City of Raleigh's Roberta Fox leads talk at Union Station construction site. Photo credit: Ben Brown
A bus tour, a lunch keynote and incisive panel discussions about the modern and changing sense of infrastructure were all part of a successful symposium the League held in downtown Raleigh on Thursday. With the help of sponsors Smith Moore Leatherwood and Withers Ravenel, municipal officials and engineers from across North Carolina took part in the Infrastructure Symposium, the takeaways from which were heavy in knowledge of smart-city practices, green approaches to municipal services, today's transportation solutions and how stormwater controls can be aesthetically beautiful as well as practical. N.C. State University professor Dr. Bill Hunt, a lauded scholar in stormwater engineering, got a laugh when he noted some stormwater projects are known as great backdrops for wedding photography. "Honestly, I think there's a market here," he said, pointing to a project in Boone in which stormwater ponds were turned into a sightly hydroponic system for the growth of sellable plants. "We don't think about that when we design standard infrastructure," he said.
Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan leads the smart-cities panel. Photo credit: Ben Brown
Mayor William Massengill of Benson joined the smart-cities panel and discussed how his town of just 3,500 residents was one of the first in the state to implement a smart grid system for electric and water meters. It enables town staff to identify irregularities and outage locations in real time, making for quick responses and cost savings. Mayor Massengill told the audience that he was at town hall when Hurricane Matthew churned through, and as a call came in from a mother who feared disaster as her basement was flooding up to the electric box. "Without having to call out a single truck, our town manager was able to go onto a computer and disconnect electricity to that family's home immediately," Mayor Massengill said, crediting the smart grid. "All was good. She was happy." He added that crews otherwise restored the town's power "at an astonishing rate.... Some people in Benson never lost power; some for only two hours."
Raleigh City Farm, a stop along the tour, brings agriculture to the urban area. Photo credit: Ben Brown
Participants also boarded Raleigh city buses for a narrated tour of special projects with stops for up-close viewing. That included Raleigh's Union Station, a massive multimodal facility under construction in the Warehouse District to accommodate an array of transportation resources including commuter rail. Roberta Fox, assistant manager at the City of Raleigh Urban Design Center, said it's all coming together following a series of federal grants including TIGER grants, partnerships with the state and help from the local transit authority. "That is one of the only ways that we would be able to complete something like this," Fox said. Additional tour highlights gave participants a close look at Raleigh City Farm and the solar panels on top of the Raleigh Convention Center. The League would like to thank its partners for helping to bring this successful Infrastructure Symposium together. The event coincided with the national Infrastructure Week.
Rep. Chuck McGrady, chief sponsor of the bill. Photo credit: NCGA
In a huge bipartisan showing this week, the House has passed legislation to consider nonviolent 16- and 17-year-olds as juveniles, not adults, in the criminal justice system. "I believe that raising the age is the right thing to do from both a moral and an economic position," said Rep. Chuck McGrady of Hendersonville, the bill's chief's sponsor. In an online post, Representative McGrady pointed to studies predicting cost savings through reduced recidivism, elmininating future costs associated with youths "graduating" into the adult criminal system, and from better job opportunities for youths spared of criminal records. The bill does not cover teens who commit violent felonies. Both the League's Executive Committee and Chief Justice Mark Martin are supporters of the reform. The bill now goes to the Senate, whose recently approved version of the state budget includes "raise the age" language.
An attempt to restrict a class of property from utility fees moves forward after a nod from the Senate Agriculture, Environment, and Natural Resources Committee this week. HB 275 No Stormwater Fees on Taxiways or Runways would exempt airports from paying the stormwater utility fee, for the impervious surface from runways and taxis. To qualify for the exemption, the airport must use the amount of money saved for attracting business to the airport. The bill would also exempt runways and taxiways located on military property from paying the utility fee, without any qualification requirements.
Read past League coverage for more information on how stormwater utilities use collected fees to control flooding and implement stormwater management programs, which are required by an unfunded federal mandate to control and treat stormwater runoff. UNC’s Environmental Finance Center recently made available a list of local governments that charge stormwater utility fees. Of those utilities listed, 16 have public airports in their jurisdictions. They include the City of Greenville, whose Daryl Norris, a stormwater engineer on staff, spoke to the committee as a representative of League-affiliate group Stormwater Association of North Carolina (SWANC). Norris noted SWANC's opposition to the bill, explaining that the cost of the utility fees lost from airports will be borne by all other ratepayers, or all other property owners.
The League thanks Sen. Angela Bryant for raising concerns about the possible extra cost of stormwater remediation to cities or towns that are home to airports, and thanks bill sponsor Rep. Debra Conrad for telling the committee of the League's concerns. The bill will next be heard by the Senate Rules Committee. Contact: Sarah Collins
A federal grant of more than $31 million is in North Carolina's hands to combat the opioid crisis that has grabbed the attention of so many cities and towns. It follows the recent news that North Carolina experienced an alarming 73 percent spike in opioid-related deaths between 2005 and 2015. Governor Roy Cooper's office said that this grant would be used for prevention efforts, reducing overdoses and filling gaps in treatment needs. The funds could serve nearly 3,000 individuals over a two-year span. "The opioid crisis is one of the biggest challenges we face across our state,” said Governor Cooper. "This grant will help further our commitment to fight this epidemic that is destroying families and lives across our state." The Senate's recently approved version of the budget also includes opioid abuse prevention.
Gov. Roy Cooper this week met with the state's U.S. House and Senate members in hope of securing more aid for the Hurricane Matthew recovery. "Too many people still can’t return to their homes, offices, schools, farms or places of worship due to the damage done by Matthew," Governor Cooper said in a press release about the talks. "I’m encouraged by the bipartisan cooperation among our Congressional representatives to continue pressing this issue. The Trump Administration and Congressional leaders must make our state’s urgent need for help a priority." The damage estimates for central and eastern North Carolina are $4.8 billion. Governor Cooper has voiced displeasure with the recent $6.1 million federal allocation to the state for recovery, as compared to his $929 million request. According to the News & Observer, about $1.4 billion in state and federal funds have gone into the effort to date. The state Senate's version of the budget proposes another $150 million.