public policy advocacy for the professional engineer                                       April 19, 2013

NCDOT’s Jim Trogdon Resigns
The state Department of Transportation's chief deputy secretary of operations is stepping down. In a press release issued yesterday, Secretary Tata announced that General Jim Trogdon will retire Nov. 1 to take a job with Adkins, a U.K. based engineering and project management firm, as a Raleigh-based vice president with responsibilities in four mid-atlantic states. Trogdon was appointed in 2009 by Gov. Beverly Perdue and previously was transportation adviser to the General Assembly. He started his DOT career as an engineer in 1985 and is credited with moving DOT to a more data-driven system for funding and prioritizing transportation projects.  His most recent accomplishment was evident in the passage of HB 817 the Strategic Mobility Prioritization legislation recently enacted by the NC General Assembly. Trogdon is credited with developing the idea behind the new formula that will distribute transportation dollars across the state.  Trogdon also is a major-general in the N.C. National Guard and serves as deputy adjutant general.

DENR’s Grant Refusal
In a letter to the editor today DENR Secretary John Skvarla defended the agency’s refusal to accept federal grant money to study the quality of surface water in the Deep River basin in advance of hydraulic fracturing.  “The EPA grant would have started sampling in early 2014 – too soon, assuming you want to establish a baseline prior to hydraulic fracturing.  It would have sampled wetlands and streams chosen more or less at random – but by waiting until leasing units are known, we can target the samples close to where hydraulic fracturing will occur.  It would have sampled only surface water – we need both surface and groundwater sampling to accurately tell us whether drilling is harming the water supply” (excerpt of letter that appeared in N&O). 

Speaking to the Joint Legislative Oversight Commission on Energy Policy, Mitch Gillespie, assistant secretary for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, on Tuesday reiterated the agency's position that federal water monitoring grants that it recently turned down were unneeded. Gillespie's comments echoed those of state water quality chief Tom Reeder before the state Energy and Mining Commission last week. Environmental groups have criticized the decision to turn down the federal money, saying it falls in line with an agency agenda to weaken environmental protections. Gillespie, though, said DENR has every intention of providing the needed testing prior to drilling. Baseline testing would be used to measure any changes in pollutants in the water after drilling began. "If the MEC (Mining and Energy Commission) says we need testing, we'll go out there next week and do testing," Gillespie said. Jim Womack, chair of the Mining and Energy Commission, laid out for legislators a projected timeline for the development of rules for fracking. Womack predicted that some rule-making would be contentious. He said a thorough rule-making process would extend through the end of 2014.

Government Shutdown
The federal government shutdown is causing problems in state government as well.  Gov. Pat McCrory told the Council of State on Tuesday. "Probably the two biggest impacts will be in the Department of Health and Human Services, where we have approximately 4,500 employees that are funded fully or partially with federal funds, ... and the Department of Commerce," McCrory said. The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of Public Safety would be affected as well, he said. Although the state government operates independently of the federal government, North Carolina administers dozens of federal programs. The federal government reimburses the state for those operations, but without a new federal budget, there is no money to pay for those workers. State officials were on the phone with their federal counterparts as early as 7 a.m. Tuesday to sift through which positions and functions were considered "critical" by the federal government and would therefore keep working and which were "nonessential."

State Budget Director Art Pope sent a memo to state agencies outlining how the delay in federal funding would be handled, although he said the state was still trying to get a handle on specifics. "The state is required to follow federal guidelines on the use of federal funds during the shutdown," Pope said. The state administers environmental, health and safety programs required by federal law but reimbursed with federal tax dollars. It is up to the federal government, he said, to determine whether state workers funded with that money stay on the job. Social service programs such as unemployment insurance and Social Security will be largely unaffected, he said. State employees who are funded only partly by federal money will have their time and pay reduced by the proportion of their salary paid for by the federal government. In some cases, the federal government may waive some furlough requirements. "One example of this is the administration of the federal Social Security Disability program," Pope said. "The disability payments are already funded, but you still need to administer the claims for payment."

The Social Security Administration has already notified the state that those claims processors will stay on the job. "The gray area is whether a state-administered federal program is considered critical or noncritical by the federal government," Pope said. "One example are the numerous inspection programs and whether they are considered critical public safety and health or if inspectors should be furloughed." McCrory offered his help to the leaders of independently-elected state departments in managing the cash crunch. Of those, the most affected might be the state Department of Labor, where a quarter of the workforce is federally funded, according to Commissioner Cherie Berry. "We have two major goals," McCrory said. "We've got to make sure that functions that are critical remain open and yet, at the same time, we have to make sure we aren't spending money the state doesn't have."

The squeeze from the shutdown is being felt across the state. Hundreds of civilian workers at Fort Bragg were told to go home at noon Tuesday. Military personnel are considered essential for national security and will remain on duty, but about half of the post's 14,500 civilian employees were furloughed. The remaining Fort Bragg civilian workers perform "life, health and safety functions," spokesman Tom McCollum said, citing first responders, physicians and workers directly involved in troop readiness. Defense contractors, he said, won't be affected. The VA Medical Centers in Fayetteville and Durham will continue to provide inpatient and outpatient care and dental care, but some of the VA's call centers will be closed. Camp Lejeune also shut down nonessential operations and sent many civilian employees home.

In RTP, most of the 2,000 workers and contractors at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency left the complex of research labs and offices at noon and won't return until the budget battle on Capitol Hill is resolved. The EPA facility, the agency’s largest outside of Washington, D.C., handles research, and university officials expressed concern that the shutdown could ripple through their EPA-related research as well. RTI International officials were trying to assess the impact of the shutdown on their operations. RTI handles numerous federal grants for research.

In the western part of the state, October is one of the busiest months for the Blue Ridge Parkway, as tourists travel along the scenic roadway to see the fall foliage. But the shutdown has closed visitor centers and other staffed facilities. The parkway remains open – the fall colors will peak in the next two weeks – but Tom Hardy, executive director of the Blue Ridge Parkway Association, is worried that some people will think the roadway is shut down. That could hurt businesses that depend on tourism. Many visitors stay in motels and bed-and-breakfast inns and shop in communities near the parkway. Tuesday was the first day of the popular fall fishing season on the North Carolina coast, but the National Park Service locked all gates that provide anglers a way to drive onto the beach along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. "It is unfortunate," said Cyndy Holda, spokeswoman for the park service's Outer Banks Group. "Our weather has been wonderful this year: Warm and sunny and good. So, the timing is not good for our fall fishermen at all." The Cape Hatteras and Bodie Island lighthouses are closed, as is the Wright Brothers Memorial in Kitty Hawk. Holda said all staffers reported to work Tuesday morning to put messages on their phones or emails saying they will be out of the office because of the shutdown. A few employees will remain on the job, but public facilities will remain closed.(Mark Binker, WRAL NEWS, 10/01/13).

We Want to Hear From You ASAP!  How is the federal government shutdown affecting your work as a Professional Engineer?  We’ll summarize all your responses and send a letter to the NC Congressional delegation with your feedback.

Please respond to bbailey@penc.org.

 


If there are questions or you need additional information, please feel free to contact me at bbailey@penc.org or phone 919-834-1144, ext. 1.


Sincerely,

Betsy Bailey
Professional Engineers of North Carolina



Joint Transportation Oversight Committee October 4, 2013
3:00pm 
1227/1328, Legislative Building

Environmental Review Commission 
October 9, 2013
9:30am
Room 643, Legislative Office Building

Rules Review Commission 
October 17, 2013
10:00am 
1711 New Hope Church Road, Raleigh


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