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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE: Updates, resources, and context

What does the Soil and Water Board do?

New Hanover County Soil and Water Conservation District

Three candidates are running for two spots on the New Hanover County Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors this year. But what does the board actually do, and where does their authority come from?

The soil and water conservation district is overseen by a five member board of supervisors that works with individual citizens and the city and county governments to, “protect and enhance the soil and water of New Hanover County.”

According to incumbent Evan Folds, that can mean creating programs for environmental education in schools, advising individuals and organizations on best practices for their property’s soil and water quality, and working with government officials to create programs that support those aims.

The Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors is not regulatory, so the actions they suggest are voluntary.

Here’s an example: Folds said the board created the Community Conservation Assistance program to help out citizens.

“[The program] provides money for say, a citizen wants to build a rain garden. Instead of paying for it outright, we would be able to pay for 75% of that,” he said.

The board’s system of power is a little confusing; in basic terms, while they’re based in New Hanover County, the board is a state-level charter. Their staff are paid by the county, but the board members aren’t paid. The board’s finances for projects come from the city, state, and county.

Folds is running for another term this election. He said that in spirit, board members are similar to lobbyists - they try to inform government officials and citizens on how to improve soil and water quality. But he said that can make it difficult to get their projects passed.

“Because we're not in the local hierarchy, we're not taken seriously, and that's the problem,” he said.

Incumbent Frank Christopher Meares said the board’s lack of enforcement authority is how it should be–that power should be reserved for state representatives.

“We cannot force them to listen to us. And nor should we necessarily be able to, because that's not our role,” he said.
“Our role is information and education.”

Meares is also running for another term. Lance Capps is the third candidate running for the board in this year’s election, and voters can choose two of the three on their ballot. Find out more on those candidates here.

Grace is a multimedia journalist recently graduated from American University. She's attracted to issues of inequity and her reporting has spanned racial disparities in healthcare, immigration detention and college culture. In the past, she's investigated ICE detainee deaths at the Investigative Reporting Workshop, worked on an award-winning investigative podcast, and produced student-led video stories.