Local News

Fayetteville Chamber to sponsor military spouse luncheon

Spouses in the Mil The Greater Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce is holding an expo and a luncheon with a question-and-answer session for military spouses on April 28, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The event will take place at the Rudolph Jones Student Center at Fayetteville State University.

“The lunch and the expo is free to military spouses; male or female, veterans, members of the Gold Star community, anybody who is or has been married to someone in the military is welcome to come to this event for free,” said Claudia Black, events coordinator and sales specialist for the Chamber. “We are really trying to cater to the military spouses.”

Bronwen Pence, the wife of Fort Bragg Garrison commander Col. Scott Pence, will be moderating a question-and-answer session during the luncheon.

“We will have a panel of four ladies from throughout different branches of the military. The panel will be giving spouses some insight on what military life is like, anything they feel might be helpful to the spouses,” Black said.

The panel will include U.S. Army Special Operation Command-wife Kimberly Weimer and Garrison-wife Nikki Loehr.

The panel will also have a newer military spouse so that the question-and-answer session can be diverse, Black said.
Paul Mitchell will be providing makeovers throughout the day for the spouses, and Five West Media will be on hand
to create headshots for the
attendees. Spouses can receive professional headshots digitally.

Breakout sessions will occur during the morning, the first being a mental wellness session. It will include office yoga and a discussion with a mental wellness doctor talking about stress and how to cope with spouses deploying.

The second breakout room of the day will be geared toward extreme couponing, a subject Black said was very well received during the last military spouse event.

An expo will also be available throughout the day. Thirty-eight vendor booths will be set up in the halls of FSU, and spouses are more than welcome to come and go. If spouses can’t attend the whole event, they can still come to the expo.

Guests walking through the expo will be able to get free gifts and talk to the vendors. Those who come to the luncheon will also receive a swag bag.

“We have a lot of great swag bags to give out,” Black said.

“We still have room for more table sponsors. A business can sponsor a table. They get one seat at the table, and then we put seven military spouses with them, so they get some one-on-one time with the spouses. The business can decorate the table with signage,” Black said.

“We really want these seats to be filled with military spouses. That’s the whole goal of this, for them to have a fun day and be pampered and hopefully learn some stuff.”

The expo and luncheon are free to military spouses, but Black said guests should register before the event. To register, visit www.faybiz.com.

 

Why Chemours faces lawsuit from Cumberland County

chemours In a lawsuit filed last month, Cumberland County alleges that Chemours and its predecessor companies have, over the past few decades, “secretly pumped millions of pounds of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances,” or PFAS, into the air above its Fayetteville Works facility in the southern part of the county.

Chemours, a spin-off of the chemical company DuPont, is the maker of GenX, one of the PFAS substances, among others, referred to in the lawsuit.
Cumberland County alleges that Chemours and DuPont have been polluting the air, groundwater and surface water with PFAS for decades with a “blatant disregard” for residents in the county.

“As has been widely reported, defendants have used the environment surrounding theFayetteville Works facility as a dumping ground for hundreds of chemicals while assuring the EPA and state agencies that they were doing no such thing,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit alleges that from the early 1970s until 2015, when DuPont owned the Fayetteville Works site, the company “discharged millions of pounds of PFAS.”

Among these PFAS, the lawsuit alleges, was a chemical called C8, a substance previously produced by DuPont that may be related to health issues such as birth defects and cancer, when exposed at high levels, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

In 2005, DuPont agreed to pay $16.5 million in EPA fines for violating a requirement to “report to EPA substantial risk information about chemicals they manufacture, process or distribute in commerce,” according to the regulatory agency.

In 2009, DuPont began production of GenX as a replacement to phase out C8. While C8 has ceased, the production of GenX at the Fayetteville Works site continues, but there is limited information on the effect of GenX in humans, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

In an emailed statement to Carolina Public Press, Chemours said the company was disappointed by Cumberland’s decision to file a lawsuit.

“Our discussions with the county have included offering different alternative water systems to qualifying county properties,” the company said.

“We are also working collaboratively with the county and (the Fayetteville Public Works Commission) water to connect impacted Cumberland County residents to public water where feasible.”

In 2020, the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners voted to allocate $10.5 million in an effort to find an alternative water source for Gray’s Creek, an area south of Fayetteville where GenX was found in N.C. Department of Environmental Quality testing in some residential wells groundwater.

Last month, commissioners were expected to finalize an agreement in which Fayetteville PWC would provide water to the area, but County Manager Amy Cannon requested more time to work on the contract with PWC.

Since the Chemours facility is located off State Road 87, south of PWC’s water supply and further down the Cape Fear River, the GenX contamination attributed to Chemours does not affect the PWC, a spokesperson for the utility said.

The company has also supplied bottled water to students and faculty at Gray’s Creek Elementary, the company’s statement said.

On behalf of Cumberland County, the lawsuit against Chemours was filed by Crueger Dickinson LLC and Baron & Budd, P.C. Commissioners decided on these firms last June. According to the contract with the attorneys, the firms will receive 25% of any possible recovery for damages.

GenX effects on humans

GenX is used in products such as food packaging, nonstick coatings and firefighting foam, according to DHHS.
The substance is part of a larger group of chemicals called PFAS, known as “forever chemicals” due to their durability and virtual inability to be broken down.

Exposure to high levels of some PFAS, according to the EPA, may lead to health issues in humans such as high blood pressure in pregnant women, developmental effects in children and increased risk of some cancers.

For GenX specifically, the link isn’t as clear.
A study published by the EPA last year suggests that livers in animals may be sensitive to GenX. Other potential effects in animals include developmental issues and some cancers.

More studies in people are needed to determine the chemical’s effect on the human liver or other organs, according to DHHS.

A small, limited study from DHHS found that GenX may not stay in the human body for a long time.
Chemours stands by the safety of the chemical, according to their website.

“If incidental exposure were to occur, it’s rapidly eliminated from the body,” the company claims.
Continued research on the effects on humans is ongoing among scientists, including those at N.C. State University’s GenX exposure study.

State investigation

The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality has been investigating allegations of GenX contamination from Chemours since June 2017 when the Wilmington StarNews reported that the chemical had been found in drinking water in the lower Cape Fear River.

In February 2019, DEQ filed a consent order against Chemours requiring them to address current and prevent future GenX contamination.
Last year, DEQ found Chemours responsible for the contamination of groundwater and water supply wells in New Hanover County and possibly Pender, Columbus and Brunswick counties as well.

As a result, the state required Chemours to sample the drinking water in those downstream communities. On March 28, DEQ sent the company a letter requiring the company to expand their plan for sampling within the counties.

In their emailed statement, Chemours said they are continuing to comply with the state’s consent order.

“We are committed to continued engagement with Cumberland County as we implement the terms of the consent order agreement,” the company said.

Fort Bragg teams take home the win at first Military Working Dog Team of the Year Competition

working dogs 1 With laser-eye focus, combat gear secured and tails wagging, eight military working dog teams launched into their real-world scenario based training lanes for one common purpose — to earn the title Military Working Dog Team of the Year.

The first Military Working Dog Team of the Year Competition was hosted March 24 by Fort Bragg’s Public Health Activity at the Medical Simulation Training Center on Fort Bragg. Each dog and handler team, specializing in either narcotics or explosive detection, competed in different tasks throughout the cloudy and drizzly day, challenging them on their knowledge and skills.

Two teams came out on top — Cpl. Taylor Reed and military working dog, Gert, for narcotics detection and Cpl. Jericho Arengo and military working dog, Serif, for explosives detection. Both teams are from Fort Bragg’s 550th Military Working Dog Detachment.

“I am still astounded being named the Fort Bragg Explosive MWD Team of the Year,” said Arengo. “There were a lot of great MWD teams competing for the title. It was not an easy competition.”

Arengo added that he and his canine partner worked well together, despite a few deficiencies that they will continue to work through as a team. However, he definitely made sure Serif got a lot of extra treats, belly rubs and free time to run around to be a dog as celebration.

“We’ve never had anything like this,” said Reed, Narcotics MWD Team of the Year. “We had the opportunity to practice hands-on (training) in a simulated and controlled environment on what we need to know how to do as dog handlers. The entire event was far above and beyond any training I could have dreamed of and it was executed perfectly. I feel very honored and prideful of our detachment.”

In total, three military installations across the country were represented: Fort Bragg, Fort Polk, Louisiana, and Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.

“It’s always nice to get camaraderie with our Army counterparts,” said Senior Airmen Devon Reynolds, whose canine partner is a 2-year-old German shepherd named Bruno from the 633rd Security Forces Squadron, JBLE. “We don’t get to work with them all that often, so when we do it’s a great opportunity to learn from each other and have a little fun while we’re at it.”

Each team was tested on their ability to detect the scent of either narcotics or explosives, how to administer first aid to both humans and dogs, how to use radio communications, how to operate in a chemical, biological, radioactive, nuclear and high yield explosives environment, and assemble/dissemble their weapon — all the while tending to and protecting their four-legged partner.

“I like how there’s so much variety while going through the training,” said Pfc. Gabriel Franco, 550th MWD Detachment. “You get a lot more experience and knowledge out of the competition so that we will be prepared
if anything actually was to happen
for real.”

When coordinating the competition, Capt. Heather Weaver, the officer in charge of the event and assigned to the Fort Bragg PHA, said they had direct backing from her command team and their soldiers worked very hard as the main support. The detection, bite and medical lanes had graders from 3rd Special Forces Group, First Year Graduate Veterinary Internship captains and 4th Security Forces Squadron. The 550th MWD Detachment provided detection aids, weapons and basic dog needs like trailers and water. All the units working together provided an Army, Air Force and Special Forces perspective to the scoring of each lane.

“We were looking for a competition to show us the most well-rounded MWD-handler team,” said Weaver. “These handlers also compete in the Expert Soldier Badge annually, but we wanted a way to tie in detection/bite work and daily tasks asked of these teams, Army Warrior Tasks, and medical training.”

Weaver added that she frequently provides training to the 550th MWD Detachment teams and 4th Security Forces Squadron from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, in Goldsboro, North Carolina.

“Instead of becoming confident and complacent in our training, we wanted to see what the handlers would do in real-life scenarios without my direct guidance,” Weaver said. “This allows us to gauge where the most frequent gaps of knowledge lie, and it also allows us to come up with a course of action to close those identified gaps.”

With the partnership between the different units, not only competing together but also supporting the event, many of the competitors agreed that they learned a lot.

“I learned things I didn’t even know I didn’t know,” laughed Pfc. Sheridan Reagin, 550th MWD Detachment. “I definitely put myself to the test. The most challenging was the medical lane. I went in thinking I knew a lot about first aid, but then I sort of panicked.”

The medical lane started off with a patrol walk through the woods when suddenly, simulated artillery rounds went off and there were human and dog causalities. The competitors rushed to their assigned lane and began to administer first aid to either the human or dog training aide.

“The dogs that we worked on, they’re so realistic,” added Reagin, looking at Max, her 5-year-old German shepherd partner. “I feel like if I get efficient on the training dog, I will be able to remain calm and perform first aid on my dog if needed. It was a different experience tending to the human casualty than the dog. There’s that added emotional connection with Max. He’s my buddy.”

The Advanced Canine Medical Trainer, K9 Diesel, is a full-body simulator used by handlers and veterinarians to practice medical aid. The fur covered robot dog whines, growls, breathes, bleeds, has a pulse, makes airway obstruction noises, has a real-time sensor that is customizable to different scenarios and reacts to treatments administered — it looks, reacts and sounds like a real dog.

Teaming up with the Fort Bragg Veterinarian Clinic across the parking lot from the 550th MWD Detachment has its perks for the local teams that train monthly on different medical scenarios and utilize the K9 Diesel quarterly.

“We are very fortunate to have (the vet clinic) so close to provide their expertise,” said Reagin. “We are our dog’s primary caregiver, we can’t just call for a medic. It’s up to (us) to apply first aid until (we) can get (them) to the vet.”

With both winners coming from Fort Bragg’s 550th MWD Detachment, the event solidified that the training is being retained and that handlers are able to apply their knowledge when challenged, said Weaver.

Arengo added that having both winners from the same unit correlates with the excellent training opportunities and trainers available at Fort Bragg.

“The 550th Military Working Dog Detachment holds their handlers above the standard,” Arengo said. “That says a lot about the detachment.”

Spring Lake responds to state concerns

Spring Lake Last week, the Local Government Commission (LGC) wrote a letter to elected officials in Spring Lake, noting several concerns about the Board of Aldermen's choices in the past few weeks.

Their first concern is the hiring of a new interim manager. The Board of Aldermen held two closed session meetings where the board discussed and then swore in a new interim manager, Joe Durham. The problem lies in that the vote to hire Durham should be public. In addition, Durham was sworn in without having a contract in place. The LGC states that no payments can be legally made for Durham's services without a contract.

The second concern noted is the discussion of lifting a furlough on town employees put into effect on March 14. The furlough reduced pay for all general fund employees, reduced staff hours and closed Town Hall on Fridays to walk-in traffic. The LGC is concerned the Board of Aldermen did not consult them on lifting the furlough; the LGC still has complete control of the town's financial affairs.

"The town's board does not currently have the authority to make this decision unilaterally," the letter states.

The third concern involves the town's attorney, Jonathan Charleston. Charleston submitted a resignation letter on March 23 and provided a 30-day notice. However, the LGC states that the board has not officially accepted his resignation, nor has it determined the last date of Charleston's employment. The LGC asks the board to clarify the final date of Charleston's employment and that the town stipulates a plan for obtaining legal representation.

A fourth concern noted in the LGC letter is that the Board of Aldermen voted to remove the LGC's presentation of interim financial information at the March 28 board meeting. The LGC states that while the presentation and information were not available when initially requested by the town in preparing the meeting's agenda, it was available that night.

A fifth concern discussed during the LGC board meeting last week was the legality of a $1 million loan from the South River Electric Membership Corporation to build a fire station. The deal was consummated in October 2020, but work had begun on the construction before funding was in place. The contract was for $1.2 million, but the town only budgeted $1 million. The LGC notes that the original loan terms included an eight-year payback at $125,000 a year; however, LGC never approved the town to get the loan.

The LGC is requesting the town respond to these concerns by April 13.

"The LGC and its staff are committed to assisting the town in implementing policies and practices that will restore its fiscal health and establish a path to long-term viability. We ask the board to demonstrate that same commitment," the letter states.

Alderman Raul Palacios sent Up & Coming Weekly a comment via email stating that he hopes Spring Lake will propel forward.

"With the help go the LGC, Spring Lake is better off than it was a year ago. Because of their oversight, Spring Lake is in a better position financially. These accomplishments haven't come without their fair share of hiccups, but as a new board, we will work to get these things right," Palacios said.

However, on his Facebook page, Palacios said that the letter from the LGC was a one-sided condemnation. His post was shared by Mayor Kia Anthony and Alderwoman Soña Cooper.

In his rebuttal to the LGC concerns, Palacios stated that the board would vote on Durham's hiring when presented with a contract. He also clarified that the board had not accepted Charleston's resignation yet.

Regarding the March 28 board meeting and the LGC report, Palacios writes that the board did remove the financial report from the agenda because they did not receive the report in advance of the meeting after requesting it three times.

"The town of Spring Lake is better than it was a year ago because of internal control handling, LGC oversight and a change in leadership. My only hope is that the next town that receives an investigative audit report receives the help they need versus those hoping to gain political points," Palacios wrote.

At the Board of Alderman work session this past Monday night, Anthony said they would respond to the LGC's concerns this week, and that response will be published. Up & Coming Weekly will publish the response on our website at upandcomingweekly.com.

The board did hear from the LGC about the town's financials up through February. According to the memo from Susan McCullen, director of the Fiscal Management Commission, as of June 30, 2020, the town's general fund balance was $0. Rebuilding the general fund balance will most likely take years. Between 2014 and 2018, $1.88 million was transferred away from the Water and Sewer Fund to the general fund. This money will need to be paid back. The LGC is currently working on the best course of action to do that.

"With the LGC and contract oversight during the year, the town may finish the current year well. However, there is significant work to do to improve the town's general fund reserves," McCullen writes in her memo. "We will not consider any new programs, additional positions, or staff raises but will focus on building the town's fiscal health."

The LGC and Durham are currently working on putting together a budget workshop to go over the 2022-2023 budget and apply for American Rescue Plan Act funds.

Durham was officially appointed as interim town manager during Monday night's work session with the approval of Charleston for legal sufficiency and approval from the LGC.

This appointment comes with the approval of the contract between the town and Durham.

Fixing local flooding when feds deny it’s in a flood plain

Fayetteville is making plans to address recurrent flooding in a neighborhood in the southeast part of the city.

The City Council last week unanimously gave approval for an effort to design a flooding mitigation plan for the Locks Creek area. It’s estimated to cost $8.8 million.

The project would improve drainage among roadways in the neighborhood, including the primary thoroughfare, Locks Creek Road, which will also be elevated as part of the construction.

Byron Reeves, the city’s stormwater manager, said the purpose is to give access to emergency help to households in the event of a flood.

“When you get certain storm events, you can’t get in and out of the neighborhoods, no emergency access, people can’t get in and out to their homes,” he said.

This is the first phase, the only one approved last week. A second phase would call for a bridge on nearby State Road 53.

If that second phase is eventually approved, the entire construction, including the initial phase, is estimated to cost $24.5 million.

Reeves said the primary purpose is to serve the 180 houses in the neighborhood that do not flood. The flooding among the homes along Bombay Drive and Turkey Run, however, would continue.

At last week’s council meeting, Mayor Mitch Colvin said the plan is a partial fix.

“You still have Bombay Drive, which is one of the most impacted ones,” he said. “Those are the folks that come in year after year — after the two hurricanes — about flooding.”

To address the flooding of the homes, Reeves said, little can be done in terms of new construction.

“We can’t fix everything out there; however, we can do some things out there to improve the infrastructure for some in the neighborhood,” he said.

FEMA flood plains
Another option presented to the council was to pay fair market value for the homes that flood and turn them into levees to prevent further flooding in the area.

However, this buyout cannot be funded federally as the Federal Emergency Management Agency does not consider the area a flood plain, a requirement for FEMA’s hazard mitigation assistance program.

The current flood designation only extends within the immediate area of the Cape Fear River, miles west of the homes.

If the houses were in a FEMA flood plain, a buyout could be issued in which the federal agency would pay for 75% of the costs. The rest would be paid by either state or local funds, if the homeowner agreed.

Since FEMA funds aren’t on the table, however, the council last week was presented with a second option, which includes all the roadway mitigation efforts from the first, whereby the city would front all the costs of property acquisition. It costs much more, $45 million in total.

If they wanted to consider that plan in the future, council members were encouraged to search for grant funding, as the stormwater budget wouldn’t cover such a price.

‘Water always wins’
Even if the city obtained enough funding for the $45 million option, it wouldn’t stop all the flooding in the area.

The levees wouldn’t completely stop waters reaching north of the neighborhood around L.A. Dunham Drive.

“It’s very challenging to mitigate all the flooding out there,” Reeves said. “You’re putting a lot of money in. It’s not solving the problem. You’re mitigating it, but you’re not completely mitigating it.”

Matthew in 2016 and Florence in 2018 were historic hurricanes for Fayetteville. They resulted in two floods that are typically only seen once in a 500-year span, according to research from the U.S. Geological Survey.

The study presented to the council last week for the Locks Creek watershed only accounted for 25-year flood events.

If another hurricane of the same magnitude hit the area, it would likely surpass these expensive mitigation measures, Reeves said.

“There’s some storm events that you just can’t design your way out of,” he said.

Mayor Pro Tem Kathy Jensen said at last week’s meeting that further discussion is needed before the council considers paying $45 million to address only a 25-year flood.

“Water always wins,” she said. “It always winds up taking.”

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