Ward Mill Dam Removal Connects Aquatic Habitat, Makes River Healthier

Ward Mill Dam Removal Connects Aquatic Habitat, Makes River Healthier

Ward Mill Dam Removal Connects Aquatic Habitat, Makes River Healthier

Boone, NC — In a huge win for local aquatic wildlife, the Ward Mill Dam just a few miles from Boone, North Carolina has finally been removed. The first dam was constructed at the location in 1890 and improved upon over the years. The mill complex served the community for generations providing electricity, jobs, firewood and building materials. The dam had been an obstacle for local aquatic wildlife for the past 130 years. Now, native fish such as the tangerine darter and threatened salamanders like the hellbender will be reunited and benefit from a reconnected and improved cold-water aquatic habitat.

The Ward Mill Dam Removal project has been a partnership between American Rivers, Blue Ridge Resource Conservation and Development, MountainTrue, the Watauga County Soil and Water Conservation District and the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. The dam removal was a high priority for experts and biologists and was ranked a top priority among projects by the Southeast Aquatic Resource Partnership and “tier one, priority one” by the North Carolina Aquatic Barrier Assessment Tool.

MountainTrue’s Watauga Riverkeeper, Andy Hill, is excited about the environmental benefits and the opportunity to connect the Watauga River Paddle to create more recreational opportunities. “We’ve greatly improved aquatic habitat and river health, and promoted safe river recreation while honoring the historical and community cultural value of the Ward Mill.”

The Ward family continues their generations-long environmental stewardship by removing this aquatic barrier and graciously surrendering their hydropower license with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. While the instream dam structure has been completely removed down to bedrock to reconnect the watershed and allow for sediment transport downstream, the iconic sawmill, historic buildings and complex have been preserved in partnership with the State Historic Preservation Office. Please respect the decision and the privacy of the Ward family.

“We are excited to see the long-term environmental benefits associated with removing the dam, but are also excited about preserving the rich history of the dam complex by documenting and saving the nearby historic buildings,” explains Jonathan Hartsell of Blue Ridge Resource Conservation and Development. “This complex project has been successful from start to finish due to a well thought out gameplan from the project management team, agency partners and, most importantly, the landowners.”

The complex project had to be done carefully due to the delicate biodiversity of the Watauga River and its streams. Dr. Mike Gangloff and Dr. Derek Martin of Appalachian State University led a team of researchers collecting valuable data on pre and post-removal aquatic habitat. This has included sediment flow research, aquatic habitat surveys and numerous nocturnal SCUBA dives searching for elusive nocturnal Hellbender salamander. Sediment flow research and aquatic habitat surveys will better inform future dam removal projects and contribute to the field of knowledge for river restoration.

“Rivers are like a circulatory system, and thanks to this dam removal, American Rivers with our partners celebrate a free-flowing Watauga River which is the lifeblood of a thriving community, healthy ecosystems, and clean water for people and nature,” says Dam Removal advocate and American Rivers Science Program Director and Southeast Conservation Director Erin McCombs.

Removing the Ward Mill Dam reconnects 35 miles of aquatic habitat in the main stem of the Watauga River and 140 miles of streams across the watershed. Dams, though providing benefits in certain circumstances, can also significantly damage rivers. Dams increase water temperature, reduce river flows, reduce the amount of dissolved oxygen available to fish and other species, block the natural flow of sediment and debris, and serve as physical barriers for recreational users such as paddlers and anglers, as well as aquatic wildlife such as fish and amphibians. Additionally, most dams require maintenance and many require removal or rebuilding after 50 years.

The dam deconstruction was performed by the United States Fish & Wildlife Service National Fish Passage Program Aquatic Restoration team and Wildlands Engineering. Project funding was generously provided by the North Carolina Division of Water Resources, Patagonia, the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, Beech Mountain Resort, Hunter Banks of Asheville, and Boone’s Fly Shop.


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

DNA Testing Indicates Animal Agriculture and Sewer Infrastructure are Major Pollution Sources for French Broad River

DNA Testing Indicates Animal Agriculture and Sewer Infrastructure are Major Pollution Sources for French Broad River

DNA Testing Indicates Animal Agriculture and Sewer Infrastructure are Major Pollution Sources for French Broad River

MountainTrue’s French Broad Riverkeeper hopes science will inform policy solutions to clean up area waterways.

Asheville, NC — Testing conducted by local conservation organization MountainTrue has confirmed that cattle and faulty or inadequate sewer, septic or water treatment infrastructure are the major sources of E. coli pollution in the French Broad River.

MountainTrue’s French Broad Riverkeeper conducts regular water quality monitoring of rivers and streams throughout the French Broad River Basin, including weekly testing of more than 30 recreation areas from May to September. After decades of slow but consistent improvement to the basin’s water quality, the organization has documented a sharp decline in water quality.

“The difference over that past few years has been disturbing,” explains French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson. “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. Just four years later, that site failed 81% of the time in 2020. Or Mud Creek in Henderson County, that site passed 52% of the time in 2018, and now it fails 93% of our tests.”

MountainTrue’s standard E. coli testing program measures the E. coli in the river. Levels in the French Broad have been high and rising year-over-year, but the nonprofit couldn’t say for certain what the sources of the pollution were. Determining the major sources of E. coli required more expensive testing to look at the presence of DNA in the river.

“Testing DNA in polluted water is pretty state-of-the-art and it isn’t cheap,” explains Hartwell Carson. “We needed help paying for it, so we approached Senator Chuck Edwards for help.” North Carolina Senator Edwards, whose district includes Henderson and parts of Buncombe County, helped secure state funding to pay for sampling and lab costs. With that funding, MountainTrue looked at the DNA found in 55 water samples to look for genetic fingerprints of E. coli from people, cows, dogs, poultry, sheep and swine.

“Our rivers are very important to our quality of life and our economy,” explains Senator Edwards. “This project is helping us better understand the causes of bacteria pollution in the French Broad River. We need that information to develop solutions that will keep the river clean.”

Of the 55 samples, 44 revealed DNA from cows. Human DNA was the second most prevalent. The results vary, but at nearly every site the primary sources of pollution were cattle followed by human. Dog DNA also showed up as a moderate contributor to E. coli pollution at a few sample sites.

“The French Broad has some clean and clear streams that run through protected public lands, but we’re seeing more and more problem sites that consistently fail the EPA’s safe water standard for E. coli,” says Hartwell Carson. “Until now, we’ve only had educated guesses about where the E. coli was coming from. With this testing, we have the data we need to make more informed decisions about how to clean up our rivers.”

MountainTrue is presenting the results from their DNA testing to local members of the General Assembly and is encouraging the public to advocate for the adoption of a clean rivers policy agenda that includes funding to help farmers, property owners and local governments reduce water pollution.

“Now that we know the sources of E. coli pollution,” says Hartwell Carson. “The next step is to invest in actions that fix the problem.” The public can read about issues affecting water quality, and the policies and reforms needed to fix them at iloverivers.org.

TAKE ACTION TO FIGHT E. COLI POLLUTION IN OUR RIVERS

We’ve done the DNA testing. We know the sources of E. coli pollution. Now we have the solutions to clean up our rivers. Stand up for science-based policies to help farmers fence cattle out of streams and property owners fix their septic systems.  And advocate for much-needed investments in wastewater infrastructure.

The Results:

MountainTrue focused their testing on problem sites that had shown high levels of E. coli in previous testing: Hominy Creek, Mud Creek below downtown Hendersonville, Cane Creek and the French Broad River at Pearson Bridge in Asheville’s River Arts District. DNA levels of 0-49 numbers of DNA copies/100mL are considered “very low,” 50-99 “low,” 100-499 “medium,” 500-999 “high,” and 1,000 or above was “very high.” DNA testing provides a general picture of a body of water for approximately 100 meters upstream.

Hominy Creek
Averages for six samples: Cow – 339, Dog, 89, Human – 34.
Every sample taken at Hominy Creek showed cow DNA counts at or above medium levels. The highest level of cow DNA recorded was 511, putting that sample in the high range. Human DNA was also found in every sample, though at low or very low amounts in all samples except one in the medium range. This indicates that upstream agriculture in the watershed is significantly contributing to E. coli impairment, and while human waste from faulty sewers and failing septic systems plays a role, it isn’t the dominant pollution source. This testing site is below the Hominy Creek Greenway, a very popular dog-walking area and the likely reason for higher levels of dog DNA.

French Broad at Pearson Bridge
Averages for six samples: Cow- 270, Dog – 59, Human – 67
Cow DNA was the largest contributor at this site, but levels were more varied than at Hominy Creek. One sample showed cow DNA in the high range at 764, while three other samples presented low levels of cow DNA. Human DNA and dog DNA were also present at this site but at much lower levels. The variability of DNA levels is likely due to the impact of stormwater runoff. When it rains, cow and dog waste are washed in from the surrounding landscape causing a rise in pollution levels.

Cane Creek at Fletcher Park
Averages for six samples: Cow – 334, Human – 47, Dog – 8
The primary source of E. coli pollution in Cane Creek is quite clearly cattle from area farms. Human levels of DNA were very low and nonexistent in two instances.

Mud Creek below Downtown Hendersonville
Average for seven samples: Cow – 251, Human – 120, Dog – 52
Mud Creek was the site with the highest level of human DNA in all our testing. But, even here, levels of cow DNA were more prevalent than human. In three instances, human DNA counties were higher, but the overall average for cow DNA was higher. The pollution sources for Mud Creek are likely cattle, closely followed by human waste from faulty sewers, failing septic systems and inadequate wastewater treatment plants.

About MountainTrue
MountainTrue champions resilient forests, clean waters and healthy communities. We are committed to keeping our mountain region a beautiful place to live, work and play. Our members protect our forests, clean up our rivers, plan vibrant and livable communities, and advocate for a sound and sustainable future for all. MountainTrue is active in the Broad, French Broad, Green, Hiwassee, Little Tennessee, New and Watauga watersheds, and is home to the Broad Riverkeeper, French Broad Riverkeeper, Green Riverkeeper, and Watauga Riverkeeper.
Mountaintrue.org


Media Contact:
Karim Olaechea, MountainTrue Communications Director
E: karim@mountaintrue.org, C: 415-535-9004


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

UPM Raflatac Supports A Cleaner French Broad River With Donation To MountainTrue

UPM Raflatac Supports A Cleaner French Broad River With Donation To MountainTrue

UPM Raflatac Supports A Cleaner French Broad River With Donation To MountainTrue

MountainTrue is pleased to partner with label material manufacturer UPM Raflatac which is sponsoring MountainTrue’s Volunteer Water Information Network (VWIN) through the company’s Bifore Share and Care grant program. MountainTrue’s volunteer-powered VWIN program features members of the public collecting water samples from over 30 sites throughout the French Broad River Water Basin every month.

“UPM Raflatac is committed to labeling a smarter future beyond fossils and supporting a cleaner environment,” explains Tyler Matusevich, Sustainability Manager, Americas, UPM Raflatac. “As part of that commitment, we support local organizations doing great work through our Biofore Share and Care grant program. With hundreds of our employees and their families in Western North Carolina, the preservation of our local waterways is of utmost importance and we are pleased to do our part.”

“This support is crucial to the work of MountainTrue,” explains MountainTrue Southern Regional Director Gray Jernigan. “The VWIN program is the foundation of our work to protect the water quality of the French Broad River and other local watersheds.”

The laboratory results and data collected through the VWIN program are vital to water protection efforts in the area, help MountainTrue track down and stop pollution at the source, and inform the policy advocacy initiatives of MountainTrue’s I Love Rivers campaign (www.ILoveRivers.org).

“We’re grateful to have a company like UPM Raflatac as part of our community,” says Gray, “Their commitment to the planet and generous support helps MountainTrue and our members continue to fight for responsible water use and clean waterways for future generations in Western North Carolina.”

UPM Raflatac develops innovative and sustainable labeling solutions that help businesses move beyond fossil fuels. As one of the world’s leading producers of self-adhesive label materials, it maintains a global network of factories, distribution terminals and sales offices, and operates two factories in Henderson County, North Carolina employing approximately 350 people.

MountainTrue’s VWIN program is administered by its Hendersonville-based Southern Regional Office. The water samples collected by our volunteers are analyzed by a state certified lab for various chemical and physical parameters (ammonia-nitrogen, nitrate/nitrite-nitrogen, orthophosphate, turbidity, total suspended solids, conductivity, alkalinity, and pH).

About MountainTrue
MountainTrue is a non-profit environmental advocacy organization that champions resilient forests, clean waters and healthy communities in Western North Carolina. MountainTrue envisions thriving communities in our mountain region that are connected to and help sustain both each other and our natural environment. To achieve this, MountainTrue fosters and empowers residents throughout the region to engage in community planning, policy and project advocacy, and on-the-ground projects.

About UPM Raflatac
UPM Raflatac is labeling a smarter future beyond fossils by developing innovative and sustainable labeling solutions. As one of the world’s leading producers of self-adhesive label materials, they supply high-quality paper and film label stock for consumer product and industrial labeling through a global network of factories, distribution terminals and sales offices.

UPM Raflatac works with brands and businesses by providing labeling solutions that support creative product packaging design, meet business goals and reach toward sustainability targets.

UPM Raflatac is part of the Finland-based UPM corporation – one of the biggest forest industry companies in the world. Two of the company’s three U.S. factories are in Henderson County in Mills River and Fletcher. Locally, they employ approximately 350 people.

To download photos, please click here: https://materialhub.upm.com/l/-kGqDXJKjcqT

Media Contact: 
Gray Jernigan, Southern Regional Director
E: gray@mountaintrue.org | C: 828-423-0578


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

MountainTrue Pollution Tip Leads to Enforcement Action Against Tryon International Equestrian Center

MountainTrue Pollution Tip Leads to Enforcement Action Against Tryon International Equestrian Center

MountainTrue Pollution Tip Leads to Enforcement Action Against Tryon International Equestrian Center

On July 27, MountainTrue followed up on a public complaint of sediment flowing into White Oak Creek from the Tryon International Equestrian Center (TEIC). Video showed a significant discharge of muddy water flowing off the site into the creek — a tributary of the Green River. MountainTrue’s Green Riverkeeper Gray Jernigan then reported the issue to the NC Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Water Resources (DWR).

Two days later, on July 29, DWR sent an inspector to the equestrian center where they witnessed site contractors flushing sediment into the center’s stormwater drainage system, and failures in their stormwater management system. In all, DWR cited Tryon International Equestrian Center with four water quality violations that must be “abated immediately and properly resolved.” These violations, failure to resolve them quickly and remediate damage to the environment could result in civil penalties up to $25,000 per day for each violation.

“Tryon International Equestrian Center has been a repeat violator of water quality.” explains Gray Jernigan. “They were first cited in 2014, and it only got worse as they rushed to build new facilities ahead of the World Equestrian Games in 2018. They took shortcuts and chose not to employ standard best management and construction practices to keep sediment on site, and the problems persist.”

The Green Riverkeeper shared the video of the illegal discharge on its Instagram account where it sparked a public outcry, and elicited a response from Sharon Decker, President of Tryon Equestrian Partners, the owners and operators of the center. Decker assured the public that “we share the same concerns you do about the environment, water quality and strong stewardship.”

The Equestrian Center has received numerous violations from the NC Department of Environmental Quality over the years dating back to 2014, amassing tens of thousands of dollars in fines.

“They’ve made assurances to the community to clean up their act, but their efforts have fallen well short of what is expected of someone who professes to care about the environment,” says Gray. “I’ve offered to meet with them to discuss steps they can take to undo the damage done and protect our public waters, and I look forward to having a conversation with the leadership at TIEC.”

Media contacts:
Gray Jernigan, Green Riverkeeper
C:828-423-0578 E: gray@mountaintrue.org

Karim Olaechea, MountainTrue Communications Director
C:415-535-9004


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Press Release: Buncombe County Commissioners Approve 40 Solar Projects for Public Buildings and Schools

Press Release: Buncombe County Commissioners Approve 40 Solar Projects for Public Buildings and Schools

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contact:

Eliza Stokes, MountainTrue
E: eliza@mountaintrue.org P: 410-493-7284

July 21, 2020

Asheville, NC At their July 21 meeting, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to greenlight a proposal for 40 new solar panel installations at county-owned buildings, Asheville City and Buncombe County public schools and A-B Tech Community College. Together, the 40 new solar sites will create approximately 6.7 MW of new solar energy each year the equivalent of powering 767 homes entirely with solar energy.

The vote was celebrated by local residents, many of whom submitted public comments to voice their support for the solar projects and had advocated for Buncombe County to pass a resolution for 100% renewable energy in 2017. After that resolution passed, many community members had been frustrated with the lack of concrete progress on this commitment.

“I was thrilled and frankly relieved when I heard that it passed,” said Josh Draper, a rising senior at TC Roberson High School. “Until today our longstanding county resolution, like so many others, was just a vague, distant goal with no practical solution in sight. Now, instead of waiting idly by for the most urgently needed change, we can be productive and set an example for neighboring communities to follow.” 

Buncombe County and the City of Asheville released a joint request for proposals, or rfp, for solar panels at feasible sites on their properties in the fall of 2019. The County and City invited other entities to join the bidding process with the hope of increasing the impact of the rfp on carbon emissions and reducing the overall cost. High school students spoke out in favor of this concept at Buncombe County and Asheville City school board meetings last October, leading both school boards to vote to join the solar exploration. 

“This is the right thing to do for our children’s health and future,” said Beatrice Nathan, Co-Chair of the local chapter of Mom’s Out Front. “I hope the County Commission sees the value in taking steps toward a world with better air quality and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.”

While the City of Asheville was part of the joint solar rfp, it will fund its solar projects separately. As for the County and schools, the 40 projects will be funded by a $10.3 million bond taken out by the County and paid over the course of 15 years. Between the solar rebate from Duke Energy, utility savings and positive cash flow from selling excess solar energy, the solar projects are expected to be revenue positive every single year often by millions of dollars. 

“This shows that solar energy isn’t a luxury item or another headache to add on to a financial downturn,” says Eliza Stokes, renewable energy organizer at MountainTrue. “Instead, solar can be a buoy that helps keep our local economy afloat and creates resilience for the times ahead.” 

The company selected to install the solar panels is MB Haynes, an employee-owned company based in Asheville. Before the vote, several Commissioners spoke to hiring a local company as a key aspect of their support. 

“The idea of doing something bigger, trying to do it together, none of us really knew how it would turn out,” said Chairman Brownie Newman at the Commission meeting. “I really appreciate the schools being willing to go through this process with us, and I think it’s gonna achieve a lot more good for our community…The one challenge I would leave with us is that as exciting as this is, when we look at the need to move to renewable energy we’re still not moving fast enough. This is just the first of many such efforts we’re gonna need to take on to be a leader.” 

Projected Financial Benefits Of 40 Solar Projects (Source: Buncombe County)

Year  Solar Financial Benefit Debt Payments  Cash flow positive? 
1 $   2,623,000 $ 684,000 $   1,939,000
2 $      638,000 $ 951,000 $   1,626,000
3 $      654,000 $ 933,000 $   1,347,000
4 $      670,000 $ 916,000 $   1,101,000
5 $      687,000 $ 898,000 890,000
6 $      704,000 $ 880,000 714,000
7 $      721,000 $ 863,000 572,000
8 $      739,000 $ 845,000 466,000
9 $      757,000 $ 827,000 396,000
10 $      795,000 $ 810,000 381,000
11 $      815,000 $ 792,000 404,000
12 $      835,000 $ 770,000 469,000
13 $      855,000 $ 752,000 572,000
14 $      876,000 $ 735,000 713,000
15 $      898,000 $ 717,000 894,000
16 $      920,450 $           –   $   1,814,450
17 $      943,461 $           –   $   2,757,911
18 $      967,048 $           –   $   3,724,959
19 $      991,224 $           –   $   4,716,183
20 $   1,016,005 $           –   $   5,732,188
21 $   1,041,405 $           –   $   6,773,592
22 $   1,067,440 $           –   $   7,841,032
23 $   1,094,126 $           –   $   8,935,158
24 $   1,121,479 $           –   $ 10,056,637
25 $   1,149,516 $           –   $ 11,206,153
26 $   1,178,254 $           –   $ 12,384,407
27 $   1,207,710 $           –   $ 13,592,117
28 $   1,237,903 $           –   $ 14,830,020
29 $   1,268,850 $           –   $ 16,098,870
30 $   1,300,572 $           –   $ 17,399,442

 

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Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Press Release: MountainTrue joins lawsuit against Trump administration’s moves on National Environmental Policy Act

Press Release: MountainTrue joins lawsuit against Trump administration’s moves on National Environmental Policy Act

July 15, 2020

Press release from the Southern Environmental Law Center:

“The Trump administration in an announcement today hobbled the nation’s bedrock environmental protection, the National Environmental Policy Act, a law that has given marginalized communities a say in what happens to them when governments propose life-altering projects like highways and pipelines.

In doing so, the administration illegally cut corners in a way that the courts have rejected time and time again.

“This is a blatant and transparent effort from the Trump administration to further silence communities that are not as well connected, not as wealthy, not as valuable to the White House as others,” said Kym Hunter, a Southern Environmental Law Center senior attorney who is heading the organization’s defense of NEPA. SELC is representing 16 conservation organizations.

“And the fact that it is happening now, when so many in our communities are crying out for equity and fairness, is particularly appalling,” Hunter said.

Oddly, if early press reports are correct, President Trump may somehow invoke the proposed Atlanta I-75 truck-lane project as an example of NEPA issues. However, that project is in its infancy and is at the beginning of its NEPA review.

Note: The President may also invoke other Georgia projects as well. Please feel free to contact us for a response.

In addition to diminishing public voices, the NEPA rewrite also curtails agencies from considering climate change in their reviews. Further, it also eliminates consideration of what is known as “cumulative impacts.” For example, when a new highway or bypass is proposed near a current interstate, the projected increase in pollution is added to the existing pollution levels to get a full understanding of how nearby communities will be affected. The Trump administration NEPA rewrite eliminates the consideration of these “cumulative impacts.”

SELC is preparing to sue the Trump administration on behalf of its 16 clients alleging, among other things, the administration made a mockery of the laws and policies that are designed to make changes like this a transparent and public process.

· Before its decision to alter what is often called the “Magna Carta of environmental laws,” the Trump administration held just two public hearings — in Denver and in Washington D.C. — in a country with a population of 330,000,000.

· Even so, the Council on Environmental Quality received more than 1.1 million public comments and has a duty to review each one. However, CEQ moved forward with rulemaking less than four months later, an impossibility if it followed its mandate.

· CEQ created a back channel for Trump administration cronies and supporters who complained that they were having a hard time mustering enough support to counter overwhelming public disapproval.

Among other things, the Trump administration is reducing the amount of public input from NEPA’s requirements and making it far more difficult for communities and stakeholders to propose alternatives to major projects that may permanently alter communities.

SELC used open-records laws to obtain more than 8,500 pages of internal documents from CEQ, the agency in charge of the change. Some show how those involved in the NEPA rewrite want to narrowly interpret the purposes of projects so alternatives from the public can’t be considered.

For example, the documents say that the stated purpose of a proposed natural gas pipeline should be to move gas from one place to another, and not “meeting the energy needs in a geographic area.” Under that thinner scope, solar or hydroelectric power can’t be alternatives because they don’t move gas, “even if these energy sources are preferred by certain agencies or groups.”

Developers of the recently canceled Atlantic Coast Pipeline were unable to overcome widespread public opposition and legal challenges to the project, in part because the $8 billion pipeline was billed as a necessity for providing energy to the Virginia coast. Those arguments fell apart under public and legal scrutiny when experts showed the pipeline was not necessary to meet energy demand.

However, these changes to NEPA would largely prevent communities from mounting the same kinds of challenges to massive money-making pipeline projects that come at a high environmental and fiscal cost to affected communities and landowners in their paths.

Hunter said the CEQ documents reveal hints of industry fingerprints in the effort to weaken NEPA; however, the full extent of the influence isn’t clear because CEQ blacked out close to half of the records provided. SELC has filed a motion to gain full access to the records.

The authorship of documents released under FOIA is not clear. But the documents show whoever wrote them also wants to limit or eliminate objections from other federal agencies involved in permitting large projects. In the documents, for example, an author complained that some agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are too diligent in protecting endangered species.

“As a result,” one document states, “the USFWS has become one of the stickiest wickets” in the process.

Statement from MountainTrue Co-director Julie Mayfield:

‘The National Environmental Policy Act has served as our basic national charter for protection of the environment since it was enacted in 1970. It is a critical tool to ensure government transparency and gives affected citizens — especially communities of color and low income communities — a much-needed voice in agency decision making.
MountainTrue has leveraged NEPA to ensure that the I-26 highway connector through Asheville did less harm to neighboring communities of color. And in our work on Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests, NEPA provides the framework for every set of comments, every administrative challenge and every appeal of a timber sale or other management decision with which we disagree.
The new rules put forth by President Trump’s Council on Environmental Quality would gut NEPA’s substantive and procedural safeguards and are a threat to public health and our environment. They cannot be allowed to stand. Mr. Trump, we’ll see you in court.'”

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Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.