National Fayetteville State Alumni Association opposes new chancellor, selection process

The National Fayetteville Alumni Association is opposing the appointment of former UNC Board of Governors member Darrell Allison as the school’s next chancellor.

Policy Watch reported this week on the controversial choice and the selection process, which the alumni association called “flawed” in a statement Thursday.

In the statement the association’s National President, Richard D. Kingsberry, said the group will ask the Fayetteville State University Board of Trustees and the UNC Board of Governors to withdraw Allison’s name and instead select one of the other applicants recommended by the trustee board’s search committee.

The association will also be seeking “a legal investigation” into the selection process, Kingsberry said in the statement.

Allison, who was already approved by the UNC Board of Governors, is scheduled to officially take the school’s top leadership position March 15.

Read the full association statement below:

 

 

DEQ: Colonial Pipeline report “lacks critical information,” state cites company with Notice of Continuing Violation

Because of a failed segment of aging pipe, Colonial Pipeline released an estimated 1.2 million gallons of gasoline in the Oehler Nature Preserve in Huntersville on Aug. 14, 2020. Many homes are nearby, and the groundwater is contaminated. However, the full depth and breath of the pollutant plume is yet unknown.

This story has been corrected to remove this sentence: “Because of fire suppressants used during the initial spill emergency, it is likely that the groundwater contains toxic perfluorinated compounds, or PFAS, according to previous statements by DEQ.” Colonial responded and said the suppressants did not contain PFAS.

Colonial Pipeline has omitted key information about potential soil, air and surface water contamination from its comprehensive assessment of the Huntersville gasoline spill, the nation’s largest since 1997, according to state regulators.

These data gaps prompted the NC Department of Environmental Quality today to issue a Notice of Continuing Violation the company regarding the Aug. 14, 2020, spill, which released at least 1.2 million gallons of gasoline, according to recent estimates, in a nature preserve and near a residential neighborhood. That figure does not include “contact water,” which is not gasoline, but water that has come into contact with petroleum products.

While gasoline has not been detected in private drinking water wells, as a precaution the company has connected several households to public water systems and purchased three homes close to the spill site.

The groundwater is also widely contaminated with chemicals found in petroleum products: benzene, a known carcinogen; as well as xylene, toluene and ethylbenzene.

Ethylbenzene exposure has also been linked to cancer, according to federal health officials. Depending on the dose and length of exposure, all four chemicals can harm the neurological system.

“We will continue to hold Colonial Pipeline accountable for its actions and response to the largest gasoline spill in North Carolina’s history,” said Division of Waste Management Director Michael Scott in a prepared statement.

“The Comprehensive Site Assessment lacks critical information necessary to determine the full extent of the impacts of this event. This information is crucial for the protection of public health and the environment.”

In a prepared statement, a Colonial Pipeline spokesperson said the company has already submitted some of the information. “From the beginning of this incident, Colonial Pipeline Company has cooperated and coordinated with state and federal regulators as well as Mecklenburg County officials, with regular on-site meetings and updates,” the statement read.

“We continue to provide detailed information as required and as requested regarding ongoing recovery and remediation efforts, including proactive and voluntary activities at the site and on our pipelines. We are reviewing NCDEQ’s most recent request, which includes activities that are already underway, and some information requests that have already been previously submitted, and we will work diligently to respond to the department’s additional requests.”

DEQ spokeswoman said that although Colonial did provide some information previously, it was either deemed insufficient or was omitted from the Comprehensive Site Assessment.

DEQ originally cited Colonial last September with a Notice of Violation and required the company to submit a comprehensive site assessment to determine the extent of the contamination.

That assessment, submitted Jan. 20, lacks information that would be used to fully understand the extent of the contamination. For example, there is no data on air monitoring at the site, according to today’s notice.

Mecklenburg County, where Huntersville is located, operates its own air quality program. The county’s air quality division could not be immediately reached to see if it had  monitoring data.

State regulators also requested that Colonial account for water supply wells southeast of the spill, even beyond the original 2,000-foot boundary. Additional soil sampling data is required, DEQ wrote, and noted that the “potential impacts to the bedrock” have not been fully assessed.

DEQ also has directed Colonial Pipeline to extend residential private well sampling 500 feet beyond the edge of the current boundary. This includes six additional wells, which will be sampled once every six months. The company also must monitor water quality in nearby springs.

The Notice of Continuing Violation identifies 22 corrective actions that Colonial must complete by April 26. Some are highly technical and involve record keeping. Others would give regulators and community members a clearer idea of the depth and breadth of the contamination plume:

  • Install at least 12 deep wells to fully define the depth of the contamination;
  • Describe the contamination present in excavated soil and its permanent disposal location;
  • Provide a report that identifies the potential for vapor intrusion in residences, buildings and utility conduits;
  • Provide a detailed summary about air and noise monitoring sampling efforts; and
  • Provide additional information about nearby surface water features, particularly neighboring springs.

Hope grows for ousting DeJoy from Postal Service leadership position

Louis DeJoy

There was progress yesterday in the effort to remove Greensboro’s Louis DeJoy from his position as U.S. Postmaster General. As several media outlets — including the New York Times have reported, President Biden has nominated three new members to the Postal Service board of governors. It’s hoped and expected by the legions of DeJoy critics that this move will shift the balance of power on the board and enable it to find a new leader.

DeJoy, of course, is an arch-conservative businessman and Trump supporter (and husband of former North Carolina HHS secretary Aldona Wos) who has come under fire for numerous moves that have been seen to undermine the USPS. This is from the Times report:

The Postal Service catapulted to the national spotlight last summer amid nationwide slowdowns that coincided with operational changes instituted by Mr. DeJoy, raising fears ahead of the election about vote-by-mail delays. Democrats accused Mr. DeJoy, a supporter of President Donald J. Trump, of trying to undercut mail balloting at a time when Mr. Trump was also promoting a false narrative that it was rife with fraud.

But Mr. DeJoy has also drawn fire for continued delivery problems since the election, as the Postal Service struggles to find a sounder financial footing.

Let’s hope the new Biden appointees are seated quickly and take swift action. As columnist Paul Waldman writes in the Washington Post this morning:

To refresh your memory, DeJoy, a Republican mega-donor with no experience in the USPS, was appointed to lead the agency in the spring of 2020, despite having been beset by allegations of abusive practices at his business, conflicts of interest and potential campaign finance law violations. This came after President Donald Trump had spent years attacking the Postal Service.

DeJoy quickly took steps, supposedly in the service of cost-cutting, that had the effect of slowing down mail delivery. You probably noticed it.

After exploring the competing views of DeJoy’s actions and noting that here is bipartisan agreement regarding the need to upgrade the Postal Service, Waldman puts it this way:

“Although there does exist a progressive agenda with regard to the Postal Service (including the revival of postal banking) that Republicans will oppose, a well-functioning USPS that provides efficient service at affordable costs is something almost everyone agrees on. And it’s obvious that DeJoy is a polarizing figure whose continued leadership of the agency is going to only make everything harder.

So surely there are other experienced and qualified candidates out there who aren’t party donors and who could do a better job of reviving the USPS without being partisan lightning rods. If the Biden administration engineers it so DeJoy is replaced with someone like that, everyone ought to be happy.

Fingers crossed.

A bill to allow more fans at high school sporting events has life despite decision by Gov. Roy Cooper to ease attendance restrictions

Kristy Smith (r)

State Republicans continued to push Wednesday to more fully reopen the state as North Carolina’s rate of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations continue to fall.

The latest effort came in the form of Senate Bill 116, which would allow more spectators to attend high school outdoor sporting events.

The bill received bipartisan support in a Senate Standing Committee on Education and Higher Education meeting.

If approved, public and nonpublic high schools could allow up to 40% of approved capacity into stadiums, parks, fields or ball courts.

The bill’s supporters got most of what they wanted Wednesday during Gov. Roy Cooper’s afternoon news conference.

Gov. Roy Cooper

The governor agreed to ease several restrictions, including one that limited attendance at outdoor sporting events to 100 people and to 25 people for indoor sporting events.

Cooper’s new Executive Order No. 195 allow attendance at outdoor sporting events to reach 30% capacity of capacity. Indoor events can have the lesser of 250 people or 30% capacity. Indoor arenas with more than 5,000 seats can have 50% of capacity.

“Easing these restrictions will only work if we keep protecting ourselves and others from this deadly virus,” Cooper said. “The order and our own common sense say that health and safety protocols must remain in place.”

Sen. Todd Johnson, a Union County Republican and one of SB 116’s primary sponsors, said the governor’s action did not go far enough.

“I appreciate the governor’s move today [Wednesday], which will provide some immediate relief,” Johnson said. “But it doesn’t make much sense to me to allow 50% capacity inside restaurants, where it’s physically impossible to always wear a mask, and allow only 30% capacity at wide open outdoor sports venues. Unless I hear a compelling reason for that difference, I plan to move forward with my bill.”

The bill does not count athletes, school employees, band members or other entertainers or school support staff among spectators that would be allowed under the proposed 40% capacity rule.

SB 116 supporters say the bill is especially important for parents of seniors, many of whom stand to miss their children’s final performances.

Kristy Smith told lawmakers that she won’t be able to attend her son’s away football game Thursday. Only fans of the home team can attend games because of capacity restrictions.

“There’s going to be no pictures,” said Smith, an Alamance  County parent. “There will be no memories captured for me or my son in a season he’s worked hard for since he was six. Among other things he’s been denied as the high school senior, this may be the most disappointing.”

Cooper’s order takes effect Friday. That’s too late for Smith, even if school athletic directors decide to allow the fans of opposing teams to attend games starting Friday.

Smith is disappointed that the order won’t cover the Thursday game. She’s excited, however, about possibly attending future away games.

“It’s a little heartbreaking but I’m encouraged,” she told Policy Watch.

Smith argued that it’s unfair that she can’t attend he son’s game but can eat in restaurants alongside unmasked dinners or sit near unmasked movie-goers.

“As a mother, I respectfully request that you take a moment to consider the impact of denying parents and guardians the right to enjoy the fleeting moments of our children’s lives that have been so greatly impacted and robbed of so much by this virus,” Smith said.

Meanwhile,  Johnson complained that the definition of healthy has erroneously become the “absence” of COVID-19.

“That is the furthest thing from the truth,” Johnson said. “Living in a house that has two teenage boys, I see firsthand that there is a lot more to being healthy than just not having COVID.”

He said the physical, mental and social well-being of children are being ignored amid efforts to protect them from the coronavirus.

Committee Democrats supported the bill but did ask whether it was drafted in coordination with the N.C. High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS).

Johnson said he had not consulted with NCHSAA. But he said he hasn’t heard about any opposition to the bill coming from the organization that oversees high school athletics in North Carolina.

Johnson said he didn’t consult with NCDHSS, either. Instead, he relied on information about COVID-19 transmission that’s available to the public.

He said it’s reasonable to assume that attending an outdoor sporting event at 40% capacity is safer than eating in a restaurant at 50% capacity where patrons are potentially transmitting the virus while “chewing, laughing, spitting, [or] coughing.”

Johnson noted a recent report about the NFL season, which found that teams safely played games before fans in stadiums with occupancy restrictions in place.

“Throughout the entire NFL season, with many of the venues being open, not including the Carolina Panthers, keep that in mind when we’re doing budgeting, the number of revenue and the amount of revenue that we’ve lost for a lot of important projects, during the entire NFL season there were a total of zero super spreader events related to these outdoor venues,” Johnson said.

Sen. Gladys Robinson, a Democrat from Guilford County, supports athletic competition, but said the state must move cautiously due to new variants of the coronavirus and the reluctance of some people to wear masks.

“I want us to pay attention to that,” Robinson said. “We want to continue to get this [infection] rate down in North Carolina so people can return fully to regular activities.”

Republicans have wasted little time introducing bills to nudge Cooper toward easing restrictions so that the state can more quickly resume business as usual.

The more important and most controversial of the bill is Senate Bill 37, that would require all school districts to provide an option for in-person instruction.

Republicans approved the bill along with a handful of Democrats.

Cooper is expected to veto the bill although he has “strongly” encouraged districts to reopen for in person instruction. He contends SB 37  doesn’t require districts to follow state and federal safety guidance and strips them of the flexibility needed to respond to emergencies.

Cooper doubled down on that position when asked about the bill Wednesday. He said he would sign legislation requiring in person instruction if lawmakers addressed his two concerns.

The governor has until Saturday to veto the bill. If he does nothing, it will become law.

Gov. Cooper lifts curfew, eases some pandemic restrictions. What it means for you.

With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in decline, Governor Roy Cooper said his office will lift the statewide 10:00 p.m. curfew established in December to slow the spread of the virus.

Cooper’s latest executive order will also allow for bars, night clubs, movie theaters and sports arenas to increase their capacity.

“Today’s action is a show of confidence and trust, but we must remain cautious,” said Cooper.”People are losing their loved ones each day. We must keep up our guard.”

Here’s how Executive Order No. 195 would impact local businesses:

30% Capacity Limit (may not exceed 250-persons in indoor spaces)

  • Bars
  • Meeting, Reception, and Conference Spaces
  • Lounges (including tobacco) and Night Clubs
  • Indoor areas of Amusement Parks
  • Movie Theatres
  • Entertainment facilities (e.g., bingo parlors, gaming establishments)
  • Sports Arenas and Fields*
  • Venues

50% Capacity Limit

  • Restaurants
  • Breweries, Wineries, Distilleries
  • Fitness and Physical Activity Facilities (e.g., gyms, bowling alleys, rock climbing facilities
  • Pools
  • Museums and Aquariums
  • Retailers
  • Outdoor areas of Amusement Parks
  • Salons, Personal Care, Tattoo Parlors

Read the full 27-page Executive Order easing restrictions here.

Masks or face coverings remains a requirement in public places, both indoors and outdoors. Employers would have a ‘good faith obligation’ to provide a one­-week supply of reusable face coverings or disposable masks to workers who perform work outside of their home.

Still state officials are encouraging many employers to allow remote work to continue.

“We would encourage folks who can be working remotely to continue to do that,” cautioned North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen.

“We’re certainly heading in the right direction, and that is reflected in the easing of these restrictions, but remember as we ease them, we are still keeping capacity limits.”

Sec. Cohen said it is the right time to take this step forward, but if the numbers rise again and people backslide on their commitment to practice social distancing and proper mask wearing, the state could reverse course.

Both Cohen and Cooper said they were encouraged that two million doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine have been administered to North Carolinians in recent weeks.

To date, 1.2 million individuals have received one dose of the vaccine, more than 730,000 have gotten both doses.

Wednesday also marked the first day that North Carolina teachers and daycare center workers could get  vaccinated.

Dr. Cohen believes that if the Johnson & Johnson vaccine receives federal approval this week as many expect, the state could receive 30,000-60,000 additional doses of that vaccine in an initial shipment.