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Wednesday, 05 September 2007 00:00

Its not easy being green

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Balsam Mountain Preserve is, first and foremost, a real estate development. As such, it is subject to all the pressures, schedules, deadlines, etc., that plague all developments. What was to (and in many cases has) separate BMP from most real estate developments was their commitment to protecting the environment and serving as a model for “environmentally sensitive” development.

A recent dam break that sent a sediment plume all the way to Fontana Lake, nearly 30 miles away, via Scotts Creek and the Tuckasegee River and the subsequent cleanup plus $300,000 in fines assessed by Jackson County for sediment and erosion violations, shows that even environmentally sensitive developments can fall victim to such pressures.

I have had the pleasure of roaming the nearly 4,500 acres of BMP, from the spectacular trillium colonies along U.S. 74 to the tops of Double Top and Sugarloaf mountains for six years as a biological consultant conducting breeding bird and migration surveys. I also had the pleasure of reporting on BMP as a full-time staff writer at The Smoky Mountain News when planning and development began. I have witnessed firsthand, in both capacities, an enormous amount of time, energy and resources expended by Chaffin/Light — the developer — and BMP to create the environmentally sensitive development they have touted.

I have also witnessed, beginning a year or so ago, an immense sense of urgency to complete at least portions of the signature Arnold Palmer designed golf course. No one other than the developer and BMP know what kind of pressure they were under regarding the golf course but, perhaps, this is where development superseded “environmentally sensitive” in the phrase “environmentally sensitive development.”

We’ve all heard the saying, “if you’re gonna talk the talk — you gotta walk the walk.” Accruing $300,000 worth of fines after receiving four warnings over four months regarding erosion problems associated with golf course development is not walking an environmentally sensitive walk. Neither is questionable dam construction and neither is failure to provide timely and adequate cleanup following an environmental disaster.

BMP has a lot to be proud of regarding its environmental efforts including, but certainly not limited to, the ground source heat pumps installed at their Boarding House cabins, research partnerships with universities like Duke, Western Carolina and Clemson, as well as collaborations with environmental organizations like the Southern Appalachian Highland Conservancy and North Carolina’s Wildlife Resources Commission.

But as we all know, just one “Oh s**t!” can negate a truckload of “attaboys!” And BMP is danger of becoming just another mountain gated community with little regard for the environment and/or its neighbors. I don’t believe BMP is deserving of this legacy, but the only way it will avoid it is to get busy and do the heavy lifting required.

Chaffin/Light and BMP have proved in the past that they can do better — now is the time to do better. In the words of Chris Marsh, executive director of the Trust at Spring Island Trust — BMP’s sister development in South Carolina, from the Smoky Mountain News 2/14/01 — “... I appreciate the skepticism of the public when they hear that a developer is going to be ‘environmentally sensitive.’ That’s a current buzzword used to gain acceptance,” Marsh said. “... Chaffin/Light have a proven record of success. They’re not looking to turn a quick buck. They have the time and expertise to do this in a careful, thoughtful way. This is a different model than the conventional East Coast development strategy .... People will be able to look at the records from Balsam Mountain Preserve in five years and they will know that it is an environmentally sensitive project, he said. ‘“... It will all be documented.’”

It’s being documented now.

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