Ash spill cleanup could fund local projects


As cleanup and restoration efforts continue in an effort to deal with the aftermath of the 2014 Dan River ash spill in Rockingham County, several pools of restoration funds are developing that could help to fund long-range projects along the Dan River in Stokes County.

Piedmont Land Conservancy spokesman Dr. Ken Bridle said some funds were being provided by Duke Energy through grant programs, some funds were made available through fines accrued through the criminal lawsuit against Duke Energy, and other funds could eventually become available for the area through the Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Program (NRDAR).

“Part of the fines from the criminal lawsuit, about $24 million, goes into the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation,” he said. “$3 million of that goes to Virginia and $21 million goes to North Carolina to be split up into three districts. They will get that money by the middle of July and we expect the first round of grants would be next spring and all of that money has to be encumbered within five years.”

He said funding through the NRDAR program may take longer as that program must first assess the potential damage to Dan River ecosystem and then asses the impact various proposed restoration programs may have on restoring and safeguarding that ecosystem.

“Right now we are at the part where they have created a draft damage assessment plan and are seeking input on that,” said Bridle. “It is an assessment of the impact and the biological damage and the loss of the use of the river recreationally.”

Bridle said the NRDAR process has already collected recommendations for restoration projects including a number in Stokes County requested by the Piedmont Land Conservancy and Friends of Sauratown Mountains.

Those projects include: designating the Dan River as National Wild and Scenic River; land acquisition adjacent to the Dan river between Danbury and the Town Dork Creek confluence to create a trail that could serve as part of the Mountains to Sea Trail; improving and dedicating public river access at Seven Island Bridge; improving and dedicating public river access at NC 704 (Hart’s access); improving and dedicating public river access at the NC 89 and NC 286 intersection (Whitt’s access); improving and dedicating public river access at the Pine Hall bridge; improving and dedicating public river access at a US 311; improving and dedicating public river access at NC 6843; improvements to facilities and infrastructure at Vade Mecum; sewer improvements at Moore’s Spring campground; improvements at Moratock Park including a riparian greenway trail, upland trails, bank stability and septic system improvements; permanently protecting Sauratown Trail easements, protecting the Upper Dan River riparian corridor with tails and fishing and canoe access; and protecting key natural heritage sites like the Dan River Bends, Dan River Cliffs, Dan River Hemlock, Dan River Shores, Flint Mole Hill and Little Dan River.

Bridle noted that the Piedmont Land Conservancy would also likely submit the same projects to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Bridle said although Stokes County is up river from where the spill occurred, it stands a good chance of getting funding for some of these projects because they help to protect the headwaters of the river.

“There are a lot of good reasons to do restoration up stream in the watershed,” he said. “It is easier to protect the river from the headwaters down because everyone downstream gets the benefits.”

He said if local people want to increase the chances of funding coming to Stokes County they should contact Sara Ward at sara_ward@fws.gov, noting that for the NRDAR funds it would be important to ask the trustees to examine the economic impact to areas upstream from the spill.

“She will still accept comments on the proposed projects, but they are currently focused on comments on the damage assessment plan,” said Bridle. “If people think that the ash spill resulted in some sort of economic impact in Stokes County then they should comment and ask the trustees to look at what that impact was.”

More information on the NRDAR process can be found at http://www.cerc.usgs.gov/orda_docs/DamageCase.aspx?DamageCaseId=389.

Comments on the assessment plan should be submitted by July 17.

Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.

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