Take action to protect Watauga County from big polluters like Maymead!

Take action to protect Watauga County from big polluters like Maymead!

Take action to protect Watauga County from big polluters like Maymead!

Contact Watauga County Commissioners to voice your support for the proposed amendment to Watauga County’s High-Impact Land Use (HILU) Ordinance by filling out the form below and/or attending the County Commissioners’ public hearing at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, September 6, 2022

The proposed amendment is important for advancing appropriate regulatory control over big polluting industries in Watauga County, including the Maymead Asphalt Plant on the 421 Scenic Byway. This minor change would add protections against additional toxic development on a roadway designated by Watauga County as a gateway

Gateways act as rural corridors, which link the region’s urban areas and make it easier for rural residents to travel to major employment centers, educational institutions, regional medical facilities, recreation areas, and other desired destinations. Click here for more information on the county’s gateway strategies. 

The proposed amendment to the HILU Ordinance is good for Watauga County for several reasons: 


1) It would not allow new high-impact development within 1500 feet of a roadway designated by Watauga County as a gateway. 

The county spent time and money developing three gateway strategies, but they currently have no protections in the HILU Ordinance to enact those strategies or to protect the gateways from further high-impact development. Watauga County’s gateways should not be allowed to become high-impact alleyways for toxic polluting industries. 

2) It would act as the second line of legal defense against polluting industries seeking to expand their operations in Watauga County. 

Right now, Maymead — the company building a new asphalt plant in Deep Gap on the 421 Scenic Byway — is grandfathered into the site plan approved by the county back in 2011. Any changes to the site plan would not be legally allowed under the current HILU Ordinance due to an existing provision prohibiting high-impact development within 1500 feet of a state-designated scenic byway. This existing provision is the only thing preventing Maymead from expanding or changing the parameters of the 2011 site plan. 

3) It would build upon existing state-level provisions at the local level.  

Maymead would likely work hard behind the scenes to bypass the 421 Scenic Byway’s state-level protections, asserting that there’s nothing scenic about an asphalt plant at the eastern entrance to the High Country. The proposed amendment would allow the HILU Ordinance to protect both state-designated scenic byways and county-designated gateways from polluting industries like Maymead.

The official notice of a public hearing to be held at the Watauga County Administration Building in Boone is as follows: 


The Watauga County Board of Commissioners will hold a Public Hearing in the Commissioners’ Board Room located in the Watauga County Administration Building at 814 West King Street in Boone, North Carolina, to allow public comment on proposed amendments to the spacing requirements for Category 1 and 2 High Impact Land Uses from the regulations (Chapter 13 of the Planning & Development Ordinance).  

The amendment would be to add to (F)(3): or a roadway designated by Watauga County as a Gateway” following “designated as a NC Scenic Byway”

 (F) Spacing Requirements . . . 

(3) Category 1 High Impact Land Uses may not be established within 1,500 feet of the right-of-way line of a roadway designated by NCDOT as a NC Scenic Byway or within 1,500 feet of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Presence of a city, county or other political subdivision boundary shall be irrelevant for purposes of calculating and applying the spacing requirements of this Section.

Support a Plastic Bag Ban in Asheville

Support a Plastic Bag Ban in Asheville

Support a Plastic Bag Ban in Asheville

Join MountainTrue, the Sierra Club, NCPIRG, and the rest of the Plastic-Free WNC coalition at the August 23 Asheville City Council Meeting and show your support for a bill to ban single-use plastic shopping bags and styrofoam.

We’ll gather at Pack’s Tavern at 5 p.m., then head to City Hall as a group.

Pre-City Council Meeting Gathering
Pack’s Tavern at 5 pm
20 S. Spruce Street, Asheville, NC 28801

Americans use 100 billion plastic bags and 25 billion styrofoam cups every year. Most of that ends up in landfills or as litter, polluting our forests and our environment.

It’s time for the City of Asheville to join the more than 500 communities around the nation that have already passed plastic bag bans. The Plastic-Free WNC coalition is pushing the City of Asheville to pass a bill to ban single-use plastic bags and styrofoam while putting a 10-cent fee on paper bags.

Come to the Asheville City Council meeting on August 23 to let City Council know this is a priority! We’ll meet at Pack’s Tavern at 5 p.m. to discuss key talking points before the City Hall meeting.

Take Action to Support a Strong Decarbonization Plan

Take Action to Support a Strong Decarbonization Plan

Take Action to Support a Strong Decarbonization Plan

MountainTrue, the Creation Care Alliance of WNC (CCA), and other local renewable energy advocates are pushing for a stronger decarbonization plan to help North Carolina meet the renewable energy goals laid out in HB 951, the “Energy Solutions for North Carolina” bill passed by the NC General Assembly in October 2021.

The North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) is hosting a series of hearings in the coming months to receive public feedback on Duke Energy’s draft Carbon Plan. MountainTrue, CCA, NC Interfaith Power and Light (NCIPL), the Sierra Club and other local groups are encouraging the public to show their support for a stronger decarbonization plan at NCUC’s hearing in Asheville on July 27.

MountainTrue, CCA, and NCIPL hosted a free webinar about Duke Energy’s draft Carbon Plan on Wednesday, July 13. The webinar featured MountainTrue Central Regional Director Gray Jernigan and NCIPL Director Susannah Tuttle, M.Div, as guest speakers. Webinar attendees learned about the implications and shortcomings of Duke Energy’s Carbon Plan and left with the information needed to take action in support of our state’s clean energy future at the upcoming NCUC hearing on July 27. Click here to watch the webinar recording on the MountainTrue YouTube channel.

During the public hearings, NCUC asks that only one representative from a given organization speak. In addition to organizational representatives, independent individuals may offer testimony and those that do not wish to testify may observe the proceedings and/or gather and demonstrate outside of the hearing venue. Demonstrations are not allowed in the hearing room. A virtual statewide hearing is scheduled for August 23, 2022. Click here for more information on the process, schedule, and opportunities for public input.

Advocating for a just, equitable, and science-based carbon plan is central to MountainTrue and CCA’s green energy and climate change-focused work. Everyone has the right to clean and affordable energy with the assurance of equitable energy production, transmission, distribution, and consumption that won’t harm our health, the health of non-human creatures, or the climate,” says CCA Director Sarah Ogletree, “we invite all who are interested to attend this webinar and we look forward to working together to shape North Carolina’s clean energy future.” 

Take Action!

Watch a webinar recording:

Our July 13 webinar covered the Carbon Plan’s most important takeaways and discussed the importance of a strong decarbonization plan in the face of climate change. 

Attend an upcoming NCUC hearing:

The hearing will take place at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, July 27 at the Buncombe County Courthouse (Courtroom 1-A at 60 Court Plaza, Asheville, NC 28801). 

Learn more about HB 951

The details of Duke’s draft Carbon Plan:

HB 951 charges NCUC with developing a Carbon Plan that takes reasonable steps toward achieving our state’s clean energy future and addresses the threats posed by climate change. The bill directs state regulators to cut carbon emissions from energy plants owned and/or operated by Duke Energy by 70% from 2005 levels by 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2050. Last November, NCUC ordered Duke Energy to file a draft Carbon Plan by May 16, 2022. 

Duke Energy is proposing four different portfolios to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, and they are requesting that NCUC approve all four options, essentially asking for blanket approval for whatever strategies and infrastructure the company wants to employ. Only one of the portfolios achieves HB 951’s interim goal of 70% carbon reduction by 2030, and that portfolio is the most costly of the four according to Duke’s analysis. All four portfolios achieve the 2050 carbon neutrality goal, though the means used to achieve said goal are starkly different from one another.

Each portfolio also includes 2400 megawatts (MW) of new natural gas and around 1000 MW of gas-fired peaking capacity.  And each one includes between 4900 and 6200 MW of coal plant retirements and efforts to reduce energy use through energy efficiency and demand side management programs. Here are the highlights:

Portfolio 1: Achieves the 70% carbon emissions reductions by 2030 with 800 MW (one 800 MW block) of offshore wind, 5400 MW of new solar, and the addition of nearly 1,800 MW of new battery energy storage capacity. The average annual bill impact estimated by Duke’s analysis is a 2.5% increase.

Portfolio 2: Achieves the 70% carbon emissions reductions by 2032 with two 800 MW blocks of offshore wind — the first in 2029 and the second in 2031 — and 5800 MW of solar and less battery storage. The average annual bill impact estimated by Duke’s analysis is a 2.4% increase.

Portfolio 3: Achieves the 70% carbon emissions reductions by 2034 with new nuclear, 7700 MW of solar, 2200 MW of battery storage, and no offshore wind. The average annual bill impact estimated by Duke’s analysis is a 1.9% increase.

Portfolio 4: Achieves the 70% carbon emissions reductions by 2034 with both offshore wind and new nuclear, 6800 MW of solar, and 1800 MW of storage. The average annual bill impact estimated by Duke’s analysis is a 2.0% increase.

“Duke Energy’s draft Carbon Plan makes significant advances in the development of solar and wind energy resources and battery storage. However,” explains MountainTrue’s Gray Jernigan, “Duke’s draft plan falls short because it relies too heavily on unproven technologies like small modular nuclear reactors. Additionally, it proposes new natural gas plants and fails to use cost assumptions that reflect market realities of the affordability of renewable energy generation compared to gas.” Click here to review Duke Energy’s entire draft Carbon Plan and its summaries.

HB 951 places the responsibility of developing our state’s final Carbon Plan on NCUC rather than Duke Energy, requiring NCUC to incorporate public input into the planning process. NCUC should carry out its public input process in a way that meaningfully involves and seeks input from historically marginalized communities, including communities of color.

NCUC has the ultimate authority to adopt the best Carbon Plan for the state — not necessarily one of the portfolios proposed by Duke Energy. We believe that NCUC should develop a carbon plan that centers the well-being of NC communities, prioritizes a climate justice-based legislative approach, and reduces our state’s dependency on fossil fuels to mitigate the effects of climate change. Therefore, MountainTrue is encouraging NCUC to exercise its authority to the fullest extent to achieve the goals of HB 951 and protect the people and environment of North Carolina.

We at MountainTrue urge NCUC to consider the following points to improve the Carbon Plan:

1) No New Gas. All four of Duke’s draft Carbon Plan scenarios rely on large quantities of new gas-fired generation. The Carbon Plan should avoid committing to new natural gas facility construction.

2) If Duke is going to miss the 2030 goal, miss it because of wind investments and not nuclear. Only Portfolio 1 meets the 70% reduction by 2030 goal, while the other three portfolios miss the  2030 target date. If that deadline is going to be missed, Portfolio 2 is the only other acceptable starting point with its expanded investments in offshore wind, although it will not meet the interim goal until 2032. Portfolios 3 and 4, which include new nuclear generation and miss the 2030 deadline, should be scrapped. 

“While we understand these are the costliest options to meet decarbonization goals, the additional investment in green renewable energy sources rather than unproven small nuclear energy sources and the faster timeline justify the increased cost when we are racing against the clock to mitigate the impacts of global climate change,” says Gray Jernigan. “Additionally, we will be joining others in advocating for rate structures that protect the most vulnerable populations and low to moderate income households who bear disproportionate impacts from environmental and financial standpoints.”

3) No Reliance on Commercially Unproven Technology. NCUC’s Carbon Plan must not rely on commercially unproven technologies like nuclear small modular reactors or gas plants that could theoretically be converted to hydrogen.

4) Use Energy Efficiency and Demand Side Management Before Building New Fossil Generation.* Energy Efficiency and Demand Response proposals are consistent across scenarios, at levels that were rejected by stakeholders in the Energy Efficiency and Demand Side Management Programs (EE/DSM) collaborative as insufficient. Essentially, NCUC should focus on maximizing energy efficiency and reducing demand instead of generating more power. EE/DSM Programs can be used to reduce the need for new generation, and NCUC should follow the example of utilities in other states in dramatically expanding these programs rather than proposing goals that fall below energy efficiency gains achieved by the utility in recent years.

*New generation: refers to Duke Energy-owned versus third-party-owned energy generation such as wind, solar, etc. 

5) Don’t Rely on the Utility’s Inflated Cost Assumptions. Utility ownership of generation increases the cost of new generation. NCUC must ensure that the Carbon Plan mandates the least cost, proven clean technology and does not rely on inflated utility cost assumptions for new generation and transmission.

6) Protect Historically Marginalized Communities. Prioritize the retirement of fossil fuel plants near communities that have been disproportionately burdened by the negative impacts of fossil fuels. Don’t let the utility site a new fossil fuel plant or pipelines in already burdened NC coal plant communities.  

7) Transmission. Transmission is the bottleneck limiting NC’s access to renewables. The Carbon Plan must order Duke to build sufficient transmission capacity to access the full potential of offshore wind, onshore wind, and solar power in a timely manner. 

8) Securitization. The Carbon Plan must clarify that Duke Energy will use securitization in a timely fashion to retire coal facilities and to lower costs for customers. The sooner coal plants are retired the more customers will benefit from savings from securitization.

9) The Carbon Plan should increase the resiliency of the state’s energy system. Energy systems are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and resource availability, and the Carbon Plan that is ultimately approved should increase the system’s resilience in the face of these threats. 

10) Alternative Plans Achieve the Carbon Plan Goals Without Reliance on New Gas and Should be Accorded Equal Weight with Duke Energy’s Draft Plan. Through the process, alternative plans may be submitted, and those should be given equal consideration by the NCUC. 

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.