In the horse-and-buggy era, Asheville was a famous destination for urban tuberculosis sufferers who hoped to heal their soot-scarred lungs in pure mountain air. But today, in the automobile age, the area is on the verge of being designated a “dirty-air community” by the federal government.
Ironically, the very same growth in traffic congestion that motivates state transportation engineers to recommend expanding Asheville’s interstate highways (such as the I-26 corridor) could cause federal officials to deny the funds needed to do so.
Those were some of the implications hovering grimly around WNC Regional Air Pollution Control Agency engineer Chuck Sams‘ report on “Air Quality in Buncombe,” which he gave to the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners at their July 27 meeting. If increasing levels of ground-level-ozone pollution are not curtailed soon, Sams warned the commissioners, the area could receive the dirty-air-community designation for violations of ozone health standards, set forth in the Federal Clean Air Act. If the city is classified as a “nonattainment” area, this could result in the loss of federal highway-construction funds.
More than 730 tons of NOx (nitrous oxide) emissions — the main component in ozone pollution — could be eliminated if Asheville drivers would decrease their automobile use by just 10 percent each year, Sams told commissioners.
Even so, on-road mobile sources, such as cars and trucks, account for a relatively small percentage of Buncombe and Haywood counties’ NOx emissions. The main culprit is industry — in particular, the smoke belched from coal-fired electric power plants. However, the majority of the pollution threatening the Western North Carolina area comes from the industrial Midwest and large urban areas, like Atlanta and Charlotte, Sams said. The Atlanta area, for example, produces nearly 18 times as much NOx pollution as Asheville, Sams told commissioners, yet “depending on how the wind blows,” it can be Asheville that suffers the consequences. “Coal-fired power plants put a great deal of emissions into the air,” Sams said. “Some of the NOx is blowing over the mountains into our air,” according to Sams, from TVA’s Cumberland Station plant in Tennessee, which he called “the largest NOx emitter in the world.” It produces more than 123,000 tons of NOx emissions annually.
But dirty industry here at home is also a major contributor. Industrial sources inside Buncombe and Haywood counties produce more than 80 percent, or 20,000 tons per year, of local NOx emissions, Sams said — with Carolina Power & Light’s coal-fired plant at Lake Julian alone accounting for more than 75 percent of the local industrial emissions.
Cars, trucks and other on-road vehicles contribute about 19.5 percent of the local NOx.
Sams’ ominous statistics about out-of-state pollution sources prompted Buncombe clean-air advocate Jerry Rice to tell commissioners, “We need to be looking at a lawsuit about dirty air. The ozone is getting down around our feet now. We can’t see. If we’re being penalized as a nonattainment area, the wrong people are being penalized.”
“Nonattainment could hurt us in our efforts to attract industry and bring in jobs,” declared Bill Eaker, director of Environmental Programs at the Land of Sky Regional Council. Eaker explained his agency’s campaign to increase public awareness about the three most important air-quality issues affecting the Southern Appalachian region: ground-level ozone, haze and acid rain. Eaker called for citizens to drive less and cut down on electricity use. “Before we can ask others to make a sacrifice and do their part, we have to do ours,” he said.
A bright spot in the clouds
Not all the environmental news heard by commissioners was gloomy. Susan Roderick and Sonja Frederick of Quality Forward presented Dave Densky of C&D Hauling with an Environmental Excellence Award. “He always covers his truck going to the landfill,” Roderick said in presenting the award. Densky thanked commissioners for “the finest looking landfill in all the U.S. It makes my job easier,” he said. “They’re doing a fine job recycling and keeping a very clean place.”
Air-pollution-agency applicants to be interviewed
Commissioners agreed to interview six of 13 applicants for two vacancies on the board of the troubled WNC Air Pollution Control Agency: incumbent Doug Clark, Asheville; Grant Goodge, Fairview; Yvonne Hopkins, Asheville; Steven Evans, Candler; David Crone Jr., Marion; and Susan Hutchinson, Weaverville.
Both Evans and Crone are industry representatives, commissioner David Young noted during the agenda-review session in the commissioners’ office.
The commissioners made the following appointments to other boards:
• Adult Care Home Board: John Churchill and Edie Grisinger; and
• Buncombe County Women’s Commission, three re-appointments to second terms: Joyce Harrison of the Self Help Credit Union, Kathleen Balogh of the YWCA, and Sharon Barrett; as well as two new appointments: Sarah Thornburg and Karen Care.
The tax man cometh
“I like to think I’m a fairly humble person and don’t gloat a lot,” quipped County Tax Collector Jerome Jones, as he addressed commissioners to ask for their approval of the Buncombe County Tax Department Settlement Report, which covers the last fiscal year (ending June 30, 1999). Jones was praised by commissioners for the county’s overall 98.5 percent collection rate; Jones’ department collected a total of $116,283,548.88.
“Thank you. That’s phenomenal,” said David Gantt. Commissioners unanimously approved the settlement. (Commissioner Bill Stanley was out of town.)
Register of Deeds
“They’ve about killed us lately,” declared Register of Deeds Otto W. DeBruhl, describing the influx of people registering deeds. “It is all we can do to keep up. The unexpected volume we are now experiencing is pushing us to the wall.” DeBruhl reported a $923,891 profit from his operation — twice that of last year.
Commissioners unanimously approved DeBruhl’s request for an additional deputy “as soon as possible.”
Wheels to Independence
Asheville-Buncombe Community Christian Ministries Operations Manager Dave Torbett told commissioners that ABCCM has been designated as a lead organization for Western North Carolina in the Wheels to Independence program, which provides used automobiles to families qualified through the Department of Social Services Work First program. Recipients make monthly payments toward the purchase of the vehicles.
The vehicles are intended as a means of transportation to and from work, in order to assist families in getting off welfare, Torbett explained.
According to current county records, the cars each have an approximate value of $2,000 and include four Fords and four Chevrolets, five to 10 years old. In the one-and-a-half years since the program’s inception, 15 to 20 families have been helped, Torbett said. Commissioners unanimously approved transfer of eight surplus county vehicles to ABCCM, for use in the program.
Commissioners unanimously approved the donation of a parcel of property located at 175 Onteora Blvd., in Oakley, to the nonprofit River Front Development Group, at the written request of the group’s president, James Watkins, for the stated intent to “rehabilitate said property for … sale, or rental to low- to moderate-income families.” Commissioners also gave notice to any concerned local nonprofit corporations, urging them to express their interest in the property by Aug. 15 (10 days after publication of the notice) to the Clerk to the Board.
School-bond referendum approaches
Buncombe County Budget Director Nancy Brooks presented the second hearing on the county’s planned $45 million school bond, for the purpose of “hearing anyone on questions of validity of [the] bond order introduced on July 6, and to hear public comments.”
Commissioners voted unanimously to authorize a bond referendum on Oct. 5.
“We thank you for considering air conditioning. This summer will be a real test, as we go back [to the classroom] this Tuesday,” Commissioner and middle-school teacher Patsy Keever told Chairman of the Board of Education Wendell Begley, who was present at the hearing.
Public comment and zoning
On the recommendation of County Attorney Joe Connolly, commissioners extended the time allowed for public comment at the end of each meeting from 20 to 30 minutes, but reduced the maximum time allowed each speaker from five to three minutes.
“This should extend from four to 10 the number of people who can speak,” Chairman Tom Sobol commented.
Commissioners unanimously adopted his recommendation. The amendment to the Rules and Procedures governing public comment at commission meetings will take effect Aug. 17.
Connolly reminded commissioners in the pre-meeting agenda review that “The chairman has the authority to rule [speakers] out of order, if people say inappropriate things.”
After the vote, Connolly commended commissioners for continuing to allow public comment, despite the fact that “North Carolina law does not require this board to have public comment.”
This prompted Jerry Rice to admonish the attorney, “It ought to be our First Amendment right to participate in government anyway.”
In the pre-meeting, commissioners also discussed procedures for handling the Aug. 3 special meeting on the county’s zoning plan. “The board will not hear pro- or anti-zoning comments,” Sobol said. “Public comment will deal, and deal only, with the plan that is being presented … We are there to understand the plan itself,” he stressed.
Sobol also declared that there would be no pro- or anti-zoning signs allowed in the auditorium. “Whatever is done outside is between that person and the city of Asheville,” he said.
Buncombe resident Mike Morgan — a regular participant in county meetings — read from a prepared statement that accused commissioners of “building a wall of mistrust.”
“Let this wall be torn down tonight,” he urged. “These few men who speak at each and every meeting are the voice of the people … we will not go away, and our voices will not be silenced.”
Peter Dawes, who often takes a belligerent stance when addressing commissioners, drew fire from them when he addressed county Manager Wanda Greene directly with a vehement complaint about an unspecificed letter to him, sent from the manager’s office.
“I object to the tone,” declared commissioner Gantt. A stern Sobol added, “This is the last time we’re going to ask you to address this board in a decent tone.”
The mood lightened a bit as Gerald Dean, who described himself as a “hillbilly-bunkin out in Fairview,” rose to speak. Dean wanted Planning Director Jon Creighton to go on record declaring that zoning cannot stop cell towers, asphalt plants or adult bookstores.
Meanwhile, a somber H.K. Edgerton waited to speak. “I stood at the gravesite of Chasity W. Jackson and promised her that her death would not be in vain,” he told commissioners. The teenager, a Shiloh resident, died of gunshot wounds, allegedly at the hands of a neighborhood teen. “I believe she would want this community to forgive,” he said of the young man charged with her death. Edgerton asked the commissioners to give Chasity a standing ovation, which they and many others in the room did. At the close of the meeting, Keever approached Edgerton with a warm hug.
“You were on her ‘most favorite’ list,” Edgerton told Keever.
“Many of us in this community create the circumstances that lead [young people] to be in possession of a gun,” Edgerton said after the meeting. “Most of these babies in this community are armed,” he said. “We need some preventive measures. I don’t ever want to bury another one of my babies. It’s not acceptable. I challenge real African-American men to come out of the closets. We’re in trouble, deep trouble,” he warned.
Retired to the landfill
Included on the commissioners’ Consent Agenda was a resolution approving a semi-annual report from the county purchasing agent regarding “sale and disposal of surplus and junk county property.”
Surplus property approved for disposal at the county dump includes cabinets, chairs, desks, doors, tables, toilets, a commercial oven, a garage door, a copy machine, and a computer and monitor.
County Purchasing Agent Wayne D. Jacklin,, in a telephone conversation, explained, “We always have surplus property … I do not advertise it [for sale]. It costs more to try to dispose of it that way.” He added that the public is welcome to come by and look at the surplus property. “It’s mostly broken things, scrap metal of no significant value at all,” he said.
For that surplus property which Jacklin deems of value, the county holds a yearly auction, with the dates and times advertised on radio and in the press.
“I have the authority to sell the items,” Jacklin said, adding that if citizens were interested in coming by, Friday mornings are the best time. The county Purchasing Department is located at 44 Valley Street in Asheville. Jacklin can be reached at 250-4800.