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Drinking water, light rail and pot: This is how state legislators are touching you in Durham today.

Before we get to the main event, House Bill 1005, aka the “Contamination Coverup Bill” as environmental advocates have christened it, state lawmakers have introduced several bills that could directly affect Durham.

First, House Bill 988 would repeal the light rail funding cap that limited spending to $500,000 per project. With additional state funding to buttress the federal and local dollars, the Durham-Orange Light Rail project could proceed with more financial confidence. 

When passed last year, the cap, which even staunch Wake County uber-conservative Rep. Paul Stam, opposes (think about that for a moment), seemed to be a mean-spirited, vengeful strike toward urban areas. And Durham-Orange isn’t the only jurisdiction to be hurt by the cap; the den of iniquity, Charlotte, which already has a light rail system, would have to curtail its expansion plans.

SB 784 and its companion, HB 946, which would repeal HB2, are working their way through the legislature. Local sponsors are Sen. Mike Woodard, and in the House, Reps. Graig Meyer, Paul Luebke and Mickey Michaux. (Update at 2:19 p.m.: The News & Observer is reporting that the Senate version of the bill has been sent to the legislative graveyard, the Ways and Means Committee, which never meets. It's known as the place where Senate bills go to die.)

And since we live in the City of Medicine, it’s notable that HB 983 would legalize and tax medical marijuana. Pot for that uses would have to be recommended by a doctor for terminal or chronically ill people. Those in hospice care could also use medicinal marijuana without risking arrest.

Tax rates are tiered, depending on the strength of the marijuana. The bill limits the amount you can possess to three ounces; more than that and you’re considered a dealer. 

And now, House Bill 1005 and its partner in crime, SB 779:

Essentially the legislation would prevent any local or state agency from advising North Carolina residents — both on private wells and public water systems — of contaminants in their drinking water, if the levels are below state or federal clean water standards. This law would affect not only 3 million households on private wells, but everyone on a public system, as well.

There are several problems with this legislation, the first, obviously being the residents’ right to know about any contaminants in their drinking water — from the agencies charged with protecting their health. (Private well testing can be expensive.) And in yet another example of government overreach, the bill hamstrings local public health agencies from informing residents.

Secondly, some chemicals and compounds are still being studied, and their health effects and maximum contaminant levels are unknown or haven’t been established yet. To wit, PCBs were once legal. So was DDT. And lead. And so on.

As Clean Water for North Carolina, headquartered in Durham, points out, Chromium-6 was found in wells near coal ash basins. While long recognized as a health hazard, CWFNC said in a press statement, Chromium-6 standards are now being reevaluated by the EPA because of new science on the element’s health effects.

This piece of legislation was birthed last year by the Duke Energy coal ash scandal. People living around coal ash basins learned their drinking water from private wells was tainted with elevated, but not maximum, levels of cobalt, hexavalent chromium-6 and other contaminants. The state sent advisory letters to those residents. This bill would make that illegal.

For a local example, the private wells of roughly 40 households in Rougemont had long been contaminated by effluent from old leaking underground storage tanks at defunct gas stations. Those contaminants did exceed maximum levels and would still require an advisory under the proposed law.

However, according to a 2012 memo from Assistant Durham County Manager Drew Cummings to the Board of County Commissioners, "there are also less well documented issues of metals in the groundwater in this area of Durham, issues which probably need further exploration but which would further support a municipal water supply of some sort for Rougemont."

Download Rougemont_Water_Line_Memo

If the level of metals in the groundwater existed, but did not exceed the legal maximum, then under the current bill, the state and county could not inform Rougemont residents of what's in the water.

The good news is that the Durham County Commissioners, with the help of grants and local/state/federal funding, connected these households to a public water system.

 

 

Comments

Jessie

I'm liking the potential for these other bills, but this drinking water bill is crazy. Can't the DNC or someone fund people to go live in the districts where these idiots are running unopposed just to have someone run against them?! It's not exactly easy to vote out people that don't have opposition.

John Martin

In an email sent this morning, Rep. Graig Meyer said: "I am not one of the sponsors nor are any Orange or Durham County Representatives. Reps. Torbett, Shepard, and Tine are the sponsors. None of them have discussed it with me." So the story above needs to be corrected.

I also fail to understand why the cap is "mean-spirited" and "vengeful," unless BCR thinks it is mean to keep people from spending money they don't have.

Here are the facts: DOT proposed spending $138 million over ten years for the light-rail project. But GoTriange is counting on the state contributing a minimum of $400 million. So where does that extra money come from? Other counties' transportation budgets? Medicaid? Community colleges? State employee pay raises?

How about Durham and Orange County property taxes?

root

that's an easy one: from the proposals, studies and any related expenses for outer loops anywhere in the state.

Lisa Sorg

@John: Graig Meyer co-sponsored the repeal of HB2, which I wrote. I did not report that he sponsored anything to do with light rail.

Jon Crisp

@John Martin, I would agree that "mean-spirited" and "vengeful" might not be the best words to describe the bill. Many legislators (including Paul Stam) were opposed to how the bill was surreptitiously inserted this cap into the bill. Adjectives like "shady" and "under-handed" would probably have been better.

This Indy stories covers things in pretty good detail: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/who-killed-the-durham-orange-county-light-rail-project/Content?oid=4982480

Ashley

How expensive is well testing?

Lisa Sorg

@Ashley: It depends on what you're testing for. However, this link will give you a ballpark idea.
http://home.costhelper.com/water-treatment.html

In contrast, when I moved to Durham in 2006, I had the city test my tap water for lead because I live in an older home. The test was free. (And there was no lead.)

Dick Ford

I think the repeal of the prudent light rail cap is tied to the attempt to eliminate tolls on state ferries. Two of the sponsors are from the coast. FYI everything doesn't revolve around Durham in the GA.

Is either expenditure of state funds worth short changing our schools, mental health programs and the thousands of other desparate needs the left demands?

Light rail is an economic development subsidy. Wake up and smell the coffee

Durhamita

Totally agree with Jessie. I don't understand by the North Carolina Democrats are so passive. The current legislature can be defeated if the DNC and allies mount a really good campaign. Once these backward politicians are defeated, the new legislature should come up with a huge bill to repeal all the horrible anti-social, anti-urban, and pro-pollution bills.

Will Wilson

@Durhamita: In winning the 2010 elections, the NCGOP legislators won the opportunity to use GIS technology to choose their voters like never before. They've nearly frozen in their control of the legislature and congressional seats. Gerrymandering has subverted the rule of the people, and big government GOPers have taken away local control. Sigh.

root

Dick Ford- I don't understand your frustration, aren't all transportation projects 'economic development subsidies'?

John Martin

@Lisa: Sorry, my mistake. I read the article too fast.

But I will repeat my major point which no one has yet answered: where is the money coming from for this project? Until the proponents can come up with a credible financing scheme, the cap ought to remain in place.

root

are we there yet? are we there yet? are we there yet? are we there yet?

Dick Ford

Root I guess my frustration is that the light rail believers seem to say that their boondoggle is the holy of holies equivalent to saving the planet. The public has been gulled into seeing light rail as environmentally transformative and enlightened.

If it were treated as simply one boongoogle versus another, we could have the usual trade off political discussion that moves us forward. Instead we have a religious movement ignoring clear issues

Any day I expect to be labeled a light rail denier.

root

well, since I missed my bus, I say, fair enough, and a good place to begin the comparison.

as a rail enthusiasts (but opponent to the current DOLRT 'alignment') my central argument is that rail eliminates parking lots, either directly or indirectly, and which are an abysmal use of land, and energy. and change the dynamic of growth from low density, dispersive, auto-centric (but FREEDOM!) homogeneous/monotonous to the wonderful world of magical imagination, and hot girls from france.

Nathan

@John Martin I think you're forgetting that the restriction also comes from a budget in which legislators found $1.6 billion for DOT construction projects over the next ten years and another $250 million per year for DOT maintenance needs.

A state-funding cap of $500,000 for light-rail projects seems easy to expand within the money budgeted for DOT, as an example. I can't explicitly lay out a financial plan for the project, but the following article points to the legislature's ability and willingness to find funding for the DOT:
http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/politics-government/article46188100.html

I support the commitment of funds to improving infrastructure (in this case, highway transportation), but I think it's short sighted to financially limit projects that can also support economic growth and alleviate maintenance costs for infrastructure (again, highway transportation). $500K is less than 1% of the total that DOT requested for the light rail project.

Hope this helps!

John Martin

@Nathan: No, it doesn't help. What you are pointing out is simply that the Governor and the legislature recognized that our infrastructure is falling apart. They committed that extra $1.6 billion by stopping the practice of raiding the Highway Fund to supplement the General Fund. They have cut other general fund spending, which has provoked howls of outrage in certain quarters, particularly in Durham and Orange counties.

That $1.6 billion is already committed to other projects, including, among other things, turning 15-501 at Garrett Rd. into an interchange instead of an at-grade crossing. Those interested can see the list here: http://www.ncdot.gov/strategictransportationinvestments/download/Highway_Projects_STIP_Amendment.pdf

So, once again my question: do you want to cut out $263 million in projects on that list to fund light rail? If not, how are you going to fund it?

plurimus

@Nathan,

Beside the DOLRT funding gap, there are the issues of fairness (fareness? :) ). The economics are horrible.

DOLRT will not pay for itself in any sense. Yes, roads do not directly pay for themselves but they do enable much greater commerce, accommodating both commuter and commercial traffic.

DOLRT is funded by a terribly regressive local tax that penalizes people who will never be able to use DOLRT for basic transportation.

DOLRT sucks money away from other transit needs for people who need affordable and efficient public transit

DOLRT is an economic development plan for a very select group along a 17 mile line and will serve to gentrify that area pushing people who might need the service to move elsewhere.

DOLRT will be a victim of the disruptive economic forces that are beginning to shake transportation to it's core. It is not only absurdly expensive transport for the relatively well off "choice" transit riders, it is technologically obsolete.

root

you are both wrong

Emily

Nice and interesting read! I am not sure i am agree.
Thanks


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