Rocky River Watch sues over water pollution/Rocky River Watch demanda por la contaminación del agua

For the Spanish version, scroll to the bottom/Para la versión de español, desplácese hacia abajo

Loves Creek and Rocky River in Chatham County once was subject to nutrient pollution from two chicken processing plants. They have since begun to recover, but discharges from a new chicken plant might change that. The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NC DEQ) issued a permit in 2019 to Siler City allowing the town to dump pollutant-laden water into Rocky River and Loves Creek, but the Rocky River Watch, a group of local activists, is suing NC DEQ for violating the Clean Water Act. NC DEQ declined to comment on the ongoing suit. The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) filed the suit on behalf of Ricky River Watch.

You Asked, We Answered: How are developmental disabilities included in Chatham County?/Usted preguntó, nosotros contestamos: ¿cómo se incluyen discapacidades del desarrollo en el condado de Chatham?

For the Spanish translation, please see the version at the bottom of the page. Thank you. (Clarification: Schools spokesman John McCann said the schools never removed a child from its programs, as a reader asserted. The story has been updated with McCann’s comment.)

Earlier this month, Our Chatham reader Hunter Blanton asked our reporters to investigate how those with intellectual and developmental disabilities are supported and included in Chatham County. “We’ve not been able to find the resources in Chatham County for anything,” Blanton said in a phone interview.

Your guide to the 2020 primary elections

The North Carolina primary elections are coming up on March 3, and it promises to be quite a battle across the board. Nearly every office is on the ballot this year. In addition to president, U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, voters will choose candidates for governor, major state offices and the N.C. General Assembly. Locally, Chatham residents can vote for candidates for the Chatham County Board of Commissioners. How can I vote?

Chatham County Schools’ current strategic plan is wrapping up this year. Here’s where it stands.

Above image from WJCL

In the 2015-16 school year, Chatham County Schools launched “Flight Plan 2020,” a strategic plan designed to guide the district’s growth and initiatives over a five-year period. The plan was designed over the course of one year with input from more than 1,600 community members and stakeholders through surveys, focus groups and planning sessions. 

The final product, Flight Plan 2020: Charting a Course for Future Success, describes four “destinations,” or overall areas for improvement, as well as strategies for accomplishing those goals and milestones to track the district’s progress. Though some key educational goals are just shy of the goals, now, as the strategic plan heads into its fifth and final year, the district is on track to meet almost all of its milestones by the desired deadline of June 30, 2020. The four destinations of the plan are:

Student Learning and Outcomes, which focuses mainly on student academic performance and curriculum;Communication and Community Engagement, which aims to establish better internal and external communication practices;Growth and Future Planning, which prepares the district for its projected growth; andSupporting Quality Teachers, Administrators and Staff, which improves professional development and training for faculty and staff. John McCann, the district’s spokesman, said that major strides have been taken in all four destination areas – which is key as Chatham continues to grow and tries to improve schools that have historically not met certain standards across the vast county. 

Image of McMann/LinkedIn profile

In the Student Learning and Outcomes destination, the district completed its expansion of the one-to-one laptop initiative and provided every student in seventh through 12th grades with a take-home laptop, and provided younger grades with technology to use in the classroom.

Officials: Chatham’s newest high school on target, meeting budget

As Chatham prepares for the opening of its newest high school, district and construction officials state that all is on schedule for an August 2021 opening and will come within the roughly $62 million budget. On Dec. 24, the Seaforth High School project was 59% complete with a final completion date of April 6, 2021, according to documents shared at the Chatham County Board of Education’s annual mid-year retreat. Seaforth, which will be located at 444 Seaforth Road near Jordan Lake, will phase in students when it opens in the fall of 2021. In its first year, the school will serve only freshman and sophomores.

Pittsboro commissioners, Water Quality Task Force discuss next steps after August chemical discharge

Correction: A previous version of the story incorrectly stated that the Town of Pittsboro filed a notice of intent to sue Shamrock Environmental for a spill of 1,4 Dioxane. This is inaccurate. The Southern Environmental Law Center issued an intent to sue the City of Burlington for a PFAS spill from their wastewater treatment plant. Also, Emily Sutton’s title is Haw Riverkeeper not riverkeeper. We regret these errors. 

Before their regular meeting last Monday, the Pittsboro Board of Commissioners discussed a spill of a likely carcinogenic chemical into Pittsboro’s water supply with the Water Quality Task Force. 

1,4 Dioxane is classified by the National Toxicology Program as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” but is not regulated under the Clean Water Act, the commissioners said.

One Chatham forum tackles issues of mental health access and reform in Chatham

By Molly Weisner and Ari Sen

On Wednesday, students, advocates and lawmakers came together in Pittsboro to discuss mental health at the One Chatham forum. The event followed the release of The ChatCast, a podcast series launched as a partnership between the Chatham News + Record and Our Chatham to bring mental health to the forefront of community conversation. 

About 60 people attended the event to listen to the conversation. Since the podcast’s release, The ChatCast has been streamed and/or downloaded over 500 times. 

This month’s forum brought together five expert panelists on various issues of mental health in adolescents: 

Chatham Charter School sophomore Abigail Holmes,Wilder Horner, social work supervisor with the Chatham County Department of Social Services,George Greger-Holt, community outreach coordinator of Chatham Drug Free,Tracy Fowler, executive director of student support services with Chatham County Schools, andRep. Robert Reives II, North Carolina House of Representatives. 

Photo by Charlotte Ririe/Our Chatham

Chatham News + Record’s Zachary Horner and Adrianne Cleven from Our Chatham moderated the event, which started with an evaluation of mental health resources in Chatham. 

“For a long time we had a public mental health system that I thought worked pretty well …” Greger-Holt said. “Somewhere along the line we lost our way in terms of being able to provide support for people suffering from mental illness.”

The problem in creating a network of care for mental health is that Chatham is so large and spread out, Gregor-Holt said. He mentioned that services are more available in Pittsboro and North Chatham, but Bear Creek, Siler City and other rural areas are more difficult to reach.

Next week’s ‘One Chatham’ panel to discuss mental health in Chatham teens

Our Chatham and the Chatham News + Record will host the next One Chatham forum next Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro. The event stems from “The Age of Anxiety”—the first season of the publications’ joint podcast, “The Chatcast.” Released in December, the 10-episode podcast explores teen mental health in Chatham County. The forum will be moderated by the News + Record’s Zach Horner and Our Chatham’s Adrianne Cleven, who co-produced the first season of the Chatcast, and will feature five panelists specializing in mental health trends, resources and policies in Chatham County and beyond. According to the 2018 Chatham County Community Assessment, 11.3 percent of Chatham County high school students attempted suicide between 2017 and 2018. 19.8 percent “seriously considered” attempting suicide.

Pittsboro commissioners move forward on new $16.5 million town hall

(The above rendering is courteously of Hobbs Architects and the Town of Pittsboro.)

Pittsboro’s Board of Commissioners advanced a plan this week for a new town government facility, estimated to cost more than $16.5 million. 

The new town hall would be a three-story building, would serve as the board commissioners’ new meeting chamber and would house the Board of Elections and Health Department Administration for the next 10 years. It will be located on West Salisbury Street in downtown Pittsboro. 

The facility will also contain a two-story parking deck, costing the town more than $2.8 million. At one point, Commissioner Michael Fiocco balked at the cost of the deck, saying it would cost the town more than $24,000 per space. The plan, which was presented by Chevon File and Taylor Hobbs of Hobbs Architects, passed unanimously after roughly 30 minutes of discussion. 

Hobbs and File told commissioners that the project may start receiving bids as early as July, and that construction is scheduled to start in August of this year. It is estimated to take 15 months to complete. 

The construction will also require a large section of Salisbury Street to be torn up and repaved to build a new sewer line and storm-water extension.

Here’s what we know about evidence of logging in Jordan Lake protected nature area

Photos show evidence of logging at the Bush Creek Marshes Registered Heritage Area near the intersection of Big Woods and Jack Bennett roads in Chatham County. Chatham resident George Pauly first noticed logging at Bush Creek in 2016. Pauly contacted the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources shortly after he spotted a bulldozer clearing the area. 

Established in 2014, Bush Creek Marshes RHA is one of many natural heritage areas around Jordan Lake. RHA’s are voluntary agreements between landowners and the Natural Heritage Program that protect outstanding examples of natural diversity occurring in the state. 

Click here to see the full amendment to the memorandum of understanding between the state and the United States Army Corps of Engineers. 

The Bush Creek area, which spans of 166 acres of forest, open water and marsh, is home to a variety of wildlife — most notably the bald eagle. The federally protected species is known to be present along the forested margin of the protected area. 

Photo by Paige Masten/Our Chatham

The agreement clearly states that the natural forest communities should be allowed to mature into old-growth. 

So why were these trees cut down? 

In an email exchange with Pauly in September of 2016, North Carolina Natural Heritage Program director Misty Buchanan said the “6.8 acre timber harvest as planned is an approved use of the Registered Heritage Area.” Pauly gave Our Chatham access to the emails. 

In July of 2017, Pauly contacted Brooke Massa, land conservation biologist for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.