Environmentalists persuade commissioners to keep stream protections

Environmentalists, indeed all Chatham citizens, won a surprising victory Monday night when the conservative majority on the Chatham County Board of Commissioners reversed  a 3-2 vote to gut ephemeral stream protections in the county’s watershed protection ordinance. The dramatic reversal came about after all of the local citizens who testified on the proposal, including me — all arguing forcefully against changing the regulations — had left the public hearing room in mass once the majority voted the first time to gut the stream protections. Commissioners had heard testimony from 14 individuals, including six conservation  organizations. When a member of the County’s own Environmental Review Board reported that they also opposed the Commissioners actions, and conservative Commissioner Walter Petty agreed with Commissioner Sally Kost, who had been fighting all along to keep the regulations in place, the board invited the crowd back into the room.  Commissioners then voted 5-0 on a compromise resolution that kept most of the protections in place. I was one of the 14 who spoke against changing the regulations and in favor of maintaining stream buffer protections. This is what can happen when we all work together for our community. Here is my testimony:

I support keeping Chatham County’s science-based ephemeral stream buffer requirements.

The proposed revisions are solutions in search of a problem, or from my perspective, they seem to stem from an erroneous theory about local economic development.

First, we have had zero problems with the current stream buffer requirements because we have had virtually no development requests since were enacted in 2008.  The conservative or pragmatic approach to  concerns raised would be wait until we have had some real, on-the-ground complaints from actual development requests.  Any developer can seek a variance under the current ordinance that will allow him or her to vary from specific buffer requirements using best management practice that cause less land disturbance and preserve aquatic life and habitat and protect water quality. Then, if there appears to be an ongoing pattern of these variance requests, the county could consider modifying the ordinance accordingly.

Second, I specifically challenge the view that these stream buffers have a negative impact on property values or sustainable economic development – i.e. our ability to support local businesses and attract new ones.  There’s plenty of research showing that protecting watersheds, streams, rivers and water quality enhances the economic attractiveness of a community.  Indeed the recent Chatham Park video shown to the Economic Development Corporation made it clear that Chatham’s rural character and environmental quality are the principle assets the developers are using to promote and attract RTP-type high tech companies to this area.  Moreover, economic cost/benefit studies have found that stream buffers and other environmental protections increase property values for land owners and residents.

Beyond these technical arguments, this issue is personal.  I have two intrepid grand daughters, ages 6 and 4, who live with my daughter and son-in-law in North Chatham where their drinking water source is Jordan Lake.  Buffers around ephemeral steams  are needed  to safeguard their health, and the health of  thousands of residents and tourists living and recreating in the Jordan Lake watershed area.

Those girls also love to play in our creeks and rivers.  Those buffers are needed here because they act as filters to keep them clean.

Finally, my wife and I and many other local residents and tourists,  enjoy bicycling and hiking along those creeks and rivers where we enjoy the wildlife and natural beauty of these waters.  Beautiful streams and rivers do not protect themselves in the midst of development pressures.  They require the type of community protection and enhancement that our current ordinance ensures.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Please maintain our current pragmatic stream buffer requirements.

–Jeff Starkweather


Jeff files for NC House District 54

News Release 2/13/12

Jeff filing with good friends Sally Kost, seeking re-election as a Chatham County Commissioner, and Karen Allen Howard, running for Chatham Board of Education.

PITTSBORO —  Jeff Starkweather, a long-time community advocate and retired newspaper publisher and attorney in Pittsboro, filed today to seek election to a new open seat in NC House District 54, representing all of Chatham County and a portion of the Sanford area in Lee County.

“It’s especially important now to have a strong local voice represent this new district,” he said. “I spent my entire career fighting for fair treatment for all people and communities.  Now I want to bring fairness and civic responsibility back into the public debate about tax reform and public investments.”

“We need to strengthen our public schools from pre-K through community college and university levels  — not starve them,” he said.

“We need to work strategically to support local businesses and attract clean industries — not simply wait for the jobs to show up.

“We need to protect the natural environment that makes our region a stellar place to live and work, considered one of the best locations in the nation,” he said.

A Family Affair -- Jeff , Emily and the Tinervin team, Sally, Karen and the Howards at the Board of Elections

“And we need to restore the promise of upward mobility for all, not just the privileged,” he said.
“If we do these things by working with each other– not against each other– our economy and our democracy will thrive again now and for future generations.”
Jeff has lived and worked in Chatham County for 40 years.  In 1973, at age 26, he became the editor and co-publisher of the Chatham County Herald until it was sold in 1984. Under his leadership, the paper won two dozen awards for investigative journalism, public service, photography, news and feature writing.

He went on to become a federal public defender and civil rights attorney, spending nearly two decades representing the interests of low-income defendants and working people, women, minorities and persons with disabilities. He also served on the Chatham County Planning Board.
In 2006, the News and Observer named him a Tar Heel of the Week for his grassroots political leadership to prevent sprawl and promote balanced growth.
He retired in 2008 and a year later was named a Humanitarian of the Year by the Western Chatham Branch of the NAACP for his grassroots leadership, advocacy and service.

Most recently he has been working for good jobs, affordable housing and energy conservation through service on the Chatham County Economic Development Corporation, Triangle South Workforce Development, Chatham County Affordable Housing, and Sustainable Energy and Green Building advisory boards.
“I understand what middle-class , working people and the working poor are up against in today’s economy,” he said. “My parents, now in their 90s, are devout Baptists from modest means. They worked hard their entire lives to ensure their children could graduate from college and get good jobs.  They taught us to work hard, give back to the community and stay true to our values. Thanks to their sacrifice and example, we were the first generation in our family to attend college.
“That’s the vision I want to restore, that all citizens believe once again that hard work and giving back go hand in hand, and if you do  both,  your family and your community will succeed.”
Jeff was raised in Ojai, California. He has a B.A. in political science and economics from Redlands University and a J.D. from the School of Law at N.C. Central University. He also studied social work and planning at the graduate level at George Washington University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
He has been married to Dee Reid for 26 years. She is director of communications for UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences.

They raised two children, who attended public schools in Chatham County. Sam is a poet and publisher who works at the City University of New York.  Emily, is a teacher’s assistant at Pittsboro Baptist Pre-School and lives in northeast Chatham with her husband Scott Tinervin, and their two children, Ryan, 6, and Emery, 4.

It’s A Party: Campaign Kick-Off March 4

You’re invited to help the Jeff Starkweather for State House campaign blast off in style.

We’re having an open-house party on Sunday March 4 from 4  to 7 pm at the former Pittsboro Chevrolet showroom, 697 Hillsboro Street. That’s on US 15-501 just north of Chatham Mills in Pittsboro.

Everyone is welcome. Admission is free and donations to the campaign are always welcome.

We’ll have plenty of live music and light refreshments.  And there will be time to ask questions and share your ideas for how we can strengthen our community and our state.

Do you want strong schools, good jobs and clean air and water?  I do, too. That’s what we need for an economy that’s built to last.

Are you worried about the rush to authorize hydraulic fracking for shale gas in Chatham and Lee counties? I am, too. Given the fracking track record elsewhere, it seems the environmental and health costs far outweigh any short-term gains.

I hope you’ll stop by on March 4 from 4 to 7.  It’s a chance to see old friends and make some new ones. Feel free to bring friends and family. And spread the word.



Learn more about the campaign on our web page, blog and Facebook.

Loyse Hurley: forever young

Chatham County lost one of its most stalwart and inspirational grassroots leaders with the death this week of Loyse Hurley, long-time president of Chatham Citizens for Effective Communities (CCEC).

I lost a devoted friend, colleague and advisor, and someone I dearly loved.

What is the measure of a person’s life? It is not the money one accumulates, the property one owns, the degree one earns, or the awards one wins.  The true measure of a person’s life is what she does to impact positively on the lives of others and that of her community.  By this measure, Loyse’s life was immeasurable.

As president and chief public advocate for CCEC, and as a mentor and advisor to citizen leaders, candidates and elected officials, Loyse modeled a fair and fact-based approach to public policy advocacy and analysis.  The strong grassroots support  we see in our community for environmental protection, preservation of rural character and  balanced land-use planning owes a great deal to her leadership.

Thus, I propose the creation of the annual Loyse Hurley Award for Citizen Advocacy and Leadership for the grass roots advocate who best demonstrates her respectful, fact-based advocacy. Maybe CCEC will have ideas about how to develop this.

I know Loyse  had a personal impact on my life, and I have seen considerable evidence that she inspired many others who had the privilege of knowing her.

Lo, as we affectionately called her, was the most amazing listener and counselor.  I doubt if anything I wrote or did in terms of public advocacy or community organizing occurred without my first consulting with her. We had a standing arrangement. Whenever I was fired up about something and whipped out an e-mail or proposed a statement or speech about it, I always sent a draft first to Lo for her dispassionate evaluation and advice. Many of those e-mails or letters thankfully never saw the light of day after Lo reviewed them.  And others were toned down appropriately with her edits.
When I was down or upset by the harshness of public discourse, Lo always lifted my spirit and bucked up my determination to get back in the game.

As Lo became sick over the last year, I missed having her wise counsel as much as I had in the past. At first this made me feel lonely and untethered. But I learned to ask myself, “What would Lo do?“ and the answer would come in my conscious recollection of her words and example.

Many of us are deeply saddened by Lo’s death. But I take comfort in knowing that we can also celebrate her life by carrying her spirit and voice with us each day as we try to be a bit more like Lo.

I conclude with this tribute to Lo, taken from Bob Dylan’s song Forever Young:  Lo, you grew up to be righteous, you grew up to be true, you always knew the truth, and saw the light surrounding you. You always were courageous, you stood upright and were strong….Your hands were always busy, your feet were always swift, you had a strong foundation when the winds of change did shift, your heart was always joyful, and your song will always be sung, you will stay forever young.

Thumbs up for Dist. 54 mayors’ support for public education

My letter to the editor published in Chatham News and Record, Feb.1, 2012:

I want to applaud Siler City Mayor Charles Johnson, Pittsboro Mayor Randy Voller, Goldston Mayor Tim Cunnup, and Sanford Mayor Cornelia Olive for supporting Governor Bev Perdue’s proposal to restore some $800,000 in state funds for our public schools.  While I am not generally a supporter of increased sales taxes because their impact is “regressive” (lower income households pay a higher percentage), I would support restoring a 3/4 cent increase if that was the only politically feasible way to adequately fund our public schools. Obviously, I would prefer those who can better afford it to pay a higher percentage burden of any tax increase than the numerous retirees, blue collar workers and unemployed in Chatham and Lee counties.

Since the 2008-2009 budget year approximately 6,108 NC public school employees have lost their jobs, 76% of whom were teachers or teacher assistants.  Although our local schools have done a good job of keeping those numbers down, we still have lost a significant number of positions, including completely eliminating Chatham’s middle school Spanish program. And while the Chatham Board majority did not actually cut their dollar contribution, they also did not provide sufficient funds to maintain the same per pupil funding, based on increases in student enrollment. Commissioner Sally Kost and I lobbied for these funds because we both considered not providing them as a funding “cut”.

I also support President Obama’s American Jobs Act, in large part, because it will provide North Carolina sufficient funds to restore or retain a total of 13,400 education jobs.

Any increased educational funding should be focused on classrooms and direct educational services.

Research clearly shows that the most important factor in improving a state’s and local community’s economic development and prosperity is public educational quality. Thanks to our state legislature’s misguided cuts to education, North Carolina has dropped to 46th in per pupil state funding. We are now below Mississippi and South Carolina. That is embarrassing.

It is time we put our future – our children and grandchildren – first.  I don’t have all the answers to the best way to fund education but I am willing to do my part and pay my share to make it happen. I hope you feel the same.