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Funds from annual Smithfield settlement payments headed to southeastern NC environmental projects

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The Environmental Enhancement Grants, funded through a settlement with the pork producing giant, include water-quality projects at UNCW and land-preservation efforts by the Coastal Land Trust.

This week, Attorney General Josh Stein announced more than $425,000 in environmental grants for southeastern North Carolina. Across the state, nearly $3 million in Environmental Enhancement Grants will go to 27 grantees.

UNCW will receive $92,000 to test stormwater ponds for the presence of harmful algae, fecal bacteria, metals, and toxic chemicals, to determine the source of these pollutants.

The North Carolina Coastal Land Trust will receive $50,000 for the Hoggard’s Millpond Conservation Project and another $50,000 for the preservation of land in Bladen County.

The Bladen County project will preserve 272 acres of land, including over a mile of Cape Fear River frontage near the meeting of Steep Run and the Cape Fear River. The area is home to some old-growth Cyprus forest — some very, very old, like a 2,600-year-old specimen located on the nearby Black River. It's also the only documented nesting site of the Swallow-tailed Kite, an powerful raptor that, while not considered threatened or endangered by federal law is protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

The $50,000 did not fund the whole land acquisition (under $200 per acre would be a very good deal), but it did top off existing fundraising efforts and facilitate the purchase, according to the Land Trust.

The Environmental Enhancement Grant program developed from a deal between the office of Attorney General and Smithfield Foods in 2000 to compensate for the major hog lagoon spills that dumped millions of gallons of hog waste into public waterways. Under the 25-year agreement, Smithfield provides roughly $2 million — or roughly $1 per hog in North Carolina — to the state every year to be distributed among environmental projects. The first grants were made in 2002; Coastal Land Trust has received over a dozen since then.