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Interview with Rick Catlin,  October 15, 2008 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Rick Catlin,  October 15, 2008
October 15, 2008
Interview with Rick Catlin, Chair of the New Hanover County Port, Waterways and Beach Commission.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Catlin, Rick Interviewer: Jones, Carroll / Sweeney, Kate Date of Interview: 10/15/2008 Series: SENC Notables Length 60 minutes

Jones: Today is Wednesday, October 15, 2008. I am Carroll Jones, with Kate Sweeney, for the Randall Library Special Collections' Oral History Project. We're in the Helen Hagan Room at Special Collections. Our guest, this morning, is Rick Catlin, Chairman of the New Hanover County Port, Waterways and Beach Commission. Is that the right way to put it?

Catlin: Close enough.

Jones: Well you're going to have to help me out, here.

Catlin: That's the right way to put it.

Jones: He's been holding this position since the late 1980s. Has it been that long?

Catlin: Yes.

Jones: And you also head up your own company, Catlin Engineers and Scientists, as well.

Catlin: That's correct.

Jones: We'll get to that, too. Sounds interesting, Rick. Let's start off by you telling us about you. Where you're from. Any mentors? What caused you to go in the direction you have? And formed your interests? Where were you born?

Catlin: I was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and I was attending Georgia State University, and I was a Literature major.

Jones: Oh, my goodness!

Catlin: Because I enjoyed writing. In one of my elective classes, I took a science class, and just fell in love with that, so switched to Engineering and Science, met my wife. I was also working, part time, as a surveyor at an engineering company full-time, going to school part time. I met my wife, and we moved to Tampa, because I got a job opportunity down there as a draftsman for an engineering company, and went down there. After establishing residency for a year, I went to University of South Florida, part time. In total, it took me seven years to work my way through college, but what was nice about that, was I was working in engineering, so I understood the significance of the classes that I was taking, and it allowed me to make good choices in my electives. As a result of that, I ended up eventually being both a professional geologist and a professional engineer. That's kind of how I got the credentials for the job that I have now. A good friend down there and I were partners in a small geotechnical laboratory, and he got a great opportunity to come up to Wilmington with Talbot Cots and Associates-- he's a structural engineer-- to inspect bridges for the North Carolina DOT, and convinced me to come up here. I missed four seasons. I grew up in Atlanta, so Tampa's kind of one season. It's nice, but it's still summertime all year long. I wanted to get back up this way, and just fell in love with Wilmington and been here for, I guess, since '79.

Jones: Really? You can practically call yourself a native, for what's been going on around here.

Catlin: I don't know what the rules are on calling yourself a native.

Jones: Well, you have to kind of do it quietly. Well that's pretty good. You came up here at the urging of a friend, and he was in business? And he wanted you to work with him?

Catlin: That's correct. He was with Talbott Cotts and Associates, and convinced me to come up here. It didn't take a lot of convincing, because I really like the area.

Jones: So, then what?

Catlin: I worked with him for six years, and around 1984, when Congress passed the hazardous waste rules, that was kind of a big day there; we started finding that some of our clients had some issues with hazardous waste, and ground water contamination, and some things like that. About the same time, Seaboard Coastline had one of the biggest spills on record down at the river, here, right next to the bus station. They spilled three million gallons of diesel fuel, and I was kind of the only person that had both a geology and engineering background, so I got called in on that project, and started--

Jones: They spilled three million?

Catlin: Yeah. They had a big containment wall.

Jones: In the Cape Fear River?

Catlin: No; it didn't get to the river, thanks to hard work of a lot of people. We had bulldozers up against the containment wall, and there was a lake of oil in that containment oil. Somebody got on the CB radios and started calling truckers in. They were lined up for a mile, and they were just pumping it out.

Jones: And this was in what year? '84?

Catlin: That was actually before '84, probably '82, '83. So we worked on that for years, to finally get that cleaned up. Then, the company I was with, because of their professional liability insurance, everybody was afraid of hazardous waste. So they didn't really want to do that, and it had become a fairly large portion of work, so I decided to start my own firm, and worked out an eight-month notice. They sent me whatever they got along that line, and it was a very friendly, professional parting. I've been in business now, for 22, 23 years.

Jones: All right. What did you start out doing with your own business?

Catlin: Groundwater contamination issues.

Jones: Talk a little bit about that. I just heard you talking to Jerry, so share this information with those of us who know nothing about it.

Catlin: Our industrialized society has, over the years, contaminated a lot of soil and groundwater. There weren't rules that said you couldn't do that. I mean, past practices were to dump it out in a pit, or you didn't really worry about it leaking, as long as you weren't losing a lot of money. Back in the Cuban Missile Crisis, the patriotic thing to do, was to put in an underground storage tank at your fire station or your police station. Those all started rusting about the same time, so there was a significant amount of groundwater contamination. There still is. The first step is to find it, so that's the assessment stage, and that's where you do test borings or monitoring wells or soil probes and different techniques to determine where the contamination is and what it consists of, and what the characteristics of the soil are, and the aquifer. Then you design a solution. It might be to dig it up. It might be to pump it out. It might be to treat it in situ. We were very early in that technology. We were really right on the edge of it. There weren't textbooks that you could go to on how to do most of this, so we were kind of pioneers in a lot of those solutions.

Jones: Now is this something you can find? I was thinking, going back. Let me get this straight. We have advanced so rapidly with all kinds of technologies; some of it has been hazardous material once it's outdated, etc. I know; I can remember, when you said the whole thing has to bury things in the ground. I can remember when I was a teenager, and this was 110 years ago, going to visit friends whose family had their own gas tank, to avoid going to the gas station. And after a while they didn't use them, anymore. I guess that would be an example.

Catlin: Absolutely.

Jones: Now, a lot of things were buried in the ground. Also I grew up in Los Angeles, which is a big city. Not as big as it is now. Where most of the larger homes had incinerators in the back. You'd bury all kinds of stuff-- old paint, everything. And leave it there.

Catlin: Right, and that's the problem now.

Jones: People don't know any better. I guess my question is: Are we to expect that this is prevalent anywhere there's population around the country? Contaminated ground?

Catlin: Around the world.

Jones: What would happen if this is ignored? Tell me what you do.

Catlin: Well, the contamination, for the most part-- and there are all sorts of different contaminants. Some of them are very, very toxic; some of them are mildly toxic; some of them are very mobile, and some of them are not mobile. One of the solutions to some of these problems is called natural attenuation. You basically don't clean it up, because it attenuates, it quits moving. And then you do a land-use restriction on that. That's recorded as part of the deed, so nobody gets surprised and puts down a well there. It's not necessarily something that would cause any exposure issue, and it's, economically, the best solution, because it's just not feasible to get it out. That's one end of the spectrum. The other end of the spectrum is you dig it up or pump it out, or treat it in situ, with biological methods or aeration methods, or chemical stabilization. So, there's a lot of different ways. The biggest concern in North Carolina today, is called the "two well" drinking water standards. Two wells is one of the legislative letters that go along with the whole name of the law. There were some exposure risks decided, that established how many parts per billion, or parts per million you can have of, different contaminants in drinking water. A lot of our contaminated sites are in potential aquifers that could potentially be drinking water sources. The standards that apply to that, are those two standards. They're extraordinarily low. They're very tight. One part per billion of benzene-- benzene is one of the components of gasoline, the component that smells good; when people like to smell gasoline, that's what they like. Some people like the smell of gasoline. More than one part per billion-- and part per billion is a very, very small number.

Jones: I guess so.

Catlin: That makes that a violation, so it either has to be attenuated with a land use restriction or it has to be cleaned up, and restoring that is difficult. It's a potential risk to future drinking water or existing drinking water, or to surface waters if it can migrate to surface waters. That's the risk.

Jones: Now you've used the term "aquifer." Would you explain what that is? What you mean by that?

Catlin: It's a ground water supply.

Jones: It's natural?

Catlin: Yes, it's natural. There are all sorts of different types of aquifers. Most of them around here are just wet sand. But if you pump on one part of it, it'll flow through the sand and to that well. An aquifer is loosely defined as a stratographic or rock unit that can store and transmit water. In our case, it's just a few feet down. If you dig a hole, you're going to get water running. That's the surfacial aquifer. If you go down deeper into the sandstone or the limestone, those are usually-- if they're distinct aquifers, they're separated by clay layers.

Jones: So let me ask you this before coming back to North Carolina. When testing was done out in, let's say the Nevada deserts, the Utah deserts, Arizona deserts for nuclear weapons and such, atomic weapons, has all that been cleaned up? Are there contaminations there? Do they go away? What happens to the earth?

Catlin: I don't know exactly, but they didn't clean it up.

Jones: So we can expect it's still there? And there will be one effect at one point or another?

Catlin: Most of the contamination that's ever been created is still there because it's very difficult to clean it up.

Jones: But I guess with progression, you have to contaminate something allegedly.

Catlin: We're trying not to, now. But leaks and spills still occur, and most of them, most contaminants are hydrocarbon in nature because that's the product as a society we use most of. We transmit it by pipe and pumps, we spill it at gas stations, and we have tanks and tankers. So most of the spills are hydrocarbons that we have now.

Jones: Alright. Let's get to your particular job with the New Hanover County Port. And please correct me with that title. I said "waterways and beach commission." What, exactly, are you supposed to do? We read about this all the time. There's a lot of talk about dredging, a lot of talk about sandbags and so forth. I would wager, if you asked the average person on the street, "What do they do?" what they would probably say, "I don't know; they're saving our shore." You're going to have to enlighten us now.

Catlin: It's migrated over the years. Initially, we were an organization that made recommendations to the county commissioners on use of the room occupancy tax that was set aside for sand. Let me talk about that a little bit, because years from now, people will have no clue how that happened. There's a 3 percent room tax on house rentals and hotel rooms. Eighty percent of it used to go to beach renourishment cost and 20 percent went to travel and tourism. Later on, it got changed to 40 percent travel and tourism and 60 percent beach renourishment. That fund, over the years, has grown to about $25 million right now. Recently, there was a second room tax of 3 percent that was passed that does not go into that fund, so that's totally separate, so we're still dealing with that. And we would make recommendations for local share of our beach renourishment projects to the county commissioners for allocation of that funding. We have three beaches that get renourished on a periodic basis, that period being three to four years. We have contracts with the federal government and the state, called Project Cooperation Agreements, or PCAs. Carolina Beach's PCA expires in 2014, Wrightsville Beach expires in 2026, and Kure Beach expires in 2047. The way this agreement works, is the federal government would fund 65 percent of the cost of renourishment. The state would fund 75 percent of the remaining 35 percent and the local share would be paid for out of the room occupancy tax. So our job was to maintain the continuity. As elected officials would change in Raleigh and Washington, we would explain the projects and explain the funding and explain the benefits and the mechanisms. Everything ran very smoothly. We'd go to Washington once a year. We'd go to Raleigh a couple times a year and make our recommendations to the county commissioners. Everything was wonderful.

In the last half dozen or so years, the federal government has quit funding beach renourishment projects, so now we find ourselves working in a variety of crisis modes, and working for alternative solutions and working for different cost sharing mechanisms. Yesterday, I had a meeting with the Ports, Waterways and Beach Commission that was somewhat unique, maybe historic, in what we did. We don't have the funding from Washington. And that was, we didn't have it last year. This year, we're a couple of trillion dollars down the line because of the--

Jones: Trillion?

Catlin: Because of the bailout.

Jones: Okay. How could I forget?

Catlin: I don't know how much we're spending on trying to save the economy, but the likelihood of getting an unpopular, perceived low-priority project funded in 2010 is pretty low, and it's just a realistic point of view that we have to look at. All three beaches come due at the same time, so the federal government share would probably be about $9 million. Again, highly unlikely that they would be funded. So we do have, that's what our room tax fund is for. It's a rainy day fund. It's for when we've got these emergencies and we can't do it. It's brilliant to have that fund. We're one of the few places in the country that has that. But there's a problem. The federal government will not let us contribute to a shortfall in federal funding. It's a catch-22. They don't fund it and won't let us.

Jones: Let me ask you...

Catlin: But don't ask me why. We're trying to change that. For the last year, we've tried to get Congress to pass what would be called contributing authority language. We tried to get a memorandum of agreement for cost sharing. They haven't done it. It's largely because they haven't been able to pass the budget or any bills. They're on the third year of the continuing resolution, so nothing's happening there. I don't blame anybody up there. It's an extremely difficult environment to get anything done right now, and the money is just tight. Are you going to help starving people, or are you going to renourish the beaches? Are you going to fund the war, or are you going to renourish the beaches? We recognize that we're probably far down the list. Even though beach renourishment and all of the Corps of Engineers projects are the only thing in the federal government that are required to show a return on investment, and right now, if your return on investment is-- It has to be at least one-to-one. What that means is that if the federal government spends a dollar on a project, the federal government will receive a dollar back. Now the cutoff is like three to one. Our projects still do that and they do that without considering recreational benefits. It's on storm reduction, damage reduction, a variety of other economic benefits. So they are projects that actually are good investments for the federal government to make, but they're not going to be able to fund it. So we voted yesterday to begin the process of actually doing it on our own, getting our own permits, doing our own design and doing our beach renourishment on our own.

Jones: That's an expensive venture, isn't it?

Catlin: Yeah, it's expensive. The state'll still participate. We don't know exactly how much, but they'll still participate. It doesn't mean that the federal government can't change its mind later and start participating again. It just means that we can't wait until 2010 with our head in the sand and say, "We're not going to get this money. What do we do now?" and start the permitting process, which is probably going to take two, three years and be 2015. Because if you go down to Wrightsville Beach right now, a large portion of it has been eroded from the recent storms that we had.

Jones: How does this affect those areas that have been ravaged by hurricanes, for example? Storms and hurricanes? And we do have some areas here; always reading about Figure 8 Island and Shell Island, etc, etc.

Catlin: New Hanover County, three beaches-- Wrightsville, Carolina, and Kure Beach, always fare very well in a storm. We have the lowest number of FEMA claims after a storm than anybody else around in a comparable situation. Topsail Beach is trying to do a beach renourishment program, and Dare County is trying to do-- The Bodie banks, they have various programs they're trying to do. Wrightsville County is doing some beach renourishment. Everybody recognizes that that's a viable alternative to having everything wash away. You can argue whether we should be on the beach or not be on the beach, but we're there.

Jones: That's one of our big draws here, isn't it?

Catlin: Oh, it's the lifeblood of our economy. But along with that, we get our sand for a lot of places along the inlets and the waterways. The Atlantic Intercoastal Waterway, which is a huge asset for any state to have, the federal government is not funding that, and right now, the state has stepped in and is paying 50 percent of that. They're asking the local governments that benefit from that to also participate. So we've got a whole new world of cost sharing. The federal government basically is a longstanding partner that just quit dancing with us, and we're scrambling to find solutions. And that's what our commission is doing now, you know. We're trying to find solutions for deepening our harbor or approving our ports; for keeping our waterways open and keeping our inlets open and safe and habitable.

Jones: All right. How do you fit in with your private business and in your chairmanship commission? Well just take, for example, all the talk about the new port to go into Southport. And there's been so much, well, there's always going to be pro and con any time you do anything different around here.

Catlin: That's a big project.

Jones: It is a big project, but on the one hand, they say there's no roads to have infrastructure for trucks to make deliveries, and it goes on from there; as opposed to dredging and keeping it here in Wilmington. On the other side of it is the Cape Fear River; there's been so much talk, in the last couple of years, about dredging here, not only for larger ships that come up, but for cruise ships. The North Carolina has to be moved. Sitting on the bottom of sand, it's going to be a problem getting it out, I guess. And getting it in. And on, and on, and on, and on, and on. How are you and your company involved in that? And your company, and what's happening? Anything? We got a lot of activity here-- that's the point.

Catlin: I'm also a founding director of the North Carolina Beach Inlet and Waterway Association, and was chairman for a couple of years, maybe more than that. I lost count. It seemed like a long time.

Jones: "North Carolina" what?

Catlin: Beach Inlet and Waterway Association. That is a statewide organization that is similar to the Ports, Waterways and Beach Commission. We have worked statewide, to try to keep our intercoastal waterway open. We work with a university here, Dr. Dumas and Herstein, to do some economic studies of the waterway and to try to come up with some coordinated efforts on beach renourishment and sand management, too. There's a plan being put together in Raleigh right now, and I'm on that advisory committee for a beach inlet and management plan. It's sand management, so we always keep moving sand around where one locality does one thing, and another one does the other. It's a good idea to have a coordinated effort. All of those projects are part of that management plan. All of those projects are of interest to NC Byway, and because of my associations at the state level, they're of an interest to the Port, Waterways and Beach Commission. We all care about the economics of the area. It's too much money. We just have too many good things to do, and not enough money to do it. So we have to prioritize what we shoot for. But we're not the ultimate decision-makers. We're citizen volunteers.

Jones: Right. How do you reach your priorities? I mean, even as professionals know what the priorities are. To do one thing before you can do another, for example. Do you get the cooperation from the state, or are these people professionals, too?

Catlin: We work with the Division of Water Resources. They are completely cognizant of the value of these projects to the state of North Carolina. They do everything they can to help us. The general assembly gives them dredging contingency funds and the flexibility to find priorities, or hotspots where there's a lack of federal funding. So at the state level, we're great. At the federal level, we just keep trying.

Jones: All right. Can you tell us-- talk about what you feel are some priorities right now for this area no matter how long it would take.

Catlin: One priority is to understand, right now, is to understand what we would have to do, and what it would cost us to take over our own beach renourishment projects. That's the first priority, because we got-- if it turns out that it's feasible, and it may not be. It may be that as private entities, or at least not federal entities, try to get some of these permits, we might be in trouble. We may not be able to get them-- then start that process so that we're not surprised down the road. We owe that to the citizens of North Carolina: to be proactive in our thinking. Even if it's not a popular decision, to go it alone, it might be the thing to do. Self-reliance is something this country's forgotten about.

Jones: Yes, they have.

Catlin: And I'm very strong in self-reliance, but I also understand that there are some economic realities. So it's-- maybe we're trying to eat an elephant one bite at a time. That's a priority. It is a huge priority to maintain the intercoastal waterway and the inlets that are used, in a safe condition.

Jones: Can you tell us why, so the audience here who listens to this down the road can understand?

Catlin: I wish I would've brought the economic benefits study that we did, that showed huge returns on investment, both locally, state and nationally, and that was just on recreational boating. So that's a big part of it. It's also, it's unique that we have the intercoastal waterway, which is like a highway that connects-- And then, we've got all these beautiful inlets that connect us to the sea, and we've got all these sounds and different islands and barrier islands, and that's how we get to them. So the recreational and aesthetic value is huge. But it also has an economic component. We've got commercial fishing. We've got charter fishing. We've got the movement of freight, the AIWW or Atlantic Intercoastal Water Way is a water highway, and one of the least expensive ways to move heavy loads, is by floating them. That used to be understood, before we had all these roads and trucks, and I think it's important to maintain that. It's like a highway through our area. It's just a wonderful infrastructure. So that needs to be dredged deep enough, and marked clearly enough, so that the commercial vessels and the private vessels can get through there safely.

The inlets, they're very dynamic, because every high tide goes in, every low tide comes out so they build up sand on both sides of that ebb and flow tidal deltas. They take maintenance, and right now, we don't have the money to maintain those. People run aground, and somebody's going to lose their life someday. Commercial fishermen out of Carolina Beach have to either catch it on a high tide, or they have to come out to Wrightsville Beach to go out and that burns a lot of fuel. It's a nice, wonderful thing that any state in the Union would love to have these assets, but they require maintenance. So that's the waterways and inlets portion. Then, along the same line, the existing channels that we have in the Cape Fear River, require maintenance. They don't just stay open forever, either.

Jones: Now, explain what kind of maintenance.

Catlin: Dredging.

Jones: Dredging.

Catlin: It's an active river. The sediments move down that river. We establish channels that are a certain width and a certain depth, so that the ships that come into the ports can do so safely, and that requires maintenance. We're having to shrink wrap that maintenance. We're not able to keep these channels as wide as we would like to have them, and we're not getting the money that we need from the federal government to do that, so again, the state is stepping in and helping out with that. Fortunately, in the waterway and harbor and inlet maintenance arenas, we are allowed to contribute local money. It's only beach renourishment that we can't contribute local money right now, and I don't know why.

Jones: That's amazing.

Catlin: There are people in the Office of Management and Budget, which is-- I used to call it the fourth branch of government. I think I now call it Treasury Department of the Fourth Branch of Government. But there are people in there that are just environmentally opposed and philosophically opposed to beach renourishment. I think some of these barricades that we find have been imposed by that mentality.

Jones: Having lived in the Washington for many, many years, a lot of people who worked at OMB were referred to as the Scrooges of the government.

Catlin: That's right.

Jones: They didn't own that. That wasn't their money they were dealing with, you know.

Catlin: They control a surprising amount of policy.

Jones: Yes.

Catlin: And they have not been a friend--

Jones: No.

Catlin: Of beach renourishment.

Jones: Okay, that's too bad, because there's such a beauty about it if nothing else. I mean there are a lot of things. We need these things. But, all right; we've talked about funding, which is almost nonexistent. And fighting nature, I guess, is the renourishment. It's constantly moving though, isn't it? It's one of the appealing things about water and the ocean. You can just look at it and be mesmerized; it's never the same.

Catlin: It's a natural process, and beach renourishment is as close to staying natural as you can get. You start putting structures up, then you start blocking that flow of sand. Basically, we're taking the sand that moves into the inlets, and putting it back on the beach and keeping the inlets clean and the beaches sandy at the same time. It's just a cost. It's just like painting your house. It's like mowing your grass. There's always going to be an argument if it's worth it. People that live in the middle part of the country probably don't think it's worth it.

Jones: They have no idea. But they have tornadoes.

Catlin: But we may not think that all the money for forest fires is worth it. We may not think that all the money for the flood damages that occur for people building next to the Mississippi River are worth it. But I think as a nation, we need to stick together. Those are all assets. We just don't have enough to go around.

Jones: Well, all right. Speaking of building, how about people who build either year-round residences or summer residence, practically up to the water? Yeah, they're on stilts and stuff, but aren't they taking a chance?

Catlin: They are.

Jones: If you drilled down, what do you get? Water? You just explained--

Catlin: You get wet sand.

Jones: Yeah.

Catlin: There are setback requirements now in place, and regulations that should prohibit people from doing that now. There's always the chance that you'll be in a very dynamic area and those regulations won't protect you, and you'll end up with your house on the edge of the ocean. A lot of people that buy houses and move from up north and move from someplace and haven't been on the ocean, they don't really know what they're doing. So it's not that they're bad people. They've made a mistake. I think there are a good set of very good regulations in place now, that establish setbacks that should protect as many people as-- you can't protect everybody, but I think we've got that solved. People who did it in the past-- Shell Island, for example. My father-in-law looked at buying in Shell Island, and I went down there with him. Nobody said "Don't buy here, because it's going to wash away." There was apparently small print on page 45 of the contract that said that, and all those people that bought there were somewhat villainized when the inlet came within 30 feet of washing the hotel away. The room tax was used as a loaning mechanism to realign that inlet, and save that development.

Jones: I can't believe; we drove down there one time. My husband is a native here and it made his head spin, he could practically walk from there to Figure 8.

Catlin: At low tide you could. That's right.

Jones: Yeah, yeah amazing. Absolutely amazing. Talk about river traffic. Or did you have anything to do with that? It's still water, it's still-- is there any harm in this, as far as what they dump in the water? Water moves, it don't stay in place.

Catlin: We don't dump anything in the water. Accidents happen, but no bilge water gets released.

Jones: Is that right?

Catlin: There are good regulations in place, and I don't think we caused any harm going up and down the river, as long as we don't run aground.

Jones: Mm-hmm.

Catlin: And if we keep everything dredged properly and marked properly, then that won't happen. We have tugboat captains that steer the ships, so they know the river. That's just great for the economy. It's where we import and export things out of North Carolina.

Jones: Well now, that's another question. If the port is moved-- and it isn't going to do it anytime soon-- what's it going to do to-- they'll say, "Oh, okay. It's Wilmington, and Southport's all the same thing, but it's not really. What's it going to do to the City of Wilmington?" As part of our research, as I may have mentioned to you, taking a look at the facts we got from the last census, we no longer talk about just New Hanover County; we refer to everything as Southeastern North Carolina. The growth is in Brunswick. Wilmington's kind of in the middle. There will be a new bridge; there has to be. So the whole projection is, the way things move so quickly and all these brains that are working, things move quicker than you think, because by the time you learn one thing, it's obsolete. What will happen, say our port, that is a bigger port and they will take in larger ships, container ships, etc, is moved to Southport? What becomes of this port here? What effect does it have?

Catlin: As I understand it, the plans are to have both ports, and we would move the container business to the international port. By the way, that's a great piece of land. I don't fault anybody for seizing that opportunity, because it's right there at the mouth of the river. It's an opportunity that needed to be seized, and the state boards bought that property. That's great. The issues to develop it are legitimate issues, and I think we can overcome them. I'm glad to see the people that are opposed are involved, because it would make it a better project. What they call the break bulk, which is the loose items that are not in containers, is intended to still use the Wilmington port for that. The state ports also includes Moorehead City. Moorehead City is maybe more of a break bulk and bulk type of a port, so they might compliment each other. The problem is, is that you have to come up the river, I think, 26 miles to get to this port in Wilmington, and that just might not be competitive. It's not that they'll close that port; it's just the natural economics might create a more favorable opportunity for the international port if they have those services available, and they probably will. Now, if we lose, we would never lose all of our port. It might diminish somewhat, but there are still fuel terminals downtown where people bring the fuel into. That won't be affected.

Jones: Okay.

Catlin: There's still, we bring in chromium ore for elements, where they make chrome. We bring in nitrates that are used for fertilizer. We bring in salt. We bring in feed for the poultry industry. We bring in Paraxylene for the polyester plant at Investa. Those are big businesses that will continue to operate. The state part is out of the whole harbor commerce; state ports is only a part of that. If, for some reason, all of that decided to move somewhere else, there's always an opportunity to make lemonade out of lemons, and we would have wonderful riverfront property to grow our community into.

Jones: Well, that I know, about the possibility.

Catlin: So, it's valuable property and it could create some really great opportunities.

Jones: What are you working on now?

Catlin: One of the projects I'm working on right now, is riverfront redevelopment down by the convention center.

Jones: Okay.

Catlin: It's the project where they're building the big marina.

Jones: Fine. Tell about it.

Catlin: Of course, it's like everything on the river. It's contaminated. We've been dealing with the contamination issues and protecting the river and identifying what we've got. There's a really nice program in North Carolina called the North Carolina Brownfield Program, that allows the redeveloper to not be responsible for the contamination. In other words, if everybody who bought that property downtown was responsible for whatever contamination might exist, then nobody would ever buy it; it would just stay derelict for years because chances are that people who contaminated it are not there anymore. You do have to protect the public from any kind of exposure to contaminants, and you have to have land-use restrictions on that. But it's a great way to infill our development so that we don't go out into green spaces and build new subdivision or new projects, which create a whole liturgy of problems from stressing the police, the fire, the water, the sewer, the roads-- and then everybody spends all of their time in a car driving back and forth, which is a very sad commentary on the American society. We do spend a lot of time alone in our automobiles.

Jones: Yeah, or on the cell phone.

Catlin: I hope I turned mine off.

Jones: It's become the soccer mom way of communicating, I think. That's interesting that you're doing what you are, there. There's been so much pro and con about a convention center and all the building down there. It doesn't matter what I feel, but it was a thing that had to happen, that had to come. I think it had to come, and I think it will provide jobs and more space for people. I think it's a draw, really.

Catlin: I turned my phone off.

Jones: [laughs] Okay.

Catlin: I'll tell you something else I'm working on down on that same property. I'm on the board of ARCH, which is Alliance for Regional Concert Hall.

Jones: Oh yes! I know about that. It's wonderful.

Catlin: We were working with the university for a location, then that became somewhat of a conflict of fundraising, I think, and that relationship didn't look as promising as it had in the past.

Jones: With the Funks. The two doctors Funk?

Catlin: Yes, so I started looking. I always thought downtown would be great, so I was working on this project, and I started talking to the developers about, "Would you be interested in having a performing arts center on the site?" Over a period of months, I got them more and more interested. We've been negotiating back and forth, and we're in the second or third iteration of offer, or counteroffers, for a piece of land on the Cape Fear River, which could be an inspiring opportunity for the city. We've selected an architect that's world-renowned, and we'd like to think it's going to be the Sydney of the East Coast. That's a very exciting project that we're working on.

Jones: You are the second or third person to make that statement. Somebody else said Wilmington will be the jewel in the center of the other counties surrounding it. It will become the place to go.

Catlin: It's a regional attraction. It ties in with the proposed development for hotels and nice restaurants and shops. So it becomes a weekend opportunity to come to see a play or a concert. We're very excited about it.

Jones: You know that Tony Rivenbark is full bore on what I call his "Globe Theater," where he can put on operetta productions, or Shakespearean productions, and that's interesting.

Catlin: It is.

Jones: But there's only so much you can do down there in that one area.

Catlin: I don't think we'll complete with them at all. I think our venue would be something altogether different.

Jones: And much larger?

Catlin: And much larger.

Jones: So it would be open for all kinds of things. And what better area than near a convention center.

Catlin: It ties together. We're not right next to the convention center, but we would be--

Jones: Walking distance.

Catlin: Walking distance, sort of like bookends, with an upscale marina in the middle. So we're excited about that project. I'm also on the board of the Bellamy Mansion Museum, and we're working to restore one of the original urban slave quarters.

Jones: I thought they were pretty much well along on that.

Catlin: Very well along, yes.

Jones: I have two good friends who live down there, have been down there for years.

Catlin: Who are they?

Jones: Sharon Stone is one. Penny Newhouse is another.

Catlin: I just met with them yesterday.

Jones: Yeah.

Catlin: Of course, we're looking at our budget, going into 2009, and just for the future, it doesn't look good right now.

Jones: I know. What does?

Catlin: I don't know. You keep trying. Everything's up and down.

Jones: That's true, but that's life, I guess. I don't know. What good words do you have to say? What do you think is a possibility? All these things are, you know, you talk about the beach and sand and so forth. It's constantly moving. My father was a Navy officer, used to say, "Take care of the ocean. The ocean will feed you." And he would tell us more than once, I thought, "How do you take care of an ocean?" I'm sure there's an article in today's paper about fishing and shrimping. And not too good news, but there's never good news in that paper, anyway. There are a lot of people who make their living on the water and on the beaches are affected with this. Also, as they got people like you and your company, and your business and so forth, you're always on top.

Catlin: We do try to educate our policymakers, and we try to prevent some of the train wrecks that we see coming. We've also been involved in the controversy of drilling offshore of North Carolina.

Jones: I don't know; is that a possibility? Drilling for--

Catlin: Oil, natural gas. That's a very strong possibility; it was interesting. A few years ago, when I was chairman of NC BIWay, that's the North Carolina Beach, Inlet and Waterway Association, I brought that up at a meeting, and I said, "We probably ought to start considering some kind of a position on that, because we don't want tar balls on our beach." Right now, the limit is three miles, so today, if the ban were lifted and nothing else was changed, we could see oil platforms three miles off shore. That's pretty close, and we weren't for that; there's a lot of controversy, for one. Then the election cycle started, and the price of gas went up, and all of a sudden, everybody says, "Drill here, drill now." So we've went from the environmental side, to the drill-for-oil side in about 15 minutes, as a nation. It was spectacular to watch that. We need to come back to the center somewhere.

Jones: I was going to say, isn't there a middle ground?

Catlin: Hopefully, I think, after the election, that you'll see us coming a little bit back more toward the middle. We need to protect our oceans. We need to protect our coast environmentally, and that gets to other issues that we've got, and this deals more with my engineering company. We have aging infrastructure in all of the cities in the East. The Western cities may be a little younger,, but on the East, we've got serious problems with aging infrastructure. Wilmington, for example, has a water intake pipeline that's about 24 miles, that has scoured out under the river, and is in danger of failing. We have a secondary source of water that draws its water from behind lock and dam number 1 on the Cape Fear River, and it's scoured out and in danger of failing. We could have two disasters if we were unfortunate enough to do that, and not have a water supply in Wilmington.

Jones: Is this due to age? Or is this due to age and this population has boomed?

Catlin: Just age.

Jones: Age.

Catlin: And we also, our wastewater treatment systems, for the most part, are aging, and as you know, here in Wilmington, we spill a lot of completely raw sewage into the waterways. Every time those force mains break, it goes either into the river, or it goes into the waterways. We're talking millions and millions of gallons. That's something that we're working to fix, but again, that's a lot of money and difficult to do, because everything's built up now. The treatment systems that we have, if the force mains that transmit the raw sewage ever make it to the treatment plant, the treatment plants are old, and the technologies don't deal with the pharmaceuticals that are in the wastewater now, and that's a real concern to marine life. We don't really understand what that'll do, but there's a real concern there. And then we've got a highly developed agricultural business in North Carolina, which is wonderful, and the water that runs off of those agricultural lands is not treated at all.

Jones: Not at all?

Catlin: Not generally. That's what we call nine-point pollution. And we've got pesticides and fertilizers. So we continue to pollute our oceans. In 1972 or '74, we had the Clean Water Act, and I don't remember exactly when it was. It was the early '70s. That's when we started cleaning up our rivers, and we did a great job. That's when all of the sewage treatment plans and everything that are now in existence really started going from a combined system, where they would dilute it with stormwater to actually treating the water. It's time to renovate those systems, and to put in some new technology and again, that's a money problem. So it all drains downhill, and it all drains to the ocean. Those are concerns that my engineering company's involved in.

Jones: So the only solution then, is to find the money, spend the money instead of stopping growth.

Catlin: I was disappointed, and continue to be disappointed in this election cycle that nobody says if we're going to invest a trillion dollars, let's invest it in our nation's infrastructure. I don't hear that.

Jones: A lot of things have been missed in this election.

Catlin: I don't hear that anywhere. I don't hear, "Let's reinvest it in our manufacturing capability. Let's become an exporter instead of an importer." But that $700 billion or trillion dollars could-- you could probably build a high-speed passenger train between every major city in the United States, cut our dependency on oil, help with the global warming and create a lot of jobs. Or you could decide, "Well, with that trillion dollars, I'm going to really educate all of the kids in the country so they won't be stupid enough to do what we've done with our world." Or you could say, "Well, we're going to rebuild all of the water and the sewer plants, and we're going to rebuild our roads." You could do so much with that money. That's more money than we spend on the whole Iraqi war. It's more money than we've got obligated for Social Security. It's huge. It's a historic time.

Jones: It is huge, but that'll never happen because you have to educate the people who are the parents of the kids to make sure they get there, and the teachers who are teaching them, and it becomes a really vicious circle.

Catlin: But you have to keep trying.

Jones: You have to keep trying. Exactly.

Catlin: If enough of us--

Jones: There have been a number of issues that have been missed this election cycle as you call it. I like that. I'll have to use that.

Catlin: That's what they call it.

Jones: This has been a very interesting time with you, Rick. I don't think most people on the street has had any understanding of how vital all of this is, and how far-reaching. How do you find time to conduct your business when you're on all these different boards, and all important? I wouldn't know where to begin how you prioritize. It seems like one thing begets another.

Catlin: It does become-- it's, it does-- conflicting, sometimes. In my company, we're very fortunate in that we have a senior staff that's been with us for over 20 years.

Jones: Wonderful.

Catlin: We don't have a lot of turnover. I hope everybody thinks it's a nice place to work. I don't have to do everything anymore at work, and I'm able to delegate a lot of that.

Jones: That's wonderful.

Catlin: It gives me some time to do some of the civic and social things that I would like to do. As far as motivation, I just can't stand to see things being done wrong. I can't stand to see missed opportunities. I can't stand to see problems that aren't being solved, and it's a compulsion. I have to do it.

Jones: And your wife goes right along with all this.

Catlin: She helps me.

Jones: She helps you. Good. I'm married to a Class A individual and, his mindset, he can't stand mistakes and wrong thinking.

Catlin: I don't mind mistakes. If you're doing anything, you make mistakes.

Jones: Well, deliberately stupid mistakes but that's a matter of opinion.

Catlin: I think the more you know, the more you become concerned about things. The more you know, the more you see--

Jones: I think that's probably true.

Catlin: So you just keep working at it. I think if we all try, we could really make a difference. There are so many people that just aren't interested in our habitat.

Jones: They're not interested because they're totally unaware, and the reason they're unaware, is it's not brought to their attention often enough. We're a society that's become so mesmerized by people that really don't count, and I hate to say this, I don't mean Kate, but there are a lot of kids in this university at master's programs and everything else-- I have kids and grandchildren of my own. Their gods are the singers and the TV people and the whatever of the moment. You know, and I'm thinking they don't think. They don't have to think because things are handed to them.

Catlin: We have a very constant stream of stimuli, so you don't have to look for something. It comes right to you. Just turn the television on.

Jones: I know, you think you've given your grandkid a good gift with some kind of an electronic thing. The next thing you know, two months later it's outdated, and something else comes along. It's amazing. It's absolutely amazing.

Catlin: If there's any bright spot in the, I'll say touted economic crisis that we have, is it might bring us back to more of a balanced perspective.

Jones: I've heard this from an awful lot of people on both sides of the aisle. This is one thing they can agree on, that maybe we asked for it, maybe we were headed for it and this is kind of a leveling point. It's true. Rick, thanks so much for coming to visit with us. This has been very interesting. Your answers to my questions bring up more questions, but we only have so much time.

Catlin: It's unlikely that we can solve everything here, today.

Jones: I doubt it. But this is something so urgent, and so now, and so prevalent in this area, particularly, that it's going to be a great addition to our project.

Catlin: I hope so.

Jones: It will be. Thank you.

Catlin: Thank you.

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