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Crossroads hears about sea level rise, alternate energy

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Posted: Saturday, February 23, 2013 11:55 pm

BEAUFORT — Preparing for sea level rise and encouraging alternate energy development were the two big items on speakers’ minds at the 33rd Carteret Crossroads meeting Thursday.

The group met at the Duke University Marine Lab on Pivers Island. Mark Hooper, Crossroads president, said it’s amazing for an all-volunteer group like Crossroads to have 33 years of history.

“I think of us as a think tank,” he said. “We like to get together, exchange ideas, then go and act on them.”

Mr. Hooper spoke about the need to continue environmental advocacy, despite recent actions taken by the N.C. General Assembly like Senate Bill 10, which proposes major cuts to several environmental boards.

“We must be allowed into the room where the decisions are made in data, opinion and policy,” he said.

Mr. Hooper spoke passionately about the environment and about how his parents’ environmentalism was “built on the simple pleasure of observing the natural world.”

“For the record, with no apology, I am an environmentalist,” he said.

Spencer Rogers, coastal erosion and engineering specialist with N.C. Sea Grant, spoke that night about preparing for sea level rise, a hot-button topic in North Carolina right now. Mr. Rogers serves on the state Coastal Resources Commission’s Science Panel, which came out with a report in 2010 on the rate of sea level rise in the state.

The panel said the current rate of sea level rise in the state would lead to about a meter increase by 2100. However, public response to this rate has been mixed at public meetings; some people have supported the rate, while others have said it’s excessive and could lead to economic problems if it were used as a basis for policies and regulations.

Mr. Rogers said Thursday that looking as far ahead as 2100 only makes sense if a town or company is building a power plant or a sewer system.

“The average change per year in sea level rise from 2010 to 2100 is six nickels thick,” he said. “The rise is almost imperceptible. It’s a very slow change; the worst results will be 100, 200 years in the future. It’s an uncertain science. Worst of all, what was once a debate of science is now a political debate.”

However, while Mr. Rogers said sea level rise is almost unnoticeable, he also said people need to prepare to adapt to it. In fact, he said in some ways people already have.

Mr. Rogers said on the coast, many people build their homes adding in an amount of height above the minimum requirement required to build in a flood plain, a term known as freeboard. Doing so extends the amount of time people have before sea level rise becomes a concern for their homes.

“On March 1, 2012, the state created a one-foot freeboard requirement statewide,” Mr. Rogers said. “In Beaufort, Morehead City and Newport, that buys us 41 years (before sea level rise becomes a problem).”

Mr. Rogers said communities have the option to create their own building requirements that go over state requirements. Towns like Emerald Isle and Bogue Banks have such requirements, which Mr. Rogers said give them an additional 61 years before sea level rise would become an issue.

Many actions like building above freeboard that help people adapt for sea level rise weren’t taken for that purpose. Mr. Rogers said more pressing threats, like flooding during severe storms, are the reason people take these precautions.

“What we need to ask is what’s the most compelling reasons to take them (adaptive measures),” he said. “We don’t need to look at 2100 conditions; we need to look at our problems now.”

Crossroads also heard from Morehead City Mayor Pro Tem Harvey Walker about his work in solar energy. Mr. Walker said his background is in strategic planning and that he wants to encourage development of Carteret County’s energy resources, while maintaining the look of the county.

“My idea is: let’s make Carteret County the Silicone Valley of clean energy,” he said.

Mr. Walker said he intends to create a group of investors to build solar energy projects. The group will be a profit-sharing one, providing investors with a share of the revenue from selling electrical energy made from solar panels installed on buildings and property around Carteret County.

One such project that’s in the works is at the N.C. Port of Morehead City. Mr. Walker said the port will be producing 20 percent of its own energy needs through solar power. Mr. Walker said he’s also working on trying to get the county school system to install solar panels on its own buildings.

“I’m trying to get everyone in Carteret County on a revenue stream,” he said. “The whole solar piece I’m trying to do at the port will put us on the map. Hopefully it will get companies to notice us and locate here.”

Mr. Walker brought with him Keeley Boggs, communications relations specialist and policy liaison for the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association, a nonprofit that promotes energy efficiency and sustainable energy. Ms. Boggs said her group does this through public policy, market intelligence and education.

“I try to do a lot of outreach and education,” she said. “We have an annual conference, ‘Making Energy Work,’ and we have lobbying days.”

Ms. Boggs said the state of renewable energy systems in North Carolina is promising. She said there is a variety of types of systems used in the state, from thermal energy to solar energy, from wind energy to livestock waste.

“One thing North Carolina doesn’t have is third party sales where a farm sells power to a community,” Ms. Boggs said. “But we’re hopeful.”

Contact Mike Shutak at 252-726-7081 ext. 206, email mike@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.

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