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Google Fiber Could Come to Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham Areas

Google announced this week that it was in discussions to deploy its Google Fiber service to nine metro areas around the country, including both the Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham metro areas. Google Fiber offers Internet service that may be as much as 100 times faster than a basic broadband connection. The municipalities that Google says it will be working with in North Carolina in advance of potentially making Google Fiber available include Charlotte, Carrboro, Cary, Chapel Hill, Durham, Garner, Morrisville, and Raleigh. Texas and Utah are the only other states in the country in which Google is considering making Google Fiber available in more than one metro area. In a statement, City of Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane said, "The City of Raleigh has been working on expanding broadband options for our community for some time. Today's announcement provides another opportunity for the City to explore options to provide abundant, high-speed broadband access that will make our community stronger and help strengthen the foundations for future economic development in our city."

The City of Raleigh is also part of the North Carolina Next Generation Network (NCNGN), joining Carrboro, Cary, Chapel Hill, Durham, and Winston-Salem, along with Duke University, North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Wake Forest University, and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. NCNGN is a regional initiative focused on bringing next-generation broadband networks to North Carolina. Following Google's announcement, NCNGN released a statement welcoming the news, saying, "Today's announcement does not change our members' commitment to participation in the NCNGN initiative but instead offers one more layer of opportunity and competition that will help bring competitively priced access to gigabit internet speeds that would be 100 times faster than today's basic speeds."


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Burlington Officials Brief Legislators on Sewer Overflow

In a meeting that topped five hours, officials from the City of Burlington and Duke Energy Carolinas testified before the legislative Environmental Review Commission (ERC) Monday regarding unauthorized spills each experienced in recent weeks. Burlington's spill involved 3.5 million gallons of raw sewage that flowed from a ruptured sewer main into the nearby Haw River and ranked as one of the state's top fifty sewage spills. Drinking water intakes for local governments existed downstream of both spills. With Burlington's overflow, regulators at the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) counseled the City to delay required public notifications in order to give state regulators time to inspect the City's repairs, prompting outcry from environmental groupsdownstream N.C. elected officials and downstream Va. elected officials (also read this News & Record report). At Monday's meeting, N.C. Division of Water Resources Director Tom Reeder told legislators, "It's not Burlington's fault. It's our fault, and it won't happen again." (See also "State admits mistake in Burlington waste spill notice," The Times News, Burlington.)

After hearing the city officials' briefing, legislators explored the State's role in assisting water and wastewater systems with replacement of aging infrastructure. Read a more detailed description of this discussion in "Unauthorized Spills Capture Legislative, U.S. DOJ, Media Attention" in this week's edition of EcoLINC, the League's monthly electronic environment newsletter. 


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League, Local Officials Discuss Environment Ordinances with Legislators

League members Monday gave legislators numerous reasons to retain their authority to enact local environment ordinances. Presenting to a study committee of the Environmental Review Commission (ERC), an oversight committee that met in between sessions to study environment issues and recommend legislation for the upcoming Short Session, the League members responded to legislators' requests to define when and how they implement environmental ordinances. The requests grew out of last session's omnibus regulatory reform bill, which tasked the ERC with determining the circumstances under which local governments may pass environmental ordinances "more stringent than" corresponding state or federal laws. Development interests proposed the study and previous iterations of the idea as a way to create more regulatory uniformity across jurisdictions and to crack down on what was viewed as excessive local environmental ordinances.

Monday's public hearing featured comments from Durham, Lenoir, Pittsboro, Raleigh, and Wilson. In addition, representatives from League affiliate organization the Storm Water Association of North Carolina, as well as the N.C. Rural Water Association and the N.C. Association of Floodplain Managers, presented similar comments as the League members. Several cities chose to explain instances in which they implemented local ordinances that exceeded state or federal minimums, while others pointed out practical difficulties that would result if the legislature forced all localities not to exceed state or federal minimum regulations. Read a more complete report in this week's edition of EcoLINC, the League's monthly electronic environment newsletter.


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Flood Insurance Changes to be Heard in House

U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor recently announced that the House will vote next week on a modified version of the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act. The bill will delay implementation of certain portions of the Biggert-Waters Act, which was passed in 2012 in order to ensure the solvency of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). However, it has also led to significant flood insurance premium hikes for consumers. As reported in a previous edition of LINC'ed IN, the Senate voted in late January to approve the Homeowner Affordability Act. Although bill language has not yet been released, Rep. Cantor said in a statement that the House's modifications will help prevent unreasonable premium increases, while still protecting the NFIP.


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Legislators Grapple with 'Onerous' Jordan Lake Costs, Solutions

Meeting Wednesday for its second of four interim study meetings, the legislative Committee on Jordan Lake grappled with the enormous cost burden of the Jordan Lake Rules (JLR) and the equities of requiring lake clean-up measures from the various sources that contribute to the lake's impairment. At this week's meeting, legislators pressed N.C. Division of Water Resources Director Tom Reeder on how the State could offer alternative clean-up measures, including less-expensive ways to retrofit existing development to prevent stormwater runoff. At the meeting, Reeder twice referred to the existing development requirements as the Rules' "most onerous" aspect. To assist in lowering the cost burden placed on local governments that must pay for these retrofits, Sen. Neal Hunt suggested that the legislature offer incentives. The legislature imposed a water quality-based nutrient management strategy in 2009 that required strict measures from local governments, developers, and agriculture, to reduce nutrient runoff to the lake.

In addition to the discussion about reducing the cost burden on local governments, committee members asked for more information about various technologies that may be available to scrub the lake's water of toxic algae. Later this spring, the State will begin testing one of these technologies in some of the most impaired areas of the lake. Called "SolarBee" aerators, these devices were included as a provision in last year's state budget bill. This JLR study, authorized in the omnibus "Legislative Research Commission" group of interim studies, came as a response to legislation last session that delayed portions of the Rules. Any recommendations from the committee would be eligible for introduction as legislation in the upcoming Short Session.


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Reminder: Attend One of Three Duke Streetlight Forums

A group of League members, in conjunction with Duke Energy Progress/Duke Energy Carolinas (Duke), have developed three Outdoor Lighting Forums to update energy customers on the latest developments in the modernization of outdoor lighting technology and collect feedback on customer needs. The first forum, intended for customers in the Duke Energy Progress service area, will be held February 27 in Cary (forum details and registration here). The other two forums, intended for customers in the Duke Energy Carolinas service area, will be held on March 6 in Hickory and on March 13 in Greensboro (forum details and registration here). The forums were organized so that Duke could comply with a N.C. Utilities Commission order that directed the company to discuss a modernized streetlight rate schedule with its N.C. municipal customers. The League has pushed for Duke to develop a modernized streetlight rate, most recently in a filing submitted last week (read more details in "League Urges Duke to Modernize Streetlight Rates").
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Internet Sales Tax Bill to be Heard by House Committee

The U.S. House Judiciary Committee is planning to meet on March 4 to hear updates and testimony on the Marketplace Fairness Act, which would allow states to collect the sales tax on online purchases that they are currently owed. Although specific witnesses have not yet been named, it is likely that both governments and retailers will be represented at the committee hearing. The National Governors Association estimates that the uncollected taxes are around $23 billion annually, while several online-based companies like Overstock.com have joined together to oppose the bill. The Marketplace Fairness Act was passed by the U.S. Senate over the summer. If the House passes a modified version, the two bills will be sent to a conference committee to reach consensus. A final vote would then be required by both chambers before the bill could become law.  
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Lawmakers Review Design Build & Public Contracting Laws

The Purchase and Contract Study Committee, co-chaired by Sen. Neal Hunt and Rep. Dean Arp, met Tuesday to hear presentations on construction contracting, prequalification, bonding, and features of last session's design build bill. In particular, the committee investigated best practices for when the State and local governments could "prequalify" firms bidding on public projects. Norma Houston, Professor of Public Law at the UNC School of Government, explained the legal standard an N.C. unit of government could use to evaluate -- or prequalify -- firms prior to opening bids. Rep. Arp indicated that he would develop a legislative proposal to codify these best practices for prequalifying firms, which he said he would bring to the committee for its review at a future meeting. Any recommendations from this study committee would be eligible for introduction as legislation in the upcoming Short Session. In a related item, the N.C. Chapter of the American Institute of Architects circulated draft language for the committee's consideration that would modify House Bill 857 Public Contracts/Construction Methods/DB/P3. The modification would disallow local governments from requesting "designs" when advertising Requests for Qualifications services. The League staff is working with Committee members on reviewing the language and evaluating whether alternate language is necessary.
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Homeowners Insurance Rate Hearing Set for August

N.C. Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin announced this week that he had ordered a hearing on insurance companies' recent request for an increase in homeowners insurance rates. That increase, which could be as much as 35 percent in some areas of the state, led members of the public -- including local officials -- to speak out against the proposed increase at a public hearing last month. The hearing announced this week will be held in Raleigh at 10 a.m. on Aug. 6. Though the public is welcome to attend that hearing, the public comment period on this rates request has ended. The only speakers at the meeting, according to the Port City Daily, will be representatives from the N.C. Department of Insurance and the N.C. Rate Bureau, which represents insurance companies.
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State Pension System Committee Holds First Meeting of 2014

The LRC Study Committee on Treasurer Investment Targets and State Employee Retirement Options convened Monday to hear presentations from General Assembly staff and leadership from the Department of State Treasurer about the fiscal health of the state pension system, solutions to pension spiking, the system's assumed rate of return, and new initiatives from the Treasurer's Office. Committee dialogue was predominantly geared toward the system's assumed rate of return and the costs and implications associated with any reductions to it. While no specific draft legislation was discussed other than what has been released previously from the Retirement Systems Division at its January meeting, Committee Co-Chair Rep. Jeff Collins told members that he expected draft legislation to be released at the next meeting. The Committee will meet once more before the Short Session, on March 31, and then will resume its work with two more meetings in 2014 set to take place after session.
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FEMA Now Accepting Applications for National Advisory Council

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is currently accepting applications for its National Advisory Council (NAC). The NAC is made of up to 35 professionals who advise FEMA on the coordination of federal preparedness and other issues related to disasters and acts of terrorism. Appointments are for a three-year term, with one seat available for non-elected local government officials. The group meets approximately two times a year, with travel and per diem reimbursements covered by the federal government. Applications are due Friday, March 14. Visit the NAC website to learn more or to apply.  
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Local Officials Invited to Join Conference Call with President Obama

This coming Monday, Feb. 24, local leaders are invited to join President Barack Obama for a conference call on the Affordable Care Act and how state and local governments, businesses, and non-profit organizations can work to ensure that all Americans have access to quality, affordable health care in their communities. The deadline to RSVP for the call is today, Feb. 21. If you would like to RSVP to participate, please visit this link. Call-in information will be provided after your RSVP is received.