22 Jul As Tuckasegee runs red, WCU apartment developer may face vi…
Waterways in Jackson County “running red” with silt thanks to construction isn’t just hyperbole.
Following a period of heavy rain last weekend, residents in Jackson and Swain counties complained the Tuckaseigee River appeared similar in color to a blood orange.
Now, the state is considering additional violations for a developer building apartments in Cullowhee.
The project is part of a public-private partnership between Western Carolina University and Wilmington-based Zimmer Development Co. The company is building a 500-bed apartment complex for WCU.
State officials inspected the site July 15 and discovered more sediment runoff from the site, according to N.C. Department of Environmental Quality Specialist Tim Fox. “It’s not at all stable,” he said.
Zimmer Development Co. received violations last month for water-quality stream standards under the N.C. Sedimentation Pollution Control Act and for its construction stormwater permit.
The property is part of the university’s Millennial Campus off Killian Road. In response to reports of sediment-release concerns, officials during a June 11 inspection recorded “land-disturbing activity of about 19.1 acres” and measured up to a foot of sediment deposited into an unnamed tributary, leading into Long Branch.
Long Branch flows into Cullowhee Creek, and from there, the Tuckasegee River with its state-declared Mountain Heritage Trout Waters.
The state sent notices to the firm and to WCU on June 17 and 19. Zimmer Development was required to implement a series of corrective measures, such as coordination with the N.C. Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources to stabilize the size, submitting to the state documentation describing and quantifying environmental impacts, and removal of sediment from nearby streams as part of a restoration plan.
Zimmer Development coordinated with Asheville-based ClearWater Environmental Consultants to establish that plan, which DEQ’s Division of Water Resources approved on July 3.
Now, the company is being forced to reassess.
“All activities involved in the plan were to be completed within 30 days of receipt,” said Sarah Perkins, public information officer for the division. “DWR visited the site July 15 and found the site to be unstable. Additional sediment has migrated off the site and was documented in surface waters.
“DWR communicated this to the project superintendent, engineer and environmental consultant, and required all sediment to be removed per the approved plan and to reevaluate new sediment loss,” she said. “According to the engineer and superintendent, the stream remediation plan was scheduled to begin today (July 16).”
Local officials also said Zimmer Development, prior to the downpour, was on track with cleanup efforts.
“We initially discovered the off-site sediment into the creek and river as part of our riverwatch program,” said Tony Elders, director of Jackson County’s Permitting and Code Enforcement Department, on July 16. “Because this site has public monies associated with the development through WCU, we don’t have jurisdiction over the site. We reported our findings to DEQ and DEMLR in the Asheville office.
“The Notice of Violation from DEMLR’s land quality section was lifted (July 12); however, I just received word that the NOV was being reinstated due to failures at the site during the last rain event,” he said.
The first set of violations found Zimmer Development failed to adhere to its approved erosion and sedimentation control plan; infringement of the construction stormwater permit will require builders to submit a revised proposal.
Construction is on hold until the issues are resolved.
Last month, WCU spokesman Bill Studenc said the university wouldn’t have a role in cleanup efforts, other than as a resource for Zimmer Development, if needed. University leaders did not anticipate changes to the overall construction schedule.
WCU’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously in September to lease a portion of the Millennial Initiative property to the Wilmington developer. Plans at the time called for eight residential buildings featuring a mix of brick, rock and wood on the exterior and masonry product siding, as well as community space. The expected completion date is fall 2020.
Sediment is the most common pollutant of rivers, lakes and streams, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. It degrades water quality, increases the chance of flooding, prevents natural vegetation from growing in water, disrupts the natural food chain and causes large declines in fish population, the EPA says.