The Board of Commissioners may fill an unexpected vacancy on the board and consider two environmental ordinances – one prohibiting the release of helium-filled balloons and the other banning the use of plastic bags for yard waste pickup – when it meets Tuesday at Town Hall.
The board must fill the seat vacated by Commissioner Angela Clinton, who resigned last week because of a family health issue. Angela, the leading vote getter in last November’s election, was an able commissioner whose preparedness and attention to detail will be missed. I know all the commissioners wish her and her family the best during this trying time.
According to state law, the board must appoint someone who will serve until the election in November 2019. The names I’ve heard as potential candidates: Larry Philpott, Phil Keagy, Jerry Seddon and Jim Allen.
Philpott served on the board from 2009-2013. He ran for election last year and missed by a handful of votes of winning one of the three seats. Philpott currently serves on our Planning and Parks and Recreation boards. Keagy was a commissioner until last year when he decided not to run for re-election. The commissioners recently appointed Seddon, a relative newcomer to town, to the Planning Board. A longtime commissioner, Allen lost his re-election bid in 2015.
We may decide to choose among those or other nominees when we meet Tuesday or the board could delay the appointment until our meeting on Aug. 28 to allow more candidates to come forward.
Balloons may be festive additions to birthdays, weddings, graduations and such, but they pose a grave threat to animals once they get loose. Birds, sea turtles and other animals commonly mistake balloons for food, which can harm or kill them. Many animals can also become entangled in balloon strings, which can strangle them or injure their feet.
For those reasons, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Ocean Conservancy and several other organizations recommend banning the mass release of helium balloons. Five states and at least seven cities have done so, according to balloonsblows.org. Wrightsville Beach is the only town in the state with a local ordinance banning balloon releases.
Town resident Patricia Stone asked the board several weeks ago to consider a similar ban. The proposed ordinance would make it illegal to release an inflated balloon in town limits. Violators could be fined $250.
I support such a measure because I’ve seen what a deflated balloon floating in the ocean does to a loggerhead sea turtle that mistakes it for a squid. Biologists speculated the turtle died a slow death. I would, however, like to see the ordinance amended slightly to exclude the accidental release of a balloon. We don’t want to fine a five-year-old at the Mullet Festival whose balloon slipped out of his hand.
Our Public Works Department now picks up plastic bags filled with grass clippings, leaves and other small items of yard waste. We’re talking about thousands of bags a year. Because the bags can’t be recycled, each one must be ripped open by hand and its contents emptied. The town then pays a fee to dispose of the bags at the county landfill.
At our budget retreat in March, the commissioners agreed this seemed wasteful and expensive and directed the department to recommend a change. The proposed ordinance would ban plastic bags for yard waste and require “lawn-style” paper bags.
The meeting starts at 6 p.m. Hope to see you there.
We’ll have a public meeting next week on our new land-use plan.
After you stop yawning, I hope you’ll read on because the meeting is important. This updated plan will shape the future of our town, and the meeting gives you an opportunity to shape the plan.
The meeting will be Tuesday at Town Hall, starting at 4 p.m. You can drop in any time before 7 p.m. Town officials and the consultants we hired to help us will be on hand to explain the process and get your ideas about the type of development you’d like to see and where you would like it to go. We’ll even have food available and activities to keep the kids occupied.
Big deal. Another plan, you say. There are so many already attracting silverfish somewhere. You’re right. We have transportation plans, recreation plans, bike and trail plans, watershed plans and even a high-falutin’ Renaissance Plan and Gateway Plan. We’ve acted on some while others are propping up a bookshelf somewhere in Town Hall.
The land-use plan is different. Unlike all those others, it’s the only plan mandated by state law. It’s the only one that the Board of Commissioners must attest to when making any development decision. We can’t approve a project that doesn’t adhere to our land-use plan without also modifying the plan. The state can’t issue permits for projects that run afoul of our plan.
So that makes this plan different…. Or at least it can be if you want it to be.
A Bit of History
The Coastal Area Management Act, the now famous CAMA, was passed by the state legislature in 1975. Controversial then, it’s one of those high-minded laws that would be impossible to fashion in today’s highly polarized political culture. The law, a mirror of a federal law passed in 1972, attempted to address the rampant, virtually unchecked development that was threatening to overtake our coastal culture and overwhelm our natural environment.
At the heart of the law is the requirement that each of the 20 coastal counties prepare plans that would balance growth with environmental protection and would become the foundation for local development ordinances. In that way, the plans would serve as blueprints for future development. Fashioned by local people, the plans were meant to be their vision of what they wanted their communities to be.
The law gave cities and towns the opportunity to opt out of their county plans if they prepare ones that are more customized. Swansboro, like many coastal communities, decided to write its own plan.
The theory behind the plans was sound: Local people deciding how they wanted to live. The reality, though, was predictable. Decisions to control local growth often angers powerful, monied interests. Protecting shorelines, for instance, worth billions in real-estate value and millions in tax base requires courageous, inspired political leadership.
That’s a commodity that’s always in short supply. Instead, like water, most of the original land-use plans followed the course of least resistance, meeting the minimum CAMA requirements while erecting the fewest possible development barriers. Most counties dragged their feet to meet the deadline for their plans’ adoption. A couple even refused to fashion plans, forcing the state to undertake the job.
The original law recognized that good planning is ongoing and required that the plans be amended every five years to adjust for changing circumstances. Most communities were as enthusiastic to update their plans as they had been to write the originals. They assigned the task to consultants with orders to get the job done to meet the law’s requirements. A cottage industry soon developed. The plans became little more than boilerplate documents. Whole sections were lifted from one plan and inserted in another. Few contained any real policy directives. When development decisions violated any of the few policies, the governing bodies merely amended the plan to reflect the new decisions.
Recognizing that grim reality, the legislature a few years ago amended CAMA to remove the update requirement. Counties and towns now can volunteer to update their plans, and the state may provide a little money to do so.
So Here We Are
Swansboro’s commissioners decided this year to amend our nine-year-old plan. They appointed a steering committee made of up taxpayers, who represent a cross section of interests, to guide the new plan’s development. The committee, which I chair, hired Stewart engineering of Raleigh to help us. We’ve met a couple to times to begin forming the boundaries of the new plan.
Now, it’s your turn. This plan will only be as good as you want it to be. This isn’t the committee’s plan or the consultant’s plan or the commissioners’ plan. This is Swansboro plan. This is your plan. What do you want in it? Should we protect wetlands and green space, for instance? Should we limit development in flood-prone areas? Should we allow apartments and high-density development? And, if so, where should it go? What about development along N.C. 24?
All are important questions that need answers. Your answers. Tuesday is your opportunity to provide them. I hope you take advantage of it.
I also hope that you attend the steering committee meetings, which are open to the public. We meet the second Tuesday of the month in the auditorium of One Harbor Church. Come and help guide Swansboro’s future.
The numbers aren’t pretty. They paint a bleak picture of a drowning people.
In less than 12 years, 6,500 houses along the N.C. coast worth more than a $1 billion today could be flooded every other week by normal high tides. By 2060, the rising Atlantic will make dozens of coastal communities nearly uninhabitable. At least a 120,000 coastal North Carolinians could be climate refugees by the end of the century.
Like I said, grim stuff.
The Union of Concerned Scientists issued a report several weeks ago that could be the script of a dystopian movie. It analyzed for the first time by zip code the effects rising seas could have on the country’s coastal communities at five points in time – 2030, 2045, 2060, 2080 and 2100. It looked at the number of existing homes that will be flooded by normal high tides as the climate continues to warm, the values of those houses and the property taxes at risk. It counted the people who could be displaced.
The scientists mean to scare you. They hope their report will then lead you to cry for a life preserver while there’s still time.
Smart people, like those who compiled this report, have been warning us for years about accelerated sea-level rise triggered by a warming climate and what it will do to buildings perched at the water’s edge, especially on a uniformly flat landscape like the N.C. coast. After Gold Coast of South Florida and the bayous of Louisiana, we may be living on the most-threatened coastline in the country.
There are several interactive, online maps that graphically display the rising water in creeping colors of red and purple. But assigning those dangers to a familiar number seems to strike closer to home. 28584, for instance. That’s Swansboro’s zip code. That’s me and my neighbors. To think that 60 houses, representing more than $20 million in current value, in the little place I call home could be regularly flooded by 2030 makes this downright scary. About 1,100 people, or almost 10 percent of the current population of our zip code, will be flooded out of their homes by 2100. As bad as that sounds, they’ll be in far, far better shape than many of their coastal neighbors.
First, Some Qualifiers
There are some important things to keep in mind before we go any further with this. The authors of the study assume that future flooding will reach a threshold where normal routines become impossible and coastal residents, communities and businesses are forced to make difficult, often costly, choices. They call this level of disruption “chronic inundation,” which they define as flooding that occurs 26 times a year, or about once every other week. It is important to note that this flooding is not caused by storms—it is simply the result of tides inching higher and reaching farther inland as sea levels rise.
The report also doesn’t attempt to predict future coastal development or population growth. All projections are based on current population and housing stocks. So, if anything, the numbers get more conservative as the predictions progress farther into the future.
Neither did the authors factor in sea walls, moving or raising houses or other measures that may be taken in the future to lessen the damage.
And, finally, they use the most-dire scenario. They assume that global sea-level rise will average about seven feet worldwide by 2100. That’s currently at the far end of predictions and would result if we do little to control emissions. That may sound extreme but keep in mind that sea-rise projections are forever edging upwards as the climate continues to warm and glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica continue to melt and we continue to do nothing meaningful. The current scientific consensus of three feet by 2100 was considered extreme a decade ago. A decade hence, seven feet may seem like a fond wish.
It Ain’t Just Beach Towns
If they consider the issue of rising seas at all, most people naturally think about the beach. Nags Head and Wrightsville and Ocean Isle and places like that are most endangered. The report’s numbers, though, reveal a far different reality that reflects our coast’s geography and flat topography. Much of the initial flooding occurs inland, away from the oceanfront and along the vast labyrinth of sounds, rivers and creeks. Only later are beach towns affected.
Stumpy Point, for instance, is a good 20 miles from the ocean as that crow flies. The small, unincorporated community off U.S. 264 in Dare County instead backs up to Pamlico Sound. About a third of the houses there could flood twice a month in just 12 years. Stumpy Point has, according to the study, the highest percentage of at-risk houses in the state in 2030.
Other inland communities aren’t far behind: Manns Harbor on Croatan Sound in Dare; Maple and its neighbor Barco along Coinjock Bay in Currituck County; Englehard in Hyde County; and Lowland and Hobucken in Pamlico County.
Chronic flooding becomes more widespread by 2060. It could threaten more than 30,000 existing homes along the N.C. coast with a current value of about $7 billion. More than 40,000 people currently live in those houses. That’s more than the population of New Bern.
The low-lying lands from eastern Carteret County, up the Albemarle-Pamlico peninsula, to the Great Dismal Swamp on the Virginia border could be particularly hard hit. High tides in 2060 could threaten more than half the homes in Davis and Marshallberg in Down East Carteret. In Hyde and Tyrrell counties, 30 percent of existing homes could be regularly flooded. High tides could now reach more than a quarter of the houses in northern Currituck County bordering the swamp.
The beginning of the disintegration of the Outer Banks clearly shows up in the 2060 numbers. Almost half the houses in Frisco, Waves, Hatteras and Salvo on Hatteras Island could be subject to frequent high-tide flooding. While the effects are more limited on the higher, northern Outer Banks beaches, residential real-estate worth about $11 billion today could frequently be flooded in Nags Head, Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills.
By 2100, the destruction of the southern Outer Banks is complete. High tides could flood more than half the homes in most of the beach towns. Flooding could hit 70 percent of the houses in Rodanthe and Salvo and 85 percent in Waves. Every current resident of Avon, Frisco and Hatteras would be displaced by high tides.
Three-quarters of the current population of Hyde County would also be refugees. The old, quaint fishing villages of Down East – Davis and Marshallberg, Williston and Gloucester, Smyrna and Sealevel – could become drowned ghost towns.
The coast’s major cities could also be devastated. Property currently worth $15 billion could be inundated in Wilmington. About 7,000 people in New Bern, or about a quarter its current population, could be flooded out of their homes. Almost half the current population of Elizabeth City could become refugees.
Are you sufficiently alarmed yet? Good. That’s what the report’s authors intended.
Now, they would want you to think about where we go from here.
Certainly, putting a lid on emissions is still at the top of the to-do list, but that requires national and international actions, and nothing meaningful has been done so far. We can all agree at this point that the Trump administration won’t do anything in the near term. In fact, it’s energy policies, if actually carried out, out would make things worse.
Also at the top of the list are things we can all do individually to be smarter energy consumers and to reduce our carbon footprints. We should, of course, do that and support the greener energy technologies that will eventfually replace fossil fuels. But, frankly, there’s really nothing you and I can do personally at this point that will prevent our descendants from being flooded out of their homes.
We can, however, prepare for the future they face. The state Division of Coastal Management has begun to take the first steps to help communities plan for the more watery future. Its teamed up with experts at N.C. State University and the Nature Conservancy to offer willing communities an opportunity to identify flood-prone areas and critical public and private infrastructure that are subject to flooding and storm damage and need to be protected. Communities can then use that information to devise protective local ordinances.
Swansboro is one of about 10 communities on the coast that have volunteered for the adaptation plan. The process just started and will probably take the rest of the year. A public meeting is planned in late August to get residents’ input. Follow this blog for more information.
It’s a good first step that every coastal community should be required to take it. The more prepared they are, the less it will cost all future taxpayers to bail them out – pun intended.
But that will take money and laws. The scope of the problem is too large for the small budgets of small communities, like Swansboro, to tackle. It will overwhelm even the largest cities. This is a problem that the state needs to tackle. This is a problem for the N.C. General Assembly.
The subject of climate change has in the past received a frosty reception in the halls of the Legislative Building. Beholden to special interest groups, legislators a few years ago even attempted to ban planning for future sea-level rise and were ridiculed worldwide for their efforts.
Now, they must step up. If they won’t, voters must replace them with people who will.
Your grandchildren’s and great-grandchildren’s futures depend on it. As the water rises around their ankles, they will wonder about our obstinacy and blindness. We should give them evidence that we haven’t totally lost our minds.
Here Are the Spreadsheet
The zip code spreadsheets in the Union of Concerned Scientists’ reports aren’t very user friendly. They lump zip codes by state with no other identifying information. Doing any kind of analysis is difficult.
Here they are, however, with the N.C. zip codes identified by locality and grouped by county. I’ve also summed up the totals by year and county.
The Swansboro Board of Commissioners is likely to approve the town’s $4.3 million budget for the new fiscal year during a public hearing tomorrow night at Town Hall.
As far as I know, nothing much has changed since I first described the proposed budget and my objections to it in a blog post here a few weeks ago. I still intend to vote against it.
I won’t detail all the reasons why. You can go back and re-read them if you like. To summarize, the budget simply makes policy choices that I don’t agree with. It prioritizes extraordinary future expenses over current staff needs, devalues our expert legal services and, most importantly, moves toward ending free health insurance for our employees. We will become one of the few local governments in the state that require employees to pay a portion of their insurance premium, which I fear will make it harder for us to attract good employees and keep the ones we have.
The commissioners will also consider approving an Economic Development Strategic Plan that’s been almost two years in the making. Drafted by a committee of residents with considerable public input, the plan has four basic principles: Develop as a connected community, improve and protect the town’s natural environment, foster and improve the town’s sense of place and actively recruit new businesses and support the expansion of existing businesses.
The meeting starts at 6 p.m. Hope to see you there.
Bad news this week for us along the North Carolina coast: The Antarctic ice sheet is melting three times faster than it did 10 years ago, according to research published Wednesday in the journal “Nature.” If the acceleration continues – and there’s no reason to think it won’t – rising seas will begin to flood many low-lying areas of the globe far sooner than anyone had feared. After South Florida, the flat North Carolina coast is considered the most vulnerable real estate on the East Coast.
Scientists involved with the new research think we have, at best, 10 years to get our carbon emissions under control to escape the worst consequences of a changed climate.
Good luck with that.
As an old environmental reporter, I know the maxim of the trade: Don’t dwell too heavily on the negative. Give readers hope that solutions are possible.
But I’ve been writing about climate change since the 1980s, when it all sounded so fantastic and futuristic, and I must be honest. I fear it is far too late to do anything meaningful that will greatly change the future we have so foolishly and blindly blundered toward. Had we back then taken even small steps to cut our carbon emissions, we’d have a chance today to rewrite the script. At the time, though, we had a rudimentary scientific understanding of the atmosphere. The computer models we used to simulate it were crude and inconsistent. Understandably, passing policies that would affect almost every facet of life was politically impossible.
So, we predictably did nothing.
We now know a great deal more. There is no longer a scientific debate about what’s causing our atmosphere to warm and our seas to rise at a rate unseen in many thousands of years. Those computer models are now very sophisticated and have accurately predicted many of the consequences of a changing climate. If anything, they have been far too conservative. The rate of change is outpacing the assumptions and science that drive the simulations. Things are happening faster than we thought they would.
While our science has advanced, our politics has moved backwards. Climate change, like the minimum wage or health care or immigration reform, has joined the mix of rancorous politics with the two parties at opposites. One party wants to take cautious action; the other party has convinced itself that none of this is happening or, if it is, it ain’t our fault.
A cottage industry of deniers, fueled by big money from secretive donors and fossil fuel industries and supported by conservative media, sows doubt and doles out campaign contributions. It’s the playbook that the tobacco industry devised and followed for decades to forestall government action on cigarette smoking.
So, we predictably still do nothing. In fact, we go backwards. New policies to ease auto mileage standards and restrictions on coal-fired power plants will only make things worse. Pulling out of the Paris Accord and removing climate data from government websites are signs that none of this will change soon.
So, we will continue to do nothing.
But physics doesn’t care. No matter what the political parties believe, no matter who sits in the Oval Office, ice will continue to melt at 32 degrees.
When the glaciers melt, the sea rises. In the past century, it has risen nine inches. A third of that rise occurred in the last 23 years. By 2060, it’s predicted to rise another two feet, with no sign of slowing down. Think about that. Water levels could easily be two feet higher in 40 years. And scientists say that’s a conservative estimate. Dramatic change is now decades not centuries away.
N.C. 12 on the Outer Banks now regularly floods during minor storms. King tides now invade the streets of downtown Manteo and Wrightsville Beach. Saltwater now pollutes groundwater, threatening water supplies all along the coast and farming in Hyde, Tyrrell and other low-lying counties. Oysters now grow in some front yards in Swansboro, fed by the saltwater pushing up storm drains.
And this is only the beginning.
While we may be unable to change the future, we can prepare for it.
Swansboro, I’m pleased to report, is one of the few coastal towns in the state that is taking the first steps to do that. We have partnered with the N.C. Division of Coastal Management, the Sea Grant program at N.C. State University, the Nature Conservancy and the N.C. Coastal Federation to begin looking for ways to adapt the to changing world. For the rest of the year, we’ll identify areas in town that are particularly vulnerable to flooding and storm damage and devise possible policies to lessen that future damage. Any policies would then be considered by the Board of Commissioners for adoption as amendments to our land-use plan, which is also being revised.
The adaptability study is just beginning, and there will be several public meetings later in the year. I’ll keep you posted here.
(NOTE: While I welcome your comments, I won’t allow this space or may Facebook page to be used to further the false debate about the causes of climate change. We can debate what the consequences might be and what we should do about them, but I’ll delete any comments that argue it isn’t happening, regardless of the sources or bogus science cited. Let me apologize in advance if that offends you, but these are my pages and I make the rules.)
I’m morally opposed to the death penalty, but I may be willing to make an exception for power boaters who don’t slow down for kayakers, canoers and paddleboarders.
This morning, for the second time in five years, an unthinking, uncaring and fool of a jack ass behind the wheel of a power boat went by me at close quarters and high speed in the White Oak River and turned me over with his wake. Luckily, I was in shallow water. I stood up and righted the kayak. But I lost my phone and, more importantly, the 17-inch flounder that I had caught earlier and put in a bucket in the stern. We had to eat leftovers for dinner. I’m not happy.
Not surprisingly, the boater kept going.
Five years ago, a bigger fool in a bigger boat went by me at even closer quarters and an even faster rate of speed in the Intracoastal Waterway. He flipped me in 14 feet of water. He, too, kept on trucking.
Unfortunately, these two boaters are the rule, rather than the exception. It’s the rare power boater who will slow down to a safe speed when passing a kayak. As a result, I generally avoid those waters frequented by power boats, especially on weekends during the summer when our waters are full of inexperienced boaters with coolers full of beer.
This morning, though, I was fishing home turf where few boaters venture. The water there is shallow, and the deeper channels poorly marked. Jagged and unseen oyster beds await to chew up fiberglass hulls steered by inattentive captains. But you’re never safe from the bozo in a boat.
To my boating friends here, let me urge as emphatically as I can: SLOW DOWN when passing a vessel whose only power of locomotion is a paddle. Give it a wide berth and keep your wake to a minimum. You are legally responsible for any damage it causes.
The boater this morning was zipping through an unmarked, historic channel that doesn’t appear on any charts. Only locals know about it. I’ll see him again in his 21-foot, white Carolina Skiff with the blue T-top and the 110 Yamaha four stroke on the back.
I’m Italian. We don’t stay mad for long, but we always get even.
A gunman – some now think, two – shot Bobby Kennedy in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in L.A. He died the next day. Kennedy had just won the California Democratic primary. It is now widely surmised, with the special intensity of a counterfactual myth that can neither be proved nor disproved, that Kennedy would have gone on to win the presidency, sparing America and the world from years of bloody conflict in Vietnam and from the Nixon presidency with its polarization, corruption and eventual disgrace. I often wonder how different the world would now be had Kennedy lived.
At least that’s what my heart keeps telling me.
The facts seem to say something else. They suggest that Kennedy had a slim chance to capture the Democratic nomination. His anti-war rival Gene McCarthy wasn’t inclined to get out of his way, and the Johnson-Humphrey administration had a firm grip on delegates for the 33 states that didn’t hold primaries. LBJ hated RFK and wasn’t likely to release those delegates to that “damn pipsqueak.” Even a Kennedy aide assessed years later that the campaign was losing altitude and that Kennedy was considering accepting the vice president slot if it was offered.
But Kennedy alone, it seemed, could draw working-class white, black and Latino voters into an umbrella coalition. He was an “activist champion of the country’s disinherited,” argues Chris Matthews of MSNBC.
I’ve posted one of my favorite photos of Kennedy that supports that point. It was taken on the campaign trail in Detroit in May 1968. McCarthy or Humphrey wouldn’t have drawn half the crowd. Nixon wouldn’t have tried.
Bobby certainly excited a 17-year-old in Asheville. It is sad that after 50 years Kennedy is still the only politician that I ever enthusiastically supported. I haven’t decided if I’m more to blame or our politics.
I stayed up late that night to listen to the returns from California. I watched Bobby tell the crowd in the hotel lobby that he was on to Chicago. I turned off the TV and went to bed, buoyed by the prospects.
I awoke the next morning. I turned on the transistor by the bedside, as was my habit. They were playing this clip over and over. I later learned it was Andrew West, a reporter for the Mutual Broadcasting System, who had witnessed the assassination.
“Senator Kennedy has been … Senator Kennedy has been shot! Is that possible? It is possible, ladies and gentlemen! It is possible! He has … Not only Senator Kennedy! Oh my God! … I am right here, and Rafer Johnson has hold of the man who apparently fired the shot! He still has the gun! The gun is pointed at me right this moment! Get the gun! Get the gun! Get the gun! Stay away from the guy! Get his thumb! Get his thumb! Break it if you have to! Get the gun, Rafer [Johnson]! Hold him! We don’t want another Oswald!”