Groups attempting to stop development polluting Durham creek

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A photo taken Aug. 31 by Neuse Riverkeeper Samantha Krop shows Martin Branch inundated with eroded sediment from the Sweetbrier site.

North Carolina Construction News staff writer

The Southern Environmental Law Center has filed a lawsuit in federal court, on behalf of Sound Rivers, to stop development that they say is polluting the Durham creek Martin Branch which connects through Lick Creek into Falls Lake, a drinking water source for Raleigh and surrounding communities.

The lawsuit against Clayton Properties Group, Inc., filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, is an attempt to stop ongoing violations of the Clean Water Act at its development of a large residential subdivision in Southeast Durham.

“Falls Lake, North Carolina’s creeks, and our wetlands are not dumping grounds for developers,” said Irena Como, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “It’s past time for Clayton to address its pollution and violations once and for all.”

Sound Rivers documented 16 instances where Clayton Properties Group, Inc. violated its Clean Water Act permit at its Sweetbrier residential construction site – a 616-lot subdivision on a 216-acre site in Durham. Numerous water samples adjacent to and downstream of the construction site in Lick Creek show that the developer “has consistently discharged sediment at concentrations 20 times over permit limits, which is illegal under the Clean Water Act and in exceedance of the state turbidity standard,” the lawsuit claims.

Excess sediment has turned the water in the creek bright orange as captured in photographs documenting the pollution at the development site.

“Clayton is allowing concerning amounts of sediment runoff to pollute a public waterway, tainting water quality and destroying habitats downstream,” warns Samantha Krop, Sound Rivers’ Neuse Riverkeeper. “Durham residents shouldn’t have to see their precious waterways muddied by this developer’s illegal discharges of sediment into our creeks and wetlands— especially when Clayton has been given ample time to fix these issues.”

In May 2023, SELC notified Clayton of Sound Rivers’ intent to sue – giving the developer 60 days to comply with permit requirements.  However, samples obtained by Sound Rivers after that date confirm ongoing violations at the site, the lawsuit states.

Inspections at the development site have revealed violations including sediment pollution outside the permitted area and sediment pollution deposited in tributaries to Lick Creek has reached Falls Lake.

“Wetlands buffer our communities from increasingly severe storms and floods, act as natural pollution filters that improve water quality, and protect wildlife as well as fish and shellfish,” Sound Rivers said in a statement. “Effects of sediment pollution can persist in streambeds and wetlands long after the end of construction, and the destruction of habitat can affect wildlife in the long term.

Sediment is the leading cause of water pollution in North Carolina by volume. Developers are required to ensure that construction activities do not harm water quality for downstream communities, who rely on water sources for a variety of uses including fishing, swimming, boating, and drinking water supplies.

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