With the removal of Pittsboro’s Confederate monument in limbo, here’s what residents and businesses have to say

By Paige Masten and Molly Weisner

The future of the Confederate monument in downtown Pittsboro remains uncertain following months of protests, lawsuits and a temporary restraining order. 

But it has it also affected those who live and work in the area. Since the Chatham County Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 in favor of the monument’s removal in August, the statue, which has sat outside the Chatham County Historic Courthouse since 1907, has been the subject of heated debate. Many have gathered downtown to protest both for and against the statue’s removal. Social media has been a catalyst for these protests, with groups organizing via Facebook and Twitter. Some pro-Confederate groups have even posted clips of their demonstrations on TikTok. 

News travels fast online — so some participants are outsiders who travel to Pittsboro on the weekends to protest.

‘There’s no face to hunger’: Community discusses food insecurity in Chatham

Patricia Parker grows food for a living. But still, she knows what it’s like to be food insecure. 

The entirety of Parker’s income comes from the farm she owns in Chatham County growing things such as fruits and vegetables. Like many others, she has a limited amount of money to spend on food, and she relies on the cheap prices at stores like Aldi and Lidl to stay within budget. 

But those prices are also hurting her business, since the low prices mean less profit and income for Parker. “It’s a very conflicting experience for me,” Parker said. “It’s a terrible sort of catch-22.”

Parker is one of many community members who attended the Newsmakers Forum on Hunger at Chatham Community Library last Friday. 

The panel, hosted by Carolina Public Press, sought to spark discussion about food insecurity in rural Chatham.

How Chatham is joining forces to combat environmental issues

By Molly Weisner and Casey Mann

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.

More protests planned over Confederate statue Saturday. So, some perspective from a former Pittsboro mayor

With protests again expected Saturday in Pittsboro over the removal – or existence – of the Confederate monument downtown, we thought it important to give context to the issue with some history from the former mayor of the town, Randy Voller, with a video. Voller, who also runs the Chatham County Line, knows the arguments for removing it. For some, it’s a symbol of the slavery that so scarred North Carolina and much of the South and country, and the racism that still shows itself today through white-power movements. The pro-statue side would say it has nothing to do with race or slavery because the Civil War was more about taxation, states rights and the agricultural economy. The monument’s place is there, they say, at the foot of the historic courthouse in Pittsboro.

You Asked, We Answered: Following public meeting, Pittsboro’s water safety is still insecure

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.

Curious Chatham: What are the important decisions yet to be made on Chatham Park, who makes them and when?

With additional reporting by Adrianne Cleven

This week’s question comes from Stephanie Bass. She’s got one that we’re sure is on a lot of your minds: what are the important decisions yet to be made about Chatham Park, along with who makes them and when? If you’ve just moved to town – or have been walking around with earmuffs on for the past few years – here’s the scoop: Chatham Park is a pending mixed-use development in the Town of Pittsboro. At full buildout, which is expected to take 35 to 40 years, it’s projected to spread over more than 7,000 acres. 

Thomas D’Alesandro has a history of strategizing planned developments in the vein of Chatham Park: he’s worked on four of the largest master-planned communities in the country, including Las Vegas’ “Summerlin” and “The Woodlands” in Texas. He thinks there’s value to planning a multi-use community this far out to combat, among other things, the traditional and often erratic growth that can jeopardize the look of such a historic town through traditional suburban sprawl.

Vote to remove Confederate monument brings relief, frustration to Chatham

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.

‘More than just a tick bite’: Tick-borne allergy on the rise in Chatham

For decades, Sheila Beaudry suffered from a mysterious ailment with no real cure or remedy. It wasn’t until 2013 that she discovered she had a tick-borne illness. Alpha-gal syndrome — known informally as the “red-meat allergy” — is triggered by mammalian meat and other mammal products. It is believed to be transmitted by the lone star tick, the most common tick to North Carolina. Sheila Beaudry

Beaudry is hardly alone in suffering with this allergy; Chatham County is known as a hotspot for alpha-gal and other tick-borne illnesses.

Confederate supporters and anti-monument protestors meet in downtown Pittsboro rally

The scene in the center of Pittsboro Saturday was one that’s become familiar: two groups – dozens of people in all – stand sentry, divided over the fate of a Confederate monument that has stood in front of Pittsboro’s historic courthouse since 1907. 

Saturday hit just more than two weeks before The United Daughters of the Confederacy are due to respond to a Chatham County Board of Commissioners Aug. 20 4-1 vote to begin the removal process, which could end with the statue being taken down Nov. 1. And it follows months of debate on the fate of the monument to Confederate veterans and sometimes raucous meetings before the board, with people on both sides of the issue lining up by the dozens to support the statue as a symbol of honor for those who fought for the South – or an emblem of hate and blatant racism sitting at the historic door to the old courthouse. On one side of Hillsboro Street, those supportive of the statue’s pending removal held signs with slogans like “Make Racism Wrong Again”.

‘One Chatham’ hosts panel on nexus of poverty and education

Our Chatham, the Chatham News + Record and more than 50 community members and leaders gathered Wednesday night at Jordan-Matthews High School in Siler City for a nearly two-hour, and often passionate, conversation about poverty’s impact on education. 

Sponsored by Mountaire Farms and moderated by News + Record publisher Bill Horner III, the event featured five panelists who are involved with Chatham County Schools in various ways. The panel’s goal was to raise awareness within the community and brainstorm collaborative solutions to the educational struggles of students who grow up in poverty. 

Horner pointed out that more than one in five children in the United States live in poverty. Half of Chatham County’s 18 public schools are classified as Title I schools, meaning that they have a high percentage of low-income students. Title I schools are eligible to receive additional state funding to ensure that all students meet certain standards of achievement. 

Graphic artist Wendi Pillars sketches out the discussion during Wednesday’s One Chatham event/Charlotte Ririe

Panelist Chris Poston, executive director of elementary and middle grades for Chatham County Schools, said funds are delegated proportionally to Title I schools based on the number of free-and-reduced lunch students who attend the school. This funding is implemented schoolwide, so any student at a Title I school benefits from the additional investment in education. 

The panelists discussed at length the educational challenges for children living in poverty. 

Panelist Jazmin Mendoza Sosa, who grew up in poverty in Siler City, works for Chatham Communities in Schools, and she serves as the Student Support Specialist at Virginia Cross Elementary School.