State notes: water study hearing, redistricting costs, billboards in court, and would-be governors

The Asheville water system is back on the docket in Raleigh, with the third of four study-committee meetings scheduled for next Wednesday, March 14.

The Metropolitan Sewerage/Water System Committee, chaired by Buncombe County Rep. Tim Moffitt, will meet at 1:30 p.m. in Room 643 of the Legislative Office Building. The agenda can be found on the committee’s website as soon as it is available. Live audio of the meeting will be available via the N.C. General Assembly’s audio website.

The committee is charged with making recommendations regarding the city of Asheville’s water system and whether it will remain in the hands of the city or be transferred to a regional authority or to the Metropolitan Sewerage District of Buncombe County. Members of the committee visited Asheville last month for a public hearing on the issues involved.

Billboard rules face court scrutiny
The rules governing the legislature’s new law liberalizing the area and methods of clearing billboard viewing zones across the state have been put on a back burner temporarily by the N.C. Department of Transportation, in the wake of a lawsuit challenging the temporary rules that technically went into effect March 1 (see Xpress report, Feb. 29). The roadside beautification group Scenic NC went to court on the day of the new rules’ advent, represented by the Duke Law and Policy Clinic, and asked for a temporary restraining order to prevent permitting under the increased dimensions. The restraining order was denied, however, because DOT voluntarily opted not to act on the new permit applications until the actual court hearing on the motion for injunctive relief takes place later this month.

The new law increases the depth of the viewing zone from 250 feet to 380 feet (340 in some instances), and would allow clear-cutting for the first time in decades. The DOT rules were written for that law SB 183, which also has taken away the power of municipalities to uphold more stringent regulations in their incorporated territory.

Who’s for who?
A number of WNC officials have lined up for a fellow WNC politician, Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton of Rutherfordton, who signed on to run in the Democratic gubernatorial primary when Gov. Bev Perdue declined to pursue a second term. Dalton recently released a list of more than 100 public officials supporting his candidacy, including Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy, Buncombe County commissioners K. Ray Bailey and Bill Stanley, Buncombe County Reps. Susan Fisher and Patsy Keever, Rep. Phil Haire of Sylva, and former Sen. Joe Sam Queen of Waynesville.

Dalton faces five other Democrats in the primary, including former U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge of Lillington, Gary Dunn of Matthews, Rep. Bill Faison, Jr., of Efland, Gardenia Henley of Winston-Salem, and Bruce Blackmon of Buies Creek (no website link available).

There are also six candidates on the Republican ledger vying for the gubernatorial nomination: former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory (who was defeated by Perdue in 2008), Scott Jones of Pleasant Garden, Paul Wright of Dudley, Jim Harney of Fayetteville, Jim Mahan of Denver, and Charles Kenneth Moss of Randleman (no website links available for the last three candidates).

Taxpayers get the tab
The News & Observer of Raleigh has reported that the legal-fee tab so far for advice to the legislators on redistricting is far more than has ever been paid before, standing now at roughly $695,000. Compared to the last round of redistricting in 2011 with a reported cost of $131,475, that’s approximately a fivefold increase. Most of the 2011 money, according to the N&O, went to two law firms, with the bulk of that paid to Ogletree Deakins, a South Carolina-based firm with offices in Raleigh.

by Nelda Holder, contributing editor


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