Environmental nonprofit aims for impact

By Todd Cohen

ABERDEEN, N.C. — Small towns in Anson, Lee, Montgomery, Moore and Richmond counties are getting digital maps of their water and sewer systems.

Anson County and the Moore County towns of Aberdeen and Pinebluff are getting plans to renovate their park systems.

And poultry firms and owners of land with longleaf pine forests are getting a plan to recycle poultry waste as organic fertilizer.

Spearheading all those efforts has been Environmental Impact, a nonprofit consulting firm in Aberdeen that works to promote environmental quality and conservation and help ensure sustained economic development.

“We take on a lot of projects a lot of other people may not be interested in taking on,” says John Caviness, an employee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture who works full-time as the nonprofit’s project coordinator.

The group, formed in 1981, receives grants from foundations, corporations and government, employs two other staff members, and has an annual budget of $300,000 to $1 million.

Based on needs it identifies, Environmental Impact generally approaches government agencies, businesses or other nonprofits with ideas for projects.

Recognizing that small towns can misplace or lose engineering drawings for water and sewer systems built years ago, for example, Environmental Impact secured a $25,000 federal grant to use geographic-information-systems software to help towns map their infrastructure, such as water, sewer and electrical systems.

The nonprofit has worked with Pinebluff and Aberdeen, and with Candor, Biscoe and Star in Montgomery County, Ellerbee in Richmond County and Morvan in Anson County.

Much of the firm’s work involves the poultry industry, which has a big concentration of broiler-chicken farms in the region, including operations for Perdue Farms and Mountainaire Farms in Candor, Tyson Foods in Moore and Montgomery counties, and Goldkist in Chatham County.

Two of the companies made grants to Environmental Impact to study the mortality of birds lost during the growing process on poultry farms, research that resulted in two methods growers now can use to recycle the dead birds.

Environmental Impact also has completed a four-year research project to address challenges facing poultry producers, which need to recycle poultry waste, and owners of longleaf-pine forests, which sell pine straw and need nutrients to replace the pine straw they remove.

With growing demand for residential and commercial uses for land, Caviness says, the region has lost land for pastures and for crops like corn, soybeans and tobacco.

In the past, he says, poultry producers applied to crop and pasture lands the dry litter that their chicken houses produce. But the loss of land for crops and pastures has limited the acreage available for recycling organic waste.

Realizing poultry producers were producing fertilizer, and forest owners needed fertilizer to replace pine straw, Environmental Impact studied the impact of applying poultry waste to longleaf-pine forests.

It found that applying poultry fertilizer increased needle production 65 percent, increased the growth in the diameter of trees four percent, and could trim four to five years from the 80-year harvesting cycle for longleaf-pine trees.

Environmental Impact also is completing a plan for the town of Pinebluff to renovate its four parks to reflect the priorities of homeowners in the town based on a public hearing and survey the firm conducted.

The plan, similar to others it has developed for Anson County and for the town of Aberdeen, will be used to apply for grants to pay for the park renovation work.

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