Hurricane Florence exposed NC’s economic divide
N&O // Brian Kennedy II // October 3, 2018
Summary: Hurricane Florence tore through the Carolinas, leaving entire cities devastated, claiming dozens of lives, and doing what will likely be billions of dollars in damage. But this hurricane has exposed much more than tree roots and the foundations of homes — it has exposed the gross and growing inequality embedded in our state. For years, eastern North Carolina has been home to some of the state’s most impoverished towns and communities. In 2016, 19 of the 20 poorest counties in the entire state were all located in the east. In addition to poverty, eastern North Carolina is also home to some of the state’s hungriest communities. In 2016, more than 300,000 people in the 18 counties declared disaster areas did not have enough food to eat each night.
Lessons Of Florence
EDITORIAL: Let’s learn everything we can from Florence’s cruel, costly lessons
Star News // Editorial Board // October 2, 2018
Summary: Hindsight is 20/20, the saying goes, but it’s still helpful -- and necessary. With that in mind, local, state and federal officials met last Tuesday to discuss what went right, what went wrong, and what needs improvement in New Hanover County’s response to Hurricane Florence. Much of that response, of course, is still happening. But it was smart to meet in person and get some initial observations on the table before too much time has passed. We hope the meeting was the first of many, not only for New Hanover County, but all areas that were severely affected by Florence. We suspect state and federal officials will conduct similar “debriefings.” No matter how much time is spent on emergency-response training, simulations, etc., an actual storm will always be the best teacher. It’s a teacher, though, that comes at an unthinkable cost. So it’s vital that we comb through the response for every lesson and important piece of data that can be obtained. Since this was an extraordinary storm -- Florence packed the winds of Fran and the rain of Floyd -- and brought unprecedented flooding to some areas, it might be beneficial to ask an outside consultant to provide such an analysis. Having been so busy and close to the situation -- including the unavoidable emotional element -- makes it difficult, if not impossible, for officials to see not only the big picture, but also important details that might otherwise be overlooked.
Congress OKs $1B in disaster aid to NC
WRAL // Kevin Freking // October 4, 2018
Summary: The Senate has passed legislation that would provide $1.7 billion to help residents of the Carolinas and elsewhere recover from recent natural disasters. Lawmakers described the aid for those affected by Hurricane Florence as a down payment and said billions of additional dollars probably will be needed. "We appreciate the working relationship with the congressional delegation in both the House and Senate as we continue to realize the devastating impact of this storm on North Carolina’s people, infrastructure, homes, businesses and farmers," Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement. "This initial federal funding will get us started in the recovery process." North Carolina will get $1 billion of the aid included in the legislation, Cooper said. The money will come through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The bill also changes duplication-of-benefits rules that will allow about 2,000 more North Carolinians to receive community development block grant funding, the governor said. Currently, anyone who was approved for home repair money from the Small Business Administration in the wake of Hurricane Matthew two years ago has that loan counted against them in the block grant awards process.
Port of Wilmington sustained $50 million in Florence damage
Star News // Tim Buckland // October 3, 2018
Summary: Warehouse walls sheared away. Containers tossed about. Roof sections torn from buildings. Hurricane Florence ripped through the Port of Wilmington, ultimately causing an estimated $50 million in damage, Executive Director Paul Cozza said. But the damage could have been more extensive had Florence’s winds not suddenly diminished from 130 mph to 90 mph as it approached the coast, he said, and the port welcomed its first ship six days after Florence made landfall and was nearly fully operational by Sept. 24 -- train service from CSX still hadn’t resumed as of Wednesday. “It could have been a lot worse,” Cozza said Tuesday. “We were very fortunate compared to what could have happened.”
Florence road damage in NC tops $250M
WRAL // Laura Leslie // October 3, 2018
Summary: North Carolina transportation officials told lawmakers Wednesday that road damage from Hurricane Florence will cost at last $266 million to repair at thousands of sites statewide. That estimate is expected to rise, Transportation Secretary Jim Trogdon said, as more information comes in. New technology, Trogdon said, gave the Department of Transportation more information earlier in the storm than ever before. However, it also posed dangers for drivers using apps or social media to look for open routes. At a meeting of a House transportation panel Wednesday morning, Trogdon showed photos and videos of some of the worst damage to roads. Repairs will be needed from Ocracoke Island on the coast to Watauga County in the mountains, he said.
Coal Ash Was a Disaster in North Carolina Well Before Hurricane Florence — And Now It’s Even Worse
EcoWatch // Mary Ann Hitt // October 2, 2018
Summary: As people in North and South Carolina continue to confront flooding and other massive damage from Hurricane Florence, it's heartbreaking to watch them have to deal with yet another hazard: the toxic coal ash leaked from coal ash ponds and landfills in the region. Even more infuriating is the denial coming from the company responsible for that pollution in the first place—Duke Energy in North Carolina. On Sept. 19, Duke Energy activated a high-level emergency alert at the retired L.V. Sutton coal-fired power plant in Wilmington, North Carolina, as Hurricane Florence–related flood waters from the nearby Cape Fear River overtook an earthen dike and Sutton Lake. That same day, the Neuse River flooded all three of Duke's coal ash ponds at the retired H.F. Lee coal plant in Goldsboro.
Environmentalists: Coal ash-related compounds found in Cape Fear
Star News // Adam Wagner // October 3, 2018
Summary: Samples taken by environmental watchdog organizations along the Cape Fear River near the Sutton plant found arsenic and selenium levels many times higher than state surface water quality standards, the groups reported Wednesday. Taken by Cape Fear River Watch and Waterkeeper Alliance, the samples found arsenic levels 71 times state fish consumption water quality standards at one site and selenium levels 4.4 times the state’s aquatic life and secondary recreation standard. The samples, which were taken Sept. 21 beside the earthen dam separating the Cape Fear River from Sutton Lake hours after it failed paint a drastically different picture than those taken by Duke Energy during and after flooding caused by Hurricane Florence. Where the environmental group samples show elevated levels of arsenic, chromium, selenium and other coal ash-related compounds, Duke’s samples showed levels of all compounds within state limits.
Environmentalists say Cape Fear ‘insanely toxic’; Duke Energy calls claim ‘outrageous’
N&O // John Murawski // October 3, 2018
Summary: Environmental organizations said Wednesday they have measured “insanely toxic” contamination near Duke Energy’s flooded ash ponds in Wilmington. Waterkeeper Alliance and Earthjustice said they measured levels of arsenic 71 times higher than the state’s drinking water standard. Charlotte-based Duke dismissed the announcement as an “outrageous claim” designed to promote an “extreme agenda.” Duke Energy said it has been testing water quality in the Cape Fear River and nearby Sutton Lake, where its ash pond flooded, for the past two weeks and that its measurements are well below safe drinking standards, posing no danger to the the public.
Pender schools push opening date to Oct. 10
Star News // Cammie Bellamy // October 3, 2018
Summary: Pender County Schools will push its return day for students back to Oct. 10 at the earliest amid ongoing mold clean-up at several schools. After an emergency meeting Wednesday with the Board of Education, Pender County Schools officials announced that staff at traditional schools would be able to return no earlier than Oct. 9. Penderlea School staff could be allowed to return to school this Friday, with Penderlea’s students returning Tuesday. According to a news release, all return dates are tentative. “Pender County Schools is in the process of completing needed air quality testing, surface testing and repairs to ensure its facilities are safe for the return of staff and students,” a news release read.
NCGOP Top Donor Subpeaoned
Federal grand jury investigating a Durham businessman who’s the NCGOP’s biggest donor
N&O // Will Doran // October 3, 2018
Summary: North Carolina’s biggest Republican political donor is facing a federal criminal investigation related to his businesses. Greg Lindberg has given millions of dollars to GOP groups in the past few years, largely in support of Lt. Gov. Dan Forest who is widely expected to run for governor in 2020. According to past News & Observer reporting, Lindberg was the single largest donor in 2017 to the N.C. Republican Party, as well as to two outside groups supporting Forest. He has also given money to the state Democratic Party. Last month, the U.S. attorney for Western North Carolina subpoenaed records from the N.C. Department of Insurance — seeking anything the department has that’s related to Lindberg or his numerous companies. WRAL-TV first reported the news Tuesday night.
NCGOP took nearly $2 million from donor under FBI investigation, gave some to Causey campaign
WBTV // Nick Oschner // October 3, 2018
Summary: The North Carolina Republican Party took nearly $2 million from a political donor who is now under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. The donor, Greg Lindberg, lives in Durham and owns a number of businesses, including some that sell insurance products. Lindberg is the target of a federal criminal investigation related to his business, according to a copy of a federal grand jury subpoena served on an official with the North Carolina Department of Insurance, the identity of whom has, so far, been withheld by the department. The subpoena was first obtained and reported by WRAL late Tuesday afternoon. According to a document attached to the subpoena, the US Attorney’s Office is investigating “drug offenses, crimes against financial institutions, or money laundering crimes.” Other documents included with the subpoena state the crime being investigated is a felony.
Passing a NC voter ID amendment would create a 21st century poll tax
N&O // Justin Parmenter // October 2, 2018
Summary: The six constitutional amendments on North Carolina’s general election ballot in November range from absurd (protect the already-protected right to hunt and fish) to downright dangerous (enable court packing by the General Assembly). But none threaten our state’s democratic processes more than the Voter ID amendment. The Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution states that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” After this amendment was adopted in 1870, poll taxes were instituted in most of the Southern states — including North Carolina — to keep African American citizens who couldn’t afford to pay them from voting. This system remained in place until the 1960s.
GOV. COOPER NEWS
Governor Cooper touring the east with words of thanks
WITN // Staff // October 4, 2018
Summary: Governor Roy Cooper is continuing his trips across Eastern Carolina to thank first responders, volunteers and all of the helpers who have and continue to work hard for our recovering communities. Governor Cooper is expected to visit Washington in Beaufort County to visit a disaster recovery center before heading to an emergency supply distribution center. Later on, he'll head to Swan Quarter and Scranton in Hyde County to thank local officials and first responders. He'll also visit a home that was damaged in the storm.
Cooper signs legislation providing $56.6M in Florence relief
Greensboro N&R // Paul Woolverton // October 4, 2018
Summary: Gov. Roy Cooper has signed legislation quickly approved during a special session of the General Assembly considered the initial step of elected leaders in responding to Hurricane Florence. Cooper held a bill-signing ceremony Wednesday at a storm recovery center for businesses in Johnston County. He enacted two bills approved unanimously Tuesday in a session the Democratic governor called. The legislation eases instructional-day requirements for school systems closed for days or weeks because of the hurricane and extend the traditional voter registration deadline by three days. There’s also $50 million that can be used to match federal recovery dollars.
Legislators rejected this NC school board nominee. So the governor appointed him.
N&O // T. Keung Hui // October 3, 2018
Summary: Gov. Roy Cooper has appointed three people to fill vacancies on the State Board of Education, including a person who state lawmakers previously refused to confirm. J.B. Buxton, an education consultant from Raleigh and former deputy state schools superintendent, was sworn onto the State Board of Education on Wednesday to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of former board chairman Bill Cobey. Cooper, a Democrat, had previously nominated Buxton to fill a different seat on the state board, but he was rejected by Republican lawmakers in June. Republican legislators didn’t publicly give reasons for rejecting Buxton. But Democratic legislators said Buxton, who also served as education advisor to former Gov. Mike Easley, was one of the most qualified nominees ever for the state board. Despite the rejection, Buxton said in an interview Wednesday he was more than willing to serve when Cooper gave him this new opportunity.
Elementary school parents want a permanent armed officer. That would be a first in Wake.
N&O // T. Keung Hui // Ann Johnson // October 3, 2018
Summary: Some parents are threatening to pull their children out of Jones Dairy Elementary School if it doesn’t become the first Wake County elementary school to have a permanent armed officer on campus. The Wake County school system has been paying for an off-duty sheriff’s deputy to temporarily patrol Jones Dairy in Wake Forest since a man was arrested in September on charges of threatening to shoot the students. Some parents took their case to county leaders this week, demanding that more security upgrades be made at the school, including making the armed officer a permanent feature. The parents also want upgrades such as improved locks on classroom doors and a double-entry vestibule that’s typically installed in new schools as a security measure.
UNC faculty asked to weigh in on Silent Sam during private meetings
N&O // John Murawski // October 3, 2018
Summary: UNC-Chapel Hill faculty began private sessions Wednesday to offer their ideas for what to do with Silent Sam, the toppled Confederate monument. Two meetings were held Wednesday, the first of a dozen such gatherings across campus in the next week, meant to seek input from professors about where the statue should ultimately be located. The university has also created a dedicated email address, email@example.com, for anyone to submit a suggestion. After years of controversy, the monument was ripped from its pedestal by protesters on Aug. 20. Since then, groups have clashed around the pedestal in several demonstrations that drew heavy police presence. Now, internal debate is under way about what to do with the statue.
What NC law really says about bathrooms and transgender people
N&O // Observer Editorial Board // October 3, 2018
Summary: A judge’s ruling has prompted a new debate over an old issue in North Carolina. Let’s clear things up. On Sunday night, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder allowed six LGBT North Carolinians to proceed with a challenge to a state law that prohibits cities and counties from passing non-discrimination measures that regulate restrooms so that transgender people can use the bathroom of their choice. Schroeder also dismissed the plaintiffs’ claim that the law in question, HB142, prohibited transgender people from using the bathroom reflecting their gender identity. “HB142 does not regulate restroom access in any fashion,” Schroeder wrote in his ruling. That was actually good news for plaintiffs, said Joaquin Carcaño, the lead plaintiff. In a statement released by the ACLU, Carcaño said: “I am relieved to finally have the court unequivocally say that there is no law in North Carolina that can be used to bar transgender people from using restrooms that match who we are.”
Tillis, Burr should reconsider support of Kavanaugh
Reflector // CBC Opinion // October 4, 2018
Summary: North Carolina’s two senators, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, have been strong supporters of President Donald Trump’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court — Judge Brett Kavanaugh. But last week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, particularly Kavanaugh’s rambling and tumultuous testimony, have provided new information and insight as to the nominee’s fitness to serve on the nation’s highest court. We’d hope, amid clear indication that Kavanaugh was less-than-truthful in his testimony and exhibited behavior that revealed over-the-top partisanship and a bellicose temperament, Burr and Tillis will be more skeptical and inquisitive concerning Kavanaugh’s confirmation. “Allegation of misconduct must be taken seriously,” Tillis, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a Sept. 17 statement and who later voted to send Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate. Those words need to be more than lip service.
Increased Calls For Help To Buncombe Rape Crisis & Prevention Center Amid Kavanaugh News Cycle
BPR // Matt Bush // October 2, 2018
Summary: Buncombe County’s rape crisis and prevention center says it has seen a surge in calls before, during, and after last Thursday's hearing featuring Dr. Christine Ford. She testified to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee allegations that supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers. Angelica Wind is the executive director of Our Voice, which provides services and support to survivors of sexual violence in Buncombe County. She explains to BPR’s Matt Bush why Dr. Ford’s testimony is so triggering for survivors – leading to a surge of calls for help, not just locally but nationally. Our VOICE operates a 24-hour crisis hotline. The number is 828-255-7576
Democrats moving goal posts in Kavanaugh fight
Reflector // Byron York // October 4, 2018
Summary: Ask any casual observer what the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation fight is about, and the answer will be the allegation that at a high school party 36 years ago, when Kavanaugh was 17, he drunkenly forced then-15-year-old Christine Ford onto a bed, tried to undress her and, when she tried to scream, covered her mouth with his hand. That is now old news. In recent days, immediately after Senate Republicans and President Trump agreed to Democratic demands that the FBI investigate the 1982 incident, the Kavanaugh goal posts have moved dramatically. Now, a key issue is Kavanaugh's teenage drinking, and whether he lied to the Senate Judiciary Committee when he was asked about his drinking practices both in high school and at Yale University. "Lying to Congress is a federal crime," Sen. Bernie Sanders noted in a letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley. "Kavanaugh's truthfulness with the Senate goes to the very heart of whether he should be confirmed to the court."
Senate gets confidential FBI files on Kavanaugh allegations
WRAL // Alan Fram, Lisa Mascaro // October 4, 2018
Summary: The White House has sent the Senate a new FBI background file on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, giving senators a day to digest the confidential material and make a decision on the tottering nomination before a first vote on Friday. Even before the FBI delivered interview summaries on claims that Kavanaugh sexually abused women, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell set the first vote for his polarized chamber in an election-season battle over power and who to believe that has consumed the nation. A showdown roll call on confirmation seemed likely over the weekend. With Republicans clinging to a razor-thin 51-49 majority and five senators — including three Republicans — still vacillating, the conservative jurist's prospects of Senate confirmation remained murky and dependent, in part, on the file's contents, which are supposed to be kept secret. Kavanaugh staunchly denies the allegations.