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DEQ Moves to Take Over River Locks, Dams

A research vessel is shown transiting one of the locks on the Cape Fear River. Photo: Denice Patterson

RALEIGH – State officials are moving to acquire from the federal government the system of locks and dams on the Cape Fear River between Wilmington and Fayetteville.

The state Department of Environmental Quality announced Friday that it was proceeding on behalf of the state with a letter of intent to take ownership of three locks and dams, all of which are in Bladen County. The state plans to send the letter of intent by Feb.28, DEQ officials said.

The locks and dams were completed in the years between 1915 and 1935 for commercial navigation. Commercial use ceased in 1995, but recreational boaters continued to use them.

The decision is rooted in a 2008 state law that recognized there was no federal interest in maintaining and operating the locks and dams and allows the state to acquire them.

“The state of North Carolina recognizes the importance of maintaining the locks and dams for flood control and resiliency, to protect water quality, water supply, fish passage, aquatic habitat and recreational opportunities in the Cape Fear River,” said DEQ Secretary Michael S. Regan in a statement. “Many groups depend on the ongoing operation and maintenance of these locks and dams and state ownership ensures that all stakeholder interests are represented moving forward.”

DEQ staff have held several meetings with federal, state and local officials since April 2019 regarding concerns over the state taking over the locks and dams. On Dec. 18, 2019, DEQ hosted a meeting with community organizations, local utilities and leaders in the area to gather input and assess their priorities and concerns.

After the Army Corps of Engineers receives the letter of intent, DEQ said Congress must decide to de-authorize the locks and dams and to determine a willing non-federal entity to obtain ownership. State officials estimate the real estate transaction process will take two to five years.

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Staff Report

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