ACTION: Tell NCDEQ to Extend the Public Comment Period and Hold a Public Hearing on the Draft Clear Creek Sewer Permit

ACTION: Tell NCDEQ to Extend the Public Comment Period and Hold a Public Hearing on the Draft Clear Creek Sewer Permit

ACTION: Tell NCDEQ to Extend the Public Comment Period and Hold a Public Hearing on the Draft Clear Creek Sewer Permit

The NC Department of Environmental Quality has issued a draft permit for a new Clear Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) discharge. This is a component of a plan to extend sewer service east to the Edneyville area. As it stands, public comment on this draft will close on October 12 with no public hearing. 

Through Henderson County’s 2045 Comprehensive Plan development period, growth in the county’s most rural areas, loss of farmland and open space, and impacts to natural resources have been of highest concern to the public. While a sewer extension might address some issues of failing septic systems, failing sewer package plants, and public sewer for the last remaining school in the County without this utility, questions remain around a new wastewater treatment plant and discharge to Clear Creek being the best solution. Clear Creek is already listed as impaired on the state’s 303(d) list of impaired streams, and a new source of pollution is cause for concern. 

Undoubtedly, sewer extensions have benefits and consequences – the public needs time to adequately review this project and the impacts it will have on responsible community growth and public health. Henderson County’s Comprehensive Plan has yet to be adopted, and granting a wastewater treatment discharge permit when future land use decisions are still being made, without extensive public comment opportunities is irresponsible.

The numerous concerns regarding a new wastewater discharge system in one of the county’s most rural areas warrant a public hearing and extension of public comment period. We need you to tell NCDEQ to extend the public comment period and hold a public hearing on this draft permit. Take action below.

2023 Volunteer of the Year and Esther Cunningham Award Winners

2023 Volunteer of the Year and Esther Cunningham Award Winners

2023 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 Annual Member Gathering on Saturday, October 14, 2023 at Devil’s Foot Beverage Co in Asheville, NC.

High Country Volunteer of the Year: Marta Toran

Originally from Spain, Marta has made the High Country her home for the past 16 years. She teaches environmental science, oceanography, and climate change courses in the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences at Appalachian State University. She also coordinates the department’s outreach program, which supports K12 STEM education across Western North Carolina and promotes environmental stewardship among students by connecting them with local organizations. Her students regularly participate in habitat restoration, native plant removal, and water sampling efforts organized by the Watauga Riverkeeper. Marta also helps students become certified as North Carolina Environmental Educators. She has been awarded grants from organizations like the EPA to help educate people about natural resources and how to protect them. She’s proud to see her students get involved in the community through environmental advocacy organizations like MountainTrue, especially when they bring friends along with them. She also hopes that one day, North Carolina will catch up to Europe in environmental regulations forbidding the use of single-use plastic and regarding other measures to reduce plastic waste and encourage recycling. Thanks for all you do to make the High Country a better place, Marta! 

Central Region Volunteer of the Year: Elizabeth Porter

Elizabeth moved to the Asheville area ten years ago from her hometown in Northeast Florida to take a position teaching environmental economics at UNCA. She knew when she arrived in the area that she also wanted to find “her people.” Having been an active volunteer with the St. Johns Riverkeeper, she began volunteering for Western North Carolina Alliance (the organization that would later become MountainTrue) and French Broad Riverkeeper events. Her years spent canoeing in Florida translated into a particular affinity for river cleanups and all of the interesting things and people to be found on the river. Elizabeth is currently in her second year teaching sustainability and environmental policy in the Department of Business Administration at Mars Hill University. When she’s not on campus, there’s a good chance you’ll find her out on her stand-up paddleboard on French Broad Section 9.

Western Region Volunteer of the Year: Jonathan Micancin

Jonathan Micancin earned his Ph.D. at UNC Chapel Hill and is an Assistant Professor of Biology at Young Harris College, where he teaches courses in conservation biology, ecology, environmental science, and related topics. Since coming to Young Harris in 2019, Jonathan has taken the lead on MountainTrue’s Corn Creek Riparian Restoration Project. He has involved his students in all aspects of the work, organizing volunteer workdays to remove nonnative invasive plants and plant native ones in the streamside corridor. Last fall, he began working with Young Harris College to replace its landscaping with native trees and shrubs, again having his students create the plans and help implement them. They bought many plants through our Fall Native Tree & Shrub sale fundraiser. Jonathan and his students also study the behavioral ecology, evolution, and conservation of cryptic amphibians. They discovered the decline of southern cricket frogs in the Southeast, extended the known range of Collinses’ mountain chorus frog in Georgia, and are currently studying rare and imperiled Appalachian salamanders. Thanks so much for all you do to conserve Southern Appalachian biodiversity and support MountainTrue’s work, Jonathan!

Southern Region Volunteer of the Year: Michael Cheng

Michael Cheng (pictured above) is no stranger to the Broad River, as he frequently joins Broad Riverkeeper David Caldwell for river cleanups, races, and other events. In fact, Michael and his wife, Patsy, were two of the wonderful sponsors of the 8th Annual Sarah Sweep and First Broad River Festival, which took place on September 9 in Shelby, NC. As David has said, “Supporters like Michael help make our work possible; the Broad River is cleaner and healthier because of Michael and his enthusiasm for its wellbeing! Michael, MountainTrue is grateful for you and all you do to support the Broad Riverkeeper in protecting the Broad River Watershed!” 

Last fall, Broad River enthusiast Michael Cheng, several volunteers, and Broad Riverkeeper David Caldwell were joined by the Voices of Deoli film crew while cleaning up a section of the First Broad River. Cinematographer Oxana Onipko filmed the cleanup as part of the Voices of Deoli feature film, which shares the stories of Deoli Internment Camp survivors, including Michael Cheng. We encourage folks to support the Voices of Deoli crew by checking out their website, learning about the project, and following Voices of Deoli on Facebook and Instagram. Learn more about Michael by reading his interview here.

The 2023 Esther Cunningham Award Winner: Jane Laping

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. 

Jane co-founded MountainTrue’s faith-based program, the Creation Care Alliance (CCA, formerly called WNC Green Congregations), in 2012 and has served on the Steering Team ever since. Earlier this year, she filled in as Interim Coordinator while CCA Director Sarah Ogletree was on maternity leave for 14 weeks. Additionally, Jane has been the Creation Care Team lead at First Presbyterian Church in Asheville since 2010. 

Jane volunteered in various roles with Presbyterians for Earth Care (PEC), a national eco-justice network that connects, equips, and inspires Presbyterians to make creation care a central concern of the church. She currently serves as PEC’s Vice Moderator. In 2007, she wrote Earth Care Congregations, a certification program for Presbyterian Churches that was adopted by the Presbyterian Church (USA). There are now ~300 certified Earth Care Congregations in the US incorporating creation care in their worship, education, facilities, and outreach.

Jane worked as the first community organizer and Executive Director of Mothers for Clean Air in Houston, TX — a nonprofit that worked to reduce air pollution, especially as it affects children. She organized and collaborated with members of marginalized communities to measure air pollution levels, speak out against industries that polluted their neighborhoods, and engage with elected officials. Jane also worked with a theater artist to develop Ozone Theater — a program to educate children about color codes for ozone warnings — which won a national award from the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Jane is currently working with the Plastic Free WNC coalition. She recently assisted in surveying local organizations that serve the underserved and conducted in-person interviews with unhoused individuals to better understand how they would be impacted by the coalition’s proposed single-use plastic bag ban. Many thanks for all you continue to do to protect our shared environment, Jane! 

You’re Invited to MountainTrue’s 2023 Annual Gathering!

You’re Invited to MountainTrue’s 2023 Annual Gathering!

MountainTrue Annual Gathering 2023

You’re invited!

Celebrate another year of successes and partnerships with the MountainTrue team at Devil’s Foot Beverage Co on Saturday, October 14, 2023! 

About the event

Get ready for a night of fun and camaraderie with like-minded folks as we celebrate our achievements and honor the relationships each of us have with each other and to the natural world. We are all interconnected. Healthy forests and sustainable development make for clean water. The built environment has profound effects on the natural environment. Understanding the interconnectedness of our world guides our work and is key to building a better future for the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains. This event is open to current members of MountainTrue. Click here to check your membership status or email members@mountaintrue.org. If you’re not a current member, we would love to have you join us — You don’t want to miss out on the fun!

This year, our doors open early for a Plastics Rally beginning at 2 p.m. Learn about the progress that MountainTrue, our members, and partners have made in the fight against plastic pollution. French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson will discuss our work to pass a plastic bag ban in Buncombe County and how North Carolina towns and counties are empowered to reduce plastic pollution by NC’s Solid Waste Management Act. Attendees will get fired up and learn from local organizers how they can do their part to stop plastic pollution. 

General programming will begin at 3 p.m. and will include voting on new Board Members, reflecting on our achievements this year, and honoring outstanding Volunteers. Come snack on some hors d’oeuvres and grab a drink on us! Stick around for our exciting Jeopardy game show featuring one contestant from each of our four regions. The winner will get to designate what MountainTrue work donations collected at the event will fund. 

We’ll also take time to congratulate and recognize our outstanding Regional Volunteer of the Year Award winners: Marta Toran (High Country Region), Michael Cheng (Southern Region), Jonathan Micancin (Western Region), Elizabeth Porter (Central Region), as well as this year’s Esther Cunningham Award winner: Jane Laping.

To help offset event costs and ensure that your membership dollars continue supporting MountainTrue’s programmatic work, please consider making a $25 donation per member.

Become a MountainTrue member

Many thanks to our Corporate Sponsors

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Your monthly donation can stop pollution at its source. Help us advocate for funding and policies that keep agricultural waste out of the river and repair leaky and failing septic systems.

Take Action: Ask the Town of Weaverville To Support A Ban On Single-Use Plastic Bags

Take Action: Ask the Town of Weaverville To Support A Ban On Single-Use Plastic Bags

Take Action: Ask the Town of Weaverville To Support A Ban On Single-Use Plastic Bags

We need you to take action to help pass a common-sense law to reduce plastic pollution in Buncombe County. The first step is getting the Town of Weaverville to pass a resolution of support.

Please email your local lawmakers and let them know you support a ban on single-use plastics.

Plastic pollution is a global problem, and we must act locally to do our part. That’s why MountainTrue is advocating for a county-wide ban on single-use plastic bags and styrofoam at grocery and retail store checkout counters paired with a 10-cent fee on paper bags.

More than 500 local governments in 28 states across the country have already passed such laws to reduce plastic pollution. If we want Buncombe County to be next, we need to show them that we have broad support.

So why are we asking you to email the Mayor and Councilpersons of the Town of Weaverville? As part of a broader multi-pronged strategy, we’re encouraging towns and cities to pass resolutions supporting such a law, which we hope will encourage our Buncombe County Commissioners to act.

To the best of our knowledge, these town officials do not oppose a ban on plastic bags. Many of the officials that we’ve spoken to are enthusiastically supportive. That’s why it’s essential that we communicate with them positively and respectfully.

Facts About Our Ban on Single-Use Plastics

Microplastics are a dangerous emerging contaminant.
Plastics don’t biodegrade; they break down into smaller and smaller pieces of microplastic that stay in our environment for thousands of years.

These microscopic pieces of plastic waste are everywhere.
We all breathe/consume approximately one credit card’s worth of microplastics every week. Microplastics have been found in the human placenta and breast milk.

Plastic production generates as much CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) gas as 116 coal-fired power plants.
As of 2020, the US plastics industry was responsible for at least 232 million tons of CO2e gas emissions per year, which is the equivalent of 116 average-sized (500-megawatt) coal-fired power plants (Beyond Plastics: The New Coal: Plastics and Climate Change, 2021).

Plastic production is ramping up and much of it is for the purpose of creating wasteful, single-use plastics. 
42% of plastic production is for single-use packaging (Science Advances: Production, Use, and Fate of All Plastic Ever Made, 2017). Half of all plastics created were produced in the last 15 years (NRDC: Single-Use Plastic 101, 2020).

Plastic films account for 40% of the microplastics found in the French Broad River.
MountainTrue has conducted widespread microplastic sampling throughout the French Broad Watershed. On average, we’ve found 15.5 pieces of microplastic per 1-liter sample of water, with some samples as high as 40 or 50 pieces per liter. The most common type of microplastics in the French Broad River is films (39.5%), the sources of which are plastic bags, food packaging, and candy wrappers.

Plastics are harmful to human health.
Plastics contain 7% chemical additives on average. Researchers suspect these chemicals contribute to reproductive health problems and declining sperm counts in Western countries. Phthalates, used to enhance the durability of plastic products, are found in personal care products, food packaging, children’s toys, shower curtains, and more. These chemical additives disrupt the endocrine system and harm the reproductive and nervous systems.

Styrofoam contains a likely carcinogen that leaches into food, drinks, and water supplies.
Styrene is used to make styrofoam cups, food containers, and disposable coolers, and leaches into the food and drinks they hold and from landfills into drinking water. It’s classified as a likely human carcinogen that causes liver, kidney, and circulatory problems.

A ban on single-use plastic bags in Buncombe County would have significant environmental benefits.
A ban on single-use plastic bags paired with a 10-cent fee on paper bags would reduce Sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions by 43%, fossil fuel consumption by 86%, solid waste by 66%, greenhouse gas emissions by 83%, fresh water consumption by 32%, and energy use by 73.3% compared to plastic. Read more about the environmental benefits of our proposed ordinance here.

Our plastic bag ban would not be overly burdensome for people with lower incomes.
Our proposed ordinance would exempt customers using EBT, SNAP, and WIC from paying the 10-cent fee on paper bags. Even without that exception, the average cost to Buncombe County consumers would only be $3.33 per year, and customers can reduce or eliminate those costs by bringing reusable bags to the store.

Buncombe County has the legal authority to pass a plastic bag ban under the North Carolina Solid Waste Management Act.
The NC Solid Waste Management Act asserts that it’s North Carolina’s policy to prioritize waste reduction at the source and mandates that towns, cities, and counties implement programs and other actions to address deficiencies and “protect human health and the environment.” Because the presence of a pollutant that is harmful to human health and the environment has been documented in our region, the law mandates that local governments act.

Find Your Swimming Hole: MountainTrue Urges Public to Use Swim Guide App To Find Clean Swimming Areas this Independence Day Weekend

Find Your Swimming Hole: MountainTrue Urges Public to Use Swim Guide App To Find Clean Swimming Areas this Independence Day Weekend

Find Your Swimming Hole: MountainTrue Urges Public to Use Swim Guide App To Find Clean Swimming Areas this Independence Day Weekend

MountainTrue, a leading local environmental group, is encouraging the public to use the Swim Guide app before heading out onto the water to ensure a healthy and happy Independence Day weekend. MountainTrue is the home of the Broad Riverkeeper, French Broad Riverkeeper, Green Riverkeeper, Watauga Riverkeeper, and a Western Clean Water Team based in Murphy, North Carolina, that are dedicated to protecting the waters of the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains.

Each week between Memorial and Labor Day weekends, MountainTrue’s staff and volunteers collect and analyze water samples from 96 popular recreation spots across western North Carolina and Towns and Union Counties in northern Georgia. These samples are processed and analyzed, and the results are posted on the Swim Guide website (theswimguide.org) and the smartphone app in time for the weekend. This resource-intensive program is made possible by donations from MountainTrue’s members and the generosity of local businesses and organizations that sponsor one or more Swim Guide recreation sites.

Our Swim Guide Sponsors include Animal Hospital of BooneAppalachian Veterinary UltrasoundAsheville Fly Fishing CompanyBirdies Coffee & Treats on the FlyBlue Ridge Tourist CourtBoone CocoonBoone’s Fly Shop, City of Hiwassee, Fabbit Customs, Green River Cove Tubing, Joy Pharr Realty, Lake Adger Property Association, Mellow Mushroom Boone, Pink Mercury, The Purple Onion, Rivergirl Fishing Company, Rutherford Outdoor Coalition, Shelby Women for Progress, The SPOT, Trophy Water Guide ServiceThe Speckled Trout OutfittersTennessee Valley AuthorityWatauga Tourism Development Authority/Explore Boone, Towns County (GA), Union County (GA), Watauga River Lodge, and Zach Hobbs.

E. coli bacteria makes its way into our rivers and streams from sewer and septic leaks and in stormwater runoff — especially runoff from poorly managed animal agricultural operations. E. coli is an indicator of the presence of more harmful microbes, such as Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Shigella, and Norovirus. Contact or consumption of contaminated water can lead to gastrointestinal illness, skin infections, respiratory issues, and other health problems.

MountainTrue tests mid-week, analyzes the samples, and posts the results in time for the weekend. These tests are a snapshot in time. If tests are conducted on a Wednesday after a dry spell, the results usually look pretty good, but conditions can change rapidly following heavy rains when stormwater runoff brings pollution into our waterways. MountainTrue encourages river recreators to take extra precautions after hard rains and not to ingest or expose any open cuts or abrasions to water.

The Swim Guide lists each testing site as either passing or failing based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2012 Recreational Water Quality Criteria for primary contact of 126 CFU/100 mL. Waterways located in remote areas or near protected public lands with minimal agricultural and industrial pollution sources tend to be the cleanest and less impacted by stormwater runoff. Areas closer to development and polluting agricultural practices face greater risks, especially after heavy rainstorms that result in increased water runoff.

While the primary purpose of the Swim Guide is to inform the public about where it’s safe to swim, MountainTrue also uses the data collected to solve water quality problems, inform our advocacy, and push for science-based policy solutions aimed at protecting the health of our communities and supporting our river recreation economy.

The rivers of the Southern Blue Rigde are an important cultural, recreational, and economic resource for our region. In order to clean up the dirtiest rivers and protect the cleanest ones, Mountaintrue encourages policymakers to increase riparian buffers, encourage better building and farming practices and invest in upgrading aging sewer infrastructure to meet current and future needs.

To find the latest bacteria testing sites for your favorite swim area or to download the Swim Guide app, visit theswimguide.org.