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.

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.

What’s Going On With the NC Farm Bill?

6/26/2018

Last night Governor Roy Cooper vetoed SB711, a dangerous bill that would greatly limit the constitutional right of North Carolinians living near industrial hog farms to seek justice in the courts for nuisance and pollution of their air and water. The General Assembly will vote later this week on whether or not to override Governor Cooper’s veto.

This is when we need your calls more than ever. Will you make a quick call to your state representative now to make sure Governor Cooper’s veto of SB711 stands? If you don’t know who your representative is, you can use the “Who Represents Me?” tool on the NC General Assembly website here, and find your representative’s phone number here.

 

The Facts About SB711:

  • This bill was drafted to protect Smithfield Foods, an out-of-state industrial hog operation owned by Chinese business interests, from a lawsuit brought by neighbors of industrial hog farms in Eastern NC. The intention is to protect a foreign corporation from liability where rural communities of color are disproportionately impacted by operations they own or control through contracts.
  • This bill is not about protecting farmers, it’s about protecting profits. All of the pending lawsuits are against Smithfield through its subsidiary, Murphy-Brown. The only entity paying damages (or potentially liable) in these cases is Smithfield. While some of the facilities are operated by contract growers, the only defendant in the lawsuits is Smithfield.
  • SB711 allows only neighbors within half a mile of an industrial farm to file a lawsuit, but the claim must be brought within one year of the establishment of the operation. Since there’s been a moratorium on new hog CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations, also known as large industrial animal operations) since 1997, new operations are not being established. This prevents any neighbor from being able to pursue a nuisance suit. This runs contrary to nuisance theory (and general statute of limitations) where the claim arises when the harm actually occurs, not when the potential for harm begins.
  • This is not to mention neighbors of industrial farms who live more than half a mile away, who will have no longer have any standing to sue for nuisance. Water pollution moves animal waste hundreds of miles downstream, and odor and bacteria are carried by the wind, so neighbors farther than half a mile from hog farms will continue to be effected.
  • SB711 would also severely limit local governments’ ability to regulate large agriculture operations – including poultry plants.

You can still take action. If your state representative voted YES on SB711, ask them to support Governor Cooper’s veto. If your NC House Representative voted NO on SB711, call and thank them for supporting North Carolina homeowners, and ask them to stand strong to support Governor Cooper’s veto of this dangerous bill.  Here’s how some of WNC’s House Reps. voted on SB711:

Chuck McGrady (Henderson): No

Cody Henson (Henderson, Polk, Transylvania): Yes

Kevin Corbin (Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Macon): Yes

Jonathan C. Jordan (Ashe, Watauga): Yes

Michele D. Presnell (Haywood, Madison, Yancey): Yes

Susan C. Fisher (Buncombe): No

John Ager (Buncombe): No

Brian Turner (Buncombe): No

Tim Moore (Cleveland): Yes

Mike Clampitt (Haywood, Jackson, Swain): Yes

Josh Dobson (Avery, McDowell, Mitchell): Yes

And for the record, here’s part of the statement Governor Cooper released after his veto:

“North Carolina’s nuisance laws can help allow generations of families to enjoy their homes and land without fear for their health and safety. Those same laws stopped the Tennessee Valley Authority from pumping air pollution into our mountains…Giving one industry special treatment at the expense of its neighbors is unfair.”

 

Thank you for standing up for North Carolina homeowners and for clean air and water in the state we love.


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.

Open Letter: We Stand with the City of Asheville in Opposing Cascading Section A of the I-26 Connector Project

Open Letter: We Stand with the City of Asheville in Opposing Cascading Section A of the I-26 Connector Project

This rendering by the Asheville Design Center shares our vision for the Patton Avenue/Bowen Bridge corridor to be a multi-modal, urban boulevard that serves as a gateway to downtown. 

June 18, 2018

French Broad River MPO

339 New Leicester Highway

Asheville, NC  28804

 

Dear MPO leaders:

 

On behalf of our members and supporters, Asheville on Bikes and MountainTrue write in opposition to cascading Section A of the I-26 Connector Project from the statewide to the regional tier of projects.  We firmly believe that negotiations between the City of Asheville and NCDOT on outstanding design questions related to the Connector Project should be completed and incorporated into the final Environmental Impact Statement before the project moves forward. We cannot support cascading Section A until this occurs.

We recognize that the City’s negotiations with NCDOT to date have produced several good outcomes including new bike/pedestrian facilities, good greenway connections, a Section A with six lanes instead of  eight, and a much-improved redesign of the Amboy Road interchange (though no one has yet seen revised maps that reflect these design improvements).  However, there has not yet been success in determining the number of lanes going across the river and in the design of the Patton Avenue/Bowen Bridge corridor.  The City of Asheville remains committed to making this corridor a multi-modal, urban boulevard that serves as a gateway to downtown, but NCDOT is not yet committed to these outcomes.

Until negotiations with NCDOT are complete and the drawings are updated so that the City can say with confidence that the project will increase livability for the residents of Asheville, advance active transportation, and meet the City’s vision for the redevelopment of Patton Ave, we stand with the City of Asheville in opposing cascading Section A.  We strongly encourage NCDOT to continue to work with the City of Asheville to reach agreement on these critical design issues.

 

Sincerely,

 

            Mike Sule, Executive Director                                                                Bob Wagner, Co-Director

            Asheville on Bikes                                                                                    MountainTrue


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.