Politics & Government

Raleigh senator opposes RDU request to ease river buffer rules

Raleigh-Durham International Airport wants to ease rules that limit construction near streams and ponds.

Sen. John Alexander, a Wake County Republican, opposed the Senate version of House bill 206, saying it would allow the airport to disregard requirements to maintain strips of undeveloped land that protect water quality. Water from RDU’s property flows into the Neuse River.

The Senate Transportation Committee approved the bill Wednesday, with Alexander casting the only vote against it.

“I have serious reservations about this,” he told the committee.

In an interview, Alexander said the changes would allow runoff from an airport parking lot to flow into water, or a dumpster to be placed in a buffer zone.

“Nobody wants cruddy water,” he said.

Tom Fetzer, a lobbyist for the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority, told the committee the bill would not eliminate the need for all buffers.

“Our belief is that it would not do that,” he said. “It is not our intent to do that.”

Joy Hicks, lobbyist for the state Department of Environmental Quality, told the committee the department needed to evaluate the bill.

“We have concerns about what this would mean and how it would be implemented,” she said.

The bill would exempt from the river buffer rules airport facilities that impact 150 linear feet or less, or one-third of an acre of buffer.

The airport would be able to build facilities in larger natural areas, while compensating for the lost buffer in some way, without having to prove that there are no practical alternatives to its plans. The existing rule requires state or local officials to evaluate claims that a project cannot be made smaller or be reconfigured, or be accomplished in a way that minimizes impacts on the buffer and water quality.

When construction disturbs buffers, property owners must sometimes mitigate the harms in some way -- by restoring other areas, for example.

The airport is not seeking the changes for a specific project, said Crystal Feldman, the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority vice president for communications, government and community affairs.

“We still comply with the Neuse River buffer rules,” she said in an interview. “It gives us some flexibility through mitigation.”

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