The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) and the Sierra Club, represented by SELC, have signed a settlement agreement that will provide longterm protection to segments of the Croatan National Forest and ensure that the U.S. 70 Havelock Bypass in Croatan National Forest is constructed in an environmentally sensitive manner. The settlement provides resources for protection of the forest through funding and other measures, and ensures that critical prescribed burns will take place to maintain and restore important habitat. Under the agreement, the Sierra Club will seek dismissal of its federal lawsuit filed in 2016. NCDOT can then proceed with the bypass once all permits are obtained.
The Federal Highway Administration and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also were parties to the lawsuit.
Under the agreement:
- NCDOT will convey a conservation easement on a $1.7 million parcel of land totaling 226 acres owned by the department adjacent to the project and in the proclamation boundary of the Croatan National Forest to the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust. The conservation easement will protect the land now and in the future.
- NCDOT will provide $5.3 million to the N.C. Coastal Land Trust to create the Croatan Protection Fund, which will be used to protect land in and around the Croatan National Forest.
- NCDOT will provide $2 million to the N.C. Coastal Land Trust to create a perpetual, revolving loan fund to protect additional property for conservation purposes in Carteret, Jones, and Craven counties.
- NCDOT will employ sensitive construction practices as it builds the road to ensure minimal disturbance to key habitat and sensitive wildlife. These practices include consulting with a biologist during construction, sensitive logging techniques, minimal encroachment into riparian areas and the use of low emissions machinery during construction.
- NCDOT commits to close the bypass when asked to by the U.S. Forest Service so that necessary prescribed burns can take place.
Prior to the settlement the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Federal Highway Administration exchanged letters clarifying their respective commitments to maintain important habitat between the bypass and the Town of Havelock through prescribed burning. In addition, the U.S. Forest Service sent a letter to the Sierra Club setting out a commitment to conduct necessary prescribed burns and to provide the Sierra Club with information about these burns for the next 15 years.
“We are pleased to have been able to work with NCDOT to achieve a significant investment in the Croatan National Forest,” said SELC attorney Kym Hunter. “In addition to ensuring that substantial funding is now available to fund land acquisition in the forest, we have also set in place safeguards that should guarantee prescribed burns will occur on a regular basis. These burns are essential to maintaining and restoring the longleaf pine habitat. ”
The 10.3-mile bypass will be four lanes divided by a median and will provide a high-speed alternative to using U.S. 70 through Havelock, which is hampered by numerous traffic signals at intersecting side streets. Construction is scheduled to start in early 2019 and be completed in 2022.
“The Croatan National Forest is a forgotten treasure of our coast, with landscapes that are an important part of our natural and state history,” said Michael Murdoch of the Croatan Chapter of the Sierra Club. “This settlement provides the means to ensure that North Carolina’s natural heritage is preserved for our children and their children.”
The full settlement agreement can be found on the U.S. 70 Havelock Bypass project page.