As interim legislative study committees complete their work in preparation for introducing legislation in the short session, PENC continues to remain actively involved in the work of several study committees.
At yesterday’s legislative Environmental Review Commission meeting, the various workgroups charged with reviewing and studying specific environmental issues, reported their recommendations to the full Commission. The following is a summary of each of the workgroup recommendations.
1) Stormwater Workgroup on Built Upon Area and the Definition of Gravel. This workgroup, chaired by Rep. Samuelson and Senator Jackson, determined that the temporary rule that the Environmental Management Commission recently put in place to define gravel was inadequate. Because the word "gravel" is used in many places in NC Statutes, the EMC definition would be inappropriate in other statutes where the term gravel is also used. Their recommendation would allow the department (NCDENR) to determine what is pervious or impervious. Additionally the workgroup recommended that NC State study gravel permeability. Rep. Catlin, PE, a member of the full Commission, disagreed to say that there is a definition of gravel in NCDOT policy and he will be asking for an amendment when the recommendation is voted on at the next meeting.
2) Regulated Streams and Wetlands Workgroup – This workgroup recommends changes to the thresholds of what qualifies as an isolated wetland and that additional studies be conducted for mountain bogs.
3) Water and Sewer Work Group – This group was tasked with reviewing the current IBT laws and interconnectivity of water and sewer systems. The group is recommending that NCDENR study the IBT laws and that the legislative program evaluation unit study interconnectivity of water/sewer systems to look for opportunities for consolidation or regionalization, particularly in areas where systems are found not to be financially secure.
4) Local Government Environmental Ordinance Workgroup – The workgroup of the ERC is recommending repealing the moratorium contained in HB 74 requiring that no local environmental ordinance could be more stringent than state statute The only exception recommended was to the use of fertilizer where the workgroup believes the Department of Agriculture should have primacy.
A Commission member asked: “Does this mean that local government can pass any ordinance that “adds additional requirements to” what is in state law? Legislative staff responded, yes, unless the state has preempted the field (hog waste lagoons was the example given) where the state statute is very specific. But, if the state has only a very general statute in place, and there is no prohibition, the local government can impose additional requirements.
5) Other items that will be voted on at their final meeting in April include: Strengthening reporting requirements when systems have wastewater spills, changes to the carbon monoxide detector provision in HB 74, and terminating some executive orders that no longer apply.
Representative Chris Millis, PE, who chaired the Regulatory Review of Engineering Work, recommends legislation be introduced in the form of a new bill titled “Reform Agency Review of Engineering Work”. Millis’ proposal addresses many of the recommendations that PENC made regarding the review of engineering work by regulatory agencies. Specifically the proposed legislation would:
1) Standardize certain regulatory review procedures to distinguish between reviews and requests that are required in order to proceed with the permit versus suggestions or recommendations that are not required. For those that are required the reviewer must cite the particular statute or regulatory authority given.
2) Require the Regulatory Authority (defined as NCDENR, NCDOT, DHHS, and any unit of local government with delegated authority) to develop an informal review process for instances where a new or innovative design is being proposed by the PE or there is a disagreement between the reviewer and the submitting party regarding statutory or regulatory authority.
3) Require NCDENR to complete a pilot study on the PERCS wastewater collection system and stormwater permitting programs to produce an inventory of work activities associated with operating this program, determine which of these activities constitute the practice of engineering and develop recommendations to ensure these activities are conducted with the appropriate level of oversight. NCDENR shall seek the assistance and cooperation of NCBELS and PENC. This shall be done no later than December 1, 2014.
4) Requires each Regulatory Authority to review the job titles of every employee with job duties that require the review of regulatory submittals and propose revisions to job duties or job titles that eliminate the public identification of “engineers” for those that are not Professional Engineers.
5) Stipulate that each Regulatory Authority report to the ERC on their progress on each of the aforementioned requirements and annually thereafter for only the informal review process.
At this point, these are only the workgroup recommendations. The full committee of the ERC will vote on each proposal in April and, based on their final action, these items will be drafted into legislation to be introduced in the short session. Once introduced as legislation, these proposals will go through the regular legislative deliberative process of committee review and votes in both chambers.
NC Building Code Council votes to Change Commercial Code Cycle to 6 Years
Earlier this week, the NC Building Code Council voted 9-6 to institute a 6 year code adoption cycle for commercial construction excluding the Electrical Code which will be kept on the three year cycle.
In legislation approved last year (HB 120) the residential code cycle was changed from 3 to 6 years.
Proponents of the commercial code cycle change argued that the residential and commercial code cycles need to be in sync. However, opponents, including PENC, contend that what may work for the residential code could prove problematic when applied to the commercial code.
1) The national and international norm for code adoption is every three years. A 6 years cycle would present a burden for design and construction professionals to learn about all the changes to the code in the absence of one full code cycle from the base national model code and also put NC at a disadvantage in terms of interstate practice where most states maintain a 3 year cycle.
2) Considerable cost savings to a construction project can be realized through innovative design. However, with a longer code adoption cycle, designers will not be able to take advantage of these new technologies as rapidly as they become available.
3) Training and certification associated with the International Building Code follows the three year standard. With NC moving to a 6 year cycle, cost effective national resources for training will be harder to find. Additionally because the NCBCC will continue to meet every three months to modify the code, design professionals will actually need to take more training courses that have to be customized for NC users.
The NC BCC can (legally) make this change without legislative approval and despite the overwhelming opposition from Architects, Building Inspectors, local code enforcement officials, prestigious companies like Siemens, Eaton, Simplex Grinnell, Honeywell, etc. and many Engineering associations.
At this point, the only recourse for the groups that opposed this change is to propose legislature action. Given the upcoming short session and the restrictions on what can be introduced, legislative intervention may not be appropriate.
In Other News Around the State
There are fewer people protecting the state's waters than there were a month ago. Last week the Department of Environment and Natural Resources eliminated 13 percent of the staff positions in the Division of Water Resources. The cuts were the latest step in years of winnowing the state agency.
The N.C. Department of Transportation has awarded a $524,216 contract to replace a bridge in southern Columbus County. Smith-Rowe LLC of Mount Airy will replace the bridge.
A community meeting on coal ash stored at Mountain Island Lake turned into a grilling Monday of state legislators over their response to Duke Energy’s spill on the Dan River last month. The group We Love Mountain Island Lake hosted the panel discussion including environmental advocates, Catawba Riverkeeper Sam Perkins, Gaston County Republican Rep. John Torbett and Mecklenburg Democrat Rep. Rodney Moore.
The director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality says the state is looking at the long-term health of the Dan River following a massive coal ash spill in North Carolina. DEQ Director David K. Paylor said Monday the state will hold Duke Energy "fully accountable" for any environmental damage from the spill last month
Piedmont Triad International Airport received $5.8 million for improvement projects, the N.C. Department of Transportation said Tuesday.
Links and documents about climate change have disappeared from the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources website. As recently as Jan. 21, visitors could find information about climate change on the front page of the Division of Air Quality's website. Sometime in the past two months, the page was edited to remove the link.
Despite sluggish job growth in recent months, North Carolina's unemployment rate is expected to keep falling throughout 2014 to below 6 percent, UNC Charlotte economist John Connaughton said Tuesday. In releasing his latest quarterly forecast for the state's economy, Connaughton said North Carolina is expected to have continued economic growth this year, thanks in part to rising home prices and low interest rates. The state's 15 sectors are projected to post a rise in economic output, he said.
A plan to cover 128 acres between runways, building roofs and parking lots with solar panels at Charlotte Douglas International Airport was quietly canceled last month after officials decided it could interfere with plans to expand the airport and put tax-exempt bonds at risk. The proposed solar arrays, capable of generating an estimated 53 megawatts, would have been easily among the biggest solar power projects in the state. But Charlotte Douglas officials decided to withdraw their request for proposals for building the solar farm on Feb. 4.
The Yadkin Valley Sewer Authority is to partner with Pittsburg Glass Works, adding more than 100 jobs over the next two years, thanks partly to a federal grant announced Wednesday by U.S. Rep. Howard Coble. Coble said the Appalachian Regional Commission has approved a $300,000 grant to the Yadkin Valley Sewer Authority for improvements to the Elkin Corporate Park Sewer Improvements project.