The 2017 Pelican Award recipients were honored on Saturday, Aug. 5, in Morehead City at the Crystal Coast Civic Center. These award recipients all contributed in unique ways toward protecting the North Carolina coast. The North Carolina Coastal Federation is thankful for the support and work of these 10 individuals and organizations.

Nearly 500 people attended the event, which featured a speech from Gov. Roy Cooper and a toast by Bland Simpson, award-winning musician and writer and distinguished UNC-Chapel Hill professor. Dick Bierly, president of the federation’s board of directors, opened the Pelican Awards and honored founder and executive director Todd Miller.

Gov. Cooper thanked the award winners and the federation for their hard work in protecting, restoring and educating people about the coast. He also spoke about the importance of protecting the coastal environment and economy.

“Not only is our coastal area a crown jewel for our state, it is a national treasure,” Cooper said in his speech.

Simpson closed the Pelican Awards with a toast to the coast.

Below are brief bios about each of the recipients that appear in the Summer 2017 edition of Our Coast.

Thank you to all who came out to support the winners and the work of the federation! We are grateful to our sponsors and to the restaurants and oyster growers that helped make this event possible.

Coastwide Winners

Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation

For 35 Years of Sustained Partnership with the North Carolina Coastal Federation to Protect and Restore Our Coast

North Carolinians have a better quality of life because of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation (ZSR). Since 1983, the organization has invested every year in the work of the federation, and it has been a constant advisor, friend and mentor. Our 35-year partnership makes life better for everyone who lives, visits, works and plays here along the coast, and it has given the federation the capacity to become part of the social fabric of coastal communities. The foundation’s trustees are dedicated to building an inclusive, sustainable and vibrant North Carolina. The vision of ZSR is to invest resources that will enable the people of our state to realize their full potential, which includes taking care of the coastal environment so that it remains a valued part of our state’s cultural, natural and economic heritage. The foundation’s staff works tirelessly to reflect and implement the values of its trustees as they cultivate and evaluate relationships with potential and existing grantees. Their job is demanding given the limited resources ZSR has available to address our state’s many needs, and the federation is blessed to have the good fortune of working with the ZSR staff since our first exploratory meeting back in 1982. Lots of troubled waters pass under the federation’s wheelhouse as we tackle many issues, which often means swimming upstream to achieve our agenda. That has been possible since ZSR has always been there for the past 35 years to give a strong push forward. The federation is pleased to recognize ZSR for its enormous positive contributions to our state, and especially to the North Carolina coast.

Tom Looney

For Leadership in Advancing Oyster Restoration as a Sound Economic and Environmental Initiative in North Carolina

Tom Looney loved catching clams when he was a young kid living on Long Island. That’s why seafood is now part of his DNA. Later in life, he sold typewriters — that experience taught him to be open to trying new things so that his professional career would not run aground. He learned that lesson well; Tom recently retired as the General Manager of Lenovo North America. Tom is devoted to making North Carolina a better place. He is active on prestigious boards, including those of the North Carolina Economic Development Partnership, North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics and Wake Technical Community College. Tom is also a member of the federation’s board of directors, President’s Council and Coastal Society. He spends a huge amount of his time and resources helping to restore oysters and the coast. He realizes oysters are key to providing expanded economic opportunities for many coastal residents. He also believes that having more people invested financially in clean coastal waters will result in better, long-term protection of coastal resources. Tom’s business savvy leadership is helping to chart out a path forward so North Carolina is the Napa Valley of Oysters in the United States. Over the past several years, he’s become a leader in our state for restoring the coast’s natural environment as a way to improve economic opportunity as well.

David Paynter

For Longtime Commitment to Advancing the North Carolina Coastal Federation’s Efforts to Protect and Restore Our Coast

For 25 years, David Paynter has worked quietly and often behind the scenes to ensure that the coast maintains its important habitat and coastal water quality. Since the 1990s, the multiple roles he has played for the federation have proved immeasurable. He has served as the Coastal Federation’s treasurer, as southeast advisory committee chair, on several campaign committees and currently serves as co-chair of the Investment Committee. David is also a member of the federation’s board of directors, President’s Council and Coastal Society. He first became a member to support the protection of Brunswick County’s Bird Island, which was slated for development of a bridge and homes. David knew the importance of saving this fragile and unique ecosystem for the birds and fauna that call it home. The former director of the New Hanover County Library System in Wilmington, David oversaw its extensive expansion and the formation of the New Hanover County Public Library Foundation in 2006. Now retired, he gives his time to the community and to coastal initiatives. He is active in the Rotary Club and the New Hanover County Smart Start program; has served on the board of public radio station WHQR; and currently serves as treasurer for Cape Fear Audubon Society and on the boards of directors for Audubon North Carolina and for Piedmont Trust.

Mayor Eulis Willis

For Open and Candid Assistance with Coastal Review Online reporting

Navassa Mayor Eulis Willis has been extremely helpful and supportive in Coastal Review Online’s coverage of issues in that town, spending hours with editor Mark Hibbs during his work on the Navassa special report published in July 2016. As CRO has continued to follow the ongoing story of industrial pollution there, he has provided the same support and time to other CRO reporters. Navassa is a small town in Brunswick County with a predominantly black population that has endured more than a century of issues related to industrial pollution that affected soil and groundwater. The 251-acre, former Kerr-McGee Chemical Corp. site is now an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site, where the cleanup that began two-and-a-half years ago is expected to continue for years. Mayor Willis has been generous in sharing his extensive knowledge of the history of the town and how its residents have been affected, and he’s been refreshingly candid in his remarks to CRO regarding the disagreements and challenges in regard to the town’s response to the environmental mess and its continuing economic development efforts.

Northeast Coast Awards

Mary Ann Hodges

For Enthusiastic Student Engagement in Coastal Environmental Stewardship

Mary Ann Hodges is a long-standing education partner with the federation’s Wanchese office. She helped establish the federation’s outreach program and has given crucial support that continues to strengthen it. Mary Ann always comes up with new ways to incorporate the federation’s programs into her classroom to connect the students with the community. She is fearless at trying out new lessons and is a tireless expert at persevering among large classes of middle school students, which is no easy task. Mary Ann is a dependable educator and volunteer who has also led efforts to recruit students to volunteer at local events. We have great respect for Mary Ann’s phenomenal leadership, and we’re so fortunate that she’s shared her talents with us.

Dan Lewis

For Exceptional Business Engagement, Promotion and Support for Coastal Restoration

To say he’s an oyster enthusiast would be putting it lightly. This man loves oysters, and he understands that clean water is vital to the growing North Carolina oyster mariculture industry. Dan Lewis and his business partner Scott Foster own Coastal Provisions Oyster Bar & Wine Bar Café in Southern Shores. Over the past decade, they have grown their business from a specialty market to a top food business on the Outer Banks with three locations. At Coastal Provisions, Dan has set the bar high for offering a diverse and extensive selection of North Carolina cultivated oysters. But he doesn’t just want to serve oysters to discerning customers. Dan integrates an environmental ethic into his business. In the past three years, he has hosted six wine and dine events to benefit the federation, an event where he creates a multi-course meal that highlights a local seafood and pairs the courses with a selection of fine wines. He has traveled to Raleigh on multiple occasions to lobby the General Assembly for additional funds to help with oyster restoration and protection efforts. When the General Assembly cut the budget for the state shell recycling program, he partnered with the federation to launch a targeted program on the Outer Banks to ensure the shells from local restaurants would be used to create new reefs. And as president of the Outer Banks Restaurant Association, he has worked to pass resolutions in support of oyster restoration efforts and hosted fundraisers to benefit the federation’s oyster work.

Central Coast Awards

John Fussell III

For Enduring Commitment to Preserving the Spectacular Natural Heritage of Our Coast

John Fussell is an avid birder, native habitat specialist and wildlife enthusiast who has helped lead educational and conservation efforts on the central coast for many years. He was an adviser on the original Hoop Pole Creek Committee, which led to the preservation of this unique maritime forest. He assisted in the development of the Patsy Pond trail system in the Croatan National Forest and is currently an adviser on the North River Wetlands Preserve Committee. John has offered valuable guidance on the types of rare flora and fauna found at federation conservation areas. He has been a volunteer for many years, is always present at the annual Hoop Pole Creek cleanup and leads birding trips at the North River Wetlands Preserve.

Kathleen Lester

For Dedication and Leadership in Coastal Environmental Education

Kathleen Lester, a first-grade teacher at Swansboro Elementary School, was instrumental in creating two rain gardens and a stormwater education program at her school. Kathleen contacted the federation in 2009 requesting help to reduce polluted stormwater runoff on the school’s property. She then applied for a grant to receive funding and kick-start the project. Two rain gardens were built in 2010 with help from contractors, teachers and students. Since then, she has continued to partner with the federation and use the rain gardens as living classrooms in order to teach her students and their families about stormwater runoff and protecting local waterways. Each year, Kathleen goes above and beyond to educate those around her about keeping our coast clean and healthy.

Southeast Coast Awards

Blockade Runner Beach Resort

For Remarkable Business Partnership in Restoring Coastal Water Quality

Long recognizing the importance of a clean coast to maintaining success as a beach resort, the Baggett family, owners of the Blockade Runner Beach Resort in Wrightsville Beach, have demonstrated a strong commitment to their community as coastal stewards and advocates. They have hosted numerous forums on topics ranging from offshore drilling and marine debris to the economic importance of coastal protection. Additionally, resort staff created the Blockade Runner “Green Team” that performs environmental waste audits at the resort and works to reduce the resort’s energy consumption, plastic pollution and more. Most recently, they partnered with the federation to complete the installation of an innovative stormwater reduction project on the resort grounds, dramatically reducing the amount of stormwater that runs off the property into adjacent drains and outfall pipes. They also utilize water collected in a cistern to irrigate their landscaped areas. The owners and staff of the Blockade Runner Beach Resort demonstrate the great potential that exists to protect and restore our coast through partnership.

Blue Ribbon Commission on the Prevention of Youth Violence

For Dedicated Leadership and Commitment to Connecting Youth with Pathways to Success

The Blue Ribbon Commission on the Prevention of Youth Violence (BRC) primarily serves an area known as the Youth Enrichment Zone (YEZ), which is an approximately 140-square-block area in the north side of downtown Wilmington with high crime and poverty rates. The goal of the BRC for the YEZ is to develop and implement a model that breaks the cycle of poverty and builds a pathway toward success for our youth.

The BRC partnered with the federation to provide their students an opportunity to connect to the coastal environment and expose them to new experiences. Thanks to the partnership, their students have increased their understanding and appreciation of learning about why it’s important to understand and protect the coastal environment, and they are developing a sense of stewardship. The partnership supports the BRC’s Vision, Opportunity, Youth leadership, Advocacy, Guidance and Empowerment (VOYAGE) Initiative. VOYAGE was developed to provide a comprehensive range of programs geared toward addressing many risk factors experienced by youth living in the YEZ. VOYAGE currently includes programming for youth in second through 12th grades, as well as a community outreach model that provides continual support and case management for VOYAGE participants and their families.