The North Carolina Influencer Series

Restrict building among solutions NC leaders offer to save coast and inland communities

Sand bags surrounded homes on North Topsail Beach as Hurricane Florence threatened the coast.
Sand bags surrounded homes on North Topsail Beach as Hurricane Florence threatened the coast. AP

We asked readers what questions they had for NC leaders about environmental issues in the state. Here’s the question they wanted us to ask the 60 NC Influencers: “In light of sea level rise and recent flooding, what should be done to create sustainable development in coastal and eastern North Carolina?”

Here is a sampling of responses from the Influencers:

Patrick Woodie, President and CEO, NC Rural Center

“Having just experienced our second 500-year rain event in southeastern North Carolina in only 23 months, it is an economic necessity that we have local, state, and national conversations about the way we approach long-term economic recovery following these natural disasters. These conversations need to lead to us thinking and doing differently as we help devastated communities try to get back on their feet. We’re good at response during and in the immediate aftermath of these events, but the cumbersome and overly bureaucratic process of rebuilding communities and lives needs to be reassessed. It’s not working well for the most economically vulnerable families and communities in our state, and it is those places that inevitably bear the brunt of disaster events because they live on the land that is most vulnerable.”

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Patrick Woodie

Vivian Howard, Chef, author, TV host, advocate for Eastern NC

“First off, we have to accept climate change as scientific fact. Then use the predictions that fact suggests as a blueprint for future development.”

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Vivian Howard

Paul Valone, Grass Roots North Carolina

“If coastal properties become prohibitively expensive to insure, market economics will make it a self-regulator mechanism.”

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Paul Valone

Lynn Good, CEO of Duke Energy

“Access to safe, reliable and affordable energy has to be part of any decisions policymakers adopt regarding sustainable development; it’s the lifeblood of today’s economy. While we’re proud of our exceedingly reliable electric system throughout North Carolina, recent historic storms have highlighted the continuous need to strengthen that system. That’s why we’re investing billions for storm hardening and targeted undergrounding of power lines. These investments are aimed at reducing outages during extreme weather events and allowing for faster restoration.”

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Lynn Good

Mike Easley, Governor, 2001-2009

“The marketplace will determine a great deal of future coastal development through banks and insurance company action. My biggest concern is the “innerbanks” where rivers and creeks continue to rise to record levels and the same neighborhoods repeatedly flood. There needs to be a relocation effort developed, especially for those impoverished areas.”

Dr. James Johnson, UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School; director of the Urban Investment Strategies Center

“We need a comprehensive review and overhaul of land-use policy in our state. New policies must adhere to the triple bottom line principles of sustainability: protect the environment and natural resources, adhere to principles of social justice in community economic development, and return great shareholder/stakeholder value.”

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Dr. James Johnson

Pamela Davies, President Queens University of Charlotte

“Do everything possible to preserve the natural ecosystem when considering development. Disruption to existing habitats make degradation of the shoreline more likely. Impose environmental design standards on all development in vulnerable areas.”

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Pamela Davies

Patricia Timmons-Goodson, Justice (Ret.) N.C. Supreme Court; Vice Chair U.S. Civil Rights Commission

“First, we should not permit development in areas we know are in flood plains and other places prone to flooding. Second, building restrictions and construction codes should be implemented that give the greatest chance of withstanding flooding.”

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Patricia Timmons-Goodson


Sallie Shuping Russell, Former Managing Director, BlackRock Private Equity Partners

“This is a much harder question than it first appears. That is because coastal and eastern NC are generally poorer areas of the state so a question is “can you have sustainable development without trading off broader economic development for people who live in those areas?” I do not think significant flooding inland is related to higher sea levels. Erosion of beach and sound properties is another story. Regardless of cause, however, flooding needs to be contained if possible. I think density needs to be restricted. Another thought is to limit the amount of impervious surfaces allowed in those areas. The truth is, though, a lot of these areas are low-lying and are going to flood.”

Cyndee Patterson, President of The Lee Institute

“Potentially, the state could no longer allow building on the beach front. They could grandfather homes already in place, but not allow further development. The state could also fund a beach refurbishing program, this process had been used in Florida and South Carolina.”

Richard Vinroot, law partner, Charlotte mayor 1991-1995

“Other than greater “setbacks” (eg. Wrightsville Beach vs. Topsail Beach), I’m not aware of anything that can — or should — be done differently that would have great bearing on coastal development.”

Jay Everette, Senior Vice President and Community Affairs Manager, Wells Fargo

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has worked with local partners to collaborate on dune restoration projects on the Pacific Coast that could be instructive for our needs in the east. Sometimes the best solutions are not technology, but environmentally based solutions like eliminating invasive plant species to allow original plants to protect the dunes and inland watersheds as well.”

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Jay Everette

Catherine Lawson, Attorney, Parker Poe in Raleigh; Started the #meAt14 campaign

“We need to rebuild our coastal and eastern communities with climate resilience as a primary objective. As we rebuild communities that were impacted by Florence, we should use them as testing grounds for innovative building and design measures that have been used in other flood-prone communities around the world. Unless we plan for withstanding and even thriving in continued climate change, vulnerable communities will be trapped in cycles of damage and rebuilding. This kind of strategic planning has upfront costs, but I believe it can lay the foundation for a thriving future for eastern North Carolina.”

Pat McCrory, Governor, 2013-2017, Charlotte mayor 1995-2009

“Implement impervious space calculations to insure proper retention ponds (are) installed.”

Jim Martin, Governor, 1985-1993

“I am not sure anything can be done until we reduce reliance on fossil fuels by converting to nuclear power generation.”

Mark Vitner, Senior Economist, Wells Fargo

“North Carolina should discourage development along flood plains and invest in levies and other flood mitigation systems.”

Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, Bishop, North Carolina Conference, United Methodist Church

“Communities can come together to create what is best for all people, curbing dangerous development and fostering awareness of coastal fragility.”

Bishop Claude Alexander, Senior Pastor, The Park Church

“At the very least, our awareness of sea level rise and increased likelihood of flooding should inform the policies governing density and the types of structures built along the coast.”

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Bishop Claude Alexander

Madison Shook, GOP fundraiser

“We should increase our investment in infrastructure repair and pre-flood mitigation, as well as improved coordination between local, state and regional entities.”

How to participate

Your Voice is an ongoing conversation between readers, the 60 NC Influencers, and policy makers in our state. From now and until Election Day we’re asking readers what matters most to them about a particular policy issue. After readers weigh in online each week, we’ll hold a Your Voice vote to see which reader’s response resonates most. Then, we’ll put that question to the NC Influencers. To participate just click on the Your Voice link embedded in every Influencer series story.

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