WILMINGTON—Election Day 2020 will determine a host of races, from the big showdown of the U.S. presidency, to state senators and house members, to county boards of commissioners and education, to the supervisor of New Hanover Soil and Water Conservation District (NHSWCD).
NHSWCD board member David Dowdy and associate supervisor Matt Collogan are vying for the position, as are newcomers Jeremiah Tominack and Robert F. Allen Sr.
We reached out to all the candidates to ask questions regarding the importance of the department, and its effects on water quality and conservation in our corner of southeastern NC. Below is the interview with NHSWCD associate supervisor Matthew Collogan.
Early voting is underway. Same-day registration is available during the early voting period, which ends Oct. 31. Election day is Nov. 3. Check your voter registration and county elections office to confirm polling locations, dates, and hours.
Port City Daily (PCD): Have you served or are you serving currently on the board?
Matthew Collogan (MC): I was unanimously voted by the current NHSWCD board to be an associate supervisor in September 2019. For over a year, I have participated in regular meetings and special sessions of the district board.
PCD: First off, why is this department important to our region, in your opinion?
MC: Connecting citizens to resources and technical expertise which helps conserve natural resources and improve environmental quality of life in New Hanover County is the responsibility of district supervisors and district staff. No other local government agency offers financial assistance like the district does for installing rain barrels, cisterns, pollinator gardens, and rain gardens.
The district serves as the conduit to our federal partners, like NRCS and state partners like NCDA, which offer incentives for building seasonal high tunnels, planting long-leaf pine timber, and other agricultural cost share programs like the installation of water resources. All of these services and programs offered by the district serve landowners and operators to assist in responsibly managing natural resources, both on public and private lands.
The district approves soil and water conservation plans with objectives identified by local conservation work, while providing environmental education to any citizen. This may take form through grassroots advocacy, educational programming, partnership building, maintaining government agency relations, publishing information, and sharing info among similar agencies. The New Hanover Soil and Water Conservation District helps improve the environmental quality (clean water, air, and soil) that all citizens benefit from, which is essential to life in the Cape Fear region.
PCD: What qualifies you to be elected/continue your role in the district?
MC: For over a year, I have served as an associate supervisor of the New Hanover Soil and Water Conservation District. After graduating UNCW in 2007 with an environmental studies degree, I worked for New Hanover County Park & Gardens for nearly a decade, ending up as the environmental education program manager at Airlie Gardens, where I often partnered with the NHSWCD in educational programming.
Recently, I have pursued a life of farming, working with Centripetal Farms, the LINC Urban Farm, the Hemp Pharmacy, and Xanadu Farms. Currently, I own and operate my own tiny farm near Wilmington International Airport.
I’ve served on boards including the Cape Fear Audubon Society, Tidal Creek Co-op, Cape Fear Biofuels, and am a member of the Coastal Composting Council and Cape Fear Food Council. Personally, I have benefitted from several of the best management practice incentive programs offered by the district (for example, cistern installation to collect rainwater from my roof and high-tunnel installation where I grow produce). Therefore, I have a deep understanding of the value these programs bring, and I know firsthand how to navigate the bureaucracy in order to share these resources with other New Hanover County citizens.
PCD: How would you rate the district’s functioning on a scale of 1 to 10? What impresses you most about the job the current board is doing and what do you think needs improving?
MC: The New Hanover Soil and Water Conservation District is small but mighty. While there are over 3,000 soil and water conservation districts in the country, the NHSWCD punches above its weight for being a rather small and agriculturally limited county. NHSWCD has the distinction of promulgating several unique programs that have now been adopted across the state, such as the CCAP program—Community Conservation Assistance Program, a “voluntary, incentive-based program designed to improve water quality through the installation of various best management practices on urban, suburban and rural lands not directly involved with agriculture production.”
Much credit goes to our appointed district supervisor chair, Bill Hart, for establishing that statewide program.
Additionally, it was with guidance from the NHSWCD that the Lower Cape Fear Stewardship Development Coalition formed, a program designed to encourage and recognize outstanding development in the region that protects, conserves, improves, and provides education about our natural resources.
Out of 10, I give the district a score of nine. No board supervisor receives compensation, and all work on the board’s part is voluntary.
Probably the most significant area needing improvement is the marketing of the services provided by the district, which recently elected board supervisor Evan Folds has done a great job in addressing. While money is limited, the more people who know about and utilize the district’s programs, the better we are able to secure and grow investment from our government and private partners.
The current board has five supervisors, two are appointed and three elected. The office of NHSWCD is non-partisan, and as an unaffiliated registered vote. I believe clean soil and water is important for all citizens of New Hanover County. Unfortunately, partisan politics does not always ensure the best candidate gets elected for the three elected seats. I’d like to see more involvement from knowledgeable resource stewards, and appointed vice-chair Sue Hayes has done a good job recruiting more associate supervisors to address this need.
I am running for this office because the district needs candidates who know and deeply care about soil and water conservation, not the two-party system.
PCD: How would you utilize the district to help strengthen the fight against emerging industrial contaminants in our water?
MC: Keeping in mind that state district law provides authority to local districts, to meet the needs of landowners and citizens voluntarily (meaning we can’t directly stop a land use activity on private land), the district can certainly provide education and technical expertise (like soil survey mapping) to citizens who ask for it.
The district does focus its efforts on watersheds in the unincorporated areas of New Hanover County—specifically, focusing on the most impaired watersheds. The district can assist communities working to reduce erosion and sediment, protect source water, restore streams, and small plot forestry management. The district also helps respond to natural disasters with clean-up efforts and restoration or repair of stormwater best management practices. All of these efforts and more can help to strengthen the fight against water pollutants.
To specifically target emerging industrial contaminants, the district can provide education, grassroots advocacy, partnership building with groups like the Cape Fear River Watch and the NC Coastal Federation, and developing interagency government relations. By starting and driving conversations with elected officials, like county commissioners, city council, general assembly members, and federal legislators, the district can help publish and share pertinent information that empowers more elected officials with greater power and purview, with the proper tools and information to make better decisions about resource use.
PCD: What should the district be doing more of to prevent soil erosion and lessen flooding?
MC: The district should follow through on its strategic plan, which includes reducing stormwater volume and increasing tree canopy and quality. This will be accomplished by finalizing the development of a Drainage Master Plan, with volume monitoring and reducing stormwater volume by 25% in Pages and Hewletts Creeks, through stormwater best management practices that address quantity. Increasing tree canopy will help absorb tremendous amounts of water, and the roots of those trees are the best way to help prevent soil erosion. The district will do this by inventorying tree percentage cover in different watersheds, using mapping software and encouraging strategic plantings. The district will help develop information for impact of quality standards in municipal tree ordinances.
PCD: What would be your top three items of focus, if elected—why and how would you propose to make them happen?
MC: My top three goals, in line with the district’s strategic goals, include reducing stormwater volume by increasing tree canopy and native floral plantings; improving students’ understanding of being an environmental steward by ultimately installing outdoor learning centers at every NHCS public school; and increasing access to urban agricultural & aquacultural opportunities by growing a working network of local farms and gardens focused on educational partnerships.