Let’s Talk: Environmental Voices

BY Pat Bradford Teresa Kramer Richard Leder

Seated for lunch as they were at a beautifully set table in a gorgeous Airlie Gardens glade on a particularly perfect autumn afternoon it was easy to imagine that our sky was ever blue our water clear and clean and that sound environmental stewardship was an ongoing primary concern of the powers-that-be. Fortunately we had invited a panel of local renowned environmental experts conservationists activists advocates educators administrators planners researchers and writers to set the record straight. From saltwater intrusion in the Cape Fear River to rampant construction in our flood plains to beach renourishment to green building to air quality to community activism to legislative stonewalling to planning zoning and Titan Cement no stone was left unturned no topic left uncovered no punches pulled. It was as thorough and thoughtful a conversation on as important a topic as one could hope for on such a pretty day.


Pat Bradford: The table that were eating on is made of river wood brought up from the Cape Fear River bottom; lets start there.

Andy Wood: You have to go back several hundred years to when they started snagging the Cape Fear River which in the 1700s was running fresh all the way to the ocean. All the way down to Bald Head and Southport there were water lilies on the shoreline huge cypress. When youre in Wilmington and you look at all that grass area up the northwest Cape Fear River that was all bottomland swamp and then it was all logged out snagged out by hand slave ox mattock and axe and converted to rice plantations which flourished until Wilmington needed to get bigger boats up to the city to get the rice so they lobbied Congress to start snagging it out.

Marilyn Meares: Which allowed the salt water to come up the river.

Andy Wood: And now its a different river system. Were going to see more salt water intrusion and push back in our bottomland hardwood swamps as they transition from a freshwater-based ecosystem to a more brackish-water ecosystem. The Cape Fear opens directly to the ocean unlike any other major river in the state. You have free exchange of saltwater so all the swamps you see when youre going down to Brunswick to Southport all those swamps and dead trees that you see in Town Creek and others theyre dead from saltwater intrusion as a result of dredging the Cape Fear River. I hold the Corps of Engineers responsible for that.

Doug Springer: Saltwater intrusion is really staring us in the face. As you know our drinking water comes from above lock and dam No. 1. Larry I know youve really looked at this but the saltwater has approached as close as eight miles of lock and dam No. 1.

Lawrence Cahoon: Its tidal all the way up.

Doug Springer: So if we continue to bring the saltwater up the river what is the real effect of doing something as large as what theyre talking about with the new state port? Thats the next river-altering thing thats staring us in the face. Our water actually comes from above lock and dam No. 1 so hopefully that will be protected but we still have a beautiful stand of cypress as you get on up the river and you will start to see those die and go away.

Lawrence Cahoon: There is a proposal to remove lock and dam No. 1. I cant fathom the rationale behind that given thats what is protecting the source of drinking water for the City of Wilmington and portions of Brunswick County. We need to be aware that somebody is not looking out for our interest here.

Joel Bourne: I did several stories on New Orleans right before and after Katrina and theyve had so many of the same issues. Theyve got saltwater intrusion theyve got dying back of cypress theyve got inlets like the industrial canal that cuts right through the middle of the city and theyve got sea level rise and marsh loss. The only thing weve got over them is a little bit of elevation. But when I first moved to Wilmington I thought my gosh if youre looking at a meter of sea level rise Wilmington doesnt look all that much different from New Orleans in 50 or 100 years so why arent we more engaged? Weve got millions upon millions in real estate beachfront real estate thats potentially at risk.

Steve Dellies: Weve got problems with homeowners who werent knowledgeable when they built here. They excavated some of their property in the lowest part of town so where we had flooding before on a normal high tide we definitely get flooding now because one of the homes is about 18 inches lower than it should have been when the homeowner bought the property so were constantly trying to work on ways to alleviate flooding for this portion of Wrightsville Beach at the expense of everybody else.

Marilyn Meares: Isnt there a permitting process? How can a homeowner be able to do that without turning in a plan?

Doug Springer: Were going to see those same problems downtown. One of the things people always say is “how do you get ahead of these problems?” and its through planning or should be. The problem is as the riverkeeper we have all these plans the CAMA land use plan and others and they are totally ignored. Now weve come out with this new zoning for downtown Wilmington that allows people to build on the river but they are building on a hundred-year flood plain. Its just unbelievable. People have a hard time understanding what a catastrophic event can do in a hundred-year flood plain.

Tracy Skrabal: All you have to do is look at what happened in Katrina look at Rodanthe right now after the recent storms. The front cover of our recent newsletter is the house going down in Rodanthe and whats most telling from the photos is not the house in the water weve seen that before but if you look at the aerial showing the entire inundation area its geology in action. In North Carolina were seeing barrier islands doing exactly what barrier islands do rolling over on themselves and taking off toward the mainland. I think were going to come to a point where its undeniable. Were not there yet but when Highway 12 can no longer be restored down the Outer Banks when Ocracoke is cut off theres a point where even if you want to nourish the beach youre going to run out of fill material. We are very limited in the offshore resources for beach renourishment so even if it is a viable option today it wont be long before its no longer viable and I think towns have to come to grips with those kind of things.

Elise Rocks: Going back to the downtown area a project thats under construction now initially they were going to have to do a payment in lieu for their storm water. Basically because they could not handle the storm water on their property themselves they offer a payment in lieu which goes toward other infrastructure downtown but it doesnt really solve the problem. Its just putting money back into the general system. Fortunately that project has opted to go with a green roof which is going to be cheaper than the payment and will allow them to keep the storm water on the site as well as create a nice public space for the building. In this case because of the regulation with the payment being more expensive than the green roof it became a viable option for the developers.

Lawrence Cahoon: That sounds like mitigation banking for wetlands same basic approach. Pay money or fix the problem.

Joel Bourne: But it seems like in all these issues theres this underlying thread: The political leadership is light years behind or actually moving in the opposite direction of where scientists and researchers are telling them they need to be. When I was doing the New Orleans story I talked to a Harvard professor. He was a student of Gilbert White who was this great geographer from the 1930s who studied flood plains and came up with this sort of magnum opus that said: Floods are acts of God flood damages are acts of man dont build in the flood plain. And it was incorporated into our flood laws and completely and utterly ignored. When I asked this guy at Harvard why is this so hard we know building in flood plains is a bad idea it kills people it destroys property why are we still all over the flood plains? He said the profit motive of building and developing flood plains near the water is astronomical.

Pat Bradford: How do you counter that? Who can make it stop?

Andy Wood: Its going to have to be the public. It cant be the politicians. By and large the politicians are not necessarily qualified. They dont necessarily have a science background and so they dont understand how an environment like this functions as contrasted to how Capitol Hill functions. They dont understand whats going on environmentally in the area they represent. So it needs to be us that tell the politicians that bulkheading and backfilling is not the solution to sea level rise. At some point it will be breached so we need to be talking amongst ourselves and with the regulatory agencies and to the politicians so that they understand that we need to approach this with an attitude of a solution not a Band Aid.

Lawrence Cahoon: The problem is that we support this financially; we subsidize stupid developments with federal flood insurance. Its indefensible. The homeowner is going to lose his house in five years and is fine with that because he knows theres a check waiting for him courtesy of the taxpayers. He may not get all his money out but hes going to get a check and if he had to buy real flood insurance on the private market it wouldnt be possible. Our subsidy for this is costing all of us a lot of money. Were paying for stupidity and thats got to end. With the government being in such financial trouble I dont think its that hard an argument to make.

Joel Bourne: Politicians are not good at understanding environmental issues but they are really good at understanding poll numbers. If they see enough voters angry enough about a particular issue then theyre going to get on board with it. Titan is a good example. Nobody cared whether Titan came or went especially the politicians who invited it here but then a fairly sizable group of folks said “Forget this this is ridiculous this is not what we moved here for this is not what we want to happen in our community.” And then suddenly you see one two three four politicians start to say “Hey lets think about this maybe this wasnt such a great idea.” Again its community driven.

Tracy Skrabal: You cant underestimate the power of emotional attachment and human nature. People say to me the reason the community doesnt get on board and see whats coming to North Carolina is that old expression: It aint got bad enough yet.

Elise Rocks: With the drought all of a sudden water conservation has become a hot topic. People are starting to pay attention to it. So it does seem to require a certain amount of pain to get people to stand up and take notice or come up with innovative solutions.

Tracy Skrabal: Financial implications.

Andy Wood: We need to make environmentalism profitable. Thats been the whole challenge for the conservation group. Were a consumption-based economy and we have to flip that around and become a conservation-based economy. With climate change issues weve got the opportunity to profit from creating a conservation-based economy. Ohio used to be the wind-generation capital of the world until they didnt get tax credits to keep it sustained so Denmark bought that company and its technology. Vermont was the solar capital of the world until Germany bought that company because Vermont wasnt getting the tax incentives like big oil gets every day. So now Germany is the solar capital of the world Denmark is the wind capital of the world and look what were doing: Buying both of those innovations from other countries. It was ours to give up.

Joel Bourne: Investors are going to pour billions into green industry. Its the profitable way to the future.

Elise Rocks: Its already here. Theyre starting to do investment trusts putting their money up front for solar equipment and then leasing it back to the tenant or the building owner so theres enough profit between the two. With the current state and federal tax credits for solar I want to say 35 percent for the state and 30 percent for the federal it makes sense from a capitalist perspective for someone to put the money up front.

Doug Springer: Thats exciting but then you go back and say “How do we make the quantum leap from where the biggest tax incentive were going to give is to a company like Titan who will bring a polluted industry to Wilmington versus giving a tax incentive to somebody to develop a solar water heater here in town? How long can we wait?” We need to look at Wilmington and what we want it to be in the future. I dont think we can wait that long. A few more really bad decisions such as Titan and it would change the nature of what were used to here in Wilmington.

Pat Bradford: How do we de-politicize these important decisions?

Doug Springer: We need to consider some training for these people. Basic training: how to use your staff how to not get yourself in a situation where youre making decisions beyond your capabilities. There is no way in the world you should be able to give a $4.2 million tax incentive without first consulting your staff your environmental planners your long-range planners your zoning department.

Pat Bradford: How did they do it with Titan?

Joel Bourne: They didnt have to consult so they didnt consult.

Doug Springer: Their excuse was simply: It was already zoned industrial so we didnt have to consult with our zoning department or with our environmental plans.

Tracy Skrabal: Some of that comes from simply who is sitting in the seats. Coastal Federation doesnt advocate for any particular people in any particular elected seat but the bottom line is if you had different people in those seats when the opportunity came forward you might have had a very different outcome. So at some point education aside you have to have someone willing to at least hear the issue someone who is responsible for our county and our community. Thats all it would have taken with Titan if they said “Prepare me a white paper on this.”

Lawrence Cahoon: I think you are being very generous. Ive had my share of encounters with these guys and its worse than that. Its not that they dont know better its that they dont see it that way at all; they actively disagree. If you scratch some of those guys hard enough you find out they dont think environmental issues matter. There are some of them who dont think mercury is bad for you your air your water and your food; they think jobs and tax returns are more important than any other consideration. I mean lets stop beating around the bush here. Some of them are the enemy in some ways.

Elise Rocks: We have so many great organizations in this town that are fighting for the environment but do we have a common voice? Can we pick one thing and work collaboratively on it like whats being done with Titan now but continue that so we can bring together many more voices on a specific issue and get the politicians to take notice?

Pat Bradford: Back when they wanted to move the inlet the different homeowners associations plus Figure Eight got together and formed the MIPG. They had one or two people out in front but that voting power is what got them that inlet.

Andy Wood: The Earth Day Alliance. We founded that group in January of 1990. I was a Native Raider on the first Earth Day in the 1970s so Earth Day has always been a special thing for me and when the 20th anniversary of Earth Day was approaching I thought what a great time to try to bring all of these disparate organizations together. I had only been in the area a few years at the time but I saw southeastern North Carolina falling by the wayside and it was because we didnt have the unified voice to fight against the powers that be: the elected officials the development at that time. Even then the development community was wreaking havoc on the area and we had politicians profiting from some of the decisions they were making so there was some conflict of interest; similar to today. Its now almost 20 years later and we still celebrate Earth Day with the Earth Day Alliance so I think there is potential to keep the groups together though many of us have different missions.

Tracy Skrabal: There are two mechanisms that we have to bring groups together. We have the Coastal Caucus which is a group the Coastal Federation we sort of hold it together that includes conservation groups and citizens groups from Carteret County to Brunswick County and they meet once every other month maybe once every three months and its exactly for the reasons weve discussed. The other mechanism is the Cape Fear Arch which is a relatively new collaboration that includes not only groups but also state and federal agencies. The common goal is conservation with some advocacy issues. It includes groups from southeastern North Carolina to northeastern South Carolina. You have two mechanisms that are in the growth process that can bring groups together. Were looking at the port; were looking at where the highways are going to go for the next 50 years.

Andy Wood: The beauty of the Arch collaboration is that they are looking down the road right now for the lands that will be the refugium for our native plants and wildlife: In the future looking at the most important habitats the no-regrets places what do we agree is a priority for protection? Thats getting way ahead in terms of land conservation of what is typically done.

John Nadeau: In the coastal zone underneath the national contingency plan Im the federal on-scene coordinator. One of our roles is to have the area contingency plan in place to deal with any oil or hazardous spill out there in the water. Doug has been gracious enough to come to one of our meetings and were trying to get more involvement from folks like you that know the area better than some of us that are new to the area. I want to make sure that we capture into our plan which are the protected areas which are the most sensitive. Were getting ready to develop a whole new set of environmentally sensitive areas maps that tells us whats in that area what do I have to be aware of when I go in there whats the best treatment whats the best risk-mitigation strategy for that particular area? God forbid we find ourselves with a big oil spill out there but they happen and when they do we want to act quickly and effectively to bring the right people to the table and collaboratively attack the issue.

Marilyn Meares: I would also like to mention the stewardship development program of the lower Cape Fear which really is a carrot-versus-stick way of getting developers to go above and beyond what the ordinances are calling for. Once you are designated a stewardship development you can use the logo and there are a lot of people youd be surprised how many who want to live in a development thats paying attention to water quality wildlife aesthetics and green building.

Elise Rocks: The thing that I have learned in the green building process is everything is becoming multi-dimensional. We used to talk about the bottom line. Now people are talking about the triple bottom line which is social economic and environmental so you need to look at all three and everything has to do with bringing different voices to the table. Im very much against Titan destroying our wetlands and our water quality but at the same time we use a lot of cement in green buildings. Its a dialogue that needs to happen with different voices and its better if you have folks that are coming from different sides because we can take things to a greater level of understanding instead of seeing it just from one perspective.

Andy Wood: Titan is a great example. We need to look at this huge picture. There is a state port being planned. Concrete is the number one construction product in the world. The number one user is China. So were exporting concrete. Think global warming the amount of energy required to carry concrete over to China. Can you imagine a more energy consumptive product to ship around? Plus in terms of fighting climate change at least slowing the rate buying local producing local well here is Titan. They are going to build local we can distribute across the state. So there is a little bit of not-in-my-backyard here. We dont want it in our backyard but do we discontinue building bridges or do we figure out a way for the company to produce what it is that we demand? We have to help them figure out a way to do it in a more environmentally benign manner.

Tracy Skrabal: There are things that they could do to be a cleaner industry but they have not been required nor is there any financial incentive for them to do so. So you ask if this is a case of not-in-my-backyard: You bet it is. Until they clean up their act and become a greener industry so that it doesnt harm my children and their children with mercury poisoning you bet its not-in-my-backyard. If its not-in-my-backyard in every community then they have no choice but to clean up their industry and we would all be amazed at how quickly they would do it.

John Nadeau: You make a strong point there and thats the tension. I wear several hats and one is security safety. If it doesnt seem coordinated when there is pollution out there the safe thing to do is to shut everything down. Dont let anybody move dont transfer anything we wont have pollution the air quality will be fantastic. We know we cant do that. The economy relies upon the safe transportation of goods and services on the waterways so as much as I want to shut it down its a delicate balance. The only way to succeed is to have everyone at the table that has a say in whats going on out there involve everybody. Environmentalists are one voice but there are others out there that are screaming just as loud. Its a constant struggle for elected officials to balance all of that.

Doug Springer: We agree with you. But in that position you would hope that they would at least understand they need to use their staff. They need to do their due diligence and that wasnt done with Titan.

Marilyn Meares: I think another thing that often gets left out is the bridge between science and economics. Often elected officials dont understand or dont believe in the science. If they were able to understand that when this happens over here something else happens economically and it might not be a short-term profit situation but if they would look at the long term and see what they have they might see for example that land values go down because water quality is bad. You have a diving economy when that happens. Just think whats going to happen the first time that Wrightsville Beach or the Cape Fear River for whatever reason is closed because of excessive bacteria or chemical content.

Pat Bradford: Its not that far off. I live on the water in Wrightsville Beach on one of the sounds and I no longer swim in front of my house. You can pump sewage overboard but it has to be treated and what you are treating it with is just as bad for the water as the sewage so now you have a mix of the two things going overboard. People fish off my dock they eat those fish the children are all playing in the water and now our dogs are getting sores people are getting ear infections things are happening. “I dont care about you ” is the publics response but when they want to come down to the beach and the beach is closed its going to make a difference. John whos going to enforce it?

John Nadeau: Certainly the State and Coast Guard both enforce it. But there has to be an observed spill. With an oil spill in the marina I go on every vessel and take a sample from all the tanks send them to the lab and hopefully get a match. With a match I clean it up and you have to pay for it. You can imagine sewage becomes much more problematic. I dont know how Im going to tell whose is whose with that type of spill. Heavy enforcement isnt always the best tool to pull out of a tool kit. There is a time and place for that were not afraid to do it but in this case there may be more room for education. People think they dont make a difference but they do. I believe 70 percent of the oil we see out there on the water came from the shore not the ships.

Joel Bourne: Its an Exxon Valdez-size spill from car oil every 10 months. So these little bits add up. This is why school programs are so important. The kids have to know: Lets not pour this stuff down the drain.

At the table | Marilyn Meares

Marilyn Meares is the coordinator for Cape Fear Resource Conservation and Development an incorporated nonprofit organization that provides assistance with projects that interface natural resource conservation with community development. Current examples of the kind of work CFRC&D does include: assisting Maple Hill in Pender County to move from failing septic systems to a community filtration sewage system and working with Columbus County to capture the methane from its closed landfill while developing uses for the methane and providing leadership for the preservation of Eagles Island as a publicly held and managed wildlife and natural recreation area. With degrees in economics soil science and an MBA her diverse educational background along with her work in soil conservation brought her to CFRC&D. She is a naturalist with sailing paddling hiking and camping high on her list of things to do and places to be.


At the table | Andy Wood

Andy Wood has been education director for Audubon North Carolina since October 2000. As an educator Andy connects diverse audiences to nature outdoors and to the science that goes into conservation planning and implementation. On policy fronts Andy is engaged in climate change legislation in North Carolina and on Capitol Hill. As an ecologist he is principal investigator for the study and conservation of two imperiled freshwater snails both endemic to southeastern North Carolina. Since 1987 Andy has reported his observations on nature on Wilmingtons public radio station WHQR and he recently authored his first book: Backyard Carolina.


At the table | Tracy Skrabal

Tracy Skrabal is the southeast regional manager and coastal scientist with North Carolina Coastal Federation (NCCF) a citizen-based conservation group working to ensure clean water and natural resource protection in NCs 20 coastal counties. NCCF is involved in education and stewardship programs land preservation and restoration of degraded coastal ecosystems. It also promotes effective enforcement of coastal environmental rules to protect water quality and natural resources. Tracy has been with NCCF since 1997. She has an undergraduate degree in geology from the College of William and Mary in Virginia and an M.S. degree in geological oceanography from the School of Marine Science College of William and Mary (Virginia Institute of Marine Science).


At the table | Joel Bourne

Joel Bourne is a former senior environment editor for National Geographic and is currently a contributing writer for the magazine. Hes covered major environmental issues over the last two decades including oil exploration on Alaskas North Slope the future of New Orleans and the rush to biofuels. Hes broken several stories in the national media including the results of the only oil well drilled in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the weaknesses in New Orleans rebuilt hurricane protection system. Most recently Bourne was text editor and essayist for National Geographics special issue on climate change. Bourne has appeared on numerous television and radio programs including CNN National Geographic Channel and NPR.


At the table | Doug Springer

Since July 2007 Doug Springer has been the executive director/Cape Fear Riverkeeper for Cape Fear River Watch Inc. an environmental nonprofit organization that focuses on the health of the Cape Fear River and its tributaries. He has worked for a marine hydrographic survey company in the Gulf of Mexico provided before and after dredging surveys of the South Carolina waterways and hydrographic erosion surveys of federal and state owned beaches for the Army Corps of Engineers and worked for more than 20 years in the field of computer science including serving as an executive director responsible for Hitachi Data Systems professional services in North America. He studied wildlife and fisheries at North Carolina State marine technology at Cape Fear Institute and computer science at the University of West Florida where he received a bachelors degree. He runs a charter boat that provides among other things educational journeys along the northeast Cape Fear River.


At the table | Commander John Nadeau

Commander John Nadeau is the commanding officer of the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit in Wilmington. As the Captain of the Port and Federal On-Scene Coordinator he is responsible for marine safety maritime security as well as pollution prevention and response activity in the Port of Wilmington and coastal waters of southeastern North Carolina. Previous assignments include Marine safety offices in Baltimore Maryland and Corpus Christi Texas and the Marine Safety Center in Washington DC. He earned Master of Science degrees in naval architecture and mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan and a Master of Arts degree in homeland security from Naval Postgraduate School.


At the table | Elise Rocks

Elise Rocks is a real estate appraiser broker and development consultant with Worsley Real Estate Company. She is an associate member of the Appraisal Institute and member of the Wilmington Regional Association of Realtors. As project manager for Preservation Park she has received the Lower Cape Fear Stewardship Development Award City of Wilmington Tree Preservation Award and will be featured in Southern Living magazine in 2009. She serves on the board of directors of Cape Fear River Watch Wilmington Downtown Inc. and was a founding member of the Cape Fear Green Building Alliance.


At the table | Lawrence Cahoon

Lawrence Cahoon is a professor of biology and marine biology at UNC Wilmington where he has taught for 27 years. His teaching specialties include biological oceanography water quality issues and forensic environmental science. He has worked on the coastal ocean tidal creeks storm water ponds and other local bodies of water as well as more exotic locations. His current research projects include a study of the biological effects of beach renourishment and investigation of the potential for production of commercially valuable products from swine waste lagoons.


At the table | Steve Dellies

Steve Dellies has been the Stormwater Manager for the Town of Wrightsville Beach since spring 2007. After serving in the Air Force where he participated in the first Gulf War Bosnia Croatia Afghanistan and second Gulf War he enrolled in the University of North Carolina Wilmington and received a masters degree in public administration and a post-baccalaureate certificate in environmental studies in May 2007. He is currently working on two masters degrees: environmental studies at UNCW and biological and agricultural engineering at NC State University.


Passed hors doeuvres
Butternut apple cider bisque in cordials
(Butternut and cider from the local farmers market)

Stump Sound blue crab spoons with a tomato avocado confit

Grilled lamb burger with fresh mint on crostini with a tomato eggplant ragout

Organic arugula and baby greens with cranberries gorgonzola cheese and toasted pine nuts with pesto balsamic vinaigrette

North Carolina grass fed beef tenderloin carpaccio with a rosemary aioli stone ground mustard capers and caramelized shallots

Local gag grouper citrus marinated and pan seared over green curry quinoa with fresh local vegetables drizzled with a blood orange glaze

Candied pecan and pear tart served with a chocolate banana creme en glace

Catering by Culinary Creations
Chef Marcus Buric

special thanks

Airlie Gardens

Florals tabletop design & decorations
Salt Harbor Designs

Culinary Creations Chef Marcus Buric

Floral Rug
Gallery of Oriental Rugs

Tina Stancill official court reporter for the 5th Judicial District

SelecTABLES by Curtis Martin

Blue Hand Home

Dinnerware & Rentals
Party Suppliers and Rentals

Also we’d like to extend a very special thank you to Jim McDaniel Lizzie Mottern and the entire Airlie Gardens staff