Analysis by the Environmental Finance Center compares water and sewer revenues with operation and maintenance costs. Gray dots show municipal systems that have enough revenue to cover expenses. Peach-colored pentagons show show those with enough revenues to cover their combined expenses and debts. The bright red squares represent those without enough revenue to cover regular operating and maintenance expenses. Almost a quarter of systems across the state fall in those categories coming up short. Thanks, in part, to Florence and Matthew, many of those are clustered in the east.
CAROLINA PUBLIC PRESS
Taking stock of what it will take to rebuild after Hurricane Florence, it’s important to remember that even before this year’s hurricane season started, the finances of dozens of water and sewer systems throughout North Carolina were already underwater.
Some were damaged in prior storms. Many more across the state are caught in a long-term downward spiral of declining jobs and population.
As policymakers begin to shape the state’s rebuilding program in response to Hurricane Florence, they must deal with the already distressed systems and those damaged in the most recent storm. They must also come up with a long-term solution to a chronic statewide maintenance backlog.
These will be the key steps toward building resiliency, especially in the hard-hit eastern region of the state.
At a recent General Assembly committee meeting in Raleigh, Edgar Starnes, legislative liaison for the N.C. Department of State Treasurer, said 37 water and sewer systems in Florence disaster areas are going to need significant help dealing with the damage.
“The repairs they’re going to face are going to be very expensive,” he told members of a joint House and Senate committee studying water and sewer systems in a post-storm assessment held in late September. “They’re in a lot of trouble because of the flood right now.”
The damage to those systems and the floods that followed resulted in tens of millions of gallons of wastewater and sewage spills.
Some of the systems were the same as those damaged in 2016, when Hurricane Matthew roared through many of the same communities.
Spent shells and other trash are scattered around the area of one illegal shooting range in Croatan National Forest. Jack Igelman / Carolina Public Press
The U.S. Forest Service called a 120-day halt to target shooting throughout Croatan National Forest on July 13, 2015.
Then that restriction was extended, so it remains in place today, more than three years later.
That hasn’t prevented do-it-yourself shooting ranges from continuing to riddle the landscape and pose a public safety hazard throughout the 160,000-acre public forest near New Bern.
The illicit form of recreation often leaves damaged trees and plant life in its wake.
And garbage. Lots of garbage. Everything from bullet-pocked refrigerators and propane tanks to beer bottles and auto parts.
The rubbish and bullet holes have left a scar on portions of the public woodlands.
Chris Kent, a biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Commission, has observed the mayhem and “trigger trash” left in the aftermath.
Last summer, Kent went mountain biking on his own time to a favorite spot in an isolated northwestern corner of the Croatan, tracking black bear and observing deer and turkey for the upcoming bow-hunting season.
What he discovered churned his stomach.
“It was trashed,” Kent said. Left behind were shot-up sofas, televisions, and hundreds of rounds of brass and used shells littered in the grass.
“It broke my heart. I turned around and haven’t been back since.”
Connor Yungbluth, of Wake County, studies Mandarin Chinese through the North Carolina Virtual Public School.
After a regular school morning at Middle Creek High School in Cary, senior Connor Yungbluth, 16, takes his online Mandarin Chinese course at home through the North Carolina Virtual Public School (NCVPS).
When Yungbluth moved from New York, he wanted to continue the language studies he had begun there, but the local school in Wake County didn’t have a Chinese teacher. His curriculum is part of the blended, individualized instruction that virtual school in North Carolina can provide.
In the afternoon, Connor takes two online courses through Wake Technical College to prepare for his future in engineering or medicine.
Other students who have benefited from NCVPS include special needs populations, students who would like to attend the N.C. School of Math and Science but are not offered advanced courses at their school, students in rural areas, and a gymnast.
While the NCVPS may be unfamiliar to many North Carolina residents and not every school system cooperates with its program, the state has the second-largest virtual public school system in the country, with enrollment climbing from 17,000 at inception in 2007 to 58,000 students across the state today. Only Florida has higher enrollment in its comparable program.
North Carolina teachers developed the 150-course curriculum, which is aligned to state high school graduation requirements.