No drop in the bucket

Passion runs deep for keeping town’s water and wetlands safe

Tuesday, April 18, 2023
Image of Heather Fisher and Terry Hackett
Stormwater and Environmental Services Manager Terry Hackett and Stormwater Coordinator Heather Fisher maintain the health of the town’s stormwater ponds and watersheds, often using technology to explore areas that can be difficult to access.

When what you do for fun mingles with what you do for work, the perspective changes, and your commitment to both becomes more personal. And, in this case, the Town of Hillsborough benefits.  

Heather Fisher, who is stormwater coordinator for the town, spends her free time kayaking the Eno River. Her cohort, Terry Hackett, who is the stormwater and environmental services manager, admits being obsessed with fly fishing. The relationship the two have with Hillsborough’s water resources elevates the work they do to being more than just a job with the town.  

“Our division is responsible for making sure the town complies with its stormwater permit through state and federal laws,” said Fisher, who has been with the Hillsborough Stormwater and Environmental Services Division for six years. “Underneath that, we do a lot of things in the office, as well as out in the field.  

“We have other regulatory responsibilities, such as enforcement of Falls Lake Rules, which are for new developments, and we must comply with those as well. We focus on reducing nutrient pollution in the public watershed, and we also are a delegated authority for enforcing riparian buffer rules, which ensure the area around a stream remains undisturbed and free of structures. There’s a wide variety of things we do.” 

Fisher and Hackett frequently work with homeowner associations regarding managing stormwater control measures, like stormwater ponds and wetlands. Public safety issues can arise if these control measures are not properly monitored and tended to. 

“Our bit is to make sure they function and are reducing pollutants the way they’re supposed to,” said Hackett, who has been employed with the town for 10 years but has worked with the town’s stormwater environmental programs dating back to when he worked for Orange County. “If they're eroding or if the vegetation is dying, it becomes a safety concern for the citizens living and walking around them.” 

One step to ensure public safety is to help the Hillsborough community understand who to call about a stormwater issue or concern. Hackett said it’s pretty common for his division to receive calls that are meant for public works. 

“Because we're stormwater, we get all the drainage calls,” he said. “We do support public works with drainage because sometimes there are special needs, like a stormwater quality concern or stormwater pollution, stream health — that sort of thing. That's our area. Street drainage, drainage ditches and things of that nature are public works.” 

Hillsborough’s growth has increased the demands placed on many of the town’s divisions, and the Stormwater and Environmental Services Division is no different.  

“We’re now at 153 stormwater control measures, including those on private property, that we have some inspection responsibility,” Hackett said. “Even though we require a third-party inspection, I’m going to have to read all those reports.” 

Fisher added, “We’re continuing to find ways for using technology to make our work more efficient, so that helps us cover the most important aspects to be able to respond promptly on issues that are higher priorities and still cover the work that we need to do each year.” 

Engage Hillsborough: Safety 

Stormwater and environmental services as they relate to safety will be among the areas of town services and operations featured in a special event April 29 to listen to community members about safety concerns and to provide information on a range of safety-related topics. Thoughts, suggestions and concerns expressed at this community engagement meeting will be gathered to guide future town decisions. 

Engage Hillsborough: Safety will be 2:30 to 5 p.m. at the Whitted Human Services Center, 300 W. Tryon St. Doors will open at 2:30 p.m. for informal conversation and interactive activities at staffed tables. The main program will take place from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Town and Orange Rural Fire Department employees also will be available to chat or answer additional questions after the main program. 

A free, supervised children’s art activity will be offered for children ages 4 to 12 in the same building. Children will have the opportunity to display their safety-related art project at the end of the program. A firetruck will be available for visits before and after the main program, and Orange Rural firefighters plan to bring some equipment with them as well. 

Spanish interpretation services will be available, and meeting handouts will be in Spanish and English. 

Engage Hillsborough is intended to provide an opportunity for more and different voices to engage with the town. A large attendance at this meeting will help ensure that future engagement meetings of this type are planned. If you cannot attend, please check with your neighbors to be sure your neighborhood will be represented. If you can attend, please bring neighbors and other Hillsborough friends with you! 

Got a question about stormwater and environmental services? Contact the division by email or by phone at 919-296-9621. Got a question about Engage Hillsborough? Contact Senior Communications Specialist Cheryl Sadgrove by email or by phone at 919-296-9433.