Leaders from local research, education, and government organizations gathered on September 23 at the Coastal Studies Institute in Skyco on Roanoke Island to attend the first ever Outer Banks Leadership Forum.
A partnership between the Coastal Studies Institute and the Town of Nags Head, the gathering provided a platform promoting open dialogue and collaboration on coastal wastewater challenges. Dr. Reide Corbett, Executive Director of the Coastal Studies Institute and Dean of East Carolina University’s Integrated Coastal Programs, chaired the forum.
“Forums like these can serve as powerful catalysts to align leaders, develop solutions, introduce strategies, and fuel collaboration across organizations,” said Dr. Corbett. “We are fortunate to have such a wealth of knowledge and commitment to this subject in our area. I wanted to leverage that to address the wastewater challenges endemic of the coast and share knowledge as to the best solutions to manage these issues.”
Federal and local government officials from Currituck and Dare counties, as well as representatives from research and education institutions, shared their knowledge on decentralized wastewater in the Coastal Carolinas with a focus on the Outer Banks and climate change and onsite wastewater treatment systems.
The Town of Nags Head opened the forum by discussing its innovative Todd D. Krafft Septic Health Initiative Program.
“Our Septic Health Initiative provides property owners with free services and financial assistance to help with maintaining their on-site wastewater systems,” explained Nags Head Town Manager Andy Garman. “With about 80% of our properties using on-site sewage systems, this program has been the critical cornerstone of the Town’s efforts to protect our water quality. The Initiative has been very successful, and we wanted to share our experience in the hope that it will drive additional innovation amongst other government leaders.”
Climate change and onsite wastewater system research was presented by officials from North Carolina Sea Grant, North Carolina State University, East Carolina University, and the University of Georgia. Topics included current functionality of, and predicted impacts to, onsite wastewater systems due to a changing climate, groundwater dynamics and their influence on these systems, system effectiveness, legal and policy considerations, perspectives from system managers, recommendations for the future, and economic prioritization of municipal investments in these systems.
Nags Head representatives followed the research presentations with an explanation of the findings, recommendations, and challenges that arose out of the recent update to the Town’s Decentralized Wastewater Management Plan. Ten recommendations developed during the update were described, including available funding resources to follow through on the recommendations.
“We intend for this forum to evolve into a regular event, perhaps quarterly or semi-annually,” explained Corbett. “Collaborating across our region, these government and academic leaders can work together to solve complex problems across the coastal zone.”
“In addition to strengthening beneficial relationships, we’re also sharing information relevant to issues of mutual concern,” said Nags Head Mayor Ben Cahoon. “We are all passionate about North Carolina’s coast and are committed to finding solutions to the challenges we face. This interactive, open meeting promotes cross-organization conversations that can benefit of us all. We hope that representatives from all of Dare County’s local governments, as well as neighboring organizations, can participate in our future forums.”