Environment

A picture of the Bonner Bridge over the Oregon Inlet.
Vbofficial / Wikipedia

Dredging has been suspended in the Oregon Inlet on the Outer Banks.

The Army Corps of Engineers says the water is too shallow to allow the dredge access to the main channel.  Raymond Pugh owns Fin-Nagle Fishing Charters in Nags Head.  He said his boat is small enough to get through, but larger commercial fishing boats are having trouble and that's hard on the local economy.

A Marcellus Shale drill rig in Pennsylvania used in the fracking process.
Ken Skipper, USGS

    

    

The North Carolina Mining and Energy Commission has finalized their recommendations on fracking in the state to the General Assembly. Critics argue the commission needs more time as the health effects of fracking are unknown. In addition, the state commission tasked with deciding the methods of Jordan Lake clean-up remains undecided on next steps. And Governor McCrory proposes legislation to close or convert the state’s 33 coal ash ponds. 

Photo: A drilling site in northeastern Louisiana.
Daniel Foster via Flickr

The commission that’s been writing North Carolina’s policies on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas rushed on Wednesday to complete a set of rules that are necessary for drilling to start in the state next year.

The state commission overseeing plans to treat pollution in Jordan Lake did not make any recommendations during its last meeting.
JT Taylor / Flickr/Creative Commons

The state commission that’s been looking at ways to treat pollution in Jordan Lake did not make any recommendations during its last hearing on Wednesday.

Government and business leaders from towns that use the lake for drinking water urged the committee to reinstate regulations on the water that is poured into the lake.

The state has suspended some requirements until 2016. They would require costly improvements to storm water drainage in in areas including Greensboro and Burlington.

Sharks have looked more or less the same for hundreds of millions of years. But a newly discovered fossil suggests that under the hood, a modern shark is very different from its ancient ancestors.

Photo: A drilling site in Rio Blanco and Garfield counties, CO.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service via Flickr

The commission that’s writing North Carolina’s rules on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, or fracking, is getting ready to present its recommendations to the General Assembly. The Mining and Energy Commission has been working since Sept. 2012, and today will debate the last eight rules it is preparing.

A few people like Sharon Garbutt have been following the Mining and Energy Commission. Garbutt has been volunteering to take children on field trips to the Haw River for 20 years. Most of the time, the kids love it.

A picture of the Bonner Bridge over the Oregon Inlet.
Vbofficial / Wikipedia

Federal budget cuts are making it harder to keep a shipping channel open on the Outer Banks.  Fishermen use the channel to get in and out of Oregon Inlet under the Bonner Bridge. 

Bob Sattin is the Chief of Operations with the Wilmington District of the Army Corp of Engineers.  He said one dredge is working to clear the inlet, but paying for it is a problem.

A map of Triassic basins in NC.
NC DENR

Energy speculators snapped up natural gas drilling leases over Lee County's Triassic shale in a frenzy in 2009. But some energy speculators have begun relinquishing their claims.

In February, Denver-based WhitMar Exploration walked away from a leasing agreement for more than 2,700 acres. That's according to records at the Lee County Register of Deeds.

WhitMar declined to comment to WUNC, but told other media outlets that North Carolina is moving too slowly on hydraulic fracturing.

A preliminary flood maps show gains and reductions in base flood elevation along the coast.
NC Department of Public Safety

It would be easy to look at the newest round of floodplain maps and think that we've been wrong about the Outer Banks all this time.

For the past decade, the standard line has been that things on the coast are getting worse. Sea levels are rising; the shoreline is eroding; flooding is becoming a bigger threat. Flood risk is largely determined by a series of maps produced by the state of North Carolina. Those maps then make their way to FEMA, who administer the National Flood Insurance Program. Basically, the higher your risk, the more you pay in flood insurance.

Hurricane Irene
nasa.gov

Preliminary forecasts predict a fairly quiet hurricane season along the Atlantic coast. 

Researchers at Colorado State University expect nine named storms this year.  They say three of those will likely become hurricanes.  The average season produces about six hurricanes. 

Atmospheric science professor Phil Klotzbach says a strong El Niño in the Pacific should dampen hurricane conditions in the Atlantic.

Trees in Chapel Hill,
Laura Candler

Officials with Duke Energy have decided to hold off on a program that would have used a chemical product, Cambistat, to slow the growth of trees near power lines. The utility planned to inject the application into the soil around trees.  The application would slow growth, reduce how often trees near power lines needed to be trimmed, and save money. But residents questioned the risks, and complained that they were being forced into the program. 

Griffins Crossroads, NC taken March 7 2009
Todd Martin / Flickr/Creative Commons

A national environmental group says the Haw River is among the most endangered in the nation. Earlier this year a pipe broke in Burlington and 3.5 million gallons of sewage spilled into the Haw. The River flows into Jordan Lake, which provides drinking water for about one million state residents.

Raleigh greenway boardwalk
City of Raleigh

The city of Raleigh has dedicated the recently-completed final section of the Walnut Creek Greenway Trail. Now more than 15 miles long, the trail winds through the southern part of the city from Lake Johnson to the Neuse River Trail.

Todd Milam is a planner for the city of Raleigh's Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department. He says the trail includes nearly a mile of 10-foot-wide boardwalk that takes walkers, runners, and bikers through secluded wetlands.

SELC Logo
Southern Environmental Law Center

A North Carolina environmental agency is appealing a recent ruling that called for immediate action to stop groundwater contamination, caused by coal ash.

The Environmental Management Commission (EMC) is a state regulatory panel. Its members are currently appointed by three republican lawmakers. Two years ago the EMC said it didn't have the authority to force Duke Energy to clean up the causes of groundwater contamination at 14 sites around the state. Environmentalists filed a lawsuit, claiming the EMC wasn't properly reading or enforcing the law. State judge Paul Ridgeway agreed with that take last month, telling the agency it had authority to mandate that Duke deal with contaminants.

Now, that same agency is appealing the judge's ruling. 

"So the state is now on the same side of this appeal as Duke Energy, defending Duke against our effort to enforce the law against them," said DJ Gerken, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, who called this appeal astonishing. 

Cape Point is south of Buxton, Map
Google

One of the most popular sections of the Cape Hatteras seashore is off limits for vehicles for the next few months. The Cape Point area south of Buxton is the migratory home to the piping plover, a nationally- recognized threatened species.

In 2011, the park service implemented a vehicle management plan that requires a 75 foot buffer zone be put up to prevent off-roaders from driving near the birds.

Cattle
Wikipedia

   

Debate over the clean-up of the February coal ash spill that dumped nearly 39,000 tons of potentially toxic waste in the Dan River last February continues. The full effects on tourism and agriculture are not fully known and environmentalists continue to debate the best methods of clean-up. At the same time, a federal investigate examines the relationship between Duke Energy and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Host Frank Stasio talks with WUNC's Greensboro Bureau chief Jeff Tiberii about the latest. 

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A federal criminal investigation is focusing on Duke Energy and a North Carolina state environmental agency. A couple of months ago, as you may recall, a storm water pipe ruptured and poured as much as 39,000 tons of potentially toxic carbon byproduct into the Dan River in North Carolina.

Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail

The Mountains-to-Sea-Trail is getting a new coastal plains route that will take it away from the Neuse River.  The new path tracks through an area of geological significance called the Cape Fear Arch.

It'll also add about 150 miles to the length of the trail.   Kate Dixon is executive director of the citizens group Friends of the Mountains to-Sea-Trail.  She says the hikers will see what is considered one of the most important natural areas in the whole northern hemisphere...

The Dan River bank with residual dark grey coal ash.
Steven Alexander / USFWS

Leaders of the Moral Monday movement focused on coal ash during a town hall meeting in Eden. The 'Moral Monday' event consisted of two panels of people to discuss the health, environmental and economic impacts of the coal ash spill that originated in Eden, near the Virginia border almost two months ago. As much as 39,000 tons of potentially toxic ash poured into the Dan River when a metal pipe running through a Duke Energy coal ash dump, ruptured. The ash has been found as far as 70 miles downstream. Some of the ash at the spill site in Eden has been removed by the utility.

American Tobacco Trail
Eric Mennel / WUNC

For residents of the Triangle, it's no secret that a certain portion of the American Tobacco Trail has an image problem.  Here's a selection of comments on stories about the trail:

We have been hearing about the high crime rate on this trail for a while now. It amazes me that anyone sets foot on it, especially in the Durham area.

A close-up picture of a snowflake
Alexei Kljatov / Creative Commons 2.0 http://earthdesk.blogs.pace.edu/files/2013/12/snowflake.jpg

A storm system is moving up the East Coast, but it's not likely to have a heavy impact South of Virginia.

Ryan Ellis is a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Raleigh. He says we should expect some light precipitation and temperatures in the 30s this morning.

“Still cold enough to get some snow, but certainly not cold enough to cause major impacts,” said Ellis. “And this time of year, in late March, we know, from climatology, that it's just very hard to get a significant event here in North Carolina this late in the year.”

State of North Carolina

Late last week it was announced that several NC buildings had been added to the National Register of Historic Places. We've highlighted eight of those buildings here.

It's no surprise that the  gorgeous Flat Top Estate was added to the list. But some of the other additions may surprise you. They give a nod to beach-style architecture, to our textile history, and to integration.

Mother otter and 8 week old pup. March 2014
N.C. Zoo staff

It doesn't get much cuter than this. A baby otter at the North Carolina Zoo swims for the very first time:

The story behind this first swim involves 5 years of infertility, an anxious ten months, and a joyous birth day.

The Dan River bank with residual dark grey coal ash.
Steven Alexander / USFWS

Officials with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) have announced they are abandoning a proposed settlement with Duke Energy over the clean-up of coal ash. The proposed settlement would have levied Duke with a $99,000 fine, but had no requirement to remove or clean-up coal ash at two sites in the state. 

Contaminated water at the Camp Lejeune military base has been linked to adverse health effects.
Sanjay Parekh, via Flickr

North Carolina's U.S. senators say they're concerned about slow answers in the Camp Lejeune water contamination case.   Republican Richard Burr and Democrat Kay Hagan have sent a letter to federal Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius.  They want to know why an investigative agency under the HHS umbrella seems to be dragging its feet.  

NCDPS

This month, North Carolina launched FRIS, the Flood Risk Information System. It's the first system of its kind in the country to put all of the state's flood risk data, county-by-county, building-by-building, into one digital initiative.

It's not the prettiest map ever designed, but it's full of all sort of information that used to require a lot of manpower to produce for whoever wanted it.

A Duke Energy power plant and coal ash ponds outside Asheville.
Zen Sutherland

  

A federal grand jury has been impaneled to hear evidence about the relationship between Duke Energy and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). At the same time, that state agency is investigating the discharge of water by the utility at a site in Chatham County. Guest host Phoebe Judge talks with WUNC's Jeff Tiberii about the latest developments on The State of Things today.

First, the court proceedings:

The highly criticized relationship between Duke Energy and DENR is the focus of the federal investigation. The U.S. Attorney's office is demanding that Duke Energy and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources hand over records of wire transfers, receipts and any items of value that might have passed between the two.  Twenty current and former state employees have been called to testify before a grand jury about their relationship with Duke Energy. The company and state utility commission also received subpoenas. 

 Image of a branch that has been subjected to freezing rain within the previous 24 hours. Note the branch is completly encapsulated in ice. Some melting has occurred as temperatures were around 0 Celsius
David Park, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada on 27 Dec 2009. / Wikipedia Creative Commons

A low-pressure system moving up from the south brought rain and sleet to Central North Carolina, and high pressure air from the North is keeping cold air in the area. The result has been freezing temperatures and icy roads.

A winter weather advisory is in effect for most of the state west of the Interstate 95 corridor until noon.

Ryan Ellis is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Raleigh. He says ice is especially bad in the Triad.

The Riverbend steam station along the Catawba River was retired in 2013.
coalashchronicles.tumblr.com

On Friday the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) announced it plans to modify Duke Energy water permit. Those water permits are administered by the state and adhere to federal guidelines for discharge. DENR says it plans to change permits so that Duke would be required to remove all coal ash from unlined pits at two plants - one along Lake Catawba near Charlotte, the other outside of Asheville. The changes would also call for Duke to dewater and close coal ash ponds at Lake Sutton (outside of Wilmington).

Tom Augspurger, USFWS, taking core sample as EPA's Alan Humphrey documents the ash bar during February 8th reconnaissance of Dan River coal ash spill. Photo by Sara Ward, USFWS..
Sara Ward / USFWS

The CEO of Duke Energy sent a letter this week to Governor Pat McCrory and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) outlining the company's plans for coal ash clean-up in the state.

Duke says the letter is a big deal.

DENR described it as inadequate.

Pages