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Parking Lots for Environmental Change

Updated: Apr 19

Located on the banks of the Roanoke River, Williamston, North Carolina is a certified Audubon Sustainable Community and strives to provide its residents with outdoor recreation and conservation techniques. The town is prone to hurricanes and flooding due to its proximity to water and therefore is conscious of how government decisions will affect the environmental health of Williamston. Among kayaking, hiking, camping, biking, and trails along the Roanoke River Wildlife Refuge, Williamston proudly maintains permeable pavement parking lots by the town hall.

The difference between permeable and impermeable pavement is monumental. That smooth, shiny, rock-hard pavement we all know and love? That’s impermeable, meaning water is unable to percolate through, and it must run off into the storm drains. The increase in impermeable pavements has put pressure on the rainwater system to hold the majority of rainfall, and therefore the underground aquifers, or natural water tanks, take longer to replenish. This increased flow of water to the storm drains can pick up chemicals and pollutants, increase sediment deposits and cause property damage. 

Permeable pavement does exactly the opposite. It is typically made of loose gravel, pervious asphalt, and pervious concrete. These types of surfaces allow rainwater to soak down to the ground below and eliminate runoff. It also recharges groundwater, can reduce the surface temperature of the ground, and is a much better financial choice. Permeable pavement decreases the need for gutters and retention basins, has lower installation costs, and has an equal life expectancy to the impermeable pavement with less financial upkeep. 

In 2009, the town of Williamston decided to install permeable pavement in the town hall parking lot, and while they are not planning to install any other eco-friendly lots, the effort is appreciated. 

The installation was in response to the severe and increased flooding in Eastern North Carolina. Williamston Planning and Downtown Marketing Coordinator Zach Dickerson says “The permeable pavement is intended as a tool to mitigate runoff on Town Hall property. While we have not measured changes in runoff specifically, this is generally the number one reason for the installation. It also serves in our efforts to be forward thinking in a part of the state prone to hurricanes and flooding.” 

Their contributions to mitigating climate change contribute to their status as an Audubon Certified Sustainable Community, and the unique look of the pavement garners the attention of their residents. Dickerson says, “While it’s not a talking point for people, it does stand out in comparison to other lots. The color is lighter gray and the texture is different, and I’ve noticed a lot of people doing double takes. I like to use it as an example to show what other people can do regarding taking steps towards being more environmentally friendly. It helps for the town to take the lead and to plan ahead.” 

The permeable pavement provides impromptu educational experiences for kids and adults alike who stumble across it. This allows government officials to provide information on the town’s efforts to mitigate climate change that everyone will benefit from. 

It is the hope of Williamston officials and environmentalists everywhere that more and more communities will implement changes such as permeable pavement to their towns to provide a more sustainable and secure future.

--Sydney Sirkin


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