Editorial: Shifting alliances, permanent interests

Mar. 09, 2013 @ 11:55 AM

Politics, so the cliché goes, makes strange bedfellows.

It does indeed.

Hence, we have the decidedly Democratic Durham City Council embracing the skepticism of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and the Republican legislative majorities toward regulation.

At least, for the City Council, that skepticism is aimed at proposed anti-pollution regulations for the Falls Lake watershed.

In fact, Durham city officials have long harbored deep reservations over those regulations, established by the N. C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

When fully implemented, public works officials have warned the council and the public, the stricter rules could cost Durham as much as $600 million. Local officials have been urging legislators to step in and they have been lobbying the state to at least assess those costs in a way that would impose more of the burden on Raleigh and other cities that depend heavily on Falls Lake and the Neuse River for municipal water supplies.

The immediate issue in front of the council is a proposal to add more to the monitoring cost assessed to the city and other members of the six-county Upper Neuse River Basin Association. Those costs, for Durham, are scheduled to nearly quadruple over the next two fiscal years, to around $240,000.

Public works officials think that’s not a bad deal, since the monitoring may indeed indicate that less expensive long-term enhancements are ultimately needed to our treatment centers.

But council members pointed with somewhat ironic enthusiasm to the prospect of a new wind blowing in the capital. Councilman Eugene Brown, a man of strong environmental credentials, noted approvingly at a work session last week that McCrory was pressing for change in DENR. “It will not be your father’s Oldsmobile,” Brown said (in a reference to an ad campaign that might have been lost on anyone under about 40). “And I welcome those changes.”

Echoing the belief that the costs should be spread to heavy users of the water coming from Falls, Councilman Steven Schewel, another strong environmentalist, added that “those who want their water clean should be paying more.”

As The Herald-Sun’s Ray Gronberg pointed out in reporting on the work session, yet another irony in the Falls Lake regulation debate is that Durham has supported stricter regulations fro Jordan Lake – from which Durham primarily draws water – over the objections of upstream Greensboro.

All of which goes to show, as British Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston put it in the 19th century, "There are no permanent allies ... only permanent interests."