Settlement Agreement Reached for U.S. 70 Havelock Bypass
HAVELOCK – The N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) and the Sierra Club, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, have signed a settlement agreement that will allow NCDOT to proceed with the U.S. 70 Havelock Bypass in Craven County while addressing project-related conservation concerns associated with the Croatan National Forest and providing resources for long-term protection of the Forest. Under the agreement, the Sierra Club will seek dismissal of the lawsuit that was filed in federal court in 2016, and the project can now proceed once all permits are obtained. The Federal Highway Administration and U.S. Fish and Wildlife also were parties to the lawsuit.
Under the agreement:
• NCDOT will convey a conservation easement on land owned by the department adjacent to the project and in the proclamation boundary of the Croatan National Forest to the NC Coastal Land Trust. The conservation easement will protect the land now and in the future, providing additional protection for the Forest, which is a unique habitat for the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker. The N.C. Council of State and N.C. Board of Transportation have approved conveyance of an easement. An easement must be approved by the NC Coastal Land Trust Board of Directors before it is conveyed.
• The department will provide $5.3 million to the NC Coastal Land Trust to create the Croatan Protection Fund, which will be used to protect land in and around the Croatan National Forest.
• The department will provide $2 million to create a perpetual revolving loan fund to protect additional property for conservation purposes in Carteret, Jones and Craven counties.
• The department will employ sensitive construction practices as it builds the road to ensure minimal disturbance to key habitat and sensitive wildlife.
• Prior to entering into 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.
“This is a mutually beneficial agreement where the transportation needs of citizens are met, while at the same time facilitating on-going conservation measures to protect a unique North Carolina habitat,” NCDOT General Counsel Chuck Watts said.
“This settlement demonstrates how the state can work together with conservation groups to set in place infrastructure in a more environmentally sensitive way,” said Kym Hunter, attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The protections that will be set in place by this settlement will help preserve one of North Carolina’s most special places for decades to come.”
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.”
“This agreement is a win-win for the people of North Carolina,” Durwood Stephenson, business owner and Highway 70 Corridor Commission director said. “The community first started planning for this project nearly 40 years ago, and now it will soon be a reality.”
The full settlement agreement can be found on the U.S. 70 Havelock Bypass project page.
For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. With over 70 attorneys and nine offices across the region, SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.SouthernEnvironment.org