Agreement Reduces Trout Stream Impacts from Cliffs at High Carolina Golf Course

A legal challenge brought by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the Western North Carolina Alliance and Trout Unlimited against a permit issued by North Carolina to the Cliffs at High Carolina development has ended in a settlement agreement that reduced the private, Tiger Woods-designed golf course's impact on headwater trout streams by almost half - from 3,132 linear feet in the original design to 1,655 linear feet in the revised design. The original design of the golf course in Swannanoa, located in the mountains of western North Carolina, included extensive underground piping of trout streams.

"North Carolina's mountain headwaters are so vital to aquatic life and downstream communities that they deserve the full protection of our laws," said DJ Gerken, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. "The redesign of the private golf course under this agreement significantly reduces the impact on our stream headwaters and ensures compensatory restoration to North Carolina for any unavoidable impacts to vital mountain streams."

The Southern Environmental Law Center, Western North Carolina Alliance and Trout Unlimited challenged the permit issued for the original golf course design in court because it allowed too much impact to trout streams without sufficient mitigation.

"We are pleased with the outcome, and we applaud [project developer] The Cliffs for their willingness to work hard to address our concerns, said WNCA executive director Julie Mayfield. "They were committed to reaching an agreement and made significant changes to the golf course to do so."

The redesign of the Cliffs golf course vindicates several important environmental protections for streams under North Carolina law:

Streams cannot be buried for a project if those impacts can be avoided through a better design.

Unavoidable impacts to quality mountain streams must be mitigated at a 2:1 ratio so that, for every area impacted, twice that area must be rehabilitated or restored elsewhere.

Developers must mitigate their impacts to streams by restoring streams. They cannot offset their mitigation burden by seeking credit for streams on their property that were not impacted by their development and are not otherwise at risk of being degraded.

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources will revise the water-quality certification for the development to reflect the settlement agreement. The Cliffs also must obtain a revised Army Corps 404 permit to reflect the terms of the settlement.

About Southern Environmental Law Center

The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of 40 legal experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use. For more information, visit

About Western North Carolina Alliance

For 28 years, WNCA has empowered citizens to be advocates for livable communities and the natural environmental of Western North Carolina. For more information, visit

About Trout Unlimited

Trout Unlimited's mission is to conserve, protect and restore North America's coldwater fisheries and their watersheds. The North Carolina State Council of Trout Unlimited and its individual chapters carry that mission for the residents, sportsmen/sportswomen and TU members of North Carolina. For further details, visit

For more information about Cliffs at High Carolina, visit