Our Chatham is a collaboration between Chatham County residents and students at UNC’s School of Media and Journalism. You ask the questions. We do the reporting and post the answers. Submit your question and subscribe to our newsletter to get the answers sent straight to your inbox.
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”.
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.
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.
Jody Moore, a master beekeeper, keeps a local business in Chatham County, and he has amassed 40 hives since he began beekeeping in 2000. But it’s not all good news that Moore gives as he discusses his business, how it grew and the current threats. With the introduction of European, African and Asian bees into the United States, illnesses are spreading between hives like never before. Parasitic mites are among the more common issues affecting bee colonies in Chatham County. Local beekeepers, he says, should keep a lookout by doing consistent mite checks.
With climate change, other species of bees, including Africanized bees, may be able to spread north — into the Carolinas.
After months of public and private debate, Chatham County’s Board of Commissioners voted late Monday to rid Pittsboro of its Confederate monument that stood at the foot of the historic courthouse as a point of honor for some and bitterness for others in the mostly rural, but growing county. The board voted 4-1 to rescind the 1907 order allowing the Confederate statue to stand in front of the courthouse downtown. This gives United Daughters of the Confederacy until Oct. 1 to communicate to the Board their plans for the statue.
Otherwise it will be considered a public trespass on government property on Nov. 1 and removed.
The motion to rescind the order was introduced by Commissioner Jim Crawford, and it was seconded by Commissioner Karen Howard.
The Chatham County Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 Monday night to start the process of removing the Confederate statue in front of the historic courthouse in Pittsboro. The motion was introduced by Commissioner Jim Crawford, and it was seconded by Commissioner Karen Howard. As the Howard spoke, she was heckled by supporters of the statue, who called her and the others on the board “traitors to the county.”
Commissioner Diana Hales also spoke in favor of removing the statue, as did chair Mike Dasher. The vote passed 4-1, with Commissioner Andy Wilkie voting no. According to the motion, the United Daughters of the Confederacy have until Oct.
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.
(This story has been updated to reflect further comment from the town). This week’s featured question comes from Ann Herndon, who wonders “How will our infrastructure support Chatham Park?”
Good question, Ann, particularly after a recent town meeting suggested sewer lines were quite weak in many spots.
Infrastructure can refer to a lot of different systems, including everything from wastewater treatment and sewers to roads and storm drains, Pittsboro Town Manager Bryan Gruesbeck said.
And the massive scale of the Chatham Park development will affect each of those aspects of infrastructure. Some 650 single-family homes and townhouses will be offered in just the first phase of the project, ultimately building up roughly 22,000 residential units over a 40-year period.
The total cost of the project is expected to be roughly $15 billion.
And with final buildout, the project is expected to boost the county’s population by 60,000 residents. They’ll all live on land serviced by the water and sewer services of the Town of Pittsboro.