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Spot land-use plan to mark first forray into zoning

Jackson County leaders have finished the first draft of a planning ordinance they hope will transform the U.S. 441 corridor in Whittier from a mish mash of billboards and unregulated growth into a model of tidy landscaping and mountain-themed architecture.

The U.S. 441 Development Ordinance made its public debut at an April 30 presentation at the Qualla Community Center. It now must go to the planning board for a review, then before county commissioners who will the decide whether to pass it into law. If it passes, Jackson will be the first county west of Buncombe to make a foray into land-use planning or zoning in a mostly rural unincorporated area.

The document, created by a county-appointed steering committee, is the culmination of a year-long process. At nearly 100 pages, it calls for mandatory landscaping and architectural standards, limits the size of signs and requires dumpsters to be screened.

Commercial development along the corridor is sparse now. But water and sewer are being installed along the highway, priming the pump for more intensive development to follow. The ordinance sets out a vision to guide anticipated growth from the outset along the stretch, which serves as an entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Cherokee.

“I know what is pretty and what is ugly is a matter of perspective, but on the other hand, there is signage and a type of building construction that I don’t believe is good for the community or the southern entrance of the (Park),” said Bill Gibson, a steering committee member, at the first public presentation of the ordinance.

Jackson County Planning Director Linda Cable said the appearance of the corridor is critical, since it’s a major gateway to the nation’s most-visited national park.

“This being a tremendous tourist attraction, it’s important that the corridor remains pleasing to visitors,” Cable said.

Gibson expressed high hopes that the ordinance, “will make the corridor both a safer travel route and a landscape over time that will become more pleasing not only to folks that live here, but travel here.”

 

Model process

The process of creating a planning document for the corridor began when citizens approached commissioners with concern over growth poised to follow the extension of water and sewer lines. Commissioners took heed and hired consulting firm Kimley-Horn and Associates in November 2007 to oversee the process. What followed was a series of stakeholder interviews, workshops, and a four-day series of interactive meetings with a team of planners, engineers and architects where public input was sought to create a vision for the area.

The public had plenty to say.

“There was overwhelming participation in this event,” said Matt Noonkester, a Kimley-Horn consultant for the project. “I think that’s what made the vision so important and so valid.”

Billboards were a big issue for people during the planning process, Nooncaster said. Participants were asked to guess how many billboards lined the corridor. Estimates ranged into the 300s — far below the actual number of 68, but a testament to the perception of clutter they created.

Community members wanted design guidelines to address building appearance and advocated for the creation of a development district to guide future growth. They overwhelmingly supported the development of a community brand, which would include a color palette, appropriate building materials and signs of a certain shape and size.

“There was strong support to look at regulating building architecture,” Noonkester said.

They liked the idea of a pedestrian-friendly, four-lane road with a landscaped center median.

Public input was compiled into the Small Area Plan, adopted by county commissioners in April of 2008. The document would serve as the foundation for a more comprehensive ordinance.

The bottom-up approach to planning was lauded by many who watched the process unfold. The Small Area Plan actually received an award from the American Planning Association.

“It was a really good model, not only for the ordinance that came out of it, but also the process,” said Ben Brown, communications coordinator for the Mountain Landscapes Initiative, the region’s largest-ever planning effort. “They chose to use a charette to talk directly to the community and help shape the principals and goals of the ordinance, which makes a lot more sense. That was the first really good example in the region of how to go about planning.”

 

Finding balance

Public opinion was kept at the forefront as the steering committee worked to draft the development ordinance.

Committee members, many longtime residents of the area themselves, had to strike a delicate balance between economic development and retaining Whittier’s beauty and character.

Debby Cowan, a steering committee member, spoke of the her experience trying to reconcile the two. Cowan said she wanted to preserve the area’s natural beauty, “but also recognized that Food Lion was one of the greatest things that happened in our community.”

Gibson also talked of trying to strike a balance.

“I have a great respect for individual property rights,” he said, but at the same time, “some of the changes we’re seeing right now are not in the community’s best interest.”

Though a strong private property rights sentiment might make some mountain folk wary of growth rules and regulations, it’s also important to develop in a wise manner, said Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Vice Chief Larry Blythe. The tribe was heavily involved in the process.

“It’s hard to put restrictions on people’s land, but when you’re talking about smart growth and the long term, we the tribe support this effort,” Blythe said.

During the process, committee members worked to shed their personal beliefs for the sake of what was best for the community as a whole.

“We feel like this is something that was prepared from the viewpoint of all the different people and all the different backgrounds of people in the community,” said Cowan. “While we don’t have it perfect probably, we do think the framework is something we worked very hard to make support everybody in the community.”

The committee’s efforts to include all viewpoints didn’t go unnoticed, said Michael Egan, the county’s consulting attorney on land development matters.

“I was very impressed with the dedication the committee had, always trying to think of the rest of the folks. There’s wasn’t a meeting that went by that somebody would say, let’s step back and take a look at that; let’s consider what affect that’s going to have on our neighbors and the folks who live here,” Egan said.

 

Billboards: Tourist draw or clutter?

The draft development ordinance for U.S. 441 encourages development that helps maintain the area’s natural beauty and character — a style dubbed “mountain authentic.” According to the ordinance, the ubiquitous large, colorful billboards that line the corridor aren’t in keeping with the area’s character, and are prohibited. The ones already in existence will be grandfathered in, however. Under the ordinance, signs are limited to 32 square feet. Preferred sign materials include brick, stone, and exposed timber.

Miami Lively, a representative of Santa’s Land Advertising, which owns a number of billboards, raised protest to the strict requirements at the public presentation of the document.

“You cannot put most people’s logos and directions on a (32-square-foot) sign,” Lively said. “The bigger the sign, the easier to read. We agree we don’t need a whole bunch of clutter, but the business owners are paying taxes for their businesses. If they don’t make money, the tax money isn’t going to come in.”

Lively added that “billboards bring tourism to the area.”

Ron Servoss, a community resident, disagreed that billboards enhance an area.

“I drove the corridor into Washington, D.C., last week, where there are no billboards allowed, and it was just wonderful to see the countryside,” Servoss said.

Noonkester pointed to the commercial corridor outside Sylva off N.C. 107, where billboards have been allowed to spring up without regulation. The road, and the unchecked growth along it, is often used as an example of what to avoid becoming.

“How many people like driving N.C. 107?” Noonkester asked, citing its sprawling strip mall and fast-food appearance. “The people of Cherokee would benefit more if this place keeps an identity they can associate with.”

The steering committee hopes it has nailed down that identity in the development ordinance.

“As we grow, I hope that future generations can look back on this group and say, they did a really good thing for this community,” said County Commissioner William Shelton.

 

 

What’s in store?

Here’s a sample of the aesthetic standards called for in the U.S. 441 Development Ordinance. For the complete ordinance, go to www.smokymountainnews.com.

• Accepted building materials include stone, exposed timber, fiber cement siding, wood siding, and shingle siding. No aluminum buildings.

• Dark and earth-tone building colors are strongly encouraged. Intense, bright, black or fluorescent colors shall only be used as accents.

• Dumpsters must be screened and blend with the building.

• Trees must be planted around parking lots and shrubs must be planted around building foundations. Landscape plans must be prepared by a landscape architect or designer. Trees must be planted in parking lots that are more than 8,000 square feet.

• Billboards are prohibited. Other signs cannot exceed 32 square feet.

Library bids come in well under budget

The bad economy has finally reaped some dividends for Jackson County taxpayers.

Construction of the new Jackson County library and renovations to the historic courthouse will cost the county roughly $1.5 million less than expected. Bids from construction companies came in well below what architects estimated, likely because contractors are hungry for work.

The county got bids from 15 construction companies. The low bid came from Brantley Construction based in Canton for $6.067 million. The total cost of the project will be around $7.5 million, factoring in architect fees, site work and the dreaded-but-expected cost overruns.

“We did a thorough background check on their history of service and we found it to be almost impeccable,” said County Manager Ken Westmoreland. “So without reservation we recommend Brantley.”

Brantley’s recent projects in Western North Carolina include a multi-million expansion of the Asheville Airport, the $4 million Child Development Center on the campus of Haywood Community College, two new fire stations in Asheville at about $2 million a piece, and renovations to buildings at Western Carolina University.

In the blueprints for the new library and courthouse renovations, the county had identified several small items as extras that could be cut to save money if needed. Since the bid came in lower than expected, county commissioners chose to include all the extras. These include a rear terrace, second floor balcony and soft lighting on the steps leading from the courthouse to Main Street. (The steps are slated for renovation as part of the project.)

One extra gave rise to discussion among commissioners, however. Commissioner Tom Massie questioned the wisdom of a stained-glass skylight, which isn’t a true skylight but instead will be illuminated by electric lights behind the stained glass. The price tag was $96,000.

“The reality is that’s a fake skylight,” Massie said. “I just wonder if we really need that.”

Commissioner William Shelton said that if the stained-glass faux skylight was eliminated, some other type of lighting would be needed in its place. The county wouldn’t realize the full savings of $96,000 by cutting the decorative feature, but only the difference between the two, Shelton said. Commissioner Brian McMahan said the county should spring for the aesthetic touch, especially in light of the fundraising campaign.

“I think a lot of people who have made donations in this charity drive are trying to build something that will be a showcase for Jackson County and something we can be proud of,” McMahan said.

Mary Selzer, chairman of the Friends of the Library fundraising committee, advocated for the stained-glass perk.

“That has been a feature of great interest to the community as we have talked about the building,” Selzer said.

The commissioners voted unanimously to approve the bid with all the extras, for a base construction cost of $6.067 million, not counting contingencies.

New library complex will honor courthouse heritage

In Massachusetts, a vacant textile mill is now an art museum. An old city hall became a restaurant. In California, a sprawl of empty factories were transformed into a shopping district. Across the country, vacant industrial sites as well as landmark buildings are taking on different roles and a brand new life in projects that architects describe as “adaptive reuse.”

In 2010 Jackson County will complete its own example of modern Main Street redevelopment with the reopening of the restored historic courthouse and its new addition as the Jackson County Public Library Complex. Construction is scheduled to begin in May on the twin projects, which reflect more than a decade of discussion and planning by the community.

“In architectural designs nowadays, the emphasis is on being green and on recycling what we have,” said Donnie Love, historic preservation specialist at South Carolina-based McMillan Smith and Partners, architect for the project. “There’s just nothing more green than the reuse of an existing building like the Jackson County Courthouse, which was so important in the history of the county.”

The renovation of the 95-year-old structure and its expansion to provide modern, multimillion-dollar library facilities has won widespread community support. The project has raised local awareness about historic preservation and the benefits of bringing a new life and role to a landmark structure while retaining much of its original look and feel.

“The courthouse played such a large role in the past and now it will have an important role for a long time in the future. This is a terrific accomplishment for the people of Jackson County,” said Sylva native Ronnie Smith, one of the founders of McMillan Smith and Partners.

When the restoration is complete in 2010, the courthouse will house Jackson County’s Historical Association, Genealogical Society and Arts Council, and an auditorium. The 20,000-square-foot library to be built onto the back of the courthouse will have many of the same architectural details as the older building. A two-story atrium will connect the two buildings.

“This location is an ideal spot for the library,” said Smith. “People are going to be drawn to that location, and the buildings will see a lot of use.”

The project is expected to cost around $7.5 million, being paid for by the county. A campaign by the Friends of the Jackson County Main Library to raise an additional $1.6 million to be used for furnishings, fixtures and equipment has already raised nearly half of its goal.

“In some modern development, there has been a shift away from the adaptive reuse of historic buildings like this because of the fear that it would be too expensive to renovate them,” said Love. “The Jackson County project is a good example of how that’s not always true. The courthouse did fine in studies of what it would need to be brought back to a functioning facility, and because of the proximity to downtown, it was a great location for a new library.”

The Neoclassicism architecture of the courthouse was from the design of Richard Sharp Smith, one of the architects for the Biltmore House. Smith came to the mountain region in 1890 at the request of George Vanderbilt. He was a resident architect employed to help with the design and construction of the grand estate in Asheville.

Vacated library could become new home for Sylva police

The Sylva Police Department may find a new home in the Jackson County Public Library on Main Street once the library moves to its new location.

The building would become available for the police department in December 2010 when the library moves into its new home on the hill behind the historic courthouse.

Police Chief Jeffrey Jamison said the library building would be ideal for the police department because it has good visibility on Main Street and is a good size.

“I think it would take care of the police department’s needs well into the future,” Jamison said.

The Sylva town commissioners directed Jamison to contact the county and ask about acquiring the library building. Jamison said he spoke with County Manger Ken Westmoreland who said that the county would be willing to sell or lease the building. But Jamison said Westmoreland did not quote any prices.

Jamison said the big question now is whether the building will be affordable. He said he proposed possibly trading a piece of town property for the library, but the county was only interested in a lease or a purchase of the building. Jamison said the police department has a lack of space in its current location next to town hall.

— Josh Mitchell

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.

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.

All airport documents requested in lead up to runway lawsuit

An environmental group out of Asheville plans to sue the Macon County Airport Authority and other parties involved in the proposed extension of the runway.

The group, Wild South, wants to stop the runway from being extended, saying the project is unnecessary, will harm the rural character of the Iotla Valley and endanger Cherokee artifacts and burial grounds, as well as other historic sites.

Lamar Marshall of Wild South said a 60-day notice to sue the Airport Authority will soon be filed. Afterwards, Wild South will seek an injunction to stop the project from moving forward, Wild South attorney Stephen Novak said.

Novak said he is unclear at the moment who will be named in the lawsuit.

The organization has also filed a federal Freedom of Information Act request and state public records request to obtain documents related to the proposed runway extension. The records request seeks documents from the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation in Washington, the Federal Aviation Administration, the N.C. Department of Transportation Division of Aviation, the state archaeologist, and the Macon County Airport Authority.

Novak said he hopes the public records will give Wild South a better idea of who should be named in the lawsuit.

The Airport Authority will comply with the records requests, said the board’s attorney Joe Collins.

“If it’s something they’re entitled to see, we’ll certainly give it to them,” Collins said.

Reviewing all the documents associated with the runway extension will give Wild South an understanding of “who said what to whom” in regards to the runway extension, Novak said.

Marshall with Wild South said the Airport Authority is “trying to brush us off,” but it won’t work.

“We’re taking them to court,” said Marshall. “We’re going to sue them.”

The hope is that “damning” information will be found through the public records requests, said Marshall.

The Airport Authority has “definitely not followed the letter of the law,” said Marshall.

Marshall asserts that the Airport Authority and other parties violated the National Historic Preservation Act by ignoring the archaeological significance of the airport site.

Marshall also charges that the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act were violated.

He claims that endangered species in Iotla Creek and the Little Tennessee River will be endangered by runoff from the airport.

An environmental assessment found that the runway extension would have “no significant impact” on the site. But Marshall said the environmental assessment was done without consulting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and based on out of date information.

Marshall said taxpayer money should be withdrawn from the proposed $3.5 million runway extension. The nation is facing an economic crisis, and there are better things to spend money on than extending an airport runway, said Marshall.

“Why dump money into this when it is only going to benefit rich people in Highlands?” Marshall asked.

Moreover, extending the airport runway is just laying the groundwork for more development to take place in the tranquil valley, said Marshall.

New Sylva manager’s salary below state average of similar-sized towns

Though some are complaining that the salary for the recently hired Sylva town manager is high for her level of experience, the compensation is below the state average for towns in that population range.

For towns with a population of 2,500-4,999, the average salary is $71,446, according to a N.C. League of Municipalities survey from last July. The new Sylva Town Manager Adrienne D. Isenhower will make $60,678 a year.

Sylva has a population of about 2,500, while Canton, which hired a new town manager last week and has a population of 4,200, is paying the position $77,002. The new Canton manager, however, had been assistant town manager for about eight years and is a past Maggie Valley town manager, said Canton Mayor Pat Smathers.

Also of concern is Isenhower’s amount of experience.

Sylva town board members Harold Hensley and Ray Lewis voted against hiring her because they think she lacks experience, especially in key areas of managing a budget.

Isenhower has three years of experience with the city of Lenoir as well as internships.

Smathers said he thinks that is ample experience to move up to being manager for a town the size of Sylva.

“To be a city planner in a city the size of Lenoir and then move on to a manager position in a town the size of Sylva is a natural progression,” said Smathers.

As the population of a town increases, so does the salary for the manager. For instance, the town manager in Waynesville, which has a population just under 10,000, makes $110,768 a year.

The salary for the town of Bryson City, population 1,492, is $51,958.

Hensley and Lewis questioned why the new manager would make more than former manager Jay Denton who was fired in September. Denton was making $53,000 a year.

Denton also questioned the thinking of commissioners Stacy Knotts, Sarah Graham and Maurice Moody on paying the new manager more than he was getting paid.

“If I was sitting on that board I would think that was high,” Denton told The Smoky Mountain News.

Denton said salaries should be based on experience.

“In my expert opinion that is a fair salary for an experienced manager. They fired me when I was doing a good job and providing services,” said Denton. “And they hired someone with no experience in management.”

Denton said he started out making $45,000 three years ago, and he has a master’s in public administration like Isenhower, but he also had almost three years of experience as the Jackson County manager.

“The board gave me pay raises based on what they thought I should make for the performance I was giving them,” said Denton.

Salaries are also based on the size of a town’s budget and the number of employees it has. Sylva has about 27 employees and a $2.26 million budget.

Ninety percent of a town manager’s job is managing a budget, said Denton. The budget he put together last year was very tight and the town will have to dip into its reserve fund to cover the new manager’s salary, according to Denton.

Hensley said he supported David Steinbicker of Sylva for the manager position because he is a lawyer, CPA, and oversaw a $37 million budget for the Jackson County Board of Education.

He can’t understand why Graham, Moody and Knotts would support Isenhower over Steinbicker.

“It’s beyond me,” Hensley said. “I’m dumbfounded.”

Knotts would not elaborate on why she didn’t support Steinbicker, saying it’s a personnel matter.

Mayor Brenda Oliver did not vote on the town manager but said she thinks Isenhower will do a great job. Oliver particularly liked Isenhower’s planning background and thinks the salary is “appropriate.”

Oliver also liked that Isenhower graduated from Appalachian State University. Oliver said ASU has one of the best public administration master’s programs in the country.

Denton, who graduated from Western Carolina University in Sylva with a master’s in public administration, said WCU’s program is just as good, if not better, than ASU’s.

Water task force gives a glimpse of the future

Sometimes what at first seems utterly ridiculous turns out to be a foreshadowing. It’s happening with water use in this country, and we expect in the not-too-distant future this resource won’t be taken for granted as it is today.

The Jackson County Water Study Task Force is going to disband after studying the county’s troubling water situation and making some common sense recommendations. Those ideas — which are not suggestions for regulations since the task force has no authority — include installing water saving devices in homes, modifying ordinances to prevent stormwater runoff, and reusing wastewater for irrigation, to name a few.

Here’s what’s happening in Jackson County and elsewhere in the mountains. It seems many wells are going dry with increasing frequency in this ongoing drought. The task force members estimate that as many as 25 percent of all new wells are replacement water supplies. The wells on these properties have simply stopped producing or have been so depleted they are sending up just a trickle of water.

Americans — especially in the East and especially in the mountains — have never worried much about our water. But as more homes are built in rural areas, meaning more well pumps sucking up groundwater, the plethora of creeks and springs we see around us does not translate into a similar plethora of water in the underground aquifers. So while more and more people use water from the same aquifers, runoff from solid surfaces means less and less of the rain goes into the ground to recharge aquifers. More water use, less recharging of aquifers, and a drought all add up to a big problem.

It’s almost laughable when one looks at how much water Americans consume. According to the American Water Works Association, the average person uses 69 gallons of water a day. Showers, toilets and washing machines account for about 68 percent of that amount. The Jackson County Water Task Force found that, on average, residents hooked up to the Tuckasegee Water and Sewer Association use 26 percent more than the average U.S. family.

At some point all this unregulated water use will change. Those who don’t believe that need only remember the stories of travelers — and this was into the late 1990s — returning from Europe or Third World countries who would come back laughing about how everyone overseas drank water out of bottles. “They’ll never be able sell water in the U.S.,” was the common refrain.

As it turns out, we will buy water from bottles, and lots of it. And towns with plentiful water supplies like Waynesville are now asking residents to voluntarily reduce usage. A bill discussed in last year’s General Assembly would have metered private wells to determine how much water is being used in households, presumably to consider affixing a tax or usage fee of some kind to those who use too much.

The only responsible option is to take advantage of available methods and reduce water use. Ask local leaders if they have plans for this looming problem. It’s much smarter to wean ourselves voluntarily rather than digging a deeper hole that will — sooner than later — lead to draconian government regulations.

Duke Energy, Jackson argue cases in court

Duke Energy and Jackson County appeared in court Monday (March 16) to argue over permits related to the removal of the Dillsboro dam.

An attorney for Duke Energy said the court should order the county to issue the permits to Duke.

Superior Court Judge Laura J. Bridgers said she will make her decision after she has had time to review all the documents.

The permits are necessary to dredge sediment behind the dam. Before Duke can tear down the dam, it has to dredge the sediment.

Duke asserted that the county, which wants to save the dam, is simply denying the permits to delay the demolition.

Duke Energy sued Jackson County a few months ago, charging that the county refused to issue a Floodplain Development Permit and a Land Development Compliance Permit to dredge 70,000 cubic yards of sediment from behind the Dillsboro dam.

Duke says it has met every requirement for the permits, but the county still won’t issue them.

“You either meet the requirements or you don’t,” Duke attorney Kiran Mehta of Charlotte said. “You’re not in a position to refuse permits when you meet all the qualifications.”

Moreover, Duke said it has received the go-ahead from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to dredge the river and demolish the dam, and therefore doesn’t even need county permits.

Duke asked the court to declare that the Federal Power Act supersedes or “pre-empts” the county permits.

The county said it is not going to issue the permits until all its legal appeals regarding the Dillsboro dam are resolved. Depending on the outcome of the appeals, there could be a modification to how the dam is removed or it may not be removed at all, argued Jackson County’s attorney in the matter, Paul Nolan from the Washington, D.C., area.

Nolan said the permits can’t be granted before the litigation is resolved because the matters are “intrinsically intertwined.”

The county is appealing the FERC order that the dam be demolished to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington and is also appealing the state’s issuance of a water quality permit.

Duke wants to tear down the Dillsboro dam as a form of mitigation to keep operating its myriad other hydroelectric dams in the region. The Dillsboro dam is antiquated and no longer produces enough power, Duke says. Tearing it down will improve the environment by opening up the river, which will also benefit whitewater enthusiasts, Duke says.

Nolan told the court that the county wants the dam to stay because it is scenic, historic and a tourist attraction for Dillsboro. It could also be a source of green power if retrofitted.

FERC ruled that the sediment must be removed before the dam is demolished. Otherwise, the sediment could rush downstream and cause environmental problems.

Duke’s attorney, Mehta, noted that the FERC order states that the dam must be removed by July 19, 2010. By failing to issue the permits, Jackson County could prevent Duke from meeting the deadline, Mehta said.

For Duke to meet the deadline, dredging needs to begin by July 1 of this year, Mehta added.

Duke applied for the Land Development Compliance Permit in August 2008 and the Floodplain Development Permit in November 2008 and still hasn’t received either one. Such permits usually only take about a week to issue, Mehta said.

The county was giving Duke the “run around” over the permits, Mehta said.

For instance, after reviewing Duke’s Land Development Compliance permit application, the county planning office determined that a floodplain permit would also be needed but didn’t tell Duke, Mehta said.

Duke had to specifically inquire as to whether it would need another permit. It wasn’t until about three months later that the county informed Duke that it would also need the floodplain permit, which Duke then applied for, Mehta said.

But Planning Director Linda Cable notified Duke that the county would not issue the permits until the appeal regarding the water quality permit was resolved.

FERC does not require Duke to get local permits, but suggests that it should try to abide by local rules to be “good citizens.” But if the local laws cause interference the utility doesn’t have to follow them, FERC says.

Duke claims it tried to be a good citizen and get the local permits, but the county refused to issue them. Mehta said Jackson County refused to communicate with Duke and built walls around the permit process rather than facilitate it.

Mehta told the judge that the county has argued that the Superior Court does not have jurisdiction in the matter because of the other litigation taking place over the dam. But Mehta balked at that, saying, “You have subject matter jurisdiction on anything that walks through the door.”

It doesn’t make sense for the county to not issue the permits, because the county also wants the sediment dredged, Mehta said.

But Nolan, representing the county, said if Duke gets the permits for dredging it is a “slippery slope” toward dam demolition. For instance, if the dredging takes place, a court may be more inclined to go ahead and allow for the dam to be removed.

The holdup with the permits has caused six to nine months of delay, said Mehta, and to ensure there is no more delay, he wants the court to order that the county can’t require any future permits for the dredging.

By denying the permits, the county is attempting to “derail” the FERC order that the river be dredged and the dam removed, Duke asserts.

It’s “obvious that Duke is right and the county is wrong,” Mehta said, adding that it is in the judge’s power to tell the county “enough is enough.”

There was only one member of the public in the courtroom, Sam Fowlkes, who favors dam removal and said the county is spending too much in legal fees on the matter.

Fowlkes said he can’t understand the county’s wanting to save the dam.

‘“It’s an ugly hunk of concrete,” said Fowlkes, who said he is on the board of directors for the American Canoe Association.

Removing the dam would help his sport by opening up the river, he added.

Jackson ponders solutions to dry wells

A Jackson County task force appointed last fall to develop solutions to water shortages caused by the drought presented its recommendations last week.

The Water Study Task Force came about after several Jackson County residents reported that their wells and springs had run dry. About 58 percent of county residents rely on groundwater through wells and springs for their supply.

It is estimated that 20 to 25 percent of new wells being drilled in the county are to replace existing wells and springs that have gone dry, according to Task Force Chairman and County Commissioner Tom Massie. Massie presented the task force’s findings to a joint meeting of Jackson County commissioners and town boards within the county.

Massie believes the groundwater that feeds wells and springs is being compromised. Only about 25 percent of the rainfall ends up soaking into the ground and recharging groundwater levels, Massie said. To maximize groundwater recharge, runoff must be minimized, Massie said. He said the county currently has no ordinances dealing with stormwater runoff.

Regarding water supply in Jackson County, there are three things to consider — population growth, percent of population that uses groundwater and frequency of droughts.

Water must be conserved, Massie said, noting that Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority users are wasteful with their water, using 216 gallons a day on average, compared to 171 gallons used by the average U.S. household.

Up to one-third of daily water usage could be reduced with water-saving features such as low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators, he said. Education is most important when it comes to conserving water, Massie said.

The task force, which sought short and long-term solutions, also recommends that the local governments collect data to get a better handle on the seriousness of the water shortage. Such data could be helpful during the next drought.

Though the task force does not advocate regulation, it could prove helpful. Potential regulations could include:

• Modifying the subdivision ordinance to require stormwater retention.

• Requiring water saving devices in building and plumbing codes.

• Reusing wastewater for irrigation.

The task force decided that the county and its municipalities would need about $20,000 to begin implementing the recommendations.

Massie recommended that the task force disband, saying its work is done. However, Massie said a Water Resources Advisory Board should be formed to meet regularly to oversee water issues in the future.

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