Every week we read another news story about access to our coastal islands.
Last year Hurricane Sandy and two other storms pushed water across Highway 12, cutting the road to shreds one more time.
The channel across Hatteras Inlet filled up, forcing the ferry between Hatteras and Ocracoke to close down.
Planned ferry toll increases will penalize island residents and working people who will be denied the kind of access from their homes that other North Carolinians take for granted.
When is all this uncertainty going to end?
Never, according to retired East Carolina University Geology Professor Stanley Riggs, unless North Carolina’s decision-makers come to grips with certain facts about the long-term future of our barrier islands and other coastal areas.
Riggs and his co-authors lay out their version of these facts in their book, “The Battle for North Carolina’s Coast: Evolutionary History, Present Crisis, and Vision for the Future.”
Their book explains some of the complex factors that operate in coastal zones where water and land meet. Although the science may be complicated, its application to North Carolina has simple, easy to understand lessons as Riggs explained for his publisher, UNC Press: “Shoreline erosion is the direct product of long-term sea-level rise, which has been ongoing for the past 18,000 years. As the Earth’s climate warms, the vast continental ice sheets melt and recede. Waters flow back into the world’s oceans, causing the sea level to rise. In response, the mobile coastal system has had a long journey migrating upward and landward from its starting point on the continental slope, about 410 feet below and up to 60 miles east of its present location. This history will continue as long as our climate continues to warm. To maintain a viable coastal economy and preserve the natural resources upon which that economy is dependent, the public, our managers, and politicians must understand and adapt to the natural dynamics of change on a mobile coastal system. The present approach of unlimited economic growth and development will result in ever-increasing conflicts and catastrophes.”
Using a host of maps and other illustrations, Riggs projects the short-term future of the Outer Banks. One or two major storms could lead to the collapse or disintegration of portions of the barrier islands, most likely where there has already been severe island narrowing.
So, is Riggs, like some other scientists, proposing that all people simply move away from the Outer Banks and let nature take its course?
Not exactly. Riggs does favor discontinuing the efforts to maintain most of Highway 12 and abandoning plans to repair the old Bonner Bridge or build a new one. Because Highway 12 is doomed, he thinks extraordinary efforts to preserve it should end.
But he also suggests a system of sustainable tourism based on an understanding of a changing shoreline. In place of Highway 12 and the Bonner Bridge would be a system of small ferries that would serve communities on Hatteras, Ocracoke, and other parts of the Outer Banks that prove to be stable enough to survive indefinitely.
Riggs’s suggestions for action may be more moderate than those of others. But they sound radical to the tough Outer Banks residents who have proved over and over again for centuries that they will fight hard to keep anybody and any ocean from taking away what little they have.
D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For more information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at www.unctv.org/ncbookwatch.
Upcoming (April 14, 18) guest is retired East Carolina professor Stanley Riggs author of “The Battle for North Carolina’s Coast: Evolutionary History, Present Crisis, and Vision for the Future.”
(Note: On Thursday, April 11, at 5 p.m. Bookwatch guest is Pam Durban, who talks about “The Tree of Forgetfulness.”)
The recent temporary closings of the Hatteras Ferry and coastal Highway 12 remind us that our coast is fragile and unstable. How do we protect it? In “The Battle for North Carolina’s Coast: Evolutionary History, Present Crisis, and Vision for the Future,” retired East Carolina professor Stanley Riggs and his coauthors give the background we need to make good decisions. (April 14, 18)
The program will also air at Wednesday April 17 at 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on UNC-MX, a digital cable system channel (Time Warner #172 or #4.4). In addition, airing at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday on UNC-MX will be a classic Bookwatch program featuring Carole Boston Weatherford, author of “Princeville: 500 Year Flood.”
A grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council provides crucial support for North Carolina Bookwatch.http://chapelboro.com/columns/one-on-one/hard-facts-and-hard-heads-on-the-outer-banks/
There is a lot of talk these days about farm-to-fork eating. In our area many people take it seriously and generally do a good job of eating thoughtfully; using fresh, local ingredients. Isaiah Allen personifies this way of living. He is currently Chef de Cuisine at Il Palio (my last column told the romantic story of how he’d come to make the wonderful Tagliatelle al Tartufo there) and will soon be Executive Chef of the Eddy Pub in Saxapahaw. And, of course, he also owns Rocky Run Farm with his wife Whitney, and the line between all of those jobs blurs in wonderful and interesting ways.
About three or four years ago Isaiah and Whitney decided they wanted to try growing their own food, even though they had no previous experience. They were trying to eat better and had been watching documentaries like Food, Inc. while learning about pollution and commodity farming. They became more and more captivated with the ideas they were hearing and wanted to do something to make a difference. They started by setting up a small garden in their front yard, growing tomatoes and basil. After cooking with their produce food, they realized that they had an itch for farming and wanted to do more of it. Through talking to people, they found out that Whitney’s uncle had some family land. Eventually they expanded onto area and made a garden, enlarging it with a small tractor. They successfully pushed the garden to a quarter acre and grew beets, carrots and a few other things.
Inspired by how well things were going, Isaiah and Whitney wanted to do more. They found a Sustainable Agriculture program at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro and took the class. This gave him the tools to do all the things that he was thinking of doing, and he now had a certified one-year degree for sustainable farming.
After school each week he’d take what he had learned and, along with Whitney, would use it on their farm. He learned about biological pest management and enjoyed watching the soil full-cycle. A simple but very important thing he learned was how to keep the soil healthy. Conventional farming teaches that soil is a sponge – dump stuff into it and the soil is lifeless. The sustainable farming that Isaiah learned showed him that the soil needs to be healthy; and healthy soil feeds the plants. He does some really interesting things to keep his soil in good condition. He takes leftover salmon bones and heads from his restaurant and uses that for compost. He gets leftover whey from a local cheesemaker, composts it and tosses that over the soil. The whey helps get rid of bad bacteria and the worms digest it, consume it and then make it plant viable. One day he went to a BBQ place for a sandwich and asked what they did with their ashes. Now he picks those ashes up once a week and uses them in his soil. With one good rain it soaks in, raising the pH level of the soil. He’s using things that would otherwise be thrown away to make his soil healthier.
They now have land in Mebane and plan to expand their farm. The plan is for there to be one acre for the house, one acre for an orchard, two acres of cover crop, two acres of fruits and vegetables and two acres of pasture for mixed livestock (they’re thinking rabbits, chickens, sheep and a few pigs). They will rotate these the way the Amish do to keep the soil healthy. The animals will be fertilizing the soil, the cover crop will hold nutrients in place until the next round. This builds the topsoil and is called “nutrient cycling” and continually improves the soil, making it better and better with each year. They intend to have a long driveway to the house lined with chestnut trees. Once these trees start to give off nuts they will harvest as many as they can, and then they’ll release the pigs they hope to have and let them clean up the rest. Then, the pigs can be marketed as chestnut-finished pork, much like Iberico pork is sold as acorn-finished.
Right now they’re doing cooking demonstrations at farmers’ markets. They give out recipes that work with what they are selling, and will be at Southern Village’s market on Thursdays, and the Hillsborough’s smaller market at the Home Depot on Saturdays.
The Allens want to make this work as a business, hoping to build a reputation with their quality products. Whitney has a degree in business and bookkeeping and is now doing an ag-business course to help out on the business side of the farm. Her accounting knowledge helps a lot. This is a team effort and a dream for both of them. As their lifes’ work, they constantly think up new possibilities. They are living their lives the way they want to, and doing what they believe in and love. Il Palio buys some of their produce and working there gives him a way to promote the farm. The man cooking the food is the man growing the food. And the food waste from that same restaurant is put into their compost. It is a brilliant circle and truly farm-to-fork.
You can follow Kari on Twitter @NoshSpiceNC.http://chapelboro.com/columns/kari-winter/rocky-run-farm/
NASA’s James Hansen recently declared that climate change has become a planetary emergency.
If humanity doesn’t begin cutting global emissions by 2015, the climate crisis will pass a point of no return – and a hellish condition for us all.
North Carolina has a unique duty to help avert climate and economic chaos – because the world’s second-largest power company is based in Charlotte.
The sheer size of Duke Energy means that its transition to clean energy could be a climate game-changer.
NC WARN and allies are pressing Duke to phase out fossil-fueled electricity by ramping up energy-saving programs, and renewable power – which are far cheaper than the nuclear plants Duke hopes to build.
In fact, Duke is investing heavily in solar and wind out West. But in the Southeast, Duke is blocking clean energy so it can keep burning coal and gas while trying to build new nukes.
Tragically, our society has been very slow to respond to the climate crisis.
Indeed, the acceleration of bizarre weather and rising storm surges can feel paralyzing.
And our government is surely failing its duty.
But NC WARN and allies have a strong chance of persuading Duke Energy to join the Clean Energy Revolution.
North Carolina must rise to this extraordinary moral challenge.http://chapelboro.com/columns/the-commentators/north-carolina-must-rise-to-its-unique-climate-challenge/
ORANGE COUNTY – Newly elected State Representative Valerie Foushee will take her oath of office on Tuesday, January 8, at 4:00 p.m. in the Orange County Courthouse in Hillsborough. The ceremony is open to the public; District Court Judge Beverly Scarlett will perform the swearing-in.
Foushee was elected in November to represent District 50, replacing outgoing State Rep. Bill Faison.
Chapel Hill town crews have begun picking up Christmas trees and wreaths for mulching on the regular yard-waste collection schedule. If your trash gets picked up on Mondays, your yard waste will be collected on Thursdays; if your trash gets picked up on Tuesdays, your yard waste will be collected on Fridays.
If you leave trees or wreaths by the curb, make sure to remove all decorations first.http://chapelboro.com/sports/news-around-town-foushee-old-tree/
A few weeks ago, I was in Iowa and South Dakota and saw first-hand the fields of stunted, parched corn that are the result of the worst U.S. drought in 56 years. Sioux Falls had .01 inches of rain in July. It was on everyone’s mind.
I spent some time with my brother-in-law who farms corn and soybeans. He told me that the local economies across the Midwest, especially farming communities, were going to take a big hit. And he noted that national food prices will rise significantly at a time when low- and middle-class people in our fragile economy can least absorb them.
It’s no secret that we face a future that will feature more instability due to climate change, peak oil, and the evolving grip that the ultra-wealthy have on our society.
Unless I’ve completely missed it, our local discussions and efforts to improve our economy seem to exhibit no significant discernible theme of prioritizing economic development strategies that increase our odds of weathering the turbulent transition years that are upon us.
Chatham County recently celebrated the ground-breaking for a Walmart just south of Chapel Hill. Setting aside the many documented damaging externalities that come with these sales-tax-generating behemoths, there has been no consideration of how a Walmart affects our sustainability and resilience.
We know that fuel costs will rise. We know that climate change will mean higher food prices, as will rising fuel costs. Aside from child labor and cruelly low-paid overseas workers, Walmart’s success has been built largely on transporting products extremely long distances and taking advantage of the high yields from agri-business.
Communities that have consciously grown their local agriculture, promoted alternative energy including biofuels, and retained control over their local water will have the most vibrant economies in the next couple of decades of stormy transition. Local business leaders are understandably anxious about how to pay for community essentials in the face of the betrayal of leadership and loss of support from the greater society. However, if we are not careful, we may have short-term success with a few “silver bullet” solutions, yet find ourselves ill-equipped to meet the unique challenges that only a self-reliant, community-based economic system is capable of doing.http://chapelboro.com/columns/local-issues/is-resiliency-an-economic-priority/
The growth of alternative energy is accelerating. Here and there across Orange County, photovoltaic systems are being installed, solar water heaters are appearing on rooftops, and geothermal systems are on the rise. A large solar electric generating system will soon be installed on White Cross Rd.
As the science fiction writer Bruce Sterling said, “The future is here. It just isn’t very well distributed yet.”
Local builder and environmentalist Tom O’Dwyer, who serves on the County’s Commission on the Environment, proposed that future developments be required to set aside suitable space for future solar installations. This evolved into a broader proposal to consider how the County might encourage all forms of alternative energy, as well as energy efficiency.
This idea is percolating through the County’s often tortoise-like staff and committee structure. It really needs a jump-start from the County Commissioners. A task force should be formed asap to consider the many issues and policy questions surrounding how we will incorporate and encourage local sustainable energy production and energy efficiency strategies.
If we make the right decisions and pro-actively address these issues, we can make Orange County a model of sustainable energy practices, boost economic activity, and become more resilient in a future which is likely to be more unpredictable than ever.http://chapelboro.com/columns/local-issues/the-county-needs-an-alternative-energy-task-force/
There was a very revealing moment at last week’s public hearing on fracking in North Carolina. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) had heard from a couple of dozen people – a mix of scientists, medical professionals, researchers, landowners in the shale zone, and concerned citizens – all opposing fracking, when Lew Ebert, the CEO of the N.C. Chamber of Commerce stepped to the microphone.
He delivered a general plea for more economic growth and offered that the gas deposits represented a wonderful opportunity for the state. As he concluded, he made a remarkable statement. He implored the officials not to “believe the opinions of scientists”.
During the previous hour he had heard a geologist who had worked for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission describe the unique diabase dike formations in the Triassic Basin of central NC. The fissures run vertically, not horizontally as in most places, and would allow fracking fluids much more direct access to groundwater.
Another scientist explained that air quality is negatively affected by this type of mining and that high ozone levels have been detected at fracking operations.
He heard a physician speak about the lack of knowledge concerning the health effects of the chemical soup that is injected into the rock to liberate the natural gas.
Two people who had lived in Dimock, PA, where extensive fracking is ongoing, presented sobering data on the radical increase in heavy truck traffic with resultant road damage, the exploitation of the worker population through rent increases (which altered the housing costs for all), the increases in violent crime and DUI’s, the extensive consumption of imported water because of contaminated wells, and more.
Alternative energy researchers highlighted the burgeoning solar and wind activity in NC and the great potential for this trend to far surpass natural gas extraction in job production, without the intensive disrupting effects of fracking.
Amongst these presenters were a small handful of fracking proponents. For comic relief, a climate science denier took the microphone and seemed to say that since there is no climate change then we should have no concerns about fracking in that regard.
A former Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection staff member and current industry consultant assured everyone that, if the proper regulations were in place, that fracking could be done safely. The few that actually offered public statements decried the uninformed emotion of the naïve environmental crowd and urged the rejection of dogma over science. They offered vague paeans to jobs, prosperity, and energy independence.
From the tea party “drill, baby, drill” crowd wearing matching red t-shirts and waving matching signs that greeted drivers at the road to the few pro-fracking speakers, the total lack of any data or scientific information to bolster their position was inescapable.http://chapelboro.com/columns/local-issues/emotion-vs-science-in-the-fracking-debate/
It’s time to shift gears on our economic development plans. County leadership seems to be embracing a new openness to encouraging business. Presentations and discussions almost always include vague statements to the effect that we have a new commitment to economic development and a new appreciation of the necessity for being business-friendly.
In the absence of a coherent shared vision for specific types of economic activity, it seems that what is actually being discussed is merely modifying processes to allow almost any type of economic activity. The goal is to create jobs and generate tax revenue, worthy and time-honored objectives to be sure.
You don’t have to be a futurist or economist to understand that the old bromides are not enough for the uncertain future we face. We are in the days of peak oil, with fluctuations and eventual permanent increases in fuel costs. Additionally, global climate change has already begun to alter the national economy in capricious ways that affect every town and county in the country. Our economic system increasingly puts local governments behind the eight-ball. We need to incorporate resilient and self-reliant systems into our local economic landscape.
Imagine if we had a biofuels plant that utilized our waste stream as a raw material. There have been local discussions about a specific technology that removes nearly all of the recyclables and processes the rest into fuel. The plants are quiet, odorless, and use very little water and energy. They can also be custom-sized to fit the resource stream.
Imagine that, in the same eco- industrial park, we had a manufacturing plant that created picnic tables, bike parking racks, recycling receptacles, patio furniture, and more from the plastic resources that currently are shipped away.
Old asphalt roof shingles can be processed into road, sidewalk, and bikeway material. These shingles are one of the major components of demolition debris and the alternative to processing them is landfilling. This type of facility would require more old shingles than we generate, but surrounding municipalities would welcome a partnership.
These industries would present siting and design challenges in order to restrict their impacts. The type of biofuels plant mentioned above would have surprisingly low impacts. The plastic products plant would likely have more, and the asphalt plant would present the most challenges. We should accept these challenges in the spirit of meeting our own needs and not externalizing our impacts on other communities. If we are going to generate trash and recyclables, then we should figure out a way to contribute to processing them for the public good.
Manifesting these facilities would take more creativity in design and political engagement than we have yet displayed. But the benefits would go beyond producing jobs and tax revenues. We would save money through the years by significantly seceding from the conventional big waste system that is so reliant on fuel and externalizing costs on the public. In addition to the biofuels and other products that we would have available locally, there would also be an intangible benefit from acting responsibly and providing leadership for other communities.http://chapelboro.com/columns/local-issues/industry-for-a-sustainable-future/
At every nearly every fork in the solid waste policy road, Orange County has taken the wrong path. Now we are paying a heavy price for the political cage we built to trap ourselves.
Starting with the doomed landfill search in the early 90’s, County leadership insisted on siting a mega-landfill (many potential sites were well over 1,000 acres), while forbidding public discussion of how waste reduction could minimize site size. It was a process that could not have been better designed for failure.
In 1992, solid waste staff insisted that we needed a landfill by 1996 because that was when the Eubanks facility would be maxed out. Proponents of a waste-reduction based approach, including myself, studied the available data and concluded in our report that the Eubanks landfill would actually last until sometime around 2003. In retrospect, we were clearly way off the mark. It was actually going to be good for twice as long as we predicted and seven times as long as the solid waste professionals stated.
Our point was that we had plenty of time to delay the landfill search while devising a waste reduction plan that would require a much smaller – and therefore easier to site – landfill footprint. This suggestion was dismissed and the mega-landfill search process reached its predictable end when County leaders threw up their hands and blamed the failure on the NIMBY citizenry.
So the issue drifted on, unresolved through the years. In the meantime, despite periodic requests from concerned citizens and Rogers Road landfill neighbors for fair compensation and mitigation, nothing but lip service was offered those bearing the burden on behalf of the rest of the County. Each time this issue arose, the neighbors and activists became more frustrated. As County officials sat on their hands, the charge of environmental racism added more heat to the mix. Hyperbole grew in the form of such stories as buzzards threatening little children. Common sense and fairness were increasingly difficult to recognize.
As the Commissioners ignored the elephant in the room over the years, hoping that their successors would be the ones to grab this snake by the tail, they probably sensed that we would eventually default to the easy way out – shipping our waste over the horizon to some distant god-forsaken community, some Rogers Rd. with another name and faceless people who would never confront them.
At this late hour, Mayor Chilton of Carrboro made a proposal to consider our own small transfer station on the edge of our urban zone and adjacent to the I-40 interstate. This proposal would save taxpayers an estimated $750,000 a year and certainly more in years to come. It would also allow us a last chance to look at other strategies for waste minimization and processing without being bound by a regional contract.
Some local leaders are aware of serious local discussion of a promising technology that removes nearly all recyclables from the solid waste stream and converts the rest to biofuel. We all know of the increase in products made from recycled materials. If we can shift our perspective away from looking at solid waste as trash to be disposed of and see it as a resource stream, we can get on the path to taking full responsibility for the waste we generate.
Yet here we are at another fork in the solid waste policy road. The Commissioners are defaulting again to the path of least responsibility. They are simultaneously closing the Eubanks landfill before it is filled, thus ending revenue generation for the Rogers Road fund, while committing us to a fiscally uncertain situation in which we are beholden to others for our waste disposal. We seem poised to finally tie all the mistakes of the past into a Gordian knot that will remind us that we proved incapable of putting our mouthings about sustainability into practice.http://chapelboro.com/columns/local-issues/biggest-policy-failure-in-county-history/
Piedmont Creeks need your help! Rain water is running off roofs, roads, lawns – flowing too quickly into our creeks! Hard surfaces have replaced forest and dramatically reduced the amount of rain water that sinks into the ground to replenish our ground water. Rapid bursts of water scour banks, degrade animal habitat, and carry sediment and fertilizers, pouring these pollutants into our creeks and water supplies.
How can we “fix” our disruption of the natural water cycle? What can we do to slow down our water, clean it, and replenish groundwater? This is an issue all of us need to work on, because we are all part of the problem–and part of the solution.
When development comes along, we need to do a better job of managing the rainfall that no longer soaks into the soil, but runs off. At homes imagine where your rainwater goes. It’s bound to be going to a creek feeding a water supply. We can take care of our creeks by building rain gardens and swales and by managing chemicals properly at home.
You are invited to a Symposium “Can We Heal Our Local Watersheds?” focusing on these water quality problems. You can learn about actions you can take in an interactive exhibition put on by over twenty organizations and meet a great horned owl.
Join us this Saturday from 9 until 1 pm for this 2020 Chapel Hill free event at the NC Botanical Garden. Check out all the events at www.bolincreek.org.
Let’s care for our creeks and our drinking water every day.http://chapelboro.com/columns/the-commentators/creeks-need-your-help/