MOREHEAD CITY — The N.C. Coastal Federation and Gov. Roy Cooper recognized the efforts of those seeking to protect and restore the coastal environment Saturday at the NCCF’s Pelican Awards.
The federation held its annual Pelican Awards celebration Saturday at the Crystal Coast Civic Center, with John Fussell III of Morehead City, an NCCF habitat specialist and birder who has volunteered with the federation throughout its 35-year history, honored with one of 10 Pelican Awards for his work.
More than 300 federation members, their family, friends, federation partners, supporters and others attended the gathering, where the NCCF presented awards recognizing those the federation thinks have “demonstrated exemplary commitment and undertaken meaningful actions to help the Coastal Federation reach our goal of a healthy and productive coast.”
Also in attendance this year was Gov. Cooper. After the presentation of the awards, the governor addressed the crowd, praising the NCCF and its
partners for their conservation efforts and voicing his own commitment to protecting the coastal environment.
“Our coast is so unique,” he said. “I used to come here as a boy. This coast is part of who I am, and you (the attendees) wouldn’t be here if you didn’t feel the same.”
Gov. Cooper said North Carolina’s coast is both a “crown jewel” for the state and a “national treasure.” He said that he knows a clean environment and a strong economy “can and must go together, hand-in-hand.”
“I’m proud of the work of the Coastal Federation,” the governor said. “One of the things you do that’s amazing to me is the education and outreach. You, as a coastal federation, have fought in the legislature and the courts. It’s important that people understand we need clean waters. That’s why I came down to Fort Macon to say ‘Not Off Our Coast.’ ”
Gov. Cooper was referring to his July 20 press conference at Fort Macon State Park in Atlantic Beach. The governor issued a statement opposing offshore oil drilling and seismic surveying, practices that environmentalists and marine scientists have said are potentially harmful to marine life and the environment.
“We have the support of coastal businesses that know it (offshore drilling and seismic surveying) is not worth the risk,” Gov. Cooper said. “We’re already second in the country for solar (energy). No offshore drilling technology is 100 percent safe. I don’t want the people of this (presidential) administration looking over the shoulders of those who’d manage it.”
The governor encouraged people to go out and provide input during public comment periods for offshore oil and gas leasing and permits for seismic surveys. One such comment period is going on now.
President Donald Trump issued an executive order April 28 that included initiating a new five-year offshore oil and gas leasing program. This program, if adopted, would run from 2019-24.
A public comment period for requests for information for this new plan is underway and is scheduled to end Thursday, Aug. 17. The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is holding a public hearing on the proposed leasing program from 5-7 p.m. today at the Crystal Coast Civic Center.
Online comments may be submitted by going to the website www.regulations.gov/document?D=BOEM-2017-0050-0001, clicking on the “Comment Now!” button and following the instructions.
Gov. Cooper also encouraged voters during the upcoming state elections to scrutinize candidates for the state General Assembly.
“We need candidates who understand we need inspectors, scientists and those who will work with other to protect our environment,” he said. “We need to be sure to rely on data and science to tell us what we need to protect our coastline.”
The governor said state officials are creating a new permit to prevent GenX, a chemical known to be environmentally harmful, from being released into water bodies. However, he said there are other chemicals being released that may also be harmful.
“I need your help as we go forward to say, ‘it’s part of who we are, as North Carolinians, to protect our coast and these barrier islands that make us unique,’ ” the governor said.
Prior to the governor’s address, the NCCF presented the Pelican Awards, two of which were from the federation’s central region, which includes Carteret County. One to Mr. Fussell and the second to Kathleen Lester, a Swansboro Elementary School teacher.
NCCF coastal specialist Sam Bland presented Mr. Fussell his award. Mr. Bland said Mr. Fussell is a natural biologist and botanist who has helped with many conservation efforts, including the preservation of maritime forest on Hoop Pole Creek in Atlantic Beach.
“On our annual work day out there, John’s always the first to volunteer,” Mr. Bland said. “John also spends many hours in Croatan National Forest, documenting the rare plants out there. He’s also written the book on birding along the coast, literally.”
Mr. Fussell thanked the federation upon receiving his reward, saying the NCCF is “such a dedicated and hard-working group.”
“Looking across the sound (Bogue Sound) at that patch of trees on Hoop Pole Creek, which we saved, that’s what the NCCF is all about,” he said.
As for the second recipient from the central area, Rachel Bisesi, NCCF coastal education coordinator, said Ms. Lester worked with the NCCF to plant two rain gardens at her school, which she uses in a stormwater education program.
“She (Ms. Lester) is caring, dedicated and enthusiastic to teach her first-graders about coastal conservation,” Ms. Bisesi said. “She’s not only creative, she’s a joy to work with. She instills a love of the coastal environment in her students and their parents.”
Ms. Lester said she was very grateful to the federation for the help they’ve provided her and her class.
“My students get to experience a lot of things many others don’t,” she said.
Contact Mike Shutak at 252-726-7081 ext. 206, email email@example.com; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.