Asheville’s Merrimon Avenue Reconfiguration

Asheville’s Merrimon Avenue Reconfiguration

Asheville’s Merrimon Avenue Reconfiguration

Merrimon Avenue is dangerous – not only for pedestrians and cyclists but also for drivers. Has anyone else sat in your car waiting to turn left off Merrimon and watched your rearview mirror in horror as another driver comes flying up behind you and then swerves into the right-hand lane just barely missing your bumper? Or have you been the unfortunate victim of a situation where that driver didn’t quite swerve in time and crashed into you? We don’t want this to happen anymore. People should be able to walk safely along the sidewalks or bike into town without risking their lives.

Luckily, right now we have the opportunity to influence the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) to improve the design and make the road safer for all users! NCDOT is considering streamlining the road to add both bike lanes and a center turning lane, which would create a calmer and safer experience for everyone. You can provide your input by taking NCDOT’s Merrimon Avenue Survey by March 22, 2022. 

If you’d like a guide that can help explain parts of this survey and give tips on how to respond to some of the open-ended questions, we encourage you to review this excellent resource created by our organizational partner, Asheville on Bikes. For more information on the project from a local perspective, check out this Asheville Citizen Times op-ed written by MountainTrue’s Community Engagement Director and North Asheville resident, Susan Bean.

The City of Asheville is seeking resident input on the Merrimon Avenue Reconfiguration Project. The City’s comment period — open until March 22, 2022 — aims to gather public feedback about a proposed 4-3 conversion (road diet) for Merrimon Avenue. This conversion would take place as part of an upcoming NCDOT repaving project, a project which had been delayed, until now, by the pandemic and by discussions between NCDOT and the City about the future of Merrimon Avenue. Repaving projects include re-striping between the curbs, and that re-striping can be designed to create a different traffic configuration, as is proposed for Merrimon.

This repaving and subsequent 4-3 conversion is a once-in-a-decade opportunity to make Merrimon Avenue better fit the needs of the community. Like our friends at Asheville on Bikes, we recommend that Asheville residents follow this project and discuss it with their neighbors. 

Asheville — the tenth largest city in North Carolina — continues to rank #1 in pedestrian and bicyclist death and injury. As the Citizen Times reported earlier in March, between 2010-18, Asheville ranked first in the state per capita in both total pedestrian crashes per year and in pedestrian crashes that result in injury or death. 

MountainTrue supports a 4-3 conversion for Merrimon Avenue north of downtown for many reasons — and one of the best reasons is that it will make the road safer for all users.

Here’s what we know about Merrimon Avenue as it stands right now:

  • Merrimon Avenue is dangerous and doesn’t work well for any road user, including motorists.
  • Four-lane undivided highways are dangerous by design — resulting in conflicts between high-speed through traffic, left-turning vehicles, and other road users.
  • Merrimon Avenue averages a crash almost every other day.
    • 20% of those crashes result in injury.
    • Between 2010-18, Asheville ranked first in the state per capita in both total pedestrian crashes per year and in pedestrian crashes that result in injury or death.
  • Merrimon Avenue is dangerous. More dangerous than other comparable streets across the state. Accidents happen almost daily, frequently causing injury and sometimes even death. A safer design is possible and would create a calmer AND safer experience for all road users – drivers, pedestrians, emergency vehicles, cyclists – everyone.

Based on what we know about 4-lane roads that are reconfigured into 3-lanes with a center turn-lane:

  • An improved Merrimon Ave will be safer for all users and all abilities: pedestrians, drivers, and bicyclists alike
  • An improved Merrimon Ave will slow down traffic without making trips significantly longer, and make for a more pleasant experience for local users of the corridor
  • Businesses will benefit as it will be easier and safer for customers traveling both directions to turn left into them
  • New bike lanes would create a buffer of space between pedestrians on the sidewalks and vehicular traffic
  • 15 years of transportation planning by various agencies have all supported this conversion

Let’s support a safer multi-modal Merrimon Avenue. Take action today and let the NC Department of Transportation know that you support a better, safer Merrimon Ave

Tell DEQ to Clean Up The Cottages of Boone

Tell DEQ to Clean Up The Cottages of Boone

Tell DEQ to Clean Up The Cottages of Boone

The Cottages of Boone has discharged tens of thousands of gallons of sewage and untreated wastewater into Laurel Creek, which flows into the Watauga River. Call on the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to make The Cottages clean up their act and stop polluting our rivers.

MountainTrue has been closely monitoring this facility’s illegal discharges, including large overflow events in April and September that dumped 70,000 gallons and 5,000 gallons of untreated wastewater into Laurel Creek, which flows into the Watauga River. In August, DEQ levied a $38,000 civic penalty against The Cottages’s treatment plant, and now DEQ is currently considering whether to renew its discharge permit. We need you to speak up and help us hold this egregious polluter accountable and prevent future wastewater spills.

While we are not asking DEQ to deny the permit outright (displacing 900 households), we are requesting that DEQ make monitoring data publicly available online, and the permit stricter and conditional upon The Cottages cleaning up their operations.

Fill out the form below and sign on to our letter to DEQ asking that they:

  1. Reduce the term of the permit from five years to a term of two years to make it easier to hold The Cottages accountable if they don’t clean up their act.
  2. Increase monitoring of The Cottages of Boone and make monitoring data from all Sewage System Overflows — including those from The Cottages of Boone — publicly available in a timely manner and easy to find online.
  3. Make any approval of the permit conditioned on The Cottages cleaning up their act. DEQ should promise to change or revoke the permit if The Cottages illegally discharge more than 2,500 gallons within any 3-month period of time.

UPDATE: Thank you to all who have responded to our action alert and signed our letter to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) demanding better monitoring and a stricter wastewater discharge permit for The Cottages of Boone. We surpassed our goal of 1,000 signatures, and we emailed a copy of the letter to DEQ on the afternoon of Monday, December 13.

 

Senate Budget Includes Enviro Investments. Will the House Follow?

Senate Budget Includes Enviro Investments. Will the House Follow?

Senate Budget Includes Enviro Investments. Will the House Follow?

Approval of a new state budget is near the top of the North Carolina General Assembly’s To-Do list every year.

And ensuring that the budget includes investments for Western North Carolina’s natural resources is a big part of MountainTrue’s legislative agenda.

We got an early read on how our budget priorities may fare this year recently when the North Carolina Senate approved its version of the state’s new spending plan a few weeks ago. The news – so far anyway – is pretty good.

The Senate budget includes some of our top priorities, including recurring funding to maintain the state’s landslide hazard mapping efforts in our region; funding to identify and address failing septic systems that are polluting rivers and streams; and a constellation of conservation investments to restore regional waters and make them more accessible to the public.

Take Action for the Environment

We need your help to win support for much-needed funding to clean up WNC rivers and protect our environment.

Some of the more recognizable investments include $12 million for the new Pisgah View State Park in Buncombe County and $7.5 million for removal of the Big Hungry Dam on the Green River in Henderson County — one of the most expensive and long-sought dam removal projects in the state.

Our team began meeting with legislators about our budget priorities months ago, so it’s great to see some of that work pay off with funding for a number of those projects included. But we would be remiss if we did not thank the legislators who helped with this success — particularly Sen. Chuck Edwards of Henderson County.

Edwards is one of the chairs of a key Senate appropriations committee with responsibility for natural resources investments. He’s been a strong ally of MountainTrue’s efforts to address water quality problems — including E. Coli — in our region and to find the funding for a variety of other investments.

More good news: an important open space conservation fund also gets a big boost under the Senate budget. Last year the state’s Land and Water Conservation Fund provided $21 million in grants. Under the Senate plan, the Fund would receive $73.2 million in this fiscal year and $53.2 million next year. Trust funds for farmland preservation and our state parks system also got big boosts.

While the Senate budget is a good first step, we hope that House budget writers will build on this success and fund two big-ticket items that the Senate did not. WNC urgently needs funding to help farmers pay for fencing and other “best management practices” that will keep cows and stormwater runoff out of rivers and our waters free of E. Coli. Statewide demand for these programs far outstrips the availability of these funds. Likewise, funding to help property owners and local governments upgrade septic and wastewater systems to reduce water pollution in our region are also in great demand.

These two programs need millions of dollars of new investment.

For more information about MountainTrue’s budget priorities, give this document a look (pdf).

With the budget process in Raleigh in full swing, you can help us advocate for these investments. Use the form below to thank Sen. Edwards for his help and encourage House members to build on the Senate’s investments.

Finally — on a different note — many of you have likely heard about the big energy bill now moving at the legislature. At MountainTrue, we have serious concerns about the bill in its current form and are working with many other groups to fashion a much better solution. Look for updates about this issue in an upcoming newsletter.

Thanks for being part of MountainTrue’s advocacy efforts – together, we are helping bring millions of dollars to WNC to improve water quality and expand public access to our rivers and streams.

Stop The Bluffs At River Bend

Stop The Bluffs At River Bend

Stop The Bluffs At River Bend

Volunteers have worked hard for six months to hold off The Bluffs. Now we need your help!

Help fight a planned mega-development that would be built on 80 acres of intact forest directly next to Richmond Hill Park, increase traffic, and pollute the French Broad River.

Here’s How You Can Take Action:

UPDATE: The Woodfin Town Board of Adjustments hearing of the Bluffs Issue that was scheduled for Thursday, June 24 meeting has been POSTPONED for 60 days. Once a new hearing is scheduled, we will send an email to let you know. 
1. Attend the Woodfin Town Board of Adjustments meeting on Thursday, June 24 and wear green! It’s important that we have a large turnout of people that oppose the Bluffs at this meeting.

What: Woodfin Town Board of Adjustments In-Person Meeting
When: Thursday, June 24 at 6:30 pm
Where: Woodfin Community Center
20 Community Center
Woodfin, NC 28804

2. Donate to the Richmond Hill & River Rescue GoFundMe page. All financial contributions will help with the costs of hiring a stormwater engineer to analyze the full extent of the development’s potential impact to the French Broad River. To donate directly through MountainTrue, list your donation as restricted for Richmond Hill & River Rescue.

What else should you know?

The proposal: Strategic Real Investment Partners LLC, a Tampa, Florida-based developer has submitted plans to construct 1,545 luxury residential condo units in Woodfin adjacent to Richmond Hill Park and on the banks of the French Broad River.

The proposed development would be built on extremely steep slopes, and the developer has not agreed to the higher level of stormwater management at this site that we know is necessary to protect the health of the river.

MountainTrue opposes this project in its current form because of the potential impacts to places we all share like the French Broad River, Richmond Hill Park and roads unsuited for the additional increased traffic.

  • A massive luxury housing project like this will only make our region even less affordable. Studies show that building new luxury housing pushes up rents in surrounding neighborhoods and increases burdens on lower-income households.
  • Traffic will increase dramatically, affecting safety and planned multimodal improvements. The developer’s own traffic engineers estimate this development will generate well over 10,000 trips a day. These cars would use narrow, winding residential streets and Riverside Drive unless a proposed new bridge over the French Broad River is built.
  • The project could endanger rare salamander species. Neighboring Richmond Hill Park is home to two species designated by North Carolina as of “Special Concern” — the Mole Salamander and the Southern Zigzag Salamander. This property contains similar habitat so these salamanders could be present there as well.  We are unaware of any studies or wildlife inventories done in the project area.
  • The development will pollute the French Broad River. Removing trees and ground cover, grading steep slopes, and paving roads and parking lots will lead to polluted stormwater runoff into the French Broad River.  
  • Increased storm water runoff would endanger river recreation and public health. The project would be just upstream from a proposed $18 million whitewater wave and recreation park — a significant public investment.

Send in your comments to ask the Woodfin Town Commission to ensure the following:

  1. For this project to move forward in a responsible manner, approval and permits for the construction of a new bridge over the French Broad River must be in hand before the developer breaks ground to reduce neighborhood traffic safety concerns and potential environmental impacts.
  2. The Developer agrees to additional stormwater measures that will protect water quality in the French Broad River.
  3. The Developer agrees to a forested buffer between the new development and the Richmond Hill Neighborhood.
  4. Woodfin’s development ordinances should be updated to ensure that future projects reflect the type of growth that residents want, not just what is easiest and most profitable for developers.

Commission members are: Adrienne Isenhower, planning director; Michael Saunders, planning staff; Mayor Jerry Vehaun; Woodfin Commissioners Debbie Glazentanner, Jackie J. Bryson, Donald Honeycutt, Donald Hensley, Ronnie Lunsford, and Jim Angel. Letters for public comment should be sent to clerk@woodfin-nc.gov. Public comment can also be made by calling 828-253-4887.

Protect Old-Growth, Wildlife & Our Natural Heritage in Nantahala National Forest

Protect Old-Growth, Wildlife & Our Natural Heritage in Nantahala National Forest

Protect Old-Growth, Wildlife & Our Natural Heritage in Nantahala National Forest

The US Forest Service is proposing a 1,500-acre timber sale in the Snowbird Mountains in Nantahala National Forest that would log documented old-growth stands, steep headwaters of pristine streams, and areas recognized by the state of North Carolina for their outstanding biodiversity and healthy forests.

Act now and tell the forest service to fix their proposal and protect our natural heritage.

This is the latest in a series of bad faith projects on the Nantahala National Forest that propose road building and timber harvest in some of the wildest and healthiest forests in our region. The Crossover Project would prejudice the new Forest Plan against the protection of old-growth forests, rare species, and backcountry areas and put water supply watersheds at risk. This is not what we consider a “collaborative” project that furthers ecological restoration for Nantahala National Forest.

Josh Kelly, MountainTrue’s field biologist explains: “The Forest Service worked with a broad group of stakeholders, throughout the forest management plan process. With one hand, they assure us that they take collaboration and our input seriously, then with the other hand they draw up these plans that plainly contradict the recommendations of hunters, hikers, anglers, equestrians, timber companies and other forest users. This is an old-school timber sale that targets the most sensitive and controversial areas for logging. If this project represents Nantahala National Forest’s priorities for the next 20 years, everyone should be very concerned, not just because of the damage it would do to the land, but because of the lack of relevancy, it would ensure for the agency. ”

The Crossover Timber Project would log 158 acres of the Ash Cove Backcountry Area which was proposed for Backcountry Management in Alternative C in the new forest plan and endorsed by the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Partnership. Commercial logging and building logging roads are incompatible with the Backcountry Management Area. The proposal for Crossover, following on the heels of a similar decision in the Buck Project, shows that Nantahala National Forest is biased against Backcountry Management.

The Crossover Timber Project would log 51 acres of Natural Heritage Areas. Within the project area, the slopes of Teyahalee Bald have been identified by the State of North Carolina as Natural Heritage Natural Areas for their outstanding biodiversity. These areas are home to some of the healthiest forests in North Carolina that include rare species like Mountain Catch Fly that would be harmed by commercial logging.

The Crossover Timber Project would log at least 98 acres of existing old-growth forests. The Forest Service’s own records show that all of these forests are over 130 years old, and fieldwork conducted by MountainTrue has documented trees over 200 years of age in these areas. MountainTrue alerted the Forest Service to the location and presence of these rare old-growth sites and they are still being targeted by this timber sale.

The Crossover Timber Project proposal would log more than 400 acres at the source of Robbinsville’s drinking water supply. Seventeen stands slated for analysis of commercial and non-commercial timber harvest treatments lie in the Long and Rock Creek watersheds. These streams flowing off the ridge of the Snowbird Mountains are all classified as High-Quality Waters and feed public drinking water supplies for the Town of Robbinsville.

The Crossover Timber Project would permanently decommission the western half of the Snowbird Mountain Trail. Recreation groups within the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Partnership had asked that the trail be improved, not decommissioned within their recommendations for the forthcoming forest management plan.

If the Forest Service truly believes in collaboration, the solution is easy: Follow the recommendation of the partners you’ve been working with for the past 8+ years. The Forest Service can have a successful timber project while protecting Natural Heritage Natural Areas and existing old growth, and keeping Snowbird trail open.

Action Expired

1. Email the Forest Service

The Forest Service is now soliciting input on the design of its Crossover Timber Project!

2. Send a Letter to the Editor

Send a letter to the editor of the Smoky Mountain News to raise public awareness.

3. Support Our Timber Monitoring Program

MountainTrue monitors and analyzes every project in the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests to support vulnerable species, safeguard old-growth forests, and make sure you have wonderful outdoor spaces for biking, hiking, hunting, fishing and foraging.

One Million Gallons of Sewage Overflowed into Western North Carolina Waterways during Six Month Period

One Million Gallons of Sewage Overflowed into Western North Carolina Waterways during Six Month Period

One Million Gallons of Sewage Overflowed into Western North Carolina Waterways during Six Month Period

Photo credit: Alan Cressler, USGS. Public domain.

Asheville, NC —  More than one million gallons of sewage overflowed from inadequate wastewater infrastructure into the French Broad River and other area waterways in Western North Carolina according to state data acquired and analyzed by MountainTrue. The data was collected from August 3, 2020 until March 4, 2021 by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) Asheville Regional office and is the best available estimate of the amount of sewage that overflows from wastewater infrastructures such as pipes and manhole covers into area rivers and streams across 19 counties of western North Carolina.

TAKE ACTION TO FIGHT E. COLI POLLUTION IN OUR RIVERS

We know the sources of E. coli pollution. Now we have the solutions to clean up our rivers. Advocated for major investments in wastewater infrastructure, and stand up for science-based policies to help farmers fence cattle out of streams and property owners fix their septic systems.

MountainTrue, a local conservation organization, monitors water quality throughout Western North Carolina and in Union and Towns counties in North Georgia for pollution, including levels of E. coli — an indicator of the presence of bacteria and other pathogens that are harmful to human health. The organization has documented a dramatic increase in bacteria pollution of the French Broad River Watershed over the past two years and concerning trends in other area watersheds.

“What we have seen over the past few years has me worried about the future of river recreation on the French Broad River,” explains Hartwell Carson, MountainTrue’s French Broad Riverkeeper. “Take Pearson Bridge in Asheville’s River Arts District: That site passed the EPA’s safe threshold for swimming 81% of the time in 2016. Then in 2020, that site failed 81% of the time. Or Mud Creek in Henderson County, that site used to be safe at least 50% of the time and now it fails 93% of our tests.”

In April, MountainTrue released results from DNA testing that showed leaks from sewer and wastewater infrastructure were significant sources of bacteria pollution in the French Broad Watershed. The six-month sewer system overflow data from DEQ underscores those findings and supports part of MountainTrue’s policy agenda: reducing human-derived bacteria contamination by fixing our broken sewer and wastewater systems.

“The French Broad River is a significant public resource and a linchpin for our local economy” explains Hartwell Carson. “Protecting it will require action on the part of elected officials and agency personnel at all levels of government. Through our iloverivers.org advocacy campaign, we succeeded in getting the City of Asheville to participate in a Storm Water Taskforce. In the General Assembly, we’re advocating for targeted clean water investments to be included in this years budget, such as $3 million for septic system and wastewater upgrades through the Community Conservation Assistance Program, and $26 million to help farmers keep cattle and stormwater runoff out of our rivers through the Agricultural Cost Share Program and the Agricultural Water Resource Assistance Program. In Congress, we’re calling on our delegation to support the $111 billion in the American Jobs Plan that is allocated for water infrastructure.”

The public can read more about the issues affecting water quality, and advocate for the policies and reforms needed to fix them at iloverivers.org.