A hefty fund balance sits idle in the accounts of the Western North Carolina Regional Air Pollution Control Agency. The accumulated budget surpluses, totaling $760,186, are drawing “somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 percent interest,” according to Buncombe County Budget Director Nancy Brooks — bringing in more than $60,000 this fiscal year.
“If revenue exceeds expenditures,” Brook explained, “You’ll add money each year to your fund balance.” The county would like the agency to keep about 15 percent of its operating budget in savings — enough to cover two months of operation, Brooks told the agency board at its May 10 meeting. That would come to about $170,000.
APCA Vice Chair Nelda Holder — who chaired the meeting, in Chair Doug Clark’s absence — asked Agency Director Jim Cody to investigate ways of spending the excess funds.
“We want to work with you and make sure that the money is not spent down too fast,” cautioned.Brooks.
“You’re not going to tell us how to spend our money?” queried board member Doc Roberts.
“Certainly not,” Brooks replied.
Buncombe County appointee Arlis Queen said, “I’m not opposed to turning that money back [to the industries that contributed it, in the form of regulatory fees]. If we set aside 15 percent, that would be more than adequate for this agency. I don’t know of any agency in the country that has a fund balance this large.”
Open-burning-day notices suspended
“The public is confused about when they can and cannot burn [leaves and other vegetation],” said Regional Forester Tommy Thompson.
Thompson, who works for the state Division of Forest Resources, explained that people outside the APCA’s two-county jurisdiction are sometimes confused when they hear that the agency has OK’d open burning, when the state has not allowed it. He asked that the agency board let the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources determine when open burning would be permitted.
“If an air-pollution episode occurs,” Thompson said, “what we would like y’all to consider is that the APCA can go to our agency and request that we issue a ban.”
Cody urged the board to eliminate the APCA’s opening-burning declarations.
Haywood County board appointee Don Randolph. noted, “The primary reason [the agency] controls burning is [that the mountains] have unique meteorological conditions.”
Holder asked, “If this agency felt air quality was a problem, how difficult would it be to get a ban from the state?”
Cody replied that he would check on the state’s policy on small-area bans.
“We need to know that we can operate quickly, as we need,” stated Holder.
APCA attorney Billy Clarke responded, “You-all are in charge of air-pollution control in Buncombe and Haywood counties. If it was a public-health problem, you could do that.”
Cody asked that the board temporarily suspend the announcement of Burning/No Burning days in Haywood and Buncombe Counties until the next meeting.
On a motion by Boone, seconded by Randolph, Cody’s request was adopted unanimously.
“In no way have we withheld our right to declare no-burn days,” stated Holder. “We have just done away with a mechanism that was confusing the public.”
Web site and interns
The agency’s new Web site (www.wncair.org) can be visited to obtain the agendas of upcoming meetings and the minutes of prior ones, as well as contact information and permit requirements, Cody said.
In reference to the agency’s plan to utilize student interns, Cody told the board, “This agency would have a great deal to offer a student.” Advertisements for interns have been posted in all local schools that have environmental-studies programs, including Warren Wilson College, Western Carolina University and UNCA, he said.
“We seem to be getting more appeals. It would make sense to have some [formal] procedures,” advised board attorney Clarke. “I’m not suggesting a full-blown hearing with judges and wigs,” he said. “[But] you should definitely come up with what we call “findings of fault,” he told the board. “If you do what you’re authorized to do and make a record of it, you can defend yourself in an appeal.”
“A hearing officer approves findings and makes recommendations,” Clarke added.
Queen requested that the board appoint a “minimum of three [hearing officers], if the full board cannot hear an appeal.”
“We want to be fair, but we don’t want to give the store away either,” Roberts interjected cryptically.
The board directed Clarke to draw up hearing procedures to be formal adoption at the next meeting.
Clarke has been the board’s legal counsel for almost a year, without any formal contract; the board took this occasion to enter into a one-year agreement for legal services with the law firm of Roberts & Stevens, with Clarke as the designated representative.
“Let’s see how we stand after a year. You guys can terminate me any time,” Clarke told the board.
Bob Gettys, speaking from the audience, asked: “Did this board check to be sure that [neither] Mr. Clarke nor his law firm had done any work for these Title V [companies that produce more pollution]? Would it be ethical and proper for him and his law firm to represent the board?”
“My firm has done work for at least one company that is a Title V company,” responded Clarke; he declined to disclose the company’s name, citing “client confidences.”
“It is clearly unethical for a firm to represent both sides of an issue,” Clarke declared. In such an event, he said, “I would disqualify myself.”
Permits to operate
The board unanimously approved operating permits for the following facilities:
• a paper-coating operation by Champion in Waynesville
• a groundwater remediation project by Exxon GWR on the Asheville Highway
• Goosecreek Manufacturing
• Griffith Rubber, a cultured marble-processing facility in Waynesville
• Memorial Mission Hospital
• Norton Co. Diamond Tool in Arden
• Owen Manufacturing in Swannanoa.
New permits (or conversions to operating permits) were approved unanimously for:
• Shorewood Packaging Corporation in Weaverville
• Southern Concrete Products in Canton.
Permits to construct were approved for:
• Day International, to install three new spinning lathes
• Kearfott Guidance Corporation, to replace and install a halogenated-solvent degreaser
• Lea Industries, for bag-house installation and cyclone replacement.
Advisory Council non-appointments
Queen recommended Professor Richard Maas of the UNCA environmental studies department, and Asheville resident Pat Skalski for appointment to the APCA Advisory Council.
“I don’t appreciate some of the comments Maas has made about this agency in the past, objected Boone.
The board took no action on this matter.
Special meeting called
A special meeting of the Air Pollution Control Agency board will be held June 14 to discuss:
• the recent state review of the agency (and consider corrective actions)
• protocols for keeping the board adequately apprised
• board chair attendance requirements.
The meeting will be held at 5 p.m. at the agency’s office in West Asheville. For information, call: 255-5655.