02/17/05 — Grant to buy land near base gets tentative OK

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Grant to buy land near base gets tentative OK

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on February 17, 2005 2:15 PM

Goldsboro and Wayne County may receive almost $6.5 million to buy land south of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base's runway.

The N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund tentatively approved the grant at its meeting Monday in Asheboro. The trustees will make a final decision this summer after the General Assembly approves its 2005-06 funding.

The trustees agreed to give up to $6,472,149 to purchase 850 acres near the southern end of the runway. The land drains into the Neuse River and includes property inside the SJAFB accident potential zone.

The city and county will need to provide a $500,000 match. Officials intend to seek other grants that would lower the trust fund's commitment.

"This is the second phase of the city and county's effort to protect water quality in the creek, as well as protect the base from encroachment by development that could hinder the base's ability to carry out its mission," said Phil Baddour of Goldsboro, a member of the trustee board.

"This is extremely important to the community from both an environmental and economic standpoint," Baddour said.

This would be the second grant from the Clean Water fund to buy land around Seymour Johnson. Last July, the city and county received $1.7 million, plus a $600,000 local match, to buy land north of the runway.

On the governments' behalf, the Coastal Land Trust has been negotiating with 25 landowners who own a total of 500 acres. Those talks are in various stages, but "we're on the verge of the first closings," County Manager Lee Smith said today.

The targeted tracts are undeveloped. Most have been ditched and drained and are currently being farmed or in timber production. The area drains into Stoney Creek, a Neuse tributary. After those purchases are complete, the properties will be restored as wetlands.

That does not mean they'll be swampy or even particularly wet, Smith said. "We'll be changing how they're managed. We may be reditching them or changing how they drain."

Plans for the southern properties are different. "We'll be looking at recreational uses, parks, historical properties, and farmland preservation," he said.

The city and county are both interested in a park that would commemorate the Battle of Goldsborough Bridge site. The county already owns land out there, which was recently marked by a roadside marker.

Also, Goldsboro would like to use a portion of the land for the Mountain-to-Sea trail. That corridor passes through Waynesborough Park and roughly follows the Neuse River through the county.

The city is pursuing recreational grants for the trail's construction, said Tasha Logan, assistant to the city manager. Other grants may also supplement the trust fund's contribution.

"We're hoping to have several pieces come together," she said.

Most of the 850 acres are at the southwest end of the SJAFB landing fields, along the Neuse River, Caraway Creek and tributaries. Most of the land is riparian, including farmland, floodplain and riparian uplands.

Even though the grant won't be final until this summer, property owners in the targeted area will be contacted within the next 60 days to begin negotiations.