Behind the scenes, Rogallo Foundation scrambled for legislative support for ill-fated museum at Jockey’s Ridge

The sand dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Dare County are 80 to 100 feet tall. (Photo: State Parks)

Republican State Sen. Norm Sanderson was reportedly working on a bill that would have teed up a long-term agreement for the  Rogallo Museum. a private entity, to lease public land at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, for as long as 99 years – for free.  

On July 28, John Harris, president of the Rogallo Foundation, wrote to Brian Strong, deputy director of planning and natural resources for the Parks Division, saying that “my understanding from Sen. Sanderson is that legislation is in place to put together a long-term lease for the Rogallo Museum.”

A five-term senator, Sanderson represents three coastal counties: Carteret, Craven and Pamlico. He is also co-chair of the Appropriations committee for Agriculture, Natural and Economic Resources.

Jockey’s Ridge State Park is in Dare County.

Sanderson didn’t respond to an email from Policy Watch asking for more details. Harris contributed $500 to his campaign in May, according to recent campaign finance reports.

Sen. Norm Sanderson (Photo: NCGA)

The next day, Sen. Bobby Hanig, who represents a swath of coastal counties, including Dare, also wrote to Harris: “Let me know how I can help throughout the process.”

Hanig told Policy Watch in email that Harris approached him “as a constituent.”

“As I would any other proposal from a constituent, I told him I would look in to it and offered to assist if needed,” Hanig wrote. “Preserving our history of flight in all capacities is very important, as you can imagine. I understand the issues with having it at Jockey’s Ridge. I appreciate the input from the citizens and also appreciate the folks at Cultural Resources taking the time to look in to it.”

The Parks Division is under the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

The Rogallo Foundation, headed by individuals active in real estate and the kite-surfing and hang-gliding business, had asked the state for permission to construct the museum to honor Francis and Gertrude Rogallo, inventors of the flexible wing – the same type of wing used in kite-surfing and hang gliding.

After Francis Rogallo retired from NASA, he and his wife, Gertrude, settled in Kitty Hawk.

The Rogallo Foundation has few assets, just $100,000, which have come from donations, according to Harris. Nonetheless, it had planned to raise money to build a $7 million, 12,000-square-foot museum on environmentally fragile park land.

On Oct. 28, state parks officials rejected the proposal, citing environmental concerns and the “appropriateness of leasing land to a private entity whose mission and objectives may vary from the parks division.”

Until then, emails and letters show that behind the scenes Harris was scrambling to gather support for his project. He successfully petitioned Dare County Commissioners to pass a symbolic resolution in support of the museum. However, he was stymied by the Towns of Nags Head and the nonprofit Friends of Jockey’s Ridge, which opposed it.

Sen. Bobby Hanig

Sen. Bobby Hanig

Friends of Jockey’s Ridge members spoke against the proposal at an Oct. 5 Nags Head Commissioners meeting. Shortly afterward, Harris again wrote to Strong, and copied nine other state and local government officials: “Not presenting the concept to the Friends of Jockey’s Ridge earlier was an oversight on my part, and I apologize.”

Harris also said the plan was “at the concept phase,” and that the issues of “environmental impact, tree removal and sand movement would have to be worked through as the plan develops.”

Jockey’s Ridge State Park is known for its breathtaking 100-foot sand dunes The US Department of the Interior has designated the park as a National Natural Area. The Parks Division wrote in 2017 that Jockey’s Ridge “provides an important and increasingly limited habitat for native plants and animals,” including dune grass, maritime evergreen forests and brackish marshes.

A state agency can’t unilaterally lease state land. A lease agreement would have to go through the state property office, and from there to the Council of State for a vote. Ultimately, the lease could become valid only with the governor’s signature.

Harris also noted that concerns about a commercial development on state park land were misplaced. “The Rogallo Foundation is a nonprofit,” Harris wrote. “The museum will be educational and inspirational.”

Nonprofit organizations can still earn money, though. And the draft Memorandum of Agreement showed how the project would have favored the museum and the foundation at the expense of taxpayer dollars. For example, the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources would have paid for the museum’s utilities, costs of building maintenance, and any major facility improvements. Donations, admission fees and gift shop revenue would have stayed with the foundation to operate the museum, which presumably would include staff salaries.

State rejects proposed museum deal at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, citing concerns about its ‘appropriateness’

The sand dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Dare County are 80 to 100 feet tall. (Photo: State Parks)

State officials have rejected a proposal to build the Rogallo Museum at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, in Dare County, citing environmental concerns and the “appropriateness of leasing land to a private entity whose mission and objectives may vary from the parks division,” according to a letter dated today to John Harris, president of the foundation behind the project.

State officials sent a similar letter notifying the Friends of Jockey’s Ridge, which had vehemently opposed the project, of their decision. Friends of Jockey’s Ridge is a nonprofit that raises money and advocates for the park.

Dwayne Patterson, the director of the state parks division, wrote that the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, “does not support proceeding with a lease of property to the Foundation or construction of a museum at Jockey’s Ridge.”

DNCR is over the parks division. The department’s secretary, Reid Wilson, “is concerned about the size and scope of the proposed museum and its effect on both the natural landscape and limited acreage available in the vicinity of the visitor center for recreational and other uses by the Park,” the letter reads.

The Rogallo Foundation, headed by individuals active in real estate and the kite-surfing and hang-gliding business, had asked the state for permission to construct the museum to honor Francis and Gertrude Rogallo, inventors of the flexible wing – the same type of wing used in kite-surfing and hang gliding, Policy Watch reported last week.

Foundation president Harris, who co-owns Kitty Hawk Kites, had sent a proposed memorandum of agreement to the parks division in 2019, asking for the state to lease the land for 99 years — for free. Harris told Policy Watch earlier this month that he chose park property because “land is expensive” in Dare County.

The foundation had also unsuccessfully requested that the proposed MOA terms remain confidential. However, the MOA is a public record, and Policy Watch obtained it under state law.

The museum would have been built on environmentally sensitive park land, which has been designated by the US Department of Interior as a National Natural Area.

According to today’s letter, Secretary Wilson was also concerned that the proposal did not meet “various legal requirements affecting the property,” including provisions establishing the State Nature and Historic Preserve. Jockey’s Ridge is part of that preserve.

The draft MOA showed how the project would favor the museum and the foundation at the expense of taxpayer dollars. For example, the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources would pay for the museum’s utilities, costs of building maintenance, and any major facility improvements. Donations, admission fees and gift shop revenue would stay with the foundation to operate the museum.

Secretary Wilson was concerned about the “appropriateness of leasing land to a private entity whose mission and objectives may vary from those of the Division,” the letter read. The department was also concerned about public opposition to the proposal.

State Parks Deputy Director Brian Strong had recently met with Harris about the proposal, as well as with the Friends of Jockey’s Ridge.

In addition to the Friends of Jockey’s Ridge, the Town of Nags Head Board of Commissioners opposed the project. The Dare County Commissioners passed a symbolic resolution in favor of the museum. Two residents supported the project, including Ralph Buxton, who works in real estate and lives near the park.

Rogallo Foundation, which proposes building a private museum at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, asked state to keep terms of an agreement secret

The sand dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Dare County are 80 to 100 feet tall. (Photo: State Parks)

The Rogallo Foundation’s proposal if not cocksure, is certainly bold: The fledgling nonprofit wants the state to lease it a slice of Jockey’s Ridge State Park for a museum to honor the inventors of the “flexible wing” that made hang gliding possible.

The foundation would pay nothing.

For 99 years.

Under terms that would be secret — or at least that would require the state “to use their reasonable best efforts to keep the terms confidential.”

Policy Watch obtained the 12-page draft Memorandum of Agreement from the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources under the Public Records law.

Dated March 27, 2019, the draft agreement was sent from foundation president John Harris to then-Parks Deputy Director Carol Tingley, who has since retired. The draft agreement shows how the project would favor the museum and the foundation at the expense of taxpayer dollars. For example, the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources would pay for the museum’s utilities, costs of building maintenance, and any major facility improvements. Donations, admission fees and gift shop revenue would stay with the foundation to operate the museum.

DNCR spokeswoman Michele Walker told Policy Watch via email that with Tingley’s retirement and the pandemic, the foundation’s proposal “was simply not a priority.” Harris reintroduced the foundation’s intentions to current division staff a few months ago, Walker said.

In an email interview with Policy Watch last week, Walker said that discussions “regarding the possible construction of a Rogallo Museum at Jockey’s Ridge State Park are still in the very early stages, and no decision has been made about this project by either the leadership of the Division of Parks and Recreation or the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.”

Over the last two months, Harris has also approached the Dare County Commissioners and the Town of Nags Head Board of Commissioners, asking them to support the project. Dare County voted to symbolically approve of the museum; Nags Head officials did not act.

The division can’t unilaterally lease state land. A lease agreement would have to go through the state property office, and from there to the Council of State for a vote. Ultimately, the lease could become valid only with the governor’s signature.

Although it is a separate nonprofit, the Rogallo Museum nonetheless touches on Harris’s commercial interests. Harris co-owns several for-profit businesses in and near Kitty Hawk, all of cater to kite-surfing, hang gliding and similar air sports, Policy Watch reported last week. The 12,000-square-foot museum would pay tribute to Francis and Gertrude Rogallo, who in the 1940s invented the flexible wing, the technology that underpin kite-surfing, hang gliding and similar air sports.

Under the draft agreement, the foundation would raise the $7 million to build the museum, expected to take at least three to five years. DNCR would be required to “help with the fund-raising efforts with any knowledge of available grants …”  and donors would be “recognized at every possible opportunity at the park with press releases of photos of foundation officials, the donor and hopefully park officials.”

DNCR would approve museum architectural plans. Within 12 months of the museum’s opening, the ownership title would be transferred to DNCR but all “exhibits, artifacts, inventory and equipment” would belong to the foundation.

The proposal has already encountered major headwinds. Earlier this month, former Nags Head Mayor Bob Muller sent a letter to the Nags Head Board of Commissioners asking that they not adopt a resolution of support. “There are many questions about building within state natural area,” Muller wrote. “A museum to Francis Rogallo doesn’t need to be within Jockey’s Ridge State Park. It should be on private land.”

The nonprofit group Friends of Jockey’s Ridge, which raises money to “support, enhance and promote Jockey’s Ridge State Park as a significant geologic feature of the Outer Banks” also opposes the project. At a meeting last week with State Parks Deputy Director Brian Strong, several Friends members said they were concerned about the environmental impacts of building near sensitive sand dunes, as well as the commercialization of public land. Museum admission fees could cut into donations to the Friends, which are spent on the park.

Based on the terms of the draft agreement, the Rogallo Foundation doesn’t want financial competition. If DNCR begins charging a fee to enter the park — admission is currently free — the foundation could unilaterally cancel the agreement.

The foundation can also pull out of the deal if park attendance declines by 20% or more over three consecutive years, compared to the previous three. There are exceptions for “catastrophic natural events,” such as hurricanes and floods or unforeseeable economic crises.

Dare County is routinely battered by hurricanes, nor’easters and extreme weather. Either all or portions of the county have been evacuated roughly 15 times since 1985 because of hurricanes and tropical storms, according to Dare County data. Damage totals are in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Chemours to appeal PFAS discharge permit, contends it can’t meet the requirements to reduce toxic compounds from entering Cape Fear River

A mile-long barrier wall roughly 60 feet deep would reduce the amount of PFAS entering the Cape Fear River from the Chemours plant. The water would also be treated to remove at least 99.9% of the compounds. However, the company says the system can’t meet all of the permit requirements. (Illustration: DEQ)

Chemours, the company responsible for contaminated the drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people in North Carolina, says it can’t meet the standards in its recent discharge permit issued by the NC Department of Environmental Quality.

The permit, known as an NPDES, is related to the water treatment system for a mile-long barrier wall the company is installing at its Fayetteville Works plant to reduce PFAS seeping from groundwater into the Cape Fear River. DEQ issued the final permit in mid-September after an extensive public comment period.

“Chemours regrets that we must file an appeal” of the final permit, according to a company press release issued last Friday at 5:11 p.m.  “Late changes to the permit” included future pollution limits the that the company could not meet based on the design of the treatment system, the press release went on.

DEQ Deputy Secretary for Public Affairs Sharon Martin issued a statement on behalf of the agency: “The NPDES permit for the treatment system is part of the larger barrier wall remediation project to substantially reduce PFAS entering the Cape Fear River and impacting downstream communities.   Chemours is required to fulfill its obligations under the Consent Order and reduce the amount of contaminated groundwater reaching the Cape Fear River from the Chemours Fayetteville Works facility.

The Consent Order Addendum specifies a minimum reduction of 99% for the treatment system. DEQ expects Chemours to take all necessary steps to minimize its PFAS impacts on the environment. Pursuing litigation threatens to delay implementation beyond the Consent Order deadline of March 2023 and extend the ongoing contamination reaching the river and impacting downstream residents.”

Within the first six months of operation, the treatment system must limit the amount of GenX to 120 ppt, PMPA to 100 ppt and for PFMOAA, 320 ppt. After six months, the thresholds are lower, to less than 10 ppt for GenX — the EPA’s health advisory goal — as well as 10 ppt for PMPA, and less than 20 ppt for PFMOAA.

Studies by toxicologist Jamie DeWitt at East Carolina University have suggested PFMOAA exposure could be toxic to the developing fetus.

While Chemours is claiming it can’t meet the terms of its discharge permit, the company recently announced plans to expand its Fayetteville Works plant. Chemours wants to increase its production of a molecular building block for PFA, a type of fluoropolymer, which belongs to the PFAS family.

The company has also failed to submit a required corrective action plan to clean up contaminated groundwater at least 7 square miles surrounding the plant.

Thousands of people have been exposed to that contamination in their groundwater via their private drinking water wells; hundreds of thousands more North Carolinians have been exposed to the compounds from the Cape Fear River; public utilities source drinking water from the river. The Cape Fear River Authority, which serves much of Wilmington, has installed a $46 million treatment system that has nearly eliminated the compounds. However, Brunswick County still reports total levels of PFAS ranging from 70 to 350 parts per trillion, far above health advisory goals, in some cases thousands of time higher.

This week the public will soon learn about the potential harm to human health in some of the state’s most contaminated areas for PFAS. The GenX Exposure Study Team is holding two public meetings this week to announce the results of blood samples collected in 2020-2021 from participants in New Hanover, and Brunswick counties, the town of Pittsboro, and many residents of Fayetteville who are private wells.

NC State University scientist Jane Hoppin and other academic researchers will lead the discussion and answer questions:

Tuesday, Oct. 18, 6-8 p.m., virtual meeting, no registration required
Via Zoom: https://ncsu.zoom.us/s/92719272112
Dial-in: 1-312-626-6799  ID number: 92719272112

 

Wednesday, Oct. 19, 6-8 p.m., in-person, no registration required
Chatham Agricultural Center
1192 US Hwy 64 Business, Pittsboro

Previous studies have shown the presence of PFAS in Wilmington residents’ blood. In November 2017 and May 2018, scientists collected blood samples from 344 people and analyzed them for over 20 different PFAS. Because GenX is short-lived in humans, it was not detected in blood. However, scientists found three new types of PFAS: Nafion byproduct 2, PFO4DoA, and PFO5DoA. They are  fluoroethers, a type of PFAS produced either directly or as a byproduct by Chemours.

So-called “legacy compounds,” those that were used for decades, including two that have been phased out, were also detected in blood at higher levels than in the general population: PFOA, PFOS, PFHxS and PFNA.

Exposure to PFAS has been linked to myriad health problems, including high cholesterol, thyroid disorders, kidney and testicular cancer, a depressed immune system, reproductive issues, fetal developmental disorders, low birth weight, high blood pressure during pregnancy, and more.

Dana Sargent, executive director of Cape Fear River Watch, a party to a consent order with DEQ and Chemours, issued a statement:

“Chemours used their ‘Good Neighbor” campaign to create a petition that tricked the community they poisoned into supporting the weak and unprotective first draft of the barrier wall permit claiming they are “…committed to improving the Cape Fear River.’ Once the permit was modified to do just that – improve the Cape Fear River – the people at the top in Chemours are once again proving that they’re actually committed to one thing — money.”

 

Siler City continues to violate Clean Water Act, wants reprieve so Wolfspeed can build its major computer chip plant

The Mountaire chicken slaughter plant in Siler City is sending high levels of nitrogen in its discharge to the town’s wastewater treatment plant, resulting in Clean Water Act violations. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

The Town of Siler City, whose wastewater treatment plant has chronically violated the Clean Water Act, is asking state regulators for a reprieve so a major computer chip manufacturer can build and operate its factory there.

Siler City has filed for a “Special Order by Consent” with the NC Department of Environmental Quality, according to a letter sent by Town Manager Hank Raper. The town is requesting that a state-imposed moratorium on new sewer connections be lifted to accommodate the manufacturer, Wolfspeed, to discharge wastewater to the plant.

DEQ issued the moratorium earlier this year because of the number and severity of the wastewater treatment plant’s violations. The moratorium prohibits any more sewer connections until the wastewater treatment plant reins in its pollution.

Policy Watch reported earlier this year on problems at the town’s wastewater treatment plant, including a pattern of Clean Water Act violations dating back five years.  Exorbitant levels of nitrogen leaving the plant — sometimes upward of 800% of permitted limits — have sickened and killed fish in Loves Creek and the Rocky River, state records show.

Since 2016, DEQ has fined the town more than $239,000 for those violations, according to the EPA.

Siler City’s failing wastewater and water systems could jeopardize much-needed economic development in the town. The town, which is in western Chatham County, has not experienced economic growth like its neighbor to the east, Pittsboro. The poverty rate in Siler City is 22%, according to recent census data, compared with 10.7% for Pittsboro.

“Project Hibernian” includes the Wolfspeed project at the Chatham-Siler City Advanced Manufacturing megasite. Wolfspeed has said it would invest $4.8 billion and create 1,800 new jobs. The average annual wage would be $77,000, almost twice the current average for Chatham County.

The Golden LEAF Foundation has given Siler City $9.7 million in grants to extend sewer service between the megasite and the wastewater treatment plant.

Under the Special Order by Consent, the town is asking DEQ to allow Wolfspeed to discharge 290,000 gallons per day into the wastewater treatment plant. A new church and two housing developments would add 88,000 gallons per day to the system.

In total, the additional daily flow — 378,000 gallons — would account for 10% of the wastewater treatment plant’s current permitted daily total of 4 million gallons.

Upgrades will allow the town to treat 6 million gallons per day, but those improvements won’t be finished until January 2025.

The town has also asked DEQ to waive penalties while it upgrades the wastewater treatment plant and makes other improvements.

DEQ is reviewing the town’s request. And before a Special Order by Consent is issued, the agency must open a public comment period.

Meanwhile, the Siler City wastewater treatment plant reported that its discharge contained levels of nitrogen 207% above permit limits, according to new EPA and state data. The recent violation was listed in the EPA’s weekly report. The exceedance was even greater than that listed in the facility’s second quarter data — 156% above permit limits.

Those violations will likely continue, town officials acknowledged in a letter to DEQ, until deficiencies at the Mountaire chicken slaughter facility and the Siler City Water Treatment plant are fixed.

The Mountaire chicken slaughter plant sends its discharge to the Siler City wastewater treatment facility, which is ill-equipped to handle the enormous amount of nitrogen in the effluent. Although Mountaire treats its own discharge before sending it to Siler City, it has not upgraded its system to control excess pollutants.

The town has issued Mountaire for violations 17 times in 2021 and 22 times from January to June of this year. The town has fined the billion-dollar company $52,750 over that time, according to data provided to DEQ.

“Mountaire has indicated a willingness to work with the town and is currently consulting with engineers to develop a plan for improvements to their facilities,” the town’s letter to DEQ said. However, there is no formal agreement to guarantee those upgrades will happen.

“It is not known at this time if Mountaire can achieve compliance with permit limits with the existing facilities or if construction projects may be required,” the town wrote to DEQ. “The schedule for improvements by Mountaire has not been confirmed and will be added to the application later.”

The town said it would increase penalties and surcharges on Mountaire and add pollution discharge limits while Mountaire upgrades its system.

The second source of pollution is the town’s own water treatment plant. It has sent high levels of iron to the wastewater treatment plant, which has hampered the latter’s ability to control its pollutants. The town said it is planning to finish upgrades and expansions to the water treatment plant by November 2024.