Nervahna Crew SWCD video from Jeffrey Billman on Vimeo.

1. Why are you running for the position of soil and water conservation district supervisor? In your answer, please explain your understanding of the role and why it is important.

The natural beauty of the Triangle is one of the things that drew me to this area, back in 2004. At that time, I wanted to relocate to a place where my son could grow up in beautiful green spaces and under clear beautiful skies. The role of the Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor is to ensure that the stunning beauty of this area is commensurate with the population growth that is only going to continue.  With growth comes landowners and more land users and that has got to be properly managed. Education is the key to maintaining the integrity of our natural resources—not just the soil and the water as the name suggests, but the indigenous plants and animals that have always called this area home.

2. What are the three most pressing natural resources issues in the county? How do you plan to address these issues? Please be specific.

Water Quality- As the population of Wake County and the 12 municipalities continues to evolve, making sure that everyone has clean water to drink has got to be right at the top of our priorities. Over the last couple of years, we have seen what can happen to a community if there is a problem with the potable water supply. In Flint, Michigan, irreparable damage has been done to an entire generation of children because of lead in the water that was piped into their homes, schools and everywhere in the community. Here in North Carolina, the Duke Energy Coal Ash disaster is yet another reminder of what can happen to our groundwater is contaminated. The clean up alone of that spill cost the company, the state and the entire region well into the billions and will have to monitored continually for carcinogens seeping into the soil and plant life. Gen X in the Cape Fear River downstream from us in Cumberland Co was and still is an environmental disaster that we have yet to know the full extent of that damage. I am deeply concerned that we are going to find out all too soon with the rise of the Cape Fear, the Neuse and the Tar Rivers during Hurricane Florence.

I want to make sure that all the resources that we have at present, as well as anything that could come down the pike, can be bought to bear when it comes to protecting our groundwater from toxins from the negligence of others. In this County, I want our board to work the County Commission, and the respective City and Town Councils to identify and address polluters before the problem gets to a point where people, livestock and our agricultural community will be adversely affected.

Maintaining our Natural Resources while accommodating for growth- Again, one of the big reasons that I moved here 14 years ago is due to the natural beauty that surrounds us every day. However, the “Cat is out of the Bag” as it were when it comes to everything thing that is great about Wake County. In 2004, there were just over 723,000 people in Wake County and today? Well over 1,000,000. Right now there are 121,000 rural acres here. That is more than the size of entire counties! We also know that affordable housing has become a HUGE issue. The question is how we balance that. I want to work with builders and to ensure that not only are homes cost effective for residence but also are environmentally sound and aesthetically pleasing to the area. Right now, across the county there are buildings that are retrofitting their sites with solar power as well as water reclamation systems. Companies are allowing their employees to telecommute thus reducing their carbon footprint. The county is working on making Light Rail a reality. We must make room for all of the people who have found out that the secret to good living is found in Wake County, but we have to focus on maintaining the natural resources that we have while accommodating our growing neighborhood.

Agriculture- We are losing our farms. Farmers are finding it harder and harder to sustain a family on farming alone. The problem with that is if there are no farms, there is no food!  Soil and Water works hand in hand with farms, both big and small to encourage sustainability of crops as well as provide funding and education for local landowners. I want to encourage that. I also want to encourage and work with schools and community centers to create gardens. Thus serving multiple purposes. We are teaching our children about getting out in the open and growing their own food, we are encouraging healthy eating habits and sustainably using unique spaces to encourage using the land in the best way possible. Farming is an honorable profession. North Carolina is an agrarian state. No farms. No food.

3. Identify examples of how the district can best balance agricultural/rural and urban interests in regards to soil and water conservation.

As I have previously stated, we are a county that is on the move. We have the twelve distinct cities and towns and they are booming. It is getting to the place where you can’t tell where one city begins and another one ends. This is a good thing. However, the urban landscape offers its own set of challenges that a more rural one might not experience. The open county has its own unique characteristics that are not understood by the cities. We can best balance these but identifying our similarities and not focusing on our difference. We all want to make sure that we have access to safe waterways for recreation as well as for irrigating our farms lands.  Keeping our air quality as high as possible is not something that divides us. Focusing on mass transit will take cars off of the streets and lower the emissions that we are all exposed too. This is a balance that we can work as a Board to fix. I want to hear the ideas of the other members to work together to bridge the gap.

4. What funding issues are facing the Soil and Water Conservation District? How would you ensure the district receives full funding? Are there alternative funding sources the district could explore? If so, what are they?

A big source of the funding for Soil and Water comes from grants. A portion of the budget is allocated from the County Commission. The staff works tirelessly to bring those grants to the area but there are still short falls. I would love to continue our partnership with NC State to find more funding for our research and education programs. With the size of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, as well as all of the departments that focus on the outdoors, we need to work with students and faculty to bring any funds that can be found to Wake County.  I want to use my relationships on the County Commission to lobby them for more funding. We can find creative ways to save funds as well as effectively allocating them. One of the big issues that we face in terms of funding is that so many people don’t even know this Board exists. That is a huge challenge for us to overcome. If more people knew about Soil and Water, then maybe they would bring their ideas to the table. Creating a collaborative effort to keep our county beautiful.

5. Many residents don’t know what the Soil and Water Conservation District actually does. In what ways would you reach out to residents to educate them on the issues facing the county and the district’s efforts?

I like the concept and idea of town hall meetings and meeting people where they are. When I attended my first Soil and Water meeting I was impressed with how the Wake County staff and board interacted with one another. They are truly in this for the good of the people.  They have events open to the public to assist with cleanups of waterways and get great support, but it’s not enough. The same energy should go in to ACTUALLY ATTENDING a Soil and Water meeting that goes into attending a City Council or County Commission meeting. If I am elected to the board I will work with local community groups to help spread the message about the issues that are before the board that directly impact all of us.  I will be transparent and keep an open line of communication for our residents to express concerns and issues. I have signed a pledge with members of my community to carry out my duties as well as provide reports and education sessions. If I am elected, people will KNOW about Soil and Water!

6. What is the district’s role in making sure residents’ water–including those people who use wells―is safe to drink? What role, if any, should the district play in safeguarding the local water supply from emerging contaminants?

Again, it bears repeating that we have got to work as a team here in the county to identify polluters and address the problems that they create as soon as they happen. We are not in the place where we can assess punitive measures against anyone caught polluting our waterways, but we can make sure that law enforcement is on top of the task of dealing with individuals who are caught as well as the District Attorney and even the Attorney General’s Office to make sure that people and companies are held accountable. We also have to make sure that we research any and all methods to keep groundwater clean and safe. We cannot afford to leave any stone unturned in that effort.

7. From a standpoint of conservation and the protection of natural resources, what steps should be taken in developing the Durham-Orange Light Rail line and Wake commuter rail?

I believe that the time is past due for the entire Triangle to embrace light and commuter rail from not only a conservation standpoint but from an economic one as well. As the area grow in terms of population density, there is a greater strain put on our natural resources. One of the reasons that companies have sited as a benefit to relocating here is the natural beauty of the region as well as the abundant green areas. Those parks, greenways and water sources must be safeguarded for continued growth and FROM continued growth. If we can take five cars off the road and encourage our citizen to utilize mass transit, those are emissions that will be greatly reduced over time. Thereby protecting our air quality and our water quality as well.  I would like to work with Wake County leadership as well as the leadership of the twelve municipalities here in Wake to bring commuter rail to a reality. Let’s utilize the relationships with Orange and Durham to collectively connect our cities and protect our resources.