The month of May typically marks the home stretch of the North Carolina General Assembly’s long session, so it’s a good time to take stock of the North Carolina Coastal Federation’s 2019 legislative agenda. Here’s a quick rundown:
Earlier this year, the UNC Collaboratory released a strategic plan that included regulatory reforms and new investments aimed at building the state’s oyster industry’s total economic benefit to $100 million and creating 1000 new jobs by 2030. The good news is that the regulatory reforms are well on their way to approval after the North Carolina Senate approved SB648 Support Shellfish Aquaculture with strong bipartisan support. The bill now moves to the House where support is also strong. Lawmakers have had more difficulty finding funds recommended in the strategic plan. The House’s recently approved state budget for 2019-20, for example, did not fund any of these recommended investments. The budget process now moves to the Senate, where early indications are that funding may be more generous. Top oyster funding priorities include continued funding to restore sanctuary oyster beds in the Pamlico Sound, a small business loan program for oyster growers and new investments to protect water quality in key shellfish growing shorelines.
Open Space Conservation.
The House budget included $3.3 million to preserve a key tract of land on Bogue Sound now slated for development. The federation also hopes lawmakers will invest new funding to address stormwater pollution in the Newport River that is damaging some of the state’s most promising shellfish growing areas. Farther north, in Hyde County, funding the first steps in the recently completed Lake Mattamuskeet Restoration Plan will improve water quality while also reducing the flood risk for hundreds of homes and businesses nearby. As part of the statewide conservation coalition, Land for Tomorrow, the federation is also pushing for increased funding for both the Clean Water Management Trust Fund and the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund. House lawmakers provided an additional $4 million nonrecurring for both funds, bringing the total for CWMTF to $18.3 million, and the total for PARTF to $20.2 million, which is the same amount each fund received last year. The coalition is now working with the Senate in hopes of increasing those funding levels.
As part of the statewide conservation coalition, Land for Tomorrow, the federation is also pushing for increased funding for the state’s conservation trust funds for both clean water and state parks. House lawmakers funded both at the same levels as last year – $38.5 million total – so hope turns to the Senate for an increase in this funding.