- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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Jan. 20

The Jacksonville Daily News on investing in alternative energy sources while maintaining safety for state military bases:

Military bases are a vital part of life in eastern North Carolina. The sound of Freedom is not only overhead regularly, but the bases are staffed with our friends, neighbors and family members. The military expenditures are a vital lifeline for our communities.



It is also not a new effort by local government and elected officials to try to enact laws, ordinances and safeguards to help our local military bases continue to operate. North Carolina has one of the largest military footprints of any state in the country. The military is the second largest industry in North Carolina behind agriculture.

One of the reasons military bases are so prevalent in North Carolina is because we have good bombing, flight and training ranges for pilots, said Craven County Commissioner ET Mitchell.

We are for finding alternative energy sources but our top priority should be to support and protect our local bases. Efforts by local legislators like Sen. Harry Brown and Sen. Jim Perry, both Republicans in eastern North Carolina, are not an anti-green energy attempt. Local towns and counties have passed tall structure ordinances and other measures to help bases like Camp Lejeune, Seymour Johnson and Cherry Point should a Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, occur.

“No one is against sustainable energy or expanding them,” Mitchell said. “There is a need for more of them. This has to be managed carefully so you don’t have unintended consequences.”

Opponents to the bill have suggested that the Department of Defense Siting Clearinghouse and the Federal Aviation Administration already work to prevent conflicts with windmills and military training, so no specific statewide law is necessary.

“It’s also a safety issue, tall structures clutter the flight space and it impacts the safety of flight,” said Mitchell, who is a Navy veteran, and serves on a military affairs community and is a board member for ACT, Allies for Cherry Points Tomorrow. “We have military, commercial and private pilots all sharing the same airspace.”

Mitchell said, it is not a clear and easy process, but there should be more coordination and a little more to protect bases.

Perry told us back in May 2019 that it’s not an issue of bases working with developers to mitigate potential hazards during potential development of windmill near bases but positioning our bases in the best possible ways during a BRAC.

“We have to adopt policies that minimize the risk of those bases closing down,” Perry said in a news release. “We are willing to continue listening to stakeholders on how best to protect the military and provide opportunities for wind development.”

Anyone who has worked with a military affairs committee in eastern North Carolina can tell you how competitive states are when it comes to securing military bases. The potential benefits of a windmill near a military base is far outweighed by the need to ensure local bases have the strongest hand if there is a BRAC.

There are other states in the mid-West that would love to have more military resources located in their markets, and there are ways states can apply pressure to tip the scales in their favor.

The Department of Defense supports green energy and while they will never say no to tall structures around bases, we still believe it is important to advocate for additional protections.

Online: http://www.jdnews.com

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Jan. 17

The Charlotte Observer on where federal disaster aid funds are being spent:

After a Nor’easter last November, a WECT-TV reporter went to see how the storm had affected Topsail Island, a long barrier island between Morehead City and Wilmington that is especially susceptible to beach erosion. On the beach he spoke with Topsail resident Laura McCormick. She gave this assessment:

“We have at least lost, I would say, two thirds to three quarters of the beach that was just put back last year, and now we’ve lost it in one storm that wasn’t even that bad,” she said. “So my concern is during the next storm, which nobody knows when that’s going to be, how much of it is going to be gone?”

Last week, she got an answer: Less. For a while, anyway.

It’s not that the island’s beach dynamics have changed; erosion pressures are likely getting worse with climate change and sea level rise. But for a few years, the beaches will be expanded by a windfall of federal dollars. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced last week that it will spend $237 million to rebuild dunes and widen the beach on 10 miles of Topsail Island shoreline.

That’s great news for homeowners and visitors to the towns of North Topsail Island and Surf City, which will get four and six miles of beach improvements, respectively. The Army Corps also had good news for another barrier island to the north, Bogue Banks, which will receive $44.5 million to build nearly six miles of dunes and widen 22 miles of beach.

The cost of the projects is stunning. The federal government has, in effect, chosen to dump more than a quarter-billion dollars into the ocean. According to a Western Carolina University database, federal state and local governments have spent at least $909 million in real dollars since 1939 to renourish North Carolina beaches. This year’s outlay will be more than a quarter of that 80-year total.

Robert Young, a geology professor who directs the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina, said, “I understand the value of rebuilding beaches to the local community, but I’ve never understood the federal interest in spending that much money on a local coastal economy. We’ve been spending billions.”

What makes the expense especially excessive is that it is coming out of funds for disaster relief. Those funds should go toward preventing storm damage in small towns in rural areas that can’t afford to protect buildings, homes and roads from flooding. It’s good that the Army Corps of Engineers is spending $39 million to build a new levee in oft-flooded Princeville, but much more is going to protect beach homes.

Orrin Pilkey, Duke emeritus professor of geology and an expert on coastal erosion, said in a letter to The News & Observer: “These projects can only be characterized as madness. The sea-level rise is clearly accelerating, increasingly intense storms are expected as has happened in the last four years, and the amounts of money spent on these beaches will need to be expended again and again for years into the future.”

North Carolina Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis and Rep. David Rouzer did impressive work in wrangling such an enormous amount of federal cash for local beach projects. The added sand will help in the short run, but in the long run the sea is coming for these islands. Burr, Tillis and Rouzer said as much in a June letter to the Assistant Secretary of the Army that asked for federal funding for the beach projects. They noted that on Topsail Island, three hurricanes in the 1990s took 25 feet of beach and today “shoreline erosion continues at a rate of two to three feet per year in some portion of the project area.”

Piling cash into the sand won’t stop that for long.

Online: http://www.charlotteobserver.com

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Jan. 15

The News & Observer on the ongoing displacement of residents at a Durham public housing community:

Durham’s shiny downtown image is being eclipsed by what looks like third-world conditions in a public housing complex a few miles from the city’s new restaurants, bars and high-end apartments.

About 270 McDougald Terrace families are staying in a dozen hotels after being evacuated from the public housing development built in 1953. They were forced to leave because of carbon monoxide leaks coming from old appliances and pipes.

The McDougald Terrace conditions - mold, roaches, mice and gas leaks - contrast not only with the wave of new construction and renovations in downtown Durham, but also with the city’s reputation as a city where the needs of the poor are recognized and addressed. Certainly that wasn’t the case with the 360-unit McDougald Terrace complex. The Durham Housing Authority has been content to ignore conditions there despite the complex’s failing federal inspections two years in a row, scoring a 31 out of a possible 100 in 2019.

The News & Observer reported last week that Durham submitted a Transformation Plan to HUD in October 2014. Years later, no action has been taken. Now the city must cope with the results of that delay: media coverage of a forced evacuation, the expense of emergency repairs and appliance replacement and the daily cost of providing displaced residents with temporary shelter in hotels.

Who is to blame? Naturally, no one is taking that on. The housing authority’s CEO, Anthony Scott, took over the agency three years ago. He couldn’t explain why no action was taken on plans to renovate the complex. He told Trent Brown, “I don’t have a response for you at all. I wasn’t here in 2015 but I’ll have to look and see.”

One group that’s off the hook is Durham voters, who in November overwhelming approved a $95 million bond for affordable housing. The bond includes $59 million for the redevelopment of Durham Housing Authority properties. Amazingly, none of the money is directed toward renovating McDougald Terrace. That must be shock to those who agreed to pay more taxes to ensure that their fellow city residents have decent housing.

The next step is simple: Fix McDougald Terrace now. Find the money, make the repairs and return residents to safe homes.

In the longer term, the city must acknowledge that McDougald Terrace isn’t an isolated problem. Other Durham public housing complexes also fared poorly in HUD inspections. City officials should look again at the housing bond and direct money where the need for renovations and replacements is greatest.

The city also should review the organization and leadership of the city’s housing authority. Many other cities have managed to improve public housing; why hasn’t Durham? Where has the money for public housing gone? Why didn’t alarms go off years ago?

Finally, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development should take a stronger role in determining what went wrong with McDougald Terrace and Durham public housing generally and what can be done to correct the problems.

In the end, this crisis isn’t just about McDougald Terrace. It’s about public accountability, standards and values. And how it’s resolved will be about Durham.

Wendy Jacobs, chair of the Durham County Board of Commissioners, described the stakes at a news conference: “I want to first acknowledge that this is a terrible crisis in our community. There are many, many reasons that we have come to this moment. It involves decisions that were made locally, at the state level, the federal level. It is a very complex situation. This is a defining moment for us as a community.”

Online: http://www.newsobserver.com

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