Feds’ Lake Mattamuskeet pilot project pushed back to April 2025

Image from US Fish and Wildlife Service

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  • The US Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to delay a pilot algaecide treatment project at Lake Mattamuskeet until April 2025.
  • The delay will give US District Judge Terrence Boyle time to resolve a lawsuit from environmental groups challenging the federal agency's plans.
  • The plaintiffs argue that the plan features a chemical labeled toxic for birds. Lake Mattamuskeet attracts 200,000 ducks, geese, and swans from November through February.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to delay a challenged algaecide plan for Lake Mattamuskeet until April 2025. The delay will give a federal judge time to decide the outcome of environmental groups’ lawsuit challenging the plan.

US District Judge Terrence Boyle issued an order Tuesday announcing that federal officials had agreed to the new April 1, 2025, start date for the project “so this Court can issue a final judgment on the merits of each of Plaintiffs’ claims.”

In return, plaintiff groups Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club agreed to withdraw a motion seeking a preliminary injunction against the plan.

The 40,000-acre Lake Mattamuskeet is North Carolina’s largest natural lake, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. It makes up most of a 50,000-acre refuge in Hyde County established in 1934.

The lake’s location along the Atlantic Flyway attracts migrating birds. “In total, the refuge attracts more than 200,000 ducks, geese, and swans from November through February,” according to a Fish and Wildlife website.

Thanks to water quality problems that date back to the 1990s, federal officials planned to launch a pilot project involving treatment with a chemical called Lake Guard Oxy, developed by BlueGreen US Water Technologies. The goal was to reduce algae blooms, increase water clarity, and increase birds’ underwater food supply.

State environmental regulators had granted a permit for the 400-acre pilot project to begin as early as June 1. The General Assembly had appropriated $4 million for the pilot.

The two environmental groups, working with the Southern Environmental Law Center, filed suit against the plan on May 20. The lawsuit highlighted an Environmental Protection Agency label for the chemical indicating it’s toxic for birds.

Boyle questioned the plan during an injunction hearing in federal court in Elizabeth City.

Now the judge has ordered federal officials to respond to the environmental groups’ complaint by July 22. Other deadlines follow in the fall, including the plaintiffs’ Oct. 18 deadline for a motion for summary judgment in the case. Boyle ordered the final document submitted to his court by Dec. 18.

The judge’s order suggested he will seek to resolve the case before the new April 2025 start date for the pilot project.