As N.C. Sen. Jeff Tarte’s dog, Annie, splashed, swam and drank the water in Lake Norman on Monday, he and six other business, political and environmental leaders gathered in his backyard.
In front of television cameras and phone recorders, they urged people to help stop a bill that would eliminate Catawba River shoreline buffers.
“It’s clean, it’s fresh, it’s cool,” Tarte told the Observer about why his family’s Jack Russell terrier ignores her land-side bowl of water for the lake outside their Cornelius home.
Tarte was one of only two Republicans to vote on April 24 against a Senate bill that would eliminate the 50-foot shoreline buffer that protects the Catawba River and its lakes from runoff and stream bank erosion. The bill passed a first reading in the House two days later and was referred to committee, with no final vote yet scheduled.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Tarte and those outside his home said eliminating the buffer could send lawn chemicals into the Catawba River and its lakes, making the water undrinkable and dangerous. They urged people to contact their state representatives to preserve the buffer.
“This is a perfect opportunity to ruin Lake Norman,” said Mark Lancaster, a former chairman of the Lake Norman Marine Commission who owns marinas and a dock and dredge company.
“If this bill passes, it will be a huge mistake,” he said. “I build docks, and it would benefit me for this bill to go through as a business owner. But there’s a perfect balance with what (the state Division of Water Quality) is doing now with the lake, and it would be a shame for that to go away.”
Studies prove that vegetative buffers are “Mother Nature’s natural way of protecting and cleaning the environment,” said Billy Wilson of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation’s board of directors.
Michelle Pentecost of Sherrills Ford-based Honeybee Real Estate sells homes along the Catawba River basin. “One of the No. 1 issues is concern over water quality issues, and when I explain the buffer situation in the Catawba River basin, (homebuyers) agree that it’s the most cost effective and efficient way to help protect the value of their property,” she said.
State Rep. Jay Adams, R-Hickory, said the state has made “a very serious commitment to the public trust doctrine,” which he said admonishes elected officials to care for public resources. “A 50-foot buffer seems a fairly effective and reasonable action to take to protect this body of water,” he said.
What’s happening in Raleigh, he said, “opens the door to a conversation over property rights versus the public trust doctrine, and our responsibility to take care of these public resources.”