190-acre Waterside development raises pollution concerns for Water’s Bay in Surf City

Intracoastal waters adjacent to new development threatened by stormwater runoff, biggest polluter of North Carolina coastal waters.

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The developer who bought 195 acres of rezoned land in Surf City has broken ground on construction for the first 170 lots, and says that builder DR Horton may have homes ready for move-in by March of 2019 (August 23, 2018). (Port City Daily photo | Mark Darrough)
The developer who bought 195 acres of rezoned land in Surf City has broken ground on construction for the first 170 lots, and says that builder DR Horton may have homes ready for move-in by March of 2019. (August 23, 2018). (Port City Daily photo | Mark Darrough)

SURF CITY — As the new Waterside community undergoes its first phase of development, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality and NC Coastal Federation have raised concerns of the development’s potential stormwater runoff into nearby Water’s Bay, designated as open shellfish waters.

RELATED: With more homes than RiverLights and Landfall, Surf City development underway

Alabama-based developer Marion Uter, principal of Surf City Properties LLC, said on Monday his firm has broken ground on construction of the first 170 lots of the 190-acre property. Uter expects the lots to be delivered to national homebuilder D.R. Horton by the end of the year, and for the development’s first homes to be ready for move-in by March of 2019.

Uter said that stormwater runoff – rainfall that flows over rooftops, roads, driveways, parking lots and other paved surfaces that do not allow water to soak into the ground – will not be an issue.

“Ponds on the property will hold the stormwater and release it gradually to where, in any kind of big rain event, we should release less water after development than we release now,” Uter said. “There’s no question about it. The engineers designed the project that way.”

Anne Deaton of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Division of Marine Fisheries said Water’s Bay includes wetlands, submerged aquatic vegetation, and shellfish, and is designated as a Primary Nursery Area and Strategic Habitat area –– open most of the time to shellfish harvesting but subject to temporary closures after a certain amount of rainfall.

Waterside’s environmental impact is hard to forecast, Deaton continued, until a clearly designed master plan shows certain elements like how close construction comes to the water or whether they will fill or dredge the wetlands. But unless the developer goes well beyond state requirements for stormwater runoff controls – unlikely for most developers, according to Deaton – rainwater cannot be fully captured.

Deaton explained that in an undeveloped area with grass and trees and other plants, there would be almost no runoff because the rainwater would absorb down into the soil and be slowed by the vegetation.

“If they’re going to re-route all the runoff to retention ponds, well, they can give it a shot,” Deaton said. “But they’re probably going to do just what is required by law. Maybe they’re going above and beyond but I don’t know.”

According to Bridget Munger, DEQ’s deputy communications director, because the site is within a half mile of, and drains into, “market shellfish waters”, the developer is using three wet ponds with vegetated filter strips to treat the discharge.

“The site is vested to the requirements in Session Law 2008-211,” Munger said. “The size of pond 3 was recently increased and due to that increase, the design of the pond itself now meets the 2017 Minimum Design Criteria (MDC).  The other two ponds remain designed under the previous set of design criteria.”

Waterside, a planned community in Surf City owned by Alabama-based Surf City Properties LLC, was initially rezoned and approved for 3,200 residential units. On Monday, developer Marion Uter said the first 170 lots will be ready for homebuilder D.R. Horton to begin construction, and that homes may be ready for move-in by March 2019. (Port City Daily/Courtesy Trez Forman Capital)
Waterside, a planned community in Surf City owned by Alabama-based Surf City Properties LLC, was initially rezoned and approved for 3,200 residential units. On Monday, developer Marion Uter said the first 170 lots will be ready for homebuilder D.R. Horton to begin construction, and that homes may be ready for move-in by March 2019. (Port City Daily/Courtesy Trez Forman Capital)

Lauren Kolodij, Deputy Director of North Carolina Coastal Federation, said that the Environmental Protection Agency deemed stormwater as the biggest polluter of North Carolina coastal waters.

“There’s a lot of development going on up in Surf City, and everywhere (along the North Carolina coast). So this is an issue – the issues are the same, and they have the same impact, meaning the stormwater is the biggest polluter of our coastal waters. So it’s a big deal,” Kolodij said.

Kolodij said that her nonprofit organization is actively working with the town of Surf City on ideas of how to reduce stormwater in the watershed surrounding Surf City and Pender County.

“The local governments are doing a great job, and they’re very interested in restoring water quality,” Kolodij said. “The thing they have to do is make sure these new developments that come in are designed and constructed (in a way) where they’re utilizing the soils and the land to soak up water, instead of collecting it and conveying it off-site into our surface waters.”

“That’s something you do when working with the developer; the current stormwater rules (from the DEQ) don’t require them to do that,” Kolodij said.

Uter said they are currently building away from the water, near the intersection of JH Batts Road and Roland Avenue, and don’t yet have plans for the waterfront.

“We’ve looked at various alternatives,” Uter said. “We may just keep it natural, and never really put anything there. We just don’t know.”


Mark Darrough can be reached at Mark@localvoicemedia.com