The Good Rails State

Passengers in Lynx rail car1921 was a watershed year in North Carolina transportation.  The 19th century system of mobility based on intra-state rail and county maintained roads was proving inadequate for the growing rural-based industrial economy.  The State Highway Act of 1921 followed by the Federal Highway Act of 1921 provided funding for a state road system connecting county seats and major towns that led to the “Good Roads State” moniker.  Counties, dependent on property tax revenue, were unable to maintain secondary roads as land values declined during the depression. By 1931 responsibility for all roads was transferred to the State.  Then, as now, the balance between responsibility and taxation authority was contentious at both the county and state level and road construction was not achieved without a heavy burden of debt. Read more


527 Watch: Truth Squad, Real Debate, Realtors

The Truth Squad is a 527 Political Committee set up by C. Stan Eury, head of the NC Growers Association, the nations's largest employer of legal migrant workers and the largest agricultural employer in NC. Its main purpose appears to be attacking Republican David Rouzer who is running for the State Senate seat being vacated by Fred Smith. The basis of the attack is Rouzer's support as a lobbyist for pending federal AgJobs legislation with immigration amnesty provisions. The campaign has spawned a blog: Rouzer: Amnesty Lobbyist Political Lies and a website: The Truth Squad NC

Real Debate.org, Inc. is a 527 Political Committee set up by State Senator Fletcher Hartsell and State Representative Jeff Barnhart of Cabarrus County along with millionaire Fred Eshelman head of Pharmaceutical Product Development Inc. a Wilmington company with over 10,000 employees in 30 countries that manages clinical trials for pharmaceuticals, biotech and medical devices. Eshelman has donated $33 million to UNC Chapel Hill of which $20 million went towards the School of Pharmacy that bears his name. The 527 appears to be related to P.P.D., Inc. plans to create 300 jobs over the next three years at North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis.

In a previously unreported story, the National Association of Realtors 527 Fund was fined $78,000 by the Federal Election Commission in June of 2007. The enforcement action was precipitated by a 2004 complaint from a Mint Hill, NC resident about mailings from the North Carolina Association of Realtors supporting Richard Burr's US Senate bid. The 527 Fund failed to register and file disclosure reports as a Federal political committee and accepted contributions in violation of Federal limits and source prohibitions. In total the NAR 527 Fund spent $2.8 million advocating the election of 9 federal candidates in 2004 including $282,500 spent on the Burr campaign. This was in addition to $3.75 million NAR's political action committee RPAC spent on federal candidates in the 2004 cycle with $578,750 in independent expenditures on the Burr campaign.


What Would Al Gore Do?

Figure 8 houseWhen Al Gore spends time at the North Carolina coast he stays at Figure Eight Island in a 7,000 square foot house voted most likely to fall into the ocean .  A thin stretch of beach separates the house from the rising sea along with a temporary line of sand bags 25 feet away, due for removal May 2008 in compliance with coastal regulations.  Sand bags on the beach are double edged swords, protecting the land side while accelerating erosion on the ocean side.  Owner Parker Overton filed a spirited variance request with the Coastal Resources Commission in February for a March hearing. 

Part of the variance request referred to the passing of SB 599 in 2007 due to be heard in the House 2008 which would allow a terminal groin pilot project, presumed to be destined for a location close to the house.  Among political contributors on Figure Eight Island Parker Overton and his wife are the most generous.  As recently as December 2007 they each contributed $4,000 to the campaign of Marc Basnight.  Read more


Go Figure

rich inlet mapFigure Eight Island wants to have your cake and eat it too. While pursuing a terminal groin injury on the North Carolina coast, full steam ahead, the Islanders have been slow paddling a beach renourishment project that might scuttle the groin proposal if implemented too fast according to coastal observers.

Last year a Figure Eight Island/ Rich Inlet project was described in the Federal Register 07-848, 2/26/2007and listed on the Army Corps of Engineers website under Expired Public Notices dated 3/30/2007 as Corps Action ID# 2006-41158-065

Intent To Prepare a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Development of an Inlet Management Plan That Includes the Repositioning and Realignment of the Main Ebb Channel of Rich Inlet and To Use the Material To Nourish Figure Eight Island, North of Wilmington, New Hanover County, NC

A public hearing was held March 1st 2007 in Wilmington and written comments were received until March 29th, 2007. According to the Army Corps of Engineers not much has occurred since:

The consultants are in the fact finding mode for the project based on direction from the Project Delivery Team. The preliminary draft of the EIS document will probably not be released until ’09.

The sense of urgency that propelled an end run by the NC Senate around coastal regulations prohibiting groins would evaporate if legislators knew that Figure Eight Island was actively engaged in beach renourishment. Therein lies the rub. Coastal regulations allow sandbag protection of threatened structures for up to five years as long as there is an active beach renourishment project but, there is no definition of “active.”

Sandbagging is a temporary measure, protecting several Figure Eight houses, that actually increases beach erosion in front of the sandbags, hence the need for active beach renourishment to complement it. In fact marine charts show a steep drop in the sea floor immediately in front of the area being sandbagged. Indeed one irony of the terminal groin at Fort Macon being used as an example is that beach renourishment is still required and that without it the groin would be a failure.  Click to see the shifting sands of Rich Inlet at Figure Eight Island over time.

New construction of houses requires setbacks of 30 times the erosion rate or a minimum of 60 feet. All new structures over 5,000 square feet in area require setbacks of 60 times the erosion rate or a minimum of 120 feet. A current rules change proposal would actually toughen this requirement. There are over 50 houses on Figure Eight Island that exceed 5,000 in area. One of those houses was the scene of the recent controversial private party attended by members of the 21st Century Transportation Committee, a possible violation of open meetings laws.

One spirited defense of Committee members I heard since was that the party was attended by 150 movers and shakers, moving and shaking to flamenco music, and that the chance of 3 members being in the same place at the same time discussing state business was remote. Comments made the next day at the official meeting in Wilmington exposed that fallacy. One thing is sure: Figure Eight Island is pulling out all the stops to privately facilitate public protection of private property while the public and neighboring property owners are left in Rich Inlet without a paddle.


Do The Math

Here's a little math problem to put a transfer tax in perspective.  If a home is sold for $250,000 the realtor commission is 6% or $15,000.  A transfer tax of 0.4% would be $1,000 or 1/15th of the realtor fee.

If that home appreciates in value, say 5% every year, after 30 years the home will have a value of $1,029,034.  If the same home is sold every 5 years, with 6% going to realtors every time, the total amount spent on realtor commissions over 30 years will be $234,224 for a house that originally sold for $250,000.

Over the same period just $15,615 would represent the amount going to a transfer tax of 0.4%.  Over the 30 year history of the house 23% of the final value of the house will have gone to realtors while just 1.5% would have gone towards transfer tax for public services essential to maintaining the value of a home.

Or to put it another way, Over the 30 year history of the house 94% of the original value of the house will have gone to realtors while just 6% would have gone towards transfer tax for public services essential to maintaining and increasing the value of a home, over 30 years.