Riverkeepers eye pollution sources from the sky

Environmental, Neuse River Watershed, Sound Rivers, Stormwater Issues, Stormwater Runoff, Tar-Pamlico Watershed, Water Quality

Posted on May 9th, 2024

An aerial view of the Moriah Energy Center in Person County shows 74 acres of clearcut land which is now impacting local creeks.

Neuse Riverkeeper Samantha Krop and Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper Katey Zimmerman took to the air last week to check in on several pollution concerns in the upper Neuse and Tar-Pamlico watersheds.

From the air, they took in Dominion’s Morian Energy Center, currently under construction in Person County, the Upper Piedmont landfill near Roxboro, and a number of development sites in the Lick Creek watershed.

“The most notable thing we saw was that the Moriah Energy Center has completed the initial land-clearing phase of construction, and all trees have been removed from the construction site,” Sam said. “It was alarming to see the vast swath of barren land where there used to be forest — seeing it all from above really puts into perspective how significant 74 acres of clearcut land is.”

Neuse Riverkeeper Samantha Krop, Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper Katey Zimmerman and SouthWings pilot Rolf Wallin mid-flight.

Though no water quality permits were required for the MEC project, because the facility will not encroach on the network of streams and wetlands on the site, Sam, with the help of landowners adjacent to the site, has been tracking sediment runoff into those streams.

“Recent turbidity samples taken after this past weekend’s rains found levels of turbidity in receiving creeks, downstream of the facility, at 110 and 750NTU, respectively. That’s over twice and 15 times the state standard. The creek that was at 110NTU this weekend, after around .5 inches of rain, was just 10NTU after roughly 1.5 inches of rain in March, before all of the land clearing was complete,” she said. “If Dominion’s sediment and erosion control practices were working, we would not be seeing this elevated sediment in creeks next to the construction site, where these creeks ran clear in the past. Now more than ever, it is critical for locals to keep an eye out for sediment and erosion control violations on this site, especially sediment leaving the site, and to report violations to the Division of Energy, Mineral, and Land Resources when seen.”

In the Upper Tar River watershed, Katey has been keeping tabs on the Upper Piedmont Landfill since September of last year, when Sound Rivers received a report of discolored, murky water on Cub Creek, which is downstream of the landfill.

An aerial view of the Upper Piedmont Landfill near Roxboro, in the upper Tar River watershed.

The aerial surveillance came courtesy of SouthWings and volunteer pilot Rolf Wallin. SouthWings partners with conservation groups, community groups, media and decision-makers to provide a unique perspective to better understand and solve pressing environmental issues in the Southeast. For more information, visit

Sediment runoff from a housing development impacts an adjacent wetland in the Lick Creek watershed.

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