Dillsboro bats looking for new homes

Throughout the years-long bickering over the future of the Dillsboro Dam, the little brown bats that spent the summer in the dam’s powerhouse had no voice.

Each April, the little browns would return to the Tuckaseegee from their winter homes in caves and mines throughout the region in order to mate and enjoy the bounty of insects the river furnished. They established a burgeoning colony in the dam’s old powerhouse, which offered the perfect warm, dry shelter.

“That was an ideal place for them by the dam,” said Mark Cantrell, field biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “With the powerhouse and the food sources on the river, it was just about perfect.”

The powerhouse was demolished along with the dam this winter.

Cantrell worked with biologists from Duke Energy to create mitigation plans for the different species of birds, bats, and fish affected by the radical overnight change. The idea of putting in bat boxes to replace the demolished powerhouse roost was Cantrell’s.

Duke erected four bat houses to accommodate the estimated 500 bats that colonized the powerhouse. Each four-compartment bat box has the capacity to accommodate about 250 bats. They are patterned after recommendations from Bat Conservation International.

T.J. Walker, the owner of the Dillsboro Inn perched on the river shore where the dam once stood, is also coping with the radical change in the landscape. Walker initially opposed Duke’s plan to take out the dam, but now he says he’s pleased to see the Tuckaseegee flowing wild and free beneath the deck of his inn. But Walker is worried about the bats.

“For as many bats as were in there, there are not enough houses,” Walker said. Walker doesn’t see how the boxes, roughly the size of a television set, will hold as many bats as biologists say they will.

Walker is not just a casual observer of the nocturnal hunters. He counts on them to keep the riverfront free of mosquitoes.

“We love the bats. They do pest control,” Walker said. “They make Dillsboro’s waterfront special. Our customers love looking at the bats. We don’t have a mosquito problem.”

Walker recently bought three additional bat houses himself because he has been worried by the sight of the bats swarming the site where the powerhouse once stood.

Cantrell believes there’s plenty of room for the Dillsboro bat colony in the new houses, but it will take them time to set up new roosts.

“I expect the bats to utilize the houses. They will come back,” Cantrell said. “Most bats will come back to an area like that. They’ll be a little surprised at first, but then they’ll start looking for other places nearby.”

Walker was concerned that the bat houses weren’t placed in close proximity to where the old powerhouse was, but are a quarter mile or more away. Cantrell believe the bats will find the houses, however.

Cantrell said the bat houses will be monitored for the next two years to see how well the bats have adjusted to the new surroundings. For both T.J. Walker and the bats, this spring involves more than just the normal change of seasons.

Becky Johnson contributed to this article.

 

Spring nesting

In the spring, little brown bats form huge nursery colonies like the one observed at Dillsboro. A nursery colony may have thousands of bats in it. Maternity colonies are commonly found in warm sites in buildings or other structures and can occasionally be found in hollow trees. The female little brown bat gives birth to only one baby a year.

Sylva pedestrian plan takes shape

The Town of Sylva finalized an agreement with the N.C. Department of Transportation last week that clears the way for a continuous sidewalk to Dillsboro.

The town will pitch in $83,000 to build the missing link and maintain the sidewalk, and N.C. DOT will cover the remaining costs.

The sidewalk extension has been a goal for the town board since 2008 and pre-dated Sylva’s pedestrian planning process. But it’s a success story that motivates Town Commissioner Sarah Graham to create similar partnerships in the future.

“You’ll be able to walk from Dillsboro to Webster on the sidewalk, and it just shows how easy it is to partner on projects like this,” Graham said.

When the 4,000-foot extension is completed this summer, it will connect Sylva’s sidewalks to Dillsboro’s by filling in a gap along West Main Street between Mark Watson Park and Jackson Village. The pedestrian planning process initiated in November was intended to lay a blueprint for similar pedestrian improvement projects in the future and to provide a platform for partnering with Jackson County and the DOT.

“I think everyone understands that the money to buy a bunch of sidewalks is not there right now,” Graham said. “But we wanted to hear from the community whether they shared the town board’s ideas about making the town more friendly to pedestrians.”

The town used a $20,000 N.C. DOT grant to hire Donald Kostelec, a consultant from the Asheville office of The Louis Berger Group, to oversee the process and provide technical input. The steering committee –– which includes Graham, Emily Elders, the county’s greenways coordinator, and Ryan Sherby of the Southwestern Commission –– began meeting in early November to develop a vision for the plan.

Last month, residents from a range of Sylva communities gathered for focus groups and offered input that would ultimately shape the plan’s direction.

The focus groups confirmed that the pedestrian plan would zero in on solutions for three primary areas –– Skyland Drive, Mill Street in the downtown district and the N.C. 107 commercial corridor.

Graham said the meetings helped create a consensus about how to focus the planning effort by bringing together residents from distinct neighborhoods.

Both Mill Street and N.C. 107 are commercial corridors that are currently dangerous for pedestrians because of their high-volume traffic and noticeable lack of safe crosswalks.

Kostelec said his intent with the focus groups was to zero in on the physical challenges presented by the areas that need improvement.

“We wanted to get down to identifying on the map where exactly people walk then figure out where those patterns will move in the future,” Kostelec said.

The town used a pedestrian survey to get input from residents. The survey asks people where they walk, how often, and where they would like to be able to walk in the future.

Kostelec said each of the three areas pegged for improvement comes with its own set of challenges. Skyland Drive is an area in need of new sidewalks, which are costly. The goal is to connect Sylva’s downtown with the Harris Regional Hospital campus and Skyland’s commercial district.

“Doing that type of project in one chunk is not going to be possible for a town of Sylva’s size,” Kostelec said.

Kostelec said he is still working on pinning down the right of way restrictions on Skyland, an old state highway route, to see if there is room for a separated sidewalk between the road and train tracks.

N.C. 107 is a heavily trafficked part of town that is cursed by a narrow right of way. Kostelec said any plan to improve the sidewalks would involve getting easements from neighboring property owners.

Mill Street is an area that could see marked improvement at a relatively modest price point because it’s not a terribly long stretch to tackle. But because the road is maintained by the DOT, any work there is contingent on good cooperation between the town and the department, Graham said.

“The implementation will have a lot to do with cooperation from DOT, because Mill Street is a DOT road,” Graham said. “I’m hoping if we have a plan in hand and we’ve been through the process and we know what we want, that those negotiations will be a lot easier.”

The Pedestrian Plan will be showcased at an open house during the Greening Up the Mountains Festival on April 24. Sylva’s Pedestrian Plan Survey is available at www.townofsylva.org.

Dillsboro, WCU move forward with marketing relationship

Leaders of the town of Dillsboro and members of Western Carolina University’s faculty unveiled the framework for an ongoing partnership that will help Dillsboro build a business identity.

Discussions between former mayor Jean Hartbarger and WCU Chancellor John Bardo last year led to interest in a partnership that would turn Dillsboro into a learning lab for WCU’s College of Business while providing the town with much-needed resources at a difficult moment in its history.

Reeling from the loss of the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, the force behind Dillsboro’s tourist-driven retail economy, and from the highly publicized and protracted struggle over its dam, the town is looking ahead at an uncertain future.

Last week, WCU public relations professor, Dr. Betty Farmer, and Dillsboro Mayor Mike Fitzgerald announced to members of the public at the Applegate Inn the outline for the partnership. Nearly 20 members of WCU’s teaching faculty were present at the event, and they took turns explaining how they would use their students to accomplish tasks that would benefit the town over the course of the next year.

Building from a consulting project the town undertook on its own, WCU’s business college plans to start by targeting “low-hanging fruit.” By increasing the town’s Web presence, creating a town newsletter, developing a schedule of common business hours, and strengthening the ties between the campus community and the town, the project would move towards creating a distinct marketing strategy for Dillsboro by the end of the year.

“We want you to know that this is the starting place and not the be all and end all,” Farmer said.

Farmer explained that the town has to have a strong voice in the partnership and that none of the solutions identified by classes would be imposed on merchants or the town leadership.

In keeping with that principle, one of the primary functions of the business college will be to conduct surveys of the town’s vendors and customers to develop a statistical framework for marketing decisions.

Brenda Anders, a town merchant who runs Dogwood Crafters, was pleased by what she saw.

“I was impressed by everyone’s excitement and I’m really surprised by WCU’s level of involvement,” Anders said. “It’s been like that at every meeting.”

Students in WCU’s public relations program, Garrett Richardson and Lauren Gray, showed their enthusiasm for the project by explaining how they could help create a vibrant e-newsletter linked to social networking sites.

“In two or three sentences, can you differentiate between Facebook and Twitter?” one resident asked.

The success of the partnership will likely rely more on the strength of the relationship forged between the community and the students and faculty at WCU than on their abililty to harness social media sites.

Lighting the way Dillsboro celebrates illuminating festival in December

Every year for more than a quarter century, the village of Dillsboro transforms itself into a quintessential Christmas scene, warm with the glow of luminaries and white lights.

This year, the festival, is slated for Dec. 4-5 and Dec. 11-12.

The four-night Dillsboro Festival of Lights & Luminaries begins each evening at dusk, when merchant “elves” illuminate the streets with 2,500 shining luminaries and delicate, white lights adorning centuries-old buildings.

Carolers and musicians fill the air with lively, Christmas tunes and shopkeepers stay open late, treating revelers to hot cider, cocoa and home-baked goods.

In years past, barbershop quartets, and youngsters decked out in Madrigal costumes, have wandered about town, singing traditional songs.

“If you’re having trouble getting into the holiday spirit, this festival will do wonders,” said Julie Spiro of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce. “We’re often told that visiting the luminaries festival is like stepping into a Christmas painting.”

“Dillsboro is a wonderful town for strolling, shopping and dining, especially during the holidays. With dozens of unique shops and craft studios, we offer something for everyone. Our warm-hearted shopkeepers are ready to welcome visitors, and our traditional luminary festival is a delightful return to Christmases past that will fill you with holiday cheer,” says Dawn Hummel, vice president of the merchants association.

Susan Leveille, owner of the Oaks Gallery in Dillsboro, says the festival was a little different 26 years ago when a handful of merchants initiated what would become an annual tradition.

There were no electric white lights then, just the flicker of luminaries “lighting the way for the Christ child,” Leveille said.

“People were asked to turn their headlights off and leave just parking lights on,” said Leveille. “It was just beautiful.”

One of the merchants suggested starting the festival in Dillsboro to express gratitude to the community and celebrate the holiday with neighbors and friends.

Leveille has created her own tradition of welcoming visitors to her gallery with some of her favorite Christmas smells, including fresh greenery and hot apple cider.

Janet Chinners, co-chair of the luminaries festival committee and owner of Country Traditions, said she has been preparing for this year’s festival for a month now.

The committee has ordered thousands of special candles that burn for at least four hours each.

Chinners said more than a thousand people show up every year to take a step back in time with the Dillsboro festival.

Dawn Hummel, vice president of Dillsboro’s Merchant’s Association, said other towns in Western North Carolina may have started similar traditions of their own, but Dillsboro’s festival is “extra special.”

“It’s magical, it’s traditional, it’s just what I envision Christmas should be,” said Hummel.

For more information about the 2009 Dillsboro Lights and Luminaries Festival contact David Gates 828.586.3891 or Janet Chinners 828.586.1600. Visit the town Web site at www.visitdillsboro.org.

New leaders to forge future for Dillsboro with or without railroad

Faced with a collapsing tourism marketplace caused by a national recession and the pullout of its featured attraction — the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad –– Dillsboro’s voters elected a new leadership team to steer the town towards an uncertain future.

David Gates, one of the winning candidates, wants the tourist railroad to resume operations in Dillsboro.

“I would like to work real hard to re-establish our relationship with the railroad and try to get them back into Dillsboro. It was our number one draw, and it was a win-win situation,” Gates said.

All five positions on the town board and its mayor’s seat were up for grabs during Tuesday’s election with eight challengers and only one incumbent vying for the spots.

While attracting tourism and increasing its revenue base are the most pressing local issues, Dillsboro has also been at the center of one of Western Carolina’s most contentious environmental fights.

Jackson County is battling Duke Energy in federal court to prevent the Fortune 500 company from tearing down the historic Dillsboro Dam. Depending on who wins the court case, the dam could be taken down by Duke or turned over to the county to be included in a riverfront park development.

Going into the election, most of the candidates said attracting tourism and re-building the town’s economic base were their focus, and, while the dam fight was close to their hearts, its outcome was out of their hands as a result of a stakeholder settlement agreement signed years ago.

The mayoral race pitted local business owners Teresa Dowd and Michael Fitzgerald against one another. Fitzgerald –– who has served as the vice mayor for the past four years –– won election with nearly 75 percent of the vote.

Fitzgerald said a key component in planning for the town’s future will be expanding and formalizing its relationship with Western Carolina University, which is helping the town create a long-term vision and brainstorm on how to boost a local economy slammed by the recession and the train’s departure.

“We don’t have a formal arrangement but we will have someone working with their departmental liaison to look at all the possibilities,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald said it was important to harness the university’s resources and ideas before determining the best way forward for the town.

“If a business person were going to open in our town it would be good to see what kind of businesses are likely to succeed beforehand,” Fitzgerald said.

Jimmy Cabe, the only incumbent to run for re-election to the town board, was the leading vote-getter in the race.

Cabe also emphasized the importance of pursuing a partnership with WCU that would benefit the town’s merchants and its residents.

“I’m kind of looking at the partnership with Western benefiting the whole town, not just the merchants,” Cabe said, adding that he hoped the college would help the town develop its use of alternative energy production.

 

Dillsboro
Mayor, 4-year term

Michael Fitzgerald    53

Teresa Dowd    16

 

Town board

Seats up for election:    5

Total seats on board:    5

Jimmy Cabe (I)    57

Tim Parris    56

David Gates    51

K David Jones    50

Joseph Riddle    32

Walter Cook    25

Emma Wertenberger    22

TJ Walker    18

Charles Wise    18

Registered voters:    175

Voter turnout:    26%

Election guaranteed to bring new leadership in Dillsboro

This November, the Town of Dillsboro will elect all five members of its town board, along with a new mayor to replace Jean Hartbarger, who is stepping down after eight years as mayor and eight years as alderwoman.

One incumbent and eight challengers are hoping for a spot on the five-person town board. Another alderman has decided to run for mayor, facing competition from one other challenger. The town board members and the new mayor, who does not hold voting power, will each serve a four-year term.

In those next four years, Dillsboro’s leaders will formulate a strategy to win back the hordes of tourists — about 60,000 annually — who once came to take trips on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, which pulled out of town in July 2008.

The excursion railroad’s headquarters were in Dillsboro before the company moved all its operations to Bryson City.

The Town of Dillsboro recently partnered up with Western Carolina University to create a long-term vision for the municipality and brainstorm on how to boost a local economy slammed both by the recession and the train’s departure.

Another major issue facing the town is the fate of Dillsboro Dam.

Jackson County is battling it out with Duke Energy in federal court to prevent the Fortune 500 company from tearing down the dam.

Depending on who wins, the dam could be taken down by Duke or taken over by the county to be included in a riverfront park.

Many Dillsboro residents are infuriated with Duke and have circulated petitions to save the historic dam. Candidates for mayor and the town board recently weighed in on both key issues and discussed their vision for Dillsboro.

 

Mayor – pick 1

 

Teresa Dowd, 59, owner of West Carolina Internet Café

Dowd wants to work closely with Jackson County and the Town of Sylva, as well major employers, to help promote the town in a much more effective manner.

“I want to see the merchants not just survive, but thrive, and help them find the right niche.” Dowd said many ideas are floating around with the WCU initiative, but she would make sure those ideas are properly implemented.

Dowd added that businesses in town would do well to stay open later, thereby meeting residents’ needs.

Dowd, who is the chairwoman of Dillsboro’s planning board and holds a degree in environmental studies, said the dam is worth preserving. She has been a vocal supporter of saving the dam but said the town can’t interfere with the judicial process.

Dowd added that she hated to see Duke begin dredging backlogged sediment behind the dam in preparation for its demolition. “We’ll have to monitor the water quality, see what’s going on.”

 

Michael Fitzgerald, 57, owner of Fitzgerald’s Shoe Repair

Fitzgerald has served on the town board for five years and is now Dillsboro’s vice mayor. He said the town must redefine the way it does business to attract more tourists — without undergoing a complete makeover.

“We don’t want to look like Gatlinburg with Day-Glo Signs. We’re just a historic type of town.”

Fitzgerald said with such a small budget, the town probably can’t make another major investment until the Monteith Park project is complete.

Fitzgerald said he was asked about the dam four years ago when he ran for alderman. “The answer is the same. Dillsboro is not big enough to take Duke Power.”

Fitzgerald said he applauds Jackson County for trying to save a dam he sees as “picturesque,” but it may be time to move on. “I believe it’s time for it to end. I’m glad we’re going to get some closure.”

 

Alderperson – pick 5

 

Jimmy Cabe, 46, former carpenter

Cabe has served on the town board for the last 4 years. Cabe would like to cooperate with merchants in town and gain more input about increasing tourism before devoting town money to a specific strategy. “I’d be willing to listen to anybody’s plan.”

Cabe also said he’d like to see the town begin garbage pickup and build a sidewalk west of the Huddle House out toward the Green Energy Park.

When it comes to the dam, Cabe said he supports the county wholeheartedly. “My grandfather was the superintendent of that powerhouse. It’s an emotional thing for me ... I would like to see it stay.”

 

Walter Cook, 57, owner of Smoky Mountain Dog Bakery

Cook would like Dillsboro to be a “real living town rather than just tourist shops.”

He envisions a downtown where locals can have breakfast, lunch and dinner, visit a health food store and listen to live music — all within town limits. “We can’t depend on the tourists driving by. We need to market to the local folks, too.”

Cook said he would like to see the dam remain but is not sure it’s worth the cost of pursuing a legal battle.

“If it goes away, I think we should have bargained a lot harder.”

Cook said whatever happens, the town must adjust and do what’s best for its residents. That may include creating a riverfront park or it might mean using that land to develop housing to increase the tax base.

 

David Gates, 48, owner of Bradley’s General Store, Appalachian Funeral Services

Gates said his number one priority is to take care of Dillsboro’s residents. According to Gates, the town must bring in more glassblowers, potters, and local craftspeople to appeal to visitors.

“If we could attract more crafters, I think it would bring a lot of people.”

The dam is a “dead issue” to Gates. “I think the dam is gone. I don’t know that there’s anything that Dillsboro or the county can do to save it.”

Gates said it could end up being a win-win situation. Removing the dam would open up the area for rafting and tubing, or if it stays, it could be put into operation. “There’s opportunities either way.”

 

K. David Jones, 64, retired vice-president of administrative services at a community college

Jones would like to take an active role in promoting the town to tourists who are in the region but don’t know about Dillsboro.

He said he would also search for “more diverse” types of funding, like grants and even gifts, to supplement a “very lean” tax base. Jones wants to work with WCU in all aspects, including on environmental issues.

Jones said the dam is a “non-issue” for the town. “I’m not real sure that we should resist the dam efforts any further. ... It’s over with.”

 

Tim Parris, 54, mechanic and DOT worker

Parris said he favors increasing the tax base by attracting more businesses to town. “Everybody’s going to have to sit down and work together and get something back in Dillsboro.”

Parris said he would also like to see more support to keep the dam in Dillsboro. “They always talk about green energy, why get rid of one?”

 

Joseph Riddle, 69, retired car dealership manager

Riddle said Dillsboro is not big enough to bring in a major new attraction. “You can’t put a Dollywood here. There’s just not enough space.”

Riddle said there’s not much the town can do until the economy improves, but he believes the partnership with WCU is a positive development. Riddle said he’s focused more on providing more services to local residents.

Riddle acknowledged that locals feel strongly about the dam, which does draw tourists and is “nice to look at.” He said, “That decision’s been made. I don’t think there’s anything else that can be done.”

 

TJ Walker, 56, owner of Dillsboro Inn

Walker, who narrowly lost Dillsboro’s last race for mayor, said he’d try to bring forward thinking to the town. He would do so by appealing to younger people traveling by and bringing in newer and younger artists and craftspeople.

Walker said he’d love to see an artist’s cooperative or a farmer’s market set up at the old railroad station. He supports cooperating with WCU and Jackson County in general. “Dillsboro has suffered from self-imposed isolation.”

Walker was a leading opponent of tearing down the Dillsboro dam for years. But after settling a lawsuit with Duke to withdraw from the fight, Walker would not comment on the dam. In the past, Walker condemned town leaders for not doing more to join the county’s fight save the dam.

 

Charles Wise, 46, regional superintendent for property management

Wise said what Dillsboro needs is a new anchor for tourism that distinguishes the town from everywhere else in the area.

“Every town has the same thing. You gotta have something that separates you.”

Meanwhile, Wise said the town mustn’t leave out local residents in its considerations. For example, the town should keep parks open year-round, he said.

Wise said he supports Jackson County “120 percent” in its fight against Duke and is disappointed that the current town board did not join forces with the county to strike up a deal to acquire the dam.

He said the dam is a part of the town’s history. “You can’t hold on to everything. ... but I don’t see the reason for why that dam should come out.”

 

Emma Wertenberger, 63, owner of Squire Watkins Inn

Wertenberger is strongly interested in Dillsboro’s heritage, which she said might be the key to bringing in tourists from all around the world. International visitors appreciate the small-town American charm that Dillsboro represents, she said.

According to Wertenberger, restoring the Monteith farmstead could bring a big boost to tourism. Wertenberger emphasized that unlike the train, the farmstead couldn’t just get up and leave.

Wertenberger said she’d rather focus on cleaning up the waterways and fixing problems with the sewer plant than on Dillsboro dam. “Sometimes you can get too focused on a single issue ... there are other issues that need to be worked on.”

Duke countersues Jackson

Duke Energy has fired back at Jackson County’s attempt to seize the Dillsboro Dam with a counterclaim of its own.

Duke claims that it is the victim of abuse of process by the county and is seeking damages.

Despite the county’s claims that it wants the dam and adjacent river shore to create a park, Duke alleges that Jackson has an “ulterior purpose.” Jackson County has long been an opponent of dam removal, fighting tooth and nail to save the dam before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Seizing the dam through eminent domain was seen as a trump card and last resort held by the county.

Duke argues the condemnation move is “solely for the purpose of interfering with and circumventing” dam demolition, not a true desire to create a park. Duke claims the county has “willfully misused” its condemnation powers.

Duke further took issue with the miserly sum of $1 Jackson County has offered to pay for the property it hopes to seize. The county would be required to compensate Duke for the monetary value of the dam and shoreline property if condemnation is successful. The county argues that $1 is sufficient, since Duke would be saved the trouble and expense of tearing it down, an undertaking that would have cost more than $1 million. That savings should more than suffice as the monetary compensation Jackson would otherwise owe Duke, the suit argues.

Duke said the snub is “further evidence of the county’s bad faith and improper purpose for bringing this action.”

Duke’s counterclaim filed last week seeks an unspecified sum covering attorneys’ fees and monetary damages.

Dam fight between Duke, Jackson goes to federal court

Jackson County’s lawsuit against Duke Energy to seize the Dillsboro Dam and surrounding river shore through eminent domain has been kicked up to federal court.

Jackson County filed the condemnation lawsuit in state court in August, but Duke attorneys argued that federal law is in play and therefore the case belongs in federal court. While state law allows for the condemnation of land by a county to create parks and recreation facilities, Duke claims that the Federal Power Law governing utilities preempts state statutes.

The case could ultimately come down to the interpretation of both state and federal laws.

Meanwhile, the county was seeking a restraining order against Duke to keep the utility from demolishing, altering or removing any part of the dam or nearby powerhouse while waiting for the condemnation suit to be heard. Jackson County wants to transform the dam and surrounding shoreline of the Tuckasegee into a river park and promenade, replete with walking paths, benches, fishing areas and river access. The dam and powerhouse are intended as focal points and therefore must be protected through a preliminary injunction, Jackson pleaded.

But Duke says it does not plan to start demolishing the dam until January 2010.

For that reason, Jackson County’s request for a restraining order to stave of demolition is unnecessary for the time being, Judge Martin Reidinger ruled.

Jackson County can “refile such motions for a temporary restraining order as may be necessary,” Reidinger wrote in his ruling.

WCU ranks highly among master’s degree universities

The latest U.S. News & World Report guide to “America’s Best Colleges” ranks Western Carolina University 10th among public universities in the South that offer master’s degrees.

It is the first time WCU has made the U.S. News top 10 list of Southern public master’s institutions.

“Western Carolina has moved steadily up the rankings over the past few years, and we are glad to see that trend continue again this year,” said WCU Chancellor John Bardo. “In recent years, our College of Education and Allied Professions has received two major national honors, and our academic programs in business administration, project management, criminal justice and entrepreneurship have earned high national rankings.”

Still, Bardo cautioned prospective students against putting too much stock in rankings when they are making the important decision of where to go to college. “After students narrow down their list of prospective colleges to a handful, they should visit the various campuses to get a feel about which one is right for them,” he said.

WCU representatives will hold open house sessions on the Cullowhee campus to allow prospective students to do just that on Oct. 3, Nov. 14, Feb. 17 and April 17.

For information about those events and other information about undergraduate and graduate admissions at WCU, visit admissions.wcu.edu.

 

WCU partners with Dillsboro

Western Carolina University has entered into a partnership with the municipality of Dillsboro to provide assistance in building the town’s economy after the recent departure of the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.

WCU has become involved with the town through its Quality Enhancement Plan, an effort to enhance undergraduate education by linking student experiences in and out of the classroom, and its responses to UNC Tomorrow, a university system initiative to help solve critical statewide problems.

“What a tremendous opportunity this gives the students, and the citizens and the merchants of Dillsboro,” said Mayor Jean Hartbarger.

WCU Chancellor John Bardo said the university will recruit students who are academically prepared, conduct a strategic program analysis of all academic programs and examine the structure of the university to ensure the university is well-positioned to provide assistance to surrounding communities.

The university will try to emphasize quality in spite of an 8 percent budget cut of approximately $8 million, and the loss of 92 positions last fiscal year, Bardo said. Although the majority of those eliminated positions were vacant, about 31 of them were filled. “The WCU family was hurt by the state budget situation,” Bardo said. “All of us have had to take furloughs. We have had to lay off members of the family, and that hurts.”

The university is facing an additional $200,000 in cuts but can manage those without additional layoffs, he said

Lawsuit filed to seize Dillsboro dam

Jackson County has formally filed a lawsuit against Duke Energy to seize the Dillsboro Dam and surrounding river shore, using eminent domain to create a public park and in the process save the dam from being torn down.

The county is also seeking a preliminary injunction against Duke to keep the utility from demolishing, altering or removing any part of the dam or nearby powerhouse.

“Duke intends to immediately begin preparing the Dillsboro Dam and Powerhouse for demolition and removal,” the lawsuit states. But any forays toward removal would cause “irreparable harm as these historic structures cannot be replaced.”

Jackson County wants to transform the dam and surrounding shoreline of the Tuckasegee into a river park and promenade, replete with walking paths, benches, fishing areas and river access. The dam and powerhouse are intended as focal points in the county’s Dillsboro Heritage Park Plan, and, therefore, must be protected through a preliminary injunction against Duke, Jackson pleads.

The injunction also seeks to allow county officials to come onto Duke’s property. Duke had threatened the county with trespassing charges if it attempted to do so, keeping the county from surveying the property it plans to seize or conduct an appraisal.

The lawsuit claims the county is within its rights to seize the property under a state statue allowing for eminent domain for the purpose of creating, enlarging or improving a park or other recreational facility.

Duke has previously countered that condemnation would interfere with an order from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to tear down the dam. Jackson claims that the “order” to tear down the dam is being misrepresented by Duke and that FERC merely granted Duke permission to tear it down. Once Duke no longer owns the dam, the FERC ruling will become moot, Jackson argues.

Jackson points out in the suit that the hydropower operation at the Dillsboro dam has been offline for five years, and therefore isn’t a core part of Duke’s business operation. In addition, Duke no longer has a federal license to operate the dam, having relinquished it in anticipation of demolition.

The county would be required to compensate Duke for the monetary value of the dam if condemnation is successful. At the time of filing the condemnation suit, the county was supposed to deposit the money upfront in an escrow account with the courts.

However, Jackson County only deposited $1. The county argues that by seizing the dam, Duke has been saved the trouble and expense of tearing it down, an undertaking that would have cost more than $1 million. That savings should more than suffice as the monetary compensation Jackson would otherwise owe Duke, the suit argues.

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At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.