The Green Scene

On an ice-cold November night, almost 200 people gathered for a public hearing called by the state Division of Water Quality concerning developer Jim Anthony‘s request for permission to alter 6,149 feet of streams and disturb about a quarter-acre of wetlands at The Cliffs at High Carolina. The 2,780-acre project straddles a mountain ridge between Fairview and Swannanoa.

The evening’s comments riffed on jobs, dried-up wells, golf-course chemicals, endangered trout, The Cliffs’ track record on other projects, past mistakes by other developers and—a Buncombe County favorite—what makes you a true native (or not). Toss in a few jokes about getting to meet golf-course designer Tiger Woods, and you’ve got a two-hour hearing.

As the crowd filled the A.C. Reynolds High School auditorium, Fairview resident Alicia Rocawich told Xpress that she and her partner are “actually quite pleased” to have The Cliffs for their neighbor. Though she’ll be installing a whole-house water filter to reduce potential sediment problems, Rocawich called the upscale developer “one of the most conscientious, when it comes to the environment.”

A large contingent of businessmen made a similar point, also emphasizing that The Cliffs has had a significant positive effect on Western North Carolina’s economy. One business owner reported that his grading company has grown from 10 to more than 50 employees, mostly in the last seven years of doing business with various The Cliffs projects in the region.

Contractor Dennis Whitmire assured residents, “We have never been asked to cut any corners at any time when it comes to the environment. Nonetheless, some residents were more cautious. “It all gets down to trust,” said Bill Boyd, who lives in the smaller Alpine Mountain subdivision nearby. “Ninety percent of developers I do not trust. I hope Mr. Anthony will do what he says he will and protect [our] ground water [and our] streams.”

Like many others, Boyd said he worries that the golf course and the approximately 1,000 homes planned for The Cliffs will deplete ground-water supplies, causing wells to go dry. Some speakers said this is already happening.

Ironically, some people said they experienced water problems when Alpine was being developed some years ago; they don’t want a repeat. Fairview resident Dede Styles recounted that a stream on her property became so choked with sediment back then that she had to find an alternative water source. Styles, a heritage dyer, uses centuries-old methods and natural ingredients to color cloth, she explained. To ensure good results, she needs good water. “At least I can see the silt. What about the chemicals I can’t see?” asked Styles.

She’s afraid Anthony’s proposals won’t keep out the fungicides, pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers used in modern golf-course maintenance.

Many share her concern. Fairview resident François Manavit quipped, “I don’t want a toxic, Tiger-designed golf course.” It’s time for an organic golf course, he asserted, adding that Anthony should consider alternatives for his proposals, such as building bridges over streams instead of running them through culverts. “The Cliffs should not bury a trout stream for any reason,” Manavit declared.

Representatives of several nonprofits questioned whether such behavior is even legal. D.J. Gerken, counsel for the Western North Carolina Alliance, argued that the state can’t grant the permit “if alternatives exist that have less impact.” The proposed underground culverts, some about 1,000 feet long, may be “impassable barriers to trout,” he said, suggesting that state officials require a “substantial rewrite” of the proposal.

Some speakers had little faith that the state agency was up to the task of monitoring the situation if the permit were approved. They urged state officials to deny it. Black Mountain resident Bill Gunn observed that toxic chemicals have been found as far away as the Artic. “They don’t arrive there by truck: They arrive in the water. We will all be affected by [what happens] at The Cliffs,” he said.

After more than two hours of these and many other comments—all dutifully recorded by state officials—the hearing came to a close.

“It really matters what’s in the water,” Styles told Xpress as the crowd dispersed. She’s now able to draw water again from the stream that was muddied by Alpine-related development, she says. When it was at its worst, Styles collected water from a pristine source near the Blue Ridge Assembly, although something in its natural makeup prevented her from dying cloth indigo blue.

She wonders how a trace of golf-course fungicide or runoff from salted roads at The Cliffs in winter might affect her efforts to create natural greens, yellows and reds. Just a quarter-teaspoon of iron in a big pot of dye can change it from a pleasant red to a drab green, she noted. Still, casting a pragmatic eye toward The Cliffs, Styles mused, “Something good might come out of [it], such as jobs, and they might do a better job [than other developers have] of keeping silt out of the water.”

All the same, she concluded, “I have to share my water, because it goes on down to the river.”

DWQ is accepting written comments, sent by regular mail, fax or e-mail. Comments must be received no later than 5 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 18. Mail them to: N.C. Division of Water Quality, 401 Oversight Unit, 1650 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1650, Attn: Cyndi Karoly (919-733-1721, FAX: 919-733-6893, Cyndi.Karoly@ncmail.net).

Copies of The Cliffs’ application are on file and can be viewed at the Division of Water Quality’s Asheville office (2090 U.S. Highway 70, Swannanoa, NC 28778). For more information, call 296-4500 or the Raleigh office (listed above).

Send your environmental news to mvwilliams@mountainx.com or call 251-1333 ext. 152.

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About Margaret Williams
Managing Editor Margaret Williams has been at Xpress since 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987.

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