Moderator: Nancy White: Director, UNC Coastal Studies Institute.
Irv Hooper, Crossroads' President, opened the meeting with the commonly shared observation that a good quality of life and strong economic development in this County both depend on a healthy natural environment. The unique feature of our County's natural environment is the abundance of adjoining waters---ocean, sound, river and creek. The biggest threat to the health of these waters is non-point source pollution from stormwater runoff. Recently crafted rules to help protect these waters, the Phase II Rules and parallel state Rules, have been subjected to a bruising at the hands of the Rules Review Commission (see below).
CAMA mandated Land Use Plans are now being updated over a two year process that allows for plentiful citizen participation. These Plans are the tools for a community to protect and enhance what it values as it decides how to grow. The panelists are involved in such decisions in a variety of ways---job creation, tourism enhancement, commercial fishing, environmental protection---and thus bring different perspectives to a common vision of community strength. In sum, the panelists are asked to show how the Land Use Plan can have value for their particular missions.
Dick Bierly restated the theme that wise economic growth requires good environmental stewardship and that Crossroads has long championed the theme of this Annual Meeting, Prosperity and Preservation.
Moderator White proposed that the ensuing presentations should reflect the kind of integration and perspective that would lead to good decisions by community leaders.
Phyllis Ford presented the Carteret County Chamber of Commerce view of entrepreneurial growth. She listed types of businesses in broad strokes ("lifestyle", "survival", etc.) and went on to enumerate the factors that help businesses thrive (workforce, education, networks, infrastructure, etc.). As for how the Land Use Plan plays a role in business growth, she observed that the business community, in the context of Chamber of Commerce discussions, was not keyed into the Plan's role, but that it would be useful for the business community to think about the Plan in this way.
David Inscoe represented the thinking of the Economic Development Council by laying out the categories of issues defining development---Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats. Strengths: military, tourism, coastal education (Duke, UNC, CCC, etc.), diversity, property tax base. Weaknesses: low wages, tourism impact insufficiently robust, low population growth, imbalance of young people leaving and elderly arriving. Opportunities: N.C. Port, marine trades, marine science, active elderly population. Threats: US 70 a bottleneck, poor sewer capacity, beach nourishment expense, slow environmental permitting process. The goal of development in County should be for economic growth that is compatible with a healthy environment. Growth is essential for a healthy community.
Art Schools emphasized that tourism in the County depends on a high quality environment; the connection between environmental protection and tourism is obvious. The beach is the number one draw, which argues for continuing sand nourishment projects. Other attractions are abundant, as well, but need more promotion. It is especially important to increase tourism during off-season (April, May, September, October) by doing more advertising. He agreed that putting a second Tourist Center near the influx of tourists from the ferry at Cedar Island was worth considering.
Barbara Garrity-Blake praised the Fisheries Management people for their efforts in collecting good data and forming good plans. Coastal Habitat Protection Plan was especially highlighted for its broad, integrative approach that involved input from three major commissions charged with protecting coastal resources---Environmental Management Commission, Coastal Resources Commission, and Marine Fisheries Commission. She stated that this Plan provided great opportunity for public input and concluded that "we have healthy and carefully managed [fisheries] resources." Barbara's cultural anthropology sensitivities led her to remark, on a less sunny note, that there was a strong potential to lose diversity and character of down east traditional businesses.
Pam Morris, representing the commercial fishing interests of the County, warned of the loss of commercial fishing, especially the traditional down east business. She was frustrated by the "perception" of the local fisherman as backward-thinking and resistant to change. On the contrary, she asserted, the local fishing industry depends on being attuned to smart management practices and good stewardship. A good Land Use Plan is essential for a healthy environment that will produce a healthy, replenishing stock of fish. Her personal experience in speaking out strongly for protecting her industry convinces her of the power of well-informed, observant, and vigorous public involvement in policy and rule-making. Individuals must shake off their sense of impotence and become emboldened to protect what is valued from poor or insensitive governmental leadership. Pam was "uncertain", but remained "hopeful", that down east commercial fishing will remain viable generations from now.
Dick Bierly concluded the meeting with a synthesis of the Panel's presentations. He saw unity among all participants that a good Land Use Plan can help the County grow economically without jeopardizing the high quality of our natural environment. Such a Plan can incorporate the best ideas from thoughtful analysis of habitat protection and put them into action in a manner that lifts all boats. To show that Land Use Plans can do more than take up space in a forgotten drawer, Dick gave the recent example of the County's 1996 Land Use Plan recently being used to deny a marina permit (see below). In sum, a good Plan customizes the concerns of a community to the local environment, culture, and expectations. The recently completed Countywide Comprehensive Plan may give useful direction to the writing of the Land Use Plan. Citizens should take advantage of their expanded role in providing input to this process.
Land Use Plans Have Power: An Example
A common cynicism among those long in the trenches of environmental protection is that Land Use Plans are typically "barely worth the paper they're printed on". Renewed hope that Land Use Plans can have real value arises from a major Coastal Resources Commission effort to make the Plans better. The Commission spent two years working to make the Plans more responsive to public input during their writing, better equipped with useful tools to implement good policies, written with more clarity for effective application of those policies, and better tailored to fit local conditions.
Even the existing Land Use Plans could have real value if our political representatives paid sufficient attention to them. Here is a recent case where this happened in Carteret County, and it gives further hope that Land Use Plans can be worth the effort. Here are the details:
Ten days (12/8/03) before the public comment period was to end regarding a permit application for marina project on Harkers Island, County Commissioner Jonathan Robinson asked his Board to disapprove the project. The main basis for disapproval was that this project called for dredging a channel through an active shellfishing area, something that is not consistent with the County's CAMA Land Use Plan. Additionally, the proposed marina's parking lot was too close to the water. The Board unanimously agreed with Commissioner Robinson and had Commission Chairwoman Bettie Bell send a letter stating its objection to the state. Charles Jones, Assistant Director, Permits and Enforcement, N.C. Division of Coastal Management (DCM), was quoted as saying that if DCM staff did, indeed, find the marina project inconsistent with the County Land Use Plan, that "we have no recourse but to deny the permit." The project was dropped.
Now to Court
Over the past several Newsletters, we have been following the "tennis match" between the Environmental Management Commission (EMC; the Administrative branch appointed commission charged with writing environmental rules) and the Rules Review Commission (RRC; the Legislative branch appointed commission charged with determining the appropriateness of the rules) over the set of new stormwater rules (the "ball"). Now the game has become "hardball", with several environmental groups, and EMC, taking the RRC to court. Plaintiffs in one suit are Southern Environmental Law Center, N.C. Coastal Federation, N.C. Shellfish Growers Assoc., N.C. Trout Unlimited, and N.C. Environmental Defense Fund. Their suit, filed in Wake County Superior Court, charges that the RRC sent back the rules to EMC (essentially rejected the rules) with insufficient reason. It also charges that the RRC lacks authority under the state Constitution. Until the lawsuits are adjudicated, the Rules are in limbo. Communities needing direction on stormwater control for new development will be under the existing permitting requirements from the state.
Ted Odell retired from the Board after 20 years of service. He was Secretary for most of those years. N. Bruce McCutcheon also retired from the Board after 6 years. Bruce served as Vice-President and Newsletter Editor for several of those years. At this month's Board meeting, new Officers were elected. The new President is Don Hoss, former Director of the NOAA Lab in Beaufort, N.C.. Bruce Ethridge was elected Vice-President, and Mark Hooper Secretary. Irv Hooper leaves the Presidency to become, once again, Treasurer and Newsletter Editor. Thanks to new Life Members, Emily Farmer, Susan Hamilton and Jeanne Krauss, for their continuing support. Please check the first line of your mailing label. If It shows that your dues are overdue, and you think that incorrect, let us know. We are working to fix problems with our database.