Statement on the Public Hearing on the I-26 Connector on Dec. 4 2018

Statement on the Public Hearing on the I-26 Connector on Dec. 4 2018

The I-26 Connector is the single biggest development project facing Western North Carolina. Over the past 18 years, MountainTrue has served as a community convener to reduce the project’s impact on Asheville communities that stand to be most affected.

At last night’s public hearing on the draft maps for the I-26 Connector, MountainTrue Co-Director Julie Mayfield and Asheville Design Center Director Chris Joyell spoke about the history of this work, which has seen some victories as well as losses. Their public comments appear below.

The hearing last night demonstrated that there are strong feelings in our community that this project should not move forward or that it should go back to the drawing board for redesign. While we would not argue with that and have long looked for opportunities to challenge the project, we have simultaneously worked to improve it.

 

MountainTrue will continue our advocacy on the I-26 Connector on three fronts:

  1. Analyze the Final Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project, which will be produced by the NC Department of Transportation (NCDOT) early next year, to determine the grounds for any legal challenges to the I-26 Connector. MountainTrue has approached this project through a legal lens since 2008, submitting comment letters prepared by our attorneys at the Southern Environmental Law Center in 2008 and 2015. These comment letters cite concerns related to the failure to include the goals of the Community Coordinating Committee; the failure to minimize neighborhood, business, and environmental impacts; segmenting the project illegally in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA); and more. We will continue to bring a critical legal eye to this project and will ensure NCDOT complies with federal law in the final EIS.
  2. Act as a convener for the community at large and neighborhoods specifically impacted by the I-26 Connector project to champion their concerns. We will continue to empower these neighborhoods to share their concerns with NCDOT as we enter this next stage of design.
  3. Encourage public comments on the I-26 Connector by January 4. You can submit your comment through our action page here.

 

Public Comment on the I-26 Connector
Julie Mayfield, Co-Director of MountainTrue
Dec. 4 2018

My name is Julie Mayfield, and I am here tonight speaking in my multiple roles as Co-Director of MountainTrue, a member of Asheville City Council, and an Asheville resident who loves this city.

Having worked on this project intensely for 10 years, my relationship with it is complex and conflicted.  It makes me angry, it makes me sad, and it makes me anxious for the future of our city. I literally dream about this project – although unpleasant dreams are usually called nightmares.  Most days I wake up wishing that we didn’t need it, wishing it were not so large, wishing so many people weren’t going to lose their businesses and homes, wishing we could be building something visionary and so very different.  Wishing it would just go away.

But it is not going away.  Our city leaders asked DOT in the 1980s to bring the highway through town and while there might have been a later time when Asheville could have said no and successfully fought for it to be routed somewhere else or not built at all, that time is long past.    

The fight here has never been to kill the project. Many of you may think that would have been the better fight. And there are days I wish that had been the fight.  Instead, the approach Asheville residents and leaders have always taken is to make it better. From the Community Coordinating Committee report in 2000 that laid out design principles, to the I26 Group that fought the proposed eight lanes in West Asheville, to the 2008 Asheville Design Center-created Atl. 4B, to the I-26 ConnectUs Project that has advocated similar design principles since 2009, to every statement City Council has ever made on this, the aim has been for the project to be smaller and less impactful, to have better bike/pedestrian connectivity, to separate interstate from local traffic and return Patton Avenue to a surface street.  

Three years ago when I stood at this podium commenting on the draft Environmental Impact Statement, I again called on DOT for all of those things.  Standing here today, I must acknowledge that DOT has listened and responded to our calls for a better project in several important ways.

  • Three years ago, we asked for six lanes through West Asheville instead of eight. We got six.
  • Three years ago, we asked to minimize the harm to West Asheville, Burton Street, Emma and Montford. By selecting Alt. 4B and with additional effort, DOT has spared an additional 50 houses and businesses.
  • Three years ago, we asked for full connectivity at the I-240/I-40/I-26 interchange with minimal cost and the smallest footprint.  We got that.
  • Three years ago, we asked for bike and pedestrian access through the project. DOT’s maps now reflect over 5 miles of new multi-use paths and greenway connectors that will better connect neighborhoods to each other and to the river and West Asheville to downtown.
  • Three years ago, we asked that Patton Ave. become a boulevard and gateway entrance to downtown. That is now possible.

These are the bright spots that give me some measure of hope that the benefits of this project will be worth the burdens.

There are, however, things we asked for three years ago that we have not yet gotten.  

One was that all interchanges and intersections be designed with the tightest footprint and turning radii possible to improve pedestrian safety, save homes and businesses, and retain Asheville’s urban design.  There have been some improvements here, but not enough.

And most important. while Patton Avenue can now theoretically become a boulevard and gateway, we need more from DOT in order to set the table for the redevelopment Asheville has sought for close to 20 years.  Specifically, the interchange on the east side of the Bowen Bridge, Patton Avenue east of the bridge, and the Bowen Bridge itself need to reflect the City’s vision, most recently detailed in the memo prepared by the City’s consultant, Sam Schwartz Engineers.

As a surface street, the design of Patton Avenue and the Bowen Bridge must reflect the City’s priorities, not DOT’s.  Our streets must be designed for people, not just cars, and we cannot yield this critical corridor and public space to traditional transportation planning.  Patton Avenue can be Asheville’s grand boulevard, our Champs-Elysees, our Las Ramblas, an iconic street where people live and work, shop and eat, and travel safely on foot, by bike, in buses and cars.  This can be a destination, not just a corridor for passing through.

These outstanding design issues will make or break this project for the people who live here.  This is what people will look back on 30 years from now and judge whether we got it right or wrong, whether the benefits of this project outweighed the burdens.  We have no choice – we must get it right.

DOT, I call on you to support Asheville in getting it right, in making the benefits worth the burdens, and in creating a place we can all share and be proud of.  

 

Public Comment on the I-26 Connector
Chris Joyell, Director of the Asheville Design Center
Dec. 4 2018

My name is Chris Joyell, and I am the Director of the Asheville Design Center. As a resident of Asheville for the past 14 years, I recognize that I am a bit of a newcomer to this project. So I reached into the Asheville Design Center’s archives to educate myself, and I thought I’d share that history with everyone here tonight. I think we can learn a lot from the path we’ve taken to get here, and I believe that this history can guide us in how we shape the I-26 Connector Project and Asheville’s future.

When NCDOT first proposed the Connector Project in 1989, it sparked widespread concern among Asheville residents. In 2000, the community organized in earnest to influence the plans, creating the Community Coordinating Committee. MountainTrue (then the Western North Carolina Alliance) co-chaired the CCC, which issued a report recommending nine key design goals aimed at minimizing impacts to neighborhoods and local businesses, while improving neighborhood and bike/pedestrian connectivity. More specifically, the report recommended separating interstate and local traffic on the Bowen Bridge and returning Patton Avenue to a surface street.

In 2006, a group of volunteer designers formed the Asheville Design Center. They hosted multiple community meetings, workshops, and design charrettes to create a community-authored design for I-26 that met the CCC’s goals. Eventually called Alternative 4B, this design received broad community support, and the City of Asheville and Buncombe County funded an engineering study to prove that the community plan was feasible.

In 2009, DOT committed to include a revised version of Alternative 4B in their draft Environmental Impact Statement. Also in 2009, the neighborhoods that stood to be most impacted by the project came together to form the I-26 ConnectUs Project. MountainTrue was and is the lead convener and coordinator of this group, using its expertise to amplify neighborhood concerns with DOT.

When DOT issued a draft EIS in 2015, Asheville City Council passed a resolution in support of the community’s vision. Advocacy and organizing paid off when, in 2016, DOT selected Alternative 4B as the preferred alternative. In 2018, DOT announced it had significantly reduced the footprint of the highway in West Asheville following two years of collaborative design work with the City and its residents.

Thanks to thousands of community members like the folks here tonight, we have made enormous strides in scaling back the I-26 Connector Project. But we’re not finished.

The City, MountainTrue, ADC, and others in our community will continue to advocate for the transformation of Patton Avenue into an urban, tree-lined, multi-modal corridor envisioned by the community in 2000. Tonight I ask NCDOT to continue listening to our community and to work with us to get it right this time.


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: Who’s Up, Who’s Down in Raleigh (and WNC) After Last Week’s Election?

MT Raleigh Report: Who’s Up, Who’s Down in Raleigh (and WNC) After Last Week’s Election?

While the dust is still settling from last week’s election – with several state legislative races still too close to call – it’s clear that Republicans have lost their veto-proof majorities in either one or both chambers of the legislature.

Going into this year’s elections, the GOP held the House 75-45. The 2019 House will likely seat 65 Republicans and 55 Democrats when a new legislature arrives in January, although that split could change depending on how the recounts of three House races turn out. In the Senate, where Republicans held a 35-15 majority, the 2019 Senate breakdown right now is 29-21. Democrats picked up just enough seats to end the GOP supermajority there, assuming one recount continues to go their way.

Some thoughts about what this all means for state policy and WNC’s legislative delegation:

Gov. Roy Cooper had a good night. The reduction of GOP power in the General Assembly means Republicans in the legislature will have to negotiate with Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper – or pick off enough Democrats to help override his veto. After eight years in the political wilderness, though, Democrats will likely stick with Cooper and force Republican leaders to negotiate with the governor – and check many legislators’ questionable environmental policies.

The 2019 session is likely to be very long. With power more evenly divided between Cooper and the GOP legislature, the two sides may cooperate on some issues. Disaster recovery might be one area, for example, where they could feel some political pressure to work together. But the two parties hold significantly different views on many basic issues, and both sides know that the 2020 election – as well as control of the 2021 redistricting process – is just around the corner.  So the safest bet is on a political stalemate. If that happens, the annual budget bill – perhaps the only legislation that must be approved in 2019 – is likely to become a mishmash of appropriations and policies, with lawmakers loading it up with proposals they know Cooper would otherwise veto as stand-alone legislation. In this scenario, the two sides would hunker down for long, drawn-out negotiations that may delay budget approval and the end of the session well into the fall.

Funding for environmental protection, healthcare and education will be top issues in 2019. With GenX water contamination, flooding and water pollution from Hurricane Florence still in the news, Cooper will likely ask the legislature for substantial increases in funding for the state’s environmental protection agencies – something GOP leaders have been reluctant to do. Other remaining areas of disagreement include funding to move hog lagoons out of the floodplain and other conservation investments to make North Carolina more resilient. Cooper’s Hurricane Florence recovery plan calls for tens of millions of dollars in these investments. So far Republican leaders have not indicated their willingness to appropriate this funding.

The GOP supermajorities aren’t dead yet. The 2018 version of the General Assembly – complete with the GOP veto-proof majorities – is scheduled to be back in session on Nov. 27. Lawmakers are expected to take up another round of disaster recovery appropriations, though the details are still TBD. Implementing legislation for the four constitutional amendments approved by voters is also likely. Beyond that, the agenda for the November session is murky, though many in Raleigh expect legislative leaders to wield their soon-to-go authority widely before the 2019 legislature takes over.

Powerful people in 2019. GOP legislators will pick their leaders for the 2019 session some time after the November special session. House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, both Republicans, seem likely to return to lead each chamber. Assuming this is the case, Henderson County GOP Rep. Chuck McGrady – already a key leader on House budget matters – could become more influential. That’s because his colleague, senior GOP budget leader Rep. Nelson Dollar (Wake) was defeated on Tuesday. Dollar’s loss could mean McGrady’s gain in authority; on the other hand, Dollar and McGrady were allies in many budget battles, both within the House GOP caucus and with the Senate. The break-up of their appropriations dream team could make it harder for McGrady to find already scarce GOP support for many of the environmental policies and programs he supports.

Among other WNC legislators, the already powerful GOP Senator Ralph Hise will likely play an even larger role in the GOP Senate, particularly on health and human services issues. The same goes for Rep. Josh Dobson, who will take up some of the slack on health issues left by Dollar’s departure. And with the Senate GOP caucus is now smaller in numbers, second-term GOP Senators Chuck Edwards of Henderson and Watauga County’s Deanna Ballard are well positioned to increase their influence.

Whatever happens in the coming months in Raleigh, MountainTrue will be there to keep you informed and to speak up for Western North Carolina. Thank you to all of our members and supporters who make our advocacy efforts in the state capitol possible.


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: Whitewater Kayakers Receive Grant to Save Hemlock Trees in Green River Gorge

Press Release: Whitewater Kayakers Receive Grant to Save Hemlock Trees in Green River Gorge

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Whitewater Kayakers Receive $8,000 Grant from the Community Foundation of Henderson County to Save Hemlock Trees in Green River Gorge

Media Contact:       
Gray Jernigan
Green Riverkeeper and Southern Regional Director, MountainTrue
E: gray@mountaintrue.org  P: (828) 692-0385 x 1004

Nov. 9, 2018

Hendersonville, NC – The Paddlers Hemlock Health Action Taskforce (PHHAT), a group of whitewater kayakers, nonprofit and government partners working to save hemlock trees in the Green River Gorge, has received an $8,000 grant from the Perry N. Rudnick Endowment Fund of the Community Foundation of Henderson County. PHHAT’s mission is to save hemlock trees from the hemlock woolly adelgid, a non-native invasive insect from East Asia that is decimating hemlock tree populations in the Southeast.

The grant from the Community Foundation of Henderson County will fund this work for the next year and purchase equipment for PHHAT volunteers teams. “The health of the Green is so closely tied with the health of the hemlocks,” said Gray Jernigan, Green Riverkeeper and Southern Regional Director of MountainTrue. “We are so grateful for this funding to allow us to continue this project for another year and save more trees that are vitally important to the forest and river ecosystem.”

Many of the largest hemlocks along the Green River are found in the Green River Gorge, whose steep terrain make the trees inaccessible by foot. Since 2017, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, the Hemlock Restoration Initiative, American Whitewater and MountainTrue’s Green Riverkeeper have come together to train local paddlers in hemlock treatment techniques and safety protocols. The paddlers then navigate the Green River’s tricky waters to bury pellets of a hydrophobic pesticide around the roots of hemlock trees. Currently the only reliable remedy, this treatment protects the trees for up to 5 years.

As a foundation species, hemlock trees play a vital role in structuring ecosystems. Active when deciduous trees are not, hemlock trees stabilize riverbanks, regulate river flows, and balance river temperatures, among other important functions.

The hemlock woolly adelgid feeds off the trees’ sap and starch, disrupting their nutrient processes and eventually killing off the trees. First reported in Virginia in 1951, the hemlock woolly adelgid has spread to 20 states from Georgia to Maine and one Canadian province.

“As land managers, we often rely on the help of volunteers and partners to expand the capacity of work needed to conserve our Game Lands,” said Ryan Jacobs, Wildlife Forest Manager for NC Wildlife Resources Commission. “The work these paddlers are taking on here at Green River would never have happened without their passion for this special place.”

“Our hope is to see our program mirrored in other waterways across the region and even around the nation,” said Kevin Colburn, National Stewardship Director for American Whitewater. “As kayakers, it’s great to be able to give back to some of the places that have given us so much as a community.”

For additional information on the project, please visit paddlersforhemlocks.com.

MountainTrue champions resilient forests, clean waters and healthy communities in Western North Carolina. To this end, MountainTrue fosters and empowers advocates throughout the region to be engaged in policy and project advocacy, outreach and education, and on-the-ground projects.

The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission is the state government agency tasked with conserving and sustaining the state’s fish and wildlife resources through research, scientific management, wise use and public input. The Commission is also the regulatory agency responsible for enforcing the state’s fishing, hunting, trapping and boating laws.  

The Hemlock Restoration Initiative, a program of WNC Communities, works with the NCDA&CS, the USDA-FS and others to ensure that eastern and Carolina hemlocks can withstand the deadly hemlock woolly adelgid and survive to maturity on North Carolina’s public and private lands.

American Whitewater advocates for the preservation and protection of whitewater rivers throughout the United States, and connects the interests of human-powered recreational river users with ecological and science-based data to achieve the goals within its mission.

The Community Foundation of Henderson County supports charitable programs in the greater Henderson County area. Founded in 1982, the Community Foundation administers over 500 funds with assets of over $100 million.

###


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

MountainTrue Raleigh Report: Florence Disaster Recovery Funding, Climate Resilience for WNC

MountainTrue Raleigh Report: Florence Disaster Recovery Funding, Climate Resilience for WNC

Hurricane Florence nears the east coast of the United States on Sept. 12. (Photo credit: NOAA Satellites)

On October 8, the North Carolina General Assembly took less than a day to earmark close to $400 million in Hurricane Florence disaster recovery funding. Lawmakers also shifted another $450 million into a disaster recovery fund with a promise to use it in the near future for additional Florence recovery efforts.

The legislature’s action came swiftly in a bipartisan vote that legislative leaders hailed as historically fast and generous.

That it was done quickly is beyond debate.

Whether the legislation is sufficient to address disaster victims’ immediate needs, or the long-term challenges storms like Hurricanes Florence and Michael pose to the state, is another matter.

For starters, let’s remember that initial estimates put the total damage caused by Florence at more than Hurricanes Floyd and Matthew combined. And that roughly one million households – or 26 percent of all North Carolina households – have been affected by the storm.

We should also keep in mind that scientists are now confident that the unprecedented havoc Florence wreaked is the new normal, as the reality of climate change asserts itself in increasingly dangerous weather patterns across our state.

Given the size of Florence’s impact and the risk of future storms, it’s no wonder that in his recovery plan, Gov. Roy Cooper identified more than $3.7 billion in unmet needs after private and federal disaster recovery is accounted for. Cooper recommended investing $1.5 billion to address this need – including the initial down payment of $750 million he asked lawmakers to appropriate.

On paper, lawmakers’ $800 million disaster appropriation appears to go above and beyond Cooper’s request. In fact, their investment is much more modest – $400 million, most of which is matching funds necessary to draw down federal assistance. The remaining $400 million is set aside in the new state disaster fund that is not available for recovery until and unless the General Assembly votes to spend it. Nor is the legislature required to do so – it can simply leave the funding where it is or vote to use it for non-disaster needs.

Republican leaders insist that they will open up the state’s coffers as the state’s disaster needs become clearer. They reasonably point out that the state is still assessing Florence’s full impact and that they will be back in Raleigh for yet another special session right after the November elections.

Here’s hoping they keep their word. With so many hurting from Florence and with so much to do to prevent similar catastrophes, we would have preferred a bolder approach. The need to provide additional housing assistance for Florence victims, for example, is immediate and will not diminish in coming weeks.

Slightly less pressing but just as obvious is the need to make North Carolina stronger and safer before the next storm. It is long since time to move hog farms out of eastern North Carolina flood zones. The state should also move quickly to help people who live in flood zones – many of whom are on limited incomes – to find safe homes away from rivers and streams that flooded during Matthew and flooded again during Florence.

Gov. Cooper’s recovery plan included immediate investment in these efforts and others that would make North Carolina safer, cleaner and more sustainable. Sadly, the disaster aid bill approved earlier this month does little to make the state more prepared for the next storm.

 

And What About Western NC?

 

While Western North Carolina was largely spared by this season’s storms, they should encourage those of us who live here to consider the lessons they pose for our region. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that many of us were threatened by wildfires, flooding and mudslides that destroyed too many homes and took too many lives.

For starters, this year’s storms urge us to consider how we can make our communities safer and more resilient. The General Assembly’s investment in landslide mapping for WNC counties is a good example of the kind of preparation we need. The fact that approval of this funding came two years after Hurricane Matthew – and in the same month that landslides destroyed at least 30 homes and left five people dead here – only demonstrates how much we need to speed up our work on preparedness and safety.

Particular attention is needed in those areas of Western North Carolina where preserved open space meets human development. It’s along these borders, for example, that wildfires pose the greatest danger to people and property. Preparing for bigger storms also requires that we review our stormwater systems and reassess our assumptions about flood risk to make sure we are prepared for worse storm events to occur much more frequently.

And really, once and for all, let’s end the ridiculous debates about whether climate change is “real.” This tedious argument does nothing to help us as a state and is an insult to the many thousands of North Carolinians who lost their homes and loved ones this fall.

The sad reality is that Florence and Michael are just the latest in a series of wake up calls that too many of our leaders have slept through for too long. We owe it to those hurt by these storms to wake up and prepare, now, for the next ones.


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.

Did You Miss Our Annual Gathering? You Can Still Take Action Here!

Did You Miss Our Annual Gathering? You Can Still Take Action Here!

We had a wonderful evening hanging out with MountainTrue members at our Annual Gathering on Wednesday night. If you missed it, you can still take action to protect WNC’s mountains here. We hope you’ll get involved and join us next time!

Tell City Council: Fund Climate Resilience

What It Is: As members of the Asheville Regional Transit Coalition (ARTC) and the 100% Renewables Coalition, we’ve had some exciting victories this year. Asheville City Council passed a new Transit Master Plan that lays out a path to more frequent and widespread transit service in Asheville over the next ten years, and City Council adopted a 100% Renewable Energy Resolution to transition all city municipal operations to 100% renewable energy by 2030.

What You Can Do: These plans are a great first step, but now we need City Council to commit to turning them into action. Tell City Council: Thank you for voting to approve the 100% Renewable Energy Resolution and Transit Master Plan. Now, commit to funding Asheville’s 100% Renewable Energy Resolution and Transit Master Plan starting in next year’s city budget.

 

I Heart Pisgah: Protect Your Favorite Places in Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest

 

What It Is:
MountainTrue is a proud member if I Heart Pisgah, a group of over 100 organizations and businesses and thousands of individuals who support more protected areas in Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest.

What You Can Do:

Go to the I Heart Pisgah website here to take action to protect your favorite places in the national forest. You can write about what you love to do there and why you want to see it protected – the more you make it your own, the better. Your comments will go to the Forest Service before the release of the new Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Management Plan.

Blue Horizons Project: Make Your Home And Business More Energy-Efficient

What It Is: The Blue Horizons Project is an outgrowth of MountainTrue’s work to shut down the Asheville coal plant and encourage Duke Energy to increase their investment in energy efficiency programs.

Buncombe County’s energy usage is continuing to increase, and energy demand is highest on the coldest days of winter. If this pattern continues at the current rate, a new natural gas plant known as a “peaker plant” would need to be built to serve Buncombe County to meet the highest peak demand in winter. The Blue Horizons Project believes that instead of building more fossil-fuel plants, we can organize as a community to use energy more efficiently and explore clean energy alternatives.

What You Can Do: Go to the Blue Horizons website to find ways to make your home and/or business more energy-efficient. You can also sign up for the Blue Horizons newsletter or contact Blue Horizons Project Coordinator Sophie Mullinax to help more people in Buncombe County save energy and money through the project.

 

Family-Friendly Affordable Buncombe: Support Buncombe County Families

What It Is: MountainTrue is a leading organization of Family-Friendly Affordable Buncombe, an initiative to leverage the unique opportunity provided to our community by the sale of Mission Health in order to make our region more affordable for Buncombe County families and workers. Specifically, we believe the new property tax revenue created by the sale of Mission Health should support early childhood education, attainable family housing and better public transit.

What You Can Do: Learn more about Family-Friendly Affordable Buncombe on our website and sign on as a supporter. 


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.

The I-26 Connector Project, 20 Years in the Making

The I-26 Connector Project, 20 Years in the Making

For two years, the Asheville Design Center opened their doors to the community every Wednesday night to explore better options for the I-26 Connector. Here, a group of ADC volunteers look at a 3-D model of the project.

 

When communities come together, we can move a highway.

 

This fall, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) will release the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the I-26 Connector Project – a highway expansion project through Asheville – that will reflect some major victories and improvements for city residents.

When NCDOT first proposed the Connector Project in 1989, it sparked widespread concern among Asheville residents living within its path. Typical to NCDOT projects at the time, the project catered to thru-traffic drivers and not to the needs of the people and neighborhoods of Asheville itself. If left unchallenged, it would have been overbuilt and threatened communities already harmed by previous highway projects.

In 2000, the community started organizing in earnest to oppose to the plan. MountainTrue (then the Western North Carolina Alliance) co-chaired the Community Coordinating Committee (CCC), which issued a report recommending nine key design goals that the final project should achieve. These included separation of local and interstate traffic, matching the scale of project to the character of community, reunification and connectivity of community and minimization of neighborhood and local business impacts. These goals have continued to be the foundation for advocacy by residents and the City of Asheville ever since.

Then in 2006, the Asheville section of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) secured grant funding to form the Asheville Design Center. This allowed the Center to begin holding community meetings, workshops and design charrettes to create a community-authored design for I-26 that met the CCC’s goals. Eventually called Alternative 4B, this design was finished in 2007 and received broad community support, including funding from the City of Asheville and Buncombe County for an engineering study to prove that it was feasible.

The existing Patton Ave. corridor (left) and the community-designed alternative created by Asheville Design Center volunteers (right), which has been selected for the project.

In 2009, NCDOT committed to include a revised version of the community-designed Alternative 4B in the EIS – the first time anywhere in the country that a community-developed design became a viable alternative for a major highway project.

Also in 2009, a coalition of representatives from the Asheville neighborhoods that stood to be most impacted by the new highway – including West Asheville, Burton Street, WECAN, Emma and Montford – formed the I-26 ConnectUs Project. MountainTrue served as the convener and coordinator, using its expertise to amplify neighborhood concerns with NCDOT. The ConnectUs Project also adopted the CCC report’s goals as the basis for its advocacy.

In 2013, the I-26 Working Group came together and was made up of elected City and County officials, a representative of the business community, and MountainTrue as a representative of the ConnectUs Project. The Working Group secured consensus on several important issues, including that NCDOT should analyze the possibility of having fewer lanes through West Asheville and honor the City’s vision for the Jeff Bowen Bridge to become an urban boulevard. This effort also resulted in NCDOT commiting to build a multi-use path from Haywood Road in West Asheville to and across the Bowen Bridge – a significant victory for community connectivity.

When NCDOT issued a revised Draft EIS in 2015, Asheville City Council passed a resolution in support of the community’s vision and formed a working group with NCDOT to hammer out the remaining issues. In 2016, NCDOT selected Alt. 4B as the preferred alternative for the project and, in 2017, NCDOT agreed that the highway in West Asheville would be six rather than eight lanes. These decisions represent other major victories for citizen advocacy, and the working group collaboration has resulted in an improved project design on several other fronts.

Too often NCDOT has made its decisions without significant involvement from or engagement with local communities. In the years since, we’ve seen a growing shift in their approach in other areas of the state.

Good transportation planning considers a community’s unique context and engages residents from the beginning. It should protect our most vulnerable neighborhoods, ecologically sensitive areas, and mountain views, while minimizing the impacts on homes, businesses and special community assets. Good transportation planning can improve quality of life, increase transportation options, make our communities healthier and reduce pollution.  

MountainTrue and our Asheville Design Center are using this model of community advocacy  developed for the I-26 Connector project in other WNC communities, most notably in Sylva to develop community-designed alternatives for NC-107.

Does Your Community Need Assistance With A Design Project?


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.

Wild & Scenic Rivers Act Turns 50 This Year

Wild & Scenic Rivers Act Turns 50 This Year

The Chattooga River in Western North Carolina was designated as a Wild and Scenic River in 1974.

 

The act has preserved 12,754 miles of pristine river in 40 states and Puerto Rico.

 

MountainTrue partnered with American Rivers, American Whitewater and New Belgium Brewing to host a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on October 2, 1968.

The act established a process to designate rivers with “outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, or other similar values” for protection from development that would harm their wild or scenic character or their recreational value.

Of the six Wild and Scenic Rivers in North Carolina, five wind their way into or through our western part of the state.

On September 28, event attendees celebrated at New Belgium’s Liquid Center in Asheville where they watched a short river film, heard from local conservation and water advocates and took part in an advocacy activity asking Congress to reaffirm their commitment to protecting our Wild and Scenic Rivers.


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: The Legislature Overrides More Vetoes, and Some Good News

MT Raleigh Report: The Legislature Overrides More Vetoes, and Some Good News

On July 27, Governor Roy Cooper vetoed legislation that alters state ballot language for the constitutional amendments voters will consider this fall. The legislation had been approved by the General Assembly a few days before. Cooper also vetoed legislation that prevents a Supreme Court candidate who recently switched his party affiliation from having any party label next to his name on the ballot.

Last week, the legislature returned to override the governor’s vetoes – in a single Saturday session.

And then, this week, Cooper announced his plans to go to court to stop two of the constitutional amendments voters are scheduled to consider in November. The proposed amendments would take away the governor’s authority to appoint judges, regulators, board members and other state officials, and transfer that power to the legislature.

In addition, Clean Air Carolina, the Southern Environmental Law Center and the NAACP filed a separate lawsuit to stop amendments on the ballot that they say threaten voting rights and restructure government by usurping powers intended for the executive branch. A spokesperson for Republican Senate leader Phil Berger called the lawsuits “absurd”, saying they are intended to take away a voter’s right to choose how they want to be governed.

Here at MountainTrue, we’re still wading through these arguments and weighing the impact of the amendments on WNC’s environment and communities. We welcome your thoughts about the amendments, and whether (and how) environmentalists should support or oppose them.

And Now the Good News

Remember the state budget? You know the one – $24 billion for the new fiscal year, which started July 1?

While education funding and a living wage for state employees – and GenX water pollution – got most of the attention during the budget debate, there were two items of particular importance to WNC that you may not have heard so much about. And both are items those of us at MountainTrue are particularly proud of.

First, the General Assembly earmarked $3 million for landslide hazard mapping in Western North Carolina. Knowing where landslides may happen can be a matter of life and death. For proof, look no further than the landslides in Polk County that killed three people earlier this year.

At MountainTrue, we made landslide hazard mapping part of our legislative agenda more than three years ago. Our hope was that after Hurricane Matthew hit eastern North Carolina in 2015 and fires raged in Western North Carolina in 2016, lawmakers in Raleigh would turn their attention to disaster preparedness and might be willing to restore funding for landslide hazard mapping that was cut in 2011.

Well, it took a bit longer than we thought it would, but the legislature finally came around this spring when lawmakers included landslide hazard mapping in their final budget. Big thanks go out to Rep. Chuck McGrady, who got behind this funding three years ago and helped us keep pushing it. (For the record, McGrady also opposed cutting the funding in 2011.)

The result: local governments, developers and homeowners will soon have crucial information that will lead to more sustainable development and, hopefully, save lives.

The other budget item is smaller but may be crucial to protecting WNC’s trout fishing industry, which is worth about $383 million annually to the region’s economy.

Whirling disease is caused by the microscopic parasite Myxobolus cerebralis; it damages cartilage and skeletal tissue in trout, causing them to swim in a corkscrew pattern. If you love to fish for trout in WNC – or make your living helping others who do – whirling disease is bad news. It’s been found in the Watauga, and there is anecdotal evidence that it’s in other WNC rivers and streams as well.

The state is doing an exhaustive study of the disease, but the final results won’t be in for several years. So this year, MountainTrue’s Watauga Riverkeeper Andy Hill – who also happens to be a former professional fly fishing guide – got to talking about trout and whirling disease with Sen. Deanna Ballard. Ballard represents much of the Watauga River basin and knows how much trout fishing means to her district’s economy and way of life.

With Ballard’s help, an appropriation of $20,000 got tucked into North Carolina’s budget for MountainTrue to do a study to see if the DNA of Myxobolus cerebralis can be found in WNC’s waters. If the DNA shows up, it won’t be definitive proof of whirling disease, but we think it would be a strong enough sign to convince lawmakers like Ballard to act now to combat the disease before it gets out of hand. Even better, the study can be done quickly – in time for the 2019 legislature to consider the results and act on them.

These examples are a great reminder of why MountainTrue has a permanent presence in Raleigh. Finding success in the capital requires a long-term commitment to building support for good ideas – like landslide hazard mapping – and enough familiarity with the people and politics in the legislature to take advantage of opportunities like the whirling disease study when they arise.

And of course, having legislators like McGrady and Ballard who are willing to help doesn’t hurt either!


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.

Protect NEPA: Speak Up for Your Right to Speak Up!

The Trump administration is threatening the right to speak up about government projects that affect our communities and the mountains we love in Western NC.

What’s NEPA?

The National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, is such a basic part of our lives that we usually don’t even think about it. It’s what allows citizens to have a say about the plans for government projects that will affect the places they live, and requires the government to consider the environment when making critical decisions about road building, land management, permit applications and more.

It’s NEPA that allows everyday people to comment on the Forest Service’s Nantahala-Pisgah Forests Management Plan, or to know the costs and impacts of projects like the I-26 expansion before they occur. NEPA keeps these decisions from being made in the dark, and by requiring plan alternatives, it saves tax dollars.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) is proposing revisions to NEPA that will undo the core principles of the act. We have until August 20 to submit public comments to defend NEPA. 

A photo from the Cut the Clearcutting campaign by WNCA, one of the organizations that merged to become MountainTrue. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) protects the right for communities to have a say about government projects affecting their local environment, and the NEPA process later prevented the type of clearcutting shown in this photo from occurring in the Sugar House Cove and Bluff Timber Sales.

Act Now So We Can Keep Acting in the Future. Use your own words, but remind the White House Council on Environmental Quality:

  • Your voice deserves to be heard when the government makes decisions that affect your community.
  • We should know the alternatives for government projects before spending billions of taxpayer dollars.
  • Knowing how projects will affect low-income communities and communities of color helps protect people who for too long have not had meaningful protections.
  • NEPA has been critical to protecting WNC’s communities and environment for decades, including for the north shore of Fontana Lake, the Bluff Mountain, Sugar House Cove, and Upper Santeetlah Timber Sales, and the I-26 Connector Project.

When you click the button below, you will be redirected to the formal comment page for the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Then, click the “Comment Now!” button on the upper right corner of the page to leave your public comment. There are additional directions on this page that you may read if you like, but you can comment without reading them.

How Has NEPA Helped Western North Carolina? A Few Examples:

1. “The Road to Nowhere”

NEPA analysis showed that the “Road to Nowhere” along the north shore of Fontana Lake in Smoky Mountains National Park was too expensive and too destructive to build. This resulted in the preservation of the largest roadless area in the Southern Appalachians (pictured here) and a $52 million dollar settlement for Swain County to fund schools and other services.

2. The Sugar House Cove Timber Sale

The NEPA process documented a wealth of rare species at the Sugar House Cove Timber Sale in Pisgah National Forest in Big Ivy in 1994. The plans for the timber sale were changed to avoid rare species habitat.

3. The Upper Santeetlah Timber Sale

The NEPA process documented old-growth forests rivaling those at Joyce Kilmer during the Upper Santeetlah Timber Sale in 2010, allowing these trees to gain legal protection.

4. The I-26 Connector Project

NEPA allowed for consideration of additional alternatives for the I-26 Connector Project, including a community-designed alternative that ended up being chosen for the project. NEPA also provided the opportunity for community advocates and the NC Department of Transportation to work together to address concerns so that the final project will be better and cheaper.

5. Bluff Mountain Timber Sale

The NEPA process documented the potential harms of building six miles of road on Bluff Mountain, and allowed Pisgah National Forest to redesign the Bluff Timber Sale so that it would not impact water quality or the Appalachian Trail.


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: Final Update on the Farm Bill

MT Raleigh Report: Final Update on the Farm Bill

Those of you who receive MountainTrue’s legislative updates know that we’ve been mobilizing people across the region in recent weeks against the Farm Act, SB711. This legislation includes drastic new limitations on citizens’ rights to protect their homes and their health against large agricultural industrial operations like hog and chicken plants.

The GOP-controlled legislature approved SB711 along largely partisan lines a few weeks ago. On June 25, Gov. Cooper vetoed the bill, citing its impact on the environment and its limitations on property rights.

You can read more about the problems with this legislation here and here.

MountainTrue Co-Director Julie Mayfield states:

“With SB711, the North Carolina General Assembly has put the interests of large corporations above the interests of communities and homeowners. This has never been how things have been done in Western North Carolina.”

Despite overwhelming grassroots opposition to this bill, the legislature voted to override Cooper’s veto of SB711. Below is a list of WNC legislators and how they voted on the override. (Remember: those who voted FOR the override voted to support the bill. Those who voted AGAINST the override voted to oppose it).

We encourage you to take a moment to see how your lawmaker voted on this critical issue.

And a big thanks to all of you who helped us mobilize support against this bill – we hope you will continue to join us in speaking up for WNC’s environment and the health of the people who live here.

WNC Members of the NC Senate who supported SB711 by voting to override Gov. Cooper’s veto:

Deanna Ballard (R-Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Caldwell, Watauga)

Jim Davis (R-Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain)

Chuck Edwards (R-Henderson, Buncombe, Transylvania)

Ralph Hise (R-Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Yancey)

WNC Members of the NC Senate who opposed SB711 by voting to uphold Gov. Cooper’s veto:

Terry Van Duyn (D-Buncombe)

WNC Members of the NC House of Representatives who supported SB711 by voting to override Gov. Cooper’s veto:

Mike Clampitt (R-Haywood, Jackson, Swain)

Kevin Corbin (R-Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Macon)

Josh Dobson (R-Avery, McDowell, Mitchell)

Cody Henson (R-Henderson, Polk, Transylvania)

Tim Moore (R-Cleveland)

Jonathan Jordan (R-Ashe, Watauga)

Michele Presnell (R-Haywood, Madison, Yancey)

WNC Members of the NC House of Representatives who opposed SB711 by voting to uphold Gov. Cooper’s veto:

John Ager (D-Buncombe)

Susan Fisher (D-Buncombe)

Brian Turner (D-Buncombe)

Hugh Blackwell (R-Burke)

Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson)


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.