In a short meeting just before the Thanksgiving holiday, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved tougher storm-water rules.
“We have an obligation to be stewards of the land here,” Commissioner David Gantt said on Nov. 20. “What we hear from developers is that they want consistent rules, so they know what they have to do. We need clear, strict rules. Voting against this would be rewarding people for violating the law.” Gantt added that it was out-of-town developers that worry him, asserting, “The local developers know what to do.”
Commissioner David Young concurred, noting, “Obvously, we prefer to work with people, but if anyone does violate it, this gives us a hammer we can use.”
The move brings the local ordinance into compliance with federal guidelines requiring every city and town to have a storm-water program in place. But standardizing the fee structure means ramping up the maximum fine for violating the ordinance by a factor of five—from $5,000 to $25,000 per day. It will also enable the county to administer the programs of towns such as Biltmore Forest, Montreat and Black Mountain, which have all requested such assistance.
If the county had not approved the measure, developers of projects just outside a town’s boundaries would have had to get two permits for the same project, noted Stormwater Administrator Mike Goodson.
Since the ordinance was passed in 2006, the county hasn’t fined anyone for violations, he noted. “Folks seem to be willing to work with us—and obviously, we prefer that,” said Goodson. “As long as they’re trying to get into compliance, we want to work with them too.”
Although the vote was unanimous, at least one county resident was unhappy with the new rules. During the public-comment period preceding the formal meeting, Eric Gorny—wearing a stuffed monkey on his back to symbolize what he sees as oppressive government regulation—said that even the old storm-water rules had been unduly burdensome.
“Under these rules, there will be ditches that have to have buffers on them. That’s really coming into conflict with private-property rights,” said Gorny. “You need to be careful what you’re doing and reduce what’s already been passed. People’s dreams are suffering here, and you need to nip it in the bud.”
Smokestacks over Enka
In a surprise item that wasn’t listed on the agenda or even announced beforehand, David Brigman, the director of the WNC Regional Air Quality Agency, came forward to address health concerns about the demolition of a pair of iconic smokestacks at the former American Enka plant.
“Bricks, gaskets, stacks have all been tested. In the stacks, no asbestos was indicated. … There’s nothing there that can’t be taken care of with normal demolition,” Brigman assured the board.
There is asbestos in some of the piping and equipment, said Brigman, but it’s being properly disposed of. Buncombe County’s guidelines for asbestos disposal, he noted, are the most stringent in the state; they’re also more stringent than the federal guidelines.
“We’ve tested it, the state’s tested it—everything’s being followed.”
But Candler resident Jerry Rice, who had called attention to the stacks’ demolition, said the county needs to give the public more of a heads up before issuing such permits.
“I don’t like the idea that the commissioners put this on here all of a sudden, without any notice,” said Rice. “This has been going on for a while, and you’ve had plenty of time to put it on the agenda. I think the permitting situation needs to be done in a timely manner where the public can have a say-so in some of this. Right now, if I hadn’t brought this to the attention of the board, this would never be before the commissioners today.”
Board Chair Nathan Ramsey sounded a note of regret about the pending demolition. “That’s sort of a part of our history, and it’s sad to see it go away—in many ways that plant saved this area,” said Ramsey. “But it’s private property, and they have the right to demolish it if they want to.”
Monkey (and other) business
“I’m here to talk about this monkey on my back, which you’re kind of growing,” Eric Gorny told the commissioners during public comment. “I’m here to ask you to reduce the property tax down to 42 cents [per $100 of property value, the current rate is 53 cents]. With the growth in the county and the revaluation we had, there’s no reason you can’t run the county on 42 cents.”
Gorny named the monkey “Buncombe County Taxes, Regulations and Red Tape Bureaucracy,” prompting Young to remark, “That’s not a very good name for a monkey.”
The board also unanimously approved a resolution supporting a new performing-arts center in Asheville. Passed to help the nonprofit Asheville Area Center for the Performing Arts obtain a $1 million grant, the resolution includes a promise of future financial support.
The nonprofit, County Manager Wanda Greene explained, is “currently trying to get $3 million from nongovernmental sources—and that’s why they’re trying to raise this grant money. Obviously they’ve still got a long way to go.”
“It doesn’t commit us to any specific amount,” noted Ramsey, “and probably that will be a future Board of Commissioners that will decide what amount is contributed to that project.”
Gorny, however, had earlier asserted that “they need to look at doing this privately. Don’t make the monkey on our back grow bigger by having a tax-funded performing-arts center. While you’re at it, encourage them to sell or lease the Civic Center. We need to get the government out of running these businesses.”