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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Jordan Lake Rules headed to Senate floor

Posted by on Tue, Jun 9, 2009 at 3:46 PM

Update: HB 239 is scheduled to be voted on in the Senate on Wednesday, June 10, at 3 p.m.

The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources has approved a bill that would clear the way for a state-mandated program to clean up Jordan Lake, a critical drinking-water source that has been on EPA's Impaired Waters list since 2002. The bill, “Restore Water Quality in Jordan Reservoir” (also known as HB 239), was previously approved by the House chamber, and will now come up for a vote in the N.C. Senate.

Originally titled “Disapprove Jordan Lake Rules,” HB 239 represents a modification to the nutrient-reduction strategy adopted by the N.C. Environmental Management Commission, and approved by the N.C. Rules Review Commission. In particular, it reduces EMC’s ability to regulate pollution that results from existing development–the principal reason the lake has appeared on the Impaired Waters list for “excess nutrients.” Nevertheless, the bill allows nutrient-reduction goals to go forward, in order to return Jordan Lake to federal Clean Water Act compliance.

For more background on the bill, check out the Triangulator's "Jordan Lake rules" tag. Check back for updates.

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Update: Planning Commission chair plans to sit out Jordan Lake hearing

Posted by on Tue, Jun 9, 2009 at 2:57 PM

Durham City-County Planning Commission Chair George Brine has told the Indy he plans to sit out tonight's public hearing on Jordan Lake's critical watershed boundary, "unless the attorneys tell me otherwise." The commission is scheduled to recommend  whether to incorporate changes resulting from a developer-funded survey of Jordan Lake into the city and county's Comprehensive Plan.

In a letter dated June 1, 2009, lawyers representing Southern Durham Development, which would financially benefit from the map change, accused Brine of holding a "personal opinion" on the matter, and said his participation in the hearing would "further taint this already deeply flawed process." When asked if the letter had influenced his decision, Brine said, "That's part of it. But it’s better for the commission without any clouds hanging over them."

In an interview, Durham Planning Director Steve Medlin said Brine had no legal obligation to step down from the public hearing, since he serves in an advisory capacity and is encouraged to form, and share, opinions. Brine was one of several applicants who asked the N.C. Environmental Management Commission to reconsider the N.C. Division of Water Quality's approval of the developer-funded survey.

"He’s not in violation of rules of procedure, or ethics policy, as we read it," Medlin said of Brine, adding that "he could sit if he wanted to."

Southern Durham Development, the development company advocating for Brine's recusal, owns 165 out of 273 acres that would be moved out of Jordan Lake's critical watershed--which severely limits development--and into Durham's "urban growth area," where it can later be re-zoned for high-density projects. Minority shareholder Neal Hunter, who commissioned the survey that re-drew Jordan Lake's boundaries, owns an additional 74 acres that would be moved out of the watershed area. All told, the land is valued at $20.5 million, but would increase significantly once it is rezoned.

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Monday, June 8, 2009

Racial Justice Act clears House Ways and Means Committee

Posted by on Mon, Jun 8, 2009 at 9:02 PM

Today the House Committee on Ways and Means and Broadband Connectivity narrowly approved the Racial Justice Act (SB 461), which would prevent the execution of defendants who can prove race was an underlying factor in the decision to seek, or impose, the death penalty at the time of their trial. The bill, which passed 7-5, will now be taken up by the House Judiciary I Committee, which has already approved an earlier House version this session. (Ways and Means today passed the Senate version, which currently contains while removing a controversial clause that would ensure capital punishment will resume in the state.)

Before it passed, the bill faced stiff opposition from Minority House Leader Paul Stam (R-Wake) and Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby, who each provided the committee with strained analogies to argue against the use of statistical data in proving racial bias.

Speaking on behalf of the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys, Willoughby compared disproportionate sentencing, based on race, to disproportionate sentencing based on "blood type" or "astrological signs."

He said all of the examples represent a "disingenuous and scientifically unsound method of using statistics to insert some sort of causal relationship without proof."

A 2001 study conducted by two University of North Carolina professors, which analyzed cases over a four-year period in the 1990s, found the odds of receiving a death sentence in North Carolina grew 3.5 times in cases where the victim was white. In addition, the study found, black defendants were twice as likely to receive death sentences when comparing identical crimes.

Willoughby argued that analyzing prior death-sentencing decisions, and comparing them to current cases, was the equivalent to punishing defendants for past crimes (which, under North Carolina's habitual felon law, we do.) Rep. Stam, raising his hand to speak "in favor" of the Racial Justice Act, said he "took issue" with the analogy.

"What this bill does is say that, because Rep. [Thom] Tillis [R-Mecklenburg] did a breaking-and-entering five years ago, I must've done it this year--because we happen to be the same race," he said, grabbing Tills--himself a Racial Justice Act opponent--by the shoulders.

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751 Assemblage: Hello, old friend

Posted by on Mon, Jun 8, 2009 at 3:39 PM

The Durham Planning Commission will hold a public hearing tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. in City Hall to determine whether  Durham should amend its Comprehensive Plan Unified Development Ordinance to accommodate a privately funded survey that significantly re-draws the boundaries of Jordan Lake.  This is the first step in a public hearing process the Durham County Commissioners approved by a 3-2 vote last April, despite protests from developers who stand to benefit from a new location for the lake, a drinking-water source, albeit a polluted one, for the region.

Meanwhile, the Haw River Assembly has requested a deferral on the item (PDF, 2.4 MB), citing preliminary results from a survey, funded by 50 citizens, that indicates the lake ends "approximately 1/2 mile further upstream than the original determination location based on surface elevation measurements." The developer-funded survey, by contrast, moved the lake's boundary in the opposite direction, accommodating development upstream from the Upper New Hope Creek branch of Jordan Lake.

The proposed changes to the Comprehensive Plan Unified Development Ordinance (see June 9 agenda)-- recommended by the Durham City-County Planning Department--would effectively move 273 acres outside Jordan Lake's critical watershed boundary, a protected area that limits development within one mile of drinking-water sources. Simultaneously, it would add these 273 acres to the "urban growth area" and suburban tier, allowing denser development. Of these 273 acres, local real-estate developer Neal Hunter--who commissioned the private survey that moved Jordan Lake--owns, or has a stake in, roughly 240 of them (totalling $20.5 million in tax-assessed value):

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N.C. State releases Easley-related documents

Posted by on Mon, Jun 8, 2009 at 12:58 PM

After news that N.C. State University Chancellor James Oblinger resigned today, the university offered a little bedtime reading: Documents related to Mary Easley's hiring, including her contract with the university and  key talking points and anticipated questions and answers about the protocol of Easley's hiring. These are the same documents the university provided to the U.S. Attorney's office, which is investigating the appropriateness of the hire.

The hefty tome numbers hundreds of pages. In the collection of emails, are several priceless correspondences including one from N.C. State Board of trustees chairman McQueen Campbell, a close friend, dealmaker and political donor to the Easleys, who has since stepped down: "We're ready to move on this. Next step is in the Mansion."

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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Cuba in the news

Posted by on Wed, Jun 3, 2009 at 4:16 PM

Last April, President Barack Obama reversed history in announcing he would remove all restrictions from Cubans in the United States who wish to visit, and send money to, their family on the island. The two countries have also agreed to resume high-level migration talks, broken off during President George W. Bush's tenure. And this afternoon, news agencies are reporting that the Organization of American States has revoked its 1962 suspension of Cuba from the hemispheric partnership. (Cuba would still need to formally apply, in order to join OAS, which they have recently indicated they would not do.)

"For the first time since the early 60s, we have a dialogue on Cuba," UNC-Chapel Hill professor Louis A. Perez, Jr. said in an interview with the Indy.

What do Cubans in North Carolina think of the most recent developments in U.S.-Cuba relations, which Obama has characterized as a 'new beginning?' Pick up a copy of this week's Indy to hear views from exiles who fled the (not yet) Communist country as early as 1959, and as recently as last year.

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