Investigation Prompts Check-Up for Local Creek

Reprinted from the Tideland News

SWANSBORO – A state investigation of the pumping of a stormwater pond that led to the muddying of a local creek on Jan. 9 found there were a number of permit violations. The agency required immediate corrective actions, which have been underway since.

Meanwhile, this has prompted the state to look into the condition of Hawkins Creek, above and beyond addressing the immediate problems. Jim Gregson, the surface water protection supervisor for the N.C. Division of Water Quality, said that a team from Raleigh took sediment and biological samples yesterday from the creek to try to determine the level of impairment. They were also to take samples from a nearby similar creek for comparative analyses.

“There are a number of residents who are concerned about the condition of the creek, and we want to do our best to see if those concerns are warranted,” Gregson said.

The Jan. 12 inspection report from Karl Hammers of the N.C. Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources noted that John Freshwater of Ward Farm LLC did not properly implementing an erosion and sedimentation control plan, provide adequate ground cover and buffer, maintain erosion and sedimentation control measures and inspect the pond.

The stormwater treatment system, Freshwater explained, serves a hotel, the Ward Farm development project and the Swansboro United Methodist Church, where construction of an addition is underway. Freshwater volunteered to design the church construction pond at no cost, so that it operates in conjunction with his Ward Farm pond, which serves the hotel and the planned development.

Hammers concluded that when Freshwater drained and discharged water from pond in order to install a skimmer, a device that removes sediments from the water, the flow picked up sediment from the church site, which resulted in sediment flowing into the wetlands and Hawkins Creek.

Freshwater, has consistently maintained that he would never do anything intentional to hurt Hawkins Creek.

John Freshwater

“I live on the creek and I have worked over the years to try to improve the water quality, and we’re working as hard as we can to do what the state says we need to do to fix this problem,” he said Monday.

Eddie Privett of Swansboro, a commercial fisherman, saw the pumping operation early on Jan. 9. He said he noticed that the water level was much higher than normal for low tide and the water was a creamy, milky, blue color. He eventually found a 10- to 12-inch pipe discharging water into the creek. He followed the pipe through the woods and found that it led back to the retention pond, where a diesel pump was operating.

Privett and Tim Simpson of Swansboro took photos and video, which they eventually sent to the state. Privett said the water level dropped by about 18 inches within half an hour of shutting off the pump.

Hammers required that Freshwater and his associates, including contractor Joey Humphrey, immediately do a number of things, including using hand tools to remove sediment in the wetlands and implementing new and improved erosion control measures.

Privett said Thursday he was satisfied by the state’s initial response to the incident and by Freshwater and his partner, engineer David Newsom’s, early efforts to quickly address the immediate problem.

Privett added, however, that he hopes someone – Freshwater, the state or anyone, really – can find a way to address the sedimentation problem in the creek.

“There is a lot of sediment in there, and it’s not good,” he said. “It’s covering up all the micro-organisms,” which help make the stream a primary nursery area for shrimp. The creek is too small for trawlers but not for locals who catch shrimp with a cast net.

He said he and others plan to continue to closely monitor the situation.

“It’s always been a problem, but it really got worse last summer,” Privett said, when the construction began on the addition to the church.

Tim Simpson of Swansboro shot this video last week of the pumping of a stormwater pond that muddied a local creek.

Privett met with Hammers on Friday and took him on a tour of the creek.

Monday morning, Freshwater, Newsom and Humphrey provided details of what they are doing. Among other things, they’ve installed additional filter matting around the church construction site pond; put in coir logs, or oak chip-filled filters, downstream of that pond; and designed and built a separate filer that they devised.

That was all working well, Newsom said, and water from that pond was running clear, until heavy rain on Sunday, after which some sediment problems reappeared. They then stopped all discharge from the construction pond. As of Monday morning, they were awaiting delivery of additional coir logs and were waiting until drier weather to begin the cleanup of the sediments in the wetlands.

A big part of the problem, Newsom said Monday, is that the soil on the site includes more fine clay than is normal for the area.

Freshwater said the entire episode has been emotionally difficult. But, he added, “If the end result is something that helps water quality in the creek, I’ll be very happy.”

Freshwater, a developer, engineer and former Swansboro town commissioner, said the Jan. 9 de-watering was a one-time event and called the amount of water released and the related turbidity “inadvertent.”

“We were trying to make an improvement, to do the right thing,” he said.


About the Author

Brad Rich

Brad Rich is a reporter for the Carteret County News-Times in Morehead City. He has written about fishery and environmental issues along the central North Carolina coast for 35 years. He lives in Hubert with his wife, Gwen.