of the transformation.

For years, the Atlas tract had been considered wetlands. However, ditches running through the plot could technically disqualify the land as being considered a 'wetland' and remove it from the protection of the Clean Water Act and the Wetland Conservation Provisions (Swampbuster) bill. Both were put into effect over 20 years ago to preserve wetlands.

In order to be considered wetlands, property must have a certain type of soil, a certain type of plants, and no farming ditches. However, the Farm Service Agency has recently discovered the ditches in the Atlas Tract were illegally dug in the 1980's.

The Environmental Protection Agency is currently deciding whether Spring Creek LLC will be required to stop the conversion, because of the ditches, even though they did not install them originally.

Oriental Realtor Allen Propst says if Spring Creek Farms LLCĀ  coverts the land, it would triple in value.

Todd Miller from the North Carolina Coastal Federation says if the land is converted it would have a bad effect on local wildlife. Instead of cleaning run-off, the Atlas Tract would add to it. This would result in more pesticides and fertilizer ending up in local watersheds like the Neuse River. Run-off of this sort has been linked to creating a harsher environment for fish, oysters, and shrimp and algae blooms which can be hazardous.