UPDATE: This post was modified Friday, April 1, to include comments from Triangle Transit Authority on the city bus stop next to the building to be demolished.
The demolition of a chemically contaminated building on West Club Boulevard near Northgate Mall is likely to begin in mid-May, state officials announced at a public meeting Tuesday night.
The building at 1103 W. Club Blvd. was condemned in 2009 after tests showed soil, groundwater and air in and around the building was contaminated with tetracholoroethylene, also known as perchloroethylene or PERC. The cancer-linked solvent is commonly used by dry cleaning services. In previous decades, environmental regulations on the handling and disposal of the chemical were lax, and the state is now using a specific program and tax on dry cleaning to evaluate and clean up hundreds of sites across North Carolina. The building had once housed Tharrington's, a clothing store, and a BB&T bank.
The state has already spent nearly $500,000 of the funds created by the Dry Cleaning Solvent Cleanup Act to determine just how broad the contamination from the Club Boulevard site is, said John Powers, a supervisor with DENR's Division of Waste Management, which oversees the DSCA program. Tests in 2009 showed that the air inside the Club Boulevard building was too high to be inhabited, and a church that had been renting the space was forced to move.
The chemical has migrated in soil and groundwater south on Watts Street and east to Dollar Avenue in the Trinity Park neighborhood, tests show. Contractors for the state have been working for more than a year to monitor air quality inside homes and another church near the property, as well as groundwater contamination.
As the testing was ongoing, a committee from the Trinity Park Neighborhood Association was appointed to communicate with N.C. DENR and keep neighbors apprised of the developments. But members of that committee and several other residents said that the state had not provided timely and useable information.
"We had a lot of raw data, but no analysis," said Barb Carter, a member of the TPNA committee. She and others asked for some summary to explain, in layman's terms, the scope of the issue.
"You can't expect a neighbor to look at your plume diagram and know anything," said Carter, who has a background in science and is also an attorney. "My passion comes from the fear and the perceived tainting of our neighborhood."
Several other residents lamented the amount of time it has taken the state to determine the building needed to be demolished. The Club Boulevard site was accepted into the state cleanup program in 2006. Part of the delay, Powers said, was reaching an agreement with the building's owner, Liduvina Garcia. Garcia lives in Maryland. She has recently agreed to accept $150,000 in compensation for the demolition of the building.
The demolition is expected to cost another $50,000, Powers said, bringing the total expenditure to $700,000, before any future projects to possibly remove contaminated earth from the site. N.C. DENR is also working to establish restrictions on what the land could be used for in the future to prevent any further issues related to contamination exposure.
In the end, BB&T bank, which owned the building before Garcia, will be on the hook for 1.5 percent of the cleanup costs. BB&T would be responsible because it was the owner of the building when the site was accepted into the state's DSCA program for possible remediation. When Garcia bought the building, BB&T remained the party responsible for that copay.
Leaders in the state House of Representatives passed two controversial bills Wednesday afternoon, sending both to the state Senate for consideration. One of the bills (HB 33) rules out documents from the Mexican Consulate for North Carolina issued to Mexican residents in our state as a valid form of identification or proof of residency. The second (HB 111) would allow people with handgun permits to carry weapons in parks and restaurants, including establishments that serve alcohol.
The act to disregard documents issued by the state’s Mexican Consulate would prohibit government entities, including schools, magistrates and police, from verifying someone’s identity or residency through a Mexican ID card, known as a “matricula consular,” or any similar documents issued by a foreign government. Although the act would include documents from other nations—potentially problematic for a state with internationally-renowned universities and global businesses—many House Democrats said the act was unfairly targeting Latinos.
Those pushing the bill, including sponsor Rep. Mike Hager, R-Rutherford and Rep. George Cleveland, R-Onslow, have said consular ID cards are often forged and used by illegal immigrants to stave off deportation. Opponents of the bill say cases of forgery are no more frequent than other forms of identification. Further, forgeries are being made more difficult with changes to the format.
Leaders in Durham and Carrboro have passed resolutions in recent years supporting the acceptance of Mexican consular ID cards as valid forms of identification. When Durham’s City Council passed its resolution last fall, Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez was among its supporters.
Residents of Northside neighborhood and their supporters turned out en masse at Chapel Hill Town Hall on Monday night to call for a moratorium on all development in the historically black areas of town.
They say developers are finding ways to skirt the intent of the Neighborhood Conservation District rules passed in 2003 that seek to curtail the number of duplexes and student-friendly homes being erected there as long-time residents are forced out, unable to afford the property taxes or deal with the noise that students produce.
“It’s reached a point of crisis,” said Alexander Stephens, associate director of the Marian Cheek Jackson Center for Saving and Making History, which is housed in St. Joseph CME Church in the neighborhood.
“It’s like our communities are being destroyed and taken away,” said Carolyn Briggs, a long-time resident raised on Graham Street who says she is being priced out.
You can find the petition here. More than 50 residents turned out in support. Many are members of the Sustaining OurSelves Coalition (SOS).
The Town Council expressed some willingness to review the NCD rules with Councilmember Donna Bell, a resident of Northside, saying that she’s seen houses built that she can’t believe meet the rules, but somehow are within code.
They received and referred the petition to staff.
The council also received petitions urging the creation of a Human Rights Commission and re-instatement of the Sanitation Two.
Also at the meeting, the body delayed its vote on allowing larger business signs in town to April 11, approved a Community Policing Advisory Committee and elected to move forward with plans to temporarily house the Chapel Hill Public Library at the University Mall during the renovation process at Pritchard Park.
Legislators kicked off North Carolina’s redistricting process Wednesday with a joint meeting of the Senate and House committees that will help redraw the maps on the state on congressional level for the next decade.
There’s already controversy.
N.C. Senate Democratic Leader Martin Nesbitt, who represents Buncombe County, took issue with the committee makeup, urging for the inclusion of Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake and Sen. Daniel Clodfelter, D-Mecklenburg, both attorneys.
In a prepared statement, Nesbitt offered to remove himself and colleague Sen. Charlie Dannelly, D-Mecklenburg from the group to include the other two senators who he called, “the two senators in this body with the most experience on redistricting.”
“I can only conclude that Sen. Clodfelter and Sen. Blue were excluded because of their special knowledge and experience,” he said.
“Y’all had a chance to do it,” Rucho said, alluding to the fact that this is the first time Republicans have been in charge of the process in more than a century.
Google announced today it selected Kansas City, Kan., for a free fiber-optic network that promises Internet speeds 100 times faster than those currently available to most homes and businesses in the U.S. It's a project worth millions. The news likely dashed the hopes of the more than 600 communities across the country that asked to be considered for the project, including Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and Carrboro.
We wrote about Google fever last March. The frenzy to get Google's attention prompted a lot of stunts. Topeka, Kan., renamed itself Google, people were jumping into freezing lakes in the middle of winter—it was big. Here, our efforts were more mild—Durhamites spelled out 'Google' for an aerial photo at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
We understand. It's a little disheartening to be passed over for Kansas. Here in North Carolina, we actually have a lot in common with Kansas: breathtaking landscapes (but we've got the beach), great barbecue (vinegar, baby) and exhilarating college basketball (although both Roy Williams and Dean Smith chose to settle on Tobacco Road).
This isn't the first time Kansas has beat out North Carolina for a multi-million dollar investment. In 2006, both North Carolina and Kansas were on a short list of states where the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was considering building National Bio and Agro Defense Facility. The NBAF is a huge federal complex for the research of "pathogens and pests" that threaten plants and animals vital to the country's agricultural systems, including zoonotic diseases, or diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans.
When it was proposed that the facility be located in Butner, residents and community leaders across the region gathered in fervent opposition. In 2009, Homeland Security announced the NBAF would be located in Manhattan, Kan. So, maybe being passed over for Kansas isn't always a bad thing.
(Also, our good state's name hasn't been branded by melodramatic prog-rock for the past four decades. Just saying.)
Ten undocumented immigrants who had been arrested during several workplace raids in the Triangle last November appeared in federal court in New Bern today, and were sentenced to additional jail time.
Employees of Durham-based J&A Framers—Rafael Garcia-Tiscareno, Jose Guadalupe Rodriguez, Victorino Gutierrez-Licona, Lucio Huerta-Ponce, Luis Humberto Huerta-Ponce, Luis Raul Huerta-Ponce, Juan Manuel Martinze Rodriguez, Jorge Alberto Ruiz-Ponce, Flavio Martinez-Andres and Olegario Ortega-Solis—pleaded guilty of entering the United States illegally. They have been in jail since their arrests four months ago.
Eight of the men face up to an additional two months of jail time. They then will appear in immigration court in Charlotte. However, Gutierrez-Licona was sentenced to an extra month in jail because he had a previous DWI charge. Martinez-Andres was sentenced to an additional eight months because he had been deported before and returned to the U.S.
Dani Bennett, public information officer for Immigration and Customs Enforcement said criminal sentences take precedence over deportations. “Individuals who have been convicted of crimes in this country must first pay their debt to society, and if they are sentenced by a judge to criminal jail time, they will serve that sentence,” she said.
According to federal sentencing guidelines, the maximum sentence is two years, but they recommend a sentence of up to six months for illegally entering the U.S.
Amanda Mason, who is representing the immigrants, argued that her clients had been in jail long enough. However, Judge Chief District Judge Louise Wood Flanagan, who presided over the hearing, rejected that argument and strongly cautioned the men not to return to the states again adding that the men should take their families back with them to Mexico.
After hearing the workers describe the circumstances that compelled them to cross the border to find work, Flanagan said that while their reasons were sad,they had built an illegal life for themselves and that they needed to learn their lesson.
Almost four months ago, 18 workers were arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcements officers in Cary, Chapel Hill and Apex, as part of an ongoing investigation into J&A Framers & Carpentry. Two brothers, Jose Alfredo Lopez Ponce and Juan Antonio Lopez Ponce, operated the business. They were indicted Dec. 15 on charges including smuggling, harboring and recruiting immigrants to work. That case will go to trial next month.
In January, eight of the employees pled guilty to misdemeanor immigration-related charges of illegally entering the U.S.: Jorge Juerta Pone, Yair Cruz Garcia, Aldo Temix, German Rodriguez Martinez, Gabriel Miramontes Rosales, Jorge Escamilla Hernandez, Humberto Farfan Ramon, and Edgar Martinez Rodriguez
The eight men served 30 days in jail and were released on immigration bonds.
Marty Rosenbluth, executive director of the N.C. Immigrant Rights Project, said that the sentencing set a precedent as the immigrants were prosecuted criminally. “The Obama administration claims it is targeting convicted criminals, but mostly they are catching individuals suspected of minor misdemeanors,” he said.
Rosenbluth questions whether or not the Ponce employers “who created this mess” will be sentenced as harshly as their employees. “Again, the claim is that ICE is targeting employers and not the employees, but somehow they are missing the mark as evidenced today.”
Republican State Rep. Mitch Gillespie told the House Environment Committee today that he plans to introduce a bill that would open the door to fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, for natural gas in North Carolina—including the western part of the Triangle.
“It’s my intention to move ahead,” Gillespie said in support of his proposed measure, “as long as [the method] is safe and sound.”
The claims that fracking is safe are disputable. Workers drill vertically and then horizontally through soil and rock, then inject water and other chemicals—which can contain the same as those in antifreeze as well as “biocides” to kill organisms—through the material. The force breaks up the rock so the natural gas can escape and then be recaptured.
The environmental ramifications of fracking have been demonstrated in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, where contaminated groundwater and drinking water in private wells have been attributed to fracking. Because of those serious environmental issues, neighboring New York has implemented a moratorium on fracking.
There are also issues with how to safely dispose of the water-chemical mixture and with air quality near the fracking operations; according to Clean Water for North Carolina, a nonprofit environmental group, high concentrations of chemical compounds—many of which are harmful to human health—have been detected near gas pumping stations in Texas.
Fracking has been eyed as the likely the culprit in causing earthquakes in Arkansas, although Ken Taylor, chief of the N.C. Geological Survey, told the environment committee that it would be unlikely such seismic activity would occur in North Carolina because the drilling wouldn’t be as deep—3,000 feet versus 25,000 feet in Arkansas.
The deal to prevent Cary and Apex from annexing parts of Chatham County without approval from the Chatham County Board of County Commissioners is sailing through the General Assembly.
Commission Chairman Brian Bock announced the agreement Feb. 21 when the commissioners approved the Western Wake Partners’ plan to run 8.1-miles of wastewater treatment pipe underground through the county from the unincorporated Wake County town of New Hill to the Cape Fear River.
The partners, composed of Apex, Cary, Morrisville and RTP South, offered to take involuntary annexation off he table and to help push the legislation through this session in exchange for Chatham commissioners approving plan. Chatham commissioners voted 3-2 to allow the pipeline and also received $500,000 to spruce up a youth center and the option to tap-in to the pipeline in the future as needed.
Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt has asked the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms for a review of all legislative security cameras after Senate cameras overlooking the chamber reportedly malfunctioned earlier this week.
In a letter to Philip King, Nesbitt also requested that the sergeant-at-arms' office:
1. Immediately archive and save indefinitely the recordings of all security footage taken by the security cameras that were functional in the Legislative Building on March 22, 2011, so this footage is not lost or recorded-over, and
2. Provide my office with a copy of all security camera footage and/or recordings taken by the security cameras that were functional in the Legislative Building on March 22, 2011.
Nesbitt, a Democrat from Buncombe County, called for the camera review after an unknown person placed documents about a former governor on senators' desks earlier this week. The documents, as WRAL reported, criticized former Gov. William Holden, who was impeached 140 years ago after calling out the state militia against the Ku Klux Klan's incitement of racial violence in the state.
Coincidentally, the eight cameras in Senate Chambers were on the fritz during the time the letters could have been placed on the desks. It is against Senate rules for anyone except the senators themselves to do so.
Of the "47 cameras in the General Assembly campus," it turned out that "the camera in this [Senate] chamber was on the blink yesterday" and did not record any footage that would be of use in the investigation, Nesbitt wrote.
Several state senators expressed concern Wednesday over a bill that would allow digital billboards across the state’s interstates and highways, regardless of local rules that might prohibit them. The bill’s sponsor, Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown of Jacksonville, said he just wanted feedback Wednesday, and no vote was taken. He is expected to revise the bill and bring it back to the Senate Transportation Committee.
Several senators said their major issue was the idea of taking away a community’s control of its own appearance from highways and interstates.
“I don’t think we ought to take the control away from our local governments,” said Sen. Richard Stevens, R-Wake, who noted his district is home to a large billboard company. “We do too much micromanaging up here as it is.”
The bill (SB183) would override local rules on signage, even those banning digital billboards, and would allow broader cutting of trees and other vegetation in front of the signs to increase visibility. The signs and tree-cutting would disregard local ordinances governing those very issues.
If passed, the bill wouldn’t allow any new billboards to be put up, but would allow old billboards on interstates and major highways to be replaced with signs that have changing images, whether through digital screens or rotating parts. As it’s currently written, the law would be effective Oct. 1.
Just last year, Durham City Council unanimously shot down a request from Fairway Outdoor Advertising to change its sign ordinances to allow for digital billboards, in part due to overwhelming opposition from residents who launched a campaign against the local issue. Several other municipalities, including each of the state’s largest cities, have spoken out against the bill, said Paul Meyer, chief legislative counsel for the N.C. League of Municipalities. Several other groups, including the North Carolina chapters of the Sierra Club and the American Planning Association, the N.C. Association of County Commissioners, the N.C. Metropolitan Mayors Coalition and Preservation North Carolina have also announced their opposition to the bill.
“We need to have the ability with each local government to decide what they want and what they will permit in their communities,” said Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham. “There are different local norms. I think enhancing the beauty of our communities and the uniqueness of our communities is something we should respect.”