August 12, 2020
Call For MountainTrue Award Nominations!
MountainTrue staff and board members with our 2018 Volunteer of the Year winner Mike Hopping (center).
Our 2020 Annual Gathering will be held virtually this year on Wednesday, October 21st. Although we can’t gather in person due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we still look forward to honoring MountainTrue members who are dedicated to protecting the places we share. We encourage you to nominate worthy individuals for one of our annual awards. Complete this form to submit a nomination by August 25.
Creation Care Alliance Conducts Eco-Grief Circle Pilot Project
This summer MountainTrue’s Creation Care Alliance (CCA) program held its first Eco-Grief Circle, a pilot project resulting from a growing awareness that many members of the CCA community struggle with significant anxiety and other challenges due to the climate crisis. After hearing story after story of these (and other) kinds of grief, people within the Creation Care Alliance network – two counselors, two pastors and a chaplain – developed this six-week experience to support community members and allow a space to honestly discuss grief and suffering amidst the ecological and social challenges of our time. To learn more about the pilot program, read this blog post by CCA’s Director Scott Hardin-Nieri here.
CCA is launching two more Eco-Grief Circles in mid-September, and is currently finalizing the curriculum and receiving inquiries from a variety of interested people and faith communities. We will have limited space available in these initial classes, but let us know if you are interested in participating in the future by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Equity Reading: People of Color and Low-Income Communities More Likely to Live in Less Nature-Rich Areas
In this article, Alejandra Borunda explores the new data revealing that people of color and low-income people are disproportionately likely to live in neighborhoods with less access to natural spaces, resulting in physical and mental health disparities. She also looks at historical factors that have led to this inequity and talks with Luis Villa, the Executive Director of Latinos Outdoors.
“Nature: It’s not just a nice-to-have amenity,” [Villa] says. “It’s a vital aspect of creating a healthy community. If we want to deal with, to reckon with systemic racism and the health disparities that come from that, well, nature, broadly defined, has to be a part of that.” Read more.
ICYMI – Raleigh Report Live: End of Session Edition
Get the skinny on how our legislators are protecting our environment (or not), featuring MountainTrue Lobbyist Rob Lamme, Co-Director Julie Mayfield and Southern Regional Director Gray Jernigan. Watch the video here.
Green Riverkeeper Co-Authors Op-Ed In Support Of NC E. coli Standard
North Carolina is one of only seven states to still use fecal coliform to measure bacteria pollution. In this column, MountainTrue’s Green Riverkeeper Gray Jernigan and the Waterkeeper Alliance’s Will Hendrick make the case that it’s time for North Carolina to get in line with the best available science and EPA guidelines by adopting E. coli as our new state standard. Read more.
MountainTrue Helps Lead Effort To Protect Electric Co-op Customers From Utility Shutoffs
The Governor’s moratorium on utility shutoffs for North Carolina customers came to an end on July 30, meaning that shutoffs for customers who can’t afford to pay their utility debts can begin as soon as September. Also on July 30, the North Carolina Utilities Commission ordered an extension of the shutoff moratorium and a requirement for a 12-month payback plan for customers with utility debt, but this only applies to the customers of regulated utilities like Duke Energy. Electric co-op customers, who disproportionately live in rural counties with high poverty rates in WNC, are left out of these protections.
MountainTrue is an advocate for equitable and affordable access to energy. For communities to be healthy, all people must have access to electricity and water – especially in the heat of summer, and when the pandemic requires frequent handwashing to keep us all safe. That’s why we are working to make sure electric co-op customers have access to the same debt payment options as customers of regulated utilities like Duke. We have already stepped in to report a co-op with an illegal utility shutoff policy, which had originally planned to begin shutoffs on August 4. Our outreach has successfully changed this policy and put it in line with the Governor’s order.
If you are a member of an electric co-op and facing the threat of your utilities being turned off, please feel free to reach out to us for the latest on this advocacy by contacting MountainTrue’s Energy Organizer Eliza Stokes at email@example.com.
Make Your Voice Heard on Long-Term Transportation Planning in Our Region
This month there are two major opportunities to make your voice heard on the future of transportation in our region: The Hellbender Regional Trail and French Broad River MTP 2045 Plan.
Do you want to see widespread, interconnected trails in Western North Carolina? That’s what’s on deck with the Hellbender Regional Trail, a collaborative plan to connect the various local bike, pedestrian and greenway plans of different counties to create an expansive trail network spanning Haywood, Henderson, Madison, Buncombe and Transylvania Counties. The draft map of the Hellbender Regional Trail is now available here, and public comments on it will be accepted until August 21. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to make your public comment.
The MTP 2045 Plan is open for public comments on community priorities to determine what types of transportation projects will be funded in our region over the next 25 years. Funding for different transportation projects will be justified based on the community priorities with the most comments, so it’s important to make your comment on what you want the future of getting around our region to look like. Speak up for sustainable, equitable transportation options like public transit, electric vehicle infrastructure, bike and pedestrian access and more here by August 31. The draft version of the plan is available here, and there will be a virtual presentation and Q&A about it on August 18. You can also mail email@example.com with any additional comments.
Central Regional News
For Buncombe, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell and Yancey counties
Action Alert: Call On Asheville City Council To Do Their Part To Clean Up The French Broad River
None of our bacteria monitoring sites in the City of Asheville have passed the EPA’s safe limit for E. Coli on average this summer.
The French Broad River is dirty and only getting worse. In 2019, more than half of the sites that we tested (53%) failed to meet the EPA’s E. coli standard for safe recreation. This year the results are even worse, with 69% of sites failing. Of the sites within Asheville, none pass the EPA’s safe limit on average. Our testing site with the worst average results is Nasty Branch, which receives over half of downtown Asheville’s stormwater and flows through the historically African-American Southside neighborhood before discharging into the French Broad River in the River Arts District. Tell Asheville City Council that it’s time to do their part to clean up the French Broad River. Take Action.
Buncombe County Approves 47 New Solar Projects
This past month had great news for solar energy in Buncombe County, with 47 new public solar projects approved! On July 21, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners approved 40 new solar panel installations at county government-owned buildings, Asheville City and Buncombe County Public Schools and A-B Tech Community College. Then on July 28, City Council approved seven new solar sites for city properties. These efforts amount to the single largest public sector solar effort in all of North Carolina.
The panels will be installed by MB Haynes, an employee-owned company based in Buncombe County, and will create about 7 MW of new solar energy – the equivalent of powering approximately 800 homes entirely with solar energy each year. They are also set to save County and City governments a significant amount of money each year by reducing energy costs.
These proposals were approved due to overwhelming public input support before the final votes, as well as when the projects were announced last fall. Thank you to all of our supporters who made their voices heard to help achieve this outcome! We’re excited to build on this momentum to create even more public solar projects in our community. Read more about this victory for solar and the related cost savings here.
High Country Regional News
For Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Burke, Caldwell, Watauga and Wilkes counties
Water Quality Administrator Hannah Woodburn Identifies Major Source of Pollution into the Watauga River
Thanks to the diligent investigation of our Water Quality Administrator Hannah Woodburn, we were finally able to track the source of pollution for a long failing Swim Guide site. The source was an out-of-compliance Wastewater Treatment plant illegally discharging 20 times the EPA limit. The Health Department and NCDEQ have been notified, and we are awaiting enforcement.
Southern Regional News
For Cleveland, Henderson, Polk, Rutherford and Transylvania counties
MountainTrue Pollution Tip Leads to Enforcement Action Against Tryon International Equestrian Center
Our Green Riverkeeper recently responded to a resident complaint of more muddy runoff of sediment from the Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC). The illegal discharge was flowing into White Oak Creek, a tributary of the Green River in Polk County, and was reported to NC Department of Environmental Quality for investigation. We are now working to get a meeting with the President of the Equestrian Center to discuss their past and ongoing impacts on water quality, and measures that need to be implemented to protect clean water. We will continue to hold this egregious polluter accountable, and thank all of our supporters that report pollution issues to us. We couldn’t do it without you! Read more.
Lake Adger Public Access Dredging Project Moving Forward
After years of advocacy around this effort, NC Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) has submitted a permit application to the US Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the public access channel at Lake Adger. This project is necessary because the public access channel has become nearly impassible to boat traffic due to the accumulating sediment delta. NCWRC proposes to use the dredge spoils to construct engineered wetlands on the existing sediment delta – a delta that has been forming since 1925, when the Green River was dammed to create Lake Adger.
MountainTrue’s Green Riverkeeper has advocated for and supports this important project to protect public access to Lake Adger. Thanks to all of our supporters who submitted public comments to make this project as successful as possible and ensure that water quality is protected during and after the project.
Stand Up Against the Asphalt Plant Proposed for East Flat Rock!
SE Asphalt wants to build an industrial asphalt plant at the intersection of Spartanburg Highway (US-176) and US-25, across the street from a low-income mobile home park and surrounded by hundreds of single family homes, small farms and the Green River Game Lands. The site drains directly to Laurel Creek, which flows into the Green River. The developer has applied for conditional rezoning for 6.5 acres to a conditional district to construct the new asphalt plant.
MountainTrue’s Green Riverkeeper and hundreds of local residents have organized as Friends of East Flat Rock oppose this rezoning and the construction of the new asphalt plant. The application will be heard by the Henderson County Planning Board on August 20 before going to the County Commissioners. Take action!
Take Part In Our First Broad River Fishing Tournament
We’re excited to announce our first-ever Broad River Fishing Tournament! While we had planned earlier this year to host a single-day and in-person event, due to the pandemic we are shifting the structure to a 10-day opportunity to participate in a safe and socially distanced way. Go out on your own (or with your very small and safe group) to your favorite location on the Broad River. You can fish one day or all week long! Register for free.
Western Regional News
For Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties in NC, and Towns and Union counties in GA
MountainTrue Monitors Butternut Creek, Lake Nottely During Landfill Leachate Treatment
The former Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition – now part of MountainTrue – has been monitoring water quality conditions in Butternut Creek and the Lake Nottely Watershed on a monthly basis since 2001. Staff and volunteers take samples of basic water chemistry parameters to alert us to potential pollution problems that need more detailed follow-up. We also sample E. coli, an indicator of pathogens that present a risk to human health. In the summer, when recreation is at its peak, we increase our testing frequency to weekly for select sites.
Since Butternut Creek flows through a public park and into Lake Nottely, we have several monitoring locations, including above and below the City of Blairsville’s wastewater treatment plant. So far, no negative water quality impacts have been detected related to Blairsville’s controversial decision to start accepting landfill leachate for treatment at the plant.
Forest Service’s “Haystack Project” Underway In Nantahala River Headwaters
Last month I joined MountainTrue’s Public Lands Field Biologist, Josh Kelly, in the headwaters of the Nantahala River to look at some timber harvest sites that are part of the US Forest Service’s ongoing “Haystack Project.” We saw no water quality violations at the sites we observed. We are still investigating reports of muddy waters in the Nantahala River above the lake, but have been unable to locate the source. If you have any information about a potential pollution source in this area of Macon County, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Streams Draining Cullowhee Muddying The Whole Tuckasegee River
If you live in Jackson County, we’re not telling you anything you don’t already know, and if you’re a member of the Watershed Association of the Tuckasegee River (WATR), you probably know even more about which streams are the muddiest! MountainTrue is assisting WATR’s Executive Director Ken Brown in trying to get the mud flows stopped! More on this partnership in future newsletters.
Save The Date For The Lake Chatuge Shoreline Cleanup On November 7
While we’re still not sure of the actual logistics of this year’s Lake Chatuge Shoreline Cleanup, we plan to hold it in some form or fashion on the first Saturday in November! Georgia Rivers Alive has published guidelines for safely holding cleanups during COVID-19 and will be providing volunteers with neck buffs, which are made of a lightweight material that can also be worn as a face-covering. (We also have quite a few t-shirts leftover from last year’s very cold cleanup event for those who may want to take one home.)
We’ll make some decisions about how to hold this event safely in late September, but for now, please save the date!
August 13, 6-7PM: Virtual Green Drinks with Tony Dunn
Tomorrow’s Green Drinks will feature Tony Dunn, a former US Forest Service Fire Behavior Analyst and a survivor of Camp Fire. Tony will outline how climate change contributed to the Camp Fire and how climate-driven disasters disproportionately impact vulnerable communities and their ability to recover.
August 22, 10AM-12PM: Snorkeling on the Watauga
Take the plunge to explore the unique ecosystems of the Watauga River by snorkeling with us! River snorkeling allows you an unparalleled viewpoint to explore all the nooks and crannies of the Watauga. If we’re lucky, we might even catch a glimpse of a Hellbender.
August 22: Virtual Beer Series Cleanup With Wicked Weed Brewing
Join MountainTrue, the French Broad Riverkeeper, Wicked Weed Brewing and 98.1 The River for another Riverkeeper Beer Series cleanup. Clean up the French Broad River and your local creek, roadway, or neighborhood.
August 28, 8PM-11:30PM: Moonlight Paddle on the Broad River
Join a trip led by our Broad Riverkeeper David Caldwell to do some flat water paddling by the light of the moon. As we go, David will share some of the history of the Broad River and his work to protect it.
August 29 – September 7: Broad River Fishing Tournament
We’re excited to announce the first-ever Broad River Fishing Tournament! This is a for-fun and “bragging rights” only tournament, with awards for “Broad’s Best Angler”, biggest catfish, most unusual fish and more. Registration is free and donations support the Broad Riverkeeper program.
September 26, 9AM-12PM: E-bike Tour of Downtown Asheville
Ride along on our electric bike tour of Asheville led by Chris Joyell, Director of the Asheville Design Center. As we pass through downtown, the Southside and the River Arts District, Chris will share his extensive knowledge about Asheville’s urban core, including stories of how redlining has shaped our city and the highlights (and lowlights) of Asheville’s bike infrastructure.