Under the Dome

DENR sheds attractions under budget

UPDATED: The state’s environmental agency will shed the N.C. Zoo, aquariums, the Museum of Natural Sciences and the state parks, which will move into the current cultural resources department, under the budget.

The new combination will result in the renamed N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. What we have long known as Department of Environment and Natural Resources, becomes the Department of Environmental Quality.

The transfer is a win for Gov. Pat McCrory, who proposed the transfer in his budget, as part of a government efficiency drive. The Senate included the plan in its budget but the House did not.

With the transfer goes the $11.6 million Clean Water Management Trust Fund. Funding for the Natural Heritage Program is separated from the clean water fund in the amount of $760,000. Both transfer into the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

The move also eliminates close to 25 vacant administrative positions and transfers about 15 filled administrative positions to natural and cultural resources.

Some related related environmental highlights:

▪ Kicks in $250,000 a year to hire contract or temporary workers to review emergency action plans for the state’s dam safety program as required by the coal ash legislation enacted last year. The law requires the 1,559 intermediate- and high-hazard dams to have such plans.

▪ More than $1 million will go to three universities to study potential ways to use coal ash, such as in structural projects: Appalachian State University, N.C. Agriculture and Technical University and N.C. State University.

▪ Budgets $500,000 in one-time funds to drill shale gas test holes and analyze them to determine the potential for natural gas fracking.

▪ Raises the number of terminal groins allowed along the coast from four to six. Terminal groins are hardened walls that extend into the ocean perpendicular to the coast to control beach erosion and sand bars. Environmentalists say they don’t work and harm neighboring beaches, while supporters say they protect private property. This raises the cap on structures that were supposed to be studied as pilot projects before new ones were permitted.

▪ The use of Solar Bees, the whirling devices meant to lessen pollution at Jordan Lake, will increase with a $1.5 million allocation.

▪ The renewable energy tax credit, which has boosted the state’s clean energy efforts, will be allowed to sunset.