No contest: Two sail to reelection in soil and water race

by Jordan Green

Depending on what district they reside in, voters in Guilford County will have the opportunity to cast their ballots in one of three congressional races. All incumbents are expected to easily retain their seats, although the ideological variance in Republican Vernon Robinson’s challenge to Democrat Brad Miller has raise the profile of the District 13 race.

Then there are the state legislature races, with few exceptions promising a secure perch for the incumbents; a contest for sheriff with a serious challenger and a well-liked incumbent; county commission races that are unlikely to upset Democratic control of county’s governing body; and school board races where the ballot is so sparsely populated with candidates that voters will have little choice when they go to the polls.

Amidst all that excitement voters should not overlook the Guilford Soil & Water Conservation Board race. Two incumbents are running to retain two seats. In other words, victory is assured.

Lewis Brandon, a project coordinator at the Beloved Community Center, who stepped down as chairman of the board in December 2005, has served for 20 years. The other candidate, Richard L. Phillips, a resident of Gibsonville who teaches biology and bioengineering at NC A&T University, was appointed to the five-member board in 2005 to replace the late Randall Saunders.

“In the past I have not done any campaigning,” Brandon said. “I don’t raise any money, and I don’t take any contributions. It’s a non-partisan board and it doesn’t require a lot of politicking.”

The soil and water board, which assists farmers with controlling erosion and improving water quality, is not known for generating contention and controversy. Brandon said the farmers are often happy to work with the conservation district, partly because the district funnels federal funds to help them maintain best management practices.

The federal Natural Resources Conservation Service supplies two staff members to the Guilford conservation office on Burlington Road, including a district conservationist and a conservation technician. The district itself employs a staff of three, including a watershed conservationist, a district secretary and a watershed technician.

“We’re big on technical assistance,” Brandon said. “Our thing is to improve water, to prevent pollutants from getting into the water. We will work with the farmer if it’s close to a stream, putting in buffers. If they have a dairy farm, we’ll help them fence to keep cattle out of the stream and put in stream crossings where it does not disturb the silt.”

Phillips said Guilford County farmers are pretty good at sediment control and do an “excellent job” of protecting water quality. But there is a limit to the soil and water board’s ability to prevent ecological damage: the board can advise county and municipal governments, but enjoys no authority over them.

“Some of the municipalities – I won’t name which ones – are careless in enforcing the North Carolina sediment and erosion control law,” Phillips said. “We’ve not been too successful in correcting that.”

Another frustration, of which he has little power to address as a soil and water board member, is residential development.

“The biggest challenge is our water supply,” Phillips said. “People like to build a house right on the water supply and fertilize their lawns, and then the fertilizer runs down into the water. The challenge is the environment against the development community. The challenge is land use, developing plans and sticking to them instead of making a zoning change any time some developer comes in and wants to build something.”

Although he faces no competition for his reelection bid, Phillips took pains to express that he is serious about the job.

“I’m a conservationist at heart, particularly when it comes to soil,” he said. “As the land goes, so goes the nation. When the soil goes, the people stop producing food.”

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