Like all state budget bills, what’s not in
the final deal is often just as important as what is. In the case of
the 2014 legislative session, the budget
passed last week has some significant no-shows.
The legislative committee that devised the
compromise budget that Gov. Pat McCrory signed earlier this month got
rid of a proposed sale of Jennette’s
Pier in Nags Head, which had
been added by the N.C. House. Also stripped from the bill were
additional job positions for the state Department
of Environment and Natural Resources
to manage coal ash monitoring and clean-up, one of the top goals
named by legislative leaders going into the session.
The collapse of the heavily-promised coal ash
plan at the last minute is one reason the House and the Senate
changed course, deciding not to close up shop before a new
legislature takes over next January.
For now, both chambers are on hold after
failing to agree on the scope of what they would take up in two
mini-sessions, one starting next week and the other scheduled after
the November elections. House leaders want to revisit the coal ash
bill as soon as possible, but the Senate prefers to wait until
Meanwhile, a federal appeals court has
complicated implementation of one of the budget’s major provisions.
A ruling by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals remanded a challenge
to state Department of Transportation’s plans for a replacement for
Bonner Bridge back to district court requiring a stricter review of
the impact of the project.
While both sides in the legal fight are
victory, the ruling appears
to run counter to a provision in the budget calling for state
ownership and management of Oregon Inlet that included a loosening of
environmental reviews for transportation infrastructure along Highway
Grady McCallie, policy analyst for the N.C.
Conservation Network, said
the missing pieces of the budget are significant, especially the coal
ash funding because both House and Senate had agreed to at least $1.7
million for the additional work. Because an alternative coal ash bill
has yet to pass, DENR has no money to implement a significant
“Right now, there’s nothing,” McCallie
said. “There are no resources providing for coal ash monitoring.”
Other significant items proposed but left out,
McCallie said, included about $10 million for land conservation. A
House plan proposed $7 million in additional money for the N.C.
Clean Water Management Trust Fund
and $3 million for the state parks trust fund for conservation
While that provision is not in the bill, the
budget does set aside $3 million for the expansion
of Hammocks Beach State Park.
“Hammocks Beach is a great project,”
McCallie said, “but it’s not a substitute for that kind of money
Oregon Inlet Redux
By far the most extensive provision in the
budget deals with the expansion of state powers, ownership and
management over Oregon Inlet on the Outer Banks. The channel through
notorious waterway between Bodie and Hatteras islands in Dare County
has become increasingly more difficult for dredges to keep open for
The legislature created a task
force, which recommended that
the state acquire the inlet and adjacent land. With the land in hand,
the state would then presumably take steps to control shoaling in the
inlet, such as resurrecting the old plan to build jetties on either
side of it. The federal government now owns the land, which is part
of a national seashore and wildlife refuge, and claims ownership of
submerged land in the inlet. It killed the jetty proposal in 2003
after decades of debate.
The project enjoyed the full-throttled support
of Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, the Senate’s chief budget
negotiator. Brown said earlier in the session the acquisition plan
was necessary because of declining federal support for dredging and
management of the inlet.
The Senate set aside $15 million in its
budget for the project, but
the House’s version
had no money for the project. The compromise budget contains
some money for planning and legal fees and instructs the N.C.
Department of Administration to start negotiations with federal
agencies to acquire the inlet and surrounding lands for a future
Oregon Inlet State Park.
Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, who had sponsored a
separate bill to acquire the inlet, said the compromise budget still
represents a significant commitment by the state. “The economic
impact of Oregon Inlet is very significant and far outweighs the
costs necessary to keep the inlet passable,” Cook said in a
Cook said he has been assured that the
additional state money for the purchase will be made available.
The Outer Banks provision is not limited just
to the inlet. It requires the state Department of Transportation to
identify a coastal transportation corridor authorizes the state to
start condemnation proceedings on July 15, 2015 of any federal lands
required to keep the corridor open and grants the governor emergency
powers including the right to waive required environmental permits to
keep the corridor infrastructure maintained.
When the provision was first introduced earlier
in the session, environmental groups said language extending the
emergency powers to cover replacement and repair projects would be
used to push ahead on a replacement for Bonner Bridge.
This week’s federal appeals court decision
could make that tougher.
McCallie said most of the state environmental
laws that NCDOT would be allowed to bypass are in place to enforce
“They line up with federal requirements and
[NCDOT] can’t change those requirements,” he said.
Kym Hunter, an attorney with the Southern
Environmental Law Center and
part of the team representing wildlife and environmental groups, said
the fourth circuit’s unanimous ruling represented a major change in
“It’s very significant,” she said of the
ruling. The order, she said, requires the lower court to go back and
take into account more stringent standards while reviewing the bridge
plan which means reviewing the impact of new infrastructure
throughout the wildlife refuge, not just around the bridge itself.
“These are substantive requirements,” she
said, “not just procedural hoops to jump through.”
Hunter said she hopes DOT managers use the
ruling as an opportunity to rethink the plan.
A DOT statement on the ruling posted on the
12 project Facebook page
downplayed the impact of the ruling, which upheld critical portions
of the DOT plan while sending it back to the lower court for review.
“NCDOT, the Attorney General’s Office and
Federal Highway Administration are jointly reviewing the next steps
required to deliver the project as soon as possible,” the statement
The budget also settles for now a dispute
between the House and Senate over the state entering into agreements
with federal agencies for joint enforcement of marine fisheries
regulations. The new agreement adopts a House plan allowing for the
The budget also sweeps interest accumulated in
several environmental funds, including the N.C. Clean Water
Management Trust Fund and clean air and water funds into the General
Other provisions and adjustments include:
Adding enhancement of the state’s cultural
resources to the mission of the Clean Water Management Trust Fund
Increasing commercial fishing licenses from
$250 to $400, shellfish licenses from $31.50 to $50 and hikes
various other fees and licenses for vessels and fish seafood
dealers. The additional funds would go to the At-Sea Observer
program and a new N.C. Commercial Fishing Resource Fund to cover the
annual cost of permits to meet the requirements of the federal
Endangered Species Act. Additional funds would go toward
improvements for the fishing industry and are to be distributed by a
committee made up of representatives of the N.C.
Fisheries Association, N.C.
Watermen’s Association, Ocracoke
Working Watermen’s Association,
Brunswick County Fishermen’s Association, Carteret County
Fishermen’s Association and Albemarle Fishermen’s Association.
Requiring a study by the UNC
Coastal Studies Institute
near Manteo of the state’s shellfish lease and franchise program
with a report to the legislature on ways to improve mariculture
efficiencies and outcomes due March 1
Adding lake maintenance to the uses for a
shallow draft dredging fund set up last year to provide matches for
inlet dredging. The money has been earmarked for Hydrilla control at
Shifting the primary responsibility for
Island Festival Park from
the Roanoke Island Commission to the N.C. Department of Cultural
Resources. Employees of the commission are to be transferred to the
state and the park would see a 2 percent budget cut
$3 million in state bonds for as the state’s
match for $13 million in hull repairs for the USS North Carolina
$75,000 grant to Emerald Isle for a new park
to honor the late Sen. Jean Preston
Reducing state funding for the N.C. Ferry
Division by $1.5 million or roughly 4 percent. A separate provision
allows the division to initiate sponsorships and advertising to
(This story is provided courtesy
of Coastal Review Online, the coastal news and features service of
the N.C. Coastal Federation. You can read other stories about the
North Carolina coast at www.nccoast.org.)