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Environmental impact study for Buck Mountain development to be reviewed by planning board

By Allison Weakley
Posted Monday, May 3, 2004

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The environmental impact assessment (EIA) prepared for the Buck Mountain Golf Community, an 800-acre planned unit residential development and golf course that drains into the Haw River northwest of Pittsboro, will be reviewed at the next Planning Board meeting on Tuesday, May 4th, in the Auditorium of the Agriculture Building in Pittsboro.

A group of citizens have submitted and will present to the Chatham County planning board a comprehensive peer review of the EIA. The authors of the review suggest that the EIA is insufficient to address the potential environmental and cultural impacts that may occur as a result of this project, that the finding of “no significant impact” in the EIA for many of the issues is not supported by factual evidence, and that explanations for the determinations of “no impact” are lacking. The review states that the EIA “not only fails to provide adequate justification for conclusions regarding direct impacts, but also fails to discuss indirect and cumulative impacts anticipated by this project.” The 32-page review document concludes that, based on available information, the development will likely adversely impact surface waters and groundwater, and will likely impact threatened and endangered aquatic species downstream of the project. The planning board meets at 7 pm in the Auditorium in the basement of the Agriculture Building in Pittsboro.

The Buck Mountain golf development is a controversial planned unit development proposed for the Old Graham Road/Rt. 87 area in eastern Chatham County, ca. 5 miles northwest of Pittsboro. At least 22 tributaries of Dry Creek and Brooks Creek drain the project area, and these creeks drain into the Haw River north of the Bynum dam. The project area is known to be a high groundwater recharge area, and this is particularly worrisome given the pesticides and fertilizers that will be used to manage the golf course. The citizen report, entitled “Concerned Citizen Review of the Buck Mountain Golf Community,” outlines adverse impacts that the proposed development will have on the county in three key areas -- surface water impacts, groundwater impact, and impacts to protected species -- and addresses other potential impacts as well. In addition, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and North Carolina Natural Heritage Program have both written letters expressing their concern over impacts to surface waters from this project.

When the Board of Commissioners gave its conditional approval to the Buck Mountain project during its January 21, 2003, meeting, it required that an environmental impact assessment be provided at the time of the preliminary submittal, and that the “information supplied for any item needs to be reasonably accurate and adequate.” The Planning Board will review and possibly vote on Tuesday night whether or not to recommend to the Board of Commissioners that the EIA is sufficient. The County Subdivision Ordinance, Section 5.2(4) states that “the failure to provide reasonably adequate or accurate information under any item specified shall be cause for disapproval of the preliminary plat.” The citizens’ group will formally present some highlights of their review, and urge the Planning Board not to approve the preliminary plat for this project. The group will also ask that the developers conduct a more thorough assessment that will be reviewed by State agencies such as the Division of Water Quality and the NC Natural Heritage Program. Ultimately, however, the decision to approve or deny based on an “adequate and accurate” EIA is up to the Board of Commissioners.

Environmental assessments are decision-making tools used to disclose and determine the direct, indirect, cumulative, long-range, and short-term impacts of a project, including, but not limited to, potential effects of a project on natural resources, public health and safety, natural beauty, or historical or cultural elements of the state’s common inheritance. These documents also help determine whether design modifications or special conditions should be required prior to authorizing the project.

The environmental assessment for Buck Mountain was conducted by Soil and Environmental Consultants (S&EC), a firm located in Raleigh. Guidelines published by the North Carolina Department of Administration require that environmental assessments address probable impacts of the proposed project on land use, prime and unique farmlands, forestry, public lands, archaeological and historical sites, air quality, noise levels, hazardous and toxic substances, public water supplies, ground water and surface water quality, jurisdictional wetlands, fisheries and aquatic habitats, wildlife and terrestrial habitats, protected species, and occasionally other project-specific resources. An EIA must also justify the need for the project, identify alternatives considered, explain how the preferred alternative was selected, and explain how potential adverse impacts have been or will be mitigated.

The citizens’ review of the EIA was primarily the work of Chatham professionals, including a water quality specialist, an environmental specialist, a biologist, and the Executive Director of the Haw River Assembly, a multi-county non-profit organization the advocates for protection and cleans up of the Haw River and Jordan Lake.

For more information, including a copy of the Concerned Citizen Review of the Buck Mountain EIA Review in PDF format, contact Allison Weakley at (919) 942-9731 or

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Related info:
Chatham Planning Board Agenda

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