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Hi, and welcome to my "Editor's Blog"! In this space I'll be attempting to keep our readers informed on fast-breaking news and issues affecting our islands. Visit often. There's a lot going on!

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Why you need to be at the Commissioners' town hall meeting on Feb. 4

Friday 29 January 2016 at 5:01 pm

The members of the Dare County Board of Commissioners are coming to Hatteras Island next week on Thursday, Feb. 4. They are coming to hear from their constituents at a town hall meeting at 6:30 p.m. at the Fessenden Center.

And all of us who live on Hatteras -- or live elsewhere but own property here -- ought to be there.  We ought to pack the house.

The reason why we should attend is that Dare County's long-planned beach nourishment project in north Buxton will apparently start in late spring or early summer.

The restoration of the beach is waiting for several state and federal permits. The most important of them is a special use permit from the National Park Service, which owns the beaches in the seashore. The permits are expected to come through in time to start pumping sand in just a few months time.

And before the sand starts hitting the beach, the commissioners will decide whether or not Hatteras islanders will help pay for the project, which is expected to cost between $20 and $27 million.

So if you pay taxes on Hatteras Island, you ought to attend the town hall meeting on Thursday and tell the commissioners you don't think it's fair to ask islanders to pay for sand to protect Highway 12.

Or tell them that you think it's just fine to help pay for sand on the Buxton beach.

However, you had best say something because the commissioners have already had a presentation on the creation of a special tax district to pay for the project by county manager Bobby Outten. That happened back in November, and board chairman Bob Woodard says he is just giving all of his fellow commissioners time to digest the material before they discuss it -- and then vote on it.

It's probably a safe bet that the commissioners will discuss a "sand tax" at their board retreat in February and at their budget workshops after that.

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Starry Nights on Hatteras Island

Friday 22 January 2016 at 5:14 pm

I woke up early in the morning, well before daylight, earlier this week during Hatteras Island's Arctic outbreak.

I know our friends up north aren't impressed, but it did get down to 25 degrees one night and barely got above freezing the next day. Actually, it's been cold all week until today when it's warmed up but started raining and will soon get very windy.

Anyway, before I went back to bed, I glanced out the window.  The night sky was breathtaking.  I was reminded how beautiful the skies are on really cold, clear nights on Hatteras and Ocracoke.

Our dark night skies are something to behold year-round, but, somehow, there's nothing quite like the winter night sky here.

And all of us -- residents and visitors -- will have a special chance to not only view it -- we hope -- but also to learn what we are looking at on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 12 and 13, when the Hatteras Village Civic Association presents its first annual Starry Nights On Hatteras Island event.

Belinda Pla-Willis is organizing the event with fellow villager Tracy Shisler.

"Tracy and I have been thinking about it for a couple of years," says Belinda, who owns Lee Robinson General Store with her husband, Virgil.

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Dare County will focus on economic development in 2016

Friday 15 January 2016 at 5:15 pm

It seems that there's always talk by local officials, politicians, and business leaders about economic development, but Dare's Board of Commissioners is poised to next week take an important step forward toward growing and diversifying the county's economy.

At the board's Jan. 4 meeting, North Carolina State University's Office of Outreach & Engagement presented a proposal for an economic diversification plan, which seemed to be well received by the commissioners.

The plan would be developed over the course of the year by N.C. State, along with RTI, an international research institute, and Economic Leadership, LLC, an economic development consulting firm, both based in Research Triangle Park, N.C. It would cost the county $58,640 with $14,660 due on signing in January and the remainder in payments in April, July, and October.

At the end of the presentation by two of the NC State staff members and after very little discussion, Commissioner Jack Shea made a motion to accept the proposal.  It was immediately seconded by three other commissioners -- Warren Judge, Wally Overman, and Margarette Umphlett.

At that point, county manager Bobby Outten informed the commissioners that new legislation requires that the board have a public hearing before spending public money on economic development projects.

The board will have the public hearing during its meeting at 5 p.m. next Tuesday, Jan. 19.  

The reason that there wasn't much discussion before Shea made his motion is probably because the subject of growing and diversifying the economy is one that has been frequently discussed at board meetings, especially in the past year.

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CHEC's solar garden will be a community asset

Friday 08 January 2016 at 4:38 pm

Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative has been expecting construction to start on its new Community Solar Garden any day now for about a month.  

First, weather at its other construction sites slowed down the contractor,  Hannah Solar, which has also been involved with other community solar projects for North Carolina electric cooperatives.  And now the geology at the site of the project has presented a challenge to work crews.

The Community Solar Garden will be located on a 1.3-acre site on the west side of Highway 12 on the eastern edge of Hatteras village -- just next to the Hatteras Island Ocean Center and just across from the Sea Gull Motel, which is on the oceanfront.

Because of its location, the contractors knew that they would need sturdier materials and concrete footers to anchor the 180 solar panels on the site.  When the crews arrived earlier this week and started digging holes to anchor the footers, they expected to deal with water in the holes.  However, they did not expect the holes to start caving in at just 2 feet deep.

Hannah Solar's engineers are solving the problem, and CHEC hopes the project will be back underway before the end of the month.  The contractor says that once construction begins, it will take only about a week to complete.

The delays and issues at the site are not expected to add to the cost of the project, said Susan Flythe, CHEC's executive vice-president and general manager.

The solar project will not require any upfront costs to the cooperative, will help it comply with state renewable energy laws, and will provide benefits to members.

It's basically a win-win situation that CHEC has worked on for most of last year.

Flythe explains that when North Carolina passed the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards (REPS) law in 2007, CHEC and 25 other state cooperatives formed GreenCo to help them comply with the law by purchasing renewable energy credits for providing solar or wind power or the like.

In 2014, Flythe says that the North Carolina Electric Membership Corporation (NCEMC) rolled out a plan to build small scale community solar projects, since large projects owned by the member co-ops would be prohibitively expensive.

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