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Theft, vandalism spur Forest Service to build gate

The U.S. Forest Service is planning to install a gate on Wine Spring Road near Franklin after communications equipment housed less than a mile up the road at Wine Spring Gap was repeatedly stolen and vandalized. Damage has totaled $20,000 in losses, and one of the victims, Macon County Emergency Services, requested that the Forest Service do something about it. 

 

“Our folks go at least once a month to check those sites, but we’re not there every day and things can happen very quickly,” said Warren Cabe, the county’s emergency management director. 

Cabe’s department uses the site to store some of its communications equipment and associated backup generators, which come on in case of a power outage. 

“We had someone steal the battery from an emergency backup generator that’s up there on the mountain,” Cabe said. 

Meanwhile, the N.C. State Highway Patrol lost a generator battery, and another bettery was stolen as well.

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The Forest Service’s solution calls for a gate near Wine Spring Road’s intersection with Wayah Road, according to a scoping notice. The gate will be closed and locked year-round, but a small parking lot will allow forest users to leave their vehicles and access the site on foot. 

“It won’t solve everything, but it would certainly help,” Cabe said. 

Cabe has a similar problem at Cowee Bald, another place where his department stores emergency backup generators. Two weeks ago, there was a power outage in the Green’s Creek area of Jackson County that cut power to Cowee Bald. 

“The generator didn’t fire there and when we got up there someone had got into our LP [liquid propane] gas generator and cut the gas off,” Cabe said. 

And Cowee Bald has a gate. 

Much of the problem, Cabe said, stems from the fact that the Cowee and Wine Springs sites have the most equipment of any emergency services communications site in Macon County, and they’re fairly remote so therefore difficult to monitor. 

“Our third largest one is at Highlands, but it’s actually inside the city limits,” Cabe said. “There’s more visibility there than there are at other places.”

But for the more remote sites, Macon is hoping that the gate solution — making it harder for thieves to get in and out, while still allowing foot access for legitimate forest users — will suffice. 

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