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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.

Task force aims to fix future traffic snarls

A Jackson County task force has entered the nitty-gritty stage in its quest to fix traffic congestion on N.C. 107 in Sylva.

The group has begun compiling a long list of possible solutions to the congestion. Once complete, it will turn the list over to the Department of Transportation to assess whether and how much each idea could help.

The solutions fall into one of two categories. One is to alter the design of N.C. 107 to handle more traffic. The other is to divert cars off N.C. 107.

Jackson County is split into two basic camps of how to solve traffic congestion on N.C. 107. One advocates building the Southern Loop, a cross-county highway that would bypass the main drag of N.C. 107 and tie in with U.S. 23-74 north of Sylva. Initially conceived as a large-scale freeway, road planners now say it could be a boulevard or even simple two-lane road.

The second camp wants to redesign the existing N.C. 107 and use smaller side roads to handle some of 107’s traffic.

Just how much congestion the task force is tasked with solving has been the subject of debate over the last several months (see related article.) The latest prediction claims there will be around 1,000 to 2,000 cars too many using N.C. 107 during the peak commuter hours by the year 2035.

The projection was formulated using DOT models and growth formulas, and massaged with help of the task force.

Some members of the task force remain concerned over the growth assumptions plugged into the model. The pace of growth witnessed over the past 25 years may not hold true for the next 25.

“Then this overage you are trying to address may not be accurate,” said task force member Susan Leveille.

Those in favor of the Southern Loop want to make the future congestion look worse to justify the road, Leveille said. Likewise, those who don’t want to build the Southern Loop want to downplay future congestion.


Diverting traffic

The name of the game is figuring out how to deal with 1,000 to 2,000 more cars than the road can handle. That’s where the brainstorming process and solutions pitched by the task force come in.

Those opposed to the Southern Loop hope to shows the overage can be handled without building a new highway. Those in favor of the Southern Loop claim the only way of dealing with that many cars would be building the new bypass.

The Southern Loop isn’t the only way to divert cars off 107, however. There are other ways to lighten the load. One is a system of smaller network roads: a system of shortcuts, more or less.

Another option for lightening the load doesn’t involve the roads at all. For example, if more students and faculty lived in Cullowhee, they wouldn’t be driving up and down N.C. 107 to get to campus. The county could enact land-use strategies to encourage more residential development around Western, according to Pam Cook, a DOT transportation planner working with the task force.

“That would be something that only elected officials can change, but that can certainly be evaluated,” she said.

Another option to get cars off the road is a commuter bus between Sylva and Western Carolina University in hopes of decreasing cars on the road.

When it comes to altering the design of N.C. 107 to handle the traffic overage, solutions being pitched include rerouting intersections, adding lanes and congestion management strategies.

Some solutions, when packaged together, can actually result in exponential improvements. For example, an intersection redesign could increase carrying capacity by 2,000 cars and an extra lane by another 2,000, but when done together could carry an extra 5,000.

“We’ll try to strategically group those,” said Ryan Sherby, community transportation coordinator for 10 western counties.

A whole category of solutions falls under the umbrella of congestion management. Congestion management can streamline traffic and increase what the DOT calls the “carrying capacity” of the road. But the congestion strategies might not be included in the numbers game aimed at coping with the projected overage, Cook said.

But the techniques are being considered. A team that specializes in congestion management visited Jackson County and performed a cursory analysis of N.C. 107 last year at the behest of the local DOT. The report from their visit is not yet out, but could be promising, Cook said.

“They may not solve all the deficiencies but would certainly make things operate more smoothly,” Cook said.

Cook said the team would like to make a second visit to examine a few options more closely.

The public can join in the brainstorming as well. Anyone with a solution they think the task force should put on the list to run by DOT can contact Sherby at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 828.586.1962, ext. 214.


Stop-and-start process now rolling

Jackson County task force members are excited with the new stage of their work. The task force was formed six years, but faltered for much of its existence due to a revolving door of DOT staffers, including long windows with no staff person assigned to the task force at all.

“I feel like we are just getting started with what I thought would be happening five years ago,” said Susan Leveille, a task force member and representative of the Smart Roads coalition. “We have been sitting listening for such a long time, and for a long time we had a void of nothing. I am very glad that we finally have an opportunity for input that seems to be genuinely part of the process.”

The current DOT staffer assigned to the task force marks the fourth since its creation, and each one essentially started again from scratch upon taking over. But the latest at the helm, Pam Cook, appears to be in for the long haul and the task force is finally showing concrete progress.

Cook said every solution pitched in the brainstorming stage will get evaluated.

“Every thought needs to be considered. Some can just be considered by discussion, some thoughts will be evaluated through a model, others we’ll have to go out into the field and see if it is feasibly possible to connect this road and that,” said Cook, who specializes in community transportation planning. “There is not a bad idea.”

First things first: How many cars too many?

The Jackson County transportation task force has spent the past several months signing off on a projected traffic count for the future, namely the year 2035. Until road planners had a projection in front of them, they didn’t know what kind of overage they were dealing with, and whether the problem was a small one or big one.

“One of the driving forces behind any road in the future is the traffic projection for 2035, which is our horizon year right now,” said Ryan White, DOT project coordinator in Raleigh. “If we add no signals, no connecting roads, no bypass, in 2035, how is N.C. 107 going to operate? We have to establish there is truly a problem and that will show there is some type of improvement that is needed.”

White is coordinating the planning process for the Southern Loop, which is on a parallel track to the task force. While the task force brainstorms its solutions, the DOT is engaged in the planning process for the Southern Loop. If and when the Southern Loop is chosen as the best solution, the DOT will have a head start on the otherwise lengthy process of building a major new road.

The congestion projected for 2035 turns out to be only mediocre rather than terrible, according to Ryan Sherby, community transportation coordinator for 10 western counties.

Traffic models pinpointed the main drag of N.C. 107 from Lowe’s to the intersection has more cars than it can handle — about 1,000 to 2,000 too many during peak commuter times. The intersection of N.C. 107 and U.S. 23-74 was flagged as a problem area of its own.

“It pretty much showed what we all expected,” Sherby said.

But there are other areas in the county that will be experiencing traffic congestion by 2035 as well, including part of Main Street and Centennial Drive on the WCU campus.

Southern Loop planning has stalled somewhat in a quest for the best traffic projections. The numbers massaged by the task force were considered more up-to-date than the ones the DOT was using, so they are redoing their models accordingly. When done, White will know not only the volume of cars, but theoretically how they are moving along the road.

“We can see how cars are driving and turning,” White said.

Jackson library deserving of community support

Deduction would tell us that in the information age libraries would be accorded great respect, but somehow that isn’t universally the case anymore. Given that truth, it’s encouraging to see what has happened over the last several years in Jackson County as support has gathered for a new library that, after much debate, will be attached to the strikingly beautiful historic courthouse.

After a decade-long community debate that raged with unusual fervor, county leaders decided in October 2007 to put the county’s new library atop courthouse hill. This wise decision did two things: ensured Jackson County residents their new, much-needed library would have wide community support; and it infused the project with a historic and cultural significance, providing a symbol of political and intellectual aspirations that will endure for generations.

There was a time when libraries were enshrined as the world’s primary learning centers. The administrators of the ancient library of Alexandria, Egypt, according to some historians, were charged with with no less a task than bringing together all the world’s collective knowledge. Stipends were paid to scholars and their families to come spend time there. Throughout the ancient world libraries were held in high regard as the keepers of culture and history, and typically they were among a city’s most splendid architectural masterpiece.

Today too many communities neglect these important institutions. As television and the Internet have grown in significance, and indeed put much of the world’s knowledge and literature at our fingertips, libraries could be written off as quaint relics.

But that’s just not the case. Places where people — children and adults — gather to read, write, research and discuss ideas will always be important. Amid the rush of today’s world, a place where adults work and read in a cocoon of silence and where children can discover the profound joys of the written word are indeed sacred.

Macon County has already done its community proud with its recently opened library, and citizens came together to support the furnishings of that facility with their donations. Now the same is being asked of Jackson County residents. Fund raising is currently under way, and almost $500,000 of the $1.6 million goal has already been pledged.

We believe this library is among the most worthy of community projects. It will become the epicenter of the intellectual and community life of Jackson County, and we encourage residents to support the fund-raising drive to the best of their abilities.

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.

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