Jeter: Coal ash, teacher pay laws only the start

N.C. Rep. Charles Jeter, center, held a town hall session Aug. 27 at the Mountain Island Library to address concerns about recent laws passed during the short session. (Carrie C. Causey/MIM photo)

By Carrie C. Causey

MOUNTAIN ISLAND – N.C. Rep. Charles Jeter said he is cognizant that the coal ash and teacher pay bills passed during the state’s legislative short session won’t solve all of North Carolina problems, but are just the beginning of their efforts.
Jeter held a town hall meeting to hear constituent comments and questions on Aug. 27 at Mountain Island Library. Joining him were N.C. Sen. Jeff Tarte and Rep. John Torbett, whose jurisdictions include parts of the Mountain Island area.
Among the concerns raised were about traffic, environment and education.
At the very end of the short-session, legislators passed the Coal Ash Management Act. Part of it is the required cleanup of high-priority coal ash ponds, including Asheville, Riverbend, Dan River and Sutton. Among the components are for a survey of private wells and replacement of contaminated water supplies; have the Department of Environment and Natural Resources categorize all sites as high, immediate and low-risk with cleanup deadlines; and phase out wet ash storage.
Legislators have been pressed to add more stringent regulations on coal ash ponds in the wake of the Dan River spill that occurred earlier this year.
Some people think the new law isn’t enough and Jeter addressed those concerns, saying he considers the bill Coal Ash Part 1 and anticipates a part 2 in upcoming sessions.
Cleanup won’t be easy, he said, estimating that it would take six years of around-the-clock work to just clean up Riverbend, plus there is still discussion on where to put it. He and Torbett said the aspect of requiring Duke Energy to pay for the cleanup was left out because of issues regarding government vs. private entities. But the law does create a moratorium to lessen rate increases on customers.
Legislators have also discussed other bills about alternative energy production, including solar, wind and fracking.
Meeting attendees said the new teacher pay bill isn’t all it’s touted to be either, calling the pay scale restructuring favoring mostly newer teachers.
“It’s not the largest in the state’s history – not in dollars and not in percent,” Jeter admits, contradicting many reports by media and representatives.
Jeter said the reason he approved the bill was that he liked 85-90 percent of it, arguing the longevity pay stipulation and cuts to teachers assistants. But he sees them looking more into components of the law later.
Legislators have also been looking into improving road repair concerns. One attendee said the N.C. Department of Transportation is not a friend to the area, considering residents have been promised for four years to have something done about the heavily congested N.C. 16 and Mount Holly-Huntersville intersection.
Jeter and Torbett have both had similar experiences with road construction projects. Torbett said last fall they allocated funding for road paving and was told by NCDOT that it wasn’t contracting until the end of October.
“So they missed July, August, September and October that they could have been working,” Torbett said. “And what can’t you do November through March – you can’t pave. They lost nine months doing nothing simply because of the way DOT does their contracting.”
Torbett said they’ve put into the law new deadlines that the contracts have to be solidified and requirements for better quality roads. Tarte said they are also putting roads into local control through agreements where the state will repave them and the municipality will take over responsibility going forward.

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