New Hope Creek Corridor Advisory Committee


State puts $1.1M into buying Erwin, Pickett park land

The Herald-Sun, November 15, 2005
© 2005 by The Herald-Sun

by Ray Gronberg

DURHAM—Local activists and officials say the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund has agreed to award a $1.1 million grant to Durham County to subsidize its purchase of two tracts of land at the corner of Erwin and Pickett roads for use as a park.

The vote by the trust fund's board of trustees occurred Monday, said Bill Holman, the fund's executive director. Durham officials were awaiting official word on the decision before issuing a formal announcement.

“I don't believe it until I see it in writing,” County Manager Mike Ruffin said.

But Ruffin said he'd heard about the award informally from Jane Korest, the county's open space and real estate manager, who attended the board's two-day meeting to answer questions about the grant and monitor the debate.

Activists who pushed for the acquisition were excited.

“It's wonderful news, ” said Wendy Jacobs, a Durham Planning Commission member who's also one of the leaders of the Erwin Area Neighborhood Group. “The park is going to happen.”

The grant will supply $1 million to buy a 43-acre tract at the corner from Duke University, and $112,000 for a 23-acre tract owned by Carolyn and Wade Penny.

The Duke tract was, for a time, slated to become the site of a townhouse development. Prodded by Jacobs and other neighbors, county commissioners blocked the project long enough for four local governments, the neighbors and a regional conservation group to come together and pledge money to buy the property.

The agreement took pledges of $900,000 from Durham County, $200,000 from the Erwin Area Neighborhood Group, $125,000 each from Chapel Hill and Orange County, and $75,000 apiece from the city of Durham and the Triangle Land Conservancy.

The $1 million from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund offset most of the local-government contributions. Durham County will get the first $500,000, and all four will share in the rest.

“Hopefully, this will inspire our elected officials to do more of this,” Jacobs said. “It just shows that it does pay to try to preserve land, working together with the community, local land trusts and regional governments. It's really all about leveraging [money]. Some of our elected officials were skeptical, but hopefully this will inspire them to take a risk.”

The clean water trust fund is a state agency created by the General Assembly in 1996.

At the end of each fiscal year, 6.5 percent of the unreserved credit balance in the state's General Fund (or a minimum of $30 million) goes to the trust fund, according to its Web site. Revenues are then allocated in the form of grants to local governments, state agencies and non-profits to help finance projects that specifically address water pollution problems. The 21-member, independent, board of trustees has full responsibility over the allocation of money from the fund.

According to the fund's Web site, it seeks to fund projects that enhance or restore degraded waters, protect unpolluted waters, and/or contribute toward a network of buffers and greenways for environmental, educational and recreational benefits.

Officials say the Durham land will help preserve and protect the New Hope Creek corridor, part of the Cape Fear river basin.

Local officials had expected the trust fund's board to vote on the grant request last month, but the board instead postponed the decision to learn more about the deal.