August E-Newsletter

August E-Newsletter

To get this in your inbox, sign up for our email newsletter here.

 

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 scott@creationcarealliance.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 eliza@mountaintrue.org.

 

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 mpo@landofsky.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 mpo@landofsky.org 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 callie@mountaintrue.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!

 


Events Calendar

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.


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.

Press Release: Buncombe County Commissioners Approve 40 Solar Projects for Public Buildings and Schools

Press Release: Buncombe County Commissioners Approve 40 Solar Projects for Public Buildings and Schools

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contact:

Eliza Stokes, MountainTrue
E: eliza@mountaintrue.org P: 410-493-7284

July 21, 2020

Asheville, NC At their July 21 meeting, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to greenlight a proposal for 40 new solar panel installations at county-owned buildings, Asheville City and Buncombe County public schools and A-B Tech Community College. Together, the 40 new solar sites will create approximately 6.7 MW of new solar energy each year the equivalent of powering 767 homes entirely with solar energy.

The vote was celebrated by local residents, many of whom submitted public comments to voice their support for the solar projects and had advocated for Buncombe County to pass a resolution for 100% renewable energy in 2017. After that resolution passed, many community members had been frustrated with the lack of concrete progress on this commitment.

“I was thrilled and frankly relieved when I heard that it passed,” said Josh Draper, a rising senior at TC Roberson High School. “Until today our longstanding county resolution, like so many others, was just a vague, distant goal with no practical solution in sight. Now, instead of waiting idly by for the most urgently needed change, we can be productive and set an example for neighboring communities to follow.” 

Buncombe County and the City of Asheville released a joint request for proposals, or rfp, for solar panels at feasible sites on their properties in the fall of 2019. The County and City invited other entities to join the bidding process with the hope of increasing the impact of the rfp on carbon emissions and reducing the overall cost. High school students spoke out in favor of this concept at Buncombe County and Asheville City school board meetings last October, leading both school boards to vote to join the solar exploration. 

“This is the right thing to do for our children’s health and future,” said Beatrice Nathan, Co-Chair of the local chapter of Mom’s Out Front. “I hope the County Commission sees the value in taking steps toward a world with better air quality and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.”

While the City of Asheville was part of the joint solar rfp, it will fund its solar projects separately. As for the County and schools, the 40 projects will be funded by a $10.3 million bond taken out by the County and paid over the course of 15 years. Between the solar rebate from Duke Energy, utility savings and positive cash flow from selling excess solar energy, the solar projects are expected to be revenue positive every single year often by millions of dollars. 

“This shows that solar energy isn’t a luxury item or another headache to add on to a financial downturn,” says Eliza Stokes, renewable energy organizer at MountainTrue. “Instead, solar can be a buoy that helps keep our local economy afloat and creates resilience for the times ahead.” 

The company selected to install the solar panels is MB Haynes, an employee-owned company based in Asheville. Before the vote, several Commissioners spoke to hiring a local company as a key aspect of their support. 

“The idea of doing something bigger, trying to do it together, none of us really knew how it would turn out,” said Chairman Brownie Newman at the Commission meeting. “I really appreciate the schools being willing to go through this process with us, and I think it’s gonna achieve a lot more good for our community…The one challenge I would leave with us is that as exciting as this is, when we look at the need to move to renewable energy we’re still not moving fast enough. This is just the first of many such efforts we’re gonna need to take on to be a leader.” 

Projected Financial Benefits Of 40 Solar Projects (Source: Buncombe County)

Year  Solar Financial Benefit Debt Payments  Cash flow positive? 
1 $   2,623,000 $ 684,000 $   1,939,000
2 $      638,000 $ 951,000 $   1,626,000
3 $      654,000 $ 933,000 $   1,347,000
4 $      670,000 $ 916,000 $   1,101,000
5 $      687,000 $ 898,000 890,000
6 $      704,000 $ 880,000 714,000
7 $      721,000 $ 863,000 572,000
8 $      739,000 $ 845,000 466,000
9 $      757,000 $ 827,000 396,000
10 $      795,000 $ 810,000 381,000
11 $      815,000 $ 792,000 404,000
12 $      835,000 $ 770,000 469,000
13 $      855,000 $ 752,000 572,000
14 $      876,000 $ 735,000 713,000
15 $      898,000 $ 717,000 894,000
16 $      920,450 $           –   $   1,814,450
17 $      943,461 $           –   $   2,757,911
18 $      967,048 $           –   $   3,724,959
19 $      991,224 $           –   $   4,716,183
20 $   1,016,005 $           –   $   5,732,188
21 $   1,041,405 $           –   $   6,773,592
22 $   1,067,440 $           –   $   7,841,032
23 $   1,094,126 $           –   $   8,935,158
24 $   1,121,479 $           –   $ 10,056,637
25 $   1,149,516 $           –   $ 11,206,153
26 $   1,178,254 $           –   $ 12,384,407
27 $   1,207,710 $           –   $ 13,592,117
28 $   1,237,903 $           –   $ 14,830,020
29 $   1,268,850 $           –   $ 16,098,870
30 $   1,300,572 $           –   $ 17,399,442

 

###


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.

Call On Buncombe County Commissioners To Vote YES To 40 Solar Projects!

Call On Buncombe County Commissioners To Vote YES To 40 Solar Projects!

Call On Buncombe County Commissioners To Vote YES To 40 Solar Projects!

On July 21, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners will vote on whether or not to install solar panels at 40 sites of county-owned buildings, Asheville City and Buncombe County public schools and A-B Tech Community College. Will you take action below to call on our Commissioners to vote YES on Tuesday?

 

Why We Support:

  • This proposal would install about 6.7 MW of new solar energy in Buncombe County – the equivalent of powering 677 homes entirely with solar each year. Since these solar energy systems are expected to last 30–40 years, this is equal to taking 677 homes off the grid.
  • The solar panels would be installed by an employee-owned solar company based right here in Buncombe County, showing that we can face the climate crisis and support local jobs at the same time.
  • The prices offered to install these solar projects are significantly cheaper than what County staff first estimated, and the energy savings from the solar panels will save the county money on utility costs every single year.
  • Buncombe County made a commitment in 2017 to move our county to 100% renewable energy. Voting yes to these projects is an important step to start making progress on this commitment.

The county’s vote on Tuesday will decide whether all 40 of these solar projects move forward. Will you take action by contacting the Board of Commissioners below?

Note: The “elected official” title will automatically fill in with the names of the Commissioners once sent. We highly encourage you to customize your message and add why this issue matters to you!

Submit a public comment to be read at Tuesday’s Commission meeting before the vote by emailing comment@buncombecounty.org or calling and leaving a voicemail at 828-250-6500.

July 2020 E-Newsletter

July 2020 E-Newsletter

July 2020 E-Newsletter

July 15, 2020

Equity Reading: Racism is Killing the Planet

MountainTrue regularly discusses articles and essays about racial and economic equity, many written by people of color, at our staff meetings. To expand the reach of this process to our members and supporters, we are beginning to include resources by these thought leaders in our monthly e-newsletter.

First up is “Racism Is Killing the Planet” by Hop Hopkins of the Sierra Club, who connects climate change and the exploitation of poor people in sacrifice zones to the ideology of white supremacy. As Hopkins writes: “You can’t have climate change without sacrifice zones, and you can’t have sacrifice zones without disposable people, and you can’t have disposable people without racism.” Read more.

 

Good News at the General Assembly For WNC’s Waters!

MountainTrue’s Watershed Outreach Coordinator Anna Alsobrook fishes for water samples in a storm drain in Asheville’s Southside neighborhood. New funding from the state legislature will increase our ability to conduct water quality testing.

In a big win for our legislative advocacy, MountainTrue has secured $200,000 in funding for better pollution spill response in North Carolina’s waters and $100,000 for MountainTrue’s water quality testing in our region. “Not only will this expand our monitoring of harmful bacteria in the French Broad, but it will provide a significant boost to efforts to track and eliminate pollution sources,” says Hartwell Carson, MountainTrue’s French Broad Riverkeeper.

These achievements would not be possible without the leadership of Senator Chuck Edwards and Representative Chuck McGrady, as well as the MountainTrue members who make it possible for us to fight for WNC’s communities and environment in the legislature. Thank you! Read more.

 

Want The Skinny On How Our Legislators Are Protecting Our Environment (Or Not)?

Join us Monday, July 27 at 12 p.m. for a special live Raleigh Report featuring MountainTrue’s lobbyist Rob Lamme and our legislative advocacy team. During this webinar we’ll discuss MountainTrue’s legislative priorities and work, and how environmental issues have fared in the General Assembly this year.

Rob Lamme has represented MountainTrue in Raleigh for state government affairs since 2016 and has worked in North Carolina policy and government for more than 20 years. He is the former communications director and budget director for the North Carolina Senate, as well as government relations director for the NC Department of Health and Human Services. Sign up here.

Subscribe to the Raleigh Report

Sign up to receive our Raleigh Report email in your inbox! Rob represents us in Raleigh to help us stay in close contact with our region’s legislators. Through these relationships, we have recently secured state funds for better pollution spill response and expanded E.coli bacteria testing in our rivers. Read the latest Raleigh Report here to learn more about these recent wins!

 

June 29: A Milestone For Our National Forests

Upper Creek Falls on Upper Creek (part of the Catawba River Watershed) in Pisgah National Forest. Photo by Ken Thomas

On June 29, MountainTrue delivered more than 600 public comments on the Draft Management Plan for Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests. This moment marked a major milestone in a six-year public campaign to win a better Forest Management Plan.

In that time, MountainTrue members and supporters have generated thousands of comments throughout the different phases of the plan through our online action alerts and cards that we handed out at trailheads (before the pandemic). MountainTrue staff have spent tens of thousands of hours in the field, reviewing planning drafts and documents, working with stakeholders and drafting formal comments. We organized four panel events across Western North Carolina and six more online virtual info sessions since the COVID-19 lockdown.

Let’s take this moment to celebrate each other for our collective hard work. Great job! And let’s hope that it all pays off with a great management plan that protects our forest ecosystems, helps sustain our region’s economy and provides our community with wonderful places to work, play and rejuvenate. Read more.

 

Ash Re-Treatments Underway

MountainTrue’s AmeriCorps Water Quality Administrator Grace Fuchs re-treats an ash tree during a recent MountainTrue workday.

Over the past few years, MountainTrue has taken on the task of responding to the destructive Emerald Ash Borer – a small, non-native invasive beetle that is fatal to all species of North American ash trees. We’ve treated over 1,100 trees across WNC, and since each treatment lasts three years, now we’re going back to groves that were initially treated in 2017. So far we’ve re-treated over 100 trees in a beautiful grove on Bluff Mountain along the Appalachian Trail in Madison County. Later this summer we’ll also begin treating a new site in the Big Ivy area of Pisgah National Forest, which does not yet have any treated groves of ash. Read more.

 

MountainTrue’s Asheville Design Center Innovates Solutions For The Housing Crisis

MountainTrue’s Asheville Design Center (ADC) is leading a review of 40 City-owned properties for small-scale affordable housing development to increase permanently affordable housing options in Asheville. This effort is part of a collaborative with the City’s Community Development Department, Asheville-Buncombe Community Land Trust, Habitat for Humanity, and Homeward Bound.

Typically, new affordable housing in Asheville is incentivized by federal, state and local funding for private developers when they commit to making a small number of new housing units affordable for a certain number of years. Instead, this model will provide affordable rental housing and homes for ownership within the city without time limits allowing qualifying families to build generational wealth, and making our communities more culturally and economically diverse. New homes can be constructed on smaller lots throughout the city within current zoning restrictions. This type of small scale development, often called “missing middle” housing, can bring density to a neighborhood without disrupting the character of the community.

ADC volunteers from Advantage Civil Engineering, a local civil design firm, are helping to identify the top City-owned properties that are candidates for affordable housing development. As the Asheville-Buncombe Community Land Trust takes ownership of these properties, revenues generated by home sales and rentals will flow back into the Community Land Trust and fund the purchase of more affordable housing. We hope this project can serve as a model for how to deliver small-scale, permanently affordable housing to help meet our region’s needs.

 

Update on Swim Guide Testing in the High Country

Willa “Wild Bill” Hill helps out with water samples for our Swim Guide monitoring program. 

Our Swim Guide monitoring program in the High Country is in full swing, and this year we’ve expanded to include two additional testing sites on the New River and four more sites on the Watauga River tailwaters. So far we’re seeing mixed bacteria results across the watershed, with three of the sites we monitor consistently failing to meet EPA water quality standards: Calloway Bridge on the Watauga River, Guy Ford Bridge and Hickory Nut Gap Road on the Elk River.

These results could be due to changes in how land near our rivers is being used and/or higher than average rainfall. We believe the increased E. coli levels at these sites are due to a combination of leaking septic systems and sewer infrastructure, as well as stormwater runoff from golf courses and agricultural operations. Water pollution is caused not only by leaks in broken sewer pipes, but also when heavy rains overwhelm sewage systems and cause them to overflow – releasing large amounts of untreated sewage directly into rivers, streams and lakes. Unfortunately, these pollution events are common, and we believe many of them go unreported to the public.

To better track sources of pollution we’ve hired Hannah Woodburn as our AmeriCorps Water Quality Administrator, added lab capacity to our testing program and have begun using new cutting-edge techniques. One such technique is using a fluorometer to trace the optical brighteners and detergents commonly found in sewage in order to track pollution in real-time. Learn more about our water monitoring program in the High Country and our campaign to stop the root causes of these pollution problems here.

 

Outdoor Spaces Accumulating Litter

With more and more people turning to outdoor spaces, public lands, and waterways for recreation during the summer, the litter they’re leaving behind is adding up. We’re seeing lots of plastic bottles and flip flops on the Green River, masks and gloves at trailheads, and overflowing trash cans in our parks and greenways.

You can help! MountainTrue and our partner organizations have organized virtual cleanups, like the Riverkeeper Beer Series Cleanups, but you don’t need us to tell you when or where to go. Just grab a trash bag next time you take a neighborhood walk or hit your local trail and fill it up. Every little bit helps, and you can be an example and encourage others to think twice about littering.

 

Laurel Creek Inholding Now Part of Nantahala National Forest


On June 17, the US Government purchased a 49.33-acre in-holding at the headwaters of Laurel Creek in Clay and Cherokee counties, making the land public and part of Nantahala National Forest! The purchase from the Mainspring Conservation Trust closes the loop on a 12-year battle by the former Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition, MountainTrue and several other partners to prevent private landowners from building a road through the National Forest and cabins at the top of pristine headwaters of Fires Creek. Read the whole story here.

 

Road Construction, Clean Water and Muddy Water Watch Training

A settling basin installed by NCDOT protects Blair Creek from sediment pollution associated with the widening of NC Hwy. 69 in Clay County.

Quite a bit of road construction is happening across North Carolina’s far western counties right now, as the NC Department of Transportation (DOT) is actively working to repair parts of major highways that are sinking or sliding and to widen other sections of roadways. We’ve been on the lookout for muddy waters with all the rain we’ve been getting, but we haven’t found any associated with road projects! DOT and its contractors have been doing an excellent job installing and maintaining practices like the one pictured above to keep our streams and rivers clean. We are planning a virtual training event for the Muddy Water Watch program so you can learn how to easily notify us and regulatory authorities with the proper information when you see sediment entering a waterway.

 

“Confluence” Water Quality Conference is Virtual and FREE This Year!

Every year the Georgia Adopt-A-Stream program hosts an excellent water quality conference called Confluence, named for the point at which streams converge. This year it’s being offered virtually and free of charge! There will be live sessions at different times every day this August, and each session will also be recorded and made available on the conference website. There will also be opportunities for virtual networking and social time.

The conference will conclude with a live keynote address by Paddle Georgia Coordinator Joe Cook on Saturday, August 29th. See the Confluence 2020 schedule here. 

 

Events Calendar

TODAY: July 15, 11:30-12:45pm: MountainTrue University: Dear White People
This week’s MountainTrue University will feature Tanya Marie Cummings, a MountainTrue board member and the founder of Pathways to Parks, in a talk sharing how she’s experienced racism as a black woman in WNC and in the outdoors. Tanya believes that when white people pull their heads ‘out of the sand’ and strive to understand the ugly disease of racism, they can become allies to black people to effectuate the change that America so desperately needs.

July 26, 2-5pm: Apalachia Lake Paddle
Join us for a socially distant canoe outing on the peaceful Apalachia Lake, which has very little private shoreline development and no commercial recreation facilities. Fishing and swimming are both options along the way, so bring your line if you’d like.

July 27, 12-1pm: MountainTrue Raleigh Report Live with Rob Lamme
Join us for a special live Raleigh Report featuring MountainTrue’s lobbyist Rob Lamme and MountainTrue’s legislative advocacy team. We’ll discuss MountainTrue’s legislative priorities and work, and how environmental issues have fared in the General Assembly this year.

August 1: Virtual Riverkeeper Beer Series Cleanup with The Wedge Brewing Company
Despite the unusual times we find ourselves in, there is still trash collecting in our rivers. On August 1, we’re calling for as many folks as possible to help us clean up the French Broad by cleaning your local creek, roadway or neighborhood. We’re also holding a socially distanced in-person cleanup with limited capacity in partnership with the Wedge Brewing Company.

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 the another Riverkeeper Beer Series cleanup. Clean up the French Broad River and your local creek, roadway, or neighborhood.

 


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.

June 2020 E-News All Regions

June 2020 E-News All Regions

June 2020 E-News All Regions

6/29/20

The Deadline for Forest Plan Comments is Today!

This is the LAST day to make your voice heard about a plan that will determine how Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest is managed for the next 15-20 years. Make your public comment on the Draft Management Plan for the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest here.

Together we can win better protections for old-growth forests and biodiversity hotspots, more responsible timbering practices and better maintained trails and recreation infrastructure in the National Forest. You can check out MountainTrue’s full expert analysis and plan recommendations here, and can also submit your comments through the Forest Service’s online portal or mail them (postmarked by 6/29/2020) to: Plan Revision Team, National Forests in North Carolina, 160 Zillicoa St, Asheville, NC 28801.

 

The Great American Outdoors Act Passes The Senate, Reinvests In America’s Public Lands


Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Photo by Kirk Thornton on Unsplash.

In a big victory for our public lands, The Great American Outdoors Act (SB 3422) was passed by the U.S. Senate on June 17 with bipartisan support and a vote of 73 yeas to 25 nays. The bill will permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at $900 million per year and allocate $9.5 billion over the next five years to address the maintenance backlogs in America’s National Parks, National Forests, and other public lands.

Though the LWCF has been authorized at $900 million per year, Congress has regularly diverted these funds for other purposes. With this bill, Congress will finally put an end to that practice and fulfill the original promise of the LWCF. Read the rest of our blog post on the bill here.

 

Asheville Design Center Helps Businesses Face Pandemic With Design Solutions


Asheville Design Center volunteers paint traffic barriers for Asheville’s first Shared Streets installation on Eagle and Market Streets, also known as “The Block.”

As more and more Asheville businesses reopen, the COVID-19 pandemic has required them to need more breathing room – literally. To help businesses adapt to indoor capacity limits and social distancing guidelines, the City of Asheville has contracted with MountainTrue’s Asheville Design Center (ADC) to create design solutions that allow businesses to use more public outdoor space.

The heart of the design process is to identify a problem, come up with a solution, design it, prototype it and get feedback,” says Chris Joyell, Director of the Asheville Design Center. “And by creating these concepts in conversation with the broader community, we can make sure they meet the needs of our local businesses and are a sustainable design concept for Asheville’s future.” Read more about this work here.

 

Check Out The Results From Our Recordbreaking BioBlitz In Madison County


MountainTrue’s Public Lands Biologist Josh Kelly observes a plant alongside Pete Dixon of Madison County Natural Heritage, a digital museum that archives Madison County’s natural history. 

Every year, MountainTrue hosts a BioBlitz to document all the species we can find in a given area. This year, we partnered with Madison Natural Heritage, a new program of the Madison County Library, to catalog discoveries in Madison County virtually as part of their digital natural history archive.

It blew us away that a total of 97 observers documented 2,618 organisms and 1,186 unique species, including at least one – a rare fen orchid – that has never been documented in the county! Among these finds were several threatened and rare species (don’t worry, the locations are hidden for those observations). We more than doubled our record species count for past BioBlitzes, had record youth engagement, and couldn’t have done it without our terrific members! Read more about this year’s BioBlitz here.

 

Beating the Heat at Swimming Holes? Stay Safe With Our Swim Guide Results


MountainTrue’s AmeriCorps Water Quality Administrator, Grace Fuchs, hits the river to take water samples for our Swim Guide monitoring program. 

During the summer months when water recreation is in full swing, our Riverkeepers are committed to monitoring bacteria levels in local waterways so people can decide how, when and where to get in the water safely. As we still face restrictions on how and where we can interact due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more people are turning to rivers and lakes for a place to unwind, cool down, and socially distance, making this work more important than ever.

We test bacteria levels at public access points each week, so make sure to check out the latest results for your local swimming hole at www.theswimguide.org or by downloading the ultra-portable Swim Guide app. Now get out there and have some fun!

 

NCDOT Chooses To Improve Existing Highway Through Stecoah Community Instead Of Building New Sections


The Stecoah Gap near Robbinsville, NC. Photo By Don McGowan.

After decades of environmental analysis, public meetings and comment periods on the “Corridor K” project in Graham County, N.C. Department of Transportation officials have decided to improve the existing highways instead of building new road sections. The other five alternative courses of action for the project would have built new sections of highway through existing residential communities, fragmented large sections of National Forest, or both.

The purpose of the Corridor K project is to improve travel between Highway U.S.129 in Robbinsville and the existing four-lane section of N.C. 28 at Stecoah. MountainTrue has worked for years for this outcome in order to limit the impacts of the highway on residential communities and the National Forest. We are thrilled that NCDOT has selected the least damaging path forward!

An Environmental Assessment for the highway improvements is expected this summer. We will advocate for the project to include plans for a wildlife crossing to connect sections of public land across the wider highway corridor. We’ll also let you know when the opportunity to make public comment begins in the fall.

 

Final Forest Service Decision on Buck Project in Clay County Ignores Public Input, Potential Compromise


Public Lands Field Biologist Josh Kelly coring a 231-years-old tree in the Buck Project area. Watch a video where he talks about the project and counts the rings of the core sample here. 

In a decision announced on May 22, the Forest Service committed to charging ahead with plans to log in steep backcountry areas in Buck Creek and the headwaters of the Nantahala River, as well as the headwaters of Shooting Creek draining to Lake Chatuge. The decision would allow timber harvest on nearly 800 acres—the biggest logging project in the Nantahala National Forest in a generation. Hundreds of acres of logging would occur in old, biologically rich and unique ecosystems under-represented in Southern Appalachian forests.

The decision follows a formal objection submitted by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) on behalf of MountainTrue, The Wilderness Society, and other partners. It also comes after SELC offered a compromise that would have ultimately met everyone’s goals: move ahead with the 465 acres of harvest proposed in Alternative D and launch a collaborative effort to find more acres that don’t encroach on sensitive areas. None of the other objectors voiced opposition to this plan, and one even voiced support. The Forest Service ignored this suggestion and the overwhelming public opposition to this plan.

 

Permit Issued for Cashiers Lake Dredging Project

The NC Division of Water Resources (DWR) issued a 401 Water Quality Certification to Cashiers Canoe Club in April for a lake dredging project that will impact a little over seven acres of wetlands and five acres of open water in Cashiers Lake, part of the headwaters of the Chattooga River. MountainTrue’s initial concerns about the project were largely addressed by DWR and the applicant, including the following: a large reduction in the amount of acres impacted by dredging; separating the dredging and development aspects of the project; and requiring the very low “trout standard” for downstream turbidity (a measure of water clarity that reflects the amount of excess sediment in the water). Also included in the permit requirements is payment for wetland mitigation, water quality monitoring for the duration of the project, and maintaining a healthy amount of flow in the Chattooga River downstream. MountainTrue is not contesting the project.

 

New Rockhouse Creek Self-Guided Hike Available


Philip Moore stands next to one of several large buckeye trees beside the trail on Rockhouse Creek.

While MountainTrue has not planned any group hikes due to ongoing concerns about COVID-19, you can still go hiking with us! I joined MountainTrue’s Outings Coordinator Catie Morris and Forest Keeper Rhys Burns to construct a self-guided hike on the Rockhouse Creek trail in the beautiful Fires Creek Watershed. The final product includes a trail description, points of interest, a little history and photos along the way. Access the hike here.

 

MountainTrue Members Push Back on Beech Mountain Water Grab

Thanks to an amazing response by MountainTrue’s supporters in the High Country, we’ve made a great start in opposing the Town of Beech Mountain’s latest attempt to push through a proposal for a water intake in the Watauga River. This proposal would construct a 7.2 mile pipeline and pump house to withdraw up to 500,000 gallons of water per day from the Watauga during times of drought, and right upstream from the ecologically sensitive Watauga Gorge.

Due to public pressure from MountainTrue members and other community members concerned about the proposal, Watauga County Commissioners stated during a recent budget meeting that they would not entertain any attempts to reclassify the Watauga River to allow for an intake. There was also progress at the most recent Beech Mountain Town Council budget hearing, with Town Council approving a capital project ordinance to fix or replace approximately 16,500 linear feet of existing water line in the Charter Hills Road area. We are grateful to see the Town of Beech Mountain prioritizing their infrastructure and addressing water loss after our repeated requests.

 

Ward’s Mill Dam Will Be Removed in Fall 2020

In a big victory for the Watauga, MountainTrue has helped secure the removal of the Ward’s Mill Dam – a dam in Sugar Grove that was named the highest priority for removal by a partnership of aquatic resource experts in the Southeast.

Removing the dam will reconnect 35 miles of aquatic habitat in the main stem of the Watauga River and 140 miles of streams across the watershed. This will improve cold water habitat for native aquatic species like brook trout, freshwater mussels and the threatened hellbender salamander, and will reconnect genetically distinct populations kept separate by the dam for 80 years.

The dam is scheduled for demolition in early Fall 2020. Its removal would not be possible without the leadership of American Rivers, Blue Ridge Resource Conservation and Development, Watauga County Soil and Water Conservation and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

 

Events Calendar

June 11-30: No Man’s Land Film Festival: Diversify the Outdoors
No Man’s Land Film Festival is offering a “Diversify Our Outdoors” virtual film program featuring films that elevate Black athletes, filmmakers and advocates. All proceeds to this event will be donated to the non-profit organization Outdoor Afro.

July 1, 11:30am – 12pm: MountainTrue University – The State of the French Broad River
Join our French Broad Riverkeeper, Hartwell Carson, for a talk about the history of the French Broad Watershed, his work to hunt down pollution sources and ways you can help keep our river clean.

July 9, 6-7pm: Virtual Green Drinks Featuring Andy Tait, EcoForestry Director at EcoForesters
In his talk, Andy will discuss how forests become degraded due to invasive pests, poor timber management, fire exclusion and climate change, and how “forest stand improvement work” can make degraded forests healthier.

July 10, 7-8:30pm: “Pandemics and Prejudice: How Can Democracy Survive in a Hotter Time?” with Dr. David Orr
The Creation Care Alliance is proud to co-sponsor this presentation by Dr. David Orr, Emeritus Professor of Environmental Studies & Politics at Oberlin College, about the moral imperative to restore our democracy as well as the urgency of environmental stewardship.

July 11: Virtual Riverkeeper Beer Series Cleanup with Catawba Brewing Co.
Join us for the first virtual Riverkeeper Beer Series Cleanup of the French Broad River by cleaning your local creek, roadway, or neighborhood.

July 26, 2-5pm: Apalachia Lake Paddle
Join us for a socially distant canoe outing on the peaceful Apalachia Lake, which has very little private shoreline development and no commercial recreation facilities. Fishing and swimming are both options along the way, so bring your line if you’d like.


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.

Asheville Design Center Helps Businesses Face Pandemic With Design Solutions

Asheville Design Center Helps Businesses Face Pandemic With Design Solutions

Asheville Design Center Helps Businesses Face Pandemic With Design Solutions

Asheville Design Center volunteers paint traffic barriers for Asheville’s first Shared Streets installation on Eagle and Market Streets, also known as “The Block,” on June 18.

June 29, 2020

As more and more Asheville businesses reopen, the COVID-19 pandemic has required them to need more breathing room literally. To help businesses adapt to indoor capacity limits and social distancing guidelines, the City of Asheville has contracted with MountainTrue’s Asheville Design Center (ADC) to create design solutions that allow businesses to use more public outdoor space.

The first of these solutions, temporary parklets, provides overflow space for businesses by sectioning off adjacent parking spots. The City’s new temporary parklets program allows businesses to use up to three on-street public parking spaces on roads with speed limits of less than 25mph. ADC has designed these to be used for outdoor dining, selling merchandise, and additional space to allow for social distancing. 

ADC is also taking leadership on the City’s new Shared Streets program, which extends the parklet design concept by prioritizing entire streets for pedestrians. “Wall Street provides a good model for what we’re trying to accomplish,” says Chris Joyell, Director of the Asheville Design Center. “The moment you step onto it, there are several design cues that make pedestrians feel comfortable walking in the street and cause cars to slow down and know they have second priority to pedestrians. We want more streets in Asheville to feel that way.” 

True to ADC’s mission, staff and volunteers are designing signs and elements of the temporary parklets and Shared Streets by working hand in hand with community members. In the case of the first Shared Street area launched on June 18 on Eagle and Market Streets, or “The Block”, downtown this meant working with individual business owners, the Block Community Collaborative Business Group, and community elders to use culturally relevant signage and colors. “We went to the YMI Cultural Center with community elder Roy Harris to look at historical documents and art that represented Asheville’s historically Black community,” Chris says. “The community led the vision, and with their guidance, our graphic design intern used fonts, colors and patterns that would all say ‘The Block’ to the people who grew up there.”

Describing this effort, ADC intern Helen Kemper says, “I especially felt connected when walking through the streets with the business owners, gaining their perspective and connectedness to these public spaces. We hope these efforts will help them transform their spaces so that they may feel supported by the community and find success during such trying times.”

MountainTrue Co-Director Julie Mayfield carries a traffic barrier at the Shared Streets installation on Buxton and Banks Streets on the South Slope of Asheville. 


The latest Shared Street installation happened at Banks and Buxton Streets last week, where ADC worked with City staff to redirect vehicles to narrow, slower lanes, and added signs to identify the space as a Pedestrian Priority Zone. Over the coming weeks, ADC staff and volunteers will help implement more Shared Street design elements on Wall Street, Church Street and portions of College Street downtown.

The temporary parklets and Shared Streets will be active until at least October 31. Chris anticipates that the effort will expand outside of downtown, and that it can help more businesses see the value of using shared space design concepts for the long term. “Since we’re providing the temporary design and engineering expertise, businesses can experiment with these parklets and other design concepts now with more support than they’d have if they were going it alone,” Chris says.  “And if they work well, business owners are one step closer to making these innovations permanent. He cites Sovereign Remedies as one Asheville business using the parklet concept year-round for outdoor seating, with great success. 

ADC volunteers are also working on a guide book to make implementation of the parklets as easy as possible for business owners, creating clear blueprints and lists of materials needed for construction. To get started on the process, register for your parklets here.

“The heart of the design process,” Chris says, “is to identify a problem, come up with a solution, design it, prototype it and get feedback. And by creating these concepts in conversation with the broader community, we can make sure they meet the needs of our local businesses and are a sustainable design concept for Asheville’s future.”


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.

MT Raleigh Report: Politics, Budget Policy and the Pandemic at the North Carolina General Assembly

MT Raleigh Report: Politics, Budget Policy and the Pandemic at the North Carolina General Assembly

MT Raleigh Report: Politics, Budget Policy and the Pandemic at the North Carolina General Assembly

With unemployment growing, the economy slowing and North Carolina’s tax revenues plummeting, legislators have made some key decisions that will shape how they are likely to deal with the state’s mounting budget challenges.

While the state’s revenues for the 2020-21 fiscal year won’t be in until the July 15 tax filing deadline, budget analysts expect revenues to be short $1.6 billion for FY19-20 and another $2.5 billion for FY20-21. Together, that is about an eight percent hit to the state’s $24 billion annual budget.

Complicating the budget picture is a long list of unknowns, including:

  • Just how big are the deficits North Carolina is facing? So far lawmakers are using estimates. Actual revenues won’t be known until July 15 – two weeks after the new state fiscal year is supposed to begin on July 1.
  • Can federal COVID-19 relief money be used to fill the state’s budget hole? North Carolina has $2 billion in federal COVID-19 relief money in reserve; state lawmakers are hoping Congress will give them permission to use those funds to address the state’s budget shortfall. But if and when that might happen is anyone’s guess. Complicating matters: under current federal law, all of the state’s federal COVID-19 funding must be spent by December 31, 2020.
  • Will Congress provide more help to states? The US House of Representatives recently approved a COVID-19 relief bill that would provide billions to help states balance their budgets, but support in the US Senate is lukewarm.

Look for Governor Cooper to wait until midsummer to spell out his budget plans.

For their part, GOP leaders at the legislature have opted not to produce a FY 2020-21 budget at all; they will leave the current budget (approved all the way back in 2017) in place. Instead, lawmakers in both chambers have agreed to approve 18 separate bills with a variety of appropriations for a discreet list of projects and programs. Their priorities include capital projects at various state universities and funds to address enrollment growth at public schools. The money for these bills comes from a number of sources, including unspent federal COVID-19 relief funds and monies from other sources that are expected to be unspent when the state’s fiscal year ends on June 30.

After completing these bills in the next few weeks, legislative leaders plan to go home. That would appear to leave balancing the budget to Governor Cooper – unless Congress gives the state a windfall of federal cash to balance the state budget. If that happens, it is unlikely that the state’s budget writers will allow Governor Cooper to decide how such a large amount of money is spent, and they would likely reconvene to appropriate those dollars. If help from Congress does not arrive, lawmakers also have the option of staying at home and leaving the politically difficult task of balancing the budget to Governor Cooper, just a few months before his reelection.

The lack of a budget development process at the legislature is a mixed bag for the environment. For starters, it leaves organizations like MountainTrue with no way to engage lawmakers about much-needed investments to protect our natural resources. On the other hand, it avoids – or at least postpones – the steep cuts that the legislature would likely propose for regulatory agencies that protect our air and water if they attempted to draw up a new budget.

As the legislative session continues, MountainTrue will continue to track the budget process and look for opportunities to fund some of the WNC projects we have promoted in the past – while also opposing any effort to cut state agencies that protect our water and air from polluters. We appreciate your continued support for this work and invite you to follow our policy work in Raleigh on all of our social media outlets. Thanks!


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.

Stand Up, Speak Out Against Asphalt Plant Proposed For East Flat Rock!

Stand Up, Speak Out Against Asphalt Plant Proposed For East Flat Rock!

ASPHALT PLANT PROPOSED FOR EAST FLAT ROCK!

STAND UP, SPEAK OUT!

PLANNING BOARD MEETING THURSDAY, JUNE 18 at 5:30 PM

By Gray Jernigan, Green Riverkeeper and Southern Regional Director for MountainTrue

We are very concerned about a proposal that quietly appeared on the Henderson County Planning agenda: A developer has applied for conditional rezoning requesting that the County conditionally rezone 6.5 acres located at the intersection of Spartanburg Highway (US-176) and US-25 to a conditional district to construct a new asphalt plant. The property is currently zoned Community Commercial (CC) and is surrounded by residential zoning.

A virtual Neighborhood Compatibility Meeting was held via Zoom on Monday, June 8. You can watch the entire four hour meeting here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cvf2wGfhtBA

The big takeaway from the Neighborhood Compatibility Meeting was that there is absolutely no way that this project is appropriate for the location and that the rezoning request should be denied. Thank you to the 115 community members that tuned in, to the over 160 community members that submitted questions in advance, and to more than 50 people that asked questions live during the meeting, none of which we believe were sufficiently answered by the developer.

While we appreciate everything that the County Planning staff did to make this meeting accessible during the COVID-19 pandemic, many people were still unable to join. This is because not everyone has access to a computer, internet access, an internet connection strong enough to support streaming services, or access to the Zoom streaming service. Others were able to attend but not able to comment because they used an older version of Zoom, had technical difficulties or did not have a computer microphone to speak, or tuned in via YouTube and were not able to ask questions. For all of these reasons, we believe meetings of this nature are inappropriate during this time, and the decision making timeline should be postponed or extended to accommodate public participation.

We have a number of environmental and community concerns about the proposed plant, and we will be asking Henderson County officials to deny the rezoning request. Here are some of our concerns:

  • Air Pollution – Asphalt fumes are known toxins and contain pollutants such as formaldehyde, hexane, phenol, polycyclic organic matter, and toluene. Exposure to these air toxics may cause cancer, central nervous system problems, liver damage, respiratory problems, and skin irritation.
  • Water Pollution – Runoff of pollutants from the site would impact Laurel Creek, which flows to the Green River.
  • Public Lands – The site is dangerously close to the Green River Game Lands, which would be on the receiving end of air and water pollution.
  • Community Health – A study by the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL) showed 45% of residents living within a half mile of a new asphalt plant reported a deterioration of their health, which began after the plant opened.
  • Environmental Justice – The site is near a low-income community that would bear the brunt of air and water pollution, dust, noise, truck traffic, and exposure to harmful toxins. Low income communities are disproportionately impacted by industrial facilities across the nation, and that’s not right.

Here’s what we need you to do:

    •  

Now is the time to stand up, speak out, and put a stop to this pollution factory before it even gets started! Join us in the fight!


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.

Take Action To Protect The Clean Water Act From Polluters

Take Action To Protect The Clean Water Act From Polluters

Take Action To Protect The Clean Water Act From Polluters

Our clean water is in danger. In the midst of the pandemic, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has snuck in proposed amendments to the Clean Water Act that would have detrimental effects on public health, natural systems, and the economy. These amendments would change the definition of “waters of the United States” to mean fewer wetlands and bodies of water would be under federal protection. The amendments could easily go unnoticed because they have been named the “Navigable Waters Protection Rule,” despite these rules doing anything but protecting our water.

The culture of Western North Carolina is intertwined with water, with recreation and local economies both heavily reliant on water-based activities. MountainTrue’s Clean Water Team works hard to monitor and improve the quality of water in the region, but this rule would create a huge challenge for our daily work.

 

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.

MT Raleigh Report: Legislators Discuss How to Hold Safe Elections and State Budget

MT Raleigh Report: Legislators Discuss How to Hold Safe Elections and State Budget

MT Raleigh Report: Legislators Discuss How to Hold Safe Elections and State Budget

May 20, 2020

The North Carolina General Assembly restarted its 2020 session this week, so it’s a good time for a quick update about what’s going on in Raleigh.

After much back and forth about how the session should proceed, the House and Senate Republican leadership decided to open the session this week and work continuously through the beginning of July, when they hope to adjourn. Previously, there had been some talk of meeting briefly this month, then recessing until late June.

The to-do list of lawmakers is likely to be fairly modest. The early weeks of the session will include debates about policy changes and appropriations necessary to hold the November elections safely. Local election officials say they need more money, and that voters need more education about absentee ballots to vote safely. Voting rights organizations have also asked lawmakers to loosen voting restrictions in order to increase access to the ballot and protect public health. Local bills, as well as bills in conference leftover from the 2019 session, may also move.

But the major work of the session will be the FY2020-21 budget – prospects for which could not be murkier. Budget forecasters are predicting a shortfall of several billion dollars as a result of the pandemic. Look for the House, the Senate and the Governor’s offices to agree on a “consensus forecast” for the state’s FY21 revenues late this week or early next. Lawmakers use this forecast as the basis of their budget decisions, and most budget watchers expect it to include a shortfall of $1–$4 billion for the coming fiscal year. In a budget totaling $24 billion, making up a shortfall that large could mean steep budget cuts.

However, how much of that shortfall lawmakers will have to cut their way out of is still very unclear. For starters, the state has more than a billion in reserves that can be used to address the shortfall. Lawmakers have also reserved $2 billion of federal COVID relief dollars, in hopes that Congress will give states the ability to use it to address their budget deficits – an option favored by many Republicans in the US Senate. In the US House, the bill approved last week and backed by Democrats could bring as much as $16 billion to North Carolina. If and when Congress acts on any or all of these proposals will have a significant impact on North Carolina’s budget.

Then there’s the politics of the North Carolina budget, which must be signed into law by Governor Cooper. Last year, the Governor and Republican lawmakers were unable to reach a deal on the budget. Whether the two sides will be able to reach a deal this year – just a few months before an election – remains an open question.

That’s where things stand in Raleigh right now – and of course, it’s all subject to change at any moment. Keep an eye out for future updates about the legislative session and what it means for Western North Carolina.


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.