New Hope Creek Corridor Advisory Committee


A good deal that reaches across borders

The Chapel Hill News, April 10, 2005, page A8
© 2005 by The Chapel Hill News

Rivers and creeks don't recognize municipal borders. Fish and foxes and herons don't stop at the county line. The lines we draw on a map to delineate who controls which section of forest or which stretch of stream don't mean much to a benthic macroinvertebrate (that's a little water-dwelling critter, for those of you who don't speak Fancy Scientific Jargon).

That's why it's so important that we two-leggeds understand when it's appropriate to reach across borders to work with neighboring jurisdictions to preserve important tracts. Protecting the length of creek that runs through your territory is only marginally effective if the guy upstream from you doesn't protect his.

Last week, six major parties—Chapel Hill, Orange County, Durham County, Durham City, the Triangle Land Conservancy and the Erwin Area Neighborhoods Group, a group of private citizens—cobbled together a complex agreement that will preserve 113 acres of land along New Hope Creek straddling Orange and Durham counties.

And they did it in dramatic fashion, with the clock ticking. Durham County had frozen a proposed residential development, Erwin Trace, that was to go on 43 acres of the land, but that delay was set to expire Friday. Strike the deal by then, or ... too late.

Nobody is comfortable with the idea of conducting important public business under that kind of deadline pressure. And perhaps the deliberations could have gotten further than they did earlier than they did, averting the need for the kind of frantic activity that took place last week.

But, at the urging of the neighborhood group, the governments understood that this was a situation in which acting without haste would mean surrendering the opportunity to act at all. Once a parcel is developed, you can't undevelop it.

So all the interested parties spent countless hours last week hammering and jiggering and compromising to put the deal into place. The Orange County commissioners dotted the final “i” in a special emergency meeting Thursday, when they crafted an arrangement to combine the $125,000 they've pledged with $50,000 from the Land Conservancy and $25,000 of the $125,000 Chapel Hill has offered. That met the stipulation Durham County placed on the deal on Monday: that Durham County would pony up $900,000 if Orange County contributed $200,000. The neighbors have also pledged $200,000.

Orange County also has made commitments to buy an adjoining 8-acre parcel from Duke University, as well as helping to purchase the adjacent 25-acre Penny tract.

All told, the multi-party deal will put 76 acres into public ownership and another 37 into the conservation easement.

The last-minute agreement will help extend the protected New Hope Creek corridor and protect the New Hope Creek watershed.

Go by nearby Duke Forest on any nice weekday, and the cars parked near the trailheads make clear how important open areas and hiking trails are to our residents. The deal crafted last week will help meet that need.

This isn't the first time our local governments have cooperated to provide valuable parks for Orange County residents. The North Carolina Association of County Commissioners recently honored Orange and Durham counties—with assists by the Triangle Land Conservancy and the Eno River Association—for their joint creation of 178-acre Little River Regional Park and Natural Area.

Little River, which straddles the county line up near Guess Road, opened in December and has already gained a reputation as a terrific destination for hiking and mountain biking.

We all know the old saw about too many cooks. This time, though, they got it right.