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LUMBERTON — More than $10.8 million was added to Robeson County’s economy this past year through N.C. Forest Service programs like reforestation, the county Board of Commissioners was told Monday.

Forest management and reforestation in 2020 added $10,873,592 to the county’s economy, said Robby Freeman, a NCFS ranger in Robeson County, during a 9 a.m. Robeson County Board of Commissioners meeting.

“Out of that $10.8 million that was added to the county this year, 10.6 (million dollars) of it was roughly from timber harvest, the rest of it was from state and federal cost-share programs that we help assist with, to get trees planted back on those harvested areas,” Freeman said.

In 2020, 3,264 acres were planted with trees in the county, which is a record, he said. There were 2,742 acres of timber harvested.

The county has 336,536 acres of commercial forest land protected by the N.C. Forest Service, Freeman said. The county has 326,094 acres of privately owned forest land eligible for NCFS management assistance.

“It was roughly a average year of fires for us, as far as the numbers,” Freeman said.

In 2020, the N.C. Forest Service in Robeson County responded to 165 forest fires, with 949 acres burned in total, he said. There were 195 buildings or homes saved, with an estimate of $14,662,500 in value.

The acreage was low, which Freeman said was a good thing, citing the wet conditions of wooded areas last year.

“We wrote 36 warning tickets last year, one citation and issued one warrant for arrest,” he said.

Robeson County has one county ranger, three assistant county rangers, two forest fire equipment operators and a service forester, Freeman said.

Laurel wilt has been detected and is being monitored, he said. Laurel wilt is a disease that affects red bay, or short-trunked trees.

Freeman also said the NCFS obtained three brush trucks to give to three fire departments in 2020 by placing their names on the list for surplus equipment from the U.S. Department of Defense. One generator and other items, like vehicle extraction tools, light towers and tires, were also given to departments.

Board of Commissioners Chair Faline Dial commended Freeman and N.C. Forest Service workers for their efforts and services in the county.

Commissioners went into closed session for more than 30 minutes to discuss opioid litigation of which the county is part, but took no action after returning to open session. Commissioners were given an update on the status of the opioid litigation during the closed session, Robeson County Attorney Rob Davis said.

Dial commended elementary students who participated in the Project Trash Talk anti-littering program implemented by the Public Schools of Robeson County. Dial spoke of a visit she made with a first-grade class, in which students had learned much from the program.

“That was just so encouraging, so encouraging to me to know that we, thanks to Commissioner (David) Edge, have implemented this program that I hope will certainly help us in the future as we move forward with our littering issue in the county,” Dial said.

Edge shared his concern about the program.

He discovered that the anti-littering program he helped shape and launch in PSRC’s elementary schools on the week of Earth Day was not being taught at every school, Edge said. After contacting multiple schools in his district, he found that principals weren’t enforcing the program and not all teachers had been teaching it.

“So, I called the superintendent’s office. I thought they needed to know,” Edge said.

He was called back later and told that a miscommunication occurred and principals thought it was optional, but the curriculum would be launched then, the commissioner said.

Dial said she was met with confusion when she reached out to schools in her district the week of Earth Day. She then made some telephone calls.

Principals later met and the curriculum moved forward, she said. And many schools launched the curriculum this past week.

“I think it’s on, it’s on track now,” Edge said.

He understood it was a miscommunication, but was still a little disappointed, Edge said.

“I am still excited about the curriculum and going forward. It has got to make a difference,” he said.

Commissioner Lance Herndon said the curriculum should be taught more than just once a year during the week of Earth Day.

“I would love to see it be a yearlong focus,” he said.

Herndon said parts of the curriculum could be taught at the beginning, middle and end of the year.

“I think it does, it does make a difference, and especially if they hear it more than one time,” Herndon said.

Edge agreed and said he plans to meet with PSRC administration and invited other commissioners to attend with him.

He also hopes to push the curriculum to other parts of the state.

“It is a problem with our state,” Edge said.

The program could be “an important fix” to that problem, Edge said.

Also during Monday’s meeting, commissioners approved resolutions to accept the following bids for property plus the cost of advertising: $3,400 for 110 Anita Road in Pembroke; $9,275 for two parcels on Marietta Road in Marietta; and $4,000 for 615 Canal St. in Fairmont.

Dial also said Teacher Appreciation Week and National Nurses Week are here, and commissioners should consider showing those employees appreciation for their services.

Commissioners will hear an update on broadband assessment from David Richardson, executive director of Lumber River Council of Governments, at the next scheduled meeting. Richardson could not attend Monday’s meeting to present because of a death in his family.

“The board would certainly like to send our condolences,” Dial said. “So, we look forward to hearing Mr. Richardson at our next meeting in May.”

The next board of commissioners meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. May 17.



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