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North Carolina Department of Transportation and Department of Environment and Natural Resources

Ecosystem Enhancement Program

Signing of the Memorandum of Agreement
Signing of the Memorandum of Agreement that established the North Carolina Ecosystem Enhancement Program. (NCDOT)
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North Carolina Ecosystem Enhancement Program Logo. (Tad Boggs)

Protecting natural resources in North Carolina is easier these days thanks to the State's comprehensive and broadly-supported Ecosystem Enhancement Program (EEP).

The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) jointly established the program in a July, 2003 Memorandum of Agreement with the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, backed by a network of local and regional conservation agencies and organizations. The landmark program was launched with a commitment of $5.4 million from NCDOT and FHWA for start-up operations.

The new program is far more than "business as usual." The EEP will offset unavoidable impacts of highway construction on approximately 5,000 acres of wetlands and 900,000 feet of streams over a seven-year period. It will allow ecosystem teams to assess, restore, enhance, and preserve natural resources throughout the State. It will focus on wetland gains - not merely "no net loss" of wetlands. And it will produce the most environmentally beneficial mitigation possible by using a multiple-project mitigation strategy at the watershed level - a strategy continuing an aggressive restoration program coupled with preservation of the highest-quality areas along impaired streams and rivers.

Already the EEP is proving to be a model for positive interagency relationships and a successful tool for preserving North Carolina's high-quality ecosystems. Recently, for example, NCDOT partnered with four agencies - the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, The Nature Conservancy, and the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee - to purchase the 4,467-acre Needmore Tract nestled along the Little Tennessee River in southwestern Swain ad Macon counties . The property is one of the last remaining southern Appalachian river systems with viable populations of rare, threatened, and endangered aquatic species.

The purchase of Needmore Tract was perfectly-timed. The site was threatened by second-home development from nearby Atlanta and from Macon County, whose population had grown by 12% from 1999 to 2000. Nearly all of the upland section of the Needmore property was at risk of being developed.

As North Carolina's EEP continues to foster the enhancement and preservation of biologically important ecosystems, it is sure to dramatically increase the ecological effectiveness of taxpayer-dollar investments in the mitigation of transportation impacts. At the same time, motorists traveling on North Carolina State highways will benefit from transportation improvements completed on schedule, thanks to the end of work duplication and other streamlining measures in the EEP.

For more information, contact Tad Boggs at tad.boggs@ncmail.net.

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