North Carolina editorial roundup


Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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Sept. 5

The Charlotte Observer on keeping beaches public:

If you were among the lucky who got to take a stroll on a North Carolina beach this summer, it probably didn’t occur to you to ponder who owned the sand beneath your toes. After all, aren’t North Carolina’s 300 miles of shoreline the public’s to enjoy?

That’s long been the assumption with our state’s beaches, but the notion is being challenged by two retirees in Emerald Isle. Their lawsuit involves a small patch of shoreline, but at stake is something much larger – the public’s access to what everyone presumed was a public resource.

The case began in 2011 when Gregory and Diane Nies, a retired couple from New Jersey, objected to an Emerald Isle ordinance that bars those who own beachfront property from putting up beach structures or equipment “within an area 20 feet seaward of the base of the frontal dunes.”

That 20-foot lane is part of what’s called the “dry-sand beach.” Commonly, the dry-sand beach is all the land from the dunes to where the water reaches at high tide. The “wet-sand beach” is the area that is covered and uncovered by the tide.

The Nies sued, saying that their property line included the dry-sand beach, and that the public was entitled only to the wet-sand beach. The town says that it helped maintain and improve that 20-foot lane covered by the ordinance, and that it is now essentially public land.

Moreover, the town said that N.C. law allows the public to use dry-sand beaches, and that all 300-plus miles of beach, in eight oceanfront counties, has operated with this understanding for centuries. Attorney General Roy Cooper agreed, and the N.C. Superior Court and Court of Appeals ruled in Emerald Isle’s favor.

Problem is, the rulings have relied on common law and tradition more than specific N.C. statutes, which don’t speak precisely to what happens if the dry sands includes someone’s property. In some states, including the Nies’ home state of New Jersey, property owners are allowed more control in such situations.

Now, the N.C. Supreme Court has taken up the case, an unusual move given that the Court of Appeals’ ruling was unanimous. There’s some worry the Republican-led Supreme Court could rule in the Nies’ favor, given that the couple is supported by the Republican-leaning Civitas Institute for Law and Freedom.

The Nies say that if the ruling goes their way, they don’t plan on banning people from their 76-foot stretch of dry-sand shoreline. But others along the coast could do so, and that would be a disaster, say officials in beach communities where tourism dollars might wash away.

We expect the N.C. Supreme Court will affirm the Appeals Court ruling, which noted that N.C. law has long declared that the “full width and breadth” of beaches are subject to “public trust rights.”

It’s possible, however, that the Supreme Court will put its thumb on the scale for property rights. We’d feel better if the legislature stepped in and made clearer what has long been assumed: The sand you walked on this summer is everyone’s to enjoy.

Online: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/

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Sept. 6

The News & Observer of Raleigh on preventing texting while driving:

Drivers know it’s a hazard, a potentially deadly one. Law enforcement certainly knows it. So why, then, do people on American highways — and in North Carolina — continue to text while driving?

Likely, they think they’re being more careful than they are. “I’ve always got one eye on the road.” ”I try not to do it while moving.” ”I’ve never had a traffic ticket.” ”I don’t do it in heavy traffic.”

These are foolish and dangerous rationalizations for what is ultimately dangerous driving behavior. And it’s getting worse. Far worse.

In North Carolina, where texting while driving was banned in 2009, there were 3,600 citations issued in 2013, and that reflected huge increases in every year since the law was passed. In New York, where hand-held cellphone use including talking and texting is banned, there were nearly 85,000 tickets issued last year, up from 9,000 in 2011. In Massachusetts, the number in that period went from 1,148 to 6,131.

And so on.

North Carolina provides for a citation and $100 fine. But as is the case everywhere, the texting ban is hard to enforce. If a driver is texting and runs off the road, hitting a sign or something like that, he or she is unlikely to admit to texting. If the accident is more serious, some law officers might investigate the texting angle more thoroughly. But the bottom line is, it’s difficult indeed to catch someone in the act of texting.

In some communities, police are being proactive. Consider an Associated Press report from Massachusetts, where in the town of West Bridgewater an officer on a bicycle pulls up beside drivers and, if he sees them texting, hands them a $105 ticket. And in Chattanooga, Tennessee, troopers have used tractor-trailers as patrol vehicles, the better to peer down on drivers and catch them texting.

National safety campaigns have been launched, of course, using examples of real accidents to underline the need to curb texting while driving — incidents where a brief text message distracted a driver long enough to cause a fatal accident.

Clearly, automakers and the phone manufacturers should work on devices that will not permit texting in cars, which in this age seems possible. Municipalities and states should raise fines for texting while driving to three or four times the current levels. North Carolina and other states have tried to raise awareness, but, sadly, they can’t seem to stop this danger by appealing to common sense. The result, says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, was an estimated 3,500 deaths last year, a likely low figure because of the difficulty of proving texting.

There must be a great national and state effort to put a stop to this. It is a potentially fatal hazard, and it’s growing into an epidemic.

Online: http://www.newsobserver.com/

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Sept. 6

The News & Record of Greensboro on windmills in the state:

The debate about wind turbines in eastern North Carolina is healthy.

The proposed Apex Timbermill Wind development in Chowan and Perquimans counties has generated both support and opposition. It would be the region’s second commercial wind project, providing construction and maintenance jobs, offering income to landowners and contributing to a growing renewable energy industry.

But the prospect of seeing and feeling the impact of 105 turbines each 599 feet tall understandably worries many residents. The good news is that local officials — representing the affected community itself — will decide whether to allow the project.

Contrast that to the state’s position on fracking. Although several counties have passed moratoriums on natural-gas drilling operations out of concern for their impact on water, air, roads and land, state law pre-empts any local regulation of the industry. There is no similar restriction on local authority over wind energy developments.

Counties should have a right to decide whether wind energy projects are right for them. Developers simply have to sell local leaders on the advantages of saying yes to wind and take steps to minimize or mitigate any ill effects.

Wind turbines dominate the landscape in many rural areas of the country and generate electricity from a resource that costs nothing, isn’t mined or pumped from the ground, doesn’t pollute and won’t run out.

North Carolina is late in harnessing its abundant supplies of wind. A cluster of 104 turbines under construction in Pasquotank County, which will generate power for Amazon, is the state’s first commercial project. It’s expected to be operational by the end of the year.

Offshore areas also are targeted for wind energy development. The U.S. Department of Interior last month announced it will offer leases for wind projects in an area about 24 miles off Kill Devil Hills on North Carolina’s Outer Banks — far enough so that turbines wouldn’t be visible from land. Because the site is in relatively shallow water, and the wind resources are said to be so abundant, this is considered prime territory for development — more promising for wind than for oil and natural gas. And there’s no threat of a wind spill that would damage beaches and aquatic life. Many coastal communities have expressed fears about offshore drilling. Offshore wind may be unpopular, too — but opposition might abate if assurances are made that turbines won’t be seen from the beaches.

The wind industry faces a threat from the state legislature, which isn’t friendly to renewable energy. A bill introduced this year, but not enacted, would have imposed so many restrictions on turbine installations that none likely could be built in North Carolina, at least on land. The bill may be reintroduced next year.

That would be too bad. Wind energy will be an important industry in the future, and North Carolina should not sit on the sidelines. It makes no sense to ignore such an abundant source of clean power.

Online: http://www.greensboro.com/

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