Western North Carolina’s beleaguered Air Pollution Control Agency could become a county-run program, if the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners follow their staff’s recommendations.
Buncombe County Manager Wanda Greene reported that staff members are “leaning toward keeping a local service” and “putting [it] in one of our [existing] departments.” Last month, the Haywood County Commissioners announced that their county will withdraw from the APCA effective July 1, ending a 30-year partnership with Buncombe County and the city of Asheville. Since that announcement, Buncombe County staff and city officials have been investigating alternatives, such as turning the agency’s enforcement-and-monitoring functions over to the state, Greene noted. She plans to present county staff’s final recommendations to the Board of Commissioners in April.
Buncombe County resident Jerry Rice, who emphasized the ever-worsening air quality in WNC, asked commissioners to “stay with a regional approach … and educate every county around on what we can do [to improve air quality] on a local level.” He spoke against turning the agency’s functions over to the state, arguing that the current APCA board is “a good group” and that air-pollution problems particularly affect WNC’s tourist industry. “If you see a postcard that shows the sky blue and the air clean, then you get here [and it’s not], there’s no incentive for you to come back,” Rice remarked, adding, “We’ve got the power to do a lot [to promote better air quality] at the local level.”
Board of Commissioners Vice Chair Patsy Keever agreed with Rice that local air-quality has reached a crisis state. She mentioned that the APCA has recently produced a video on the subject — Breathing Troubled Air: A Prayer for the Mountains — which will soon air on the county’s government TV channel. (Note: A special screening of the video, followed by an open discussion on local air quality, will be held in UNCA’s Lipinsky Auditorium on Tuesday, April 11, 7-8:30 p.m.)
Commissioner David Gantt added that he supports keeping a local agency.
No action was taken on the matter.
Dial 211 for info
By spring of next year, the new 211 information line could be up and running, United Way volunteer Jennie Eblen reported to the Board of Commissioners on March 21. Similar to existing 411 and 911 systems, 211 will provide nonemergency information on locally-available health-and-human-services assistance.
The United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County will spearhead the development of the new information system, authorized last year by the North Carolina Public Utilities Commission, Eblen indicated. She chairs the volunteer committee for First Call for Help, one of the United Way services to be included in the 211 system.
Commissioner David Young moved that Buncombe County endorse the effort. Seconded by Bill Stanley, that motion passed, 5-0.
Fighting for Fairview
Stuart Reems‘ plea for county action on several Fairview issues had a poignantly personal edge: As he stood before the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners on March 21, he wore a cast around his ankle stemming from a recent automobile crash on Sweeten Creek Road. Reems was lucky, however, to escape with a broken jaw and other non-life-threatening injuries: The two men in the vehicle that struck his car were killed.
Fearing that similar tragedies could occur on the narrow, winding Cane Creek Road — where a new school is soon to open and a convenience-store complex is under construction — Reems begged commissioners to push the N.C. Department of Transportation to accelerate its plan to widen and improve the road.
He also asked that the county block construction of Cane Creek Station — the new complex that’s slated to include a convenience store, an auto-lube shop, a fast-food restaurant, a gas station, and a storage-unit center — due to its potential for significantly increasing traffic in the area. In addition, it’s inappropriate to be selling alcohol so close to a school, he said.
Reems — who said he voted against zoning in the county last year — also asked commissioners to stop the construction of what he called “an absolutely obnoxious” 190-foot-tall cell-phone tower going up on Lower Brush Creek Road, near his home. If commissioners can’t stop the project, they should offer at least 50-percent property-tax reductions to nearby homeowners, Reems argued.
Commissioners took no immediate action on Reems’ requests. The Fairview resident reported that he has also written to Gov. Jim Hunt about the cell-phone tower and Cane Creek Station, but has yet to receive a response.