Buncombe gets update on Tropical Storm Fred recovery

Buncombe County seal

Tropical Storm Fred blew through Western North Carolina in August 2021, dropping an average of 7 inches of rain over two days and devastating many local communities. Yet more than a year after the waters receded, less than half of state funds assigned to help those in need have been allocated for specific work.

That’s according to a presentation by the N.C. Office of State Budget and Management, which state officials are slated to share with the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners at its regular meeting Tuesday, Sept. 20. Of $49 million designated for local recovery, about $23.9 million (49%) has been “spent and obligated.”

Slides available in advance of the board meeting do not contain any explanation for why the remaining funds have yet to be assigned. The presentation does note that 619 of 710 total applications for aid received from WNC residents through Sept. 9 were deemed eligible. Of those projects, 43% have been completed. Buncombe accounts for 82 of the projects, while neighboring Haywood County has the most projects with 255.

The majority of aid spending thus far — $15 million — has been for the repair of private roads and bridges. About $7 million has been spent and obligated for home reconstruction, leaving $13 million available for that purpose. Another $7 million more designated for short-term housing, home repairs and landlord assistance remains unspent.

State officials encourage residents to reach out if they were harmed by the storm. More information is available by visiting TSFred.NC.gov, emailing TSFred@NC.gov or calling 828-526-6170.

Board to consider gas pipeline easement

Commissioners are scheduled to vote on granting a permanent easement to Dominion Energy, a natural gas provider, to relocate and maintain an underground pipeline in Swannanoa. The utility says an existing pipeline in the area requires repair and has offered to pay Buncombe $80,000 for the use of county property.

During a Sept. 6 briefing of the board, Commissioner Parker Sloan asked whether the easement would allow Dominion to expand its capacity for distributing natural gas. County Attorney Michael Frue, who was presenting the item, said he was unsure on that point.

“My opinion would be to oppose any new gas lines, new fossil fuel infrastructure of any kind, in the county, whether it’s on our property or not,” Sloan responded. Buncombe has set a goal for the entire community to be powered by renewable energy by 2042.

Consent agenda and public comment

The board’s consent agenda for the meeting contains eight items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. That agenda includes the following highlights:

  • Approval of an interlocal agreement between the Buncombe County Soil and Water Conservation District and conservation officials at the state and federal levels. An accompanying staff report says the agreement will “facilitate cooperation, collaboration and agreement between agencies, landowners and other stakeholders; develop comprehensive conservation plans with cooperating landowners; and bring attention to those efforts to landowners and others.”
  • A revision to the scope of work for previously funded library repairs. Roughly $156,000 budgeted in fiscal year 2019-20 will be put toward parking lot improvements at the South Buncombe, Enka-Candler, North Asheville and Weaverville libraries.
  • Accepting a $10,000 grant from Vaya Health to the county’s Division of Social Services. The money will be used to help families with children in foster care or who are at risk of having their children enter the system.

The full agenda and supporting documents for the regular meeting can be found at this link. Prior to the regular meeting, the Board of Commissioners will hold a special meeting at 11:30 a.m. to conduct interviews for the Planning Board. Commissioners will also hold a briefing at 4 p.m. to discuss Buncombe’s plan for spending roughly $16.2 million the county will receive through a settlement in a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers.

In-person public comment will be taken at the start of the regular meeting, which begins at 5 p.m. in room 326 at 200 College St., Asheville; no voicemail or email comments will be permitted. Both the briefing and the regular meeting will be livestreamed on the county’s Facebook page and will subsequently be available via YouTube.

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the News Editor of Mountain Xpress, coordinating coverage of Western North Carolina's governments, community groups, businesses and environment. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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