Going green

Green giant: The new Buncombe County courts building being constructed along College St. in downtown Asheville will be the government’s first LEED certified structure. At over 100,000 square feet, it will also be one of the biggest buildings in the entire county. Photo courtesy of Buncombe County

Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Sept. 13, 2011 meeting

  • CTS building condemned, demolition planned
  • Grants sought for Mountain Mobility

Buncombe County is working to cut energy costs, lower carbon emissions and preserve farmland, various staffers told the Board of Commissioners Sept. 13 in a series of reports on current environmental initiatives. Assistant County Manager Jon Creighton updated the board on a number of those measures, including the county's waste-management and land-conservation programs.

Every day, he reported, more than 108,300 pounds of material are kept out of the landfill through recycling programs and voluntary efforts. That includes everything from cardboard and glass bottles to tires, fluorescent light bulbs and electronics. Nonetheless, about 1 million pounds of trash and construction debris still enters the landfill daily, noted Creighton.

He also praised the county's farmland-preservation program. Since 2005, the county has spent more than $5.7 million to permanently protect 3,804 acres from development. Those tax dollars helped leverage more than $26 million in private donations and grants, added Creighton. And for the fiscal year that began July 1, the county has budgeted nearly $1.3 million to help protect another 1,719 acres, he explained, adding, "I think this has been a very, very successful program.”

Creighton also pointed out that the new courthouse being constructed on College Street in downtown Asheville will be the first county-owned, LEED-certified structure. (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is an internationally recognized certification system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.) At more than 100,000 square feet, it will also be one of the biggest buildings in the county, he observed.

"So you should be very proud of that," he told the board.

Commissioner K. Ray Bailey and Vice Chair Bill Stanley both congratulated staff on the "great job" they're doing. Board chair David Gantt and Commissioner Holly Jones were absent.

General Services Director Greg Israel then briefed the commissioners on county government’s carbon footprint and energy usage.

Between 2005 and 2010, he reported, the amount of carbon county government operations released into the atmosphere rose from 23,416 metric tons to 26,096 metric tons. But that, explained Israel, was due mostly to a jump from nearly 1.3 million square feet of county-owned facilities in 2005 to more than 1.5 million square feet five years later. During the same period, he noted, the county actually reduced its energy use per square foot, replacing windows at the courthouse and updating heating and air conditioning systems.

"We've done good work here, I think," concluded Israel.

Overall, buildings accounted for 60.7 percent of county government’s total carbon emissions. Employee commutes were responsible for 18.5 percent, while the county's vehicle fleet and off-road equipment contributed 17.4 percent and 3.4 percent respectively, said Israel. More than 92 percent of county employees drive to work, he noted, averaging 27.62 miles round trip.

Staff is exploring ways to reduce all those those emissions, reported Israel, citing the new solar-thermal hot-water system and electric-vehicle charging stations planned for the Human Services Building on Coxe Avenue.

“This is a great presentation,” said Commissioner Carol Peterson.

CTS building condemned

After that, County Manager Wanda Greene filled in the commissioners concerning the former CTS of Asheville plant on Mills Gap Road.

In response to requests by neighboring residents, Buncombe County recently condemned the vacant structure, which it plans to demolish following a community meeting held in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. County building-inspection staff found 13 sizable holes in the roof, extensive decay and corroded support beams, making repairs infeasible. Recent photos taken by an EPA contractor documented graffiti and other evidence of trespassing.

The county negotiated with the property owner, Mills Gap Road Associates, hoping for a voluntary, company-financed demolition, "but we didn't get an agreement," reported Greene. Taylor & Murphy Construction Co., she explained later, will undertake the demolition for $160,000; the county plans to place a lien on the property to try to recover the cost. Gantt has said that risking taxpayer dollars was necessary to avoid further delaying a site cleanup.

During the public-comment period, however, Jupiter resident Don Yelton questioned whether the move might be merely a "political ploy." "Because when you tear that building down, you're going to expose the ground to rain, which will drive the [trichloroethylene contamination] further out," said the former candidate for commissioner.

Yelton refused to stop speaking when his allotted three minutes were up, and Stanley instructed security to escort the conservative talk-show host out of the room. In a testy exchange as he left, Yelton shot back, "It's an honor to be thrown out."

Greene had sought to calm those concerns in her earlier remarks to the board, saying the county plans to work with the EPA to contain any toxins currently sheltered by the building. "We want to make sure we take good care of those [EPA monitoring] wells," she explained.

Other business

The board also unanimously:
• approved seeking roughly $319,000 in state Rural Operating Assistance Program grants to support Mountain Mobility, the county's mass-transit system.
• reappointed David Begley and appointed Jennifer Cable and Keith Webb (at large) to the Parks, Recreation and Greenways Advisory Board.
• declared Sept. 19-23 Minority Enterprise Development Week.

— Jake Frankel can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 115, or at jfrankel@mountainx.com.

About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning journalist who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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