Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Perdue vetoes Montgomery County fine waiver

A bill to erase a $101,000 state fine against Montgomery County for dumping sludge into streams didn't make it past Gov. Bev Perdue's desk.

The county's argument that the money would be better spent to fix the problem apparently didn't resonate with Perdue, who vetoed the measure Monday.

The rural county said it had spent more than a half-million dollars to vacuum sludge out of two tributaries downstream of its water treatment plant, and would need another $400,000 for upgrades to the plant. The bill introduced by Rep. Justin Burr, R-Stanly, and ratified by the legislature wiped away the fine in return for remedial action.

The N.C. Division of Water Quality called the bill an unprecedented maneuver that violated the state Constitution's dictate that state fines go to the public schools. Appeals courts have affirmed that principle, noting that the point of fines is, after all, to punish offenders.

Perdue crushed the hopes of environmental advocates, however, by allowing beach communities to test erosion-control structures called terminal groins. The legislation she let pass will allow up to four groins to be built near eroding coastal inlets.

Environmentalists called it a rebuke of North Carolina's long-standing ban on structures such as seawalls and jetties, which often stop erosion in one place but accelerate it elsewhere. The impact of the new terminal groins should be apparent within a few years after they're built.

Legislators, meanwhile, left the fate of the state's toxic air-pollution program hanging this month.

A N.C. House committee voted to gut the program at the urging of Duke Energy and other industries who said it duplicated federal pollution rules. The Senate then passed a study-committee bill that directs the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources to assess the issue. But legislators only named a conference committee to iron out differences between the two chambers' versions of the study bill before leaving town June 18.