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.

MT Raleigh Report: Legislators Discuss How to Hold Safe Elections and State Budget

MT Raleigh Report: Legislators Discuss How to Hold Safe Elections and State Budget

MT Raleigh Report: Legislators Discuss How to Hold Safe Elections and State Budget

May 20, 2020

The North Carolina General Assembly restarted its 2020 session this week, so it’s a good time for a quick update about what’s going on in Raleigh.

After much back and forth about how the session should proceed, the House and Senate Republican leadership decided to open the session this week and work continuously through the beginning of July, when they hope to adjourn. Previously, there had been some talk of meeting briefly this month, then recessing until late June.

The to-do list of lawmakers is likely to be fairly modest. The early weeks of the session will include debates about policy changes and appropriations necessary to hold the November elections safely. Local election officials say they need more money, and that voters need more education about absentee ballots to vote safely. Voting rights organizations have also asked lawmakers to loosen voting restrictions in order to increase access to the ballot and protect public health. Local bills, as well as bills in conference leftover from the 2019 session, may also move.

But the major work of the session will be the FY2020-21 budget – prospects for which could not be murkier. Budget forecasters are predicting a shortfall of several billion dollars as a result of the pandemic. Look for the House, the Senate and the Governor’s offices to agree on a “consensus forecast” for the state’s FY21 revenues late this week or early next. Lawmakers use this forecast as the basis of their budget decisions, and most budget watchers expect it to include a shortfall of $1–$4 billion for the coming fiscal year. In a budget totaling $24 billion, making up a shortfall that large could mean steep budget cuts.

However, how much of that shortfall lawmakers will have to cut their way out of is still very unclear. For starters, the state has more than a billion in reserves that can be used to address the shortfall. Lawmakers have also reserved $2 billion of federal COVID relief dollars, in hopes that Congress will give states the ability to use it to address their budget deficits – an option favored by many Republicans in the US Senate. In the US House, the bill approved last week and backed by Democrats could bring as much as $16 billion to North Carolina. If and when Congress acts on any or all of these proposals will have a significant impact on North Carolina’s budget.

Then there’s the politics of the North Carolina budget, which must be signed into law by Governor Cooper. Last year, the Governor and Republican lawmakers were unable to reach a deal on the budget. Whether the two sides will be able to reach a deal this year – just a few months before an election – remains an open question.

That’s where things stand in Raleigh right now – and of course, it’s all subject to change at any moment. Keep an eye out for future updates about the legislative session and what it means for Western North Carolina.


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.

Join Us For A Madison County-wide Bioblitz, June 6-20

Join Us For A Madison County-wide Bioblitz, June 6-20

Join Us For A Madison County-wide Bioblitz, June 6-20

From June 6 to June 20 naturalists, kids, students, hunters, fishers, scholars and area residents are invited to log their observation in a new county project

Madison County, NC — Madison Natural Heritage, a natural history program of the Madison County Public Library System, and local conservation organization, MountainTrue are hosting a virtual Madison County Bioblitz — an ambitious two-week long biological inventory of the organisms living in Madison County that will take place from June 6-20. To register, visit: https://madisonnaturalheritage.org/2020-bioblitz/

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic, all participants are urged to practice safe social distancing by surveying alone or with family members or other people with whom they have been in isolation. People should comply with all remaining public lands and trail closures.

“This is a perfect time to do something good, be together while apart, get outside and into your own backyards and nearby natural areas and start taking stock of this incredible place where we live. Madison County is one of the most unique counties in the state.” explains Pete Dixon, a Madison County Public Library Trustee. “With digital technology and the citizen-science movement, it is easy for anyone to get involved and make meaningful contributions to the body of scientific knowledge. And it’s a perfect chance to get kids off of their screens and out into nature.”

“MountainTrue has organized a bioblitz every year since 2016,” said MountainTrue Biologist and Madison County native Josh Kelly. “Bioblitzes are great opportunities for regular people and experts alike to learn more about the natural world. We are thrilled to support and partner with Madison Natural Heritage on this project to document and celebrate the natural diversity of Madison County. Now, more than ever, people need fun, safe ways to get outdoors, and this event is perfect for that.”

Over the two week period from June 6-20, naturalists, kids, students, hunters, fishers, scholars and all area residents are invited to explore their neighborhoods, nearby forests and open public lands and document the species they find using the iNaturalist smartphone app and website (https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/madison-county-2020-bioblitz) and to post their discoveries to social media using the hashtag #madcobioblitz. To learn more and register for the Blitz, visit: (click here)

A spined soldier bug identified at MountainTrue’s 2019 Bioblitz in Nantahala Gorge. Photo by Rhys Burns, courtesy of MountainTrue.

“Madison County’s biological diversity is extreme,” says Dixon. “Biologists have been attempting to document the great number of plants and animals living here for generations, yet more discoveries turn up all the time. A recent example is the discovery of a Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly [picture and caption included in the media kit] in the Murray Branch area. The Meadowhawk is common in the Mississippi Valley, but had never before been documented in the North Carolina mountains.”

Madison Natural Heritage is a public library project that is intended to engage students, scholars and citizens and to collect and archive data about our rich and cherished natural world in Madison County. More than that, this project will preserve the natural history of Madison County as an interactive digital natural history museum.

Peggy Goforth, the library administrative manager, who was instrumental in starting the project has said, “Because Madison County is so special and unique, it is critical that we instill in our children the knowledge to preserve and maintain this beautiful place that we love and call home.”

MountainTrue is a regional conservation nonprofit that champions resilient forests, clean waters and healthy communities. The organization’s members and volunteers work to 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. More info at mountaintrue.org.


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.

Duke Energy Rate Increase Hearing Comes to Asheville Feb. 20

Duke Energy Rate Increase Hearing Comes to Asheville Feb. 20

Duke Energy Rate Increase Hearing Comes to Asheville Feb. 20

For Immediate Release

Duke Energy Rate Increase Hearing Comes to Asheville Feb. 20

Media Contact:
Eliza Stokes, Advocacy & Communications Associate, MountainTrue
E: eliza@mountaintrue.org P: 410-493-7284

February 14, 2020

Asheville, NC On Thursday, Feb. 20, the North Carolina Utilities Commission will hold its Asheville hearing on the latest proposal by Duke Energy to increase electricity rates. 

Duke Energy Progress, a subsidiary of Duke Energy with territory in Buncombe County and many other counties across North Carolina, seeks approval from the North Carolina Utilities Commission for a $463.6 million increase in the amount the company collects from ratepayers each year. This would result in an average 14.3% increase in residential electric bills, or approximately $17.29 more per month for residential customers.

This issue hits close to home in Asheville, as the rate hike includes a request for Duke customers to pay for the $820 million new gas plant at Lake Julian. Also included are plans to recover $402 million for capital investments at coal plants and $530 million for customers to clean up Duke’s coal ash across the state.

“Every couple years, Duke comes back with another proposal to increase customers’ rates,” says Eliza Stokes, an organizer at the environmental non-profit MountainTrue and a customer of Duke Energy Progress. “Duke’s energy plans lack the serious, significant investment in renewable energy that North Carolina needs to face the climate crisis. Because Duke has a monopoly, customers like me don’t have the option to choose another energy company that better aligns with our values.” 

Stokes says Duke’s shareholders should be paying their fair share for these costs. In 2018, Duke made $3.03 billion in net income, while paying $0 in federal taxes. According to a MountainTrue investigation of Duke’s financials, the company has paid their Board over $24.5 million and issued $16.707 billion in dividend payments to their shareholders since 2013. 

“It is unconscionable for a company making this level of profit to call on customers many of whom are on low or fixed incomes to foot the bill for Duke’s coal ash mismanagement and continued reliance on fossil fuels.”

The hearing in Asheville will be held in Courtroom 1A of the Buncombe County Courthouse at 60 Court Plaza at 7pm. Those who wish to speak should arrive by 6:30pm to sign up. 

MountainTrue works in 26 counties to champion resilient forests, clean waters and healthy communities in our region. With offices in Boone, Murphy, Asheville and Hendersonville, MountainTrue engages in policy advocacy at all levels of government and on-the-ground environmental restoration projects. Primary program areas include public lands, water quality, clean energy, land use/transportation, and community engagement.

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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.