On Friday, something big is happening to make way for something little. The site for Tiny Homes Village, a community of affordable tiny homes for those with mental health challenges, will begin its groundbreaking. The site will be located on the grounds of The Farm at Penny Lane in northern Chatham County. The village aims to include 15 tiny homes at around 400 square feet each to provide housing opportunities for those on a fixed income, veterans or residents with health issues. Surrounding the houses will be a clubhouse for classes and other activities.
The environment is on Chatham County’s mind. With the months-long saga of Pittsboro’s tainted drinking water still unfolding, attention by county officials and local groups to environmental health is heightened. Various county leaders, from planning and development to transportation, are collaborating on the issue of environmental protection and climate change, which has been in discussion for several years now. The creation of the county’s Climate Change Advisory Committee in 2015 has been one major step toward solving Chatham’s biggest environmental challenges, of which several county commissioners have said vehicle emissions is one. Commute times contribute emissions
Commute times in Chatham County average almost 30 minutes, and average car ownership per household is two vehicles.
The contaminants in the Haw River are a serious issue. The Town of Pittsboro is the only municipality in the Haw River watershed to draw its drinking water from the river.
By the nature of the river’s proximity to other cities like Greensboro and Burlington, industrial pollutants are a major red flag for environmental groups and regulatory agencies.
On Wednesday, state officials and researchers from several universities in the Triangle hosted a public meeting sponsored by the Haw River Assembly to discuss the safety of Pittsboro’s drinking water.
Researchers found contaminants, called perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), and 1,4-dioxane in the Haw River, among other water sources. PFAS are a type of unregulated chemical that slip by in water treatment processes and can cause health problems.
The industrial-based chemical, 1,4-dioxane, has been found in Pittsboro’s water and is a likely carcinogen. In Pittsboro, the East Burlington treatment plant seems to be the main source of PFAS, according to a tweet from an N.C. Policy Watch source.
“Why are we discharging any of these chemicals into the drinking water in the first place?” asked Dr. Detlef Knappe, a professor at North Carolina State University and scientist, at the Wednesday meeting.
Elaine Chiosso, executive director of the Haw River Assembly, said that through Duke University and Dr. Heather Stapleton, an environmental chemist, volunteers from Pittsboro can opt to take blood tests to assess levels of PFAs in their body.
This testing is part of a larger study examining sources of these chemicals and their health effects.
Additionally, according to the News + Record, the town will pay $261,268 for six to seven months of water testing.Typical water treatment systems don’t effectively remove the chemicals in Pittsboro because they dissolve in water, according to North Carolina Health News. Advanced water treatment systems are required for that kind of filtration. Just this week, the Department of Environmental Quality announced Shamrock Environmental Corporation is responsible for the 1,4 dioxane discharge into its Greensboro treatment plant.
But is it just emblematic of the larger divide nationally? By Molly Weisner and Paige Masten
The Confederate monument on the steps of the Pittsboro courthouse is coming down. But the questions that have been suspended in midair are more complicated ones: when, and why? In late September, Mike Dasher, chairman of the Chatham County Board of Commissioners, sent a letter to Barbara Pugh, president of the Winnie Davis Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, saying the county would consider a request for extended time to present a plan for removal. Tuesday was the deadline for the UDC to submit a plan for relocation, but the day came and went with no plan submitted.
From solar power to energy-efficient buildings, from preserving the ecosystem to minimizing vehicle emissions, the climate change plan specific to Chatham County encompasses myriad initiatives.
A reader asked us what was being done about climate change in the county. So, we looked at which initiatives have been in place, as well as the long-term goals of the county as population and tourism growth inevitably bring new people — and new developments — into Chatham.
But first, some context.
Problem solving climate change is not a new conversation happening among Chatham County officials and community organizations.
In 2011, the county government commissioned a report on the state of the environment. The 100-plus page report tracked data on land resources, water, air quality and waste management, and it made environmental recommendations to educate policymakers and the public.
Then, in September of 2015, the Chatham County Climate Change Committee was established to make environmental recommendations to the Board of Commissioners.
A major focus of this group upon its creation was reducing greenhouse emissions, which poses unique concerns considering the average one-way commute for the county in 2016 was almost 30 minutes.
Vehicle exhaust and gas-guzzling vehicles are some of the county’s talking points for future investment in electric vehicles and charging stations, for example. The county is even looking at maximizing the efficiency of waste truck routes, which have to span a county that is geographically large, rural in many areas and spread out. Then, in 2016, a gas emissions inventory was released, which revealed that transportation was the highest emitter of greenhouse gas in the county for 2015.
Gov. Roy Cooper announced this month that each of North Carolina’s 100 counties saw growth in its visitor spending last year.
For Chatham County, a largely rural community, that means big promise for its business sector.
Spending in Chatham County by domestic visitors increased by over 5 percent last year, from about $35 million in 2017 to $36.9 million in 2018. That growth saved each Chathamite almost $38 in taxes and contributed to increases in the county’s tourism-related payroll.
Neha Shah, director of the Pittsboro-Siler City Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that visitors to the county are diverse, and while there are national and international visitors, the majority are traveling from within the state.
The data, produced with the help of Visit North Carolina, looks impressive on the spreadsheet, but the optimism its creating in Chatham’s marketplace reveals the real ‘wow’ factor.
For local businesses and agritourism in the county, new visitors mean fresh dollars entering the economy that feed back into supporting vendors and maintaining the county’s attractions.
Agritourism alone is a particularly strong interest because of the county’s various farmers’ markets, farms, craft beverages and food trails.
“We’re a county that really thrives with our agritourism because of our farms and venues, so that’s all really grown over time,” Shah said. “That has also lended itself to the farm-to-fork places, and even the restaurants that are not solely focused on farm to fork still incorporate a lot of the local farm products.”
Jon Spoon, director of the Small Business Center and a native Chathamite, said that ecotourism will account for a large part of the travel growth because of the county’s unique landscape. He said the county’s three rivers and Jordan Lake are draws for surrounding communities, especially bigger cities like Raleigh and Durham. “Chatham County, historically, has been largely agricultural, especially the western part of the county, and so there are folks who are positioning themselves well to capture incoming dollars,” Spoon said.
In recent years, changes have come to county libraries as needs expand beyond books. Libraries have invested in resources on living safely and healthily, enmeshing their importance in the information age.
But with the Wren Memorial Library in Siler City closed for four scheduled weeks of infrastructure repair, the county’s information needs are now stretched between two branches.
“It’s a pretty big project, so that’s why the library had to be closed,” said Linda Clarke, director of the Chatham County Public Libraries. “It was something that was badly needed.”
The 50-year-old branch has been closed since July 29. Repairs include a new roof, interior ceiling, insulation, duct work, shelving and carpet cleaning. Mike Cowell, branch manager at Wren Memorial, said the work repairs damage left by flooding and heavy rains from the last hurricane.
Chatham County launched a 24/7 crisis helpline for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors last month.
The new helpline is a partnership between the nonprofit Second Bloom of Chatham and Chatham Family Violence Prevention Services.
Renita Foxx, of Chatham Family Violence Prevention Services, said that the crisis line arose out of an immediate need.
Before, Family Violence Rape Crisis, another nonprofit organization that began in 1982, operated a similar phone line. But, local government took over after FVRC discontinued its services in October 2018. The helpline went with it. “You cannot adequately provide services – domestic violence and sexual assault services – if you have no one for victims or survivors to turn to in terms of need,” Foxx said. “So, we came together and we designed the help/crisis line.”
Cindy Perry, a board member of Second Bloom, said the nonprofit stepped in to provide the trained volunteers and knowledge of resources that had been offered by FVRC.
In Chatham County, where nearly 13 percent of the population is Hispanic and income inequality sequesters access to information to parts of the county, three library branches work to supplement the county’s literacy needs.
Wren Memorial Library is located in Siler City. Chatham Community Library is in Pittsboro, and Goldston Library serves Goldston patrons. All three locations are within 30 minutes of each other, but this triangular network of facilities is hard to reach by the northeastern part of the county.
Karen Howard, a member of the Chatham County Board of Commissioners and liaison to the Library Advisory Committee, said pockets of poverty prevent equal access to the library.
“The library continues to be one of those resources that is a potential benefit,” Howard said. Volunteering as a literacy mentor at Virginia Cross Elementary, Howard said libraries can be ideal for students with no native English speakers at home or for those who underperform with literacy in their native language. “It’s sad that people that need access to literacy tools and reading tools are the people that have the most challenge getting to it,” Howard said.
This barrier to county libraries that Howard describes pertains not just to language but to transportation, too.
Just consider this map showing the wide distances between them:
Map created by Charlotte Ririe/Our Chatham
A Hispanic Community Needs Assessment spearheaded by the Latino Migration Project and the Hispanic Liaison in Siler City, collected a series of complaints filed by members of the community.