Community leaders and residents turned out in large numbers this week for three regional meetings to hear local, state and national experts discuss broadband access and how public-private partnerships are addressing the digital and policy impediments to those partnerships. The Let’s Connect NC tour – with stops in Albemarle, Fuquay-Varina and Jacksonville – was billed as a conversation to engage local residents, and that is exactly what it did. More that 80 people attended the meetings – sponsored by the League, the Minneapolis-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), and NC Broadband Matters -- in Albemarle and Jacksonville, and while a cold rain and the threat of ice held down attendance in Fuquay-Varina, the 40-plus people at that event also sparked insightful dialogue about broadband access and where needs exist for better internet connections and speeds.
Christopher Mitchell, Director of Community Broadband Networks for ILSR, pointed out that North and South Dakota, two of the most rural states in the country, enjoy some of the best access to high-speed fiber broadband networks because those states have embraced public-private partnerships and utilized telephone and electric cooperatives to bring service to residents. In North Carolina, meanwhile, Mitchell said the state enjoys relatively good access in urban areas but some of the worse access in the nation in rural parts of the state. In Jacksonville, League Legal Counsel Erin Wynia noted that there are urban areas that also have gaps, but picked up on that theme when saying the state’s broadband landscape is a story of haves and have-nots, a situation that has to be addressed.
League President and Jacksonville Mayor Pro Tem Michael Lazzara provided opening and closing remarks in Jacksonville, touting the League’s efforts and policy goal of removing state policy barriers to the public-private partnership model in which local governments invest in fiber and other infrastructure and lease that infrastructure to retail providers. The events include panel discussions that involved local community leaders and innovative internet service providers. A question-and-answer session led to at times provocative questions, including from one resident who wondered how a neighbor could have broadband access when his only option was satellite service. The League wants to thank all the municipal officials who took part and made these events a success, as well as our partners in organizing them. You can read media coverage of the events here and here, and see the full event broadcast from Jacksonville here.
The General Assembly's Program Evaluation Division (PED) has presented its analysis of the state’s Erosion and Sedimentation Control (E&SC) program and opportunities to improve its operations -- with a focus on efficiency and effectiveness. The E&SC program, created in 1973, is a federal mandate that seeks to minimize erosion at construction sites and prevent off-site pollution from sedimentation.PED’s findings focused on how the program could be self-sustained by fee increases, saving the state approximately $1.7 million in appropriations, but also touched on the interaction between the state, the regulated community, and local governments that have volunteered as the authority to implement the program’s requirements. Along with their report, PED recommended legislation that included the following changes that may be of interest to local governments that are operating a local delegated E&SC program:
-Requiring the Sedimentation Control Commission to review each delegated local program for compliance with the Sedimentation Pollution Control Act every five years.-Requiring the Sedimentation Control Commission to adopt rules providing for the use of site-specific risk factors in determining how often sites of land-disturbing activities will be inspected.-Requiring both local delegated programs and the statewide erosion and sedimentation control program to create scheduling processes for inspections that allow coordination in advance with persons conducting land-disturbing activity, unless doing so would result in significant damage to environment or private property.
There was no formal vote of the legislators to introduce a bill draft. That would occur at a future meeting. All documents related to the study can be seen here.
A number of coastal communities have received grant funds to improve public beach and waterway access. “These funds will help make our beaches and waterways more accessible for the benefit of every visitor, as well as the businesses who benefit from their visit," Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Michael S. Regan said in a news release Tuesday. Funding for the Public Beach and Coastal Waterfront Access program, which gives matching funds to the coast's local governments, comes from the General Assembly via the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund. Click here for full details. In other coastal news, Gov. Roy Cooper on Friday announced an $11.6 million fund for commercial fishermen impacted by Hurricane Florence and the granting of a federal disaster declaration for areas hit by October 2018's Tropical Storm Michael. "This is good news for cities, towns and counties that suffered damages from Michael, which came right on the heels of Hurricane Florence," said Gov. Cooper. "Cleaning up from Michael took a lot of local government resources, and this will help communities recover those funds."
Superheroes exist. Yes, in real life. Just like in the comics, they wear masks and uniforms, they nab bad guys, and they spread peace across their cities and towns. On the latest episode of Municipal Equation, the League's acclaimed podcast, we talk with Sgt. Clint Ferguson of the Granite Falls Police Department and Officer Damon Cole of the Fort Worth, Texas, Police Department about why they decided to incorporate comic-book personalities into their work -- indeed donning their own superhero costumes -- and the surprising impact it's made on their communities. It's another example of law enforcement officers trying new things to connect with the public. Listen to that episode and all past episodes at nclm.org/municipalequation. Listeners are encouraged to send ideas for future episodes to host/producer Ben Brown.