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Tell Madison County to Oppose Dangerous Industrial Biomass Facilities

Tell Madison County to Oppose Dangerous Industrial Biomass Facilities

Tell Madison County to Oppose Dangerous Industrial Biomass Facilities

The Madison County Planning Board is expected to vote on whether to recommend changes to the county’s land-use code that would allow dangerous, industrial biomass facilities in Madison County. The proposed amendments to the county’s land-use ordinance open the door to industrial-sized biomass facilities that would emit more climate-changing carbon into the atmosphere, cause significant air pollution, and pose serious fire risks to nearby residents. 

Take Action: Email the Planning Board and County Commissioners and let them know you want a clean and safe Madison County.

BACKGROUND: 

MountainTrue has serious concerns about the current draft amendments regarding biomass facilities. As it stands, the definition is too broad and has the potential to create a giant loophole allowing anyone making any sort of value-added product out of any organic materials, including wood, for either commercial or private use, to be classified at a biomass facility. 

Here is the latest proposed definition that we have seen:  

A facility that converts biomass sources into value-added products for public or private use. Biomass includes but is not limited to, wood and wood processing waste, wood pellets, agricultural crops and waste materials, biogenic materials in municipal solid waste, animal manure, and human sewage.

Large Biomass Facility:

  1. Annual Biomass Throughput: A large biomass facility processes over 10,000 metric tons of biomass per year.
  2. Energy Production: A large biomass facility generates over 25,000 MWh or more energy annually.
  3. Number of Employees: A large biomass facility has over 100 employees
  4. Capital Investment Threshold: A large biomass facility requires an investment of over $10 million. 

This broad definition raises three key concerns:

  1. Inconsistencies in Regulation: The definition of “large biomass facility” appears to include activities already separately defined and regulated within the ordinance, such as sawmills and certain manufacturing facilities. This inconsistency in regulation creates confusion for residents, business owners, and the County in determining which set of rules applies to specific activities. 
  2. Potential for Unintended Consequences: An overly broad definition could inadvertently allow certain activities, such as a sawmill evolving into a wood pellet production facility, to escape more stringent permitting requirements. This could occur because nonconforming land uses (i.e., land uses that pre-date an ordinance amendment that makes them newly “nonconforming”) are typically allowed to continue as long as they do not change their primary use or expand significantly. Therefore, a clearer definition is needed to prevent such loopholes.
  3. Unfair Scope: The proposal’s distinction between “large” and “small” biomass facilities does not serve the public or the ordinance’s purposes. It would both allow industrial-scale facilities in residential areas while punishing truly “small” biomass land uses—especially under the currently overbroad definition of “biomass”—by requiring regular folks to go through an expensive and time-consuming set of rezoning and permitting processes. The ordinance should focus on making sure industrial biomass facilities are properly located without sweeping up landowners looking to make occasional, harmless use of collected waste materials. Failing to make this distinction may lead to unnecessary hostility towards environmental advocacy and regulation.

A More Refined Definition

To address these concerns and create a more precise and effective regulatory framework, we propose a more tailored definition of “large biomass facility.” Our suggested definition would:

  • Apply only to facilities that produce biomass products for specific off-site uses, such as electricity generation, heating, or transportation fuel.
  • Tailor the amendment so that if the facility combusts biomass on site, the definition applies only if any electricity generated is transmitted for off-site use.
  • Include wood pellet biomass facilities explicitly within the definition to ensure they are adequately regulated.
  • Maintain the broad definition of “biomass” while narrowing the scope of facilities that fall under this definition.

Additional Considerations

In addition to refining the definition of “large biomass facility” to help distinguish between different types of biomass-related activities, we support:

  • Requiring special use permits for biomass facilities,
  • Correcting what may have been a mistake in section 8.11.12 (“Noise”) that regulates facilities that generate noise pollution “up to 70 decibels.” We believe the county meant “more than 70 decibels. 

ACTION: Support Road Safety in Downtown Asheville

ACTION: Support Road Safety in Downtown Asheville

ACTION: Support Road Safety in Downtown Asheville

Let the City of Asheville know that you support making College Street and Patton Avenue safer for pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders. 

The City of Asheville is wavering in its commitment to complete streets and needs your support for the College/Patton project today. MountainTrue has long been a supporter of complete street projects that make moving through our communities safer, easier, and more environmentally sustainable. Our new program Neighbors for More Neighbors WNC also supports such projects as a way to mitigate congestion in our city centers as we make room for more residents there. City staff and traffic engineers have studied this project and responded to community concerns along the way. They have improved the design, consulted with emergency responders, and compared vehicular traffic patterns to other streets in town to demonstrate that this new design would not create the congestion that some opponents of this project fear. Their expert analysis and process have built upon multiple studies and plans that have recommended projects like this one since the 2009 Downtown Master Plan. However, our city’s leadership needs to hear from more voices that support turning College Street and Patton Avenues into complete streets with buffered bike lanes and high-visibility crosswalks. Take action today to encourage Asheville City Council to vote in support of the College/Patton project and make our downtown safer for all users.

Neighbors for More Neighbors WNC advocates for more attainable housing that is built in places and at a scale that most benefits the health of our natural environment. We support attainable housing in and near our city centers because that is an efficient use of infrastructure, it decreases our overall carbon footprint, and also because we want our downtowns to be vibrant, thriving, inclusive places that all people in our community both can and want to access and enjoy. We believe that investments in infrastructure that make downtowns more pedestrian friendly, rather than vehicle oriented, pay off by activating our city center in a personal way and on a human scale. Bike lanes are a part of that landscape not just because they benefit bicyclists, but also because the less car-centric we make our downtown, the more people-centered it becomes. Complete street projects enable vehicle access and safer options for other road users, and, ultimately, we believe that complete streets in our city center will benefit businesses by making downtown a place that residents will want to spend more time and money in. 

Join us in supporting complete street investments in downtown Asheville by supporting the College/Patton Project today. Click here to read our letter of support for the College Street and Patton Avenue Redesign Project. 

ACTION: Support Road Safety in Downtown Asheville

MountainTrue’s Letter of Support for the City of Asheville’s College Street & Patton Avenue Redesign Project

MountainTrue’s Letter of Support for the City of Asheville’s College Street & Patton Avenue Redesign Project

photo credit: City of Asheville project page

October 2, 2023

This week, we sent the letter below to the members of Asheville City Council expressing our support for the College / Patton Project in downtown Asheville because we believe multi-modal transportation investments make denser residential development work best for our communities. You can read more about the project on the city’s website here.

 

Dear  Asheville City Council, 

          City Manager Debra Campbell,

          Director of Transportation, Ken Putnam

          Assistant Director of Transportation, Jessica Morriss 

          Members of the City of Asheville’s Multimodal Transportation Commission

 

I write today on behalf of MountainTrue and Neighbors for More Neighbors WNC asking you to support the College Street and Patton Avenue redesign project.

We took to heart Council member Mosley’s reflection of concern and even anger on behalf of the Black community regarding bike lanes during the August 22 council discussion on this project. The prospect of supporting what feels to some members of our community like “white encroachment in Black neighborhoods” is not a position we take lightly. While we believe that this redesign project would increase safety for all travelers through our downtown—pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers alike—we also take seriously the prospect that such a change may make some members of our community feel even less welcome or included, especially those Council member Mosley spoke on behalf of who are “most vulnerable among us.” 

Additionally, we take seriously the concerns of downtown business owners who are currently beset by a host of challenges and stressors and who feel like the timing of this project is not right. For those owners in particular who have invested in and committed to downtown Asheville even since the years when downtown was nearly deserted and sorely neglected, we regret that the timing of this project feels like a threat rather than a support.

While we do not take these concerns lightly, Neighbors for More Neighbors WNC advocates for more attainable housing that is built in places and at a scale that most benefits the health of our natural environment. We support attainable housing in and near our city centers because that is an efficient use of infrastructure, it decreases our overall carbon footprint, and also because we want our downtowns to be vibrant, thriving, inclusive places that all people in our community both can and want to access and enjoy. We believe that investments in infrastructure that make downtowns more pedestrian friendly, rather than vehicle oriented, do pay off by activating our city center in a personal way and on a human scale. Bike lanes are a part of that landscape not just because they benefit bicyclists, but also because the less car-centric we make our downtown, the more people-centered it becomes. Complete street projects both enable vehicle access in addition to providing safer options for other road users, and, ultimately, we believe that complete streets in our city center will benefit downtown businesses by making downtown a place that residents will want to spend more time and money in.  

When vulnerable members of our community and business owners feel that complete street projects like College/Patton go against their interests, we take time to step back and question our assumptions. It is true that the most vocal and visible champions for bicycle infrastructure in our community are white. It is also true that the challenges of both implementing this project and then adjusting to the new road design would be most immediately felt by the business owners whose businesses are located within the project footprint. Yet it is also frequently true that unwanted or even feared changes, once experienced, prove to be appealing and beneficial in unexpected ways. 

We respect our city staff and traffic engineers who have studied this project and responded to concerns along the way. They have improved the design by increasing loading zone space and decreasing impacts to drivers by moving the bike lanes to the left side of traffic, instead of the right. They have consulted with and received support from emergency responders in our community. And they have compared vehicular traffic patterns to other streets in town to demonstrate that this new design would not create the delays or congestion that some opponents of this project fear. We trust their expert analysis and their process, which has built upon multiple studies and plans that have recommended projects like this one since the 2009 Downtown Master Plan.

Neighbors for More Neighbors WNC advocates for housing that is financially attainable and responsibly located. We also advocate for transportation investments that make our community more affordable and make denser patterns of development work best for all members of our community. And we do that advocacy as thoughtfully and respectfully as possible, trying to honor all the different lived experiences that will be impacted by the changes we promote. We seek to listen, understand, learn, and partner with individuals and groups who want Asheville and WNC to be the best they can be. It is from this place that we ask for your support of the College/Patton project in the hopes that it ultimately proves to be more beneficial to our community than harmful and in the hopes that all members of our community, from the most vulnerable to the most privileged, find themselves able to access and enjoy our city center as neighbors welcoming more neighbors.

Sincerely, 

Susan Bean, Housing & Transportation Director for MountainTrue

ACTION: Stop the NCGA from Stripping Local Governments of Authority to Fight Plastic Pollution

ACTION: Stop the NCGA from Stripping Local Governments of Authority to Fight Plastic Pollution

ACTION: Stop the NCGA from Stripping Local Governments of Authority to Fight Plastic Pollution

Breaking News: A draft conference report of the state budget released to the media includes language that would prohibit counties (§ 153A-145.11) and cities (§ 160A-205.6) from passing ordinances, resolutions, or rules that would restrict, tax, or charge a fee on auxiliary containers — the definition of which includes bags, cups, bottles, and other packaging.

This language would preempt local control and undermine existing provisions of the NC Solid Waste Management Act that give counties and cities the authority to ban single-use plastic bags and other forms of packaging and the use of plastic foam (e.g., styrofoam) in foodware.

Plastic pollution is a threat to our environment and to the health of North Carolina residents. Email your legislators and let them know that our right to protect ourselves from dangerous pollutants is too important to be traded away to fossil fuel and retail industry lobbyists in backroom deals.

Language in NC Budget Would Strip Local Governments’ Ability to Pass Plastic Bag Bans and Other Waste Reduction Efforts to Protect Environment, Public Health, Landfills and Recycling Centers

Language in NC Budget Would Strip Local Governments’ Ability to Pass Plastic Bag Bans and Other Waste Reduction Efforts to Protect Environment, Public Health, Landfills and Recycling Centers

Language in NC Budget Would Strip Local Governments’ Ability to Pass Plastic Bag Bans and Other Waste Reduction Efforts to Protect Environment, Public Health, Landfills and Recycling Centers

Media Contacts: 

Karim Olaechea, Deputy Director of Strategy & Communications at MountainTrue
(828) 400-0768, karim@mountaintrue.org

Katie Craig, State Director at NCPIRG
kcraig@ncpirg.org 

Ken Brame, President of the Sierra Club’s Western North Carolina Group
(828) 423-8045,kenbrame10@gmail.com

Michelle B. Nowlin, Co-Director at Duke Environmental Law and Policy Clinic
(919) 613-8502, nowlin@law.duke.edu 

For Immediate Release

Raleigh, September 19 — A draft conference report of the state budget released to the media includes language that would prohibit counties (§ 153A-145.11) and cities (§ 160A-205.6) from passing ordinances, resolutions, or rules that would restrict, tax, or charge a fee on auxiliary containers — the definition of which includes bags, cups, bottles, and other packaging. 

This language would preempt local control and undermine existing provisions of the NC Solid Waste Management Act that give counties and cities the authority to ban single-use plastic bags and other forms of packaging and the use of plastic foam (e.g., styrofoam) in foodware. The inclusion of the preemption in the budget comes as both Asheville and Durham are considering ordinances to reduce plastic pollution, and the towns of Woodfin and Black Mountain have passed resolutions in support of a Buncombe County-wide ordinance. In 2021, Wilmington also passed a resolution encouraging the reduction of plastic waste.

Efforts to reduce plastic waste are popular among citizens and businesses. A survey from the City of Asheville received nearly 7,000 resident responses and showed support at 80%. Among 57 businesses surveyed in the Asheville area, there was widespread support for a waste reduction ordinance banning single-use plastic bags, plastic takeout containers, and styrofoam products.

The following are statements from representatives of organizations working to reduce plastic pollution: 

Hartwell Carson, French Broad Riverkeeper (a program of MountainTrue):
“Plastic pollution is a threat to our environment and the health of North Carolina residents. Our right to protect ourselves from dangerous pollutants is too important to be traded away to fossil fuel and retail industry lobbyists in backroom deals. We urge our elected officials to remove any such language and pass a clean budget.” 

Sarah Ogletree, Director of the Creation Care Alliance of WNC (a program of MountainTrue):
“This ban is about loving our neighbors—protecting the air and water we all need to survive and thrive. The General Assembly should not prevent us from living our faith by caring for God’s creation.” 

Katie Craig, State Director of the North Carolina Public Interest Research Group:
“Plastic waste threatens our health, environment, and communities. Our cities and counties often bear the impacts of our plastic waste problem, from managing recycling and landfill facilities to cleaning up litter in our parks and waterways. So, they should have a say in how their communities address the problem too. By preempting local authority to regulate single-use plastic bags, this provision threatens to undermine the ability of cities and counties in North Carolina to take meaningful steps towards sustainability, environmental protection, and the wishes of their own communities.”

Ken Brame, President of the Sierra Club’s Western North Carolina Group:
At a time when we are seeing record heat waves and flooding due to Climate Change, why would the NC General Assembly prevent local governments from reducing carbon-intensive plastic bags? Microplastics from plastic bags are being ingested and are becoming a health risk.  The General Assembly should care more about the health of its citizens than the profits of the plastic industry.”

Susannah Knox, Senior Attorney, Southern Environmental Law Center:
“This is a short-sighted attempt to take control from local governments trying to serve their communities by protecting public health and cleaning up their streets and creeks. Citizens and businesses across the state have expressed overwhelming support for reducing plastic pollution, and politicians in the General Assembly should not stand in their way.”

If you or your organization, club, or business would like to voice their support for a Plastic-Free WNC, please contact karim@mountaintrue.org

 

# # # 

Hendersonville’s Gen H Community Survey is live. Here are our suggestions.

Hendersonville’s Gen H Community Survey is live. Here are our suggestions.

Hendersonville’s Gen H Community Survey is live. Here are our suggestions.

The City of Hendersonville is seeking public input for its Gen H Community Survey as part of its 2045 Comprehensive Plan and to establish a long-term vision for sustainable growth and conservation. The survey is available in English and Spanish and is open through November 14, 2023. 

The following are our suggestions on the survey questions most relevant to the issues of conservation, environmental protection, and healthy communities. We hope you consider our recommendations when filling out your survey. If you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to MountainTrue’s Southern Regional Director, Nancy Díaz, for more information at nancy@mountaintrue.org.

 

Q1 – As you look into the future, what are the top three things you are most concerned about for Hendersonville? (Select 3)

Please consider including “Environmental Health” and “Housing” among your three selections. Prioritizing and investing in environmental protection is critical to making us more resilient to climate change challenges and maintaining Hendersonville residents’ health. 

The lack of attainable housing is a significant challenge for Hendersonville, and how we address that challenge directly impacts our environmental health. According to the North Carolina Office of State Budget and Management, Henderson County’s population is expected to grow by 30.28% between 2020 and 2050. However, existing residents already struggle to find housing that meets their needs. So, as we build homes to accommodate growth, we need to ensure that growth is responsible and sustainable by minimizing the impacts of our built environment. A 2021 Housing Needs Assessment conducted by Bowen National Research for the Dogwood Health Trust found that Henderson County has an overall vacancy rate of 0.2% with zero subsidized units available. This keeps housing in Hendersonville and Henderson County out of reach and forces many working families to commute from further and further away — increasing commuting costs, vehicle miles traveled, and carbon emissions. We hope our community’s vision for the future can be one that provides attainable housing in areas that already have infrastructure and amenities so that we can minimize the footprint of our built environment and protect more of our farms and forests from sprawl. 

 

Q4 – Based on data from the U.S. Census and state population projections, Henderson County has grown by 9% from 2000-2020. The County is projected to grow an additional 8% by 2030. Approximately 4,000 new housing units would need to be constructed by 2030 to accommodate new residents. Some percentage of this growth will occur within the City of Hendersonville. Where in Hendersonville do you think new development (homes, jobs, etc.) should occur?

Please consider choosing “Within the existing city limits with increased density.” Our cities and small towns should function as our communities’ economic, cultural, and residential centers. We should prioritize public and private development where we’ve already invested in infrastructure. At the same time, we should discourage any infrastructure expansion that induces sprawl into natural areas or the rural landscape. 

 

Q5 – What are your top three priorities as Hendersonville plans for its future? (Select 3)

Please consider including “Preserving farmland and critical environmental areas” and “Providing a range of housing opportunities and choices at various price ranges” among your three selections. As mentioned above, Hendersonville and Henderson County are suffering a housing crisis that is making it difficult, if not impossible, for teachers, nurses, restaurant workers, civil servants, and other workers to commute to work and even stay in our communities. By allowing for a greater variety of housing choices and building more within our urban centers, we are more likely to meet our housing needs without infringing upon our forests and farmlands. 

 

Q6 – To me, “quality development” means: (Select 3)

Please consider including “Good streetscapes” and “Walkable, safe environments” among your three selections. Making our communities safe, walkable, and bikeable is critical to reducing our dependence on cars and fossil fuels. It also encourages an active lifestyle, which can benefit physical and mental health. 

 

Q7 – Do you feel that Hendersonville has enough housing units?

As mentioned in our discussion of Question 1, Henderson County had an overall vacancy rate of 0.2% and zero available subsidized units, according to the 2021 Housing Needs Assessment conducted by Bowen National Research. We don’t have the housing to accommodate our current needs, let alone the needs of a growing population. 

 

Q8 – From your first home as an adult to the home where you spend your adult life and the home where you plan to grow old, a community can provide a variety of housing types for all the various life stages based on needs and cost of living. Looking to the future, what housing types (beyond single-family houses) does Hendersonville need to ensure residents can find housing to match their life stage? (Select all that apply.)

Please consider including “Missing Middle Housing” among your selections. “Missing middle housing” is a term used in urban planning and housing policy to describe a range of housing types that were built frequently in the early 20th century, that are scaled to fit in with existing neighborhoods, but that haven’t been built much in recent decades. Hence, the label “missing.” Common examples of these kinds of homes include duplexes, triplexes, and townhomes. By not adding these kinds of homes to the market in recent years, we have created a gap in housing options that can contribute to issues such as affordability and housing shortages. Missing middle housing is a potential solution to address these challenges and create more diverse and sustainable communities.

 

Q10 – What are your top three improvements for downtown?

Please consider including “Safe/improved pedestrian and bike connections in and to downtown from neighborhoods” and “New and/or improved public spaces/parks” among your three selections. Making Hendersonville more walkable and bikeable is better for our environment, pedestrian and cyclist safety, and public health. 

 

Q14 – Rank what Hendersonville needs most: (Rank your priorities)

Please consider selecting “Housing” as your top priority. As discussed in the discussion to Question 1, Hendersonville is facing a dire housing shortage. While more jobs and amenities such as shopping and dining are desirable, we are in desperate need of housing for the workers that we would need to staff these positions. 

 

Q16 – On a scale of 1-5, with 1 being least important and 5 being extremely important, how important is the natural environment to Hendersonville’s identity?

Please consider selecting “5 – Extremely Important.” Protecting our natural environment is critical to maintaining our Appalachian mountain identity, addressing climate change, and supporting good public health. Our natural environment provides essential ecosystem services such as clean air and water, pollination, and climate regulation. A comprehensive plan that prioritizes the natural environment can help the City become more resilient to climate change. Natural features like wetlands and green spaces can mitigate flooding, absorb excess rainwater, and provide shade and cooling in heat waves. Access to green spaces, parks, and natural areas enhances the City’s aesthetic appeal and provides recreational opportunities for residents. By integrating environmental considerations into urban planning, Hendersonville can create a more resilient, livable, and attractive community for current and future generations.

 

Q18. Thinking about how the plan could impact Hendersonville’s parks, greenspace and greenway facilities over the next 20-40 years, what is most important to you? (Rank your priorities)

There are no wrong answers here, but please consider selecting “Parks that protect environmental health and natural resources” and “Neighborhood parks that meet the daily and year-round needs of nearby residents” among your highest priorities. Public parks can provide many important environmental benefits, improving air and water quality, supporting biodiversity and local pollinators, and mitigating urban heat. Parks can be developed in a way to mitigate flooding, absorb excess rainwaters, and provide shade and cooling during heatwaves. Public parks also offer spaces for recreation, exercise, and relaxation, promoting physical and mental well-being. They serve as gathering points for community events and social interactions, fostering a sense of belonging and cohesion. Parks are essential for children’s development, providing safe play areas and opportunities to connect with nature. In short, public parks enrich the quality of life in communities by enhancing health, culture, environment, and social connections, making them a fundamental aspect of urban planning and community development.

 

Q21 – What are your priorities for making Hendersonville more walkable and bikeable? (Rank your priorities)

Again, there are no wrong answers here, but we hope you will consider including “Streets with sidewalks,” “Bikeways and bike lanes,” and “Greenway trails” among your top priorities. Making Hendersonville more walkable and bikeable benefits residents and the environment alike by making our City more vibrant, efficient, and livable. Walkable and bikeable cities reduce dependence on cars, leading to lower greenhouse gas emissions, improved air quality, and decreased traffic congestion. Fewer cars on the road can alleviate traffic congestion, making cities more efficient and reducing commuting time. Well-designed pedestrian and bike infrastructure enhances safety for vulnerable road users, reducing accidents and injuries. Pedestrian and bike-friendly cities are also more inclusive, offering transportation options for people who cannot drive, including older adults, children, and individuals with disabilities.

 

Q23 – How would you rank the following areas of sustainability from most important to least important? Are there any focus areas you think need to be added? (Rank your priorities)

There are no wrong answers here, and all the options are interrelated and critical to ensuring a sustainable future for Hendersonville. Let the City know where your priorities lie, and, most importantly, don’t forget to take the survey!

With your participation, we believe that Hendersonville could develop a well-considered comprehensive plan that could serve as a model for other communities throughout Western North Carolina. 

Thank you for your time and consideration.