Durham wetland project moving, with reservations

jwise@newsobserver.comNovember 20, 2012 

— City engineers again recommended converting an abandoned fitness-center site into a stormwater-cleansing wetland Tuesday, but city council members still have some reservations.

“They didn’t say ‘No,’” said Assistant Public Works Director Paul Wiebke. City Manager Tom Bonfield said administrators will continue working on the project.

But with concerns about budget and citizens’ objections, the council reserved a go-ahead decision for later.

The nine-acre site collects stormwater runoff from about 485 acres of highly developed land in and near downtown Durham. An engineering study estimated that a constructed wetland there could save city taxpayers from $7 million to $20 million in expenses to comply with the new Falls Lake water-quality regulations.

Without it, the city might need to buy land and build as many as 25 smaller filter sites to achieve the same results, according to engineering estimates.

Besides helping Falls Lake, the primary water source for 450,000 Wake County residents, the wetland would improve water quality in Ellerbe Creek, according to Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association Director Chris Dreps.

Preliminary plans and drawings show the wetland as a parklike feature providing wildlife habitat and opportunities for environmental education as well as a filter for stormwater.

“Making this not just a pond where we store water, but a fantastic natural facility for our community,” said Councilman Steve Schewel.

Some residents of the nearby Old North Durham neighborhood, though, point to other pollution mitigation projects in Durham that have created problems with aesthetics, nuisance wildlife and crime, as well as eyesores collecting trash along with stormwater.

“We don’t want this to become … a project that signifies city neglect of public spaces,” said Old North Durham Neighborhood Association President Peter Katz.

Wise: 919-641-5895

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