Being in the Room Where It Happens

Not everybody likes government but I sure do! For that reason, I was beyond ecstatic to be paired up with the Town of Nags Head’s Planning Department for my internship this semester. Nags Head is a popular tourist destination that has a year-round population of 3,000 but supports 40,000 visitors during the summer time. 

Holly White, the principal planner for the Town, was my mentor and has been compared to Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation by previous students and I agree. She engaged me in the entire legislative process at a local level and all with a welcoming smile.

Definitely my favorite part of my internship was sitting in on meetings ranging from the monthly Board of Commissioners meeting to internal staff meetings. The meetings typically centered around stormwater management, estuarine shoreline protection strategies, and many more. The presentation that stuck with me was Dr. Rick Luettich, director of the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences, presenting to the Board of Commissioners on the underlying models used to create the recently revised FEMA flood maps. Flood insurance is a contentious issue in the area so the discussion after the presentation was interesting!

When I was not sitting on meetings, I assisted in data collection and analysis for the Planning Department’s latest focus: the Unified Development Ordinance. The Town recently adopted their Comprehensive Plan which clarified the Town’s vision and will serve as a guide for future development in the town. The next step in the planning process is to revise the Town’s regulations and codes to reflect the Comprehensive Plan, also known as the Unified Development Ordinance. To assist in this lengthy endeavor, I inventoried the Town’s commercial property and described characteristics such as lot coverage, building heights, amount of parking, etc. This inventory was exported to ArcGIS and will allow Holly and the staff to look at differences between various parts of the town and guide future regulations.

The commercial inventory was my main project but I also worked on two smaller projects. I created a manual for oceanfront property owners looking to relocate sand from their property back onto the beach. I also researched how municipalities are implementing living shoreline projects through incentives. Most of the living shoreline projects we’ve studied this semester were built with assistance from nonprofits but Holly and I were interested how municipalities throughout the nation were head starting these projects.

In the beginning of November, I was privileged to attend the annual Albemarle-Pamlico Ecosystem Symposium hosted at NC State University. The symposium is organized by the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership, a coalition of local governments, nonprofits, and scientists within the watersheds that drain in the Albemarle and Pamlico sounds. Holly is the Co-Chair of the Policy Board and moderated a panel on the importance of partnerships in addressing local environmental issues. I attended fascinating sessions and met a lot of professionals in the industry that I want to break into. I will definitely be attending another APNEP symposium in the future!

Overall, my time with the Town of Nags Head has been enlightening in a professional sense. It has reaffirmed my passion to go into public service and work in government in some capacity. A special thanks to Holly, Andy, Kelly, and Todd who lent advice, their knowledge, and time.

A Busy Week in Paradise

With fall break behind us; our internships, the capstone project, and classes are ramping up and we are buckling down for the ride! 

Starting off the week with my internship with the Town of Nags Head, I sat in on the Shoreline Management Committee meeting where staff and citizens addressed possible options for the town’s estuarine shoreline. They discussed the impacts that rising sea levels could have on the soundside and even mentioned the construction of living shorelines. Seeing the relevance of our capstone project to the local community made me excited to invite them to our presentation in December.  After the fascinating meeting, I spent the rest of the day with the town’s water quality coordinator Todd to investigate an alleged violation. We also we talked about the town’s stormwater management and other issues facing the town.

Is that Bianca or Shontelle?

Our classes this week consisted mostly of presentations. For coastal ecology, we split up into groups to research the impacts that climate change will have on various ecosystems found in the Outer Banks and construct a concept map. My group presented on the impacts tidal marshes will experience. For coastal economics, we all presented on academic articles and mine was on ecosystem-based management and how to measure changes in the ecosystem’s wealth. The highlight of the presentations was definitely Bianca who presented on the economic impacts of biological invasions but assumed the persona of Shontelle, the group’s beloved plush toy shark, and detailed how she was going to wreak havoc on PeopleLandia.

Wednesday was our collection day for capstone so we split off into small groups and traveled throughout the Outer Banks.  Emily P., Tara, and I went down to Hatteras to collect methane flux samples. Of course, we made some detours to the lighthouse and spent some time on the beach. We made significant progress towards the capstone this week by processing all of the gas samples gathered so far and starting to combust the core samples.

Besides presentations on Tuesday and Thursday, we finally met Bryan Giemza, director of the Southern Historical Collection at UNC, in person and discussed the value of community archiving in regards to inclusiveness and telling the untold sides of history. He then treated us with an excerpt from a novel he is currently writing!

This view makes waking up at 6am worth it.
Measuring the diameter of ghost crab burrows.

We woke up early on Friday to head over to Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head to begin our lab on ghost crabs. We made transects along the beach and counted the number of ghost crab burrows because they’re a proxy for the determining the crab’s population. Altogether, we observed three sites along Nags Head’s beach with differing conditions. Some of the sites were a part of the town’s beach nourishment project back in 2012 and all the sites had differing levels of human activity such as beach driving or foot traffic. With the data we collected, we’re going to see if there are any trends with the degree of human influence and the abundance of ghost crab burrows.

Teamwork makes the dream work!

On Saturday morning, some of us headed over to Cape Hatteras National Seashore to take part in Make a Difference Day! Along with other volunteers of all ages, we planted over 3,000 sea oats! A few hours later, a few of us assisted the Dare County Arts Council in their silent auction benefit gala. The theme was a masquerade and we quickly took the opportunity to go all out and dress up.

This week was definitely the busiest so far in the program but we can’t complain when we are in the most gorgeous part of North Carolina!