MountainTrue’s Chris Joyell Writes About Housing, Open Space, and Climate Change in MTX

MountainTrue’s Chris Joyell Writes About Housing, Open Space, and Climate Change in MTX

MountainTrue’s Chris Joyell Writes About Housing, Open Space, and Climate Change in MTX

In this Mountain Xpress Contributor Piece, MountainTrue Healthy Communities Program Director Chris Joyell explains the undeniable connection between housing and the integrity of our natural environment. Joyell discusses how Buncombe County’s Open Space and Affordable Housing Bond Initiatives will help the county meet its goals of ensuring stable housing for children, homeownership for working families, and safe housing for seniors, while also protecting mountains, forests, productive farmlands, and clean water in our streams and rivers for future generations. 

MountainTrue and our organizational partners are proud to endorse both the Open Space and Housing Bond Initiatives, and we encourage you to vote yes on both bonds this election season. Learn more about the bonds and how they work, see what other community institutions endorse them, and read a helpful FAQ on the Better With Bonds website

“A colleague of mine recently closed on his first house. After years of anxiously scanning listings in Asheville and Buncombe County, he realized that if he were ever to become a homeowner, it would have to happen in another county — in this case, Haywood County.

Likewise, another colleague recently graduated college and began working at MountainTrue last year. She, too, has been frustrated by the housing market, having to settle for a substandard rental unit with a negligent landlord. As rent costs in Buncombe County soar, she has grown doubtful that she will find a better living situation soon. The prospect of owning her own home here is beyond imagination.

Both their struggles reflect our growing housing crisis, where people with stable jobs and decent pay are running out of housing options in Buncombe County. People like the teachers, artists, service industry workers, small-business owners, nurses and others who make Buncombe County such a vibrant place to live.

In response to this dilemma, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners recently approved a ballot referendum that will direct $30 million toward the preservation of open space and $40 million toward the development of housing that is affordable for the county’s workforce. This November, county residents will get to vote on the bonds separately.

The open space and housing bonds can work in conjunction with one another. Buncombe County remains largely rural, and ample land is available to develop housing. The county will likely prioritize the more rural and remote areas for land conservation. On the other hand, housing that is affordable for the county’s workforce is best located in areas already developed and closer to transit services, jobs, schools and commercial centers.”

MountainTrue’s Analysis of Henderson County’s Draft Comprehensive Plan

MountainTrue’s Analysis of Henderson County’s Draft Comprehensive Plan

MountainTrue’s Analysis of Henderson County’s Draft Comprehensive Plan

Update: We have added detailed analysis and recommendations to improve the Comprehensive Plan further down on this page. We are providing these recommendations to the Planning Board and Henderson County Commissioners. Scroll down to view.

On September 9, 2022, Henderson County released the first draft of the 2045 Henderson County Comprehensive Plan. You can view a virtual presentation about the draft plan here. MountainTrue is conducting a full analysis of the draft plan and will provide a detailed set of recommendations to the Henderson County Planning Board and County Commissioners to ensure that the plan addresses the priorities of county residents as reflected in the county’s own survey*.

The draft plan will guide Henderson County’s growth and services for the next 20 years. Overall, the draft plan includes a strong set of goals that MountainTrue fully supports. Those goals, found on p.34 of the draft plan, include:

  •  Coordinate development near existing community centers.
  •  Protect and conserve rural character and agriculture.
  •  Improve resiliency of the natural and built environments.
  •  Prioritize multi-modal transportation options and connectivity.
  •  Create a reliable, connected utility and communication network.
  •  Stimulate innovative economic development initiatives, entrepreneurship, and local businesses.
  •  Diversify housing choices and availability.
  •  Promote healthy living, public safety, and access to education.

These goals provide a solid foundation for a 20-year plan. MountainTrue’s recommendations below offer targeted strategies to help the county achieve these goals. We start, however, with one glaring omission in the draft plan.

Primary Recommendations

Include a Detailed Implementation Plan
The County Commission’s adoption of the comprehensive plan is just the first step towards realizing the goals within. The real challenge comes in translating the plan’s strategies into the day-to-day operations and actions of the government, and in making the plan work in concert with the County’s other strategic actions and policy documents. To date, the draft plan and recently released draft appendix do not include any guidance for implementing the plan’s recommendations. 

The 2020 Comprehensive Plan, adopted in 2004, is widely considered a success, as the county has accomplished a majority of the plan’s goals. This was no accident. That plan contained a detailed implementation schedule that held our county leaders accountable while allowing the public to track our progress. Henderson County needs to draw on this past success to ensure that the 2045 plan accomplishes its goals rather than gathering dust on a shelf. 

We strongly recommend developing a process to implement the plan’s priority strategies and track plan progress. Various ways to ensure the implementation of the plan include:

  • Establish a single point of contact who will oversee the plan’s implementation. This will ensure accountability and continuity in the years that follow adoption.
  • Form a county team with representatives from key departments who will meet to track the plan’s progress, develop action items to implement strategies, educate staff about the plan’s goals, and help shape departmental work plans around the Comprehensive Plan.
  • Review plan progress with applicable boards and commissions and recommend new priorities to the County Commission.
  • Conduct an annual report on progress of the plan to the County Commission and set priorities.
  • Evaluate the viability of the plan every three to five years, and update the plan accordingly.

Don’t Expand the Utility Service Area
We encourage the City of Hendersonville and the County to share in decision-making around where sewer services will go. The county should have representation on the City’s water and sewer governing bodies, have a say in where the pipes extend throughout the county, and whether annexation follows those pipes. Therefore, the county must work closely with municipalities to direct new growth where infrastructure already exists.

Expanding the Utility Service Area (USA) to include Edneyville and Etowah will only encourage the development of new sewer that exceeds the current needs of these communities. This is a recipe for suburban sprawl all along the US 64 corridor. We do not support the current draft Future Land Use Map calling for commercial shopping centers and dense infill development in Edneyville or Etowah, as the existing infrastructure in these communities cannot support such development. We recommend maintaining the Central USA, as presented in the 2020 Henderson Comprehensive Plan.

We do not support the residential density described in Infill Area (formerly Medium Density Residential) designations in the more rural areas of the county outside the Central USA, including Etowah and Edneyville’s proposed USAs. The density allowed within Infill Areas (8-14 units/acre) would likely require new sewer service or package plants, spurring additional suburban sprawl to areas of the county lacking the infrastructure and road networks to absorb such volume.

We also do not support the amended density allowances in the new Transitional Area (formerly Low Density Residential) designation, as this will drive suburban sprawl into the Tuxedo, Dana, and Gerton communities — all found well outside the Central USA. Allowing for developments as dense as quarter-acre lots would tax our existing roads and alter the rural character of these communities.

Address Water Quality Concerns in Edneyville and Etowah
Wastewater seriously impacts water quality, and the county should invest wisely in wastewater infrastructure. We strongly encourage Henderson County to address water quality concerns in Edneyville and Etowah without inviting suburban sprawl into these communities. 

Edneyville: Adding another municipal sewage treatment plant in the Mud Creek watershed may contribute to water quality concerns. Edneyville’s existing uses (Edneyville Elementary, the Training Academy, Camp Judaea, etc.) should tie into the city’s existing sewage treatment system, and the city should refrain from annexing these rural areas, as they lie outside the Central USA.

Etowah: It is foreseeable that Etowah’s aging private sewer system may one day be acquired by the Metropolitan Sewer District, given its proximity to MSD’s existing network. By connecting Etowah to MSD’s system, Etowah’s capacity for development could significantly increase in the next 20 years. With the highly anticipated construction of the Ecusta Trail about to begin, we must take measures to preserve the trail’s rural character that makes it such an attractive destination. 

Additionally, any expansion of sewer infrastructure should be constructed with limited capacity to service only existing businesses and residences without facilitating future growth. The county should implement strong land use protections to prevent sprawling and high-density residential development, high-intensity and industrial uses, and other uses outside of the Central USA that compromise the rural character and agricultural heritage of the area. 

Provide More Housing Options in the Central Utility Service Area
When people think of housing choice, they usually default to single-family homes or large apartment complexes. But we are missing the opportunity to provide new homebuyers and renters a wide array of housing choices, many that are more affordable than what the current market provides. 

To offer more housing choice in the areas that can best support it – the Central Utility Service Area – we recommend broadening the types of housing that can be developed in traditional single-family neighborhoods. Remove restrictive zoning that stands in the way of modest infill development, like duplexes, triplexes, and townhouses. Within the Central USA, we recommend amending the Infill Area zoning designations to include ADUs, townhouses, duplexes, and triplexes. We also support the new density allowances for Transitional Areas within the Central USA, as this housing would be located closer to the services, jobs and infrastructure already concentrated in our municipalities.

Adopt a Voluntary Land Conservation Fund
We fully support the development of a fund that focuses on preserving working farmland and parcels key to greenway, park, and recreational opportunities, and sensitive natural areas. Consider a bond referendum to establish the fund. Focus on the Purchase of Development Rights to preserve working farms and make them more affordable to new farmers. Consider easements that would improve water quality protection.

Consolidate and Strengthen Steep Slope Controls
Current steep slope regulations are found scattered throughout the Land Development Code, making it difficult to assess their impact on ensuring public safety, protecting water quality, and preserving scenic mountain views. Residents and developers would be better served if the steep slope controls were consolidated, transparent, and more concise. We applaud the Planning Board’s recent efforts to address this, and we encourage the county to include such improvements in the draft plan.

*The county has published a second public input survey. Click here to take the new survey.

Additional Recommendations & Further Details

In addition to our primary recommendations, MountainTrue makes the following suggestions specific to various recommendations found in the draft plan:

FUTURE LAND USE MAP (pp.38-44)

MountainTrue: We question whether the Dana community can support the recommended Industrial & Employment land use designation without sewer service. 

GOAL 2: PROTECT AND CONSERVE RURAL CHARACTER AND AGRICULTURE

R. 2.1.E. (p.57): Encouraging small businesses in rural areas can indirectly support agriculture by allowing non-farm income.
MountainTrue: To encourage appropriate small business development and maintain the rural and agricultural character of these areas, we recommend limiting the square footage of new structures and specifically defining what small-business activities are preferred in Agriculture / Rural Districts.

Rec 2.2.B. (p.58): Create a Voluntary Farmland Preservation Program to purchase farmland development rights and establish agricultural conservation easements.
MountainTrue: We recommend amending the Land Development Code to require that eligible applicants meet specific environmental standards or implement appropriate “best management practices” that protect water quality, such as undisturbed stream buffers.

Rec. 2.2.C. (p.58): Study potential mechanisms for private transfer of development rights program to allow for the transfer of density away from agricultural and natural resource areas to designated receiving areas.
MountainTrue: We strongly support the county in investigating a potential transfer of development rights program and would be willing to advocate for state authorization to provide Henderson County with this valuable conservation tool.

Rec. 2.3.C. (p.58) Consider zoning updates to reduce development pressure in agricultural areas.
MountainTrue: We recommend exploring new incentives to give farmers multiple options to preserve the working lands. We do not support the concept of downzoning Agricultural / Rural districts, such as requiring five-acre lot minimums, as this will only accelerate the development of undisturbed areas, while serving the few that can afford to purchase larger lots.

Rec. 2.4.A. (p.59): Provide incentives for revitalizing existing commercial and industrial sites.
MountainTrue: We strongly support this and encourage the Commission to prioritize commercial and industrial sites closest to main transportation corridors and in areas already serviced by existing water and sewer to disincentivize sprawl. 

Rec. 2.4.B. (p.59): Focus on higher-density housing closer to the city to reduce sprawl, provide affordable housing for the workforce, and relieve pressure on roads.
MountainTrue: We strongly support this designation, but we also recognize this requires coordination with municipalities, including participation in Hendersonville’s upcoming comp planning process. We encourage County staff and leadership to engage Hendersonville in developing plans that focus higher density development in appropriate areas already served by sewer and water, located closest to job and commercial centers, schools, and services.

Rec. 2.4.C. (p.59): Encourage industrial growth in areas away from large concentrations of farmland and agricultural operations.
MountainTrue: We question whether industrial uses and agricultural operations are mutually exclusive. Given the low residential density in such districts, there may be opportunities to cite appropriate industrial uses near working farmland, concentrating such activities away from established residential areas.

Rec. 2.4.D. (p.59): Carefully evaluate potential utility extensions that could impact large concentrations of productive farmland.
MountainTrue: See our Primary Recommendations above re: Edneyville and Etowah sewer expansion. 

GOAL 3: IMPROVE RESILIENCY OF THE NATURAL AND BUILT ENVIRONMENTS

GOAL 3 (p.60): Where risk reduction is not possible, careful planning and strengthening emergency response will help make recovery faster and more efficient when hazards do occur.
MountainTrue: We recommend: “Where risk reduction is not possible, careful planning could mitigate the impact of extreme events, thus reducing the costs of recovery for both private and public funds. Similarly, strengthening emergency response will save taxpayer dollars…”

Rec. 3.1.C. (p.60): Consider allowing for administrative approval for conservation subdivisions that meet certain criteria (i.e. are under a density threshold, have a minimum amount of open space, reserve priority open space types, and meet access standards).
MountainTrue: While we support this concept, we’ll note that administrative approval for conservation subdivisions works only if the thresholds are well defined. We recommend examining existing regulations and streamlining the project permitting and approval process so that development decisions are more timely, cost-effective, and predictable for the community and home builders.

Rec. 3.1.E. (p.61): Limit development on steep slopes and mountain ridges.
Rec. 3.3.C. (p.63): Discourage the amount of land disturbed in steep slope developments, including construction of roads, as well as decrease density.
MountainTrue: We strongly support these recommendations and would be willing to provide model ordinances from similar communities that have addressed steep slope development.

Rec. 3.3.D. (p.63): Continue to limit fill in floodplains unless additional standards are met.
MountainTrue: Under this recommendation, the County could further restrict the use of floodplains. Consider that multiple scientific studies now show that 100-year floods are increasing in frequency, including a Yale Environment study that predicts that Southeast counties like Henderson could experience such floods every one to 30 years.

Rec. 3.3.G. (p.64): Adopt best practice design standards for new construction within the wildland/urban interface.
MountainTrue: While we agree with this recommendation in concept, we seek clarification of the definition of “wildland/urban interface,” as the Future Land Use Map makes no reference to such designation. 

Rec. 3.4.E. (p.64): Educate the community and developers regarding green infrastructure projects, as well as state and federal rebates and tax incentives, which can lessen stress on natural systems.
MountainTrue: We strongly support this, and encourage the County to consider expanding streamside buffers to protect water quality. 

GOAL 4: PRIORITIZE MULTI-MODAL TRANSPORTATION OPTIONS AND CONNECTIVITY

Rec. 4.1.C.
Advocate for the French Broad River MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization) to update the Comprehensive Transportation Plan, which was adopted in 2008, and focus improvements around active transportation options and transit.
MountainTrue: We strongly support this and ask the County to consider extending transit services to employment and commercial centers beyond the Central Utility Service Area. 

Rec. 4.2.B. (p.68): Consider reducing Henderson County’s Traffic Impact Study (TIS) threshold for developments located along specific road classifications.
MountainTrue: We support a reduction in traffic study thresholds in conservation/rural/ag-zoned areas, and recommend increasing the threshold for traffic studies in areas appropriate for denser development.

Rec. 4.2.D. (p.68): Consider amending the Land Development Code to allow for the integration of residential and commercial uses to allow for shorter travel time between destinations.
MountainTrue: Mixed-use developments are beneficial to combating sprawl, but the plan needs to specify where mixed-use would be deemed appropriate. Community centers and neighborhood anchors appear to be the most appropriate locations for mixed-use development. There will need to be adequate infrastructure already in place to support this level of development.

Rec. 4.3.A. (p.68): County staff should continue to seek grant funding (through the French Broad River MPO and other sources) for corridor studies along primary roadways throughout the county.
MountainTrue: We fully support commissioning a study of the Ecusta Trail corridor to inform appropriate land use designations along its path.

Rec. 4.3.B. (p.68): Establish a vision for significant roadway corridors and their surrounding land use, with input from the community they serve.
MountainTrue: This visioning process can be folded into an updated small-area planning process for Edneyville and Etowah. We would be willing to assist with gathering public input to inform these plans.

Rec. 4.3.D. (p.68): Support NCDOT with the ongoing corridor studies for US-64.
MountainTrue: This corridor study must consider future land-use recommendations for Edneyville and Etowah. We believe that an inappropriate expansion of sewer service in these communities will increase congestion along US 64 and contribute to suburban sprawl and loss of working farmlands.

Rec. 4.4.C. (p.69): Conduct studies of the transportation network surrounding County schools to identify deficiencies in safety and access.
MountainTrue: There is a critical need to address Etowah Elementary School and Etowah Park. We recommend investigating the Safe Routes to School program. We also recommend the County commission a bike/pedestrian connectivity study.

Rec. 4.5.C. (p.69): Initiate a study of Apple Country Public Transit to identify whether fare rates are a barrier to the use of the bus system and study the feasibility of a fare-free system.
MountainTrue: We support this and encourage the County to investigate the benefits of a fare-free system. 

Rec. 4.5.G. (p.70): Explore mechanisms to provide express routes to connect Hendersonville to Asheville and other destinations in Buncombe, Madison, and Haywood County, while focusing on regional mobility management, employee training, maintenance, and funding administration.
MountainTrue: We strongly support this and recommend advocating for transit connections to employment centers in Buncombe, Madison and Haywood counties to reduce traffic congestion along the primary north-south transportation corridors like I-26, US 25, and NC 191. We encourage the County to coordinate the comprehensive planning process with the ongoing planning process in Buncombe County.

Rec. 4.5.H. (p.70): Create connections between transit and greenways to help reduce traffic, vehicle miles traveled, and the county’s carbon footprint.
Rec 4.7.E. (p.71): Coordinate with the Rail Trail Advisory Committee, Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC), Planning Board, and Recreation Advisory Board on priority greenway implementation.
MountainTrue: We strongly support these recommendations and suggest hiring a sustainability coordinator to lead this important work.

Greenway and Sidewalks Map (p.73)
MountainTrue: Add language/graphics denoting the future regional Hellbender Trail and potential connections.

GOAL 5: CREATE A RELIABLE, CONNECTED UTILITY AND COMMUNICATION NETWORK.

Rec. 5.3.C. (p.75): Require conservation subdivision designs for all new major residential subdivisions residential growth in unincorporated areas tied to sewer infrastructure.
MountainTrue: We strongly support this and can provide Best Management Practices and precedent for sound conservation subdivision designs.

Rec. 5.4 (p.75): Take a leadership role in sewer and water planning by helping to foster intergovernmental cooperation.
MountainTrue: As stated in our Primary Recommendation, we fully support the County and Hendersonville to work together to address sewer expansion that does not promote suburban sprawl, while addressing current water quality concerns.

Rec. 5.4.B. (p.75): Conduct interchange studies with the City to evaluate and prioritize the development potential of key interchanges for future commercial and/ or industrial development.
MountainTrue: We strongly support collaborating with the City to coordinate development with existing sewer and water services.

Rec. 5.4.C. (p.75): Begin the development of a three, five, or ten-year capital improvement program and capital reserve fund to help implement planned investments in sewer infrastructure and other services.
MountainTrue: This requires coordination with MSD’s Capital Improvement Program and Hendersonville’s sewer & water services. We strongly encourage the County and City to work together on this.

Rec. 5.4.D. (p.75): The Environmental Health Department should identify areas of septic failure, areas where future septic systems may fail, and address these through existing remediation programs and by leveraging state and federal grants.
MountainTrue: We strongly support this and will work with our Legislative Team to advocate for adequate state funding.

GOAL 6: STIMULATE INNOVATIVE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT INITIATIVES, ENTREPRENEURSHIP, AND LOCAL BUSINESSES

MountainTrue: Add “conservation and outdoor recreation, bike/ped/transit” to initiatives, as they will bring in the kind of businesses the community desires.
Rec. 6.4 (p.79): Facilitate placemaking efforts to reinforce community character and attract businesses and investment.

MountainTrue: We strongly support this and would be willing to assist in community engagement around such placemaking efforts.

GOAL 7: DIVERSIFY HOUSING CHOICES AND AVAILABILITY

Rec. 7.1.B. (p.80): To avoid conflict with agricultural areas and natural resources, major subdivisions should be located near defined centers and within Medium and Low Density Residential areas as defined on the Future Land Use Map.
MountainTrue: Discourage rezonings for higher-density residential subdivisions outside the defined Utility Service Area and within the Agricultural/Rural districts identified on the Future Land Use Map.

Rec. 7.1.C. (p.80): Allow for a variety of housing types, including condos, townhomes, and multi-family complexes, in the defined Urban Service Area.
MountainTrue: We strongly support this and recommend that “missing middle” developments, including Accessory Dwelling Units, townhouses, duplexes, and triplexes, be allowed by right in Medium Density Residential districts. 

Rec. 7.2.E. (p.81): Continue to allow for manufactured homes in designated zoning districts in the county.
MountainTrue: Consider allowing manufactured homes by right in all residential districts. They represent the last option for truly affordable housing in the region.

Rec. 7.3 (p/82): Support the ability to “age in place.”
MountainTrue: Include language encouraging the implementation of Universal Design best practices that create homes that are accessible and habitable for all ages and abilities.

GOAL 8:PROMOTE HEALTHY LIVING, PUBLIC SAFETY, AND ACCESS TO EDUCATION

Rec. 8.1.B. (p.84): Address facilities and programming priorities, document ongoing maintenance needs, and provide benchmarking related to facilities and staffing within a master plan.
Rec. 8.1.E. (p.84): Develop a master plan for Jackson Park. The master plan should address connectivity, parking issues, and facility enhancements, and involve a variety of user groups.
MountainTrue: Jackson Park is already at capacity for hosting recreational events. We recommend expanding master planning efforts to encompass all county park facilities.

Rec. 8.1.L. (p.85): Require major subdivisions to provide pedestrian connections or provide easements to immediately adjacent greenway facilities.
MountainTrue: We support establishing concurrent sewer/trail easements where sewer expansion is permitted.

Rec. 8.3.  (p.86): Expand healthy food access.
MountainTrue: Add “F. Continue support for a food waste program.”

2022 Volunteer of the Year and Esther Cunningham Award Winners

2022 Volunteer of the Year and Esther Cunningham Award Winners

2022 Volunteer of the Year and Esther Cunningham Award Winners

Every year, MountainTrue recognizes five individuals from across the Southern Blue Ridge as our regional Volunteer of the Year and Esther Cunningham award winners. We look forward to celebrating these exceptional MountainTrue volunteers at our 40th Anniversary Celebration on October 12, 2022:

High Country Volunteer of the Year: Hayden Cheek

Hayden (pictured above) works at a local fly shop in Boone, NC. He’s an excellent angler and guide, and he often goes above and beyond to take care of his local waterways. His practice of giving back and leaving our rivers and woods better than he finds them permeates his friendships, work relationships, and his career. He’s a consistent water quality volunteer with our High Country water quality team and his impact is being passed on to those fortunate enough to spend time with him on the trail or in the river. Thanks so much for all you do, Hayden!

Central Region Volunteer of the Year: Jim Clark

Jim Clark has been helping us clean up the French Broad River for years. He’s been a Swim Guide volunteer for nearly ten years and has been a part of our microplastics sampling team from the very beginning. The data he’s gathered at Pearson Bridge has helped to get the new Real-Time E. coli Estimator (created in partnership with NCDEQ) up and running. He’s gone out of his way to keep trash out of the river, including lugging dozens of heavy, muddy tires out of its reach. Thanks for all your hard work to make the river a better place, Jim!

Western Region Volunteer of the Year: Stacey Cassedy

This year, Stacey has volunteered with both of our Adopt-A-Stream water quality monitoring programs (water chemistry and E. coli) and our Swim Guide program. Stacey’s unwavering dedication to our weekly Swim Guide sampling program helped many folks from across the Western Region know where it was safe to swim this summer! When her sampling site failed for the first time in August, she returned to resample and continued to check and photograph the beach for several additional days to monitor the source of the pollution: goose droppings! Stacey has offered to help with festival tabling events and is interested in doing anything needed to help with MountainTrue’s mission, particularly in the water quality program area. She’s a true super volunteer!

Southern Region Volunteer of the Year: Don Cooper

When Don learned about high bacteria levels in his community’s local waterways, he sprung to action and rallied the support of his fellow Rotarians. With his leadership, dozens of volunteers collected hundreds of water samples from streams in and around Hendersonville over the last several years. The data generated from his efforts helped us isolate the sources of bacteria pollution and direct our advocacy resources in the right direction to make meaningful change for water quality and public health. Thank you so much for your leadership, Don!

The 2022 Esther Cunningham Award Winner: Grady Nance

This award is given each year in honor of one of our organization’s founders, Esther Cunningham. Esther bravely stood in the face of opposition, rallied her community to stand with her, and tirelessly fought to protect and defend the forests of Western North Carolina. 

Grady and his wife, Kathleen, have been MountainTrue members since 2015. In that time, Grady has repeatedly stepped up to support MountainTrue and our region in a number of ways.  Grady spent his career in the electric utility industry and has been a crucial resource to our energy-focused work, especially as we were working both in opposition to and in partnership with Duke Energy. Grady also served on the Henderson County Environmental Advisory Committee for several years, pushing the county to do more in terms of energy efficiency and renewable energy. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Grady has served on MountainTrue’s board as our treasurer since 2019. He has acted more like a CFO than just a board member and has been enormously helpful as our budget and the complexity of our budgeting have grown. Grady also says yes to every request we make of him. He has been a thoughtful, conscientious, and diligent board member and treasurer, and we will miss him terribly when he rolls off the board at the end of this year. Because of his commitment and service to MountainTrue and his dedication to the environment, we are pleased to award him with the 2022 Esther Cunningham Award.

Real-Time E. coli estimates for the French Broad River at Pearson Bridge available on new website from MountainTrue and NC DEQ

Real-Time E. coli estimates for the French Broad River at Pearson Bridge available on new website from MountainTrue and NC DEQ

Real-Time E. coli estimates for the French Broad River at Pearson Bridge available on new website from MountainTrue and NC DEQ

MountainTrue has partnered with the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Pigeon River Fund to create a new website that provides the public with real-time water quality estimates at Pearson Bridge on the French Broad River in Asheville, NC. The website combines existing technology and new mathematical modeling to estimate E. coli conditions in real time. 

The modeling correlates water turbidity data provided by the U.S. Geological Survey with MountainTrue’s and DEQ’s E. coli data at Pearson Bridge. The French Broad River at Pearson Bridge is now one of the few places in the country to have a real-time E. coli estimate modeling system.

“The goals of the WNC Recreational Monitoring program are to empower and enhance the existing community of environmental organizations already monitoring water quality in WNC, while expanding the Department of Environmental Quality’s analytical abilities to shorten the turnaround time in E. coli analyses and further refine risks associated with elevated bacteria levels,” said Landon Davidson, Division of Water Resources Regional Manager. “Near real-time calculations of bacteria levels are valuable to users because rapid changes in river conditions can increase bacteria levels significantly.” For more information on the State’s WNC Recreational Water Quality program, visit the DEQ website.

French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson explains, “Summer is when river recreation is most popular, but it’s also when afternoon thunderstorms can roll in, cause significant runoff and drastically change water quality. This new technology helps eliminate that uncertainty by providing the public with real-time estimated bacteria levels so that they can make informed decisions about whether or how to spend time on the river.”

The French Broad River Watershed is one of the most popular water-based recreation areas in North Carolina. On any given warm day, the French Broad Watershed hosts thousands of tubers, swimmers, canoers, kayakers, anglers, and whitewater boaters. Recreators frequently wonder how clean the river is and if it’s safe to swim or paddle. 

As part of its existing Swim Guide program, MountainTrue publishes E. coli data each week from May to September on the Swim Guide platform. MountainTrue utilizes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved IDEXX method for collecting and analyzing water samples and compares the results against the safe standard for health determined by the EPA. 

MountainTrue samples for E. coli because it’s the best indicator for the presence of microbes that pose threats to human health, such as Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Shigella, and norovirus. Heavy rains and storms often result in spikes in E. coli contamination, increasing the risk to human health. Contact with or consumption of contaminated water can cause gastrointestinal illness, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic, and wound infections. The most commonly reported symptoms are stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and low-grade fever.

While the Swim Guide program provides high-quality data, it suffers from a time lag, as E. coli samples take 18-24 hours to incubate. Water quality can vary significantly from week to week or even day to day. E. coli levels can change quickly with heavy rains, as stormwater triggers runoff from agriculture, sewer overflows, and failed septic systems. Swim Guide data taken from MountainTrue’s Pearson Bridge sampling site over the past month illustrates this problem. During a relatively dry period in June, E. coli levels at Pearson Bridge were well below the safe standard set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). July’s heavy thunderstorms have caused E. coli levels at Pearson Bridge to spike significantly, including being over 25 times the EPA’s safe standard on July 13. 

As our mountain region experiences increased high-intensity rain events as a symptom of climate change, developing a model that provides E. coli estimates to the public is important. The French Broad Riverkeeper says MountainTrue and DEQ want folks to have the resources they need to make more informed decisions about when and how to recreate the French Broad River. Now, this will be possible thanks to the real-time E. coli estimator model and the USGS Pearson Bridge turbidity gage data on which it is based.  

These real-time estimates will also help the French Broad Riverkeeper and DEQ track sources of pollution as they continue working together to bring about a cleaner French Broad River. Visit frenchbroadwaterquality.com to view results in real time. Visit theswimguide.org/affiliates/french-broad-riverkeeper/ to view MountainTrue’s weekly Swim Guide results from across the French Broad River Watershed. 

Waterfowl and Water Quality

Waterfowl and Water Quality

Waterfowl and Water Quality

Geese, ducks, and swans may seem like a beautiful and natural part of a lakeside environment. You may enjoy them so much that you spend time feeding them or otherwise encouraging them to spend time on your property or in local parks. But overly large waterfowl populations can actually cause several problems for humans, water quality, and the birds themselves.

The Canada goose (Branta canadensis) has been present in North Carolina and Georgia historically in both migratory and residential populations. During the 1970s, the number of migratory geese coming to these states declined drastically. In response, in the early 1980s, state wildlife agencies introduced populations of a goose sub-species with weak migrating skills that quickly adapted to the suburban lakes and rivers of Georgia and North Carolina. This new population of resident geese exploded into 45,000 birds in Georgia and 100,000 birds in North Carolina, but generations later, they now have next to no migrating skills.

These large waterfowl populations leave a lot of droppings behind. According to Clear Choices Clean Water Indiana, a single Canada goose eats three to four pounds of grass and can create as much as two to three pounds of waste per day. These droppings are unsightly and odorous and can also make people sick. Goose feces carries similar bacterial strains to those present in mammal waste. Research has shown that goose poop contains a wide variety of pathogens capable of infecting humans. Parasites that cause gastrointestinal problems (particularly Cryptosporidium and Giardia) have also been found in waterfowl feces. And feces from geese, ducks, and swans commonly act as hosts for the parasite that causes swimmer’s itch.

A large population of migratory birds staying in Georgia and North Carolina during the winter does not drastically raise the bacterial count of a waterbody, thanks to the low seasonal temperatures. Intestinal strains of bacteria do not reproduce in cold or freezing temperatures. However, with a large geese population now residing in our lakes during the summer months, warmer water temperatures promote the growth of potentially harmful pathogens. Additionally, bird waste is high in phosphorus, a nutrient that increases algae growth in mountain lakes. 

As a general rule, try to stay away from areas that are heavily contaminated with waterfowl droppings. If you come into contact with poo, wash your hands thoroughly before touching your face or other people. Thoroughly wash any shoes, feet, or clothes that come into contact with droppings as well. It is especially important that parents be vigilant about keeping children away from areas heavily covered in droppings.

Pictured above: Goose droppings on a public swimming beach in the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains. 

How can you help?

Do not feed geese. Handouts of bread or other human food items have little nutritional value to geese, artificially satisfy their hunger, and make them reliant on nesting in parks and residential communities. Geese are herbivores, and green plants, including sedges and grasses, make up the bulk of their diet.

Make it difficult for geese to find an ideal nesting location. Lush green turf grass planted right up to the edges of our lakes, ponds, and rivers has created the perfect habitat for goose populations to explode. If you typically keep your grass cut short, try letting it grow tall around the edges of the shoreline or plant some native moisture-tolerant shrubs such as buttonbush, arrowwood viburnum, and others — this makes it more difficult for geese to walk from the water to the land and back, making your property less inhabitable. You can also identify places where you’ve seen geese nest previously and place an object there to prevent geese from nesting there in the future — this object must be large and heavy enough that the goose can’t move it. 

Get (or adopt!) and train a dog to chase geese away from your property. Border collies and similar herding breeds are exceptionally capable of chasing unwanted waterfowl away. Training your pup(s) to chase away the geese in the mornings and evenings is one of the most effective methods to deter the birds from spending time on your property. The geese perceive the dogs to be predators and decide to find somewhere else to live.

Hunt residential goose communities. The Canada goose is not an endangered species and hunting is permitted. All of Western North Carolina is classified as a residential population hunting zone with three seasons in the fall and winter. Georgia has four seasons beginning in September. Visit wncwildlife.org or georgiawildlife.org to learn more.

MountainTrue offers to bid on reckless Southside Timber Sale to stop important old-growth forests from being cut

MountainTrue offers to bid on reckless Southside Timber Sale to stop important old-growth forests from being cut

MountainTrue offers to bid on reckless Southside Timber Sale to stop important old-growth forests from being cut

ASHEVILLE, NC — Today, the US Forest Service closed bidding on 98 acres of the Southside Timber Sale (pictured above), which aims to eventually log 300 acres of North Carolina’s Nantahala National Forest, including critical tracts of old-growth forests. To stop the logging of old-growth forest, MountainTrue is offering to pay the Forest Service to keep the 37 acres of trees in place and the Forest intact. 

This offer would protect exceptional old-growth forests from unnecessary logging and ensure the Forest Service recoups its investments in this sale. In fact, the Forest Service would make more money by accepting payment from MountainTrue, which is offering to match any offers for the value of the timber. Leaving the forest in place would free the Forest Service from the expense of administering the sale and overseeing roadbuilding and logging activities. 

While the Forest Service typically does not accept payment to keep forests intact, this extraordinary offer is an effort to stop an extraordinarily harmful sale. 

“We are willing to pay the Forest Service in order to save this old-growth forest and the critical habitat that it provides for native species,” explains Josh Kelly. “Our bid is both the most environmentally responsible and profitable option for the Forest Service.”

The 37 acres targeted by the Southside Timber Sale on Brushy Mountain are incredibly important ecosystems. Old-growth forests are made of trees that have been standing for centuries and hold tremendous amounts of carbon. Cutting these trees releases that carbon – tons of it – into the atmosphere, where it will worsen the impacts of climate change. Keeping these remarkable tracts of forest in the ground is a key step to fighting the climate crisis. 

These forests also provide habitat for what experts recently documented as one of the most important green salamander populations in the state. Cutting these forests threatens this already-imperiled species. In fact, Forest Service leaders have ignored concerns from the agency’s own scientists about the impact logging could have on this already-imperiled species.

The Forest Service acknowledges that 17 acres on Brushy Mountain are old-growth and knows about the presence of the critically imperiled Blue Ridge lineage of green salamanders at the site but still insists on cutting this forest. Logging these critical tracts of forest will threaten at-risk species, worsen the impacts of climate change, and do permanent damage to these important ecosystems. USFS leaders should instead preserve these forests for generations by allowing MountainTrue to purchase the carbon rights to the forests for sale at Brushy Mountain in Southside Timber Sale – or by scrapping this misguided project altogether.

 

Have questions? Email Josh at josh@mountaintrue.org.