In the upcoming election primary on May 8, incumbent New Hanover County Commissioner Rob Zapple hopes to win a slot on the ballot in the fall general election. A local builder and theatre artist, Zapple’s term on the NHC County Commission has involved a lot of work addressing the GenX crisis. He was kind enough to share his thoughts on GenX and any other issues facing New Hanover residents with encore readers.
More so, please, remember to vote—it is the most important tool for participating in a democracy.
encore (e): Why is it important for you to get re-elected?
Rob Zapple (RZ): I am running for re-election because I believe the work I have accomplished over the past four years has made our community stronger, helped enhance the quality of life for our citizens, made NHC a better place to do business, and helped create a warm, welcoming destination for visitors, and those looking to relocate to our county. As a father and a builder, I understand the need for a safe, high achieving pre-K through community college educational system, support for our growing senior population—and an aggressive economic development strategy to help grow a diversified business sector and offer opportunities for existing companies to expand in New Hanover County.
e: Explain to us your plan for addressing the GenX crisis.
RZ: Stop the release of GenX and other contaminants into our waterways, groundwater and air, and continue to hold Chemours and Dupont accountable for their actions and financial harm they have caused. I support Governor Cooper’s request to the general assembly for additional funding for the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for field inspectors, permit reviewers, and scientists to enforce existing water, and air safety regulations.
Federal standards for human GenX exposure limits are anticipated to be established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this summer. These standards will provide the legal platform that regulators, the medical establishment, and the judicial system need before they can take significant action in holding Chemours and Dupont accountable. Research in filtration systems—Granulated Activated Carbon (GAC) filters—have proven effective to filtering out GenX, along with some reverse osmosis (RO) systems. If current research continues to show GenX will be present in our drinking water, groundwater and air, in the near, or long-range future the county, in partnership with the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority (CFPUA), will need to consider the implementation of one or more technologies, GAC and RO, to protect the health and safety of our community while holding Chemours and Dupont financially responsible.
e: The Cape Fear River and beaches are central to our economic survival. How will you work with the commission preserve, protect and enhance these resources?
RZ: New Hanover County’s unique coastal environment, including the Cape Fear River, is an economic engine for our county and southeastern North Carolina. Last year our beach communities were responsible for $550 million in revenues through tourism-related activities. Protecting our beaches by funding our Coastal Storm Damage Reduction (CSDR) programs provide beach renourishment to keep our beaches broad, thick and with stabilized dunes, it has proven to be very effective in protecting against hurricanes and high-wind events.
Additionally, working with the general assembly and local governments to provide recurring funding for shallow inlet dredging to provide local fishermen, private boat owners and the Coast Guard safe channels for navigation; support for the Cape Fear River Watch and Lower Cape Fear River Program, in their efforts to regularly sample the river to test for critical health and safety criteria; support for the expansion of creative ways to use the river for transportation, tourism and local “blueways” to encourage greater public awareness and interaction with one of our greatest environmental assets.
e: What are your thoughts on the Skyway Bridge? NCDOT says it is still part of future planning.
RZ: It was projected to cost over $1 billion several years ago. The designated path of the proposed bridge has not been decided. The NCDOT has shown interest in moving the project forward and our local Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is supportive, but the cost of the project continues to push it further into the future, despite the growing need for another river crossing in our community.
A focus on other transportation needs in New Hanover County may provide more immediate relief. The widening of Gordon Road, the renovation of the intersection of South College and Oleander roads, and accelerating the construction of the multiple “fly over” projects in design, or pre-construction phase for our county, would be a timely and significant way to make an impact on needed infrastructure improvements.
e: What are your thoughts on passenger rail service to our area?
RZ: I support the efforts to bring passenger rail service back to New Hanover County. The proposed realignment of commercial rail lines along the Brunswick County side of the Cape Fear River, and adding a rail crossing over the river, near the port, would help the development of commercial rail and bring additional value to the port of Wilmington. The same proposal would allow the current rail lines that run through the City of Wilmington to be repurposed for light-rail transportation, which connect to existing rail lines that have the potential to be used for expanded passenger rail service.
e: What is next for economic development in our area? How do we balance preserving our natural resources and quality of life?
RZ: Support for infrastructure improvements will help our economic development more than anything. Infrastructure includes the expansion of water and sewer lines, providing high speed internet access across our county, and funding for our educational institutions—public school system, Cape Fear Community College and our new vocational high-school program, SeaTech—to create a skilled and knowledge-based workforce that will attract businesses, entrepreneurs, and industries to offer good paying jobs and respect our coastal environment.
[I will also work] with the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce’s program, Cape Fear Future, and their “Choose Cape Fear” marketing initiative esigned to develop the region’s knowledge sector economy, and UNCW’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship that is working to grow the knowledge-based entrepreneurial and small business sectors of our region and attract investors to our community. [I will] support the NC Biotechnology Center and the UNCW CREST Research Park—MARBIONC Building to promote our region and provide tools for growth in the fast-growing pharmaceutical and marine technology research and development sectors. These are just a few of the new forward-looking companies and programs in operation in our county that are looking toward a prosperous future.
e: What do you propose to do to increase trees in our area? Protection and preservation ordinances? Incentives to plant?
RZ: A full review of the county’s tree-removal regulations with recommendations for revisions to the ordinance would be a good step forward in preserving the trees we have currently in New Hanover County. [I will work] with the development community through the zoning and permitting process to incentivize design and building strategies to preserve and feature trees that exist on their projects.
e: Is there a future for reclaiming our film industry?
RZ: Yes, but the future of the film industry in New Hanover County and our state is in the hands of our state legislature, both the House and Senate. It is important for the county to continue to advocate strongly for the reinstatement of the tax credit program that was in place in NC until December 2014 [and] the complete repeal of HB2 (Bathroom Bill) that was modified in April, 2017. These two issues are noted by film production companies as deterrents to working in NC. When the state legislature addresses the issues and makes a long-term commitment to film and television production, the 10 sound stages that sit nearly empty on N. 23rd Street will come alive with productions again. The 2,000-plus film and television jobs that existed in New Hanover County until 2014 will return from Georgia, South Carolina, and Louisiana, where their millions of dollars of clean industry revenue has been welcomed with open arms.
e: What is your position on gerrymandering and the voter ID laws?
RZ: I oppose gerrymandering in any form and support the appointment of an independent panel of judges to draw non-partisan district maps. There is a perception at-large representation can exclude minority voices, especially if the majority of elected positions are consistently filled by members of our community that are grouped in a specific geographic area, or represent a single socio-economic level within the community. Dividing a county or city into districts for the purpose of increasing local representation typically occurs in areas that are geographically larger, or have a larger population base than the City of Wilmington or New Hanover County. There are strong arguments in support of both forms of representation; I am open to a full discussion and study of the experience other areas in NC have had with district-wide voting. Neither at-large nor district-style voting processes address the root problem of a lack of interest by qualified individuals within our community to step up and take part in our local and state government.
Democrats, Republicans and Independents all need to encourage members to get involved through attending organizational meetings, joining or apply for appointment to established committees that focus on areas of concern throughout our community and consider running for elected office. An engaged, educated electorate that voices their opinions and actively pursues the positions that will help make our community stronger and a better place to live, work and play is the best answer to the problem.
e: In the wake of Harvey and Irma, what steps can we take to prepare for natural disasters? How will you address the issues of climate change and its impact on us?
RZ: New Hanover County emergency management/911 director, Steven Still, conducts a two day “hurricane preparedness” work session in the County Emergency Operations Center for department heads and county staff every year prior to the May 1—the beginning of hurricane season. They review each department’s responsibilities during a hurricane or natural disaster. This past year the NHC fire rescue department purchased a used, military, “high water” vehicle, to help with flooding rescues and evacuations.
[I also support] continued funding for Coastal Storm Damage Reduction programs that re-nourish our coastal beaches and make them wider, thicker and stabilize the dunes. [It] protects infrastructure, homes, businesses and lives of our citizens. The impact of coastal flooding caused by climate change is predicted to have serious long-term impacts on our coast: increasing insurance rates, threatening structures, roads, businesses and potentially harming the economic vitality of our county. Several areas in our county and along the Cape Fear River in the City of Wilmington are already experiencing “nuisance flooding” on a regular basis. In cooperation with the City of Wilmington, NHC should develop a long-range strategy to address this serious threat to our coastal communities.
Readers can learn more about Rob Zapple at electrobzapple.nationbuilder.com.