12/14/04 — County's vote keeps Cayton bypass moving

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County's vote keeps Cayton bypass moving

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on December 14, 2004 2:11 PM

The Johnston County commissioners have cleared a potential roadblock to the construction of U.S. 70's Clayton bypass.

The county board voted Monday night to increase buffers around Little Creek in a 4,000-acre area south of Clayton. Development had been prohibited within 50 feet, but the commissioners agreed to push the buffers out to 100 feet from the creek.

The vote followed a request from the federal government to make the changes to protect an endangered mussel. The road project would have been delayed without the change.

The board also added restrictions that could require developers to either reduce the size of construction projects or install stormwater retention ponds.

Both changes are intended to reduce the amount of pollution entering the Swift Creek basin, home to the dwarf wedge mussel, an endangered shellfish. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was threatening to hold up permits for the project unless the Johnston County board approved the protections.

"This was the last thing we needed to take care of," said N.C. Sen. John Kerr of Goldsboro. "I know of no other obstacle that will stop us from starting work this spring."

The design of the Clayton bypass is complete, Kerr said today. The first contracts will be bid early next year, with work scheduled to begin in May.

Kerr is anxious to see the road under way. "That bypass has been our number one priority for at least 10 years," he said.

The bypass will connect U.S. 70, south of Clayton, to Interstate 40, north of its intersection with N.C. 42. The road will be around 9.5 miles and is now estimated to cost more than $135 million. It will not open until 2007 at the earliest.

The dwarf wedge mussel once lived from Canada to North Carolina, but it is only known to exist in 10 sites, one of which is in Johnston County. It was among the species of freshwater mussels that were harvested at one time for the pearl button industry. That use diminished with the rise of plastics.

Today, the mussels are endangered by pollutants, particularly chemical fertilizers and heavy metals from agriculture and industry, entering streams. Also, sediment in storm runoff may fill in stream beds. The mussels need a stable, silt-free stream bed and well-oxygenated water to be able to reproduce.