The N.C. Environmental Management Commission has lifted an 11-year-old moratorium in Mint Hill designed to protect the Carolina heelsplitter, a small mussel
The commission unanimously voted to allow new water connections in the Goose Creek Basin of Mint Hill.
“The moratorium was automatically lifted as of May 9, and Charlotte Mecklenburg Utilities are free to provide additional water services to the Goose Creek Basin,” said LeToya Ogallo, an environmental engineer with the N.C. Division of Water Resources.
Mint Hill Town Manager Brian Welch said Friday that lifting the moratorium will spur development in an area roughly bounded by N.C. 218, N.C. 51, Lawyers Road and the outerbelt near the Union County line. The change also provides relief for residents in that area who have been unable to get city water.
That area also includes the site of what would be Bridges at Mint Hill, a proposed shopping complex that has been in limbo for four years because of a faltering economy and permits being sought for construction. But water already had been secured for that site.
In 2002, Charlotte Mecklenburg Utilities applied for an inter-basin transfer permit to pipe water from the Catawba River into the Yadkin River Basin. Much of Mecklenburg County is in the Catawba River Basin. However, a portion of eastern Mecklenburg County, including Mint Hill, is in the Yadkin basin.
A river basin is an area of land that drains to a large river. A utility must have a permit to move more than 2 million gallons of water a day from one river basin to another.
The state gave CMU approval for the inter-basin transfer, as long as it didn’t run new water into the Goose Creek watershed.
Goose Creek is home to the endangered Carolina heelsplitter, a small brown mussel. Though no heelsplitter colonies are known to exist in Mint Hill, the headwaters of Goose Creek are there. Scientists say the small mussel is an indicator of the health of the area’s creeks and streams.
To thrive, the heelsplitter requires fresh, unpolluted water. Environmentalists feared that runoff from parking lots, construction and other development would harm the heelsplitter’s habitat. They reasoned that without additional water to the basin, construction would slow down.
For the past 10 years, Mint Hill has worked with state agencies to reach a compromise. Several years ago, Mint Hill leaders adopted the Goose Creek Site Specific Management Plan recommended by the Environmental Management Commission. That document listed steps the town should take to minimize harm to the heelsplitter when development came.
Large buffers, including 100-foot buffers along intermittent streams and 200-foot buffers along perennial streams, were part of that compromise.
On Thursday, the Environmental Management Commission received a report from the N.C. Division of Water Resources that said the plan is working and new water can be run into the Goose Creek Basin without harming the heelsplitter’s habitat.
However, protecting the little mussel is still a threat to construction of the Monroe Bypass in Union County. Environmentalists fear the new road could threaten the heelsplitter habitat farther downstream.
“It’s a federally endangered species and all the impact to that species needs to be carefully looked at,” said Kym Hunter, attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.
“The lifting of the moratorium could change the baseline situation now that the inter-basin transfer has been approved. The impact to the species needs to be looked at very carefully.”
Welch said removal of the moratorium is exciting news for Mint Hill.
“Nearly 30 percent of the town has not had access to clean water from Charlotte Mecklenburg Utilities for the past 11 years. I am very excited about the prospect of allowing them access to that water, and thankful for the Environmental Management Commission for their decision,” Welch said.
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