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Jackson ordered to relinquish permits that pave way for dam removal

Despite losing yet another court battle over the Dillsboro dam, the majority of Jackson County commissioners have vowed to continue their fight to save the structure.

Superior Court Judge Laura Bridges on March 23 ordered that Jackson County issue permits to Duke to dredge sediment backlogged behind the dam. Dredging the sediment is required before Duke tears down the dam, but the county had been withholding the permits Duke needed until other litigation surrounding the dam was resolved.

But Bridges ruled that the county had no right to withhold the permits, namely a floodplain development permit and land development compliance permit.

Duke argued that the county was just delaying the permits in an effort to save the dam. The county argued that it was withholding the permits until other legal matters surrounding the dam were resolved.

At Monday’s county commissioners’ meeting, Commissioner Tom Massie urged his fellow commissioners to pull out of the fight, saying it can’t be won.

“Have you had enough yet?” Massie asked the other commissioners.

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Massie said the county’s fight against Duke is like pushing a chain.

Massie said he and Commissioner William Shelton have made it clear they are ready to throw in the towel and other commissioners should think hard about doing the same.

“We have to face reality,” said Massie.

He urged his fellow commissioners to speak with their constituents about how they feel on the issue. Massie said most of his constituents have said they favor ending the fight against Duke in order to stop spending money on legal fees.

Commission Chairman Brian McMahan said he has spoken with constituents who want the county to continue the fight against Duke.

“In all due respect I talk to taxpayers as well, and they have a different opinion,” McMahan said.

County Manager Ken Westmoreland said County Planning Director Linda Cable was expected to issue the permits to Duke on April 7.

Duke spokesman Fred Alexander said he did not know when Duke would begin dredging the 70,000 cubic yards of sediment. The sediment must be dredged before the dam is torn down to prevent the silt from washing downstream and causing environmental problems.

 

Another legal matter remains unresolved

The county still has a federal appeal over the dam removal, which is headed for mediation.

Duke won approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to remove the dam as a form of mitigation for its other hydropower operations saddling rivers throughout the region, but the county appealed that ruling to the Court of Appeals in Washington. Jackson County believes Duke owes more in mitigation than removing the dam, such as a cut of Duke’s profits off the dams going into an environmental trust fund.

Alexander said it is normal for matters to go to mediation. If it isn’t resolved in the mediation, the court will make a decision, Alexander said. Alexander did not know when the mediation would be. Alexander also did not know if Duke could proceed with tearing down the dam before the appeal is resolved.

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