January 6, 2008

How rumors start

Saw a letter in the Editorial/Letters section of the Sentinel website. The author got my attention by protesting a plan to install ocean outfall stormwater drains at three locations in Nags Head and KDH.
I want to add my name and my family's name, to the list of people who are against building the three ocean outfall pipes into the ocean at Conch and Curlew Streets in Nags Head, and Lake Drive in Kill Devil Hills. These pipes will contain contaminated storm run-off waters with a host of fecal matter, oil, gas, asphalt debris, and host of other pollutants.
I found this position interesting since there already are ocean outfalls at these sites and they have been there since the late '60s. The pipes were installed to reduce flooding after storms. At the time there was litle or no development west of the beach road. I don't think the big road had even been built. Pollution wasn't an issue since there was nothing to pollute the water that was drained. As the community developed these outfalls have become a stormwater drainage system for the nothern end of Nags Head and the southern end of KDH.
Ok so the author of the letter got it a little bit wrong. The pipes already exist so we can't protest there installation. What can we protest? I wrote to the gentleman identified in the letter and asked what could have prompted this mistake. Here is what I learned.
DOT applied for a permit in November to extend Ocean Outfall #6 an additional 40 feet to its original length. Due to inconsistencies with our rules that permit was denied. DOT will be seeking a variance from the Coastal Resources Commission at the January 17th meeting in New Bern. DCM is supportive of the variance. We are currently processing permit applications for repair of the other two outfalls (#s 1 and 4). It is likely that these permits will be issued. The repair of these two outfalls would normally not require permit authorization from DCM, however DOT is proposing to install temporary sheet piles around the pipes during the repair. This temporary structure would require permit authorization.

Ok, so now we have the facts. The state wants to move any pollution (more on that canard in a minute) offshore, improving near shore water quality and more importantly the performance of the drainage system, saving on maintenance long term and they are going through all the necessary hoops to get it done. Wow, what a really bad idea, NOT! Over the last 50 years or so the pipes in the ocean have been damaged by storms and corrosion. Now sand builds up at the mouth of the pipe and blocks the flow. This means that the neighborhoods that rely on the drains get flooded. Ask the residents of Wrightsille Blvd and Memorial Ave. whether they think this is a good idea. They get flooded a couple times a year because the system doesn't function properly. Oh yeah, by the way, This improvement will be accomplished with no increase in pollution. Let me repeat that. NO CHANGE IN THE DRAINAGE AREA - NO INCREASE IN POLLUTION.
The letter asserts that "I'm sure swimming will be banned near these run-off pipes." Interesting thought but lets look at the facts. In 2006 the Natural Resources Defense Council name KDH a "Beach Buddy" for its work cleaning up ocean drainage. If you look at their report "Testing the Waters" you will find a list of the water quality testing results from every testing site in the state including, interesting enough, all 3 of the outfalls cited in the letter. Ok so what are the facts. Each outfall had 34 weeks of testing and each outfall had one high bacteria reading. Not too bad, and certainly not as catastrophic as the letter predicts.
I guess the final straw is that, as regular readers know, there is a big program to understand the impact of the outfalls and find a way to reduce the amount of pollution they dump into the ocean. Lots of money is being spent to clean them up, with a lot more coming.
So I guess the letter got it a bit wrong, no new outfalls, no increase in pollution, no beach closings and no crisis. The letter closes saying "This is no pipe dream" Yeah, actually it is.
So you say, OK Bob big deal, someone wrote an inaccurate letter to the Sentinel. This has happened before get over it. My question is at what point does the Sentinel have a responsibility to point out the inaccuracies in the letter. By printing it without comment it seems that they tacitly endorse the facts presented if not the position. At what point of inaccuracy does this become the proverbial "Shouting fire in a crowded theater"? If I send a letter to the Sentinel saying that I know there are 25 communists working in Dare County government should they print it without proof? If the paper's mission is to inform (and make money doing it), should it print this kind of misinformation without some notice or correction? People see the letter, accept it as true and then they talk to their friends and say "Heard what our dumb government is doing?". This is how rumors, false rumors, get started and I think its wrong. Come on Sandy, wake up, tell your readers what the facts are. Don't print stuff like this that just plain wrong. At least help your readers know the truth.
Enough of the rant, no new pipes, no new pollution unless you count the contents of the Sentinel.


At 11:13 AM, Blogger Ronnie Roach said...


I can't believe that 25 Communists work for Dare County - are you going to share any names?

I know it is a tough task to rebut every point made - whether it is on a web site, newspaper or broadcast on radio or TV. Submit your post to the Sentinel and ask for forgiveness for exceeding the length requirements.

And by the way - do any of those Communists work for Southern Shores?

At 9:01 PM, Blogger Monticello said...

Agree. Both papers seem to allow fairly outlandish stuff to appear in their "letters" sections, although I have found the Sentinel to be the most egregious violator. Even on my college paper we exercised editorial control over letter's we knew to be absolutely incorrect in fact or statement, when they strayed from opinion.

At 9:59 PM, Blogger Willo said...

Good summary! Well said! And just to let your readers know - as I'm sure you are already aware - there is a meeting scheduled for this Thursday at 10 am in the auditorium of Jockey's Ridge State Park to discuss the ocean outfall project. Results from the December storm sampling and the updated design of the proposed vault for Conch Street will be discussed.
And I want to know too - who are the communists????


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