BoCC Candidates Talk Conservation And Climate Change

CARRBORO- Candidates running for a seat on the Orange County Board of Commissioners outlined their top environmental priorities Wednesday night at a forum hosted by the Orange-Chatham Sierra Club.

Barry Jacobs, who has served on the board for four terms, said he wants to make sure the Lands Legacy program continues to protect natural areas, watersheds and agricultural land.

“We’ve acquired a thousand acres for parks and natural area protection, and we have conservation easements on more than two thousand acres,” said Jacobs. “We have drawn down grant monies so that land has cost us half, as Orange County taxpayers, what we have had to lay out.”

Earl McKee currently represents District 2, which covers Hillsborough and the rural portions of the county. He touted the success of the voluntary agricultural district program.

“If we’re going to focus on open space preservation, we’ve got to work with the people who own most of the open space in Orange County, and that’s the agricultural community,” said McKee. “The voluntary agricultural districts, having that program and the increase in acreage over the past few years, has done a lot to encourage farmland to stay in the farming community.”

Mia Burroughs is a member of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board looking to win a seat on the Board of County Commissioners. She said she’d like to see more collaboration between the county and the school systems in planning recreation areas.

“I think we’ll want to continue to do co-locations the way that has been done with the Gravelly Hill school and West Ten Soccer Complex,” said Burroughs. “I think there’s a lot of good, cooperative programming and use of resources that can go on.”

Burroughs faces Gary Kahn for the District 1 seat representing Chapel Hill and Carrboro. As the only Republican in the race, Kahn stressed that he too values conservation.

“I am pro-conservation. As much as our legislature in Raleigh is anti-conservation, I am pro-conservation, so I want to make that point perfectly clear,” said Kahn. “I’m the Teddy Roosevelt kind of Republican.”

When asked how to reduce the county’s carbon footprint and tackle climate change, District 2 challenger Mark Marcoplos said the region’s local food system is key to increasing the area’s resilience.

“The price of food is going to sky-rocket as global warming wreaks havoc around the country,” said Marcoplos. “Food prices are going to go up; local food is going to be highly valuable.”

Bonnie Hauser, who is challenging Jacobs for an at-large seat on the board, said the county needs to do more to help residents prepare for natural disasters.

“Climate change is here. It’s time to be prepared for disaster. The county does have a disaster plan, but no one in the community knows about it,” said Hauser. “So we need to get it out to the communities, especially our affordable communities who are being stuck in places with no heating, no cooling. That needs to be fixed.”

Early voting begins April 24. Both the District 2 and at-large races will be decided in the May 6 Primary, while Burroughs will face Kahn in the November 4 General Election.

Aldermen Candidates On The Environment & Development

CARRBORO – The environment and economic development were the key themes which hopeful candidates tackled Wednesday at the Carrboro Board of Aldermen Forum, hosted by the Sierra Club and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce.

The candidates competing for three open seats include incumbents Sammy Slade, Jacquelyn Gist and Randee Haven-O’Donnell.

The challengers are Kurt Stolka, Vice-Chair of Carrboro’s Transportation Advisory Board, and Al Vickers, a former member of the Solid Waste Advisory Board with a Ph. D. in environmental science.

Each candidate was given time for opening statements, and then moderator, Margot Lester, asked the candidates questions on topics ranging from solid waste disposal to storm water management.

Current Alderman Lydia Lavelle, who is running unchallenged for Mayor, said that the hardest decisions she had to make in her position were finding the balance between the environment and development. She said the Carrboro 20/20 plan, designed in 2000, was a good plan that needed to be revisited and revised.

“If you look at that plan and read over it, it is very well done, and it is the essence of a community that values sustainable development,” Lavelle said.

Vickers said his reason for running was to offer an “alternative viewpoint” to the Board.

“[Carrboro] is a mono-thinking town, and I don’t want to insult anybody, but one thing I did learn in industry is that when everybody thinks the same way, you walk off a cliff, and you make a big mistake,” Vickers said. “You need to listen to your opposition. They will keep you on a straight path.”

Gist said she was proud of the work she had done with Board to encourage environmentally friendly initiatives. She dispelled the myth, which she said was circulating in State politics, that protecting the environment was “bad for business.”

“Together, that has helped to create a thriving, healthy community where people live and do business,” Gist said. “It is not perfect, and it still needs work. But if anybody can do it, Carrboro can do it.”

When the candidates  where asked if they would support town programs to address residential and commercial food waste, Slade said that issue was one of the main reasons he chose to run again.

“We have this huge opportunity to do some composting and we are in the middle of a conversation with the County and Chapel Hill trying to figure out what they are going to do,” Slade said. “An opportunity that we have in Carrboro is that we have these brown bins where people their twigs and yard waste and those brown bins can also accept food waste.”

Stolka outlined his three goals for running: addressing the equality gap, increasing transportation safety, and supporting progressive family values.

On the subject of economic development, he said he believed it would be advantageous for the Town to grow its commercial tax base.

“I think helping to grow the commercial tax base through mixed-use development [would be beneficial], and increasing some commercial outlets in our Northern zone so people don’t have to drive such long distances for their goods,” Stolka said.

Lester quoted the statistic that every morning 7,658 Carrboro residents drive out of the town limits to work in another community, whereas 4,466 drive into the town, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That means that only 622 people wake up and work in Carrboro, which does not include cottage industries.

Lester asked the candidates to address the “in-and-out” challenge in Carrboro.

“I make the commute,” Haven-O’Donnell said. “I know that one of the things that I am looking to is increasing multi-modal transit light rail to make alternative energy the fabric of what we do.”

Haven-O’Donnell told WCHL News this summer that highlights of her time on the Board included improving conditions for day laborers and economic development across the town.

Battle Over Jordan Lake Anti-Pollution Rules Continues

CHAPEL HILL – A bill is now heading to the NC House of Representatives that seeks to repeal the state’s water protection rules to lessen pollution and run-off into Jordan Lake—the water source for much of the Triangle. It’s already passed in the Senate and now local conservation  groups are speaking out against the bill.

“That’s pie in the sky. That is magical thinking. There’s no other solution for improving the water quality than to stop the pollution of Jordan Lake; we have to prevent the pollution from getting into the water,” said Olga Grlic, co-chair of the Orange-Chatham County Sierra Club.

Grlic , a resident of Chapel Hill, attended a press conference Friday—organized by the state chapter of the Sierra Club. Its goal was to raise awareness about the effects this legislation might have on Jordan Lake.

Other environmental groups like Environment North Carolina and the Haw River Assembly were in attendance.

“There’s also an overload of information so anything we can do to let people now what is going on is bound to wake people up and encourage them to contact their representatives,” Grlic said.

Jordan Lake currently provides water to about 250,000 people in our area and Grlic says that number will likely double in the next ten years.

Environmental advocates have argued that Jordan Lake has problems with pollution because it’s fed by streams and tributaries that carry contaminants from urban areas.

Another issue is that  fertilizer washes into to the lake from people’s yards. This causes algae blooms that bacteria will consume– subsequently causing a rise in the bacteria population. The high bacteria population then consumes dissolved oxygen in the water faster than it can be replenished by new oxygen dissolving in from the air. When the dissolved oxygen drops and fish populations begin to die– as local science expert Jeff Danner explained.

Grlic says Jordan Lake is already on the verge of not living up to federal regulations.

“I think a lot of the bills have gone through at such a crazy speed that there hasn’t been enough room for consultation,” Grlic said.

Sponsors for the bill have said the current rules, which were put into place in 2009, are costing developers hundreds of thousands of dollars and need to be changed. Grlic says if these rules are repealed—the situation will get worse.

“Whenever roads are paved—these impervious surfaces cause run-off bringing dirt and bits of oil,” Grlic said. “Fertilizer from lawns also gets washed into the lake.”

NC Senator Ellie Kinnaird (Dem.), who represents Orange and Chatham Counties, has also spoken out against the bill. She says environmental regulations being swept aside by the General Assembly.