MT Raleigh Report | August 9, 2017

MT Raleigh Report | August 9, 2017

MT Raleigh Report | August 9, 2017

A quick report from Raleigh, with updates about last week’s special session and next steps on redistricting.

A So-So Special Session

Lawmakers gathered last week for a one-day special session scheduled when they adjourned their regular 2017 session in July. Originally, last week’s session was focused on complying with court orders to revise many of their voting districts. But days before the session, the court overseeing the redistricting case ordered a different calendar for revising the maps.

So, while lawmakers did not actually take up redistricting last week, they did approve a new calendar for approving new maps.

After approving the new schedule for redistricting, both the Senate and the House tried to work out deals on bills leftover from the regular session. They succeeded on one, Senate Bill 16, the “Business Regulatory Reform Act of 2016” – a hodgepodge of various provisions on a wide variety of topics. For MountainTrue, our concern with this bill focused on a provision that limits the ability of local governments to do more than the minimum to control stormwater runoff and reduce water pollution and flooding.

Unfortunately, the Senate and the House approved Senate Bill 16 with little discussion of these concerns. The bill now goes to the Governor, who has 30 days to sign it, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature.

The General Assembly also took up two other regulatory bills. House Bill 56, “Amend Environmental Laws,” is another collection of changes in a variety of policy areas. These changes included a host of last-minute revisions to the state’s solid waste laws, many of which had not been discussed. The other was the House Bill 162, which started out as a largely technical bill but was transformed into what one analyst called a “quarterback sneak attack against the state’s ability to strengthen environmental rules.” The bill seemed headed for a vote of the full House when Greensboro Rep. Pricey Harrison shamed the House leadership for taking up such an important bill with little notice or debate. Called out — and facing a likely extension of the session over the bill — the House leadership pulled House Bill 162 off the chamber’s calendar. Approval of House Bill 56 also stalled when Senate and House negotiators could not reach a compromise on the bill.

Up Next: Another Special Session

Under the plan approved last week, the legislature will return to Raleigh later this month to approve revised legislative districts that must be accepted by the court in September.

Here’s how the process is planned, at least right now:

  • Aug. 18: The legislature comes into session, with organizational, non-voting sessions of both House and Senate.
  • Aug. 22: A public hearing will be held on proposed legislative maps.
  • Aug. 24-25 – Both the House and Senate vote on revised redistricting plans.

In addition to taking up redistricting, the legislature can also override vetoes and take up unfinished business, including House Bills 56 and 162.

That’s the legislative news for now. Check back here for more MTRaleigh updates as the legislature goes in and out of session in the next few weeks.


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

MountainTrue Raleigh Report | August 1, 2017

MountainTrue Raleigh Report | August 1, 2017

MountainTrue Raleigh Report | August 1, 2017

The latest from Raleigh, where lawmakers come back to town, briefly, this week and Gov. Cooper signs an important energy bill.

Legislature Back for a Not-So-Special Session

The Senate and House reconvene Thursday for a special session they scheduled before adjourning last month. While lawmakers have the flexibility to do just about anything they choose during this week’s session, they are widely expected to limit their work to a handful of unfinished bills left over from the regular session.

That means MountainTrue is on watch for the collection of “regulatory reform” bills that Senate and House negotiators are trying to settle. Of top concern: a provision to limit the ability of regular people, like adjacent property owners, to effectively challenge environmental permits relating to air pollution, mining and other issues. We’ll also be keeping an eye out for a proposal to strip local governments’ ability to regulate asphalt plants — an idea that has local governments in Ashe and Watauga counties particularly concerned. Both communities are currently wrestling with proposals for new or expanded plants in their areas.

This week’s special session is one of several we can expect in the coming weeks and months as legislators comply with court orders to redraw many House and Senate districts. You can read more about the ins and outs of this long-running — and enormously important — saga here. The courts ruled just this week that legislators must complete new maps by September 1 (or September 15 if they demonstrate suitable progress) and that no special election will be held before next year’s short session in May.

Governor Cooper Signs Energy Bill

The legislature approved one of the most contentious — and important — environmental bills of the year in the last hours of the 2017 regular session. HB 589, Competitive Energy Solutions for NC, included positive changes that will improve access to solar energy for many North Carolinians and continue to require large utilities to obtain significant portions of their power from sustainable sources. The bill is far from perfect, however, as it also includes what we judge to be an unnecessary and damaging 18-month moratorium on wind energy development in North Carolina. You can read our previous updates about this legislation here and here.

Because HB 589 included the wind moratorium, it was not clear whether Gov. Cooper would sign or veto the bill — or simply let it become law without his signature. After meeting with a variety of stakeholders, Cooper signed the legislation last week, while also approving an executive order directing state agencies to continue processing wind energy permit applications during the moratorium. Because wind permits can take months or even years to approve, the Governor clearly hopes that new projects will be ready for construction when the moratorium ends. The order also directs state agencies to do everything possible to support the wind energy industry in North Carolina. You can read the Governor’s announcement about HB 589 and the executive order here.

MountainTrue supports the Governor’s decision to sign the bill into law. While the bill is far from perfect, it will help stabilize the market for clean energy in North Carolina and give thousands of individuals and many communities expanded access to sustainable energy. It will also support countless jobs associated with this important new industry.

Help Us Clean Up Our Rivers

MountainTrue is partnering with a number of community organizations to support the annual Big Sweep cleanup of the French Broad, Watauga, Broad and Green rivers on September 9 — and we have invited legislators to join us. MountainTrue member and Senator Chuck Edwards from Henderson County was the first to accept the invite and we hope others will follow his lead. We need your help too, so sign up now and you may find yourself working alongside your representative or senator!


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

MountainTrue Raleigh Report | July 7, 2017

MountainTrue Raleigh Report | July 7, 2017

MountainTrue Raleigh Report | July 7, 2017

Greetings! We hope you enjoyed a fun and safe Fourth of July weekend. ICYMI, the legislature recessed late last week; so here’s a quick rundown of what happened and what’s next at the General Assembly.

Legislature Serializes Its 2017 Session

Last week the legislature wrapped up its 2017 session — sort of.

Typically, lawmakers approve the state budget some time in late June or July and sometimes even later. Then it takes a week or two (or more) of long days and nights of committee meetings and debates in the full Senate and House to approve a flurry of bills before they recess for the year.

This year, all of that took place, but, instead of ending the session for the year, lawmakers scheduled follow up sessions on August 3 and September 6.

The August session is intended to allow the legislature to override any vetoes by Gov. Cooper and take up any unfinished business from the regular session. The September session is intended to focus on the legislature’s long-delayed redrawing of legislative districts. But under the rules approved for both sessions, the General Assembly has given itself wide latitude to take up just about any issue it chooses. The rules also provide for the possibility of a third special session in November.

Effectively, the General Assembly didn’t end the 2017 session last week so much as it simply took a July recess. For reasons we’ll get to in a moment, that’s especially frustrating for environmentalists.

Last Minute, Not So Good Deal on Clean Energy

Before suspending the session, lawmakers approved HB 589, “Competitive Energy Solutions for NC” — a rewrite of state laws guiding the development and use of clean energy in North Carolina for millions of customers, businesses and clean energy companies. You can find previous updates about this important bill here.

The Republican-controlled House overwhelmingly approved the compromise bill several weeks ago with the backing of both Duke Energy and clean energy advocates, including MountainTrue. The GOP-controlled Senate, unfortunately, loaded it with a number of anti-clean energy amendments, the worst of which was a four-year moratorium on new wind energy projects. Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown of Jones and Onslow counties pushed the moratorium. Brown is a long-time critic of wind energy on the coast. He fears that it will limit aviation at important coastal military bases and undermine the state’s efforts to protect the bases from future federal base closures, despite repeated statements from military leaders as well as studies that conclude otherwise.

After a good deal of behind the scenes negotiation in the last hours of the session, GOP leaders agreed, over the objections of the clean energy industry, to an 18-month moratorium on wind projects. Both chambers quickly approved the legislation just past 1:00 a.m. on Friday and shut down the session a few minutes later.

It was a startlingly fast resolution to a complicated bill that left clean energy supporters grim-faced and angry after months of good-faith negotiations with both lawmakers as well as Duke Energy. The final bill puts two large wind energy projects in two poor rural counties at risk and sends a terrible message to the industry about the state’s long-term interest in wind and other sources of sustainable energy. You can read more about the final bill here.

As of now, it is unclear if Gov. Cooper will sign or veto HB589, or simply allow it to become law without his signature. Many of the clean energy stakeholders on the bill have been careful to outline their concerns with the legislation but have stopped short of calling for a veto. In part that may be because they know the GOP legislature has the votes to override any veto. It also reflects the fact that the legislation includes important policy changes that the solar industry needs to keep solar viable in North Carolina. For its part, Duke Energy says it opposed the moratorium but continues to support the bill.

What’s Next?

The legislature’s rolling, on-again, off-again session is particularly maddening for environmentalists. That’s because much of the most important legislation that was left in limbo when the legislature left Raleigh last week are the so-called “regulatory reform” bills. These are bills that are chock full of various changes to environmental rules and standards, a few of which are of great concern to environmentalists. With so much unresolved about these bills and lawmakers at home for the next few weeks, we fear that the already imperfect process for finalizing these bills will be even less accessible to the public, the press and environmental groups during the recess. One provision MountainTrue is particularly concerned about would greatly limit local governments’ authority over asphalt plants, including plants in Ashe and Watauga counties. We’ll be meeting with legislators from those areas as well as local government leaders before the August session on this proposal.

Finally, Some (Really) Good News

The “end” of the 2017 session was bleak for the environment in many ways, but there were some victories. Perhaps the most surprising was the defeat of a House bill that would have greatly expanded the power of the billboard industry at the great expense of local governments and the public’s ability to regulate them. The bill was sponsored by House Rules chairman David Lewis of Harnett County, who faced off with WNC Representative Chuck McGrady on the House floor in what was a polite, but long and no-holds barred debate on the bill. Most political watchers thought the best McGrady could hope for was to take enough votes away from the Lewis bill to allow it to survive a veto in the future. To everyone’s surprise, the debate convinced a good number of House Republicans to vote against the bill. The GOP votes combined with overwhelming opposition from House Democrats to defeat the bill outright. Thanks to McGrady for his leadership on the bill and to all of the MountainTrue supporters who called our legislators encouraging them to oppose this bill.

Another piece of good news: many of you also responded to our requests for calls and letters about a provision in one of the Senate regulatory reform bills that would have greatly limited the ability of citizens to appeal permits for big polluters like cement plants and quarries. We are happy to report that senators heard you on this issue, revised the provision and eliminated much of the language we objected to. We still hope the entire provision is struck before the overall bill is adopted, but we thank you for doing your part in helping with this interim victory.

Thank you so much for your support! Stay tuned as we will keep you posted on the final sessions of 2017 in the coming months!

Get the MountainTrue Raleigh Report delivered to your inbox; subscribe here. 


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Keeping our Watershed Clean One Volunteer at a Time

Keeping our Watershed Clean One Volunteer at a Time


Throughout this spring and early summer, MountainTrue’s AmeriCorps Water Quality Administrator, Jack Henderson, has been working to coordinate a number of river cleanups around the Green River watershed. These efforts help to make our local rivers safer and cleaner for both wildlife and the public.

From Polk County near Lake Adger to Big Hungry and Pot Shoals, volunteers have removed tons of trash from all over the watershed, including broken glass, a lot of recyclables, and even car bumper. These cleanups help improve the health of our watershed, which creates a more thriving ecosystem. As popular spots for recreation, these sites can quickly accumulate trash that makes paddling, swimming and hiking more dangerous and less beautiful. Thanks to all of the volunteers who helped with these cleanups!

MountainTrue is able to thrive with the help of our supporters and volunteers. We wouldn’t be able to do this without the work they do to keep the places we share safe and clean. To be involved in efforts like keeping the Green River clean, check out our website for volunteer opportunities or sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date on upcoming events!

Thank you again to all the wonderful community members who have assisted in a river cleanup this spring and summer. We can’t wait to meet all of our new volunteers. Our river cleanups are a great way to make a difference in your watershed and make new friends in your community.


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Thursday, July 13: Hendersonville Green Drinks: Bicycle and Pedestrian Issues

Thursday, July 13: Hendersonville Green Drinks: Bicycle and Pedestrian Issues

Thursday, July 13: Hendersonville Green Drinks: Bicycle and Pedestrian Issues

Hendersonville, N.C. — On Thursday, July 13, Hendersonville Green Drinks welcomes Tristan Winkler, Senior Transportation Planner for the French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). He will present on recent bicycle and pedestrian issues in the area, and ways that the public can get involved!

What: Hendersonville Green Drinks: Bicycle and Pedestrian Issues
Who: Tristan Winkler, Senior Transportation Planner with the French Broad River MPO
Where: Black Bear Coffee Co. 318 N. Main St. Hendersonville, NC
When: Thursday, July 13, networking at 5:30 p.m., presentation at 6:00 p.m.

Tristan Winkler is a Senior Transportation Planner with the French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and has worked on various transportation projects in Western North Carolina since 2013 as a private consultant and, later, at the MPO. Tristan is a board member of the Association of Bicycle and Pedestrian Professionals of North Carolina, and director-at-large for the Western North Carolina Chapter of Women in Transportation.

About Hendersonville Green Drinks
Hendersonville Green Drinks is presented by MountainTrue and the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy. Come to Green Drinks to learn more about current environmental issues, have relevant discussions, and meet with like-minded people. This is a monthly event and everyone is welcome. You don’t have to drink at Green Drinks, just come and listen. Black Bear Coffee offers beer, wine, coffee drinks and sodas. A limited food menu will be available.


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Finding This Sewage Leak Into The French Broad Rivers Wasn’t Easy, But We Got It Done

Finding This Sewage Leak Into The French Broad Rivers Wasn’t Easy, But We Got It Done

Finding This Sewage Leak Into The French Broad Rivers Wasn’t Easy, But We Got It Done

As I lowered myself into a deep, dark storm drain in the Asheville River Arts District, I asked my coworker “what’s the plan if I can’t climb back out.” She shrugged as I scaled down the drain and reached the concrete creek channel at the bottom.

The infrastructure in the Asheville area is similar to most cities around the country. Rainwater is collected in storm drains, and sewage is piped separately in a maze that snakes under our city and county. The storm drains connect to nearby creeks, and the sewer lines flow down to the Metropolitian Sewer District (MSD) on the banks of the French Broad River, where it is treated and discharged back into the river.  Our rivers stay clean of sewage and bacteria when these systems function correctly. However, if a leak forms underground in one of the sewage pipes, that waste will find its way into our waterways.

petri_dishesIn order to monitor the health of our waterways, MountainTrue has a team of volunteers that take weekly E. coli data at over 25 locations throughout the French Broad River Watershed. That data is uploaded to the Swim Guide website and app so the public knows how safe it is to swim. When the data from Jean Webb Park, on the French Broad River, kept coming in consistently higher than other locations up and downstream, MountainTrue’s French Broad Riverkeeper team set off to find the source.

A delicious meal at 12 Bones led to a major clue when I spotted a stream behind the restaurant, just upstream of Jean Webb Park, full of algae and smelling like sewage. Water samples confirmed the stream was routinely between four and forty times the safe limit for bacteria pollution.

These samples were taken last November and promptly reported for follow up to MSD, which has proven to be a strong ally in protecting our waterways. They take their responsibility very seriously, and have dramatically reduced the number of leaks and overflows from their system, resulting in a much cleaner French Broad River. Unfortunately, MSD’s initial investigations didn’t reveal any leaks. They dropped dye in multiple sewer lines that flow through the area, but didn’t see the dye turn up in the creek behind 12 Bones.

MSD dyeing sewar linesMSD has another tool in their arsenal, a smoke machine. This machine is attached to a giant fan and blows smoke into the sewer pipes. The idea is that the smoke will come out of the ground or a storm drain if there is a leak in the sewer pipe. The smoke test also failed to definitively locate the leak, so our Riverkeeper team went to every business in the area and flushed dye down their toilets. If there was a leak in one of the pipes that connect the businesses to the main sewer line, then the dye would hopefully show up in the creek. At this point, months had gone by and the river season was fast approaching. We knew that additional tests in the creek were needed to narrow down the source, but the creek and the feeder creeks were almost completely underground.

DEQ personnel helping to isolate the sourch of leakThe North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) was the next stop to helping us locate the leak. DEQ realized access could be gained to the underground creek through some of the storm drains. Additional sampling would hopefully narrow down the location of the source. The samples helped, but we were still left a lot of questions. This is how I ended up 12 feet underground in a stream filled with sewage.  

When sampling from an underground creek, we use a pole to lower a sample bottle. As we opened the storm drain and began to lower the bottle down, the end of the pole fell to the bottom of the dark abyss. Cuss words were said, and solutions were tried and failed. Somehow the idea of jumping into a dark hole with no exit plan seemed like the best idea at the time. It took a ripped shirt and a couple dozen cuts before I was able to scramble back out of the drain.

Hartwell Getting UnstuckThe trip down the drain was eerie and unpleasant, but it led us to devise a sampling plan that could finally isolate all the potential sources of pollution. A return trip was planned that would include a ladder and enough sample bottles to get all the data we needed. First, we placed dye in the three major sewer lines that flow under the area. Then, I climbed into the hole again and tromped down the sewage-filled stream, where I came upon a side channel flowing red from the dye that was dropped in the sewer pipe. Now, we had found a major leak and knew almost the exact location!

We called MSD and they showed up within minutes with 6-8 guys, a camera truck, a pump truck and a lot of fancy equipment. The camera was able to crawl through the sewer line and send video back to the truck. After 200 feet of inspection and no luck finding the leak, I headed back into the hole to double check. We dyed the sewer pipe again, and this time the video found the exact location where the red dye was pouring out of a joint in the pipe.

Anna Alsobrook, our watershed outreach coordinator asked an MSD worker when they thought they could fix the leak. We were expecting a slow bureaucratic timeline, but instead he said, “Right now. There is sewage getting in the creek and we can’t have that.” Sure enough the trucks showed up soon thereafter and they started cutting a giant hole in the road to access the leaking pipe.

The pipe was fixed that same day, and there was a sense of accomplishment. Our hope was that we had fixed the source of the high E. coli pollution just in time for Memorial Day tubing. However, a sample taken the next week showed that this wasn’t the only source of pollution. It took more dye and trips down into the bowels of the city to locate a second smaller source.

Again, MSD showed up within 10 minutes of the call alerting them to the problem, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment was dispatched to locate the exact location of the leak. This leak was smaller and more difficult to find, but was eventually located. Since the leak was small, a patch was proposed, but as the patch was being installed the entire pipe burst. Pump trucks were used to reroute the sewer line while they started to dig up the road. By the time the pipe and road were repaired it was 2 a.m.

This isn’t the first sewer leak and it won’t be the last. Keeping the French Broad River fishable and swimmable requires regular monitoring and investigating when new sources of pollution are detected. That’s why our French Broad Riverkeeper team and volunteer water quality monitors do what they do — to make our river cleaner, safer and more enjoyable for everyone.  

Enjoy tubing season!


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.