Charlotte’s internship with Hornthal, Riley, Ellis & Maland, L.L.P.

Since I am interested in environmental law and policy and seriously considering law school after graduation, I was pleased to find out my internship would be working with a lawyer on a research project. My internship mentor, David Gadd, is a lawyer with Hornthal, Riley, Ellis & Maland, L.L.P. and tasked me with researching potential solutions to a wastewater treatment lagoon problem in Swan Quarter, NC. Although initially concerned about what my internship involving wastewater would be like, I have thoroughly enjoyed my internship and believe that it has given me a new perspective on environmental policy.

Swan Quarter is a small, rural, town near Lake Matamuskeet, about an hour and 15 minutes away from Manteo. Shortly after completion of the wastewater treatment facility within the town, large bubble appeared breaching the surface of the lagoons. While the bubbles appear relatively harmless and are a popular hangout spot for the local bird community, the North Carolina Division of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has been expressing concern over the bubbles and made it clear that they want the bubbles to be fixed. David is the law council to the town’s Sanitary District Board of Directors and thought researching this problem would be both a valuable learning experience for me and helpful to the community, and so my internship began.

The bubbles (called whales) in the lagoon liner formed when the peat soil under the lagoon decomposed, releasing gases. While this gas would ordinarily float off into the atmosphere, it has been trapped under the liner with no way to escape. After a while, there was so much gas under the liner exerting force against the liner, the whales formed. Although the whales are harmless now, the whales increase the risk of leakage from the lagoon and can become a big problem if left unattended, which is why DENR wants the “whale problem” solved sooner rather than later.

I began my internship with researching the problem, why it occurred, and some possible solutions. I also looked at the permits issued by DENR and the Division of Water Quality to assess whether any permit violations may arise from any of the possible solutions. I have now turned much of my efforts into looking at grants and loans to fund this project.

This internship has been much more interesting and valuable than I initially would have thought and it has given me a new perspective on environmental regulations. Before this internship I always had the perspective that environmental regulations and policy should be very strict with harsh punishments for noncompliance. I viewed environmental regulations from the perspective of the regulators, and had little sympathy for the regulated. While this is still true to an extent, my internship has made me look at environmental regulations and policy from the perspective of a small, rural town with very limited funds. Strict environmental regulations have real consequences for small towns that are just trying to improve the lives of their citizens. Small, rural towns like Swan Quarter need a lot of financial assistance to be able to be environmentally friendly and serve their people. Although my wastewater treatment internship was not the most glamorous, I really enjoyed it and believe that it has been a really valuable experience.

Published by

Lindsay Dubbs

UNC Inst for the Environment