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A long and winding road

Sylva’s current library opened in 1970 and is 6,400 square feet. The debate over where to locate a new library lasted more than eight years, with commissioners finally deciding to build it as an attachment to the historic and beloved Jackson County Courthouse.

• 1999 – County leaders decide to tear down the historic Hooper House on Main Street to expand the library, but opposition mounts among those who want to save the historic structure.

• Dec. 2000 — Those fighting to save the Hooper House prevail. Renovation to the Hooper House gets underway to serve as the home for the chamber of commerce, Jackson County Travel and Tourism Association, and Sylva Partners in Renewal. Library supporters are left looking for a site for a much-needed library expansion.

• May 2003 — The idea to partner with Southwestern Community College for a joint library on the SCC campus in Webster has been gaining steam. County commissioners see the SCC joint venture as a way to save money, but it creates deep division among those who want to keep the library downtown. A public hearing on the issue attracts more than 200 people, most against the joint library.

• Jan. 2004 — Jackson commissioners, spurred by opposition to the joint SCC-Jackson County library proposal that culminated in the creation of a group called Build Our Library Downtown (BOLD), put plans on hold and appoint a task force to select a new library site.

• March 2004 — N.C. Board of Elections denies Jackson’s request to hold a non-binding referendum to gauge public sentiment on the idea of a joint library with SCC.

• July 2004 — The search for a library site has left task force members, commissioners, town leaders, opposition groups, and the Friends of the Library members torn. Many favored the historic courthouse, but it was dismissed as unfeasible. Finally, commissioners settle on a parcel located near the site of the old Western Sizzlin’ steakhouse in Jackson Plaza. The Sylva town board agrees to contribute $105,000 to the cost of the property. The property was purchased in September, but many still oppose the site. Even the town considers it a compromise, keeping it close to town but not in downtown proper.

• June 2007 — Jackson commissioners pledged $4.2 million to build a new library, but the location is again being questioned. The board had significant turnover during the last election, with three out of five members being new. Commissioners William Shelton and Tom Massie agree to set aside the money but re-open the debate about where to site the library.

• Oct. 2007 — Library site selection debate finally ends with a 3-2 vote by commissioners to construct the library next to the historic courthouse overlooking downtown Sylva. The renewal of the courthouse property as a potential site for a new library was spearheaded by Commissioner William Shelton.

• June 2008 — Architectural plans for the new library on courthouse hill are well-received by library supporters and project continues to move forward. Cost, including historic courthouse renovations, are pegged at $7.9 million.

• Jan. 2009 — County commissioners pledge to move forward with construction despite recession. Fundraising for the library furnishings reaches its half-way point.

Library success rides on public support

Dr. John Bunn of Sylva lived through the Great Depression and said people bind together during tough times to help one another.

The same will stand true, Bunn believes, when it comes to donating to the new Jackson County library during the recession.

Library use actually sees a spike during hard times. When things like movies and cable are cost prohibitive, the library offers an escape through books and magazines. And when people cancel their home Internet subscription they’ll still have the Web for free at the library, Bunn noted.

“I see the library as a fantastic boon to all people,” said Bunn, the co-chairman of the Friends of the Library Fundraising Committee.

A large effort is under way to raise $1.6 million to pay for the furnishings of the new Jackson County Library and the renovated historic courthouse in Sylva. Fundraisers are half way there with $800,000 in commitments.

But the going could get tougher from here. The first leg of the campaign is targeting large donors making up to six-figure contributions, while the second half will call on the general public cutting much smaller checks.

“We still need a lot of broad community support to make this happen,” said Mary Selzer, Friends of the Library President.

The new 20,000-square-foot library will be built onto the back of the historic courthouse overlooking downtown.

Donors should be comforted by the fact that 100 percent of their donations will go toward furnishing the library, not administrative costs, said Betty Screven with Friends of the Library.

Fundraising began last May, and the remaining $800,000 is needed by July 2010, and Selzer thinks things are on schedule.

The library is scheduled to open in December 2010. Construction, including the courthouse renovation, is estimated at $7.9 million, but the county is funding that.


Big money, small money

Even in a recession Selzer believes people will donate to the project because it will benefit the lives of everyone in Jackson County from the “southern end to the northern end.”

Bunn thinks Sylva will pull together to support the fundraising. Bunn’s dad was a minister in a railroad town that collapsed during the Depression, but he saw the great side of people when they would do such things as share chicken and dumplings with a neighbor.

“I saw people reaching out to other people,” he said.

But because of the poor economy Bunn anticipates that donations may be smaller than they would normally be. There will be more competition when it comes to getting funding from the big foundations because of the recession.

“They will be more selective and careful of who they give money to,” he said.

Grants are always competitive and now even more so, agreed Selzer. But she feels it’s a strong project and hopes it resonates well with various foundation advisory boards when they are deciding how to dole out money.

“In a time like this in fundraising you have to take a different approach,” Bunn said. “You don’t go out and ask for the ultimate gift.

He said people will be asked to give what they can at this time to help put the library in place. For instance, he said people may be asked if they could afford to donate the cost of a doughnut or Coke a day.

In the end it is going to be the “little person” who gets the fundraising effort over the top, he said.

“I’ve never seen it fail,” he said. “The closing out of the campaign will depend on the man on the street, the woman on the street, the child on the street.”

The Depression was not the last time he saw a community rally for a good cause. He saw it in the ‘70s when $9 million was raised over two years to expand the CJ Harris hospital in Sylva.

People may also be motivated to donate not only because of the library, but the renovations to the iconic historic courthouse.

“We’re talking about a building on the National Historic Register, an icon, one of the most photographed buildings in this state,” said Bunn. “I know there is a strong attachment of the local people to that building. It’s been used to glorify the veterans of the Confederacy, those who lost their lives in the Korean conflicts. They want to see that thing preserved and kept intact.”

Letters seeking donations might be mailed to Jackson County property owners, Bunn said. That was done for the hospital fundraiser. Bunn said a letter was sent to landowners with property valued at at least $200,000. It cost $1.37 to send out a letter, and the average return was $2.42, Bunn said.

The elderly will be significant donors, he expects because they read the newspaper at the library daily.

Donating to the project should not be thought of as an obligation, said Bunn.

“I would say if they love what that place is going to represent then they will want to support it,” said Bunn. “It represents the history of Jackson County; it represents the glory and beauty of learning. The third thing it represents is the literary heritage of the world. The other thing it represents is the absolute freedom to anyone who wants to come and enjoy what has become theirs.”


Build it and they will come

Donations will probably start pouring in after the ground-breaking ceremony slated for May 17, when people can actually see tangible work taking place, Bunn said.

When work starts on the project with bulldozers and backhoes humming, people may be more inclined to donate because it will be more real to them, Selzer said.

People should be encouraged to donate because books are an important part of people’s lives, said Joyce Moore, owner of City Lights Book Store in Sylva and a member of Friends of the Library.

She added that during tough economic times library usage goes up, but admitted it’s harder to raise funds now.

Building the new library and restoring the old courthouse at the same time kills two birds with one stone, said Jackson County Commissioner William Shelton, an original proponent of the idea.

“That old courthouse was sitting there and deteriorating,” said Shelton. “I don’t think anyone wanted to see it fall in or be destroyed.”

Tying the courthouse into the project may also motivate people to get more involved in fundraising, said Shelton, and may open the project up to more grant money.

Donating to the library and courthouse project is a once in a lifetime opportunity, said Screven.

Once complete, the library and courthouse will hold offices for the Arts Council, the Genealogical Society, and the Historical Society, serving as a one-stop shop.


Money Talks

Every donor of $1,000 or more will have their name inscribed on a plaque or permanent location in the library complex. There are also opportunities for donors to have a certain area of the library named after them; for instance, a donor of $250,000 will have the community room named after them, while a $25,000 donation will get the reference desk named after you.

Donors have already reserved some areas of the library, but there are plenty left. The town of Sylva claimed the children’s area, for example.

The fundraising strategy has been to focus on entities that can give larger gifts before launching the public campaign. With large donations already in place it won’t seem so overwhelming for the public to raise the remaining money.

The Friends have targeted about 10 foundations that would possibly donate to the project. Of those two declined; one donated; and two were recently contacted and haven’t responded. The remaining five will be contacted soon, Selzer said.

The public fundraising campaign may begin at the ground breaking May 16 at Bicentennial Park where there will be story telling, family friendly activities and free hotdogs.

Throughout the summer, the Friends will continue to try to raise money at events such as Greening Up the Mountains, and Selzer will also try to spread the word to the public by speaking to civic groups.


Macon County did it

A similar effort to raise money was undertaken in Macon County when the Friends of the Library embarked on a mission to raise $1.1 million for furniture fixtures and equipment, said Karen Wallace, director of Fontana Regional Library, which covers the libraries in Swain, Macon and Jackson counties.

It took a couple of years to raise the money for the Macon Library with the majority of funds coming from grants and large donors and the remaining from the community at-large.

The bad economy may not hurt fundraising efforts that much, said Wallace, adding that people are sometimes more generous during tough times because they realize how difficult it is to raise the money.

The amount of the donation is not always the most important thing either, said Wallace. She noted that when money was being raised for the Macon County library, that two young boys gave their allowance money to help out.

When the public donates to a project such as a library they have some ownership in it, said Wallace.


The Cashiers factor

Getting donations from Cashiers, which has a lot of wealthy residents, may be difficult because they have their own library, Bunn said.

Cashiers residents will think of their own library’s needs before they think about the one in Sylva, he said, adding he doesn’t blame them.

“They want to see it continue to grow,” he said.

But Selzer said Cashiers residents should be inclined to donate, even though it has its own library.

“This is the main county library and will be connected to the historic courthouse,” Selzer said.

Not only will the library benefit all of Jackson County, but may also have a “multi-county use” with people from Swain, Haywood and Macon also utilizing it, said Screven.


Preserving history, looking to the future

The women love the idea of adding a new state-of-the-art library onto the back of a historic courthouse that they say is the “emblem” of Jackson County.

“This is a class project,” Screven said. “Jackson County will have something it can be truly proud of.”

In the past tourists have been upset when they’ve stopped in Sylva to go to the courthouse after seeing it from the highway only to find it closed.

Much architectural expertise is going into designing the library to make it blend with the historic character of the courthouse.

For example, the signature large arched windows of the courthouse will be replicated on the library. Screven said the architectural design is in keeping with the Friends of the Library capital campaign slogan: “Honoring the Past, Embracing the Future.”

As for the remodel of the inside of the courthouse, it will be done to make it resemble what it looked like when it was built in 1914.

Selzer explained that the courthouse lost a lot of its historic charm on the inside when it was “gutted” and modernized in the 1960s.

The good news is that the architect was able to look at the Madison County courthouse to get an idea of what the interior design, such as the molding, flooring and trim, may have looked like 95 years ago. Screven explained that the Jackson County Courthouse is the “younger sister” of the Madison County courthouse because they were built using the same plans.

The architect, Donnie Love, visited the Madison County courthouse and got pictures of the interior to incorporate into the remodel.

Screven praised Love, saying he is a specialist in refurbishing old buildings for new use and has been on his hands and knees of the old courthouse to plan the project.

The new library will measure 20,000 square feet compared to the current one that is drastically short of space at only 6,400. Selzer said the new library will be the size it should be for a county of Jackson’s population.

With the new library tied to the courthouse and perched on a hill with great views of the mountains and the town, it will be one of the prettier libraries in the country, said Selzer.

The new library will have an outside seating area with café tables, something that cropped up as a request from the public during a series of visioning meetings held during the planning process.

The county commissioners decided at a budget meeting on the project a couple of weeks ago they would go ahead and bid the project with some additional features such as a terrace and faux sky lights that look like stained glass on the ceiling. If those items come in too high they can be taken out of the project.


Renovations and donations

The second-floor courtroom will be renovated and have 100 fixed seats, providing a place for plays, author talks and musical groups.

A need for places to hold community meetings will also be met with the new facility, said Selzer. The ones here now are at Western Carolina University and Southwestern Community College, which are usually only for those affiliated with the institutions, or you have to pay, Selzer said.

The children’s area will be three times the size of the current one and have a story time room. The adult collection will also be about three times as large, and there will be a teen area to replace the current one that is a mere bookshelf. The computer lab will be expanded from the current seven stations to around 30.

People have always liked the way that the courthouse looks from Main Street, and that will not change, as the library will be put on the back of the building out of the line of sight.

There are about 30 volunteers working on the project, and about six to seven are spending “quite a bit of time every month” fundraising said Screven.


Why they’re interested

Selzer said she became interested in the project several years ago when there was discord over where to locate the library. A library should be a positive thing in the community, not a source of frustration, she thought.

Her experience with international finance and insurance gave her the skills to organize the project, she said.

By taking her four grandsons to the library it was obvious it was short in space, said Screven. So with her professional career in public relations she joined the effort as chair of the PR and special events subcommittee.


Big donors push campaign along

The Jackson County library campaign is half-way to its goal of $1.6 million. Donations include:

• $150,000 from the Janirve Foundation of Asheville

• $105,000 from the town of Sylva

• $100,000 from Jackson Paper

• $100,000 from an individual who prefers to remain anonymous

• $15,000 from United Community Bank

• $10,000 from the Sylva Garden Club

• $10,000 from Jackson Savings Bank

• $10,000 from Duke Energy


Ways to Donate

• Jackson County Friends of the Library Web site: www.fojcml.org.

• Call Jackson County Public Library Complex Campaign Steering Committee Co-Chair Mary Selzer at 828.293.0074 or Campaign Coordinator Connie Terry at 828.507.0476.

Jackson undeterred by price tags or economy in pursuit of library

Despite tough economic times, Jackson County commissioners decided last week to move forward with three multi-million dollar projects.

In a capital projects meeting last Thursday, the commissioners reached a consensus to pursue upgrades to the solid waste transfer station estimated at $3.9 million, expanding the Sylva Volunteer Fire Department at a cost of $2.3 million and the joint venture of building a new library and renovating the historic courthouse for $7.9 million.

“We’re tentatively moving ahead while being aware of what’s going on economically,” said Commissioner William Shelton.

Shelton added that if bids come in high the projects can always be abandoned.

There could be even more capital projects on the county’s plate. Another workshop to discuss construction of a Cashiers Recreation Center and Smoky Mountain High School renovations is scheduled for Thursday (Feb. 19) in room A227 of the courthouse.

Also on the table, commissioners got a surprise request from Southwestern Community College to construct a new $847,000 early college building. SCC leaders claim they need more space for the early college program, which allows high school students to take college level courses.

Since the commissioners were just presented with the SCC project they decided to give it more evaluation. Shelton said the county has historically supported SCC, but it is difficult to fund projects when they don’t get presented until mid-year.

The library, which is expected to open in December 2010, and the fire department expansion will stay on track since they’ve been planned for years, and the transfer station expansion is simply a must have, Shelton said.

Commission Chairman Brian McMahan said the current transfer station building is not large enough to handle all the garbage in the county and a new building to hold household trash must be constructed.

It was unknown how the county would react to a $500,000 cost overrun on the Sylva fire department, upping the price tag from $1.8 million to $2.3 million. Fire Chief Mike Beck has said the existing fire department doesn’t have enough space.

Town ordinance requires that an additional 16 parking places be put in because the building is being expanded. A dirt cliff sits in the way of the additional parking spaces, requiring expensive grading.

Under an agreement between the city and the county, the county will fund the fire department expansion. The expansion will add four bays, a meeting room, office space, sleeping quarters, a laundry room, kitchen and storage.

It is unclear how big a hit the county will take from the economic downturn. According to the county finance office, it depends on where sales tax figures come in at the end of the fiscal year June 30.

So far the county has asked each department to cut its budget by 3 percent, which would save a total of $1.5 million.

The commissioners are hoping that federal stimulus money could help fund some of the capital projects. County Manager Ken Westmoreland said the county has submitted a total of $31 million in capital projects to the governor, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Association of County Commissioners for possible stimulus package funding.

The county is waiting to see how much the state will get from the stimulus package and how the state will divide that money up. It is expected to be about a month or two before it is clear how much the county will get, Westmoreland said. Some of the stimulus money may also go toward water and sewer projects for the Tuckasegee Water and Sewer Authority.

Past pursuit of building projects proved less than organized

Commissioner Tom Massie wants to see the county formalize how it funds capital projects.

Under the current method entities simply approach the county when they are in need and ask for funding. Massie suggested that entities fill out an application requesting capital project funding, and then county staff can study the forms to determine if the projects are really needed.

The application would give different capital projects a ranking and help the county prioritize projects. He said the N.C. Institute of Government recommends that local governments handle capital projects this way.

Under the county’s current system there is some disorganization, he said. For instance, he said SCC said it didn’t need anything eight months ago and now needs about $1 million for a new building.

Having a formal system will provide a rational and logical explanation as to why projects are needed. He said since he has been on board, some projects that have been approved were nice but not necessarily needed. The application process would enable the county to plan five to 10 years down the road, Massie said.

Massie made the recommendation to fellow commissioners at a capital projects workshop last week.

Task force seeks answers to water shortages

As a task force continues to probe solutions to the drought-induced water shortage in Jackson County, one idea on the table is passing out low-flow showerheads and aerators for the public to install on their faucets.

Task Force Chairman Tom Massie said despite all the rain lately the region remains in a drought, which is threatening the water supply, particularly of wells. According to the Health Department, 25 percent of the new well permits issued last year were for people who had wells or springs run dry.

The logitics of passing out water-saving devices would still have to be worked out, said Massie. The devices only cost around $4, he said.

Massie said he does not know if the water-saving devices can be given to the public for free. They could possibly be distributed when someone obtains a building permit, he said.

Using cisterns and rain gardens to collect storm water to use for irrigation can also conserve water, he said.

Short-term solutions from the task force are expected to be ready in March and presented to the county commissioners and towns in the county in March, Massie said.

The task force was formed in the fall after several residents reported that their wells had run dry due to the drought. Some were forced to move out of their homes.

The task force is scheduled to meet again Feb. 19 at 6 p.m. in Jackson County Courthouse.

Task force members have learned about the scientific side of the water cycle in a presentation by task force member Dr. Mark Lord, who is the department head of the Hydrogeology, Geomorphology and Soils Department at Western Carolina University.

The average Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority residential customer uses an average of 216 gallons of water per day — far more than the national average of 70 gallons, TWASA Executive Director Joe Cline. That means a household of three is using about 20,000 gallons of water per month.

Cline said anyone with a well should be concerned about it running dry.

Massie stressed the importance of educating the public about the importance of saving water.

Cline said TWASA customers are “wasteful” with water.

Massie emphasized that TWASA customers represent a small number of the county’s overall population. But the large volume of water TWASA customers are using begs the question of how much those on wells are using.

It is unclear how public education could be achieved, but Massie said it could possibly be communicated through county public service announcements.

The task force is composed of a representative from the county and each town in Jackson County as well representatives from WCU, the Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority and Southwestern Community College

Jackson leaders grapple over ending fight with Duke

An effort to end a six-year-long dispute between Jackson County and Duke Energy failed in a 3-2 vote last week, as the county commissioners decided to move forward with the case to save the Dillsboro dam.

County Commissioner Tom Massie made a motion to end the legal fight against Duke, allowing the utility to dredge the river and move forward with tearing down the dam.

Massie has been the lone commissioner in favor of ending the fight against Duke, saying it is a waste of time and money for the county to continue. For the first time he was joined in that sentiment by Commissioner William Shelton.

By continuing to fight the matter, Jackson County is “squandering” taxpayer money on an “un-winnable case,” Massie said, adding that some $200,000 has been spent by the county so far on legal fees and technical assistance in the case.

County Commission Chairman Brian McMahan voted against dropping the case because he still thinks it is “winnable.”

Commissioner Mark Jones said the county might as well continue to fight the case because it has already invested so much money and it doesn’t look like much more will have to be spent to see it through.

“I am for the preservation of the Dillsboro dam,” said Jones.

Commissioner Joe Cowan also voted against stopping the fight.

Shelton, even though he voted to throw in the towel, also favors preserving the dam, but thinks it is a lost cause because Duke has so much more money and resources that it can bury the county.

“I agree with the fight in principle,” Shelton said.


Hedging its bets

There are basically three different tracks the county is pursuing to stop demolition of the Dillsboro Dam and to exact higher compensation out of Duke for its host of dams straddling Jackson County rivers.

One track is refusing to issue certain permits that the county says are necessary to tear down the dam. The county says it can’t issue the permits until the other matters are resolved, but Duke thinks the county is simply trying to delay the razing of the dam.

Another track involves a challenge to the state water quality permit needed to tear down the dam. According to the county, the permit is flawed for a host of reasons, from lack of public notice to the lack of a proper environmental review.

The county got word late last week that the challenge, which was previously denied a hearing, now has a green light to move forward under an administrative law judge (see related article).

The final track deals with a federal permit issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The county says that permit is invalid because it was granted based on the invalid state water quality permit. The county also claims that FERC has not required Duke to provide adequate compensation to the region and overlooked environmental issues related to Duke’s dams.

That case is now pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington.

Through the years, several decisions have been handed down against Jackson County, and Massie doesn’t think things will change.

“I am against a federal court challenge,” he stated.

Massie added that the county’s arguments against Duke are merely technicalities.

The permits the county refuses to give Duke deal with dredging sediment backlogged behind the dam. The county says the silt must be dredged to prevent it from rushing downstream and causing environmental problems when the dam is removed.

Duke says it may not even need the county permits because it already has a state permit. But Duke has said it will not move forward without the county permits. Meanwhile, the state permit Duke is relying on is what’s being contested by the county.

Massie sees no reason why the county should withhold the permits for Duke to dredge, saying dredging the river “benefits all.”

There are several reasons why some want to save the Dillsboro dam. The dam is seen by some as a water feature that draws tourists, while others think it has historical significance. The dam could also be used to generate hydroelectricity.



Duke must have a federal license to operate it series of hydropower dams, but those licenses are up for renewal. In order to get the new licenses, Duke must give back to the area it has profited from.

Duke has profited from using the Tuckasegee River to generate electricity, and therefore should make some payment to Jackson County when it comes time to re-license its dams.

Duke has proposed that it can pay back Jackson County by tearing down the dam, which will open up the river. Whitewater enthusiasts, such as the American Whitewater organization, have favored this.

Shelton said rather than Duke giving something back that benefits the entire county, it is simply pleasing special interests.

Instead of tearing down the dam (which Duke is no longer using to generate power anyway), Duke could give back to the county by providing slope stability and conservation easements, Shelton said.

What Duke is proposing doing for Jackson County “pales in comparison” to what it and other utilities have done in other areas in re-licensing agreements, Shelton said.

Duke may be refusing to give in to the county because it doesn’t want to set a precedent of giving more than it wants to, Shelton said.

Also Duke has proposed to give Jackson County $350,000 over the term of the re-licensing — potentially 40 years. Massie and Shelton agree that $350,000 over 40 years does not come close to compensating Jackson County for what Duke has made off its series of dams.

Shelton said Duke has not acted in good faith and said it is giving “very little back.”

“Our area deserves to be compensated for our resource,” he said.

Shelton said another option is taking over ownership of the dam through condemnation. By giving into Duke, Shelton said he is waving his white flag of surrender but at the same time the flag says, “Shame on Duke.”

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.

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.

Massie questions permit hold-up

Jackson County Commissioner Tom Massie is skeptical of whether it is legal for the county to withhold permits that Duke Energy may need to tear down the Dillsboro dam.

Massie also questions whether Duke actually needs the county permits to tear down the dam.

“First, I am unsure that Duke even needs a permit from Jackson County, as the state of North Carolina and the Army Corps of Engineers are responsible for issuance of any permits for sediment removal within the state’s waterways,” Massie stated in a letter to County Manager Ken Westmoreland dated Dec. 15.

Massie is the lone commissioner wanting to back down from the fight with Duke over saving the dam, urging fellow commissioners for the past six months to back down, but to no avail.

Massie is also concerned that Duke isn’t being treated fairly by the county: “If anyone else had the necessary state and federal permits our issuance of a Land Development Compliance Permit or any others would be simply a formality to comply with our local laws.”

Massie added that the county must avoid any appearance of discrimination against Duke.

Moreover, Massie said the removal of the sediment from the river is a benefit to all, and the denial of the permits can be “construed as petty and/or obstructionism at best.”

The legality of withholding the permits is “questionable” and could embroil the county in an unnecessary legal battle, Massie wrote in the letter.

In the letter Massie urged Westmoreland to make sure the county is within its legal rights prior to issuing or denying the permits, including checking with the N.C. Attorney General.

“If these permits are denied, I would like to have a copy of the formal findings, including the legal basis for any denial,” Massie wrote.

If the legal findings are unclear, Massie urges the county to issue the permits.

County may meet with attorney on Duke permit dispute

The attorney representing Jackson County in its legal fight against Duke Energy was expected to meet with county commiseting Tuesday (Jan. 20).

The meeting will fall after The Smoky Mountain News’ deadline, but be sure to check smokymountainnews.com for a Web Extra or any developments in the case.

Jackson County Commissioner Tom Massie said the county’s attorney on the matter, Paul Nolan of Alexandria, Va., was scheduled to meet with the commissioners Tuesday.

In the latest in the legal battle, Duke has sued Jackson County for failing to issue permits the county says are needed to tear down the dam.

Massie said he will have lots of questions for Nolan, including whether the county has a legal basis for withholding the permits from Duke.

Massie has suggested that the county stop fighting Duke in the case and allow destruction of the dam. The county has exhausted all its legal options in the case, Massie has said.

Massie has questioned whether Duke actually needs county permits to tear down the dam.

“First, I am unsure that Duke even needs a permit from Jackson County, as the state of North Carolina and the Army Corps of Engineers are responsible for issuance of any permits for sediment removal within the state’s waterways,” Massie stated in a letter to County Manager Ken Westmoreland dated Dec. 15.

Massie also called the legality of withholding the permits “questionable.”

The county is requiring Duke to remove 70,000 cubic yards of sediment from the river before tearing down the dam but is refusing to issue the permits to do the work.

The county says it does not want to grant the permits until all appeals regarding the dam’s demolition are resolved.

The county wants to save the dam, and Duke wants to tear it down.

Duke says the county’s withholding of the permits is simply a move to delay demolition of the dam.

Duke, county at odds over permits

Duke Energy, which sued Jackson County two weeks ago for failing to issue county permits to tear down the Dillsboro dam, says it may not even need the contested permits.

But Jackson County Manager Ken Westmoreland and County Planner Linda Cable are adamant that Duke indeed needs the county permits.

Even though Duke doesn’t believe it needs the county permits it has applied for them anyway and doesn’t plan to go forward without them.

Duke is seeking permits to dredge the sediment out of the Tuckasegee River that has backlogged behind the Dillsboro dam. The state is requiring Duke to remove 70,000 cubic yards of sediment before tearing down the dam to prevent the sediment from rushing downstream and causing environmental problems.

Cable said Duke needs a Land Development Compliance Permit and the Floodplain Development Permit, but the county thus far has refused to grant them until the county’s legal appeals over tearing down the dam are resolved.

Duke believes the county is simply attempting to delay the demolition of the dam because the county wants to save it. Duke has obtained a state permit to dredge the river, raising the question of whether a county permit is also required.

“While the state permit and the local permits are not identical, we question whether such local permits are needed and have not received any explanation for the basis of the county’s withholding them,” said Duke Business Relations Manager Fred Alexander.

County Manger Ken Westmoreland admitted that it is “questionable” whether Duke needs the county Floodplain Permit but said the Land Development Compliance Permit is definitely required.

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