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Brier & Crabtree Creeks

Outdoor and wildlife enthusiasts will find miles popular waterways right in the heart of North Carolina’s Triangle with the Brier Creek, Crabtree Creek, Walnut Creek, Rocky Branch and Crabtree Lake water bodies. Active travellers and residents near the Raleigh-Durham International Airport could hardly ask for more convenient swimming, boating and fishing access.

Located in the midst of light industrial businesses, manufacturing sites, a major Interstate Highway and the Piedmont’s famous airport, the Brier and Crabtree creeks, as well as other smaller tributaries, all flow into the upper Neuse River. These water bodies are home to many endangered species of flora and fauna and boast a wide variety of popular and delicious fish species. Both State and County parks make use of these waters ensuring them as popular and publicly-accessible recreation sites.

North Carolina businesses in the area have a long history of helping conserve these natural resources. One of the most proactive companies in the last decade has been the Ward Transformer Company. Ward Transformer’s primary facility is in middle of Brier Creek’s scenic location and they have long been the Triangle-area’s prime expert in PCB industrial pollution.

In the late 1970s, Ward Transformer, it’s owner Robert Earl “Buck” Ward Jr. and contractor, Robert Burns, were made local celebrities over their disposal of waste along miles of rural NC highways, using an innovative dumping apparatus constructed at Ward Transformer. Court proceedings charge that Buck Ward “…knowingly and willfully caused … PCB’s to be disposed of … in Johnston and Harnett Counties, North Carolina …” and further recognized allegations with reference to Franklin, Warren and Halifax Counties (second count); Granville County (third count); Harnett County (fourth count); Wake, Nash and Franklin Counties (fifth count); Nash County (sixth count); Halifax County (seventh count); and Wilson and Edgecombe Counties (eighth count). The separate counts refer to separate spill sites, some of which extended in continuous fashion into more than one county. Evidence at the trial disclosed that the disposal was accomplished by driving a tanker truck equipped with a side-mounted spraying device along the road spraying the liquid in a band along the shoulders thereof. Hundreds of miles of roadside shoulders were contaminated with tens of thousands of gallons of PCB-contaminated oil in this fashion.

Unfortunately, due to draconian EPA laws, Burns and Ward spent some time in jail, but eventually reason prevailed and they were released while the company was allowed to continue operating and managed to pay perfunctory clean-up costs. The state of North Carolina had to scrape up the roadside PCB deposits and Gov. Jim Hunt eventually decided to sequester the contaminated dirt in a Warren County landfill. Warren County residents protested, claiming environmental racism which eventually prompted the state to spend $18 million to clean the landfill.

Soon after the roadside dumping issue was addressed, it was discovered that the open burning of materials to recover copper at the Ward Transformer building/reconditioning facility near RDU was leaking chemicals and had applied PCBs to the soil surrounding its plant and the surrounding areas, including the Unnamed Tributary to Little Brier Creek, Little Brier Creek, Brier Creek Reservoir, Brier Creek and Crabtree Lake. Little was done to clean up the chemical pollution. It was not until 1994 that the first action was taken to address the contamination caused by 20+ years of facility operation, and even now, the work has only really begun.

But if you’re in Raleigh and looking for a scenic spot for a picnic, a short drive to do some canoeing or a shady bit of fishing, the upper Neuse tributary system around RDU can’t be beat.

AUTHOR - M.O. Exum

A lifelong resident of NC, Exum is passionate about values. Including, but not limited to: eugenics, voter suppression, toxic waste, political corruption, fascism and the overall oppression of women & poor peoples.

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