Forsyth Commissioners approve an “uncertain” solution for the erosion problem near Smith Reynolds Airport in east Winston-Salem.
Despite opposition from critics who say it is an uncertain solution that will take too long to complete if approved, Smith Reynolds Airport will seek a state grant to cover the bulk of the Stabilization costs for a section of Brushy Fork Creek where extreme erosion has eaten away at the property. in an adjacent neighborhood.
On Thursday, Forsyth County commissioners unanimously approved a request from airport manager Mark Davidson to apply for a $320,000 grant for the project from the North Carolina Land and Water Fund. The county would pay $80,000 for work to shore up a section of Brushy Fork behind the houses on Barkwood Drive.
The proposed solution has frustrated conservationists who cited what they saw as a lack of urgency to fix neighbors’ problems and compensate them for the thousands of dollars they say they spent tackling the damage .
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Yadkin Riverkeeper Edgar Miller called the county’s prospects for the competitive grant “uncertain at best,” and noted that it would be nearly a year before the winners were announced. State officials told the Journal it would likely be early 2024 before a grant-funded restoration project could begin.
“The residents of Barkwood Drive have faced these issues for over four years and deserve to have their concerns addressed now,” Miller told commissioners during the meeting’s public comment period. “With tens of millions of dollars invested in airport expansion, it would seem reasonable that the county and the airport could afford to address these concerns and reassure residents…their homes and property will not will be more damaged.”
Barkwood residents – some of whom have lived in their homes for more than 50 years – say Brushy Fork Creek began eating away at their backyards at an unprecedented rate shortly after the airport clearcut 250 acres of trees behind their homes in 2015. Water toppled trees, destroyed fences, damaged outbuildings and opened up sinkholes.
“Not my intention to offend”The Journal’s questions about erosion and tree-cutting permits led to scrutiny in June by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, which advised the airport to take action necessary to control runoff from the deforested area.
Davidson said he decided to apply for the grant after learning about erosion issues through Journal reporting.
However, while backing the grant request on Thursday, the airport manager and some commissioners pushed back against the claim that the tree-cutting project was responsible for harm to Barkwood residents.
“We don’t know for sure if we’ve contributed to the erosion, but we’re here to help,” Davidson said.
Commissioner Richard Linville said he visited the site on Tuesday to get a first-hand look. When asked Thursday if he would conclude that the airport was responsible for the erosion of the creek, he replied: “No, I wouldn’t.”
“It’s not my intention to offend or argue with anyone, I’m just telling you what I saw,” Linville added, while noting that the clearing was done with the approval of the North Carolina Forest Service and that trees near the creek were left in place.
But several experts told the Journal that the tree removal likely led to increased runoff that has eaten away at the banks of a creek that residents say they once could easily cross with one step.
And questions remain about the level of environmental monitoring of the project.
The Forest Service told the Journal that the agency ended its role and revoked an agricultural exemption that allowed the project to proceed without a standard erosion and sediment control plan when it learned that the felling trees was underway for the expansion of the airport.
North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality officials said it was unclear whether DEQ had assumed oversight of the site at the time. However, DEQ identified erosion issues when inspecting the area in June.
Engineering students from Wake Forest University are studying the site as part of a high-level design project to determine how stream erosion is related to tree loss, Courtney Di said. Vittorio, a WFU professor specializing in water management.
While conceding that public funds are not a sure thing, Linville said the county may consider other sources of funding if the grant is not approved. This decision will not come until December 2023, confirmed Davidson, the airport manager, at the request of commissioner Don Martin.
“Wow,” Martin replied. “It’s a long time.”
John Deem covers climate change and the environment in the Triad and Northwestern North Carolina. Her work is supported by a grant from the 1Earth Fund and the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.