Wednesday morning I met with a wonderful group of people with diverse backgrounds for planning a collaborative effort to bring our local communities together in a citizen science project focused on the Hoffman Forest public areas of the White Oak River. Jessica Hult of the White Oak Region Izaak Walton League and her son, homeschooler and Boy Scout, Luke, Kris Fowler of North Carolina State University, Fred Cubbage of the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources at North Carolina State University, and our new board member Dr. Pat Curley, Director of The Science House at the Center for Marine Sciences and Technology (CMAST), North Carolina State University, and myself all met to combine our efforts in developing a plan for wildlife camera traps to monitor for species in the Hoffman Forest and determine water sampling plans for our local homeschooled children and Boy Scouts.
The goal of our citizen science project is to create STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) opportunities to groups that would otherwise have limited access to these types of educational programs, and connect our local citizens with their natural systems that provide so much.
The Hoffman Forest houses the headwaters for the Trent, White Oak, and New Rivers and serves as a natural filtration system, pulling pollutants out of storm water before it enters the rivers. Given the burdens the White Oak River already faces with overloading of storm water creating abundant bacteria loads to the point of shellfishing closures, it is of utmost importance to understand the key functions of our natural systems and their interdependence. That public education is where I come in.
We set out on a multipurpose trip on the New River on a Tuesday afternoon, February 16. We took the motorboat to investigate a report of a hose, discharging waste into the river. We also needed to take a motorboat trip to stay in practice and test the equipment, as they say. Finally, I needed some new video of the New River and our new Riverkeeper, because I didn’t have much video from the New River and I could not locate much of what I did have.
We did find a tributary, discharging sediment loaded water into the river. That will require further investigation. Anyone for a 4 or 5 mile paddle (round trip) up the New River? The forecast is for mild weather the next week or so. There is some trash to pick up along the way, and there will be opportunities to get wet and muddy!
Mr. James Harper, Interim Town Manager, announced last night at the Maysville Town Meeting that after speaking recently with NCDENR they have hired Envirolink to help manage the many issues that the municipal Wastewater Treatment Plant faces. Additionally, a new Operator in Charge (ORC) has been hired. ORC Lee Buck stated that he has 14 years of experience operating wastewater treatment plants, has rehabbed several, and has already pinned infiltration / inflow (INI – occurrences of stormwater infiltrating the system and causing overflow) as the primary concern to tackle. Mr. Harper has made a plea to the commissioners to accept a Special Order by Consent (SOC) with the state in order to avoid further fines and repercussions. The SOC contractually binds the town to pursue a timeline of upgrades and fixes in order to obtain compliance. This seems to be the most sensible route to take. It is my hope that the commissioners accept.
White Oak-New Riverkeeper Alliance will continue to keep our thumb on the pulse of this issue and keep you, the public, informed of any progress being made.