- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 25, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina’s environmental agency is now requiring a state permit for a dam creating a reservoir on the First Broad River in Cleveland County west of Charlotte.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources last year decided Cleveland County Water did not need a permit certifying the dam would not harm water quality. That would have meant the $80 million project could seek federal permits without state hearings or environmental studies.

But the environmental advocacy group American Rivers challenged the decision in administrative court, and the state agency was unsuccessful in dismissing the case.

The state decided not to fight the law center’s challenge once the judge refused to dismiss it, said Sarah Young, a spokeswoman for the state water resources division.

Environmental and Natural Resources said it waived the state permit because there was opposition already from federal agencies and it would have been a waste of taxpayer money to hold hearings on the same issues twice.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency have said there are better alternatives to the dam, suggesting the county could expand its water intake or buy water elsewhere.

The proposed reservoir would cover 1,500 acres of land, 24 miles of streams and six acres of wetlands.

“If it moves forward, I hope we will have the kind of public comment that was denied by the waiver,” said Ron McCollum, a county water customer opposed to the reservoir.

Clyde “Butch” Smith, the Cleveland County Water manager, said the application for a state permit will be resubmitted. He said a draft environmental study on the reservoir is expected to be completed next year.

The water district serves 58,000 people, and Smith said the severe drought of 2002 shows the need for a new water supply.

The water district has spent almost $2 million seeking permits for the project.

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