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Enviva funds Bertie project

MERRY HILL – Plans to develop a State Natural Area, complete with public access, near this Bertie County community received a big boost last week.

On June 7, the Enviva Forest Conservation Fund announced the recipients of its 2017 grants. Established by Enviva Holdings, LP and administered by the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, the Fund is awarding $500,000 to three projects that will help conserve more than 8,000 acres of environmentally sensitive bottomland and wetland forests.

Included among those projects is a 1,000 acre tract along the Chowan River and Salmon Creek that NC Coastal Land Trust (NCCLT) has under contract to purchase for $4.5 million. The Fund awarded a $200,000 grant to the NCCLT to aid in completing the purchase.

This area of Bertie County features a mature cypress-gum swamp. It also is the site of an archaeological study to determine if this property is where members of the Roanoke Island “lost colonists” may have relocated for a time. Evidence collected there thus far show the presence of a late 16th or early 17th century English settlement mixed in with Indian artifacts.

“Our local conservation partners—Ducks Unlimited, the Virginia Department of Forestry, and the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust—have come through with some sensational projects in this second year of the program,” said Carlton N. Owen, President and CEO of the Enviva Endowment. “Not only will their good work lead to more than 8,000 acres of sensitive forestland being protected, but the public will have access to most of this property for compatible recreational uses.”

Janice L. Allen of the NCCLT said the grant from Enviva was the first money given to preserve the Salmon Creek Natural Area.

“We are extremely appreciative of the sizeable contribution from the Enviva Foundation; this is the first piece of the puzzle to fall into place as we seek to secure the funding necessary to purchase this parcel that is rich in natural and ecological history,” Allen stated.

She added that the NCCLT also wishes to purchase a tract of land contiguous to the main parcel. The total selling price for both tracts is $4.85 million.

Currently, those Bertie County tracts are among four across North Carolina under consideration to be added to the State Parks System. That is part of legislation (House Bill 353) introduced by District 5 NC House member Howard Hunter III of Ahoskie and includes a natural area of the Black River in Sampson, Bladen and Pender counties, the Bob’s Pocket in McDowell County, and a bird habitat in the Warwick Mill Bay area of Robeson County.

“We’re very hopeful that this legislation will pass,” Allen remarked. “We want to protect this beautiful area from any possible development in the future.”

Allen said the purpose of the NCCLT is to purchase these natural areas and turn them over to the state.

“If this legislation passes and upon our transfer of the property to the State Parks System, it’s up to them to determine the use of the property,” she noted, suggesting the possible presence of walking trails, a canoe/kayak access area, and ecological/historical preservation and interpretation.

As far as other possible avenues for funding, the NCCLT is also looking at grants from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund and other private sources.

Allen said her organization is also currently involved with Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro as a possible funding source.

“They (Air Force) use this area of Bertie County to conduct training flights for their aircraft,” she stated.

The NCCLT’s effort to preserve this property has the support of Bertie County local government. That government entity has already purchased waterfront property in the same general area and is now in discussion on how to develop it from a recreational standpoint.

“These developments toward expanding the recreation, eco-tourism and educational venues in Bertie County along the Albemarle Sound are very exciting,” said Bertie County Manager Scott Sauer. “And it was an investment made by our Board of Commissioners in this public access waterfront recreational area (137 acres) that has triggered the interest in this area, in addition to the archeological activity at the confluence with Salmon Creek. The work by our commissioners as a governing body is clearly making history and charting a new course for Bertie County.”

Sauer added that other piece of property (approximately 300 acres) under consideration to purchase by the NCCLT may benefit the county.

“There is some indication that the tract between the county’s Albemarle Sound property and the 1,000 acres being acquired by the NC Coastal Land Trust may be considered for a donation to the county,” Sauer said.

The remaining two grants from the Enviva Forest Conservation Fund were awarded to:

Ducks Unlimited: $175,000 to assist with the acquisition of more than 6,000 acres in Camden County. The property is designated as wetlands and includes pocosins and Atlantic white cedar stands, which are bottomland forest ecosystems that the Fund has designated as priority conservation targets. Once acquired, this property will be owned by the state and open to the public as a Wildlife Management Area.

Virginia Department of Forestry: $125,000 to support a conservation easement on more than 1,000 acres in Sussex County. This project blends working forest uses with permanent protection of bottomland forests including mature cypress/tupelo stands and a natural area set-aside to protect the state rare Savanna Panic Grass (Phanopyrum gymnocarpon).

The Enviva Forest Conservation Fund is a $5 million, 10-year program established by Enviva Holdings, LP in December 2015 to permanently protect environmentally sensitive bottomland and wetland forests. Administered by the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, the Fund awards grants annually to nonprofit organizations and government agencies for conservation projects in North Carolina and Virginia.

For more information on the Enviva Forest Conservation Fund visit www.envivaforestfund.org.

Enviva Holdings, LP is the world’s largest producer of wood pellets, a renewable and sustainable energy source used to generate electricity and heat. Through its subsidiaries, Enviva Holdings, LP owns and operates plants in the southeastern United States that produce nearly 3 million metric tons of wood pellets annually. The company operates pellet mills in Ahoskie and Garysburg.

To learn more about Enviva Holdings, LP and its subsidiaries, visit www.envivabiomass.com.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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