State approves water quality permit for The Cliffs

After months of controversy, the North Carolina Division of Water Quality issued a water-quality permit for The Cliffs at High Carolina on July 2. The permit brings the developer a step closer to proceeding with a golf-course community on a roughly 3,000-acre site between Swannanoa and Fairview. The construction and maintenance plans will affect about a quarter-acre of wetlands and open water, as well as 3,337 linear feet of streams.

Effective immediately, the permit comes at the end of a lengthy public-comment process, says division staffer John Hennessy, noting that the development's water-quality impacts have been reduced compared with what the draft permit would have allowed.

About 140 people turned out for a public hearing on the project last November, at which Hennessy served as hearing officer. While a host of speakers emphasized both the local construction jobs the project would bring and Cliffs owner Jim Anthony's positive environmental track record in similar developments elsewhere, many Fairview residents called on the state to deny the permit. They cited concerns about chemical runoff from the golf course, detrimental effects on ground water, a possible reduction in neighbors' water supplies, sediment problems in streams, and the negative impact on native trout populations in streams altered or otherwise affected by the project. (See "The Green Scene," Nov. 26, 2008, Xpress).

"There was an extensive amount of work [done] in response to those concerns," says Hennessy. For example, the state is requiring The Cliffs to monitor trout populations, as well as the levels of sediment and golf-course chemicals in affected streams.

A lengthy state report details how division staffers sorted and addressed residents' concerns. It also notes official requests for more information from Cliffs planner Don Nickell and follow-up meetings with Cliffs staff.

The conditions spelled out in the permit include the following: Culverts must be installed in ways that "allow aquatic life movement." No construction shall occur near trout streams during the spawning season. A strict storm-water mitigation plan must be implemented, and The Cliffs must monitor the impact of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides on streams. The monitoring requirements alone "go beyond what we would usually do," says Hennessy.

Another issue brought up at the hearing, he notes, was that initially, The Cliffs was counting some existing trout streams as part of its mitigation effort — claiming a reduction in the project's overall impact simply by not damaging those streams. Residents, says Hennessy, wondered, "If those streams are already [protected], why would you allow those to be counted?"

The revised permit does not allow The Cliffs to count those streams, he reports. On the other hand, the state has determined that the project will not reduce adjacent residents' ground-water supplies.

To view the complete text of the permit and report, check the Buncombe County section of the Xpress Files at

About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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