There are minor and major infractions that impact wetlands. And then there is what happened with Hoffman Forest. Following up on an earlier post, as recent as 2012, management of the forest by NC State involved ditching, bedding, and draining of wetlands within the forest. When occurring on waters subject to federal oversight, a permit is required for such activities. In this case, none had been issued.
As reported by the NC Coastal Federation, the Corps inquiry into the matter was initiated by the Federation after it reviewed the prospectus of the pending buyer that stated “more than 5,500 acres of forest had been cleared and could be converted to agricultural uses.”
In a letter to the EPA, the Corps has ruled that, indeed, activities undertaken to drain waters from approximately 6,500 acres of wetlands “exceeds that allowed under” the Clean Water Act.
The gravity of this infraction isn’t exactly clear. NCSU claims they were following management practices approved by the state in their work. These practices, however, don’t exempt them from the permitting process.
The Corps punted the responsibility for punitive actions to the EPA citing that it is their jurisdiction. So, EPA has to now weigh in on what’s needed to remedy the situation.
The Corp’s findings, however, are a victory for wetlands and the functions they provide. If sold, the land targeted in the prospectus would have be prime land for wetlands conversion. As it stands now, potential buyers of the forest are on notice that environmental protection of its environmentally sensitive lands will demand greater priority.