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LIVE LOCAL, LIVE SMALL: Counting down Gwenyfar’s top five lessons

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May we all have strength as we move through the storm recovery and resolve our water issues in 2019.

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2018 has been such a crazy year; I am not certain I can isolate a top 10 for Live Local. As I have discussed before, right now the connotations of words have taken on a different significance than they had when I began writing the column more than a decade ago. So many of its original ideals are in flux. While trying to figure out how to navigate the changes, I largely have been hunkered down and working on keeping home and family together, to move forward the projects that have dominated the last few years of my life. I think I can come up with five, but 10? I don’t know if this is a top 10 year. The issues we have tackled are bigger than just one year.

WATER CRISIS AND ELECTIONS: NC Senate-elect Harper Peterson advises citizens to stay after a press conference about the GenX water crisis to start a citizens’ caucus, concerning the toxic chemicals from Chemours being dumped into the Cape Fear River. Photo by Emily Wilson

WATER CRISIS AND ELECTIONS: NC Senate-elect Harper Peterson advises citizens to stay after a press conference about the GenX water crisis to start a citizens’ caucus, concerning the toxic chemicals from Chemours being dumped into the Cape Fear River. Photo by Emily Wilson

1. Hurricane Florence. Really, the impact of the storm and her little brother, Michael, just keeps rolling in. Florence made landfall the week of September 10. She was an incredibly slow-moving storm and just beat ILM relentlessly. To put it in perspective: For the week leading up to her landfall, it was a washout; Everybody was too busy preparing for the storm or evacuating, so a whole week of business was lost. Then came the storm that wouldn’t end, leading to another two to three weeks of lost business. We were all merely trying to get power restored and stabilize ourselves to start life again.

The school year, too, completely was derailed. Basically, September and the first half of October were, at best, a total loss.

Florence was a fatal storm, people were killed directly and even more people have been rendered homeless—or with partial-housing since. So, from a business side, well, what we’re seeing is many people can’t spend money on anything not essential. The recovery process of trying to get citizens back into their homes, businesses open and running at full speed, and everyone ably taking care of expenses is a tough recovery process—and it’s ongoing today.

2. Water. The ongoing water crisis in our area is still unresolved. The results of the GenX testing on locals have been released and the disclosure that we have additional contaminates in our water should not come as a surprise, yet somehow it still does. The overflowing of the hog lagoons and coal ash pits into the Cape Fear River (our water supply) continues to boggle the mind. These are not new developments, so why is it that we still can’t seem to get our drinking water protected? We bathe in it, brush our teeth with it, cook with it and serve it to our children and pets. Let us hope that 2019 sees a resolution to this issue.

3. The election. 2018 was an election year—and what an election! We got new members on the New Hanover County School Board, hopefully, just in time for redistricting. Neighborhood schools—a.k.a. the re-segregation of our school system—clearly do not serve all students of New Hanover County equally. Also, we had one of the more exciting races result in a recount: Harper Peterson vs. Michael Lee for the NC State Senate seat.

In addition, we had several amendments to the NC State Constitution on our ballot. Two of the measures—which sought to limit the governor’s powers— were part of an ongoing conflict between the legislature and executive branch of NC. Luckily, the two provisions did not pass.

Sadly, however, the Voter ID Amendment, requiring a picture ID to vote, did. The irony is the current voter-fraud investigation in the state centers on absentee ballots—not voter IDs. The current accusations, according the Raleigh News and Observer, center around a political operative who allegedly would pay people $225 in cash when they brought him 20 absentee ballots that had been picked up from voters in Bladen County.

Imagine there are stacks of four or five ballots out there that never made it in because collectors couldn’t get to the number 20 mark to collect their reward. Unsealed, unsigned absentee ballots handed over to a paid political operative is just about as questionable as it gets for a democratic election.

4. Film industry. On a slightly happier topic, we started to see the first glimmers of hope for a returning film industry. The mass exodus to Atlanta back in 2014 was a result of the efforts of the McCrory administration. The feature film “Words on Bathroom Walls” filmed here over the summer, and “Reprisal,” a pilot for Hulu and A&E, filmed in the fall. Then, just before the holidays, we saw the beginning the TV show “Swamp Thing” shoot. And it’s scheduled to be here through June.

In my small business, filming projects have been a lifesaver this year. Between rentals to “Words on Bathroom Walls” and “Reprisal,” we were able to pay several large bills. We still are not back to the point of funding an entire staff position from film industry revenue, which is what we did annually prior to McCrory decimating one of the cleanest and most profitable industries in the state. However, I have hopes we and numerous other small businesses across the region will continue to see the direct benefits of having film a part of our economy once again.

Already Capt. John Wolfe (also an encore writer) has had a marvelous day running a boat on Greenfield Lake for the filming of “Swamp Thing”—and he is but one among many to see much needed film money before the holidays.

5. Losses. This has been a year of a lot of transition for downtown. We lost two icons: Bob Jenkins, the founder of Wilmington Adventure Walking Tours and one of our historic preservation pioneers. We also lost Mr. Daughtry, the founder of Old Books on Front (full disclosure: my family-run bookstore). Rather suddenly and shockingly, Ryan Lee Burris, a long-time political advocate for equality for all people in North Carolina, also passed away. It has been a time of loss, change and transition.

At the solstice this year I tried to meditate on what lessons they passed into my life. Real change takes long-term action and work. It doesn’t happen overnight. Our fellow man is our brother—our responsibility. Yelling does not win people to an argument. Quiet, sustained discussion, backed up with real actions, however, does. Those are the lessons all three men taught me. None are easy to implement, but all are worth striving toward.

2019 is upon us—mere days away. I feel like I barely have had a chance to digest 2018. But it has given me a lot to think about, to learn from and to grow from. May we all have strength as we move through the storm recovery and resolve our water issues in 2019.

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