Superfund Site….Continued.

I now have the documentation from the School Board that outlines the testing they did on the Holly Shelter Middle School land. My oh my…its a real page turner! About 115 pages.  I will try to read through this as soon as I can and then I’m going to send it off to a soil expert I know for review.

More to come…

In the meantime, for the parents…its impossible for me to be at every meeting and there are a bunch of other projects on my desk…so get in touch with me with any updates or any information that you think is valuable.


Superfund Site

A “superfund site” is a hazardous waste site that has been placed on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (E.P.A.) National Priority List (NPL). This is done based on a scoring process  that rates a site’s current or potential health impact. The “Superfund” was created by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liabilities Act of 1980 to clean up abandoned hazardous waste site.

In so many words…its an area of property that contains hazardous materials…and needs to be cleaned.

Here’s some background on Reasor Chemical Company. The site is located at 5100 North College Road in Castle Hayne. There is no sign for the plant and from the road, you can’t see any buildings (or remnants of…). The property is approximately 25 acres….700ft south of Holly Shelter.

Reasor operated from 1959 to 1972 as a stump rendering facility that produced pine products. Plant products and bi-products included turpentine, resin, pine oil and other compounds. By 1969 most operations had ceased and the buildings were demolished. The land was later owned by Cameron Company. It’s completely vacant now and receives no routine maintenance.

From 1997 to 1999 the EPA conducted a Remedial Investiation (RI) where 130 samples were taken from the soil, ponds and drainage ditches. The list of hazardous substances found included volatile organic solvents, metals (arsenic, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, iron and zinc), semivolatile organic compounds and dioxins. Iron levels in the surface water samples (13,000 ug/L) exceeded the Ambient Water Quality Criteria/Ambient Aquatic Life Advisory Concentration level (wow…that’s a mouthful!).

The site became a “superfund site” in 2002. Excavation, off-site disposal of contaminated soil, on-site treatment and disposal of contaminated surface water and annual groundwater monitoring began.

Those activities finished in July of 2007. On June 24th, 2008 the EPA and then-property owners inspected the site and noted that wildlife and vegetation was returning to the area. More samples were taken and the site was given the “OK” for human exposure levels.

New Hanover County School Board says that the land was re-zoned from industrial to residential. In 2008 they purchased the land in a public session. The parents I spoke with expressed concern that they were not aware of the purchase or if any other alternative sites had been on the table. Valita Quattlebalm (NHCS) says that there WAS a public meeting back in 2008 when the issue was discussed and decided.

Holly Shelter Middle School did not just *appear*…the building is nearly finished. So why are people just finding out NOW about its proximity to the superfund site? Parents I spoke with say they were completely unaware until a Parent Teacher Association meeting last week. Apparently someone brought the issue to light after a discussion about redistricting. It sent shock waves through the meeting and has ignited concern over the site’s proximity to the school…and over what they say, is a lack of communication (some call it ‘secrecy’) by the school board.

I shared that with the school board who says that there is a lot of fictitious information being spread by people who are opposed to the redistricting. The board says that some people may be using the superfund issue (which the board says is NOT new information…) as fodder against redistricting plans.

The school board says they have done their OWN tests on the area and everything has checked out. Of note…the EPA has NOT done tests at Holly Shelter Middle School. Their tests were specific to the Reasor site. Valita wanted to make clear, “New Hanover County Schools would NOT put the children in danger.” I asked today to see those tests…she said that they are available upon request at the school board office (note that you need to pay $0.15 per copy). I was not able to get down there in time to make deadline today.

So why did the school board choose THAT site versus others? Valita says they DID consider other land but based on the roads, water supply and population growth…that specific area was deemed the best. Not every parent I spoke with seems to believe that…they say that it was purchased because once a nearby site is labeled a “superfund”…the surrounding property probably becomes less expensive. I spoke with a hazardous waste expert who confirmed that that was likely true…but I have not been able to track property values for the plots of land in that area (yet).

Valita says that the property cost $45,000 per acre…the market rate for the land. I asked how it compared to other school property they’ve purchased but to be fair…that might be comparing two different things….land in Castle Hayne won’t cost what it does in Carolina Beach, for example.

One parent expressed concern over where the school would be getting their water. On-site, you can see a new water tower that’s been installed behind the school. The school is hooked up to the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority and will not be receiving water drafted from any underground aquifers.

This issue is sure to come up tonight at the school board meeting (6:30pm, Spencer Building 15th street). Reporter Claire Simms will be there.

Of note, it’s not unheard of for land to be redeveloped on a superfund site (we have another one near the air port). Its also not unheard of for people to suffer heath consequences after hazardous compounds are discovered near a place where people live, work and play. The E.P.A. has labeled the nearby Reasor site “safe”…the NHCSB says the school site is ALSO safe…be that as it may, for a parent, there is still that concern and unease about their  child playing in an area of such close proximity.

Sharon Keane’s response to the school board’s testing was simply, ” I think if they had to go there everyday…they might feel differently.”

President Obama’s Speech

We’re now just hours away from the President’s speech “My Future, My Education”  which seems to have elicited more outcry than many expected.

 On Friday we focused our coverage on New Hanover County’s response. We had heard from some parents that they were considering keeping their child out of school on Tuesday (today) because they were concerned over the content of the message. Many of the parents I spoke to (either for or against the speech) were adamant that the other side was wrong about what would be said in the address…..(“He’s not going to talk about education! He’s going to talk about health care!” versus “This is only about motivating our kids, there is nothing political about it!”). To be fair…until last night…no one had any clue what was going to be said because the transcript had not been released. Still… convictions prevailed…

 The state told the school districts that the program should be optional for students…I didn’t get the impression that the districts anticipated some parents taking their kids out for the entire day. One of the parents we spoke to on Friday declared that she was “not political” and that her only worry was that the speech was interrupting her child’s class time. The natural follow-up question for her was, “Does taking them out of school for an entire day also interrupt class time?” (Note: the speech and lessons will take less than an hour and then regular work is set to resume). She told me they have reading they could do at home and it would just turn into a “four day weekend.”

 School officials on Friday reminded parents that Tuesday is STILL a school day and one Principal said it would be an unexcused absence. I’m not sure if that will be the case in every school.

 This is not the first time that a national, state or local politician has come into our schools to address our children…and its not the first time its riled up a feisty reaction. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush made a very similar address on “the future” and graduation rates. Some of President Obama’s supporters say the backlash is because of GOP resentment towards the President. Flash back to 1991…when President Bush spoke to school children…House Majority leader Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) said “The Department of Education should not be producing paid political advertising for the president, it should be helping us to produce smarter students.” So you see…you can never make everyone happy!

 The Brunswick County school board is the only district in our area that will not be showing the speech today. Catherine Cooke was the only Board member to respond to my calls about their decision. She was at work at her real estate firm and due to time constraints it didn’t look like we would be able to meet up with her for an on-camera interview. I was hoping to talk to Superintendent Katie McGee but she did not return the message I left on her cell phone.

 Catherine Cooke said that the decision was made after receiving “numerous” phone calls from parent’s who were concerned about the speech. At the NAACP rally a speaker said that what actually happened was that Board members did a telephone survey. I hope to explore this more and see just what the quantitative results were and how they were obtained.

 In the days that I’ve been following this I’ve heard a wealth of feedback on both sides…some of it seems based on sound judgment…some of it seems to come from rumor mills. No matter WHAT side your on…today’s speech may actually be a very valuable experience for everyone…

 People will challenge your child’s ideas and beliefs for the rest of their life. We all know it doesn’t get any easier the older you get! This will not be the last time that someone who may or may not agree with your political, religious or social ideology makes a public address to your children (who will later become voting adults). It might be valuable to look at this as an opportunity to teach your children how to listen carefully and ask their own questions. When the kids talk about this throughout the day today, they will likely get into their own discussions or arguments over the President or, over his message. These types of challenges will be life-long. For this reason, today may be your opportunity to get them involved and start teaching them how engage in discussion about their political world, rather then subtracting them from the types of confrontations that ultimately help us grow into politically savvy adults.

 Republican, Democrat or Independent…I think we’d all agree that analytical thinking, question-asking and intelligent debate are skills that EVERYONE wants their children to have…

Getting In

You just saw four very young dreams come true. But its actually five.

I have wanted to produce this story since 2005. Starting in Seattle… with my handheld camcorder…I tried to convince local high schools to let me into their schools…and I tried to convince families…to let me into their lives.

Since no one knew WHO I was…and there were no tv station call letters behind my name…I’m sure I sounded like a criminal trying to sell THAT story idea. Probably….because no one agreed.

I tried again in California…no luck.

I follow college admissions trends for quite some time…I find the Fall tidal wave of admissions mania to be nothing short of a social phenomenon.

When I started this story…it wasn’t exactly an easy sell here. In fact, Laney was the only high school that really opened their arms to the idea.

Heather Todd (one of the counselors) helped me put the crew together. Back in September, I told her I needed a group of 4 Seniors…their very best…but I INSISTED that they be from VERY different backgrounds.


Because I wanted ANYONE from ANY socio-economic background to be able to watch this story and relate to at least one of them.

She created the group: Jules, Jared, Anthony and Lacrisha.


Jules is one-in-a-bazillion. She has an extraordinary personality and its ALWAYS on full power. She is an anchor on her school TV…she sings opera at the Macaroni Grill in Mayfair (go see her…and TIP her!)…singing…theater…if there is an opportunity to shine…Jules is there.

When I first met her she was dead set on UNC-Greensboro. Then she changed her mind to UNC Asheville…(and back and forth a couple hundred times in between). She got into both of them.

Jules’ parents were a HUGE help in getting those shots you saw. Her mother called me on a Saturday…when I was in my sweats…VERY excited about the letter that had just came from Asheville. We created a stealth plan to trick Jules…I showed up under a guise….her mother and I used hand signals to coordinate the ‘delivery’ of the letter…and while the camera was rolling…that big envelope “arrived.”

She let out quite a scream!

Her mother let out tears of joy in the background…and her father (who is a riot) kept commenting on “how much?! how much?!” Like all of the families…financial aid was a major decision-maker here…unfortunately…many of them STILL don’t know what the price tag is going to look like for the fall.

When I first met the Thompson family…her mother insisted…no matter the cost…they would work more or spend less…whatever it took to get Jules to Asheville.


Jared’s family feels like MY family now. I’ve seen them more than my own!

In the fall…Jared was dead-set on MIT…and there would be nothing stopping him except for the $$$. MIT, like many Ivy League schools is > $50,000 (without financial aid). Both of his parents work their tails off…but that kind of expense is just too much.

I was very surprised when, in October, Jared said he would take a year off to work if he did not get into MIT. That is a growing trend amongst college kids because the competition is just so steep.

As time went on…Jared began to delay sending off that MIT application. Unlike his other classmates who applied to 7,8….11(!) colleges…Jared was only going to apply to *2.* I think I was more nervous than he was!

I kept asking him about it…and he kept putting it off…until one afternoon his mother told me that he had trashed the MIT idea…and was applying to Carolina instead.

He’s happy now with the idea of going to Carolina. The idea of living far away (and the COST) had sunk in…and many of his friends will be in Carolina.

There is still a lot up in the air with the final details because Carolina has yet to send him information about financial aid…and Jared is responsible for ALL of his college expenses.

When you speak to Jared…you would never think he was a ‘high school kid.’ He is extraordinarily intelligent. He can hold a conversation on any topic you can imagine. Yet, he is SO personable…so outgoing. He’s a blast to be around and he was never camera shy.

No matter WHERE he goes…or WHAT he does…I would invest money in Jared’s future… you’re guaranteed a high rate of return. He can’t go wrong with that head on his shoulders….and Jared…the second I find a dime to spend…it’s yours!  🙂


If I was to describe Anthony in one word it would be ‘dedication.’ 

If there is a school club…Anthony has joined it…and probably been an Officer in it. His studying is a 24 hour job…EVERY day of the week. Band…church…family…friends….he’s always on the go.

Anthony’s admissions process was the one that surprised me the most. When I first met his family at their home…I got the tour of the Chapel Hill themed bedroom. Blue…EVERYWHERE. Going to Chapel Hill has been Anthony’s dream since he was a tot.

After meeting him…after seeing all the work he does…I though Anthony’s story would be the ‘dream come true’ tale….but things changed.

Chapel Hill didn’t send the ‘big envelope.’ Instead…they sent an email…that they decided to defer him.

I can barely keep up with all this college lingo….deferred, wait listed…what’s the difference??

While I was at his house…we called Chapel Hill admissions…put them on speaker phone to try to figure it all out. The woman on the phone said that they just ‘hadn’t made a decision.’ He had applied early…and would now go into the waiting pool with the thousands and thousands of ‘regular’ candidates.

He asked what his spot was on the deferral list…no answer.

Things didn’t look good considering the numbers. Still…Anthony had hope. Then he was deferred…again.

He started to look at the numbers elsewhere. He applied to six schools total and was getting scholarship offers at all of them. Drexel was off the radar…$48,000/year….Wake Forest made him a sizeable offer too…but nothing was as good as N.C. State’s.

What was so encouraging about Anthony…despite  the let-down…Anthony KNOWS how talented he is and said, rather straight-forwardly…if Chapel Hill can’t see that…it’s THEIR loss.

I have to agree with him.

He hasn’t made up his mind as to what his course of study will be…probably in biomedical engineering or medicine. Whatever it ends up being…N.C. State has just scored themselves one rather remarkable future alumni member….


Lacrisha is nothing short of inspiring. She has moved all across the country with her family…she has worked for everything she has…she has overcome obstacles that most of us will never face. And she does it all with grace and sincerity.

Howard was all-or-nothing for Lacrisha. She is brave…and she wanted to strike out on her own in a completely new city. Her grades were top-notch…but so are everyone else’s in the applicant pool at Howard.

Lacrisha told me her letter would arrive on December 16th. December 16th came…and went. Days…days…days……

I called Heather Todd at Laney….WHERE WAS IT!  The story wouldn’t work if I wasn’t there before the kids got their letters….I needed to get that once-in-a-lifetime reaction…good OR bad…but WHERE was the letter.

Finally it arrived (I’m sure Lacrisha was tied in knots by this time)…I got the call…flew to Laney…and they called Lacrisha down to the office. Once she saw me…she of course knew what the occasion was.

We were all THRILLED to see the acceptance and the hefty scholarship that came with it!

Lacrisha is very private…but she really opened up that day…no doubt she was overjoyed. You could see it in her eyes…she knew the world was at her feet…nothing was off limits.

It’s often said that when you have to work hard for something…you treasure it more. Nothing could be truer of Lacrisha’s story.

She wants to work in media (I’ve tried to convince her otherwise! 🙂 ) and also as a writer. She said she can now see herself working a full-time job…wearing a suit…taking care of herself…Ms.Independent.

Lacrisha…I am so proud of you.


This Saturday they will throw those caps high in the air….12 years of hard work over…still more to go….still just as excited…like its the FIRST day of school again.

I’ll be there of course…and I’ll probably be balling my eyes out with all the parents…..

NHCS: Request Denied

Ms. Casey Roman



Dear Ms. Roman:


This is an official response to your request to NHCS for the employment records of Jessica Wishnask.


Based on the provisions of General Statute 115C-321, Superintendent Dr.Alfred H. Lerch, Jr., has decided not to release the personnel file of Ms. Wishnask at this time.



Valita Quattlebaum

Need Your Input: Medical Insurance Headaches

I never check my mail unless I know that Netflix has sent me something…but yesterday I was less than thrilled to find a letter from Blue Cross Blue Shield in my mailbox along with “The Gladiator.” 

I spent a good amount of time in the Emergency Room last week. The second my body felt better…a new nagging pain set in…thinking about how much it would all COST.

That’s a shame because the priority should be on getting well…not getting worried. I hate paying high premiums for my health insurance but I was happy to have it when I knew that my stay would be racking up an astronomical bill that I would not be able to pay myself.

I was SHOCKED to open the letter and find a note saying they did not think that my situation warranted “acute care”…and they will not be covering a DIME of my medical care. I’ll spare you the details…but there was no other way to describe my situation last week other than, “emergency.” If Blue Cross thought there was a wiser option for me…during an emergency…OTHER than the EMERGENCY ROOM…I would have loved to hear it.

I’ve spoken with some local care givers who told me that they are seeing more and more of this same situation…rejected claims. We talked at length about the impact that’s having on patients AND on doctors.

Personally…I’m now scared to go back to the E.R., even in an emergency, because I can hardly fathom getting stuck with ANOTHER huge bill.

I’m wondering if any of YOU have had a similar situation? Rejected claims with no explanation…



Laura Sinacori is headed out to the schools to learn more about the H1N1 outbreak. We can’t call it swine flue anymore…I guess that was hurting the swine industry. That will be her story tonight…so far they are telling us that about 100 kids have called out today.

We just had a newsroom debate over whether or not we would keep our own kids out if it was our school. My vote doesn’t really count…along with hospital bills, I *also* can’t fathom having kids…but considering how contagious the flu is, I voted ‘yes.’

I also just called to request the personnel records of Jessica Wishnask from New Hanover Schools. We have questions about any previous suspensions or incidences that may highlight some holes in the employment screening process. The second I get that…I’ll be passing it on to all of you.

If you remember the “Getting In” story from the fall where I began following a group of Seniors from Laney High as they go through the college admissions process…the big ‘reveal’ is coming up soon. I’m meeting with them this afternoon to get the final shots.

They’ve changed so much in just these months! Its been fun to watch their interviews from September and compare them to now. A lot has changed…their goals…their plans…their financial situations. They’ve jumped through so many hurdles…its been exhausting for them…and for ME! They pack more into one day them most people pack into a week…capturing all those moments has been quite a ride.

The results are in…look for that story next week.

And be safe this weekend. The “Click It Or Ticket” program is on in full force in the area…put ‘cher belts on!

SAT Prep:Worthless

First…a few updates on the day so far…

Received an email from Lucy Crockett at the WPD. Wilmington has reached late May without a murder. That might be a morbid thing to send in an email, but its pretty great news for a city. Lucy says it’s a credit to the new programs they’ve started. I know *I’m* happy to hear it…despite what some people may think…reporters don’t actually enjoy covering gruesome crime scenes. Good news for Wilmington!

Laura Sinacori is out prowling our college campuses today. No…she’s not looking for a date…she’s scoping out the new Sea Hawks statue at UNCW…then to a luncheon at CFCC. Apparently UNCW is applying to the Guinness Book of World Records for the title of Largest Sea Hawk Statue. I wonder how many contenders there are in THAT category….

The picture she sent looks pretty cool.

I’m writing the next piece of “Getting In” about the 4 Laney High Seniors I’ve been following all year as they charge through the college admissions process. The results are in…

While I’m thinking about college…here is an interesting new study that says that SAT Coaching…(brace yourselves…)…may NOT work…(world gasps).

Parents spend oodles of money every year on SAT prep courses in hopes of raising their kiddies score…even if just a smidge…in the effort to breach the ambiguous admissions walls at American universities.

 I know *I* shelled out…a whole **$50** for a course in someone’s basement!

 The National Association for College Admissions Counseling (=11,000 college admissions officers + high school guidance counselors) says prep companies inflate the value of these courses. At best…you might gain 30 points (out of 2,400).

 Here’s my illustration: Lets say you spent $1,100 on a SAT Classroom Prep course with Kaplan (that’s the cost in our area…it goes beyond $3,000 for private sessions) and you buy 2 prep books for $40. (Lets not consider the opportunity cost of time here or expense in travel or other fancy accessories like calculators.) You spend $1,140 for those 30 golden points…that’s $38 PER point.

 The test prep business is a $4 BILLION dollar industry. It sells everything from free online practice tests to personal tutoring that goes upwards of $200 per hour. If you’ve got the dough…you can shell out for the latter…and enjoy whatever benefits that may provide.

 Size and selling power are not what makes companies like The Princeton Review and Kaplan so interesting. Its that these companies can sell a product that has NO specific guarantee of outcome…for a high price…and in high volume.

 If you look at the benefit per point in my example…$38 would be the marginal benefit of each additional point. But at what point do you experience diminishing returns with SAT testing? At what price tag is there no additional benefit to more classes, more studying, more tests, more books, more tutors, more, more, more? No one can ever measure that. Which could be reason why SAT preps are such a great sell despite their lack of outcome.  Both parents and students are hoping that “one more” will hit the jackpot.

And ‘hope’…is expensive.