Ruling Opens Season on N. C. Trout Streams for Golf Course Developers
In a loss for N.C. trout, water quality and sportsmen, the N.C. Supreme Court today ruled six to one that a country club golf course’s razing of forested buffer areas along sensitive trout streams and permanent enclosure of a N.C. mountain stream within a pipe was allowed despite a state law requiring “undisturbed” buffers to protect trout streams and water quality, according to the Southern Environmental Law Center. The Supreme Court decision reversed an earlier N.C. Appeals Court decision that a golf course constructed at Mountain Air Country Club in Yancey County violated state buffer requirements for trout streams.
“This decision slashes long-standing protections for North Carolina’s valuable trout streams and threatens to turn every undisturbed trout buffer in North Carolina into a golf course or parking lot and every mountain stream into a piped ditch,” said Blan Holman, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Clean trout streams are essential to North Carolina’s mountain heritage and vital for an economy powered by outdoor recreational activities. Allowing forested buffers to be leveled for golf courses will make trout streams the only state waters that can be muddied by big development.”
The Court’s decision leaves vulnerable thousands of miles of designated trout streams across the state. According to a dissenting opinion written by Justice Robin E. Hudson, the majority decision unilaterally removes trout stream protections that the General Assembly enacted decades ago. Justice Hudson points out that the majority “reads trout water protection provisions out of the [Sedimentation Pollution Control] Act.”
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 luxury golf courses. The Mountain Air golf course impacts 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 by the N.C. General Assembly in 1989. That legislative effort was led Western North Carolina legislators seeking to give trout streams particularly strong buffer protections because trout require clean, cold water to thrive, and are impacted severely by the increased silt and temperature from streamside development.
The Southern Environmental Law Center represented the non-profit Clean Water for North Carolina and two downstream landowners in this case whose trout stream turned muddy and brown during construction of the golf course.
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