The Naturalist's CornerWritten by Don Hendershot
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And the dam - came tumblin’ tumblin’
The Dillsboro Dam story is as twisted and convoluted as the Tuck itself. You had Jackson County commissioners who made property rights one of the underpinnings of their election campaigns voting in favor of eminent domain to wrest the dam out of Duke’s hands. You had one recently elected commissioner trying to get the county to drop its lawsuit, who, while a member of another county board, said Duke wasn’t doing nearly enough and that if they didn’t do more, lawsuits would be filed.
Current Jackson County Chairman Brian McMahan called the Tuckasegee River Cooperative Stakeholder process flawed and commissioner Joe Cowan called it a farce. Both are right and wrong to some extent. The process was flawed to the exact extent that stakeholders did not come informed and prepared to play hardball with Duke.
The process was never a farce. Duke was using all angles and all available resources to get the best relicensing agreement it could get. Agencies like U.S. Fish and Wildlife, North Carolina Division of Water Quality, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and other agencies that have actual relicensing authority were there to let Duke know they had concerns. In a traditional relicensing process, these entities and Duke would have been locked behind closed door until time for public comment.
Cowan was also quoted in the Sylva Herald as saying, “... I know they’re [Duke] in cahoots with the whitewater people ...” I imagine this is reference to some of the concessions garnered by American Whitewater through the stakeholders’ process.
American Whitewater was the one stakeholder group, with no licensing authority, who had done their homework and had a game plan and was dedicated to it. And they received concessions from Duke. Sadly the county and other participants were not so well prepared.
And remember, any and all stakeholders could have and should have come armed to the teeth. The worst that could have happened would have been for them to be asked to leave the stakeholder meetings. In which case they would’ve had the avenue to become interveners, as Jackson County and others did as the FERC process moved forward. But all that is water over the dam, so to speak.
The dam is coming down, so what does that mean for the river? According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, there are 11 species of fish found in the nearly mile-long impounded reservoir behind the dam. The stretch of river immediately below the dam has 38 species of fish. The river above the impounded reservoir has 24 species of fish.
The federally endangered elktoe mussel is found below the impoundment and above it. Removal of the dam will help reconnect these populations and expand the overall range of this endangered animal. The imperiled sicklefin redhorse is also found below the dam and removal of the dam will allow the sicklefin to extend its range upriver. A U.S. Fish & Wildlife report states, “Restoring the reservoir to a free-flowing river will make this portion of the river usable to a suite of native fish and other aquatic animals,” and that’s good news.
The Sylva Herald report noted a “conciliatory” tone among commissioners with reference to Duke and the dam. It’s worth a try. With adequate funding, the land alongside the river in Dillsboro could make a beautiful riverside park. And maybe they could talk Duke into dropping a couple of giant boulders in the river there so T.J. Walker’s Dillsboro Inn could enjoy the nice rippling sound of the river without having to view the debris atop the dam.
And let me say that I totally concur with Cowan and other Duke dissers that say Duke is not doing all it could or should. But sadly it’s a sign of the times. Cowan mentioned that Duke was not being a “good corporate neighbor.” I submit that, in these socio-economic times, good corporate neighbor is an oxymoron.