This story originally published online at NC Policy Watch

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture has been cited for four water quality violations related to its clear-cutting of 19 acres for a State Fair parking lot, according to environmental documents. The fair operates under the Agriculture Department. 

Policy Watch reported last September that State Fair officials had exploited legal loopholes to timber the land at 5900 Chapel Hill Road in Raleigh, which abuts the residential Westover-Mt. Vernon neighborhood.

A November 2021 letter addressed to David Smith, deputy agriculture commissioner, from the NC Department of Environmental Quality described how on October 4, inspectors found 10 feet of an unnamed stream had been illegally filled with dirt and rock.

The unnamed stream feeds Richland Creek, which in turn flows into the Neuse River. Richland Creek is classified as Nutrient Sensitive Water; that means its health is vulnerable to contaminants in runoff.

Waterways within the Neuse River Basin are subject to special rules to protect its riparian buffers that extend 50 feet on either side of a stream.

The fill occurred as part of an illegal construction of a plastic culvert on the property.

Nor had the State Fair paid DEQ compensatory mitigation fees for the legally permitted damage to two-thirds of an acre of buffer. That money was due to DEQ before any land disturbance could occur. DEQ did not provide an exact dollar amount of the fees by deadline. Rates vary by type of impacts and the watershed.

The Department of Agriculture did not respond to an email seeking more information.

A DEQ spokesperson said the agency is still waiting for verification that the agriculture department received the notice of violation. There is no record that the Agriculture Department has paid the mitigation fees.

The State Fair parking lot was part of a $30 million land deal between Bandwidth, a publicly traded tech company, and the NC Department of Administration.

Bandwidth bought DOA-owned property at Edwards Mill and Reedy Creek roads for its headquarters. But the State Fair had used that land for parking, so in return for eliminating those thousands of spaces, Bandwidth and its developer, Athens Development Partners, agreed to improve “parking capacity and function” for the Fair, according to the purchase agreement.

Athens Development Partners is a collaboration between East West Partners and Capitol Broadcasting; they paid for the parking lot and oversaw the land clearing. The Department of Agriculture, though, owns State Fair parking lot. It also applied for and received the state and federal water quality permits. That’s why the Agriculture Department was cited, and not East West Partners, according to the DEQ spokesperson.

On October 12, the day before the 2021 State Fair began, a DEQ inspector returned to the site with a representative of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which had granted the project a federal permit. DEQ had received a call on October 11 from East West Partners, “self-reporting” that it had illegally filled 200 linear feet of stream with two to three feet of sediment, documents show. That amount of sediment would likely kill any aquatic life buried underneath.

Another 130 feet of buffer area had been filled in with sediment and gravel, three inches deep, also a violation.

On October 25, two days after the State Fair ended, the plastic culvert had been removed, state documents read, and workers were removing the sediment.

DEQ told Smith in the letter that all sediment and gravel had to be removed from streams and buffers with “shovels and buckets” — not heavy equipment. The Agriculture Department is responsible for ensuring other restoration occurs, including erosion control and reseeding.

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