public policy advocacy for the professional engineer                                       May 15, 2013

This week the NC General Assembly faces their Crossover deadline.  By Thursday at midnight those bills that have not successfully passed in one chamber or the other are not eligible to “crossover” to the other chamber and, consequently, are essentially dead.  However, there are always exceptions if there is enough will to move a bill that did not make the crossover. Sometimes these bills are resurrected by combining them with another bill that has made crossover or “gutting” a bill that has made crossover but is not likely to move.

Bills with appropriation or finance impacts are not subject to the crossover deadline. For this reason, the highly anticipated tax reform bill that has been in the media this past week has not yet been released as a bill although we are learning more.  Additionally, the Senate’s budget bill will also be put off for introduction until next week.

Tax Reform Talk But No Bill Yet
Senate leaders continue to release more details about a tax reform plan that they promise will make the state more economically competitive. Senate leader Phil Berger, anticipating the criticism, repeatedly referred to the plan as fair and broad-based, saying the vast majority of North Carolinians would see a tax cut. "Everyone pays something," Berger said during a news conference held at the Legislative Building. "The more you spend, the more you pay." The plan would lower the personal income tax to 4.5 percent for most residents, from a current high, marginal rate of 7.75 percent. Corporate taxes would fall from 6.0 to 6.9 percent, and the state franchise tax would drop slightly. The state and local sales tax rate, now 6.75 percent in most counties, would drop to 6.5 percent. Business franchise taxes would also fall slightly. The revenue from the tax cuts would largely be made up with the expansion of the sales tax to cover a majority of services in the state, although business-to-business transactions would be left out by allowing transactions involving payers of the franchise tax to be exempted. Berger and Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, also said the plan would eliminate pages of tax exemptions, deductions and loopholes.

The plan received a fairly lukewarm response from Gov. Pat McCrory. "A number of tax bills have already been filed and we anticipate more to come. We will review the strengths of each proposal and work to reach consensus on a plan that will make our state more competitive for job creation,": McCrory said in a written statement. Berger said Senate leaders had discussed the plan with McCrory and House leaders. Both McCrory and House Speaker Thom Tillis have said they support reworking the state's tax structure, but it is unclear whether they will back the kind of extensive rewrite proposed by Senate leaders.

Tax ideas on the table including capping local sales tax

A week after Senate Republicans unveiled an ambitious - yet controversial - tax overhaul measure, the forthcoming legislation continues to take shape.

Among the ideas on the table: capping localities' ability to add to the state sales tax at 1.5 percent instead of the current go from the current 4.75 to 5 percent). But any change is likely to unnerve local governments, given the restraint on their ability to raise revenue.

2 percent.  It's part of how lawmakers get the 6.5 percent combined state and local sales tax (The state sales tax would)

Sen. Bob Rucho, a Charlotte Republican, said localities won't lose money because the plan will create more economic growth for them, and thus more tax revenue. "We want to make sure municipalities and local governments are kept where they are," he said. "And any growth will come from economic opportunity."

Other ideas being considered:

  • The nonprofit sales tax exemption could be capped for the first three years in declining amounts before being eliminated in the fourth year.
  • The much ballyhooed small business tax break on the first $50,000 in income - which came under scrutiny but lawmakers defended - may end after this year.
  • Business-to-business transactions would not face an expanded state sales tax and capital purchases would also be exempted. Other current business exemptions may continue, largely in the manufacturing and agriculture industries.
  • The new Working Families tax break could range from $8,000 to $4,000 depending on income for those making between $30,000 and $75,000, with the amount diminishing as income rises. It would last two years before expiring.
  • Most existing tax credits would end at the end of the year, but the renewable energy credit and the cigarette export credit could continue for a couple years.
  • State and local privilege taxes could expire in 2015, but municipalities may keep a small privilege tax with a cap.
  • The franchise tax would likely extend to limited liability companies (LLCs) in 2015. It could be capped at $5,000 and those with limited revenues would pay only a $500 minimum.
  • Rucho, who is helping lead the effort, said the legislation is still in draft form and nothing is certain about the bill. But potential components of the plan are emerging from conversations with lawmakers, lobbyists and experts."We still have some adjustments that need to be done," Rucho said, cautioning that the bill has gone through "100 iterations" at this point. "There is nothing in rock and stone right now."

What Engineers Need to Know – The list of services to be included in the expansion of the sales tax will likely include professional engineering services – although Senate leaders are looking at ways to exempt business to business transactions and the tax would not apply to services provided to governmental entities.  Because no bill is actually available to review, however, this information cannot be confirmed.  We will continue to carefully monitor this legislation as information becomes available. 

Environmental Legislation
Three major environmental bills received favorable reports in the Senate Agriculture/Environment/Natural Resources Committee yesterday.

The Nutrient Management Standards Reform Act – SB 515, sponsored by Senators Gunn and Wade

  • Repeals the Jordan Lake Rules and related Session Laws
  • Directs the Legislative Research Commission (composed of 5 from the Senate and 5 from the House) to establish the Jordan Lake Study Subcommittee to study issues related to water quality in Jordan Lake.  The LRC must report the results of the study to the 2014 Regular Session of the 2013 General Assembly.
  • Directs DENR and EMC to consult with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. EPA to identify mitigation strategies that focus on treatment and remediation of Jordan Lake rather than upstream mitigation. 

What Engineers Need to Know – This is a very controversial bill and even NCDENR had a difficult time articulating their position on this bill (see below).  If any of our members would like to be involved in further discussion on this issue, please contact PENC immediately.

Read more Here

Amend Environmental Laws 2013 – SB 112 – sponsored by Senator Jackson

This bill has 15 different sections with two being of primary importance to Professional Engineers:


1) Section 11 amends the rules in the NCAC to provide for reduced flow alternatives to the Daily Flow Rates for Design for wastewater systems as required by Table No. 1 in 15 A NCAC 18A. 1949 (b).  This section would exempt proposed wastewater systems from complying with the Daily flow Rate for Design and any design flow standard established by the Commission for Public Health or the Department of Health and Human Services provided i) the daily flow rate for design of the system is less than the rate listed by rule and ii) the daily flow rate for design can be achieved through engineering design that utilizes low-flow fixtures and low-flow technologies, and iii) the design is prepared, sealed and signed by a professional engineer licensed in NC. 

This section further provides that proposed wastewater systems with a daily flow for design of less than 3,000 gallons per day are not required to obtain state-level review for the system.

2) Amends the definition of the term “built-upon area” as it pertains to stormwater management.

What Engineers Need to Know – For more information on the other 13 sections of the bill, please contact PENC. This bill is on the calendar today for third reading and is expected to meet the crossover deadline. 

Coastal Policy Reform Act of 2013 – Senate Bill 151, sponsored by Senator Rabon

This bill would 1) Amend Marine Fisheries Laws 2) Amend Terminal Groin Construction Law 3) Amend CAMA Permitting Law and 4) Clarify that Cities May enforce Ordinances within the State’s Public Trust Areas

On the Terminal Groin provisions the bill would:

  • Provide that an environmental impact statement prepared for a terminal groin pursuant to federal law is sufficient to satisfy the requirements of the State terminal groin law.
  • Repeal the requirement for financial assurance adequate to cover the cost of  1) long term maintenance and monitoring of the terminal groin 2) implementation of mitigation measures set out in the inlet management plan 3) restoration of public, private or public trust property if the groin has an adverse impact on the environment or property.
  • Provide that the requirements of an inlet management plan must be reasonable and may not be required to address speculative matters or impose requirements whose costs outweigh the benefits.
  • Repeals the requirement that an applicant for a terminal groin demonstrate that structures or infrastructure are imminently threatened by erosion and that nonstructural approaches to erosion control, including relocation of threatened structures, are impractical.
  • Provide that the CRC consider the benefits of a terminal groin when determining whether the terminal groin will result in significant adverse impacts to private property or the public beach.
  • Repeal the requirement that the inlet management plan be adequate for purposes of monitoring and mitigating the impacts of the terminal groin.
  • Repeal the limitation that no more than four terminal groins may be permitting.
  • Repeal the prohibition on the use of certain types of local government financing to construct a terminal groin.
  • Repeal the prohibition on using State funds to construct a terminal groin unless the General Assembly enacts legislation appropriating funds explicitly for such purpose.
  • Repeal the direction to DENR to adopt rules to implement the terminal groin law.

For the CAMA provision included in bill, currently CAMA requires any person developing property in an area of environmental concern to obtain a CAMA permit.  Section 4 of the bill would limit areas of environmental concern to those areas so designated at the time the permit application is submitted.

HB 857 – Public Contracts/Construction Methods/Design Build/P3, sponsored by Rep. Arp.

This bill, as previously reported, is supported by the Architects and Professional Engineers as a way to ensure Quality Based Selection when these construction delivery methods are used. 

The bill received a favorable report in House Finance this morning and will be heard on the House floor today in time to make the crossover deadline.

HB 739 – Civil Procedure/Require Certificate of Merit, sponsored by Rep. Rob Bryan, co-sponsored by Representatives Moffitt, Hager and Setzer

Although the bill was watered down to address the concerns expressed by Carolinas General Contractors, the bill hit a roadblock in House Judiciary B with concerns expressed by Representatives Stam, McGrady and Glazier.  Representative Glazier wanted more data to substantiate the harm being done to designers.  Representatives Stam and McGrady did not like carving out protections for “a special interest group”. 

Because the bill was pulled from the committee it will not make the crossover deadline.  However, we are currently exploring other options to determine if there is another path the bill can take in the House such as adding a court filing fee or rolling it to another bill. 

Other News:

State Timber
The House on Wednesday tentatively approved a bill that would promote the use of North Carolina-grown timber in state government construction at the risk of barring state agencies from seeking the prestigious LEED green building certification. The 78-34 vote followed a lengthy debate that saw several Republicans expressing reservations about the GOP-sponsored bill. The final vote will be Monday Rep. Ruth Samuelson, a Charlotte Republican, said there was a lot of uncertainty and concern after the bill unexpectedly changed from calling for a study of the issue to changes in state law that would restrict which green building certifications state agencies would be allowed to use. Her amendment to delay implementation of the bill for one year narrowly lost.(Craig Jarvis, THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 5/09/13).

Asheville Water
Asheville is preparing to file a legal challenge to a measure that would force the merger of the city’s water system with the Metropolitan Sewerage District. State Rep. Tim Moffitt, R-Buncombe, introduced the merger bill, HB 488, which won legislative approval Wednesday and now is before Gov. Pat McCrory. The Asheville City Council on Tuesday unanimously supported a resolution to file suit over the merger, which city officials say would force a debt default and violate state constitutional limits of the General Assembly’s authority over municipal property. "The city is in fact a person, and this is in fact personal property,” City Councilman Cecil Bothwell said, “and taking personal property without compensation is against the law.” Moffitt could not be reached to comment but has said the merger would not force a bond default or hurt the city’s bond rating. McCrory said Wednesday he will let the bill become law so that the legal challenge by the city of Asheville can run its course. That means the bill will become law at midnight May 13 and marks the first bill the Republican hasn't signed since becoming governor in January. In a statement, McCrory said issues surrounding the transfer "potentially raise a number of complicated inter-governmental issues."(John Boyle, ASHEVILLE CITIZEN-TIMES, 5/08/13; THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 5/08/13).

Budget Limits
A popular idea among conservatives to attempt to limit the growth of government spending has been approved in a North Carolina legislative committee despite arguments it could hurt the state's ability to borrow money cheaply. The panel voted mostly along party lines Thursday for a "Taxpayer Bill of Rights" that ultimately would have to be approved by citizens in a constitutional referendum in November 2014. The measure would limit spending growth annually to no more than population growth and inflation. Excess revenues would be placed in the state's rainy day reserve fund. Once the fund is full, extra revenues would be returned to taxpayers. Deputy State Treasurer Vance Holloman told the committee the measure could tie the hands of legislators to raise revenues during difficult fiscal times.(Gary D. Robertson, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 5/09/13).

TABOR Amendment
After about 40 minutes of debate on Thursday, the House Government Committee voted 21-14 in favor of letting voters decide whether to limit government spending in the N.C. Constitution through a "Taxpayer Bill of Rights." Put simply, the measure would establish a General Fund spending limit based on the previous year's limit increased by a formula that takes into account inflation and population increases. The governor and General Assembly then could not spend more than that limit without a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, according to a bill summary. Any revenue collected above the spending limit would go into an emergency fund, which could be spent by the state budget director in the event of a shortfall. The bill also would allow for the return of money to taxpayers if the fund exceeds a certain amount.

Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford, a bill sponsor, said the state has experienced three "budget emergencies" in the past two decades, each time caused by too much spending during good economic times. A TABOR amendment would prevent that, he said. Another sponsor, Rep. Bert Jones, R-Rockingham, said what he hears most from constituents is that the state needs to spend within its means.

Opponents argued that the TABOR formula would make it difficult for the state to respond to pressing needs or to put extra money in areas such as education, road construction or health care, given the state's aging population. "When you pass a rigid, straightjacket bill like this you are not allowing members of the General Assembly to make decisions with respect to the reality of the needs of the future of the state," said Rep. Paul Luebke, D-Durham.

Deputy State Treasurer Vance Holloman told lawmakers that the amendment could result in the lowering of the state's bond rating. Dallas Woodhouse of Americans for Prosperity questioned that idea and suggested that the state would retain its bond rating if it pays its bills and doesn't overspend. "All TABOR does is keep this body from overspending when times are great so they don't have to make mean and cruel and difficult cuts when we have economic downturns," he said.

Proponents said voters should decide whether they want the amendment. "I think it puts the power back in the hands of the people in North Carolina," said Rep. Rayne Brown, R-Davidson.

The bill must be approved by a three-fifths majority of the House and Senate and majority of voters in a referendum. Blust said a constitutional amendment is needed to prevent future General Assemblies from easily repealing the law if they wanted to increase spending above the limit. "We need strong constitutional protections," Blust said.

The measure next goes to the Finance Committee.(Patrick Gannon, THE INSIDER, 5/10/13).

Appointments
Gov. Pat McCrory late last week appointed former Rep. Mitch Gillespie of McDowell County to two posts -- the Southern States Energy Board and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. Gillespie is assistant secretary for the environment at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

The governor also made several other appointments: George Howard of Wake County to the Interstate Mining Commission; Tom Shircliff of Mecklenburg County to the Biofuels Center of North Carolina board; Doranna Anderson of Wake County to NC Thinks advisory board; Dennis Streets of Chatham County and Anne Precythe of Johnston County to the N.C. Interagency Council for Coordinating Homeless Programs; Dr. Bruce Hilton of Catawba County, Todd Poole of Davie County and Dr. Michael Estramonte of Mecklenburg County to the Chiropractic Examiners Board; and Michael Boose of Cumberland County to the Interstate Compact.(NEWS RELEASE, 5/09/13).

Boards and Commissions
The House on Thursday approved a new version of the bill that would replace more than 100 incumbents on regulatory boards with Republican-appointed members. This version spares the state's 12 special superior court judges, the state Utilities Commission and the state Board of Elections. Gov. Pat McCrory has already named elections board and utilities commissioners, so it was moot to include them in the bill. Next, the Senate will weigh in. Most Democrats opposed the bill. Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Democrat from Greensboro, said 90 of the mostly Democratic-appointed incumbents will be removed from environmental boards. She said language prohibiting conflicts of interest for members of the Environmental Management Commission was removed from the earlier House version. "This is still an unprecedented sweep of board members on these important oversight commissions," she said. The House voted down her amendment to restore the conflict of interest provision, and then voted to approve the bill 68-43. Rep. Tim Moore, a Republican from Kings Mountain, said state ethics law made the language unnecessary. Last month, a compromise between the House and Senate fell apart. The main sticking point between the two chambers was the Senate's insistence on replacing the judges.(Craig Jarvis, THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 5/10/13).

Reviewing Rules
The House has approved a bill requiring periodic, 10-year review of all state agency rules, setting up a process in which both agencies, the state Rules Review Commission and a committee of legislators would examine older rules to ensure that they are needed. The bill, approved in a 90-24 vote, now goes to the Senate for consideration. Rep. Tom Murry, R-Wake, explained that the review process would allow agencies to categorize rules in three ways -- those that are deemed unnecessary, those that are necessary without substantial public interest, and those that are necessary but have generated substantial public interest. Most of the review process would fall onto rules deemed necessary but that have generated public interest. Part of the way that public interest would be gauged would be based on an agencies initial classification on a website, and then soliciting comment for another 60 days. Murry said the legislation was put together with input from those with diverse views on government regulation. But Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, one of those voting against the legislation, said she worried that agency staff would be too pressed for time to adequately review needed rules. She added that automatic expiration of rules could jeopardize state administration of some federal laws. Rep. Ruth Samuelson, R-Mecklenburg, one of the bill's sponsors, said some changes to the legislation would be sought as it moves to the Senate.(Scott Mooneyham, THE INSIDER, 5/14/13).

Building Codes
A bill that would roll back energy-efficiency standards for commercial builders on Monday passed the state House Commerce Committee. Supporters said it would lower costs for commercial builders by clearing out directives that require them to meet a 2012 standard. The bill would revert energy conservation codes to 2009 standards, which are 30 percent lower than today’s. Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston, said the standards deter commercial builders from taking over vacant buildings because it would cost too much to bring them up to code. “I think we need to have as few restrictions as possible,” he said. “It’s killing people in Gaston County.” Speaking against the bill were representatives of energy-efficient material businesses. American Chemistry Council spokesman D’Lane Wisner said chemical production, which goes into energy-efficient materials, employs 41,000 in North Carolina. The bill, he said, would “cause our state to miss out on significant energy conservation and will put North Carolina in the bottom tier for states in energy efficiency.” The bill heads to the House Regulatory Reform Committee. It will need approval from the full House and Senate.(Chris Kardish, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 5/13/13).

Renewables Vote
A bill repealing the 2007 law that requires power companies to obtain some of their power from renewable sources would have failed a Senate Finance Committee vote last Wednesday had the chairman actually counted the ayes and nos, interviews with committee members show. Committee Co-chairman Bill Rabon declared the measure had passed after a voice vote and ignored calls for a formal vote count, video of the meeting shows. The episode is far from unprecedented but demonstrates the broad latitude committee chairmen have to push measures they favor or that are backed by key legislative leaders. Senate rules prohibit what is known as a roll call vote, during which each member's name is called and they vote on the bill. Rules do allow "division," which amounts to a show of hands for and against the bill. A division vote would not record how each member voted but does give an accurate count of the ayes and nos. At the end of Wednesday's 44-minute hearing, Rabon called for a voice vote, with members simply answering "aye" or "no" in two groups. Reports from those in the room and a review of meeting video indicate that the "no" votes were louder than the "yes" votes. Several members, including Sens. Josh Stein, D-Wake, and Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe, can be heard calling for division before and after the voice vote. Rabon ignored those calls and gaveled the meeting to a close. He did not return phone calls to WRAL News seeking comment. The practice of slamming down the gavel before a formal vote count can be taken did not originate with Republicans. Democratic chairmen used the maneuver when Sen. Marc Basnight, D-Dare, was president pro tem of the Senate. "It's a long-time practice. I've seen it since 1971," said Ran Coble, director of the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research. Coble is a former legislative staffer and long-time observer of the General Assembly.

The Senate Finance Committee has 38 members: 27 Republicans and 11 Democrats.. Attendance records from Wednesday's meeting show two senators, Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, and Mike Woodard, D-Durham, were absent when the vote was taken. A third senator, Peter Brunstetter, R-Forsyth, was not in the room when the final committee vote occurred. That left 10 Democrats and 25 Republicans present and voting. Interviews with individual Democratic senators confirm that all 10 would have voted against the measure. That meant the bill would have needed support from at least 18 of the 25 Republicans to pass. If eight of those Republicans voted "no," there would have been no way for the bill to pass had Rabon sustained the call for division. In fact, WRAL News spoke with eight Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee who said they opposed the bill and voted no on Wednesday. Two more refused to disclose how they voted. Several of those Republicans said they did not like the protections for renewable energy and would have voted against the 2007 bill. However, they added, businesses have made investments based on the assurances given in that 2007 bill. "I think we need to honor those agreements," said Sen. Wesley Meredith, R-Cumberland, who said he voted against the repeal measure. In addition to Meredith, Republican Sens. Fletcher Hartsell of Cabarrus, Brent Jackson of Sampson, Jeff Tarte of Mecklenburg, Jerry Tillman of Randolph, Austin Allran of Catawba and Tommy Tucker of Union said they voted against the bill. Sen. Neil Hunt, R-Wake, said, "It needed to be amended," when asked about the bill. When asked if would have raised his hand in favor of the bill during a division account, Hunt shook his head and repeated, "It needed to be amended." Without the support of those eight Republicans, there is no way the measure could have passed the committee. Two other Republicans declined to say how they voted.(Mark Binker and Laura Leslie, WRAL NEWS, 5/06/13).

Green Certifications
A proposal to promote the use of North Carolina-grown timber in state government buildings could prevent state offices from receiving the prestigious LEED green building certification. The legislation, which has the backing of the Weyerhaeuser Corp. and the N.C. Forestry Association, easily passed the House Agriculture Committee on Tuesday by a vote of 26-8. It was the first vote on the bill since it was introduced a month ago. The state's timber industry can't bid on many state construction projects because tree farms in the state typically don't meet the LEED sustainable forestry standard, said Weyerhaeuser spokeswoman Nancy Thompson. As a result, building projects in North Carolina seeking the nation's premier green building seal end up sourcing their lumber from other states or even from other countries, supporters said. "LEED creates incentives to import foreign wood and also ignores quality wood grown within our own borders," said the bill's sponsor, Michele Presnell, a Republican who represents Haywood, Madison and Yancey counties on the western edge of the state.

The legislation was opposed by the U.S. Green Building Council as well as by Charlotte-based Nucor Corp., the nation's largest steel producer and North America's largest recycler. The use of Nucor materials during construction boosts LEED ratings because Nucor beams and girders are made from over 90 percent recycled content. "LEED benefits domestic steel," said Nucor's representative at the hearing, William Culpepper IV, of the Moore & Van Allen law firm. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is a widely accepted standard for green building certification. It was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council and is based on a grading system using a 110-point scale for commercial buildings and a 136-point scale for residential buildings. The standard weighs energy efficiency as well as indoor air quality, water conservation, reduction of commuting miles and a host of other sustainability measures. Presnell's bill applies only to state government construction and renovation, not to construction by private businesses and residential developers, which reap the majority of LEED certifications.

The LEED forestry standard, called the Forest Stewardship Council, is stricter with regard to the use of clear cutting, herbicides and pesticides than other forestry standards, such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and American Tree Farm System, said Laura Deaton Klauke, programs director for the North Carolina chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council. More than 98 percent of North Carolina's timberland -- about 1.4 million acres -- participates in the non-LEED forestry standards. Only 0.7 percent of the state's timberland -- 10,455 acres -- is cultivated according to the LEED-approved Forest Stewardship Council standards, said Brian Haines, spokesman for the N.C. Forest Service. The bill requires that state buildings seek green certification from organizations that recognize multiple forestry standards, not just the standard accepted for LEED certification. The bill also restricts state buildings seeking green certification to using an evaluation system that was developed by and is approved by the American National Standards Institute, a condition that would rule out the LEED system, which is not approved by ANSI. "This is a very blunt instrument," said Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Republican from Henderson County and a former national president of the Sierra Club, who voted against the bill.(John Murawski, THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 5/08/13).

Wind Farms
For years, state environmental groups have talked about the possibility of offshore wind power in North Carolina. Interest has intensified in the past year as plans to develop the resource advanced through federal channels. According to the National Renewable Energy Lab, North Carolina has the greatest offshore wind resource along the Eastern Seaboard. The state has a long coastline, and construction and labor costs are among the cheapest in the Southeast. But most important, the sea floor drops off slowly from the coast, leaving large stretches of water 98 feet deep or shallower. That depth is ideal for wind farms, said Brian O'Hara, president of the Southeastern Coastal Wind Coalition. Three areas have been approved for development, all designated by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. One is east of Albemarle Sound, and the other two are below the mouth of the Cape Fear River. Five companies have expressed interest in developing wind installations in North Carolina.

Because there are no offshore wind turbines in the United States, questions arise about how the turbines would affect fish and tourism. In the southernmost parcels, installations of tall, white wind turbines would be most visible from Sunset Beach and Ocean Isle Beach, and some residents are concerned that tourism could suffer. But supporters say any wind farms in North Carolina would be constructed far from land, in the path of better wind resources and only minimally visible from the beach. "At 10 miles and more offshore, the turbines appear very small on the horizon," O'Hara said. "They may not be visible at all on many hazy summer days."

Offshore installations also could affect the recreational fishing industry. The turbines could provide habitat for threatened species and boost their populations. "The base of the wind turbine that goes into the sea floor has, placed around it, something that engineers call a scour apron," said Pete Peterson, professor of marine sciences, biology and ecology at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. "It's a huge pile of very large rocks that stands up to 6 feet tall off the bottom, and extends out a substantial distance around the entire pile. That is exactly what you would build if you wanted to do a restoration of the rocky habitat for fish." If the scour aprons can mimic rocky-reef habitat and fish populations grow, authorities might be more inclined to ease fishing restrictions that have frustrated some commercial and recreational fishermen. It could also give fishermen new places to drop their lines, and charter companies could get additional business. "For recreational guys, I think it'll be beneficial for the boats that can actually reach a reef. Customers would really like that," said Capt. Trevor Smith, owner of ProFishNC Charters in Wrightsville Beach. But commercial fishermen remain largely noncommittal. Much uncertainty hinges on the lack of information -- it is unknown whether boats would be allowed close to the installations or whether fishing would be permitted.

It could be nearly a decade before officials have answers. Experts have estimated that it could take more than a year for leases to be officially issued, and more regulatory steps have to be completed before construction can begin. Still, for environmental activists who have spent years advocating for offshore wind, having even a vague timeline is a victory. "It's not a question of 'if' development will happen," O'Hara said, "but rather when and where it will happen."(Kate Elizabeth Queram, WILMINGTON STAR-NEWS, 5/12/13).

DOT Hires
Sherman Lupton, a 30-year Navy veteran, has been named N.C. State Ports Authority and Global Transpark Director of Logistics. He starts Monday and will be responsible for synchronizing and coordinating activities of the ports and the Transpark. Lupton most recently served as deputy director in the in the Office of Naval Operations Staff. He will make $140,000 per year. Shelley Blake will be the new agency general counsel. Blake has been in private practice and is an adjunct professor at N.C. Central University School of Law. She starts May 28 and at a salary of $118,000.(Dome, THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 5/06/13).

Airport Consultant
Charlotte City Council members struggled Monday night to understand how a consultant they hired concluded that Charlotte Douglas International Airport has been "spectacularly successful" while city-run, but should still be run by a new, regional authority. Council member Beth Pickering said that before the conclusions were released, some had thought the city-funded study would conclude that the city should stay in control of the airport. "You certainly laid those concerns to rest," she told consultant Bob Hazel. City Council commissioned the $150,000 study in March, in response to the push in the legislature to take control of Charlotte Douglas from the city and give it to a regional authority. Hazel, a former US Airways vice president who works for the firm Oliver Wyman, recommended the airport be transferred from the city to an authority. A bill to do that is pending in the legislature. Monday's meeting turned tense at points. Several council members said they disagreed with Hazel's conclusions and some said they believed Hazel came in with his mind already made up in favor of an authority, which he denied. Council member Patrick Cannon said he didn't realize Hazel had been employed by US Airways, and that if he had known that, he might have felt differently about hiring him. US Airways is Charlotte Douglas' largest tenant. "It was fully disclosed," Hazel told City Council of his former employment.

Hazel's report, released last week, showed Charlotte Douglas has the lowest cost-per-passenger out of the top 25 U.S. airports and some of the lowest costs of any airport in the nation. "There is no history of issues here," Hazel said. But instituting a new airport authority, he said, would be the best way to give the airport a chance at continuing to be successful in the future. Hazel said that an authority would be able to function more like a business, get better oversight from a dedicated board, and be ensured freedom from city interference in the future. Best practices call for running the airport as an authority, and Hazel said his conclusion would have been the same whether or not there was a political fight over the airport. "If you believe the airport is really a business or collection of businesses rather than a public service – which I do – then it benefits from being run like a business," said Hazel. Legislation to create a 13-member regional authority is being considered in the N.C. House. It has already passed the state Senate, and since it is a "local bill," Gov. Pat McCrory's signature isn't required. The House will likely hear the bill in committee later this month before taking a final vote.(Ely Portillo, THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 5/06/13).

Charlotte Airport
House Speaker Thom Tillis raised the possibility of changing a bill that would create a Charlotte airport authority or carrying over the measure until next year if agreement cannot be reached. Addressing a Charlotte Chamber group on Wednesday, he said that he would not "put much stock" in current provisions of the airport bill and that he wanted a "bill that makes sense." The measure, which is now before the House after it was passed by the Senate, would take control of Charlotte Douglas International Airport from the city and give it to an authority. Tillis also said legislators could pass a bill or set up a committee to study the issue. Charlotte officials were in Raleigh on Wednesday in an effort to block the airport bill. City Manager Ron Carlee said he hoped legislators would delay the measure. "We’re not off the ground, we’re taxiing down the runway," he said of the bill. "We can go back to the terminal."

Meanwhile, the consultant Charlotte hired to study whether its airport should be run by an authority was recommended by US Airways, which was involved last year with a group working to institute a new airport authority. City officials said they consulted with Aviation Director Jerry Orr and the airline about picking consultant Bob Hazel, who is with management consulting firm Oliver Wyman. Hazel finished a $150,000 study last week that concluded Charlotte Douglas International Airport would best be governed by an authority, rather than the city. City Council members were flummoxed by Hazel, who told them that Charlotte is one of the best-run, lowest-cost airports in the nation and has no major problems but should still be run by an authority. When the city first announced it was going to hire a consultant to study the issue of an authority, some critics said the consultant was going to say what council members wanted to hear – that the city should continue to run the airport. But it appears the opposite occurred. In hiring Hazel, the city hired a consultant who generally believes large airports shouldn’t be run by cities. The city hired Hazel before US Airways disclosed that it had met with authority supporters last year and forwarded draft legislation to create an authority to an authority supporter via email.(Jim Morrill, Steve Harrison and Ely Portillo, THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 5/08/13).

Transportation Reform
The House on Wednesday tentatively approved a bill to put a new transportation funding strategy into law, despite concerns from some members that it clears a path for toll roads in North Carolina and that the formulas that will determine which projects get built under the plan haven't been written yet. The bill passed 96-22, and a final vote is expected Thursday before it goes to the Senate.

Before passing the bill, the House unanimously approved an amendment to require that Department of Transportation, as soon as possible, publish on its website detailed information about the formulas used to rank transportation projects and determine which ones get built. The House turned down an amendment from Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, to give more weight under the new system to projects that have been on the DOT project list since 1989 or earlier but haven't been built. But Rep. William Brawley, R-Mecklenburg, a bill sponsor, said there might be a reason projects that old haven't been built. "Part of the reason for going to a new plan is that the old plan has gotten a little old," he said.

Rep. Paul Tine, D-Dare, said he would vote against the bill because the formulas haven't been developed yet and because of concerns that rural areas won't get their share of funding. He urged lawmakers who shared his concerns to "keep a very watchful eye" on how the DOT develops its formulas. Reps. Robert Brawley, R-Iredell, and Dana Bumgardner, R-Gaston, spoke against the legislation because it allows for toll roads to be built. "We're going to turn our state into the New Jersey of the Southeast, and I think that's a mistake," Bumgardner said. Bill advocates responded that tolls would help build much-needed roads that the state couldn't otherwise afford. "Is a toll road better than no road?" Rep. William Brawley asked.

Supporters argued that the new strategy would funnel more money to major road projects to reduce congestion around major cities and better connect urban and rural areas. Rep. Kelly Alexander, D-Mecklenburg, said congestion on Interstate 77 in Charlotte is so bad during rush hours that you could walk faster than the traffic moves. "And if you don't believe it, I invite you to come and try it," he said. Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, said House Bill 817 is "historic legislation" that will help the economy and build ambitious projects across the state. "It is truly a strategic transportation bill, and I truly believe this will once again make North Carolina the Good Roads State," he said.(Patrick Gannon, THE INSIDER, 5/09/13).

 


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


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