“Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo has asked the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to slow an effort that would designate a 15-mile stretch of the Cape Fear River as both a swamp and river water.

The mayor said he wants more information about the impact of the move because the public may ‘understandably’ have a visceral, negative reaction to the idea of calling the river a swamp…

In 2014, the Lower Cape Fear River Program, made up of local governments and businesses along the river and based at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW), asked for the reclassification. It would designate the Lower Cape Fear River, from Snow’s Cut to Toomers Creek near Navassa, to both swamp water and a river designation for aquatic life, secondary recreation and saltwater.

According to the DEQ, the swamp classification is ‘intended to recognize those waters which have low velocities and other natural characteristics which are different from adjacent streams.’

The reclassification was opposed by the Southern Environmental Law Center, saying the designation ignored pollution from animal farms upstream contributing to low oxygen levels in the river and ‘would shift the blame, in other words, from the region’s polluters to the river’s ‘natural conditions.’’

‘The reclassification defies both federal law and observable facts,’ SELC attorneys Mary Maclean Asbill and Brooks Rainey Pearson wrote in an April 26 letter to the EPA…

But Saffo asked that state regulators delay granting the request until a full narrative can be given to local officials and the public as to what the classification would mean. He said the request of a reclassification — based on the idea that lower oxygen levels are naturally occurring — came before last year’s revelation that the river contained pollutants including the unregulated chemical GenX.

‘As you are well aware, the health of our river has already been impacted from recent findings of GenX and other emerging contaminants,’ Saffo wrote to DEQ Secretary Michael Regan. ‘In light of ongoing concerns that are present in our community, I ask that you delay any action related to a change in designation until local officials and citizens can be fully educated on the matter and have an opportunity to respond.’ ”

Read the full article by Tim Buckland