Monday, October 10, 2011

Orton to return to rice plantation roots

Plans for Orton Plantation are becoming clearer as a massive restoration project continues to reveal a landscape and topography not seen in the area for generations.

Orton Plantation Holdings LLC has filed an application with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Wilmington district office seeking “after-the-fact authorization” for the discharge of dredged and/or fill material into about 15 acres of Orton Creek, which flows by the property and into the Cape Fear River.

The application—one of several submitted to regulating agencies including the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources—also includes a pre-impact request “to temporarily discharge dredged material into an additional 319 acres of wetlands, also for the purpose of re-establishing rice fields.” The applications were filed in mid-September, and the corps issued a public notice on Wednesday.

In a statement, Orton Plantation spokesman Mark Hubbard said it is hoped that the permitting process, which includes opportunity for public comment, “will resolve questions about activities at the historic site in Brunswick County to restore the plantation house, its gardens and the surrounding rice fields.”

“While the permit application is under consideration Orton Plantation will resume limited agricultural activities on the site including bush hog clearing of fields and eradication of Phragmites, a noxious invasive weed,” Hubbard said. “Orton Plantation looks forward to a comprehensive and fair review of our applications as we continue to focus on stewardship of the eastern North Carolina estuary ecosystem.”

Work has been underway for months to return about 5,000 acres that comprise the Orton property to its natural ecosystem and reintroduce native species including longleaf pine and wiregrass growth—the preferred habitat of red-cockaded woodpeckers, quail and other wildlife. While that activity has been visible along N.C. 133, less visible has been related work to restore the plantation house, gardens and rice fields, the latter of which has been overtaken by the aforementioned weeds.

Hubbard said those efforts are expected to continue through early 2014, with the plan being for Orton to serve as a private residence, with limited opportunities for public access.

Louis Moore Bacon, a billionaire hedge-fund manager and trader and a direct descendant of Orton builder Roger Moore, who established the rice plantation in 1725, purchased the land from longtime owners the Sprunt family late last year. Known as a philanthropist and conservationist, Bacon intends to preserve the property while keeping it available to the public through tours and other events, Hubbard said.

“… the Orton plantation house and gardens are being restored to their 19th century luster,” Hubbard said, adding that Orton would return to its roots as a living, working rice plantation.

“While Orton Plantation will serve primarily as a private residence in the future, Mr. Bacon intends to share this gem along the Cape Fear River with the community through prearranged access and events with garden groups, historic and cultural societies as well as wildlife and preservationist enthusiasts.”

Original Article

Ken Keegan Real Estate Broker

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