Press Release | November 19, 2009

N. C. Trout Breathe Easier After Court Ruling

The N.C. Court of Appeals this week upheld the state’s protective buffer for trout streams in a victory for North Carolina’s water quality, according to the Southern Environmental Law Center. The decision came after attorneys with the center argued that a golf course constructed at Mountain Air Country Club in Yancey County violated state buffer requirements.

“This ruling is excellent news for everyone who values clean mountain streams as environmental and economic treasures,” said Blan Holman, a Southern Environmental Law Center attorney. “It’s also great news for our trout which need cold, clear water to thrive. The court’s decision confirmed that water quality must be protected for North Carolinians and fish downstream from big developments.”

The court’s decision restores protection for thousands of miles of designated trout streams across the state. It also clarifies the limits on the discretion of state regulators in considering requests from developers to remove streamside vegetation and enclose streams in pipes, activities that are not temporary or minimal and thus not permissible in trout buffers, according to the Court of Appeals. Responding to claims that the trout buffer statute should allow razing of trees by streams to clear the way for golf courses, the court responded that the law it was construing “is a pollution control act, not a development promotion act.”

“The court’s decision gives the state clear guidance on how to handle future requests from developers to disturb land around trout streams,” said Julie Youngman, senior attorney, Southern Environmental Law Center.

Piping trout streams and denaturalizing the areas next to those streams is a recurring part of proposals for developments in North Carolina’s Appalachian Mountains, especially for mountaintop golf courses. The Mountain Air golf course posed impacts to thousands of feet of stream because the mountainside trout stream running through it was reshaped and severely modified to accommodate fairways and greens.

Numerous studies show that vegetated buffers prevent sedimentation and warming of mountain streams, which in their natural state run cold and clear. The trout buffer requirement was enacted because trout require clean, cold water and are therefore vulnerable to buffer loss due to streamside developments.

The Southern Environmental Law Center represented the non-profit Clean Water for North Carolina and two downstream landowners in this case.

Note to editors:
• A map showing state designated trout streams is available for press reports based on this release if appropriate citation is given. Contact: ksullivan@selcnc.org