Upcoming developments on the UNCW campus

Just received this info sheet in the email today:

5 November 2007


This information sheet is being provided for all those who are concerned about UNCW’s plans to develop most of the remaining natural habitats on campus and want to help. UNCW is about to begin the Phase III student housing project in forested habitat across the road from the Watson School of Education. However, this area has been a recognized conservation zone since the early 1990s and developing it will impact numerous species of birds, reptiles, and plants, many of which that have been designated as ‘Species of Concern’ by the state Wildlife Resources Commission and, in some cases, also by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Phase III housing also will remove approximately 30 acres of habitat currently being used by ecology and ornithology students at UNCW for labs and classes. This ‘natural laboratory’ is a valuable asset at UNCW that helps make this campus so unique. In addition, Phase III housing (Phase I and II have already resulted in the loss of ~60 acres of habitat) will be followed by the construction of a Millennial Campus (~60 acres) and new recreation fields (~60 acres) in adjoining areas, resulting in considerable loss of wildlife habitat. All this land is state-owned, public lands. It is used extensively for recreation (hiking, biking, jogging) by students as well as citizens of Wilmington, so everyone has a right to say what should be done with it.

The following points indicate why none of this land should be developed.

• The Phase III housing location is in an officially designated conservation area created in the early 1990s as part of the ‘Campus as an Arboretum’ concept. The designation was approved by the Board of Trustees and protects this land from development. All the lands on the back of campus also have been designated as State Natural Areas. This site is also too close to academic buildings for student housing and would result in considerable traffic congestion and noise pollution. For these and other reasons, this site was ranked last of seven potential sites for this housing complex by the UNCW Faculty Building & Grounds Committee, but their recommendation was ignored.

• The Millennial Campus will benefit primarily local and state businesses, with minimal benefit to UNCW students. It has been tried elsewhere (e.g., NC State) but resulted in buildings left vacant when businesses failed or closed, leaving the school with a structure unsuitable for academic uses. If this concept is developed at UNCW, it should be done so off campus.

• More recreation fields are simply not needed on campus. The current fields by Trask sit idle most days and are only full on certain weekends when off-campus groups are visiting. We do not need so much new recreation space. The proposed 60 acre development is equivalent to 11 football fields in size. It would create vast lawns needing fertilizers and pesticides. The compacted soils would cause more runoff into the already polluted Bradley Creek watershed and cause more flooding in surrounding neighborhoods after torrential rains. It is an environmentally unsound idea.

• Campus habitats are largely comprised of longleaf pine and wiregrass communities, an endemic southeastern community that has undergone a 95% decline historically and can be considered threatened on its own. This habitat is also quite diverse and is considered one of the top ten most diverse habitats in North America and the most diverse in the eastern U.S. The conservation zone across from Watson also includes valuable sandhills habitat consisting of ancient sand dunes and associated vegetation that deserves particular attention for preservation as very little of this habitat remains in New Hanover County. Species that have been recorded in this habitat and other forested areas on campus include at least four birds (Cooper’s Hawk, Loggerhead Shrike, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Brown Creeper) and two reptiles (pygmy rattlesnake and southern hognose snake) that are listed by the state as ‘Species of Concern’; the sapsucker and hognose snake are also listed as ‘Federal Species of Concern’ by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Other species using the campus forests include many Neotropical migratory birds, nesting birds (Brown-headed Nuthatch, Pileated Woodpecker, Summer Tanager), and mammals (Fox Squirrels). Historically, the Federally endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker has occurred on campus and could be reintroduced with proper management. The forest also has many native plants (Venus Flytrap, pitcher plants) that deserve protection before they too become threatened or endangered.

Solutions. UNCW could easily meet all its growth needs AND keep all its existing natural habitats and forests intact by following these suggestions:

• Create a UNCW Nature Reserve with the entire remaining undeveloped habitat in the back of campus, with miscellaneous patches of habitat now found throughout campus, that would be used for teaching and research by numerous departments. Educational opportunities in wildlife studies, conservation biology, environmental studies, film studies, recreation, and even the arts are possible here. Such uses would draw attention to our campus in a very positive way for its environmental concerns and green development. The reserve also would be large enough (~200 acres) to introduce a population of the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker as part of the state Wildlife Resource Commission’s Safe Harbors Program for this species. This conservation use of the habitat would benefit the new Bachelor’s Program in Conservation Biology being developed jointly between the Environmental Studies and Biology and Marine Biology Departments on campus. It would help promote establishing a Master’s program in conservation biology between these departments as well. Finally, a conservation easement of this land would provide a means to raise thousands of dollars to promote wildlife studies and conservation.

• Phase III housing could be sited adjacent to campus, but not within it. There are many suitable sites for this, including the old 84 Lumbar location, or the cinemas on College (across from campus) or on Oleander Drive. The cinema site on College is ideal as it is adjacent to off-campus parking and already has a frequent and very successful shuttle bus service. We already have plenty of housing available on campus (in addition to Phase I and II) and siting more close or adjacent to campus is quite reasonable.

• The Millennial Campus also is better suited off campus and can be placed at one of the alternative sites mentioned above. In addition, it will have more applications to researchers at the Center for Marine Science and should be located closer to that facility as well.

What you can do:

• Write letters, emails, or make phone calls to key administrative personnel at UNCW to let them know you are not happy with the planned development. The more of these they receive, especially from citizens and environmental groups, the better. Those to contact include:

Rosemary DePaolo, Chancellor, UNCW: (910) 962-3030; depaolo@uncw.edu
Ron Core, Vice Chancellor of Business Affairs, UNCW: (910) 962-3067; corer@uncw.edu

• Write or email members of the UNCW Board of Trustees about your concerns. They are the ones who vote and decide what happens to this land. A list of all members of the Board and their addresses can be found at: http://www.uncw.edu/botx/member.htm

• Help us get local conservation groups involved in this issue such as Audubon North Carolina, Nature Conservancy, and Coastal Land Trust if you know people to contact within these agencies. Let them know of your concerns as the UNCW property is public state land and you do have a say in what happens to it!

• Construction on Phase III housing is scheduled to begin in April 2008. Further actions will be needed during a public comment period prior to that date. Stay tuned for developments on this issue.

• For further information, contact Dr. Steve Emslie, UNCW Dept. of Biology and Marine Biology: (910) 962-3357; emslies@uncw.edu



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