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Damage Control 

The Sierra Club wants guaranteed protections for a tract of land surrounding Richland Creek.

It's too late to save the pristine 159-acre plot from developers' bulldozers, but a local group of environmentalists has undertaken a campaign to help assure the responsible development of the large parcel of prime real estate that sits in West Raleigh, near the new entertainment and sports arena.

The land, bounded by the Wade Avenue connector on the north and I-40 on the west, is being sold by N.C. State University. Bidding on the property will close Aug. 1. With a minimum bid of $14.5 million (about $91,000 per acre), the university stands to make a bundle. Proceeds from the sale will go toward the purchase of approximately 1,300 acres that will be used to expand N.C. State agricultural research facilities.

The Capital Group, Wake County's arm of the Sierra Club, has launched a postcard campaign asking the university to take measures that would prevent further irresponsible development in the area of the new arena.

In the midst of the 159 acres runs Richland Creek, which flows into Richland Lake and eventually merges with Crabtree Creek. Michael Andrews, conservation chair of the Capital Group, claims that mismanaged development during the construction of the ESA and the new Cardinal Gibbons High School has resulted in a loss of approximately 3 to 4 acres of Richmond Lake's surface area due to silt from construction runoff. Besides fixing the present problems, the Capital Group wants to prevent additional damage.

"The land surrounding Richland Creek is heavily wooded, very pristine, and untouched," Andrews says. "It would make a wonderful greenway for the community. Also, Richland Creek and Richland Lake are key components of flood control for Crabtree Creek. Further mismanaged development in this area could lead to significant flooding problems with Crabtree Creek."

The Capital Group would like to see measures taken to protect Richland Creek and its surrounding environs both during and after development, Andrews says. The group is pushing for provisions to be attached to the sale of the tract requiring the developer to set aside land surrounding the creek and not build there.

Specifically, the Capital Group is asking that the following protective measures be taken: The city of Raleigh should require preservation of 300 feet of existing vegetative buffers on each side of Richland Creek and its tributaries on the site (which exceeds the Neuse River rule requiring buffers of 50 feet on either side). There should be no new road crossings on Richland Creek or its tributaries on the site--Trinity Road and Edwards Mill Road can be used for access. Additionally, the group is asking for some funds from the sale to be set aside for restoration of the damaged Richland Creek area.

The Sierra Club is also urging the university to work with the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources to inventory land and put conservation easements on research areas, for protection in perpetuity.

"NCSU owns a great deal of research farmland," Andrews says. "Growth is bringing development pressure and increasing pressure to sell." The protected land could go towards Gov. Hunt's "Save One Million Acres" initiative, he adds.

Charles Gardner oversees land resources for DENR. Gardner says that any additional development in the Richland Creek area would likely receive "special attention" in light of the damage already done. "Richland Creek did take a beating during that construction," Gardner says. "Some notices of violation were sent, and enforcement action was taken."

The Richland Creek issue has resulted in criticism of N.C. State and the governor's office, Andrews says, because the announcement of the sale followed Hunt's proposed "Save One Million Acres" initiative so closely. Andrews hopes that that criticism might be used to help broker a deal to protect other university-owned land in the West Raleigh area, particularly nearby Schenck Forest, a 245-acre outdoor educational and research facility owned by N.C. State's forestry department.

"This year NCSU sells the 159 acres," Andrews says. "What is the future of the NCSU agricultural land north of Wade Avenue? Will Schenck Forest be sold to developers in the not too distant future? Now is the time for N.C. State to work with state and local government officials to plan the future of the NCSU agricultural research land in West Raleigh." EndBlock

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