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Cape Fear Reclassification Concerns Mayor

WILMINGTON — With the recent findings that the river contains chemicals, including the unregulated GenX, the mayor here wants the effort slowed to designate a 15-mile stretch of the Cape Fear River as both a swamp and river water.

Mayor Bill Saffo has asked the Department of Environmental Quality, or DEQ, and Environmental Protection Agency to slow down the process because he wants more information about the reclassification. He also is worried the public may negatively respond to the move, the Wilmington StarNews reported.

The Lower Cape Fear River Program, made up of governments and businesses along the river, in 2014 asked for the reclassification, which would designate from Snow’s Cut to Toomers Creek near Navassa, to both swamp water and a designation for aquatic life, secondary recreation and saltwater.

The organization in its request claimed that lower oxygen levels in the river occur naturally, so it merits the swamp water classification. The Cape Fear River already has the swamp water classification immediately upstream.

Saffo asked that state regulators delay granting the request until local officials and the public fully understand the classification. He said the request of a reclassification being based on the idea that lower oxygen levels are naturally occurring came before learning last year that the river contained GenX and other emerging compounds.

DEQ spokeswoman Bridget Munger told the StarNews that the action began under former Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration. The Environmental Management Commission approved the new rule in 2015 and was recently referred to the EPA. She said that DEQ officials expect the EPA to have concerns about the classification’s affect on fish as well as the affect of animal feeding operations. DEQ plans to recommend to the Environmental Management Commission to reevaluate their action considering the ongoing emerging compounds issues in the Lower Cape Fear River.

Kemp Burdette, the Cape Fear Riverkeeper with Cape Fear River Watch, is expected to give the city council a presentation on what the designation means Monday during an agenda review session.

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The story was compiled by staff members of Coastal Review Online.