143-214.12.  Ecosystem Enhancement Program: Ecosystem Restoration Fund.

(a)        Ecosystem Restoration Fund. - The Ecosystem Restoration Fund is established as a nonreverting fund within the Department. The Fund shall be treated as a special trust fund and shall be credited with interest by the State Treasurer pursuant to G.S. 147-69.2 and G.S. 147-69.3. The Ecosystem Restoration Fund shall provide a repository for monetary contributions and donations or dedications of interests in real property to promote projects for the restoration, enhancement, preservation, or creation of wetlands and riparian areas and for payments made in lieu of compensatory mitigation as described in subsection (b) of this section. No funds shall be expended from this Fund for any purpose other than those directly contributing to the acquisition, perpetual maintenance, enhancement, restoration, or creation of wetlands and riparian areas in accordance with the basinwide plan as described in G.S. 143-214.10. The cost of acquisition includes a payment in lieu of ad valorem taxes required under G.S. 146-22.3 when the Department is the State agency making the acquisition.

(a1)      The Department may distribute funds from the Ecosystem Restoration Fund directly to a federal or State agency, a local government, or a private, nonprofit conservation organization to acquire, manage, and maintain real property or an interest in real property for the purposes set out in subsection (a) of this section. A recipient of funds under this subsection shall grant a conservation easement in the real property or interest in real property acquired with the funds to the Department in a form that is acceptable to the Department. The Department may convey real property or an interest in real property that has been acquired under the Ecosystem Enhancement Program to a federal or State agency, a local government, or a private, nonprofit conservation organization to acquire, manage, and maintain real property or an interest in real property for the purposes set out in subsection (a) of this section. A grantee of real property or an interest in real property under this subsection shall grant a conservation easement in the real property or interest in real property to the Department in a form that is acceptable to the Department.

(b)        Authorized Methods of Payment. - A person subject to a permit or authorization issued by the United States Army Corps of Engineers under 33 U.S.C. 1344 may contribute to the Ecosystem Enhancement Program in order to comply with conditions to, or terms of, the permit or authorization if participation in the Ecosystem Enhancement Program will meet the mitigation requirements of the United States Army Corps of Engineers. The Department shall, at the discretion of the applicant, accept payment into the Ecosystem Restoration Fund in lieu of other compensatory mitigation requirements of any authorizations issued by the United States Army Corps of Engineers under 33 U.S.C. 1344 if the contributions will meet the mitigation requirements of the United States Army Corps of Engineers. Payment may be made in the form of monetary contributions according to a fee schedule established by the Environmental Management Commission or in the form of donations of real property provided that the property is approved by the Department as a suitable site consistent with the basinwide wetlands restoration plan.

(c)        Accounting of Payments. - The Department shall provide an itemized statement that accounts for each payment into the Fund. The statement shall include the expenses and activities financed by the payment. (1996, 2nd Ex. Sess., c. 18, s. 27.4(a); 1997-496, s. 13; 1999-329, s. 6.1; 2004-188, s. 3; 2005-386, s. 3.5.)