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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

751 South's power play on water service

Posted by on Tue, Jun 26, 2012 at 8:02 PM

Denied sewer and water by Durham city leaders, builders of the controversial 751 South development may be going through Raleigh to get what they want out of Durham.

Lawmakers in the N.C. House of Representatives were expected to consider legislation Tuesday that would effectively force the city to extend utilities to the 167-acre mixed-use project in southern Durham County near Jordan Lake.

The language, inserted into Senate Bill 382 as an amendment by Rep. Tim Moore, a Cleveland County Republican, picked up the approval of a House rules committee Monday, despite the protests of Durham City Manager Thomas Bonfield.

The bill forbids a city from denying water and sewer service to a project in its designated “urban growth area” outside municipal limits.

City leaders agreed in January 2011 to include 751 South—which lies outside Durham limits—in its urban growth area, a necessary classification to allow the project to be considered for water and sewer. However, the City Council unanimously voted this February to reject the developer’s requests for water and sewer service.

Bonfield told the Indy Tuesday that the legislation seemed to be crafted solely to force Durham to offer utilities to 751 South.

“It’s as far-reaching into the operations of a local government as I’ve seen,” Bonfield said. “It’s something that should be a concern to every city in North Carolina.”

Durham City Councilman Eugene Brown blasted the revisions as “sleight of hand” that uses a purported statewide bill to make local changes in Durham.

“What the hell is the General Assembly doing telling us what we can or cannot do with our water and sewer?” Brown said.

751 South’s builders, Southern Durham Development (SDD), have been seeking to construct the mixed-use hub since 2008, but have been slowed by lawsuits, public worries over increased traffic on rural N.C. 751 and concerns that it will further pollute Jordan Lake, a regional source of drinking water.

SDD hoped to build up to 1,300 homes and 600,000 square feet of commercial space on the 751 South tract.

Builder requests for Durham annexation in late 2010 failed when a city analysis determined the annexation’s costs would far outweigh its benefits, Bonfield said.

On Tuesday, Brown cited the environmental and traffic concerns plaguing 751 South as reason for pause, also blasting it as the “dumbest development process and approach I’ve seen in many, many years.”

N.C. Rep. Paul Luebke, a Durham Democrat, said he intended to push an amendment to the bill that would remove the language from the bill, although Luebke’s amendment had reportedly failed as of Tuesday afternoon.

Moore told The News & Observer Monday that the bill came after he was approached by SDD attorney Cal Cunningham, who spoke in favor of the proposal at Monday’s committee meeting.

Neither Moore nor Cunningham, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for a U.S. Senate seat in 2010, returned phone calls for comment by press time Tuesday. SDD President Alex Mitchell said the GOP-sponsored legislation is a response to House committee modifications to a separate bill, Senate Bill 231, in June.

Those revisions, which were axed from the legislation two weeks later, would have blocked county officials from offering sewer service to 751 South because of its proximity to the city. Mitchell said county leaders agreed last year to offer sewer service to 751 South, but the development is still in need of water.

Mitchell called Senate Bill 231’s short-lived modifications, which emerged from a House government committee that includes Luebke, an “assassination attempt of our project” that prompted House Republicans to retaliate with the Senate Bill 382 amendment.

“Someone tried to attack our project and it backfired,” Mitchell said.

Brown, however, dismissed SDD’s response as an “excuse” to lob Senate Bill 382. “They didn’t have a chance in hell of passing [Senate Bill 231] and everyone knew that,” Brown said.

City Councilman Steve Schewel is president of Carolina Independent Publications, which owns the Independent Weekly.

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    House Republicans introduce legislation that would force Durham to extend utilities to 751 South

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New report: Seas rising fastest from Cape Hatteras northward

Posted by on Tue, Jun 26, 2012 at 10:03 AM

From the Department of Serendipity:

Sea levels along the Atlantic Coast from Cape Hatteras to Boston are rising faster than anywhere else in the world, according to a report in the journal Nature Climate Change.

"We present evidence of recently accelerated sea level rise along a unique, 1,000-kilometer hotspot on the highly populated North American Atlantic Coast north of Cape Hatteras ... " the report reads.

"Sea level rise, plus storm surge and other factors will increase the vulnerability of coastal cities to flooding, and beaches and wetlands to deterioration," it continues.

Not that this news will faze NC-20, a group of development interests and county managers from the coast, who lobbied for a bill that would restrict the way the state can measure the ocean's rise. The Indy recently reported on NC-20's ties to climate change deniers.

The Republican-led Senate passed the bill, but it failed in the House; it has since gone to a conference committee.

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Friday, June 15, 2012

Fracking's fate rests with Bev Perdue

Posted by on Fri, Jun 15, 2012 at 3:00 PM

To frack or not to frack, this is the question for N.C. Gov. Bev Perdue. The lame-duck governor could ultimately be the one who decides the state's fracking future.

Not surprisingly, the N.C. House of Representatives gave its approval of fracking Thursday, although drilling opponents are likely to see opportunity in the 66-43 vote, which largely fell on party lines. Republicans will need at least six more votes to override a gubernatorial veto should Perdue use that power in the next 10 days.

Supporters say the natural gas drilling would be a boon for a lagging economy, bringing hundreds of jobs and cash. Opponents point to numerous reports of fracking spills and environmental headaches in other states.

The unpopular governor, who announced in January that she would not be seeking a second term in 2012, has been difficult to pin down on this issue.

Perdue prompted some environmental angst in March when she said fracking can be done safely after an industry-guided tour of a drilling operation in Pennsylvania.

It remains to be seen, however, if she would side with state Republicans on Senate Bill 820, the measure that opens the door to legalizing the drilling in a few years after state officials build a regulatory structure.

The governor's office had little to say on the subject Friday. "She will review the bill when it gets to her desk," said Mark Johnson, deputy communications director for the governor's office. "That's our only statement at this time."

Many state Democrats have blasted GOP-steered fracking legislation as ushering in drilling too quickly, and leaving broad powers to a regulatory mining commission where the majority have a direct stake in the industry or have drilling experience.

Critics are also quick to note that, based on low natural gas prices and the state's very modest supply of the resource, drilling isn't likely to happen in North Carolina in the next decade regardless of whether lawmakers legalize the controversial technique.

"Unfortunately, the legislature seems committed to moving forward with fracking without getting essential questions answered about the potential impact on our water resources," said Molly Diggins, state director of the N.C. Sierra Club, in a statement Friday. "There's too much at stake to make a risky bet like this. The public deserves better."

The House version of the fracking bill that passed Thursday includes some divergence from the Senate bill, including the addition of two local government officials to the mining commission and additional consumer protections. It seems likely that Senate and House conservatives will manage to reconcile the differences in a matter of days.

Meanwhile, environmentalists are asking fracking opponents to contact the governor and urge her to veto the legislation.

Activists with Occupy Raleigh are planning a protest at the governor's mansion at 6 p.m. Monday to call for a veto.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Environment NC: wind, not gas

Posted by on Tue, Jun 12, 2012 at 3:37 PM

As N.C. House of Representatives leaders prepare to debate the controversial Senate Bill 820, a GOP-backed measure that could open the state's borders to fracking in two years, environmental advocates are making the case for offshore wind as a cleaner alternative.

Leaders with Environment North Carolina say they will release their report (titled "Wind Mills, Not Spills—The environmental and economic benefits of offshore wind versus offshore drilling in North Carolina") Wednesday morning in the legislative building's press room in Raleigh.

The meeting will come hours after an 8:30 a.m. House environment committee session at the N.C. General Assembly, where Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, will present his frack-backing legislation. The measure has already earned the approval of the full Senate and is expected to garner similar support in the Republican-controlled House.

Leaders have touted the natural gas drilling as a safe means of accessing underground gas stores in central North Carolina. The gas cache will power an economic rebirth for the recession-minded state, supporters say, even after a report from the U.S. Geological Survey last week projected the state's core shale deposits would meet the state's energy needs for less than six years.

Critics like Environment North Carolina have also pointed to multiple reports of environmental damage caused by fracking spills and operations in other states. Meanwhile, group Director Elizabeth Ouzts argued last week that solar energy creates nine times as many jobs while producing the same amount of energy as coal and gas.

The organization will release the report at 11 a.m. Wednesday, with comments expected from leaders like N.C. Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, and Sen. Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe, as well as officials from the National Wildlife Federation and the Southern Environmental Law Center.

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Study shows growth in NC nonprofit arts & culture

Posted by on Tue, Jun 12, 2012 at 12:04 PM

North Carolina’s nonprofit arts and culture industry generated $1.24 billion in direct economic activity, and the Triangle region led the state, accounting for just under a third of the total amount in 2010. Moreover, in a time when economic growth has been scarce, jobs in the state’s creative industry have grown by more than 3.5 percent since 2006. Those numbers were among the findings announced Monday in Winston-Salem when the North Carolina Arts Council released the results of a statewide study into the economic impact of the arts.

The study, “Arts and Economic Prosperity IV,” also found that arts and cultural spending generated more than $119 million in tax revenues for local and state governments, supporting more than 43,000 jobs in North Carolina in 2010.

One of the study’s more significant findings was that a nonprofit sector constituting just 2 percent of North Carolina’s total creative industry generated more than five times that amount of the industry’s direct gross domestic product, accounting for 11 percent of all industry spending in 2010. “The fact ... illustrates again just how powerful, profitable and important our nonprofit organizations are to the overall creative industry of North Carolina,” said Linda Carlisle, Secretary of Cultural Resources.

Ardath Weaver, director of research for the North Carolina Arts Council, noted the difference between the state’s support for nonprofits and the return it receives. “When you look at the amount of seed money invested from the public sector into these organizations, you see a huge return that their activities bring back to the coffers of state and local government,” Weaver said. “The amount of state funding we give out in grants to these organizations is $6.8 million. That returns $62.3 million to the state in tax revenue.” An additional $56.6 million is also generated in local tax revenues.

“We hear a lot of talk about supporting the arts, but I think this study shows that the arts support us,” noted Steve Berlin, vice-chairman of the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County. “Arts create jobs, generate tax revenue and make tremendous contributions to our community.”

In the Triangle, nonprofit arts and cultural organizations and their patrons generated $390 million in direct economic activity in 2010, accounting for 14,882 jobs. They generated $19.7 million in state tax revenue and $17.7 million in local tax revenues.

The North Carolina study, which drew on fiscal information from 957 nonprofit arts and cultural organizations and more than 19,000 audience surveys from across the state, was conducted by the Georgia Institute of Technology as part of a national economic impact study effort by Americans for the Arts, a Washington-based advocacy group.

In focusing only on nonprofit and government facilities, the survey did not include for-profit enterprises (including the movie and gaming industries), or individual artists and creative workers. Not all eligible organizations participated in the study, so the report notes that its findings are probably an understatement of the industry’s actual economic impact.

The study found that more than 25.7 million people across the state attended events and facilities sponsored by the reporting organizations in 2010, spending an average of $23.37 on refreshments, meals, ground transportation and lodging beyond ticket prices.

“More than 47,000 creative for-profit and nonprofit establishments are making a difference in our state,” Carlisle said. “This latest study shows even more strongly that an investment in the arts is an investment in a growth industry.”

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    A new economic impact study shows N.C. nonprofit arts and culture organizations generated $1.24 billion in 2010—and the Triangle led the way.

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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

We have no fracking gas

Posted by on Wed, Jun 6, 2012 at 4:35 PM

Not 40 years. Not 30 years. Not even 10 years.

Six years: That’s how long natural gas resources in the Deep River Basin would meet the state’s demand, according to a much-awaited U.S. Geological Survey assessment of gas resources released Tuesday.

That amount is far short of leaders’ predictions that the state’s supply of shale-trapped natural gas could power the state for four decades, a key point in pro-fracking lawmakers’ bid to legalize the controversial drilling technique.

The USGS survey arrived less than a day before the state Senate voted Wednesday afternoon to approve Senate Bill 820, a GOP-backed measure that would allow fracking in North Carolina after officials build a regulatory structure in the next two years.

The survey pegged the Deep River Basin with average undiscovered stores of 1,660 billion cubic feet of gas and 83 million barrels of natural gas liquids, enough to meet North Carolina’s demand for 5.6 years, Assistant State Geologist Kenneth Taylor said in a news release.

The supply estimate might be due for another downsizing, based on an N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources report released this spring.

The report noted only about 20 percent of all discovered and undiscovered gas can be recovered using today’s technology, meaning that estimated supply may only be enough to meet state demand for little more than a year, said Hope Taylor, executive director of Clean Water for NC, which has long opposed fracking.

Kenneth Taylor could not be reached by the Indy Wednesday to say whether his estimate accounts for unrecoverable gas.

Pro-fracking lawmakers like Sen. Bob Rucho, a Republican from Mecklenburg County, have argued the drilling would result in a windfall of jobs and commerce into the state’s lagging economy over the next 50 years, even as state geologists dialed back their estimates of the gas supply in recent weeks.

Skeptics, meanwhile, pointed out widespread reports of environmental damage caused by fracking operations in other states.

Nevertheless, a Senate commerce committee approved a Rucho-authored bill Tuesday and a full Senate vote came a day later, leaving the measure to a vote in the state House of Representatives in the coming days.

Hope Taylor said lawmakers should stall the Rucho bill in light of the USGS survey.
“I think it shows how deeply absurd this whole effort has been, that a lot of good time and effort has been wasted,” Hope Taylor said. “We need to stop it before any more time and effort is wasted developing a regulatory program that has the potential to cost a lot of money to set up.”

The USGS survey also estimated the Dan River and Danville basin, which includes a small portion of northwest North Carolina as well as parts of southern Virginia, includes average undiscovered resources of 49 billion cubic feet of gas. Kenneth Taylor said that basin’s store would likely serve the state’s natural gas demand for roughly two months.

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    New estimates show amount of natural gas in N.C. falls far below expectations

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