County board gets update on Lock and Dam Project

By: W. Curt Vincent - Bladen Journal

ELIZABETHTOWN — The future of migratory fish spawning for species like sturgeon, American shad, striped bass and river herring was the focus of a presentation before Bladen County commissioners on Monday.

Dawn York, a biologist with Dial Cordy & Associates, gave the board an update on the Lock and Dam Fish Project, which centers around the trio of William O. Huske Lock and Dams on the Cape Fear River in Bladen County.

This project is important to southeastern North Carolina,” York said. “The lock and dams are been determined to be the most critical project” along the river by a group of 31 organizations that have banded together to create the Cape Fear River Action Plan.

She added that $20 million in grants have been acquired for the projects for all three lock and dams in Bladen County — with about two-thirds of the funding to cover the costs for design and engineering work, biological monitoring and permitting costs; the remaining money will be used for construction.

York was joined in the presentation by Frank Yelverton, formerly a biologist with the Corps of Engineers who is now with the Cape Fear River Watch group. He pointed to the fish passage project at Lock and Dam No. 1, which was finished in 2012, and said it has been successful in allowing fish to move upstream.

But he also told the commissioners there is still a long way to go.

“We’re trying to get the migratory fish populations back up to historic levels where they were at the turn of the century,” Yelverton said. “Right now, the fish population is only about 10 percent of what they were historically.”

The continued effort to improve the fish populations includes a plan at both Lock and Dam No. 2 and No. 3 to create improved fish passage through the use of rock rapids, as well as wider gaps and deeper pools.

The Corps of Engineers is getting ready to begin a disposition study to determine the best plan for the Cape Fear River Lock and Dam System — and might include the removal of the lock and dam system — but Yelverton added that it seemed unlikely that would happen. He said the study could take between 12 and 18 months.

In other business, the board:

— Approved a request from Kip McClary to award a bid to Axel McPherson Construction of Whiteville for the installation of generators at four county well locations. The bid totaled $287,026.50 and will be paid for through a Golden LEAF grant.

— Heard from County Manager Greg Martin about a an opioid grant opportunity through the UNC School of Medicine and Blue Cross/Blue Shield for 10 counties, each of which could receive $20,000. An application is due by April 6.

— County Chairman Ray Britt emphasized the importance of the next census for Bladen County, saying that each resident of the county “means multiple thousands of dollars for the county” in federal funding. He said the next county will be started in April 2020.

— Recognized two employees on their retirements that became effective March 1. They were: Bernadine Davis, a DSS case worker since 2008; and Rita Lassiter, who began in 1989 and retired as a DSS supervisor.

The next meeting of the county board will be Monday at 6:30 p.m.

W. Curt Vincent can be reached at 910-862-4163 or cvincent@bladenjournal.com.

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W. Curt Vincent

Bladen Journal