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House Rolls Out Bulk of Budget Plans

RALEIGH – The state Department of Environmental Quality would get a major round of funding on upgrades for its lab facilities and robust funding for the state’s two main conservation funds would continue under a spending plan approved late last week by House appropriations committees.

Rep. Bob Muller, R-Pender, left, and State Environmental Secretary Michael Regan speak in March 2018 during a tour of the Department of Environmental Quality’s Central Laboratory on Reedy Creek Road in Raleigh. Photo: Kirk Ross

The House Capital Appropriations Committee approved $30 million for renovations at DEQ’s Reedy Creek laboratories, which conducts the bulk of scientific research for air and water quality programs. The project, a top priority of the department for years, would include new equipment, ventilation systems and expanded lab and storage space.

Meanwhile, the Agriculture and Natural and Economic Resources Appropriations Committee, which oversees spending for DEQ, along with the departments of Commerce, Labor, Agriculture and Consumer Services and Natural and Cultural Resources, authorized $591,472 in recurring funds for DEQ to hire seven engineers and lab technicians for work on emerging contaminants.

The total appropriation for Clean Water Management Trust Fund grants would be $18.3 million and the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund would be $20.2 million, levels comparable to the last budget cycle.

DEQ’s Dam Safety program would also have funds to hire on an additional four employees to help manage emergency action planning for intermediate and high-hazard dams required under the 2014 Coal Ash Management  Act.

One of a handful of late amendments to the spending bill shifts $93,794 in planning money for a proposed state aquarium at a private development in Pender County to help cover repairs for storm damage to the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center on Harkers Island.

During committee discussion Thursday, Rep. Pricey Harrison told her colleagues that the controversial aquarium project proposed at Blake Farms, championed by former Pender County Rep. Chris Millis, did not appear to be moving forward, while the museum urgently needed the funds to help repair damage during the hurricane that wasn’t covered by insurance.

In the Department of Transportation spending plan, the state Ferry Division would be authorized to spend up to $1 million to lease a passenger ferry for the Ocracoke passenger ferry. The company hired to build the new ferry for the service recently announced that construction delays would mean the vessel would not be ready for this summer.

The Ferry Division also would receive an additional $3.5 million to cover projected increases in service and higher maintenance costs.

The State Ports Authority would receive a total of $11 million over the next two years to cover the cost of raising the power lines across the Cape Fear River near Wilmington by 41 feet to bring the overall clearance to 212 feet.

Other items in the House budget include:

  • Funding for a Division of Marine Fisheries district manager and technician for shellfish leasing program.
  • $400,000 for the restoration of funding to university energy centers at Appalachian State University, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University and North Carolina State University.
  • $50,000 for the Division of Coastal Management for the assessment and data collection to find sites for dredge material.

Although most of the House appropriation subcommittees reported out their totals last week, other parts of the plan are still being finalized, which includes another round of hurricane disaster relief and recovery funding expected to include about $100 million for additional debris cleanup, water and sewer infrastructure and resiliency projects.

Details of that spending is due Monday evening.

The House is scheduled to hold final votes on its plan on Thursday and Friday. If passed, the budget moves to the Senate, which will write its own spending plan.

In addition to then negotiating a consensus agreement between the two chambers, GOP leaders in the House and Senate, who no longer hold supermajorities, will also have to win over the governor or enough Democrats to override a veto.

About the Author

Kirk Ross

Kirk Ross is a longtime North Carolina journalist based in the Triangle. In addition to Coastal Review Online, he covers the legislature and state government for Carolina Public Press and The Washington Post. He can be reached at kirkrossreport@gmail.com.