The citizens’ Exploratory Committee on Addressing Cut-Through Traffic focused at its Dec. 16 meeting on implementing a no-left-turn at the U.S. Hwy. 158-South Dogwood Trail intersection on weekends this summer. The no-left turn solution to the heavy cut-through traffic on the town’s residential roads, chairperson Tommy Karole said, drew consensus support at the public forum that the committee held in November.
About 20 people attended last week’s meeting, including every member of the Town Council except Mayor Tom Bennett. Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey and Councilman Matt Neal are the committee’s Council sponsors.
The committee has six homeowner members, including Mr. Karole. The others are Linda Lauby of High Dune Loop; Jim Monroe of Ocean Boulevard; Bill Timberlane of South Dogwood Trail; David Watson of Hickory Trail; and Victoria Green of Hillcrest Drive.
The discussion among the committee and the public was wide-ranging and familiar to those who have participated in previous brainstorming sessions about the cut-through traffic problem. It focused on the how-to of preventing east-bound motorists on Hwy. 158 from turning left on to South Dogwood Trail and what effects that deterrence would have on the traffic flow elsewhere in town.
The group debated whether the left turn on to Juniper Trail from Hwy. 158 also should be blocked and whether north-bound motorists should be prevented from turning left on to Porpoise Run and Dolphin Run off of N.C. Hwy. 12 (Duck Road) and, if so, how. Those who supported preventing diversion on to the latter streets suggested blocking their entrances with barrels or other barriers—effectively dead-ending them—or making the roads one-way during the times of the heaviest weekend traffic flow.
The group also recognized that Google and WAZE, two GPS navigation services that direct motorists off of the thoroughfare and on to South Dogwood Trail, would have to be brought on board. This may take a Town Code ordinance, Mr. Karole said.
There seemed to be consensus among attendees, including the Town Council members, for a test of the no-left-turn plan next summer. The simplest way to run it, Councilman Neal said, would be to block only the turn on to South Dogwood Trail and none of the other jump-off streets, including Juniper. The fallout from the no-left-turn could be measured in terms of the traffic burden—vehicle counting would occur—on other residential streets. The Town could then make revisions.
Mr. Karole made clear to The Beacon that his committee is not single-shooting on a longer test run of the no-left-turn option that was implemented successfully June 23-24, 2018. He said his committee intends to present two or three permanent solutions to the cut-through traffic problem to the Town Council for it to consider. While he is willing to work on designing a test and calculating its costs, he is committed to achieving a permanent solution.
Mr. Karole expects to talk and/or meet soon with representatives of the N.C. Dept. of Transportation, Town Police Chief David Kole, Town Fire Chief Ed Limbacher, and Interim Town Manager Wes Haskett about implementation of the no-left-turn. The two Town Council co-sponsors will be involved in those discussions.
Ms. Morey said she had met with Chief Kole, and he wished to convey the message: “I will be as supportive as I can.”
Ms. Morey also mentioned that Chief Kole has had an unfilled position for some time, and that hiring someone for this position might be a factor in how supportive he can be.
Homeowner Doug Boulter brought up the proposed Mid-Currituck County Bridge during the discussion about the no-left-turn option, provoking a lively response. Some people are cynical; others are hopeful.
Regardless of one’s outlook, however, the bridge is years away. Its construction alone is expected to take two years. No one expressed a desire to delay taking action now to improve summer traffic conditions in town.
According to the N.C. Dept. of Transportation, the bridge is “in development” and the targeted start date for construction is spring 2022. It is designed as a 7-mile-long, two-lane toll road that would traverse the Currituck Sound, connecting Aydlett, in mainland Currituck County, to Corolla on the northern Outer Banks.
Earlier this year the Federal Highway Administration approved the $500 million bridge.
Local residents, hunters, and fishermen have sued N.C. DOT, claiming the bridge, and the traffic that crosses it, would bring substantial harm to an environmentally sensitive area and various wildlife habitats. The Southern Environmental Law Center represents the plainitiffs in this litigation.
The SSCA Boat Club’s next breakfast GAM will feature an update on the Mid-Currituck Bridge Project by Rodger Rochelle, chief engineer of Innovation Delivery for the N.C. Turnpike Authority, and Jennifer Harris, senior project manager at HNTB Corp.
The event will be held Jan. 9, at 8:30 a.m., at the Duck Woods Country Club, and is open only to SSCA and Boat Club members. If you would like to attend, please RSVP George Berry at firstname.lastname@example.org. The cost is $8.
A section of Chicahauk Trail that was repaved just 10 years ago is already showing “alligator cracking,” civil engineer Joe Anlauf told the Town’s capital infrastructure improvement committee last Wednesday, dropping a bombshell at the end of a lengthy meeting about the latest street projects.
“We’re starting to see failures in asphalt,” Mr. Anlauf said, referring to the 10-year-old pavement of Chicahauk Trail west of the street’s intersection with Trinitie Trail.
It is fortunate for taxpayers that newly elected Town Councilman Matt Neal, a builder with strong analytical skills, will be replacing Mayor Tom Bennett as a co-chairperson of the Capital Infrastructure Improvement Planning (CIIP) Committee. Mr. Neal is well-qualified to deal with determining why roads are failing and addressing stormwater problems, which also came up at the committee meeting.
Interim Town Manager Wes Haskett announced Mr. Neal’s appointment, as well as current committee Co-Chair/Councilman Jim Conners’s reappointment, effective in 2020.
(Please note: The Beacon will publish a report on the cut-through traffic committee’s meeting last week tomorrow.)
“Alligator” or “crocodile” cracking is so-named because the cracks resemble the scales on an alligator’s back. They are longitudinal cracks that become connected by transverse cracks, creating a geometric pattern that looks like reptilian scales.
Also known, perhaps misleadingly, as “fatigue” cracking, such asphalt concrete breakdown occurs when the pavement is carrying a traffic load that the supporting structure cannot hold up, The Beacon has learned in independent research.
Mr. Anlauf, who is referred to as the Town Engineer even though the Town’s contract is not with his engineering company, attributed the cracking to a change in the asphalt mix standard “mandated” by the U.S. government.
In the late 1990s to early 2000s, he explained to the five members of the seven-member CIIP Committee who attended the meeting, the U.S. government “switched” from the “Marshall Mix,” which produced “very sturdy asphalt,” he said, to the “Superpave” system, which is “prone to cracking and fracturing.”
The Marshall asphalt-mix design method, The Beacon has learned, was developed around 1939 by Bruce Marshall of the Mississippi Highway Dept. and later refined by the U.S. Army. For the engineers in our readership, we will note that, according to a Maryland asphalt company, the Marshall method “seeks to select the asphalt binder content at a desired density that satisfies minimum stability and range of flow values.” We will not attempt to translate that for the non-engineers.
The N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) has adopted Superpave, as have the vast majority of other state transportation departments.
Southern Shores’ original roads, which were built without a base, lasted 35 to 40 years or more. Those that have been repaved using the much-studied Superpave system—which came out of a research program established by Congress in 1987 to improve the performance and durability of the nation’s highways—may have to be redone, or significantly repaired, after just 10 years, Mr. Anlauf suggested.
Committee Co-Chairs Bennett and Conners, along with three committee members appointed by the Town Council, greeted this distressing financial news with calm acceptance. No one asked Mr. Anlauf any questions.
The Beacon begs to differ. We may not be road engineers, but we recognize an absurd proposition when we hear one. The question that immediately came to our minds was: What did the Town Engineer and the asphalt design contractor do wrong?
The Superpave system has been in use nationwide for 20 years. If its application were creating roads that deteriorate after just 10 years, the federal government undoubtedly would know and would have taken corrective action.
THE SUPERPAVE SYSTEM
At the risk of losing all readers except those with engineering credentials, we delve into some Superpave history.
The purpose of the $150 million Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP), which Congress established in 1987, was to find a way to build better-performing and longer-lasting roads.
In 1991, Congress authorized the Federal Highway Administration, an agency within the U.S. Dept. of Transportation, to initiate full-scale implementation of Superpave and other SHRP research results. After 10 years of testing, studying early failures, and making recommendations for revisions, the FHA issued its “Superpave Mixture Design Guide” at:
Superpave stands for Superior Performing Asphalt Pavement System. It includes, according to HMA Contracting Corp., an asphalt paving contractor in upstate New York, “a performance-based asphalt binder specification, a mix design analysis system, many new test procedures, and new equipment.” It is not a product, but rather a process.
“HMA,” The Beacon has learned, stands for hot-mix asphalt. Superpave changed the design methods and procedures for HMA. Most important for the Town’s purposes, the Superpave mix design method takes into account traffic loading and environmental conditions—but only if the HMA contractor knows what it’s doing.
To use the Superpave system effectively, the asphalt technician or contractor has to be able to assess accurately the type and amount of traffic to which a pavement will be subjected, as well as the specific environmental conditions—including high and low temperatures—that the pavement will be expected to perform under.
In other words, engineers and road contractors have to adjust the Superpave system for their geographic areas.
Asphalt is a petroleum-based glue or “binder” that mixes with hard aggregate particles, such as sand, gravel, or crushed stone, to create asphalt concrete. According to HMA Contracting, the Superpave mix design method consists of seven steps, the first two of which are aggregate selection and asphalt binder selection.
Just in doing some cursory research online about the Superpave system, The Beacon easily could see how error or lack of skill or knowledge on the part of a contractor could result in an inferior pavement product.
The members of the CIIP Committee and Mr. Haskett must investigate how town contractors achieved such poor results with the Superpave system. There must be oversight and accountability. They can start with contacting the NCDOT, which approves all road projects.
The Beacon also asks: What has been the experience of engineers rebuilding roads in nearby beach towns?
TOWN’S ENGINEERING CONTRACT
The Town’s engineering contract is with Deel Engineering, PLLC, which works with Anlauf Engineering, PLLC, as a subcontracting “project partner” on all Southern Shores street projects. Typically at CIIP meetings, Mr. Anlauf leads the discussion, as he did last week, and Andy Deel sits beside him.
The Town had a three-year contract with Deel Engineering, which expired June 30, 2019. At its June 4 meeting, the Town Council, pursuant to a motion by Councilman Conners, extended Deel’s contract for one year. The motion passed 3-2, with a strong dissent by former Councilmen Gary McDonald and Fred Newberry, who thought the contract should go through a bidding process.
Even former Councilman Christopher Nason, who voted with the Bennett-Conners bloc, thought that other qualified engineering firms should be considered. But former Town Manager Peter Rascoe did not offer the Council any alternatives—nor did the Council ask for them in a timely fashion—and the Deel contract was set to expire in 26 days. Because he did not consider it acceptable for the Town to be without an engineering contract, Mr. Newberry felt compromised.
Ironically, the contract extension was not signed by the Town until Aug. 20, when Acting Town Manager Haskett signed it. Deel’s president did not sign until Aug. 30. So much for urgency.
The Beacon trusts that the new Town Council will not let consideration of the Town’s engineering contract go until June and will start the process of considering other firms a few months ahead. Mr. Haskett should help in this effort, as well.
UPDATE ON SOUTH AND EAST DOGWOOD, HILLCREST DRIVE, DEWBERRY LANE, AND OTHER STREET PROJECTS
The Town Council has prioritized capital infrastructure improvements projects, ranking them in descending order, with the top four being:
East Dogwood Trail, from Duck Road (N.C. Hwy. 12) east to Ocean Boulevard
Hillcrest Drive, from its intersection with Hickory Trail to the SSCA tennis courts
Sea Oats Trail, from 11th Avenue north to Duck Road
By previous agreement, the Council has decided to appropriate for the annual capital improvements budget five cents out of every 22 cents per $100 of property value—which is the current tax rate—that the Town collects in real-estate taxes. In FY 2019-20, that amount is $662,340.
According to Mr. Anlauf, the FY 2019-20 budget will not cover all four priority projects. It may take two budget cycles to complete them, he said.
Former Councilman Gary McDonald tried for years to increase the capital improvements budget by changing the tax calculation, but the three-person majority blocked him. Newly elected Councilwoman/Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey—a more appealing messenger, apparently—may have better luck.
During a public-comment period, she suggested undertaking the “useful exercise” of looking at how many miles of the Town’s 37.6 miles of roadway have been rebuilt, over how much time, and then computing: “How long will it take at the rate we’re going to get to the end?”
The answer to this question, Ms. Morey said, might lead the Town Council to “consider that the annual budget is insufficient.”
This idea, she said, had been suggested to her by CIIP Committee member Glenn Riggin.
Mr. Anlauf is to do this calculation and present his result at the next CIIP Committee, which will likely be in February.
Updating what is going on now:
SOUTH DOGWOOD TRAIL SIDEWALK: As The Beacon reported 12/18/19, Mr. Anlauf informed the CIIP Committee that the tree and stump removal on the east side of South Dogwood Trail has been done, and that “no additional tree removal is to occur.”
Pink flags currently attached to trees and bushes, which have raised concerns for property owners, mark “sensitive areas,” Mr. Anlauf explained, not future removals.
The suggestion by Mr. Anlauf that some flags may designate where tree roots may be located raise a red flag for The Beacon. Damage to roots may result in tree deaths, a concern we red-flagged before the Town Council when we argued that the Town Engineer may have underestimated the number of trees that will be lost.
The Beacon advises all South Dogwood Trail homeowners to keep an eye on the pink flags to ensure that no further tree removal occurs.
Also, as earlier reported, the sidewalk construction is to start after Jan. 1 and will occur along the entire route, with work taking place at multiple locations. Crews will work first on the “easier sections with minimal grading,” according to Mr. Anlauf.
DEWBERRY LANE: Although it is fourth in priority, the CIIP Committee spent considerable time discussing design possibilities for Dewberry Lane, a 230-linear-foot-long lane off of Bayberry Trail. There are only three houses fronting on Dewberry, which ends in a Y, branching off to the driveways of two of the houses.
According to the Town’s “Guiding Standards for Use in Engineer Design of Necessary Street Rebuilds,” which were adopted in 2014, cul-de-sacs or other NCDOT-recognized turn-around areas must be installed in all locations where the roadway has no outlet, in order to “facilitate the maneuvering” of fire trucks and other emergency vehicles.
Mr. Anlauf sought an amendment to the standards for Dewberry Lane because “they are going to be difficult to adhere to.”
Constructing a cul-de-sac on Dewberry—one look at this picturesque lane reveals this suggestion to be ludicrous—“calls for a lot of removal of trees,” Mr. Anlauf said, but he said he felt he had no choice but to do so, under the standards.
Mr. Anlauf presented as an alternative to a cul-de-sac a “hammerhead turn-around,” which essentially is a fire-access driveway that serves no more than two dwellings. It would use the Y-configuration that is already in place.
Not only is Dewberry Lane unique because of its length, it has unique stormwater mitigation issues because of runoff from Bayberry Trail. Existing stormwater infrastructure is already quite extensive.
Mayor Bennett led the committee’s critique of the engineer’s Dewberry Lane rebuild design plans, showing both practicality and a concern for aesthetics. He pointed out that the standards allow the Town to investigate “other design options” in “locations where adequate area [for a cul-de-sac] is not available” and the “need for a larger turn-around area is necessary.” (Standard 5)
The Beacon would dispute the need for a larger turn-around area on Dewberry Lane, but we certainly welcome the Mayor’s flexibility.
By consensus, the committee agreed with the Mayor’s directive to Mr. Anlauf to proceed with the hammerhead turn-around and to get the “maximum” stormwater mitigation he can manage while removing a “minimum” number of trees.
“Do the best you can do with it,” Mayor Bennett said. “. . . give people something they’re reasonably comfortable with.”
EAST DOGWOOD TRAIL: According to Mr. Anlauf, the contract for stormwater and other improvements on East Dogwood Trail, between Duck Road and Ocean Boulevard, “went out to bid” last Tuesday, with bids scheduled to be opened Jan. 23.
The contractor should start work two weeks after that, he said. The contract completion date is May 1, but this “may be pushing it.”
HILLCREST DRIVE (the cut-through route portion): The survey work on this 3700-linear-foot-plus-long section of Hillcrest Drive is done, said Mr. Anlauf, who further reported that he would start the design work after Jan. 1.
The Town Engineer anticipates that the job will be bid upon this spring, and the work will occur during the summer, which would disrupt the heavy weekend cut-through traffic—sending it to Sea Oats Trail and Wax Myrtle, off of Hickory Trail, if the Town takes no action to prevent it.
Much of the discussion that the CIIP Committee had with Mr. Anlauf about the Hillcrest Drive rebuild concerned the width of the new street. The engineer reported that its width currently varies between 16 and 20 feet, except at the top of the hill, in an area that we called in 1972 “Lookout Point.”
You could park on the roadside at Lookout Point and view the Currituck Sound and the ocean simultaneously. Unfortunately, tree growth has eliminated this glorious panorama.
Mayor Bennett suggested that, in the interest of public safety, Hillcrest Drive be 20-feet-wide, except at Lookout Point, where he thought 22 or 24 feet would be more appropriate.
“If you narrow [Lookout Point] too much, you’ll endanger the public,” he said, noting that many people walk and bike on Hillcrest Drive.
Mr. Riggin brought up the possibility of a sidewalk down Hillcrest Drive that would originate at East Dogwood Trail. If a sidewalk were to be constructed, he observed, the road should be 18-feet-wide.
Mr. Conners, who said he was “told not to bring up” a town-wide walking system, which he endorses, suggested that the committee keep “focused” on the roadway and not anticipate a sidewalk.
SEA OATS TRAIL: The survey work on Sea Oats Trail has not been done yet.
*Committee member Al Ewerling pointed out that the Juniper Trail Bridge is “bouncing more,” as the “road is sinking more.” No action was taken.
*The Mayor suggested widening the eastbound lanes on East Dogwood Trail at the Hwy. 12 traffic light in order to reduce the tightness of the right turn. He suggested obtaining a foot or two from the median to the north of the lanes and asked if this work could be incorporated into the East Dogwood Trail project contract. Mr. Anlauf advised that such a change would cost about $2400 and could be put into the East Dogwood project “by addendum.”
*Mr. Haskett brought up stormwater problems that affect several homeowners around 245 Sea Oats Trail. Committee members are aware of this flooding, as well as stormwater problems elsewhere in Town—some of it caused by street improvements, such as curbing—and suggested that when Councilman Neal comes on board, a comprehensive approach to such problems should be devised. No action was taken otherwise.
The tree and stump removal on the east side of South Dogwood Trail is done, Town Engineer Joe Anlauf told the Southern Shores capital improvements committee today. Although many trees are currently “pink-flagged,” he said, “No additional tree removal is to occur.”
Mr. Anlauf also reported that construction work will begin after Jan. 1 and will occur along the entire length of the proposed sidewalk.
Crews will “jump around and work at multiple locations,” he said, explaining that “easier sections with minimal grading,” such as the terrain near the cemetery, will be tackled first.
Members of the public have raised concerns about the number of additional trees on South Dogwood Trail that have been pink-flagged, Mr. Anlauf told the Town’s Capital Infrastructure Improvement Planning Committee (CIIP), which is chaired by Mayor Tom Bennett and Councilman Jim Conners.
Mr. Anlauf told the committee that he called the tree contractor, Albemarle Landscapes and Tree Services, to find out why and learned that the flags designate “sensitive areas” on the route that require special attention. They may designate where tree roots and water meters are, for example, he said.
The Town Engineer updated the CIIP committee on the status of all pending infrastructure projects, including South Dogwood Trail; East Dogwood Trail, from Hwy. 12 to Ocean Boulevard; Dewberry Lane; and sections of Hillcrest Drive and Sea Oats Trail. He also addressed the budgets for these improvements.
The committee decided by consensus to dispense with the now-standard cul de sac at the end of Dewberry, which is an unusually short side road off of Bayberry Trail. Only three houses front on the lane.
The Beacon will report in full on today’s CIIP Committee meeting, as well as on Monday’s Cut-Through Traffic Committee meeting on Friday or Saturday. The traffic committee discussed implementation of the no-left-turn option at South Dogwood Trail this summer.
It looks like we have a beautiful, warm day ahead of us, and an even warmer day, with the temperature close to 70 degrees, tomorrow. We’re in the middle of the December summer that we all love. Enjoy!
I’d like to remind you that the Exploratory Committee to Address Cut-Through Traffic is meeting today at 5:30 p.m. in the Kern Pitts Center. Chairperson Tommy Karole says he plans to follow up on the ideas that came out of the Nov. 19 public forum, particularly the no-left turn option, and engage in further brainstorming. He has not issued a formal agenda. Newly sworn Town Council members Elizabeth Morey and Matt Neal will be taking over Council sponsorship of this six-person citizens’ committee from former Councilman Fred Newberry, who is responsible for the committee being formed.
In other town business, the seven-member Town Capital Infrastructure Improvement Planning Committee meets Wednesday at 2 p.m. in the Pitts Center to discuss the Dewberry Lane street improvement plan options prepared by the Town Engineer. This presumably will be the last meeting of the current committee, whose members were named in 2017 and include appointees by former Councilmen Gary McDonald and Fred Newberry. The Town Council did not announce the new committee membership at its Dec. 3 meeting; it is expected to do so at its Jan. 7 meeting.
I will report on both committee meetings later in the week.
NO! MINI-HOTELS CAMPAIGN
I would like to put in a plug for the “No! Mini-Hotels” Go Fund Me campaign. The two appeals filed by homeowners who own property across from SAGA’s mini-hotels on Ocean Boulevard have reached the court level and will be argued with great energy and enthusiasm by the homeowners’ attorney, Jim Conner of Calhoun, Bhella & Sechrest of Durham. Mr. Conner is an excellent environmental lawyer.
The Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA) permit appeal, which challenges the permits issued to SAGA’s investor groups by the State of North Carolina as being inconsistent with Southern Shores’ Land-Use Plan, is in Wake County Superior Court in Raleigh. According to Mr. Conner, a motion hearing in the litigation will be held in January.
The appeal of the zoning permit issued by the Town of Southern Shores for the construction at 134 Ocean Blvd. is in Dare County Superior Court. Mr. Conner has informed The Beacon that a motion hearing will be held in this litigation in February, with the appeal scheduled to be heard in April. The petitioner-homeowner lost at the Town Board of Adjustment level, 3-2.
I will update the nominihotels.com website in January with specifics.
As you might imagine, the litigation has been costly, but the petitioners are determined to continue with it because of the principles involved, especially in the CAMA permit case. They seek to fortify the Southern Shores Land-Use Plan and to protect the Town from development that is oversized and destructive of Southern Shores’ character.
As the year winds down and you are considering your financial status, taxes, donations, etc., please consider making a contribution to the petitioners’ litigation war chest. No donation is too small. The mini-hotels at 98 Ocean Blvd. and 134 Ocean Blvd. have been built, but it is not too late for a court to order them to be torn down. SAGA’s investor groups built these rental machines at their own risk, knowing that the outcome of the litigation may be adverse to their financial interests. They didn’t care.
The Seventh Avenue “squeaky wheels” appear to be getting their way. But in giving it to them, The Beacon believes the Town Council is going overboard.
By unanimous decision Dec. 3, the Council approved a cumbersome motion by Mayor Tom Bennett that essentially instructs Southern Shores’ coastal engineering consultant to change its beach-assessment methodology and disregard the results of its own studies in order to include the town’s entire coastline in a nourishment project. Need is irrelevant.
The Town will spend about $10,000 on a “revision” by APTIM Coastal Planning & Engineering of the “Beach Management Plan” that it formulated in December 2018, after studying Southern Shores’ 3.7-mile coastline.
In rejecting the part of the Town’s hired expert’s conclusions that they did not like, both Mayor Bennett and Councilman Jim Conners spoke about “modifying” the “goals” of the Town’s Beach Management Plan, whose bottom-line objective is to sustain the beaches.
They are merely toying with semantics.
The problem the revisionists have is that APTIM concluded that IF beach nourishment were done in Southern Shores, it should be done only “along the southern 15,000 feet of the Town,” according to Program Manager Kenneth Willson’s September report.
This section runs from 70 feet south of Fifth Avenue to the Kitty Hawk border, excluding Seventh Avenue, where vocal and persistent beach-nourishment proponent Paul Borzellino lives—but not on the oceanfront.
Seventh Avenue property owner Mark Peters, who lives in Great Falls, Va., also has advocated before the Town Council for beach nourishment, circulating photographs of a narrowed post-storm oceanfront behind his house.
Last week the Mayor announced: “Any project that [Ken Willson] does has to include the entire beach.”
We ask: Why? Why not just do Seventh Avenue and other hot spots?
BEHIND THE SCENES, AGAIN
Among the four northern Outer Banks beach towns that have done beach nourishment, only Kitty Hawk has added sand to its entire beach—and for good reason.
Kitty Hawk’s dune system has never been called “fairly stable,” as Mr. Willson called Southern Shores’ at a March 2018 Town Council session. Nor has Mr. Willson ever told the Kitty Hawk council, as he told the Southern Shores Town Council then, that there is “no big rush” to “jump” on beach nourishment.
In storms, Kitty Hawk has a major flooding problem between the highways, especially on Lindbergh Avenue. In 2017, the town addressed it by nourishing 3.58 miles of shoreline at a cost of $18.2 million. Duck and Kill Devil Hills did their nourishment around the same time, as did Southern Shores at Pelican Watch.
To achieve the end of beach nourishment at Seventh Avenue, the Mayor must tamper with APTIM’s standardized analytical process. He must play politics.
To arrive at this result, he met with the “new” Town Council in November outside of a public forum without public notice or public participation. As Mr. Conners made clear in the Dec. 3 meeting, some or all of the Town Council members conferred with Mr. Willson. (See The Beacon’s post about the town-manager search, 12/11/19.)
When the Mayor met “on three occasions” in November with “incoming Council members,” as he stated, Councilmen Leo Holland and Matt Neal and Councilwoman Elizabeth Morey had no authority to speak for the Town. They had yet to be sworn in. The Beacon believes they were out of line.
APTIM’S STUDIES TO DATE
APTIM did its first shoreline survey of Southern Shores in December 2017. It later measured shoreline change between December 2017 and May 2019 and submitted this data to the Town in September 2019 in an updated beach assessment report.
APTIM applies coastal engineering methods (not science) to derive beach erosion rates which it then factors into its projections for maintaining the shoreline in the event of certain storm scenarios.
For example, if, hypothetically, the annual erosion rate at the Chicahauk Trail beach access is 3 cubic yards per linear foot, APTIM asks how much sand should be added to the beach now in order to provide adequate storm-damage reduction in the event of a storm with characteristics like 2003’s Hurricane Isabel? It arrives at a conclusion using specialized technology.
One may quarrel with how, when, and where APTIM obtains measurements to calculate erosion rates, as oceanographers with the Duck Research Pier have, but one cannot quarrel with its uniformity and consistency in applying the methodology it employs.
Nonetheless, Councilman Conners sought at the meeting to distinguish Southern Shores from nearby beach towns, whose coastlines APTIM also has analyzed, saying “This stuff is not one size fits all.”
(Only Nags Head has contracted with a different coastal engineering company.)
The Town Council is currently “taking the data and recommendations” of APTIM, Mr. Conners said, and “tailor-making them to our own needs.”
The key “specific” need that Southern Shores has, but Duck, Kitty Hawk, and Kill Devil Hills do not, is the creation of a dry “usable” beach at Seventh Avenue.
According to Mayor Bennett, he and the not-yet-official Town Council “called our consultant in to talk to us about our Beach Management Plan (BMP) update. There were things about the plan that we weren’t solidly behind. . . . We didn’t feel it applied to Southern Shores and our beach situation. . . . It was more generic.”
In a Dec. 21, 2018 cover letter to former Town Manager Peter Rascoe, Mr. Willson described exactly what the BMP does: It “provides a long-term vision for the Town . . . to sustain the beaches that support a significant portion of their [sic] local economy and maintains [sic] the tax base of the Town.”
It was tailormade for Southern Shores.
To the extent there are BMP “goals,” other than just an overriding objective of maintaining the beaches, they are broadly stated in APTIM’s December 2018 report as the means by which such maintenance can occur:
through a “reasonable level of storm damage reduction to public and private development”;
through mitigation of “long-term erosion that could threaten public and private development, recreational opportunities, and biological resources”; and
through a “healthy beach that supports” bird and sea turtle habitat.
THE MAYOR’S MOTION
In his motion, Mayor Bennett proposed “to update the Town’s Beach Management Plan to include updated goals and an additional option that includes the entire beach, including a cost estimate, the anticipated depth of usable dry beach upon completion of the project, dune stabilization, maps with legible street labels, and illustrations of how the beach has changed over time using historical aerial images.”
His motion also called for Mr. Willson to present this information in a “public forum” on Jan. 21, presumably at the Town Council’s 9 a.m. workshop session that day.
This is the second important Town issue—the first being the search for a new town manager—that the Council has scheduled for follow-up at its inconvenient mid-monthly morning meeting, rather than its more convenient regularly scheduled evening meeting. The Council should hold its Jan. 21 meeting at 5:30 p.m.
After the Town Council unanimously approved the Mayor’s motion, Mr. Borzellino suggested in public comments that the word “depth” be changed to “width.”
The Mayor chatted amiably with Mr. Borzellino during his two three-minute public-comment periods—a significant departure from the Mayor’s usual silence—and swiftly “moved” to make his word change, which the full council unanimously, and informally, approved.
The Mayor earlier explained that he had worked on his motion alone for an hour before having to enlist Interim Town Manager Wes Haskett’s assistance.
“I couldn’t make any headway,” he said, adding, “I’m not the sharpest knife.”
Property owners, especially those on the oceanfront who may have to pay handsomely for any nourishment that the Town does, deserve clearheaded thinking from their elected officials about a subject this consequential.
In a later discussion about how the revision would affect the work of DEC Associates, the Charlotte-based financial-consulting firm that the Town has hired, Mr. Haskett said that DEC cannot give a “summary” of beach nourishment costs and their distribution until after Mr. Willson does his additional work.
But, he noted, DEC has “run models” of costs.
Councilman Neal asked Mr. Haskett to have DEC present in January what it has and not wait for Mr. Willson’s entire-beach option.
THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
Cost is the elephant in the room that the majority of the former Town Council never confronted directly and the current Council is already skirting. But The Beacon can broadly calculate the cost burden based on information dispensed at public forums, our own research, and our conversations with Dare County Manager/Attorney Bobby Outten.
According to a 2016 article by The Outer Banks Voice, Mr. Rascoe estimated that it would cost $25 million to nourish all 3.7 miles of the Southern Shores shoreline. That seems a fair minimum ballpark figure to us.
In September, APTIM estimated a cost of about $16 million for the two beach-nourishment project options that it recommended, neither of which includes the beaches north of Fourth Avenue.
Mr. Outten told the Town Council last month that Dare County has about $7.5 million available in its Beach Nourishment Fund (BNF) to give to a town; an unincorporated Dare County community, such as Avon; or both (in a split) for beach nourishment.
Earlier this week, Mr. Outten confirmed to The Beacon that there will probably be “a little more than $7.5 million” next spring, maybe about $8 million, “but it’s not going to be $15 million.”
Avon may be competing with Southern Shores for Dare County funding, but it has not yet done a beach study, which is a prerequisite for an application.
If both Avon and Southern Shores apply for the $7.5-$8 million grant, the county would prioritize the two projects, Mr. Outten said, assessing such factors as the storm/beach damage threat that each faces, as well as the cost-benefit and affordability of each.
Mr. Outten said that the “need in Avon is great. . . . The bigger threat is in Avon,” which is a gateway to all of south Hatteras Island.
But Avon has an affordability “problem.” Its tax base can be expected to contribute only $3 million, Mr. Outten said, on a project that is reportedly estimated to cost $20 million. The $3 million figure is derived from an increase in 40 cents per $100 of property value.
TAX BURDEN ON SOUTHERN SHORES
And what of Southern Shores? Even if Dare County gave the Town $8 million, it would still be short anywhere from $8 million to $17 million or more.
According to auditor, Dowdy & Osborne, LLP, the Town collected $3,024,041 in ad valorem taxes in 2018-19, $101,217 of which was property tax on motor vehicles. The total property valuation subject to the Town’s 0.22 tax rate—which is 22 cents per $100 of value—was $1,374,564,091.
All of this revenue pays a little less than 50 percent of the Town’s operating expenses.
To raise $8 million on $1.4 billion of property value, the Town could levy an across-the-board tax increase of nearly 60 cents. To raise twice that amount, the town-wide tax increase would be about $1.20.
As The Beacon has previously reported, it is customary for towns to distribute the burden of increased taxation for beach nourishment so that oceanfront property owners pay much more than other property owners in town, the theory being that they benefit more.
Pursuant to state law, the Town sets up “municipal service districts” (MSD) and taxes property owners according to the district in which their property is located. Public hearings are held during the MSD process.
It is possible for a property owner to petition the Town Council to be excluded from a municipal service district on the grounds that his or her tract does not receive the benefit of the district.
Southern Shores has a smaller tax base than Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head, and, unlike these towns, it has no oceanfront commercial development to shoulder the burden. Oceanfront property owners in Town could see their taxes increase by 40 cents per $100 of value, or even more. For a $1 million property, that would be an additional $4,000.
For the owners of the luxurious seven-bedroom, 6,073-square-foot house on the oceanfront at the Seventh Avenue beach access, it would be twice that amount.
As for property owners elsewhere in town, an increase of 1, 2, 5, or more cents per $100 could be levied. On a $500,000 property, the increases would be $50, $100, $250, etc., respectively.
If we knew how much of the $1,374,564,091 in total Town property value represented oceanfront property, and oceanside or ocean “zone” property, we could more accurately speculate on the potential tax increases.
WHAT ABOUT THE $250,000?
Asked about the $250,000 that the Dare County Board of Commissioners approved last month for Southern Shores to conduct a beach-nourishment study, Mr. Outten told The Beacon that any money given to the Town for a project would be offset by what it has already received and used.
At the Dec. 3 meeting, Mayor Bennett said that the Town may use the $250,000, which is earmarked for a coastal engineering study, for “engineering,” “design,” and “consulting” costs. The Mayor was being imprecise.
Mr. Haskett said that he had confirmed with Mr. Outten that this money “can be used for permitting and design.”
In an earlier report, we quoted Mr. Outten as saying that the $250,000 could not be used to reimburse Southern Shores for its APTIM studies. (See The Beacon, 11/9/19.)
A few days ago, the County Manager clarified that “Whatever we did for the [other] towns, we should do for Southern Shores.”
The Beacon also learned from Mr. Outten that “Duck is actively going ahead with its maintenance,” tentatively scheduled for 2022-23, while Kill Devil Hills is seeking to delay theirs.
Just because maintenance is scheduled every five or six years does not mean it occurs then. Nags Head’s maintenance this year occurred eight years after its initial project.
A primary reason that Southern Shores is considering a project now is that it would like to share mobilization costs with nearby towns, which are about 10 percent of the total project costs.
“Do we speed up Kill Devil Hills?” Mr. Outten posed, “or slow down Duck?” If Southern Shores piggy-backs with Duck, Kitty Hawk, and Kill Devil Hills, “How do we “sync up all four towns?”
HOW MUCH ARE YOU WILLING TO PAY?
Seventh Avenue’s Mr. Borzellino has set up a private Facebook Group restricted to Southern Shores homeowners who support beach nourishment. Homeowners who are opposed to beach nourishment may not join and share their views.
His group, which Mr. Borzellino told the Town Council consists of “80 to 100 homeowners”—the page notes 88—is not exclusive to oceanfront property owners. Without knowing where their homes are, The Beacon cannot assess their motives and credibility. It is easy to spend someone else’s money.
In his conclusory remarks at the Dec. 3 meeting, Councilman Neal commented upon the number of emails he has received from this group and said to Mr. Borzellino: “Please tell us how much you’re willing to pay for it.”
Regardless of how the Town Council’s thinking evolves, it must disclose that thinking in public. We cannot regress to the dark pre-December 2015 days of no transparency.
That also means that if a document is included in the Council meeting package, the document should be included in full—or the section from which it is excerpted should be fully included—with the publication date clearly shown. APTIM’s “Executive Summary” in the Dec. 3 package was incomplete and taken out of context. It came from the December 2018 report.
At her first-ever meeting as a Council member, Elizabeth Morey encouraged people to “keep talking to us.” The Beacon would ask the newly elected Mayor Pro Tem to do the same. Let the sun shine in.
TRAFFIC COMMITTEEON MONDAY: Don’t forget: The cut-through traffic exploratory committee meets Monday at 5:30 p.m. in the Pitts Center. According to Chairperson Tommy Karole, it will be a brainstorming session. New Town Council co-sponsors Morey and Neal are expected to attend.
The “new” Town Council last week delayed until Jan. 21 any action on the already delayed search for a town manager to succeed Peter Rascoe without explaining the behind-the-scene deliberations that led to the delay.
Mr. Rascoe gave notice of his Sept. 1 retirement on July 19. His last day on the job was Aug. 16.
During the Council’s Dec. 3 meeting Mayor Tom Bennett said that he had held three meetings with members of the new Town Council during the period between the November election and the swearing-in of the newly elected members.
It was during this time that the new Town Council apparently decided to have a consultant speak at its Jan. 21 workshop regarding “the process of hiring a town manager,” as the Mayor said, thus delaying the selection of a search firm for at least another seven weeks.
According to Town Human Resources Director Bonnie Swain, if the Town does not contract with a search firm until January, the new town manager will probably not be hired and appointed until late May.
That the “new” Town Council made such a significant decision outside of a public forum, without public accountability and public participation, raises a large red flag for The Beacon. That Council members freely did so, despite three of them lacking any legal authority to speak for the Town Council until they were sworn in Dec. 3, raises another.
Although the newly elected Town Council members were not yet subject to North Carolina’s open meeting laws—also called “sunshine” laws because they illuminate—they would do well to remember why they exist. They ensure the public’s right to access to the internal workings of government, not just to announcements of its “done deals.”
Sunshine laws ensure greater transparency, candidness, and openness in government deliberations, as well as votes and meetings.
In a council-manager form of government, such as Southern Shores has, the mayor’s role is—and should be—limited. The duties and powers of the council, manager, and mayor are defined by state law. It is the full council that governs, not the mayor.
As we explain below, the N.C. legislature has delineated the powers and duties of a city/town manager, providing a well-known job description. Southern Shores has had six permanent managers since 1988 and should have records detailing previous searches.
This isn’t rocket science. We believe a delay for a consultant is absurd.
TOWN MANAGER HIRING SEARCH AND MAYOR’S BIAS
Planning Director Wes Haskett has been serving as Interim Town Manager since Sept. 1.
At its Aug. 6 regular meeting, the former Town Council directed Mr. Haskett and Mr. Rascoe to prepare a list of search firms to consider at its September meeting “for the process of going forward to hire and appoint a full-time manager.”
The vote on the directive was 4-1, with the Mayor dissenting. According to N.C. law (General Statutes sec. 160A-69), a mayor only has the right to vote when the vote among Town Council members is tied. Unfortunately, Southern Shores has not traditionally observed this restriction.
N.C. law also specifies that mayors “preside” at Town Council meetings; they do not control them.
After first erroneously identifying him, Mayor Bennett explained at last week’s meeting that the consultant coming to the Jan. 21 workshop would inform the Council “what he recommends we look for in a manager based on his history and experience.” No other Town Council member publicly commented on the need or desire for such advice.
The adviser is Hartwell Wright, a human resources consultant with the N.C. League of Municipalities (NCLM), which is a membership organization well-known to all N.C. town staff. Ms. Swain correctly, but offhandedly, identified Mr. Wright in remarks she made to the Council Dec. 3, after Mayor Bennett said the consultant was from the UNC-CH School of Government (SOG).
Mr. Wright’s name appears on a list of four “management search consultants by fee” that Mr. Haskett compiled for the Town Council to consider in September, when Mayor Bennett stopped “the process of going forward” with the search.
In her presentation to the Council last week, Ms. Swain discussed—largely, in general terms—her contact with the three firms: N-Focus of Kannapolis; Developmental Associates, LLC, of Chapel Hill; and The Mercer Group of Raleigh.
She said one of the firm representatives was a former town manager, but did not identify him. Based on our research, we believe this would be Steve Straus of Developmental Associates, who has a Ph.D. in political science from Duke and formerly served as an assistant city manager in Southern Pines.
Ms. Swain said nothing about the arrangement the Town made with Mr. Wright, including whether, and how much, it is paying for his consultancy.
The Mayor’s Postponement
After opposing in August the preparation of a search-firm list, Mayor Bennett succeeded at the Town Council’s Sept. 10 meeting with postponing any recommendation of a choice among the firms, until the new Town Council’s December meeting.
The Mayor initiated this postponement by making a confusing motion to defer any action on the search for three months in order “to ensure” that the new town manager’s “education, experience, and qualities are compatible with our new Town Council” and with the “best interests of the town.”
The Beacon wonders if Mayor Bennett knows what the N.C. General Assembly has specified on the subject. The powers and duties enumerated by the state legislature in N.C.G.S. sec. 160A-148 clearly require a person with executive-level decision-making ability and experience in the job. N.C.G.S. sec. 160A-147 actually specifies that “the manager shall be appointed solely on the basis of the manager’s executive and administrative qualifications.”
Most important among the eight paragraphs of the N.C. law that describe the manager’s powers and duties is the second one, which states that the town manager shall “direct and supervise the administration of all departments, offices, and agencies” of the town, subject only to the “general direction and control of the council.”
Councilman Jim Conners quickly seconded the Mayor’s deferral motion, but Councilman Nason, who typically voted with the Mayor and Mr. Conners, did not go along, initially. Not wishing to delay the hiring search unduly, he suggested asking the Town staff to proceed with contacting the firms to obtain their fees, qualifications, and other information, so as to enable the new Council to choose one on Dec. 3.
Ultimately—and speciously, we believe—Mr. Nason decided that the “qualifications” and “criteria” that the then-Town Council might have for the new town manager might be “different” from the qualifications and criteria that the new Town Council would have. On that basis, he voted with the Mayor and Mr. Conners in approving a postponement.
The Beacon wonders if Mr. Nason was aware, as he should have been, of the state laws governing a town manager’s qualifications, powers, and duties. (See “It Isn’t Rocket Science,” below.)
Councilman Newberry asked the Mayor to explain his awkwardly worded motion, which contravened the wishes expressed in August of the other four Town Councilmen.
In restatement, the Mayor said that he thought both the selection of the search firm and the selection of the new town manager should be within “the purview of the new Council,” despite the months-long delay in the process. He repeatedly mentioned that the new Town Council would be working with the new manager for “four years.” The Mayor has two years remaining in his term.
Both Councilmen Newberry and Gary McDonald objected, but they lost to the majority bloc.
Mr. Newberry asked the Mayor: “Why do you want to delay [the search]?”
“What’s the harm?” the Mayor sharply and tellingly replied. “. . . We got a new manager in place. As far as I can tell, he’s doing a fine job.”
As of Sept. 10, Mr. Haskett had been on the job only nine days. Although it may have intended to do so, the Town Council did not vote Aug. 6 to appoint him Acting Town Manager from Aug. 19-Aug. 31, when Mr. Rascoe was still on the job, but on leave. It only voted on his interim appointment—pursuant to another confusingly worded motion made by the Mayor after a closed session between the Council and the Town Attorney.
After the Sept. 10 postponement motion carried, 3-2, Councilman McDonald called out the Mayor on the political maneuver, suggesting that he sought to stall the search.
“You were not in favor of going forward with this process at the last meeting,” Mr. McDonald said. “That’s just a delay tactic, Tom.”
Exercising far more than a limited, largely ceremonial role, Mayor Bennett sternly said, “You expressed your opinion, Gary. . . . It’s been voted on. . . . That’s pretty much the end of it. Thank you.”
But Councilman McDonald had every right to speak on the public record.
The Beacon does not believe this should be the end of it. Instead, we believe an investigation into the Mayor’s conduct and his personal bias is in order.
We recall asking Mayor Bennett after a 2018 spring budget workshop about the Town’s creation and funding of Mr. Haskett’s deputy town manager position. He said then that the need for this position existed because of the possibility that Mr. Rascoe would retire.
That was the first we heard about the then-60-year-old Mr. Rascoe, whose contract had years remaining on it, retiring. The Town subsequently paid for Mr. Haskett to attend weeks of training at the School of Government to do the job that it created for him.
REPORT ON SEARCH FIRMS
During the month that the Mayor was conferring with the new Town Council, he could have asked Ms. Swain to file a written report summarizing the contact she has had with the three search firms—if she has not already done this as a matter of good business practice—and including the information she has obtained from them. But he did not.
If he had, or if Ms. Swain had acted on her own initiative, she would have been able to do more last week than tell the Council that she would be “glad to forward” the client lists, references, and other information she has received from the firms about their practices and qualifications. She could have had this information in the December meeting packet for both the Town Council and the public to peruse.
Instead, Ms. Swain referred vaguely to “some” of the firms (Does that mean two?) having handled town-manager searches for “large cities and counties,” “smaller towns,” and “coastal communities . . . that are comparable to us.” And she told the Council, not surprisingly, that the three firms are “very qualified” and “equally qualified” and that their service fee—$20,000—would be comparable.
She dropped a few of the firms’ client names—Duke, East Carolina University, North Carolina State University—and said that, if the Town contracts with one of the firms in January, “the soonest that the process would allow us to hire a manager would be about the end of May.”
The Beacon has never heard of a process negotiating and signing a contract.
The Town might be able to “hurry them along,” Ms. Swain said, but she noted that all three firms recommend advertising a job opening for “about six to eight weeks.”
I attended UNC-Chapel Hill law school with Ellis Hankins, who is senior vice president of The Mercer Group in Raleigh. I know Mr. Hankins by reputation as an exceptional attorney with a lifetime of experience in representing local governments in different capacities. He is a former executive director, general counsel, chief lobbyist, and board member of the League of Municipalities. He practices law with The Brough Law Firm.
If Ms. Swain thinks that the three firms are “equally” qualified, then the Town can’t make a bad choice.
IT ISN’T ROCKET SCIENCE
Despite the Mayor’s and Mr. Nason’s concerns about “qualifications,” hiring a town manager is not rocket science. Those of us who have been effective executives and managers or have worked for effective executives and managers can readily knock off a list of qualifications needed in an effective town manager. This wheel is well-tread and does not need reinvention.
Since 1988, Southern Shores has had six town managers: Cay Cross (1988-97), who resigned just ahead of the Blue Sky misappropriation-of-funds scandal being exposed; Tom Gjestson (1997-98?-2003); Carl Classen (2003-06); Webb Fuller, as both interim and permanent TM (2006-07); Charles Read Jr. (2008-10); and Peter Rascoe (2010-19).
Interestingly, Police Chief David Kole has served twice as interim town manager: the first time between Mr. Fuller’s and Mr. Read’s tenures, after he’d been on the job for only six months, and again between Mr. Read’s and Mr. Rascoe’s tenures.
Also interestingly, former Mayor Don Smith sought to install his wife, then-Town Administrative Assistant Merrie Smith, as interim town manager after Mr. Fuller stepped down, but his motion was defeated. Instead, Chief Kole was appointed by a 3-2 Town Council vote.
Mr. Smith was the first of Southern Shores’ activist mayors. Since his tenure, the job of town manager—despite it being a matter of state law—has become political, which was never the intent of the North Carolina legislature.
Mr. Fuller, who was Nags Head’s Town Manager for 20 years, assisted the Town as a search consultant during the hiring process that led to Mr. Rascoe’s appointment. He is still on the Outer Banks and can be readily consulted without a fee or any fanfare.
There are a handful of beach town managers (Duck, Kitty Hawk, KDH, Nags Head, Manteo) within easy driving distance of Southern Shores who can advise the Town on the hiring process, as well as give their opinions on town-managerial “right stuff.”
Manteo underwent a rigorous search process to hire its current manager earlier this year, after 30-year Town Manager Kermit Skinner retired. Mayor Bobby Owens would likely be pleased to share his wisdom with the Town Council.
A 20-year Town employee, Ms. Swain also has had ample experience with town-manager searches.
Local governments in North Carolina operate under several different forms: 1) a county-manager or council-manager form, like we have; 2) a mayor-council or mayor-county commissioner form; or 3) an alternative form that complies with state law.
As noted above, NCGS sec. 160A-148 enumerates a town manager’s powers and duties. This statute is codified, verbatim, in Southern Shores Town Code section 2-22.
The Town Council cannot reinvent the wheel, even if it wants to.
The Makings of an Effective Town Manager
The UNC-CH School of Government has written extensively about county and city managers, including about what makes for an “effective” manager.
In a widely circulated 2014 publication, SOG recommends that, in a search for a new town manager, the local government first should “determine the future needs” of the community and the government, and then list the “critical competencies and skills that are required to deal with those future needs.”
To assist in this list-making, the SOG helpfully offers “18 manager competencies” considered by the International City/County Management Assn. (ICMA) to be “essential to effective local government management.”
The ICMA is a professional association of managers, who may become credentialed through its voluntary credentialing program and then commit to 40 hours of professional development each year to retain their credentials. The ICMA also has a professional code of ethics.
The North Carolina association affiliated with the ICMA is known as the N.C. City & County Management Assn. Peter Rascoe was an active member of the N.C. association as of late July 2019.
Among the competencies listed by the ICMA are the following:
*Initiative, risk-taking, vision, creativity, and innovation;
*Financial analysis expertise and experience;
*Human resources management experience;
*Skills in strategic planning; advocacy and interpersonal communication; and presentation;
*Integrity; and personal development.
It also included competencies in “democratic advocacy and citizen participation,” “policy facilitation,” “quality assurance,” “media relations,” and “diversity.”
The Beacon urges the Town Council to form a three-person town-manager search committee, comprised of the Council members who will be in office the next four years, and to vest in this committee the authority to make a hiring recommendation that the other two members must accept, without question.
We believe the fundamental fairness of the town-manager search process is at stake.
NEXT UP: BEHIND-THE-SCENES ACTION ON BEACH NOURISHMENT
In the course of the April 23, 2019 work session on the FY 2019-20 budget, former Councilman Gary McDonald brought up the question of whether Bay Disposal & Recycling, LLC, which picks up the Town’s curbside recycling, is “dumping these items into a landfill,” as The Beacon reported 4/24/19.
“Mr. McDonald mentioned this prospect,” we reported nearly eight months ago, “and other Town officials concurred with him. . . . [We distinctly remember Councilman Christopher Nason agreeing with Mr. McDonald.]
“This appalling bit of news,” The Beacon continued, “elicited no action from the Town Council, and no definitive explanation from [former Town Manager Peter] Rascoe, who did not dispute the allegation.”
A dedicated recycler since the mid-1980s, when I lived in Baltimore, I was horrified. I beseeched every member of the Town Council, as well as Mr. Rascoe, to investigate this claim. “Pick up the phone,” I implored.
At last Tuesday evening’s Town Council meeting, we learned exactly what Mayor Tom Bennett; the former Town Council, which included current Councilman Jim Conners; former Town Manager Rascoe; and follow-up Interim Town Manager Wes Haskett have done about the landfill allegation since April:
The Beacon believes that, based on his performance Tuesday, if newly sworn Councilman Matt Neal had been on the Town Council in April, we would have received a prompt explanation. He would have found out eight months ago.
Joshua Smaltz, Bay Disposal’s Outer Banks Site Manager, appeared before the Town Council at its December regular meeting to request an increase in the monthly per-home collection rate that the Town now pays. In the course of the Council’s dialogue with him, Councilman Conners sought to dispel “rumors” about the company dumping recyclables in landfills. He asked Mr. Smaltz to address the rumors.
In so doing, Mr. Smaltz actually confirmed them: The issue is not whether recyclables are going to landfills, but who’s physically doing the dumping.
Bay Disposal seeks an increase from a monthly fee of $5.42 per home in Southern Shores—which itself is an increase of 10 cents over the original June 15, 2018 contract price—to $7.40 per home. According to the contract, which Mr. Smaltz and Mr. Rascoe signed, there are 2,394 homes in Southern Shores.
As Councilman Neal astutely pointed out, the contract between Bay Disposal and the Town, “lacks an escalation clause.” In fact, as Mr. Neal noted, the contract states that additional fees or costs are Bay Disposal’s responsibility. The Town has no obligation to even consider Bay Disposal’s request for a rate increase, effective Jan. 1.
Mr. Neal was the only Council member who addressed Mr. Smaltz’s request for a rate increase as a matter of contract, rather than as a request for help. He (again astutely) observed that if the Town agrees to amend the contract to increase the monthly rate, further amendments may be necessary. He even brought up the possibility of a more extensive rewriting of the contract.
THE PROBLEM OF CONTAMINATION
According to Mr. Smaltz, the $1.98 monthly per-home fee increase—which Mr. Neal termed “considerable”—is necessary because Bay Disposal’s “processing fees” for “transporting and processing the recycling” have increased precipitously.
At the time of the Town’s June 2018 contract, Bay Disposal was paying $20/per ton of recycling material for processing. This amount gradually increased. As of Nov. 1, 2019, he said, the company was paying $110/per ton. In just “the last two weeks,” he noted, that cost has increased to $120/per ton.
From Jan. 1, 2019 to Nov. 1, 2019, Mr. Smaltz said, Bay Disposal collected 482.06 tons of recycling from Southern Shores, at a processing cost of $22,813.95. If the company were to pay $120/per ton, that amount would be $57,847.20.
In response to inquiries from Councilmen Conners and Leo Holland, the Bay Disposal manager explained the recycling process, which starts with the curbside collection.
Bay Disposal’s recycling trucks transport the loads they collect to the company’s “recycling transfer facility” in Powell’s Point, where they are transferred to a “53-foot tractor-trailer” that hauls the material to three recycling plants in Virginia. These plants sort and process the material, rejecting any recycling that is “contaminated.”
“Anything unclean,” such as unwashed glass jars or bottles, “is contaminated,” Mr. Smaltz said; but there are other causes of contamination, upon which the Outer Banks Site Manager could have elaborated, but did not.
Plastic bags, for example, which he said “are an issue,” are considered recycling “tanglers,” The Beacon learned in doing some quick research online, because they “get tangled in the equipment at the recycling processing facility, wasting time and resources,” according to The Recycling Partnership, a national non-profit organization.
Styrofoam is also a common problem, even egg cartons, meat trays, and packing peanuts that have the recycling symbol imprinted upon them. These products are recyclable, says The Recycling Partnership, but NOT in the curbside recycling service system. Typically, local grocery stores take them back, or local governments set up drop-off locations for foam packing, the nonprofit observes on its website.
Any material that one of the Virginia recycling centers rejects as contaminated ends up in a landfill. This year, Mr. Smaltz said, these centers hired “third-party graders” to assess the arriving recyclables so as to ensure fairness in the sorting and rejection process.
Material that is not considered contaminated is sold to an overseas buyer, which, Mr. Smaltz said, may decide independently to reject it for reasons of contamination. Anything that an overseas buyer rejects is returned to the United States and dumped in a landfill!
China was the first country to refuse recycling because of contamination, he said. India and Thailand followed suit.
If Mr. Conners listened to everything that Mr. Smaltz said after the manager first denied that his company transports recyclables to a landfill, he would have learned that landfill dumping is exactly what is occurring—only a processor or buyer down the “recycling stream,” not Bay Disposal itself, is doing the actual dumping.
After his denial, Mr. Smaltz acknowledged that his company had “six to eight loads” that it delivered to the Virginia recycling centers this year rejected as contaminated. But he qualified this waste by saying that the actual rejected material constituted “less than 50 percent of the [individual] load.”
Much more helpful to the Town Council would have been a quantification of the recycling tonnage from Southern Shores that ended up in a landfill. Just what is the Town’s cost-benefit ratio here?
“There are a lot of contamination issues across the country,” Mr. Smaltz said. No one overseas wants to buy U.S. recycling.
The Beacon wonders why Bay Disposal, as well as the Town, has not sought to educate the public about recycling dos and don’ts. (See photo below.) The “issue” of plastic bags and the problems with unwashed containers are not new.
No food, no batteries, no tanglers (including garden hoses, electric cords, etc.) . . . flatten your cardboard boxes . . . and when in doubt, throw it out.
A MATTER OF CONTRACT: COUNCILMAN NEAL EXCELS
According to Mr. Smaltz, on July 10, 2019, a peak-season Wednesday, Bay Disposal’s trucks collected 2,131 “carts” of recycling in Southern Shores. This amounted to 21.58 tons or an average of 20.25 pounds per home, he said.
In contrast, on Nov. 13, 2019, the trucks collected 910 “carts” for 8.42 tons or an average of 18.5 pounds per home in Southern Shores.
Mr. Smaltz said he would give the Town Council a “can count,” but spoke about “carts,” not “cans.” The terms are interchangeable. The contract refers to “carts,” “receptacles,” and “containers,” not cans. Homeowners who participate in Bay Disposal’s curbside recycling purchase receptacles from the company for $90 apiece.
Mr. Smaltz estimated that about 80 to 85 percent of Southern Shores homeowners availed themselves of curbside recycling this past summer, and about 35 to 40 percent used curbside recycling during the off-season. Last year, the summer use was greater, he said.
When Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey pressed Mr. Smaltz for more precise can-count data—“from your memory”—he said that in April, “when the season begins to pick up,” about 45 percent of Southern Shores homes use the curbside service. Numbers from the remainder of the year are 80 to 85 percent during the July peak; 60 percent in mid-September; 40 percent in mid-October; and 35 to 40 percent in November, December, and January.
To evaluate these numbers, it would be helpful to know how many of the 2,394 homes in Southern Shores are occupied in the off-season.
Ms. Morey expressed an interest in “subscription rate” curbside recycling, but said she was “more comfortable with the idea” when she believed, as the Mayor said he did, that only 35 to 40 percent of homeowners used the curbside service.
Mr. Smaltz did not differentiate between use by year-round homeowners vis-a-vis seasonal vacationers.
In response to earlier questioning about whether Bay Disposal could provide Southern Shores homeowners private “subscription” curbside recycling service and how much it would cost, Mr. Smaltz replied that it could, at a cost of $13 per home per month.
Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hill, and Nags Head homeowners currently have the option of purchasing a subscription recycling service, he said.
Ms. Morey asked Mr. Smaltz to provide the Town Council with as many “can counts” as he can: “Whatever you got,” she said.
She concluded by saying that she would like to “hear from the community as to what they would like us to do.”
Rather than household-use percentage, Councilman Neal focused on annual tonnages in order to assess what Bay Disposal’s “actual burden is,” what he called its “hardship.”
He pointedly asked of Mr. Smaltz: “What would you do if we didn’t give [the increase] to you?”
The Bay Disposal employee said his company would “consider canceling the contract,” which is the response Mr. Neal anticipated.
“I want to gingerly step into this,” the new Councilman said, sounding very much like an experienced contract negotiator. “The more data you give me, I would be more comfortable supporting your hardship.”
Mr. Neal asked Mr. Smaltz to “edify us on paper” as to “what the dollar hardship is to [Bay Disposal] over the value of this contract,” which expires June 30, 2021.
He also inquired as to whether Bay Disposal would consider “disconnecting” its processing (disposal) fees from its servicing (route) costs, suggesting a rewrite of the contract.
Bravo, again! Councilman Neal also might like to know whether Bay Disposal has any competitors who would offer the Town of Southern Shores a better service contract.
It was not possible to hear clearly on the meeting videotape Finance Officer Bonnie Swain’s responses to the Mayor’s questions about the increased cost to the Town if it agrees to work with Bay Disposal on a rate hike. A budget amendment would be required. The Beacon strongly urges Ms. Swain to use a microphone when she comments.
Just as Councilman Neal did, however, we can look at the contract and do the math.
The Town is currently paying $5.42 per month for 2,394 homes. This amounts to $12,975.48 per month; $77,852.88 for six months; and $155,705.76 per year.
If the monthly fee were increased to $7.40, the Town’s costs would be $17,715.60 for a month; $106,293.60 for six months; and $212,587.20 for a year.
Councilman Neal was spot on in asking Mr. Smaltz for annual and monthly tonnage amounts processed by Bay Disposal over the course of the contract, as well as an accounting of the scheduled tonnage rate increases that have occurred over the past 18 months.
These figures, as well as other data that the Town Council requested, could have been obtained and furnished to the Council by the Town staff members who met with Mr. Smaltz after he contacted the Town about the November 2019 processing fee increase.
The Town Council deferred its decision on Bay Disposal’s increase request until its January meeting.