The Oct. 21, 2019 board of commissioners meeting was a bittersweet one. That night was Ann Hardy’s final meeting as our county manager. Our board passed a resolution in her honor, and Representatives Deb Butler and Frank Iler presented her with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine. I rarely get emotional during meetings, but I choked up trying to read the resolution and had to hand it to another commissioner to complete. I can unequivocally state that every member of our board loves Ann and considers her a friend. She did a phenomenal job, and we will miss her.

At the same time, we are excited to welcome our new county manager, Randell Woodruff. Randell is an experienced manager who has served as manager of three coastal counties prior to coming to Brunswick County. When I spoke with Ann prior to her joint agenda planning meeting with Randell during their overlapping transition period, she said “I don’t think he needs my help” and re-emphasized that we had made a good choice. I share Ann’s confidence, and we are excited to have Randell at the helm moving forward.

As Randell settles in, I would caution others to avoid comparing Randell to Ann. They are two different people with different backgrounds, approaches and likely different management styles. Ann had experiences and institutional knowledge Randell does not, but he also has experiences and a perspective she did not.

Change can be uncomfortable, but it also presents opportunities. Under Ann Hardy’s leadership, Brunswick County has been one of the most well-managed county or municipal governments anywhere in America. Now, we have the opportunity to build on her legacy with Randell at the helm.

 

The Board of Commissioners presented retiring County Manager Ann Hardy with a framed resolution thanking her for her service during her final meeting on Monday, Oct. 21.

 

Retiring Brunswick County Manager Ann Hardy received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine award, the highest award for state service granted by the Office of the Governor, at the beginning of the Brunswick County Board of Commissioners meeting on Monday, Oct. 21, 2019.

BOILING SPRING LAKES – A Brunswick County culvert damaged by Hurricane Florence will be replaced this month.

Beginning Oct. 16, N.C. Department of Transportation crews will have intermittent lane closures on River Road (N.C. 133) in both directions as crews prepare to replace the failed culvert.

Then, at 8 a.m. on Oct. 21, a section of River Road will be closed to traffic while crews put in the new culvert. This work is expected to last through Nov. 11.

Southbound traffic will be detoured onto U.S. 17 South and N.C. 87 South to get back to N.C. 133. Northbound traffic will use N.C. 87 North and U.S. 17 North to get back to N.C. 133.

During this time, drivers should expect their commute to take longer than normal. Drivers are also urged to slow down when around the work zone.

Source: N.C. Department of Transportation

As part of the N.C. Department of Transportation’s annual bridge inspection, a Wilmington bridge will close for up to four nights in a row beginning Sunday.

On Sept. 29, the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge will close at 9 p.m. and reopen the following day at 5 a.m. The bridge will close again Monday night and reopen Tuesday morning at the same times. Additionally, the nights of Tuesday and Wednesday will have possible closures of the same duration if inclement weather hinders the inspection or if repairs require additional time. In any case, all closures will end by 5 a.m. on Oct. 3.

The closures will allow NCDOT’s Bridge Maintenance Electrical Department and the New Hanover Bridge Maintenance Department to do an annual inspection of the aerial cable installation. This inspection is done to identify potential problems and ensure cables will remain functional and in good repair for the duration of their life expectancy. The aerial cable strapping utilizes strips of rubber as insulating material to prevent damage from the straps themselves. These must be replaced or inspected every year due to the deterioration of the material.

These must be replaced or inspected every year due to the deterioration of the material.

Detour signs will be posted, directing traffic around the closure. Drivers should anticipate needing extra time for their commute during these nights. Motorists are also urged to use caution when approaching the work zone.

[September 13, 2019] — Brunswick County Commissioner Frank Williams was installed as 1st Vice President of the N.C. Association of County Commissioners (NCACC) during the association’s annual conference, held Aug. 22-24, 2019 in Guilford County. The other newly installed officers are President Kevin Austin of Yadkin County, President-elect Ronnie Smith of Martin County and Second Vice President Tracey Johnson of Washington County. Brenda Howerton of Durham County is Immediate Past President.  Williams served as 2nd Vice President for the past year and was unanimously elected 1st Vice President during the association’s business session on Saturday, Aug. 24. Former North Carolina Governor James G. Martin, who served as NCACC President in 1970-71, administered the oath of office to the newly installed officers.

“When it comes to government, counties are where the rubber meets the road,” said Williams. “County governments all across North Carolina provide important, basic services that impact citizens’ daily lives, including school construction, trash collection, courthouse construction and operation, funding our Sheriff’s Office and Register of Deeds office, building and maintaining water and sewer infrastructure, and managing local emergency response efforts, just to name a few. While every county is different, all North Carolina Counties face certain common challenges, and we must address those issues with a strong, united voice.”

“Actions taken by the state and federal governments impact county governments and county residents in many ways, and often bring unintended consequences,” Williams added. “It is critical that North Carolina’s counties speak with a strong voice on these issues, and I look forward to continuing to work with commissioners from all 100 counties to ensure that the NCACC remains that voice. With that said, Brunswick County is and remains my number one priority. I only have the opportunity to serve our association because I serve our great county.”

Williams is in his second term as a Brunswick County Commissioner and currently serves as the board’s chair. He also serves as chair of the Cape Fear Rural Planning Organization Transportation Advisory Committee and on the boards of the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (WMPO) and Brunswick Business & Industry Development (Brunswick BID).  He previously chaired the NCACC General Government steering committee.

The North Carolina Association of County Commissioners (NCACC) is the official voice of all 100 counties on issues being considered by the General Assembly, Congress and federal and state agencies. Founded in 1908, the Association provides expertise to counties in the areas of lobbying, fiscal and legal research, communications, intergovernmental relations, information technology, field visits and risk management services. For more information visit http://www.ncacc.org

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Sept. 1, 2019 — Less than a year after Hurricane Florence inflicted its devastating wrath on Brunswick County, another major hurricane is staring us down: Dorian. As of this writing, Dorian is an extremely powerful Category 5 hurricane — tied for the second-strongest wind speed in Atlantic basin history — and is barreling through the Bahamas. I’ve seen and heard comments along the lines of “I can’t go through this again,” and one person even referred to “post-Florence PTSD.” I think all of us who experienced the brunt of Florence have had those feelings. While we cannot control what the storm does next, we can learn the lessons of Florence and do our best to be prepared.

What Info Should You Share?
Please be judicious in what information you forward and post prior to, during and after the storm. I encourage you to only share or post information from known, credible, and ideally official sources. There are lots of official-looking pages on Facebook that are anything but official.

Focus on the Potential Impacts, Not Every Little Shift

Basing your preparations on every shift in the forecast path is like basing your financial plan on every gyration in the stock market: you might get lucky, but it’s not a wise strategy. The official forecast path has shifted east, and now slightly west, in the past 24 to 36 hours alone, and it will likely wobble again. The average four-day forecast error is 170 miles, and that increases to 200 miles at five days. The current forecast path has Brunswick County squarely within the cone, with the center of the storm skirting past us offshore. A slight last-minute jog either direction could make a tremendous difference in the level of impacts we feel, ranging from a direct hit to much ado about nothing. With that said, impacts extend well beyond the center and can extend outside the forecast cone.

Be Prepared, But Don’t Panic
There is still a great deal of uncertainty in terms of Dorian’s future impact on our area. Now is the time to prepare for a possible direct impact, even though we hope that will not happen.

Resources & Information:

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GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. [August 28, 2019] – More than 350 county commissioners, county officials and staff, state leaders and others gathered in Guilford County August 22-24, 2019 for the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners’ (NCACC) 112th Annual Conference.

Yadkin County Commissioner Kevin Austin ascended to the role of NCACC during the business Session of the conference. Commissioners elected Martin County Commissioner Ronnie Smith as President-Elect, Brunswick County Commissioner Frank Williams as First Vice President and Washington County Commissioner Tracey Johnson as Second Vice President. Durham County Commissioner Brenda Howerton will serve as Past President.

This year’s conference featured presidential historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin. She discussed her five-decade career examining American presidents, and her latest book, Leadership in Turbulent Times. Dr. Jeanette Betancourt, Senior Vice President, U.S. Social Impact, Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit behind Sesame Street joined Page Lemel, Transylvania County Commissioner and Jaime Laughter, Transylvania County Manager to discuss their new partnership to build resilient children through local collaboration. The initiative, known as “Get Set Transylvania,” was recognized by the National Association of Counties (NACo), earning the 2019 Achievement Award for Children and Youth Programs. 

NCACC also celebrated the 10th anniversary of YouthVoice, a program created by Mary Accor, a NCACC Past President and former Cleveland County Commissioner. Each year, NCACC teams up with 4-H Youth Development (a service of NC Cooperative Extension) and Boys & Girls Clubs of North Carolina to bring together youth delegates ages 14-19 and county officials to promote dialogue between current county leaders and the next generation of leaders. It also helps educate youth delegates on the county’s role in their community and the complex art of governing.

Incoming NCACC President, Kevin Austin announced his presidential initiative, which will focus on reducing the rate of disconnected youth by promoting experiential learning and helping students attain higher education or technical certification. The initiative envisions a partnership with myFuture NC, a statewide organization striving to enable 2 million North Carolinians to attain post-secondary degrees or certifications by the year 2030. President Austin plans to convene a county-led Task Force to identify and recommend specific ways counties can help meet this ambitious goal.

President Austin described his initiative. “I’d like to focus on building home grown talent by bridging education and workforce readiness. I want to promote viable employment pathways for students and help them access meaningful careers. My initiative will serve a dual purpose. It will help reduce the rate of disconnected youth while closing the skills gap. In addition, introducing students to local career opportunities can help influence their decision to stay local. This aspect is critically important for the roughly 80 counties in the state that are experiencing population stagnation or decline, including my home county, Yadkin County,” he said.

Several counties received awards from the Local Government Federal Credit Union for establishing innovative partnerships to improve services to citizens. 

NCACC also honored the following four individuals for their achievements in support of counties:

  • Mary Accor, NCACC Past President (2009-2010) and former Cleveland County Commissioner was honored with the NCACC Hall of Fame Award for undertaking a youth leadership development initiative during her year as president. Her initiative evolved into YouthVoice, which is now a key component of NCACC’s Annual Conference.
  • Katie “Kay” Cashion, Guilford County Commissioner was recognized with the Outstanding County Commissioner Award for her life-long dedication to addressing issues related to criminal and social justice and arts education and outreach, among many other important causes.
  • Dr. Mike Yoder, Associate Director and State Program Leader for 4-H, and Ms. Sarah Kotzian, Youth and Adult Citizenship Engagement Specialist for 4-H received the Friend of the Counties Award in recognition of their instrumental role in developing and launching NCACC’s YouthVoice program, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.

NCACC partnered with Guilford County on this year’s conference, which was themed “Connect Your County,” to showcase the pivotal role counties play in connecting community partners. The conference, which is the year’s premier event for counties, provides a forum to conduct official Association business and offers educational and networking opportunities for commissioners and county staff. The conference included various workshops on important county issues such as school funding, cybersecurity, Medicaid Transformation, human trafficking and more. The Institute for Emerging Issues at NC State also led discussions on ways to reconnect North Carolina by leveraging the strengths in rural and urban communities.

The North Carolina Association of County Commissioners (NCACC) is the official voice of all 100 counties on issues being considered by the General Assembly, Congress and federal and state agencies. The Association provides expertise to counties in the areas of advocacy, research, risk management and education and leadership training.

JULY 3, 2019 — Brunswick County Commissioner Frank Williams was the keynote speaker at the N.C. 4th of July Festival Naturalization Ceremony on July 3, 2019 in Southport. During the ceremony approximately 74 people from 35 nations became United States citizens.

NCDOT Press Release [May 30, 2019] — The public hearings concerning the Cape Fear Crossing were such a success that the N.C. Department of Transportation is pushing back the deadline for choosing a preferred alternative route until late this year.

In late April NCDOT held two public hearings and meetings in Brunswick and New Hanover counties to accept comments on the six alternative locations being considered. The department received more than 3,000 comments through the May 16 public comment deadline.

Because of the amount of input, NCDOT has decided to move the date of when a preferred alternative is chosen until December. All six alternatives are still being considered.

An additional six months will allow NCDOT staff to review public comments, analyze more data, and examine each alternative more closely before selecting the preferred choice. Once that’s determined there will be additional public input opportunities to provide feedback as the design phase begins.

The Cape Fear Crossing is an approximately 9.5-mile proposed road and high-level bridge over the Cape Fear River that would help improve traffic flow and enhance freight movements from U.S. 17 and Interstate 140 in Brunswick County to U.S. 421 near the Port of Wilmington in southern New Hanover County.

Source: N.C. Department of Transportation

[May 24, 2019] — In recent media accounts coverage of the tentative, pending transfer of EMS services in the Leland area from the Town of Leland / Leland Fire & Rescue to Brunswick County EMS, members of the Leland Town Council have said “I can’t believe they would do this,” “I’m not happy about this, but I don’t have an answer,” “We are the biggest town in the county and growing, and where is our respect” and “That’s weird.”

Today, District 5 Commissioner Frank Williams issued the following statement in response to these comments: “When someone asks the County for upwards of three quarters of a million of your tax dollars to help fund a service that the County also provides, we have to look at it to see if we can provide it more cost-effectively without any gaps in service. I have nothing but respect and praise for the Chief, staff and volunteers at Leland Fire/Rescue​, and this is in no way a negative reflection on them. The County’s action, while County-initiated, was a response to the Town’s request for $813,000.”

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May 17, 2019 — In recent weeks I have received numerous comments from citizens expressing their opinions on the various alternatives for the future Cape Fear Crossing bridge. I have read and attempted to respond to every email on this subject (I apologize if I missed anyone). I also attended one of the public hearings and watched the video of the second. I understand the concerns stated by those who have emailed us. At the same time, I understand the complexities of the merger process.

Yesterday, I submitted my comments on this project to NCDOT in advance of the deadline. The text of my letter is below, and it can be viewed here as a PDF.

TEXT OF MY LETTER:

May 16, 2019

Attn: NCDOT / Cape Fear Crossing Merger Team

RE: Proposed Cape Fear Crossing

To Whom It May Concern:

I’m writing to share my perspective on the proposed routes for the future Cape Fear Crossing. I represent District 5, which includes Brunswick Forest and Mallory Creek, on the Brunswick County Board of Commissioners. I also live in an adjacent neighborhood, and I drive through both Mallory Creek and Brunswick Forest nearly every day. Additionally, I represent Brunswick County on the Wilmington MPO Board. I am writing in my capacity as an individual commissioner, as the Board of Commissioners has not adopted any formal position on this issue.

Let me begin by thanking you for your hard work on a thankless project. Like you, I have received emails from numerous citizens in the areas potentially affected by this future project. One of the challenges of leadership is making difficult decisions that may be unpopular. At the same time, we must understand and demonstrate empathy for those who have contacted us to express their concerns.

Please allow me to share a few facts and principles which guide my thinking on the potential alternatives:

  • The selected route should meet the project’s stated purpose and need: to improve traffic flow and enhance freight movements from U.S. 17 and I-140 in Brunswick County across the Cape Fear River to U.S. 421 near the Port of Wilmington in southern New Hanover County. While the Port is an important part of this equation, it is not the only
  • Brunswick County is the fastest-growing County in North Carolina and one of the fastest in the United States. Much of this growth is centered in and around Leland and is pushing further south down U.S. 17. The selected route should help accommodate that growth while not driving a stake through the heart of it.
  • Because Brunswick County’s growth will likely continue in years to come, we should not kick the can down the road.
  • Because of the potential adverse impacts of ongoing uncertainty on property values and the real estate market, we should select a route as soon as is practically possible.
  • Because of the two previous bullets, I cannot support any changes that move the merger process back to concurrence point #1.
  • While impacts on residential properties are only one of a long list of factors considered in the merger process, the human impact should not be taken lightly. As has been stated in many of the emails we have received, many of the people in the potential paths are seniors who have invested their life savings in their homes. This is an important factor that should be given its due consideration.
  • While it would be ideal to select a route that has no impacts on homes, that is not realistic given the practical realities of the merger process, the myriad of agencies involved, and federal laws that impact the process. With that said, the route should impact as few homes as practically possible, and NCDOT should not seek to short-change citizens whose homes are required to be purchased during future right-of-way acquisition.
  • The recent completion of Interstate 140 opened a northern route in and out of Brunswick County and a direct connection from Wilmington to Navassa. The causeway connecting the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge and Isabel Holmes bridges to Brunswick County provide a connector from U.S. 74/76 and the heart of Leland and Belville. A future southern route will meet the purpose and need by increasing connectivity between southern New Hanover County and the southern portions of the Leland and Winnabow areas.
  • If the proposed route is to improve traffic flow, it should NOT dump traffic back onto US 17 or US 74/76. Instead, it should effectively be a southern extension of Interstate 140.
  • A southern route will provide quicker access for emergency vehicles serving southern portions of Leland and surrounding areas to reach the trauma center at New Hanover Regional Medical Center.
  • None of these alternatives is perfect, but some will more effectively meet the purpose and need while creating as few adverse impacts as possible than others.

Given these facts, I strongly encourage the merger team to immediately eliminate alternatives B, Q & T. Further, while I am not as strongly opposed to alternative V-AW as proposed through the merger process, it is my understanding that the Federal Highway Administration has already stated that they could not sign off on this alternative. Regarding the modified VA-W proposal, it is my understanding that the NCDOT is evaluating it to determine whether it will meet the project’s purpose and need and whether it will have adverse effects. Of the alternatives currently under consideration by the merger team, I encourage the merger team to adopt alternative MA or NA, as unanimously recommended by the WMPO Board in May 2017, and then make every possible effort during the next phase (Avoidance & Minimization) to reduce or eliminate impacts to residents in Stoney Creek, Snee Farm, Snowfield and surrounding areas. Specifically, every effort should be made to route the road around neighborhoods rather than bisect them. Finally, I encourage NCDOT to take steps to mitigate the impact of noise on homes near the selected route.

Thank you for your consideration, and thank you for your diligence.

Sincerely,

Frank Williams
Brunswick County Commissioner
District 5