By far the largest crowd at a Buncombe County Board of Commissioners meeting since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic — over 300 people, filling the main board chambers and two overflow rooms — descended on the county’s administration building March 1.
Most of those in attendance had come to speak on behalf of Big Ivy, a forested region in the county’s northeast. Although the U.S. Forest Service has recommended that most of that land be managed for conservation or recreation in the final draft of its plan for the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests, approximately 4,000 acres in the North Fork and Snowball Mountain areas have been flagged for potential logging.
Will Harlan, head of the nonprofit Friends of Big Ivy, said both areas have cultural and environmental importance that outweigh their use for forestry. North Fork, he pointed out, protects the headwaters of the Ivy River, the principal water source for Weaverville; Snowball hosts popular recreational assets such as the Snowball Trail and a section of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
Harlan and many of the more than 50 people who had signed up for public comment, including Co-Director Bob Wagner of the nonprofit MountainTrue and Anna Littman of Ivy Creek Family Farm, asked the commissioners to file a formal objection to the draft plan. By doing so, the county would be allowed to participate in subsequent meetings with Forest Service staff as they resolve issues raised by the community.
Brownie Newman, the Buncombe board’s chair, noted that the county had passed resolutions in both 2016 and 2020 supporting federal wilderness designation for the Craggy Mountains and Big Ivy areas. In keeping with that stance, he continued, the county would submit an objection to the Forest Service, with guidance from Friends of Big Ivy.
Commissioner Amanda Edwards asked Harlan if such objections had made a difference in other Forest Service processes across the country. He responded that, under new federal rules adopted in 2012, community input had become more significant in shaping final plans.
“We’ve seen substantial response from the Forest Service to objections, especially when they come from the most populous county in the Pisgah-Nantahala footprint,” Harlan said. “You all have a really important role to play, and your voice will be heard.”
In other comments
A contingent of residents organized under the name Swannanoans for Respectful Development also petitioned the board for help. Matt Barker, the group’s leader, alleged that a Dollar General store being constructed at the intersection of Rowland Road and U.S. 70 is in violation of state rules regarding the placement of its driveway.
According to documents presented by Barker, the N.C. Department of Transportation had approved permits that would place the store’s driveway 120 feet north of the intersection, in compliance with the 100-foot minimum. But actual work at the site has the driveway situated just 6 ½ feet north of U.S. 70. Resident Gabrielle Price called the placement an “unfathomable safety risk,” saying she and her 5-year-old child had almost been hit by a construction vehicle leaving the Dollar General site.
And Leonty Ostapovich, a pastor and member of Buncombe County’s Ukrainian population, asked the community to support his homeland as it faces invasion by Russia. Through a translator, he said he was collecting donations before traveling to Ukraine’s border with Poland, where he hopes to assist war refugees.