Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sustainable Policies

I was pretty astounded to read recently that the Wake County Board of Commissioners by a vote of 4-3 rejected a study they themselves had commissioned to balance growth, environment and economics. The Republican majority (one of whom is seeking election as Lieutenant Governor and another of whom is running for the 13th Congressional District) rejected the report. It made no difference that the head of the commission was Republican. Apparently the very idea of wise management of our resources is some kind of Democratic plot. You can read about it here.

This sort of foolishness grabs my attention. It is of a piece with the successful effort to prevent the Science Panel of North Carolina's Coastal Resources Commission from considering sea level rise above 22 inches.

It fits right in with those who deny climate change.

I grew up in tornado country. I don't remember anything quite like last night's tornado blitz across fifteen states. The polar ice cap is plainly melting. Some glaciers I witnessed in my youth in Alaska have disappeared.

Something is plainly happening. We need to foresee and prepare for the consequences.

We cannot dismiss the threat as one of Oriental's commissioners did to me last week by claiming that global warming was "made up" by Al Gore.

One of the things that is happening is population. In my life time, the population of the United States has more than doubled. It is now about 2.4 times what it was when I was born.

The world population is growing even faster. It was about 2.3 billion when I was born and is about 7 billion now.

A decade ago, the best estimate was that the world's population was about three times the number that could sustain a European level consumption. By now, it is probably four times as much.

We are killing the planet, and will eventually kill ourselves.

Can we keep this future from happening? I don't know. But we won't improve our chances by refusing to study and plan. It's what rational humans do. As presidential candidate Ross Perot once observed, "The difference between human beings and rabbits is that we can think and reason." Let's prove him right.

The Billy Goats Gruff

Yesterday I asked in passing whether ferries have trolls. I now realize some readers may not recognize the reference.

It has been about seventy years since I first read the story about the Billy Goats Gruff. Since then, I have always associated trolls with bridges. So, since our ferries play the role of bridges, I naturally wondered if they could have trolls.

Since, in the story of the Billy Goats Gruff, the troll was attempting to exact a particularly high toll (the life of a goat), I thought there might be a connection.

The story ends with the troll's demise, done in by his excessive greed.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Governor Perdue Takes On The Toll Trolls

This just in:

Perdue orders 1-year moratorium on new ferry tolls

Read the entire article on News and Observer site here.

Read more here:

Toll Tale Told

Some illustrations just can't be improved upon. Here is artist Laura Turgeon's take on the ferry toll issue. What more is there to say?

Do ferries have Trolls?

Monday, February 27, 2012

House Bill 200

Last week, the County Commissioners not only failed to adopt a measure to hire a lobbyist, they also failed to pass a measure authorizing the County Attorney to research issues surrounding a possible law suit by the county seeking injunctive or other relief from the tolls. The attorney explained that he would have to research a number of issues, including whether the county government has standing to bring a suit or whether only a citizen or taxpayer has standing. He would have to research court precedents for case law on point, including a review of North Carolina constitutional law.

This morning's session did not reexamine the issue of going to court.

Is a suit worth pursuing? Would there be a chance of success in a court, especially since a suit would have to be filed in Wake County Superior Court rather than in Pamlico County? I don't have a clue.  But in addition to the provision of North Carolina General Statutes that appear to prevent turning a previously toll-free highway into a toll road, there are some constitutional provisions that seem at odds with H200:

I won't post the entire bill of 343 pages. But it is interesting to look at the pertinent provisions. 

First, what was the bill about? Here is the stated purpose:


SESSION LAW 2011-145

AN ACT to Spur the creation of private sector jobs; reorganize and reform state government; make base budget appropriations for current operations of state departments and institutions; and to enact budget related amendments.

The General Assembly of North Carolina enacts:

PART I. Introduction and Title of Act

SECTION 1.1.  This act shall be known as the "Current Operations and Capital Improvements Appropriations Act of 2011."

SECTION 1.2.  The appropriations made in this act are for maximum amounts necessary to provide the services and accomplish the purposes described in the budget.  Savings shall be effected where the total amounts appropriated are not required to perform these services and accomplish these purposes and, except as allowed by the State Budget Act, or this act, the savings shall revert to the appropriate fund at the end of each fiscal year."

In other words, it was presented as an appropriations bill. But here are the ferry provisions:

"Transportation/Ferry Division Tolling
SECTION 31.30.(a)  Effective April 1, 2012, G.S. 136‑82 reads as rewritten:
"§ 136‑82.  Department of Transportation to establish and maintain ferries.
The Department of Transportation is vested with authority to provide for the establishment and maintenance of ferries connecting the parts of the State highway system, whenever in its discretion the public good may so require, and to prescribe and collect such tolls therefor as may, in the discretion of the Department of Transportation, be expedient. The Board of Transportation shall establish tolls for all ferry routes, except for the Ocracoke/Hatteras Ferry and the Knotts Island Ferry.
To accomplish the purpose of this section said Department of Transportation is authorized to acquire, own, lease, charter or otherwise control all necessary vessels, boats, terminals or other facilities required for the proper operation of such ferries or to enter into contracts with persons, firms or corporations for the operation thereof and to pay therefor such reasonable sums as may in the opinion of said Department of Transportation represent the fair value of the public service rendered.
The Department of Transportation, notwithstanding any other provision of law, may operate, or contract for the operation of, concessions on the ferries and at ferry facilities to provide to passengers on the ferries food, drink, and other refreshments, personal comfort items, and souvenirs publicizing the ferry system."
SECTION 31.30.(b)  The Board of Transportation shall toll all ferry routes no later than the effective date of subsection (a) of this section but is encouraged to begin tolling on all routes before that date. In establishing tolls for ferry routes under G.S. 136‑82, as amended by this section, the Board of Transportation shall consider the needs of commuters and other frequent passengers."

The establishment of tolls for previously toll-free segments of the state highway system  is arguably not an appropriations measure, but a revenue bill.

Because the effect of the measure on citizens affects Craven, Pamlico, and Beaufort Counties, it is also arguably a local bill.

Here is what the NC Constitution has to say about revenue bills and local bills:


"Sec. 23.  Revenue bills.
No law shall be enacted to raise money on the credit of the State, or to pledge the faith of the State directly or indirectly for the payment of any debt, or to impose any tax upon the people of the State, or to allow the counties, cities, or towns to do so, unless the bill for the purpose shall have been read three several times in each house of the General Assembly and passed three several readings, which readings shall have been on three different days, and shall have been agreed to by each house respectively, and unless the yeas and nays on the second and third readings of the bill shall have been entered on the journal.

"Sec. 24.  Limitations on local, private, and special legislation.
(1)        Prohibited subjects.  The General Assembly shall not enact any local, private, or special act or resolution:
(a)        Relating to health, sanitation, and the abatement of nuisances;
(b)        Changing the names of cities, towns, and townships;
(c)        Authorizing the laying out, opening, altering, maintaining, or discontinuing of highways, streets, or alleys;
(d)       Relating to ferries or bridges;
(e)        Relating to non-navigable streams;
(f)        Relating to cemeteries;
(g)        Relating to the pay of jurors;
(h)        Erecting new townships, or changing township lines, or establishing or changing the lines of school districts;
(i)         Remitting fines, penalties, and forfeitures, or refunding moneys legally paid into the public treasury;
(j)         Regulating labor, trade, mining, or manufacturing;
(k)        Extending the time for the levy or collection of taxes or otherwise relieving any collector of taxes from the due performance of his official duties or his sureties from liability;
(l)         Giving effect to informal wills and deeds;
(m)       Granting a divorce or securing alimony in any individual case;
(n)        Altering the name of any person, or legitimating any person not born in lawful wedlock, or restoring to the rights of citizenship any person convicted of a felony.
(2)        Repeals.  Nor shall the General Assembly enact any such local, private, or special act by the partial repeal of a general law; but the General Assembly may at any time repeal local, private, or special laws enacted by it.
(3)        Prohibited acts void.  Any local, private, or special act or resolution enacted in violation of the provisions of this Section shall be void.
(4)        General laws.  The General Assembly may enact general laws regulating the matters set out in this Section."

 As to form, it may be argued that H200 is a general law. As to the substantive effect of the ferry provisions, though, it is arguably a local bill.

The provision requiring tolls for segments of the state highway is certainly a revenue provision, not an appropriation provision, and therefore improperly included in H200.

Fodder for attorneys?

Pamlico County Ferry Lobbyist

This morning at a brief 9 o'clock meeting, Pamlico County commissioners voted 4-3 to hire an experienced local lobbyist to undo the Republican legislature's measure establishing tolls on our two commuter ferries. Both ferries are shown in DOT transportation system maps as segments of state highway 306. The tolls, possibly as high as $7 per one-way trip across the Neuse, will be a heavy burden on workers who commute to and from Havelock.

The three commissioners who voted against hiring a lobbyist expressed doubt that the measure will succeed, and frustration that it wasn't attempted by our elected legislators. Commissioner Ollison expressed the view that the tolls are "a done deal."

My view: there is a risk of failure, but the consequences of the tolls on the county's economy are substantial.

In a democracy, there are no permanent "done deals."

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Ferry Terminal

Here is a scan from this week's County Compass of the ferry terminal planned for Cherry Point. Cost: who knows? But it's pretty certain to exceed a million dollars. Let's say a million and a half.

Cost of collecting the tolls? About a million dollars.

Annual additional revenue ordered to be collected: three million.

Amount gained by ditching the tolls and leaving the terminal as it is? two and a half million.

Shortfall? Half a million, much of which will be recovered from reducing the ferry schedule.

Anyone still think the toll is about the budget?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Are Corporations People?

Two years ago in its decision in the case of Citizens United, the US Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment protects the speech of corporations as thoroughly as it does the speech of individuals. Or as one of this year's presidential candidate explained, "corporations are people."

Now the Court is faced with a slightly different issue: can corporations be sued for actions that violate the civil rights of individuals overseas, including taking part in repression, torture, executions and other civil rights abuses. Corporations argue that only individuals can be so charged. The issues are addressed in today's New York Times.

So, do corporations have the rights of individuals in one case, but are not responsible for corporate acts in another? Here is a more detailed look.

The world wonders.

The Real Science Of Heads In The Sand

A couple of years ago a graduate student telephoned, wanting to interview me. It turns out she was doing research on planning approaches in North Carolina coastal communities concerning anticipated sea level rise.

I had to tell her that in Oriental we had done no planning at all, save for the decisions by individual homeowners to raise their houses to the standards required by Pamlico County.

I wasn't personally worried, since my house hadn't been flooded during Isabel. Wrong! I should have been. The house was flooded by Irene and suffered significant damage. I will now have to raise it about three feet to meet county standards.

But wait. The Science Panel of North Carolina's Coastal Resources Commission has determined that a rise of 1 meter (39 inches) is the most likely scenario by 2100. I can tell you from experience that three inches in a house (difference between 36 inches and 39 inches) can wreak havoc.

There's more. Other states have concluded a sea level rise between 3 and 4 feet is the minimum expectation by 2100. It depends on how much of the Greenland and Antarctic icecaps melt by then.

But not to worry. Our local lobbying organization for 20 coastal counties, in part supported by tax money from Pamlico County, and aided by our appointed representatives to the Coastal Resources Commission, successfully kept the Emergency Management division from reporting on the effect of a one-meter rise.

Justification: "we insist on REAL science." Presumably "real science" consists of waiting until we get seriously flooded and collecting the data. "We don't need no stinkin' analysis." Read all about it in yesterday's News and Observer in an article by a real scientist with no known connection to real estate developers.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

This Is The Way We Starve The Beast - One Bite At A Time

Today's commuter ferry tax story fits in with a theme I wrote about almost exactly a year ago here. This latest move is just more evidence that the ferry issue isn't about budgets. It's about services to citizens.

Commuter Fairy Hijinks

The commuter fairy made two visits this week - last night, when County Compass printed an artist's rendition of the planned new ferry terminal at Cherry Branch and today's announcement by DOT that five ferry runs each way will be cancelled as of March 1.

Town Dock, who broke the story, asked if this move, which complied with state legislative directives to reduce ferry operating costs, would remove pressure to institute tolls. The answer: "no, these are two separate issues."

More evidence that this isn't about budgets. See my earlier analysis here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Original Intent

There is a theory of judicial review holding that judges should determine the meaning of the US Constitution on the basis of "original intent."

I always thought that was a bit flaky, especially since the drafters of the constitution kept no official journal of the proceedings. No minutes. No agreement among the participants as to the purpose and intent of each passage. No record of the debates.

So how can we deduce "original intent?"

On a smaller scale, we have had much speculation about why the NC State Legislature decided to insist on tolls for our commuter ferries.

That particular sausage was made behind closed doors, and the reasons were not debated or communicated to the Department of Transportation.

So we are left to guess at the original intent. But some participants have given a few hints. Here are various theories, conjectures and explanations:

1. The legislature was faced with a large deficit and had to do something to reduce it. This is something. Therefore they had to do it.

Comment: a) The legislature didn't do this. Only the Republican members of the General Assembly did it. b) Governor Perdue's budget would have been equally effective at reducing the deficit;

2. The General Assembly wanted to reduce government. Translation: Republicans in the General Assembly wanted to reduce government services to those who need them;

3. The General Assembly had to look in obscure places to find enough money.

Comment: a) Balderdash! It wasn't about money and it wasn't about deficits. That is plain from the provision that ordered the collection of a certain amount of gross revenue, with no possibility of achieving the same budget figure with DOT economies either with ferries or elsewhere. b) The ordered target of five million dollars in revenue is about two-tenths of one percent of the budget deficit.

4. One astute local observer offers the following explanation: It was an effort by the Republican legislature to slap Governor Perdue and her supporters in Eastern North Carolina without damaging the state's relations with the military hierarchy as a cutback in the highway 70 and highway 17 projects would have.

Comment: a) This is plausible. b) It arguably also avoids arousing the big city residents who want enhanced weekend access to the beaches.

I'm sure there are other explanations. They are not necessarily mutually exclusive. When you get 170 legislators working on an appropriations bill, each may have his or her own reasons.

Clearly, the welfare of Pamlico County and her citizens was not among them.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Legislative Calendar

For those who are interested, here is a link to the legislative calendar of the North Carolina General Assembly.

New Web Site In The County

The furor over over the legislature's decision to impose a commuter tax on Pamlico County continues to grow. County citizens determined to make sure this is not yet a "done deal" have started a new web site,, with up to date information on the facts and the controversy.

Make sure to check it out.

Sign a petition.

Sign up for a bus trip to Raleigh.

Stay up to date by following as well. Check out the letters. They keep coming in.

Just learned from Town Dock that the County Commissioners will reexamine last night's tie votes at a special meeting Monday, February 27 at 9:00 am.

All Politics Is Local - Pamlico County Version

Last night's meeting (Feb. 20) of the Pamlico County Commissioners failed to adopt a measure to join adjoining counties in hiring a lobbyist to work the state legislature for repeal of the Ferry toll. The vote was a tie - three commissioners for (Mele, Heath and Delamar) and three opposed (Spain, Brinson and Ollison). Commissioner Holton was absent for only the third time in the past ten years.

The commission also failed to adopt a motion to allow the County Attorney to expend up to $5,000 to research legal issues connected with a possible law suit, including the issue of whether the county has standing to file such a suit. That motion failed by the same vote.

How could that happen? One reason may be that residents of the three districts represented by Mr. Spain, Mr. Brinson and Mr. Ollison don't believe that they are affected by the tolls. I believe no one from those three districts spoke out against the tolls at last week's public hearings.

Representation in this country has always been based on geography. That is, representatives were supposed to represent the interests of the constituents in their own districts, not necessarily the population at large. This has been true from as early as 1750, when the phrase "no taxation without representation" was first used. The Parliament contended that they provided "virtual representation" to all subjects of the crown, wherever they lived. Americans rejected that view. We still do.

So don't expect members of any elected body to represent the general welfare of the entire municipality, county, state or nation instead of the welfare of the district from which they were elected. It isn't in our genes.

Political Scholar Richard Neustadt made the point decades ago (during the Kennedy administration) that the challenge of alliance diplomacy was to convince enough people and the right people on the other side that what we want to accomplish is what is also in their interest. It seems to me this principle applies to all politics and diplomacy if anything is ever to be accomplished.

Monday, February 20, 2012

On Making Various Kinds Of Sausage

Tonight's meeting of the Pamlico County Board of Commissioners offered a number of examples of the hazards of sausage-making. When combined with the revelations made during last week's public hearing on ferry tolls by NCDOT, it provides the raw material for a text book on American Politics at the state, county and local level. There is also a connection to national politics.

I won't tackle the whole thing in tonight's post, but I recommend reading Town Dock's report on How Pamlico County Got Stuck With Ferry Tolls.

The story illustrates themes such as: American theories of representation; the practice of representation; the "all politics is local" view; the tension between "I vote for the candidate, not the party" and actual policy outcomes; and why party matters, more so the higher you go up the political ladder.

I'll try to develop these themes over the next few days.

Let Us Now Praise Eccentrics

My recent comments on eccentrics has drawn a response. Just to avoid misunderstanding, I am not opposed to eccentrics. The late Mr. Faulkner himself (who I used to encounter strolling the streets of Oxford, MS.) might be described as eccentric. At least unconventional. In some circles, my own status as a non eccentric is at least in dispute. By the way, I am impressed at the picture of Mr. Faulkner's sailboat on Sardis Lake, gliding along above the former wildlife habitat of the Tallahatchie bottom, where William Faulkner once hunted bears.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Campaign Speeches You Probably Didn't Know About

Fifty-two years ago, John F. Kennedy tackled the issue of his religion and confronted leaders of conservative southern baptists who feared he would take his orders direct from the Vatican. The heart of his speech is worth recalling:

"I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute -- where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be a Catholic) how to act and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote -- where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference -- and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

"I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish -- where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source -- where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials -- and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

"For, while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew -- or a Quaker -- or a Unitarian -- or a Baptist. It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that led to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today, I may be the victim -- but tomorrow it may be you -- until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart at a time of great national peril.

"Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end -- where all men and all churches are treated as equal -- where every man has the same right to attend or not to attend the church of his choice -- where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind -- and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, both the lay and the pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood."

It is worth comparing this speech of 52 years ago with one uttered during this year's campaign. Here is one candidate's more recent take on the same set of issues.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Tolling The Ferries

Monday night, February 20 at 7:00, the Pamlico County Board of Commissioners will discuss and consider possible action on Ferry Tolls. This was triggered, at least in part, by the disclosure at last week's DOT hearing that there is a provision in North Carolina General Statutes against converting "any segment" of the nontolled State Highway system to a toll facility. The provision is as follows:

"G.S. 136-89.187  Page 1
§ 136-89.187.  Conversion of free highways prohibited.
The  Authority  Board  is  prohibited  from  converting  any  segment  of  the  nontolled  State
Highway  System  to  a  toll  facility,  except  for  a  segment  of  N.C.  540  under  construction  as  of
July 1, 2006, located in Wake County and extending from the N.C. 54 exit on N.C. 540 to the
N.C. 55 exit on N.C. 540. No segment may be converted to a toll route pursuant to this section
unless  first  approved  by  the  Metropolitan  Planning  Organization  (MPO)  or  Rural  Planning
Organization (RPO) of the area in which that segment is located.  (2002-133, s. 1; 2006-228, s.
3; 2008-225, s. 5.)"

Examination of the map of the state transportation system made available to attendees make it plain that both the Minnesott ferry and the Aurora ferry are segments of state highway 306.

Unfortunately, the "Authority Board" mentioned in the law is the North Carolina Turnpike Authority board, not the state legislature.

So we need to review the North Carolina Constitution with a fine-tooth comb. I have a couple of ideas, but they aren't ready for prime time yet.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Eccentricities, Etc.

I popped into Town and Country not long ago to buy some essential item and was delighted to run into one of our long-time residents, Tony Tharp.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will reveal that Tony hails from Leland, Mississippi, where Highway 61 of blues fame crosses Highway 82, about a dozen miles from Greenville, where my family lived when I attended Ole Miss. He also once worked for a friend of mine, Hodding Carter, editor and publisher of the Delta Democrat-Times, affectionately known as the DDT. Leland is not very far from where the Southern meets the Yellow Dog.

Tony arrived in Oriental not long before I did, but unlike me (though some may disagree), he is a bit eccentric. This characteristic is not unknown among Oriental residents, I believe.

I learned that Tony is once again expressing his eccentricities in a web site,

Check it out. You may be alternately amazed, amused and enlightened. Perhaps even occasionally enraged.

He posts his entries from his sailboat, Yoknapatawpha. Those of a literary bent will recognize the name. Few know, though, that the late William Faulkner kept a sailboat on Sardis Lake near Oxford, Mississippi. In the 1950's, the sailboat was maintained by another Mississippi eccentric, V.P. Ferguson.

I'll bet even Tony doesn't know that.

Busy Week In River City [Oriental]

It has been a busy week here along the Neuse River.

A week ago, the Oriental Town Board approved "in principal" the abandonment of public rights of way near the intersection of South Avenue and Avenue A in return for a donation of land on the harbor by Mr. Chris Fulcher. Details to be negotiated.

On Monday this week, the candidate filing period opened for federal, state and county elections. The filing period ends at noon on February 29th. The most prominent person to file last Monday (Feb. 13) was Mr. Norm Sanderson, incumbent member representing Pamlico County and part of Craven County in the NC State House. He filed to run for election to a vacant seat in the State Senate.

Earlier on Monday morning, the Oriental Board of Commissioners held a workshop on restoration of Town Hall, damaged by hurricane Irene. The board gave Town Manager Bob Maxbauer the go-ahead to expend funds on interior demolition, preparing for a major rebuilding and rearrangement of space. This project has been talked about for years. Irene finally pushed it to the top of the agenda.

Bob Maxbauer also has the town's public works crews out cleaning up along Raccoon creek, improving drainage and generally giving the town a beauty treatment. This is a continuation of his effort, the results of which can be seen along Wall Street and the intersection with South Avenue.

Most dramatic of the week's events was the somewhat raucous meeting of disgruntled Pamlico County residents at the Delamar Center at Pamlico Community College Wednesday night. At that meeting, Department of Transportation officials attempted to explain the various schemes for determining toll rates. Bottom line: DOT has no discretion in this matter, because the Republican state legislature requires DOT to charge, exempted two routes from the increases, and overrode the governor's veto.

This is an ongoing story. More to follow as the Pamlico County Commissioners meet next Monday night (Feb 20) to consider what actions to take.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Thoughts On South Avenue

I've been checking into the limits imposed by Neuse River Buffer, CAMA and our own Growth Management Ordinance. It looks like, if the proposed exchange goes through, there may be enough room on the lot for a 20'x30' building and about four parking places.

There is much talk about what could be built there, but it would help to see some sketches.

In the meantime, a number of residents have sent letters to, published here.

We have not yet learned how the Board plans to deal with possible legal obstacles.

Friday, February 10, 2012

South Avenue Deal

This evening, the Oriental Town Board of Commissioners by a unanimous vote of the four commissioners in attendance approved "in principal" to accept a counter offer by Mr. Chris Fulcher concerning the exchange of property. Details to be negotiated in a contract to be reviewed by the board. Public hearing to be held on the issue of vacating public rights of way currently owned by the town. The proposed map:

This is somewhat better than the earlier proposal here, but there still may be devils in the details. Lawyers for the two sides will negotiate.

Some commissioners, responding to skeptical comments by attendees, emphasized that the rights of way the town is giving up are "worth nothing." I think the truth is more complicated. To be sure, the town cannot sell the rights of way, because the town is not the owner of the underlying fee. But, if abandoned, there is clearly a tangible value to the land freed for sale, transfer or use by the fee owner. To truly understand the value to the recipient, it might be of interest to have a valuation of the real estate value of the land being abandoned by the town. Clearly it is not "nothing."

Earlier this week, the mayor spent a long time talking about the "intangible" benefits of the negotiation. I think the benefits to the public of public access to the water are a concrete benefit of living in the Town of Oriental, not just an "intangible" benefit. It is why people move here.

There were options open to the town had the Board wanted to use the existing South Avenue right of way to build a welcome center, public rest rooms, a museum, or any other purpose associated with public access to the water. It could, for example, have offered to purchase the underlying fee from the fee owner, either through negotiation or by exercising eminent domain. It might have been difficult and costly, but it would have been possible.

As it is, there will be building restrictions due to the fact that about half of the area to be donated to the town is within the 50 foot Neuse River Buffer and subject to building restrictions. It would be interesting to know what can be built there within those constraints.

A major advantage to the public of a dedicated and accepted right of way is that it cannot be sold, only abandoned. This provides better protection of the public interest than if the same property were owned outright. The town's governing body has the legal right to purchase and sell property at will. I would be happier if the property to be donated in this case were dedicated to the public for the purpose of public access to the water, including building of appropriate facilities to support public access. An example of a restricted donation to the town is Lou-Mac Park. We should look at this model.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Renewable Energy

Monday night at the Pamlico County Commissioners meeting, a guest offered his views on why renewable energy sources (specifically wind energy) would be bad for Pamlico County: it costs more, it can't completely replace other forms of energy, its savings are exaggerated, it will reduce employment and it will chase tourists away. Since we currently have no wind generators in Pamlico County, I assume that means we must be awash in tourists, money and jobs.

Not exactly.

Since the meeting, though, I have been remembering a form of renewable energy that cost nothing but a bit of sweat, toil and tears.

Here is a picture of me and Joe Willie in Holmes County, Mississippi, gathering wood for the kitchen cook stove. Joe Willie chopped and both of us carried. About 1943:

Respect Your Betters

I was not quite four years old when I was introduced to the culture of the South. I had been raised in Oklahoma by Texans. I spent a number of my growing up years in Florida and Mississippi, but I really was a westerner, not a southerner.

My Mississippi grandmother tried valiantly to correct my deficiencies by teaching me to show proper respect for my elders, and also to show respect for my "betters."

Betters, of course, were those distinguished by higher social position or wealth. I remember my grandmother paying her respects to the owner of the biggest local plantation by curtseying to him.

My grandmother's lessons never took. I had already learned at an early age that I was an American. I had equals, but no betters.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Appeasement in Oriental?

There were some curious aspects to last night's meeting of the Oriental Town Board.

1. Although many members of the public attended, apparently hoping to learn more about South Avenue property negotiations, only two members of the public commented during the comment period. Neither appeared to be enthusiastic supporters of the proposal as it apparently exists. Grace Evans reminded the Board that back in the 1980's when she served on the Board, the Board adopted a policy not to transfer any more street ends to private ownership.

2. Perhaps one of the reasons more members of the public did not speak is that the proposal received from Mr. Fulcher has never been introduced at a business meeting of the Town Board nor was it tabled at Tuesday's meeting. Neither has it been posted on the Town's official web site. Following the public comment period, the mayor gave an exposition of his views of the issue, but there was no explanation of the procedure to be followed in considering the proposal, and the facts provided were sketchy at best.

3. Comments by the mayor and a few by members of the board seemed to constitute a discussion, but No Motion Had Been Made. There should be no discussion without a motion. The board did vote on a motion to go into closed session to deliberate on negotiating strategy. But we still have no official introduction of the matter to be negotiated.

4. Most curious, the mayor spent about fifteen minutes (I didn't time it) explaining that an important benefit of the proposal is the intangible benefit of improved relations with the Fulchers and the Henrys. He implied that a history of strained relations between the Town and Mr. Fulcher and the Town and Mr. Henry was caused by the Town Board's insensitivity to the concerns of both families.

I think it is a mistake to personalize policy disagreements. It is the duty of the Town Board, acting as our governing body, to protect and defend the long term interests of the residents, acting in accordance with state law. To that end, the Town has adopted a zoning ordinance (GMO) and has accepted responsibility for public rights of way established under North Carolina law. These laws apply to everyone in the town. Equally.

I wasn't here at the beginning of policy conflict between the Town of Oriental and Mr. Fulcher or the conflict over right-of-way law with Mr. Henry. But I have read the files. The conflicts weren't personal - they were business.

Both Mr. Fulcher and Mr. Henry have been successful businessmen. There was a time when businessmen were seen as "hard-nosed," meaning rational in action, making decisions on the basis of cold, hard fact. And on the basis of both personal and business interests. It would be good for the Town Board to assume this is still true.

I hope the Town Board will pursue negotiations concerning South Avenue in the same spirit - that is, in a rational effort to pursue the best long-term interests of the citizens of Oriental, protecting public access and use of the water.

What's The All-Fired Rush?

Just received the following:

"From: <>
Date: Wed, Feb 8, 2012 at 3:49 PM
Subject: Special Meeting Called
Cc: Pamlico News <>, Jeff <>, Melinda <>, Charlie Hall <>

I hereby call a special meeting of the Oriental Town Board of Commissioners for 4:00 PM on Friday, February 10, 2012, at First Baptist Church fellowship hall for the purpose of considering terms of property acquisition transaction at Raccoon Creek.

Bill Sage, Mayor"

This sounds like something may be happening, but it isn't clear what. If I find out more, I'll share more thoughts.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Local Bill Shenanigans

Thirty-five years ago, the North Carolina state legislature passed a local bill taking away the right of municipalities in Pamlico County to exercise extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) subject to the same conditions that apply in all of the other 99 counties in North Carolina. In essence, this deprives citizens of Pamlico County of equal protection of the laws.

The original local bill also added preconditions to annexation that did not apply in other counties. The annexation provisions were repealed in 1983 by another session law, Chapter 636, Senate Bill 107, Section 37.1.

I believe Chapter 478, House Bill 1045 of the North Carolina General Assembly 1977 Session is an example of abuse of the local bill system and should be repealed.




The General Assembly of North Carolina enacts:

Section 1.  G.S. 160A-44 is hereby amended by adding a new sentence at the end of the first paragraph to read:
"No territory in Pamlico County may be annexed under the provisions of this Part by any town or city with a population of 1,000 or less according to the most recent federal decennial census."
Sec. 2. G.S. 160A-25 is amended by adding at the end thereof the following new paragraph.
"No territory in Pamlico County may be annexed under the provisions of G.S. 160A-24 through G.S. 160A-30 by any town or city with a population of 1,000 or less, according to the most recent federal decennial census, unless the persons living in the area to be annexed vote in favor of annexation and the governing body shall not adopt an annexation ordinance until after a favorable vote has been obtained in the area to be annexed."
Sec. 3.  G.S. 160A-360 is amended by adding a new subsection (k) at the end thereof to read:
"(k)      No town or city in Pamlico County having a population of 1,000 or less, according to the most recent federal decennial census, shall exercise any extraterritorial jurisdiction or powers outside its corporate limits pursuant to the provisions of this Article."
Sec. 4. This act shall become effective upon ratification.
In the General Assembly read three times and ratified, this the 7th day of June, 1977.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Fulcher Proposal Plan View

Here is the drawing that Mr. Chris Fulcher submitted to the town with his proposal for the town to close South Avenue and Avenue A, in return for which he would donate to the town 5,001.17 square feet of property as outlined in the bold marks. Included in that 5,001.17 square feet are 890 square feet within the South Avenue right of way (which, under his proposal would no longer be a public right of way).

Note that if the dock under construction were to become the new town dock, it would be very constraining for boaters on the southwest side of the dock. It would be much more comfortable for boaters if the distance from the dock to the edge of the property were the same to the southwest as it would be to the northeast.

By comparison, if the town were to build a dock centered on the South Avenue terminus, even taking into account the mandatory CAMA setback of 15 feet from adjacent riparian property owners, the town would have approximately 64 feet to work with. Even if the dock were to be 10 feet wide, that would leave 27 feet on each side for boaters to use without encroaching on the buffer, much less on the riparian boundary.

In short, Mr. Fulcher's proposal looks like a tight squeeze.

Another set of considerations relates to the effect of the town abandoning the South Avenue right of way on public access to the parcel Mr. Fulcher proposes to donate. The proposal appears to allow only a 20 foot access from the remaining public right of way into the parcel leading to the dock. Is this enough? What about parking? What about access needed to load boats?

A lot of things to consider.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

South Avenue Survey

To help understand what the town is being asked to transfer to Chris Fulcher, it may help to see this 1995 survey by Dennis Fornes:


Mr. Fulcher now owns all of the property on the south side of South Avenue and west of Wall Street, as well as all property on the north side of South Avenue west of Toucan Grill and the Oriental Marina and Inn. He proposes that the town close "South Avenue and its subsequent appendage of First Avenue [sic - presumably he means Avenue A] where the private property on both sides of the right-of-way are owned by me or to which I have controlling interest." He goes on to say, "It is my understanding that with such a closure, the then previous right-of-way would become under my sole possession and control."

The town's existing South Avenue right-of-way intersects the Raccoon Creek harbor at A-B on the survey. The straight line distance between A and B is approximately 94 feet.

In return for the town abandoning the existing right-of-way, Mr. Fulcher proposes to donate to the town ownership of a 5,000 square foot lot 46.47' wide at water's edge with certain waterside improvements already completed or in progress.

The town board is considering how to respond to the proposal.