In Celebration of Rev. Langstroth

They gave Lorenzo Langstroth sort of the bum’s rush in “bee school” yesterday. He invented the hive that revolutionized beekeeping and is still in use 150 years later, the instructors noted during the first of four classes that will lead to state certification as a beekeeper. With a lot to cover in four hours, they then moved on to bee pollination, hive location or some such.

Lansgstroth markerIntrigued, I came home determined to learn more about the acknowledged “Father of American Beekeeping.” The initial Google search produced the image of this street marker that I immediately remembered from one of my morning ambles through Philadelphia on our visit there in the fall. I’m a sucker for historic markers. I’ve been known to turn around if I pass one as I zip along at 60 mph. I strolled past this one on Front Street, near the intersection with Chestnut, along the Philly waterfront. It told about this guy who invented a new beehive in 1852 and wrote a manual for it that advanced beekeeping and honey production worldwide. Interesting, I thought at the time, and ambled on.

Langstroth, who was born in Philadelphia in 1810, must have been a weird kid, or at least that’s what the neighbors must of thought as they watched him spend hours on his hands and knees playing with ants on the sidewalks outside his house. While later studying just up the road at Yale, Langstroth transferred this fascination with small, social insects to bees when his saw a friend’s hive in 1838. He brought home two colonies. For most of his life, Lorenzo Langstroth would never be without bees.

After moving around New England as a Congregational minister, Langstroth returned to Philadelphia in 1848 where he set up a two-acre apiary on the west side of town. He immersed himself in his bees, mostly at first as a distraction from his periodic “head troubles” and bouts of depression. Lansgstroth watched how they moved in and out of their hives, and he read everything anyone had written about them.

Lansgrtoth with hives
Lorenzo Langstroth shows off his invention in his apiary in the 1850s. Photo: American Philosophical Society

There’s some debate now as to whether Langstroth discovered “bee space” or merely applied it to invent the first practical, man-made hive. Bees like to have precise 3/8-inch gaps in their hives to move around. They fill anything wider with propolis, a resinous substance that bees make by mixing wax with pollen and tree sap. It hardens into a glue tougher than anything you get out of a bottle, and it made early beekeeping difficult and often fatal to the bees.

People have been keeping bees in boxes and containers almost since there were people. Clay pots were the preferred containers in North Africa 9,000 years ago. Art in the tombs of Egyptian emperors 4,500 years later shows a variety of vessels used as beehives. Skeps, cone-shaped structures made of branches and leaves, and hollow logs were common in Langstroth’s day.

No matter the design, though, the bees got very angry when beekeepers tried to extract the honey by tearing into the propolis. Keepers found it a lot less painful to simply kill the bees first.

Langstroth was “pondering” all this while walking late one afternoon from the apiary to his home two miles away. “The almost self-evident idea of using the same bee-space…came into my mind, and in a moment the suspended movable frames, kept at a suitable distance from each other and the case containing them, came into being,” he wrote in a reminiscence published in 1893. “I could scarcely refrain from shouting out my ‘Eureka’ in the open streets.”

He patented a wooden box that opened from the top and had removable frames 3/8 of an inch apart on which the bees would build their combs of honey. The frames could be lifted out the box to extract the honey with a minimum of disturbance. His Langstroth on the Hive and the Honey-Bee, published a year later, provided unsurpassed practical advice on bee management.

The simplicity of the Langstroth Hive made it easy to copy. Quickly, beekeepers around the world adopted it, despite Lanstroth’s efforts to end infringements of his patent.

Endlessly imitated and modified, the Langstroth Hive helped make commercial honey production and bee pollination large-scale industries. By the 1880s, most American beekeepers used some form of the Langstroth Hive. By the late twentieth century, more than 100 American crops and one-third of the American food supply depended on bee pollination and the Langstroth Hive.

Langstroth in 1858 gathered his family and moved to Oxford, Ohio. There, between continued struggles with illness, he devoted his time to beekeeping and research, writing articles and playing chess. In 1863, Langstroth became one of the first Americans to import the Italian honeybee (Apis mellifera ligustica), whose queen bees he and his son sold to beekeepers across the United States. Today, the Italian bee is the most popular commercial bee in North America because it is less aggressive than other subspecies.

In 1874, Langstroth retired from beekeeping.  He died 21 years later while giving a sermon at the Wayne Avenue Presbyterian Church in Dayton, Ohio, where he lived with his daughter.

That’s Isa, on the left, and her sister, Olivia, standing behind their tricked out Langstroth Hives.

Here are the words on Langstroth’s tombstone in Dayton’s Woodland Cemetery:

“Inscribed to the memory of Rev. L.L Langstroth, ‘Father of American beekeeping,’ by his affectionate beneficiaries who, in the remembrance of the service rendered by his persistent and painstaking observations and experiments with the honey bee, his improvements in the hive, and the literary ability shown in the first scientific and popular book on the subject of beekeeping in the United States, gratefully erect this monument.”

We had our own celebration yesterday of Langstroth and his invention. Our nieces, Isa and Olivia, came from Hillsborough to trick out the two Langstroth hives that will be in my backyard. Olivia wanted her hive to look like a home and painted window with curtains and flower boxes. Her older sister chose an abstract design of splotches of bold colors.

The bees, who are scheduled to arrive on March 24, won’t mind. The whimsy of it all would also probably please the reverend.


The Fix Is In

RALEIGH – It was more like an oil-industry conference. And a cheesy one at that.

The “listening session” that the U.S. Interior Department sponsored a couple of weeks ago on President Trump’s proposal to open virtually the entire U.S. coastline to oil and natural gas drilling featured placards that informed us what oil is and why it’s important to the country. No warnings about spills, no pictures of burning rigs or oil-coated cormorants. A handful of smiling government experts politely answered questions and directed people to laptops if they wanted to submit comments. A sign warned that all such comments should be based on facts, not emotions.

It all was terribly boring, not very informative and ultimately not worth the drive. I got the impression that’s the way they wanted it.

I drove away from the North Raleigh Hilton on that cold, wet afternoon with one, dreary conclusion: The fix is in.

oil rally
Hundreds of opponents packed a rally in Raleigh to oppose offshore drilling. Photo: N.C. Policy Watch

Understand that we shouldn’t even be talking about this right now. The federal government two years ago approved a five-year, offshore leasing plan that ends in 2022. Widespread opposition along the East Coast forced Interior, which manages drilling leases three or more miles from shore, to exclude the Atlantic Ocean in its approved plan.

But Trump signed an unprecedented executive order in April to reopen that plan to allow leasing “to the maximum extent permitted by law.” That means just about everywhere, including off the N.C. coast.

The first step in the process outlined in federal law is to accept public comments on the environmental review that the law also requires. Thus, the “listening sessions.”

I had gone to Raleigh as Swansboro’s mayor pro temp to submit into the official federal record the resolution the town passed last year opposing offshore drilling. But no one there could take it. They pointed me to the computers. One smiling, young Interior official informed me that I would have to travel to Washington if I wanted to hand deliver it.

In the past, I would have joined hundreds of people in a packed meeting room. We would have all been given an opportunity to step to a microphone and say our piece before a federal hearing officer and, yes, hand over anything we wanted. All our documents and comments would have become part of the official record.  Back then, the meetings were called hearings and they would last hours. They could be loud and, yes, sometimes, rude. Like democracy, they could be messy.

Clearly, that’s not what the Interior Department wanted when it scheduled these listening sessions in 23 capital cities in coastal states across the country. As in those other places, hundreds of drilling opponents showed up in Raleigh, but the session’s format discouraged any official outbursts of boisterousness. So, as in those other places, opponents repaired to the opposite end of the hotel to hold a loud, rousing rally decorated by signs and banners and punctuated by invective. But all out of range of Interior officials.

The department avoided holding these sessions in coastal locations where residents are most at risk and where emotions are the highest. That’s also by design. When it last collected comments on the environmental assessment two years ago, Interior held four meetings in North Carolina, including three here on the coast. While they were similar in format to these “listening sessions,” those meetings were less scripted, manned by more officials and included information on environmental and social risks and alternative energies.

But why replicate that effort and spend the money if the decision has already been made? Unlike the last time, it’s hard to believe that what’s going on now is a honest attempt to gauge public sentiment or to assess risks. Forgive me for refusing to believe that this president, who has eliminated protection for public lands, turned the Environmental Protection Agency into a shill for industry and cut regulations, cares about sea turtles, fishing grounds, migrating whales or oil-covered beaches. Forgive me for failing to trust that this Interior secretary who has proposed opening public lands to drilling and mining and who, along with deputies, has met 180 times with oil-industry executives will protecti our natural resources?

To reach any other conclusion that this environmental assessment will determine that drilling is good for us is laughable. So is thinking that what they’re doing now is anything more than merely going through the motions of meeting legal requirements.

While I expect Interior to race through the study, don’t expect to see rigs appear off our coast any time soon. The many irregularities in Interior’s process guarantees legal challenges. And no oilman who must answer to shareholders will attempt to drill in a virgin territory like the Atlantic with oil selling below $50 a barrel and when a glut of natural gas has those prices at historic lows.


Finances, Permits and a Pothole

The Board of Commissioners, meeting last night at the old meeting hall while our current room undergoes renovations, got great news about the town’s financial health.

We also approved permits for a barbecue restaurant on Corbett Avenue and an assisted-living facility on Swansboro Loop Road.

The board hit a rocky spot though when it appointed members to a steering committee that will help us fashion the much-needed update to our state-mandated land-use plan. To select nominees for this very important committee, we used a process that I thought was rushed, lacked transparency and required more open, thoughtful deliberation from the entire board. For those reasons, I tried to delay consideration of the committee and, failing at that, was one of two commissioners to vote against the list of nominees.

Auditor Gregory Redmon, a CPA from Tarboro, gave our comprehensive financial report for FY 2016-17 glowing reviews. Some of the highlights Redmon noted:

  • The town’s assets exceed its liabilities and other expenses by more than $7 million. That so-called “net position” increased by more that $617,000 last year alone because of our ability to increase capital assets and reduce liabilities.
  • At the close of the fiscal year, the town’s fund balances, essentially our savings accounts, stood at more than $2.6 million, an increase of more than $931,000 since the previous year. About 65 percent of that amount, or $1.7 million, is unassigned to pay future expense and thus available for spending at the board’s discretion. That unassigned fund balance amounted to about 53 percent of total our total expenses. The state requires cities and counties have an unassigned fund balance of 8 percent, or about a month of expenses. Most towns Swansboro’s size have fund balances of about 40 percent.
  • The town’s debt increased by about $800,00 during the fiscal year. That money was spent on installment purchases and financing for equipment, vehicles, a new fire truck and the addition of a sleeping quarters for fire fighters.
  • The town received a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for the 21st consecutive year.

We should all be very pleased. Much of the credit goes to our staff, led by Manager Scott Chase and Finance Director Sonia Johnson. They have worked hard to cut expenses and stretch our tax dollars. The previous Board of Commissioners and mayor also took seriously its obligations to spend our tax dollars wisely.

The commissioners last night approved the special-use permit for Moore’s Chicken and Barbecue Restaurant on the corner of Corbett and Hammocks Beach Road. The permit hearing was tabled at our last meeting at the request of the developer, Baldwin Design Consultants of Greenville. There’s no reason to rehash all the project details here. You can find them in previous posts below. Baldwin did include an important amendment to its plans by including internal road access from adjacent, undeveloped properties. That should alleviate some of the traffic problems on Hammocks Beach when those properties are developed.

We also approved a special-use permit for Swansboro House, an 80-bed assisted-living facility on about 23 acres on the Loop Road across from the baseball fields. The commissioners had approved this project last year, but the developer, Onslow Propco Holdings LLC, reduced the building’s footprint by about 5,000 square feet to about 38,000 and changed the façade. Those changes required the developer to return to the board for a new permit.

The developers committed to avoid the half acre or so of wetlands on the site and to incorporate innovative methods to control stormwater.

The land-use plan provides the policy foundation for the town’s development ordinances, such as its zoning codes.

The project didn’t raise any serious concerns among the commissioners and was approved unanimously.

It saddened me deeply that the selection of the steering committee to devise our new land-use plan turned contentious. I generally believe that the appointment of these volunteer committees should be unanimous, but I was so disturbed by the process used to select the committee that I decided to make an exception in this case.

The committee will be the most important one we appoint in my time on the board. It may work as long as a year fashioning our new land-use plan, which is the community’s blueprint for future growth and its policy foundation for our development ordinances. The task is important enough that the board should have carved out serious time to discuss the committee’s mission and composition. We had time. The committee won’t start working until May at the earliest.

At our meeting on Feb. 13, we directed Mayor John Davis to work with our manager to compile a list of nominees from recommendations submitted by board members and others. I assumed that the board would discuss the list in an open meeting and begin culling it down into a workable committee. Instead a couple of weeks later, we were emailed the names of 20 people who would serve on the committee. That list was amended twice with no explanation why people were added or deleted.

Though I talked to the mayor several times after original list was distributed, there was never an open discussion among board members about the committee’s composition or qualifications.

Then, it was rushed onto the agenda last night. After failing to persuade enough commissioners to pull the appointments from the agenda to give us time for serious deliberations, I felt I had no choice but to vote against the nominees. Commissioner Roy Herrick joined me.

To those on the committee, please understand that my vote wasn’t personally directed at any of you. I know most people on the committee and nominated a couple of them. They are good people who care about Swansboro and will, I’m sure, work hard to fashion a good plan. I look forward to joining them.

I objected to a rushed process that took place mostly in the shadows.

Bye, Bye Facebook

I spent an hour the other day reading Robert Mueller’s 37-page indictment of the Russian troll farm that spread disinformation during the 2016 election. It is stunning. You must hand it to the Russians: They know Americans better than we know ourselves. They exploited our tribal politics, our utter lack of discernment when judging the validity of information, our freedoms and our rank stupidity. A sizeable number of people actually believed, for instance, that Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring from the basement of a suburban D.C. pizza joint. One fool from Salisbury even showed up with a weapon to free the kids. Think about that.

Mostly, the Russians exploited our rights to free speech and our social-media networks, primarily Twitter and Facebook. They are mentioned dozens of times in the indictment. Russian trolls created fake identities and groups to spread disinformation. Dozens were employed 24 hours a day to comment on tweets and Facebook posts. They posted more than 80 million false comments on Facebook. They then relied on our willingness to believe almost anything that reinforces our biases. Millions of Americans became unwitting Russian stooges by spreading these lies on their Facebook and Twitter accounts. In that way, a preposterous story about a child sex ring in a pizza parlor goes viral and, in so doing, achieves a level of truthfulness.

And, yet, Facebook and Twitter have done nothing meaningful in response. Facebook officials have said it’s not their job to judge the truthfulness of what appears in your news feed, but they’ve given you the opportunity to do so. What could possibly go wrong by allowing users to rank the value of the “news” they receive in their feeds?

Facebook has also altered the algorithm behind its news feed so content created by a user’s Facebook friends is more prominent than posts from businesses, mainstream media outlets and other major pages. So instead of news from legitimate sources you’ll see the link from your buddy to a fake source created by the Russians. The echo chamber remains.

I assume this all about money. It usually is. To create traffic and support advertising rates, Facebook’s business model relies on virality over truth. To make serious changes, such as deleting obviously fake accounts or tracking the origins of news posts, would probably cost users and result in lower ad revenue.

Without serious reform, Facebook and Twitter remain threats to our democracy because every national election will now be subject to foreign manipulation. Once candidates get the hang of it, even school board races won’t be safe.

Facebook and Twitter, I know, will have to be forced to make the needed reforms. I also know that the president and the politicians who control Congress won’t do it. They benefit from Russia’s ongoing attack on our democracy and Facebook’s smugness and lack of transparency.

It will be up to us.

Twitter was easy. I rarely use it. I cancelled my account today.

Facebook will be more difficult. I use it frequently to keep up with friends and family, communicate with constituents here in Swansboro and post random thoughts about this, that or the other. I plan to start a web or blog site and gradually direct my Facebook friends there. In a couple of months, I’ll take down the Facebook site. I’ll lose followers, but so be it. I’ll only post town business on Facebook until then.

If enough of us take this action, Facebook will be forced to change its business model or go bankrupt. I hold no hope that will happen, however. As someone who spent a lifetime as a journalist trying to discern the truth as best I could, this all irks the hell out me. If all this action does is make me feel better about myself and remain true to my profession, I guess that’s good enough

Leftovers: Moore’s BBQ

At the applicant’s request, the Board of Commissioners last night tabled a special-use permit for a barbecue restaurant at the intersection of Corbett Avenue and Hammocks Beach Road.

We’ll take it up again at our next meeting on Feb. 27.

In the other major agenda item, the board unanimously approved a permit for a new commercial building downtown. Edward Venters plans to build a single story, 1,536-square-foot brick addition to the old Harry Moore Store at 108 Front Street. This is the empty lot next to the Salt Marsh Cottage. The building is in the town’s historic district. The Swansboro Historic Properties Commission had approved the design for the new building.

After completing much of the hearing for the Moore’s Chicken and Barbecue Restaurant, the applicant, Baldwin Design Consultants of Greenville, asked the commissioners to delay the vote to allow Commissioner Pat Turner an opportunity to consider the permit. Turner was absent last night for medical reasons. A tie vote among the remaining four commissioners would have been a denial of the permit. According to our ordinance, the mayor couldn’t have voted to break a tie in this instance. We unanimously agreed to the request.

All of the commissioners last night expressed fears about the volume of traffic that the restaurant and other development spawned by Walmart will generate at Corbett and Hammocks Beach. Baldwin’s traffic engineer testified that the improvements recommended in his study will meet the traffic requirements of our ordinances. The traffic study recommends allowing only eastbound traffic to enter the restaurant parking lot from Corbett Avenue. Those traveling west on Corbett would have to turn left on Hammocks Beach and enter the parking lot on a driveway there. Everyone leaving the restaurant would do so on Hammocks Beach. To minimize long lines of cars waiting to make left-hand turns at Hammocks Beach, the study recommends making the current right-hand lane into a dual turn lane.

Importantly, our traffic engineer concurred with those recommendations.

While this is a Band-Aid approach to the larger problem, denying the permit now invites a lawsuit. These special-use permits require quasi-judicial hearings. We can only consider evidence presented during the hearings. When our own engineer testifies that the applicant’s approach will satisfy our ordinance, we have little left to base a denial on traffic issues.

The best we might be able to do at this point is push for the needed improvements at that intersection. The town is meeting today with the Walmart developers and DOT to approve the plat, pictured here, for the long-discussed Norris Road realignment with the Walmart entrance. Everyone agrees this addition is needed to safely move traffic in and out of Walmart. Our engineer said last night it will relieve 50 percent of the traffic pressure on Hammocks Beach, and our manager said he’s almost certain it will be built in the next 12 months.

Charles Rawls, who owns all property on west side of Hammocks Beach near the Moore’s lot, committed last night to internally connect all his properties on that side of Hammocks Beach by building an access road from Walmart’s existing driveway. If Walmart agrees, that road will eliminate the need for future driveways on the road when those lots are developed.

Finally, we need to make adding another turn lane on Hammocks Beach a drop-dead condition when the old ABC store across the street property is redeveloped.

North Carolina’s First Fish

cedar point beachIn retirement, I plan to rekindle an old love. I’ve always enjoyed researching and writing about local history. I was lucky that my editors at the Winston-Salem Journal allowed me to pursue that passion during my 24 years there.

Since moving to the coast 16 years ago, I haven’t had the time. Until now. From time to time, I’ll pass along the stories that I bump into.

This first is about mullet. It was North Carolina’s first fish. It supported the first commercial fishery along the coast that boomed to prominence after the Civil War and continues today, though much diminished.

There was a time when scenes like the one pictured here were common all along the coast. This is a mullet camp in Cedar Point in western Carteret County. Taken in the 1950s, the picture shows men hauling mullet to the beach.

Read more here:…/coasts-history-north-carol…/

BBQ on the Menu Next

The Board of Commissioners will consider permits for a barbecue restaurant on Corbett Avenue and a new commercial building on Front Street when it meets tonight at Town Hall.

Baldwin Design Consultants of Greenville is asking for a special-use permit to build a Moore’s Chicken and Barbecue Restaurant on about 1.3 acres on the corner of Corbett and Hammocks Beach Road. The lot, owned by Charles and Mary Rawls and Brenda Stanley, is the former site of Tom and Joe’s Sports Center.

This is the first of several commercial developments we can expect to see near that intersection now that Walmart is open. The Walmart store adjoins this lot.

Traffic is the major issue here. Under the state’s grading system, the intersection gets a middling “C” during peak traffic on weekday afternoons when this and other nearby developments are completed later this year, according to the applicant’s traffic analysis. It falls to a D on Sundays. To maintain those levels, the traffic study recommends allowing only eastbound traffic to enter the parking lot from Corbett Avenue. Those traveling west on Corbett would have to turn left on Hammocks Beach and enter the parking lot on a driveway there. Everyone leaving the restaurant would do so on Hammocks Beach.

Walmart customers who want to go west on Corbett will also be waiting at that intersection. As will those who live in subdivisions, including two new ones yet to be built, farther up the road. The intersection will also bear the traffic from the redeveloped ABC store site across from Moore’s and from new commercial developments that will likely be built on lots adjoining Moore’s that the Rawls’ also own.

To handle all that and avoid long lines of cars waiting to make left-hand turns at Hammocks Beach, the applicant’s traffic engineers recommend making the current right-hand lane into a dual turn lane. That would mean the two lanes become left-hand turn lanes as soon as the first car in the right-hand lane wants to go left.

Repainting the arrows at the intersection seems to be a band-aid approach to what’s shaping up to be major traffic snarl.

We visit our daughter often in Durham. Growth during the last decade has transformed the old tobacco town. Where corn and soybeans grew just a few years ago, businesses of all kinds have sprouted. As I crawl through bumper-to-bumper traffic, I often wonder who the moron was who allowed this to happen. I’m now in danger of being that moron.

Instead of attempting to deal piecemeal with the traffic that each succeeding development will spawn, we need to take a more holistic approach. So, some questions we should ask tonight:

How likely is Walmart to realign its’s Corbett Avenue entrance with Norris Road? This has been discussed for months and is considered the safest way to handle traffic entering and exiting the store and school traffic using Norris. Now, anyone wanting to go left on Corbett from Walmart is forced to make a U-turn at the Hammocks Beach intersection or exit onto Hammocks Beach and risk long lines at the light. A lighted intersection at Norris that would allow traffic to safely enter Corbett in either direction would relieve much of the pressure on Hammocks Beach.

Can the state Department of Transportation, which owns Hammocks and Corbett, widen the Hammocks intersection to include two dedicated left-hand turn lanes? It owns the right-of-way on either side of the road.

Finally, are the property owners willing to build an access road from the existing Walmart driveway on Hammocks Beach to Moore’s? They also own the land in between the two that will very likely be developed. That road would provide access to those developments as well and eliminate the need for multiple driveways on Hammocks.

Edward Venters is asking for a special-use permit to build a single story, 1,536-square-foot brick addition to the old Harry Moore Store at 108 Front Street. This is the empty lot next to the Salt Marsh Cottage. The proposal is in the town’s historic district. The Swansboro Historic Properties Commission has approved the design for the new commercial building.

You can find the full agenda here:…/BOC_2.13.18_Agenda_Packet_Revised….

The Moore’s traffic study is here:…/…/uploads/Moores_BBQ_Final_TIA.pdf