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The Triangle Land Conservancy's deep cuts



Durham City Council minutes. These minutes from May 2011 are a record of the discussion about the water rate surcharge for land acquisitions. The presentation was by the Ellerbe Creek Organization on behalf of several conservation groups. This presentation occurred two months after the dinner at which TLC President Kevin Brice met with several Triangle mayors about a surcharge. Raleigh and Durham city councils later passed the surcharge.


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A forest management plan

The Horton Grove Preserve in Durham County (see "Logging on TLC lands" map) is undergoing a timbering campaign by its owner, the Triangle Land Conservancy. Here's how the plan divides the forests and recommends actions. The TLC will decide which actions to take.

Source: Horton Grove Forest Management Plan, David Halley, True North Forest Management Services, for the Triangle Land Conservancy

Local water customers paying for land

Last March, Triangle Land Conservancy officials, including President Kevin Brice, met with several Triangle city leaders over dinner at a restaurant near the airport, according to Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker, who attended. At the dinner, Brice and other TLC officials discussed the idea of a penny surcharge on water rates to help the trusts continue buying land.

The forested conservation land would soak up pollutants that could sully Raleigh's water supply, land trust officials said. But the TLC's officials haven't told city leaders that they've been cutting down some of the trees in their nature preserves and selling the trees for timber.

Meeker said he didn't know logging might be in store for forests that city water customers help to buy. The TLC has already dipped into the city's water fund once; last year the utility fund gave the TLC $500,000 so the land trust could buy Brumley Forest.

We haven't addressed that issue," Meeker said of the logging. "Naturally Raleigh customers would prefer the land not be disturbed."

The Raleigh City Council in September approved a surcharge on water rates that will affect Raleigh and Garner customers beginning Nov. 1.

The surcharge of one cent per 100 gallons of water will raise about $1.5 million to help local land trusts, including the TLC, buy conservation land around Falls Lake and near streams that drain into the lake. The fee will cost the average Raleigh residential household about 45 extra cents monthly, city officials said, and will also help pay some of the land trusts' operating expenses. The revenue could be used for other projects, including water treatment system improvements.

Durham Mayor Bill Bell was at the dinner as well, he said, although he added that the Ellerbe Creek organization, on behalf of several conservation groups, had also made a public presentation at a May 5 City Council work session.

In June, the Durham City Council approved a water rate increase of one penny per tier for each of the five tiers (tiers are determined by the average customer usage.) The surcharge took effect over the summer and will raise about $100,000 annually to help local land trusts, such as the TLC, and the city buy land for conservation. The city is particularly interested in conserving land in the Lake Michie, Little River and Jordan Lake watersheds.

The fee will cost the average Durham water customer an extra 84 cents per year.

Bell confirmed that the decision to approve the surcharge was related in part to the conservation groups' request. But he was not aware that the TLC logs some of its land, adding that, "It would be my recommendation that we go back and put a stipulation that the money could not be used for that."

The Orange Water and Sewer Authority, which serves Carrboro, Chapel Hill and UNC-Chapel Hill, is considering the rate increase as well, but Planning Director Ed Holland said he is not certain how the land acquisitions would help OWASA water customers. More data is needed, he said, on the locations of the possible purchases. He noted that zoning and other regulation could also be ways to protect local water supplies.

Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said the town's water customers would not support a rate increase this year. But he is looking into other ways for Cary to help fund the land trusts that are struggling after state budget cutbacks. He said he was surprised to hear that the TLC was logging trees in its preserves.

"It's my impression that the council and the Cary citizens would have concerns," he said of the land trust logging. "We would want to know why they are doing what they are doing."

Who's who on the TLC board of directors

Eighteen people serve on the TLC's board of directors and provide governing policy and oversight for the environmental group's staff. In the 2010–2011 year, the board members consisted of many real estate developers, corporate executives and business people. There is one environmental planner and one agricultural soil conservationist, but no ecologist, biologist or wildlife specialist.

Here is the rundown of the board members and their occupations:

How conservation forests help us

Conservation forests are important to a community.

Sources: Interviews with more than 15 ecologists, conservationists, environmentalists, forest watchers, psychotherapists and other professionals.


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