New hands to helm a new air-quality agency

When the Western North Carolina Regional Air Quality Agency rises from the ashes of the old WNC Regional Air Pollution Control Agency this month, at least one new person will serve on the agency’s five-member board, which is charged with managing WNC’s deteriorating air quality. Asheville and Buncombe County created the new multigovernmental agency after Haywood County’s sudden withdrawal from the old agency earlier this year.

The city plans to retain its two appointees, current Chairwoman Nelda Holder and Arlis Queen, whose terms will end in 2004 and 2002, respectively, according to City Clerk Maggie Burleson.

The county has opted to follow its regular nomination process in filling its three seats on the board, says County Clerk Kathy Hughes. On July 11, commissioners are expected to interview the half-dozen people who have applied for the positions, whose terms are of different duration: one is for two years, another for four, and the third for six years.

Several well-known local names appeared on the county’s list as of June 28, including: William Cecil Jr., president and CEO of the Biltmore Company and heir to Biltmore Estate; community activist Susan Hutchinson; Dr. Lewis Patrie, president of the local chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility; and Candler resident Bill Newman.

Two incumbents have applied for reappointment and will likely keep their seats, according to informed sources: Alan McKenzie, director of the Buncombe County Medical Society (and the chief architect of the agency’s new Clean Air Community Trust Fund); and Doug Clark, who chaired the old air agency board during last year’s procedural audit by the state.

Clark, a longtime Democratic Party faithful, performed real-estate appraisals for the county for many years, until state regulators discovered in 1997 that he had never been licensed to do so. Clark was also criticized for vanishing without explanation for two months last year during his tenure as air agency chair. His disappearance — which coincided with the release of the state’s highly critical audit report — delayed the report’s distribution to board members and the public.

One incumbent who definitely will not be returning to the board is UNCA environmental-science professor Rick Maas; the agreement establishing the new Clean Air Community Trust Fund guarantees him a post as its chairman. The fund will manage the air agency’s excess revenues, disbursing them in the form of grants for educational programs, pollution-reduction projects, and other efforts aimed at cleaning up the region’s air. (Six other seats remain to be filled on the Trust Fund board.)

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