Politics & Government

The Senate restored buffer rules for streams and ponds at RDU

Airport construction at Raleigh-Durham International Airport would still have to stick to rules meant to protect ponds and streams that feed the Neuse River, under a bill revised by the state Senate.

However, the House voted Wednesday not to agree to the most recent, Senate-approved, version of House Bill 206. A group of House members and senators will try to work out a compromise on the catch-all transportation bill.

The Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority wants to loosen the rules for building in the natural areas that are meant to protect from pollution the waters that supply the Neuse River. The airport authority wanted smaller natural areas to be exempt from the rules, and wanted to be able to build in larger natural areas without having to show that there are no practical alternatives to its plans.

Sen. John Alexander, a Wake County Republican who opposed loosening the buffer rules, had those provisions deleted in an amendment that passed his chamber last week.

“We protected the waters,” Alexander said in an interview Wednesday.

The airport authority was concerned that the Department of Environmental Quality was taking too long to review its plans, Alexander said. DEQ is now committed to responding to plans in 60 days, he said.

Another Senate amendment, sponsored by Sen. Tom McInnis, an Ellerbe Republican, created a new designation for land near the airport, “airport impacted property.” Construction in buffers on airport impacted property would require written approval from the state, but would not require variances, which could be harder to win.

All impacts to buffers would require mitigation -- compensation for disturbing natural areas -- the state Department of Environmental Quality said in an email.

Jean Spooner, leader of The Umstead Coalition, which supports Umstead State Park, said Alexander’s changes improved the bill because DEQ maintains oversight of construction in buffers. But the mitigation requirements are too weak, she said.

“The current version still seeks to weaken the Neuse River buffer rules for RDU,” Spooner said. “There’s quite a bit of leniency.”

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