Controversy Stirs Over Proposed Changes to Clean Water Act

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH — Jurisdiction over certain waterways in the state could be changing.

This topic made Monday’s agenda for the two-day annual Conference of the North Carolina Beach, Inlet and Waterway Association in Wrightsville Beach.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s current effort to clarify what’s protected under the Clean Water Act has caused ripples in some coastal communities.

“Ditches and drainage areas that we maintain within the town would become potentially navigable waters under the new EPA rule so that would create considerable amount more oversight, regulatory concerns that we have to deal with,” said Mayor Dan Wilcox of Carolina Beach.

During the conference, the Business Alliance for a Sound Economy (BASE) shared its opposition with dozens of coastal community leaders in the audience.

“I think economic development and investment throughout the U.S. would be a concern, and the negative impacts because of the permitting and uncertainty regarding a piece of property and what you may be able to build there,” said Tyler Newman with BASE.

But the EPA’s website clearly stated the new rule does not protect new types of waters, broaden the coverage of the Act, regulate groundwater or expand jurisdiction over ditches.

It said the rule change is meant to protect the large number of vulnerable streams and wetlands which drive economic development.

“The North Carolina Coastal Federation is not against development, but when you start affecting the water quality and how those waters affect the natural resources, that has a definite detrimental economic effect on the coast,” said Mike Giles with the NC Coastal Federation.

With the public comment period closing last Friday, Giles urged people to let the process take its course and see what the rule actually entails.

Meanwhile, opponents encouraged everyone to get in touch with U.S. senators and push them to pass the bill that halts the rule change.

“We’ve seen it numerous times before where there’s been a lot of public comment, a lot of reason why something shouldn’t be done and the federal government moves forward anyway,” said Mayor Wilcox.

Officials did not give a definite timeline for when this new rule may take effect.

Opponents said they’re working with outgoing, incoming and returning U.S. senators to try and get a bill designed to stop the change passed as soon as possible.

The bill already passed through the House.

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