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Dillsboro dam fight heads into state hearing

In the latest in Jackson County’s quest to save the Dillsboro dam from demolition, the county will get its day in court to argue the merits of a state water quality permit that makes or breaks whether the dam comes down.

The county has secured a rehearing over the permit by an administrative law judge. The judge, Selina M. Brooks, ruled that based upon the county’s arguments there should be a rehearing to determine whether the state violated the N.C. Environmental Policy Act when issuing the water quality permit to Duke Energy.

The county alleges that the state did not assess whether dam removal was in the best interest of water quality compared to other alternatives. The county also charges that the state violated the State Environmental Policy Act by failing to conduct an analysis of the impacts of dam removal.

County Manger Ken Westmoreland said SEPA kicks in when public funds are used for a project, and in this case, the state has allocated $400,000 to help Duke with dam demolition. That should have triggered an extensive environmental review to determine whether state funds are being used in the best way

“They have done no such studies, and those studies don’t just happen overnight,” Westmoreland said.

The rehearing on the state permit could spark a rehearing on Duke’s federal permit as well. Westmoreland said the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington has ordered the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to conduct a rehearing into granting Duke a dam removal permit.

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As a side note, an endangered species survey of the Appalachian Elktoe mussel is out of date, Westmoreland said. Duke’s survey of the elktoe mussel in the river is three years old, but federal law requires a survey no more than two years old before embarking on an activity that could impact the species’ habitat.

“There is a lot of backtracking that needs to be done,” Westmoreland said.

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