Buncombe Commissioners

  • Time to televise public comment?
  • County staff: no new CTS contamination

It was the new Buncombe County Board of Commissioners’ first meeting. Newcomers K. Ray Bailey (the former president of A-B Tech) and Holly Jones, (late of the Asheville City Council) had been sworn in the day before, along with new Chair David Gantt. (Although Gantt’s been on the board for 12 years, this was his first time wielding the gavel as chairman.) Commissioners Bill Stanley and Carol Peterson were also back after handily winning re-election in November.

The Dec. 2 agenda was relatively light. The only major piece of business was a conservation easement for the Sycamore Valley Farm, a 140-acre working farm in Leicester that’s been owned by the Snelson family for six generations. The board unanimously allocated $169,190 toward the purchase price.

Before the vote, John Ager, who chairs the county’s Agriculture Advisory Board, urged the commissioners to approve the funding, arguing that the county’s modest share is a small price to pay for ensuring that the property remains intact.

“This is one of the real signature farms in Buncombe County—anyone who’s been here any length of time knows about this farm,” noted Ager. “This is a way for a family that loves this farm to preserve it. There’s a lot of development pressure around them. This piece of property has 22 acres of prime farmland—that’s unusual in the mountains, and it’s also prime land for development because it’s flat.”

A conservation easement limits the property’s use in perpetuity, prohibiting extensive development. This particular easement is valued at $1.09 million, and the Snelson family has agreed to relinquish $437,174 of that amount. The county funds represent less than one-quarter of the remainder.

The remaining money will be sought through a combination of federal and state grants and private donations. About $65,000 in government moneys has been committed so far.

Local donations, noted Gantt, are often needed before larger funders will loosen their purse strings.

“They want to see local dollars; they want to see local commitment,” he observed. “You can see the development coming in. This is something we’ve got to jump on.”

The county and the Snelson family hope to formally establish the easement by early next year. Meanwhile, commissioners old and new praised both Ager and the county’s conservation efforts.

“This is just wonderful,” gushed Peterson. “It speaks volumes to what Buncombe County has done. I just want to thank everyone who was a part of this.”

Jones sounded a similar note, saying, “I really look forward to seeing more initiatives like this.”

And in this, at least, things hadn’t changed much from the old board, which also unanimously approved county funding for conservation easements, particularly for working farms, and was similarly effusive in its enthusiasm.

Now about that public comment…

During the public-comment period following the meeting, however, Candler resident Jerry Rice, a regular at these meetings, wondered if the commissioners would be willing to televise public comment once again.

“Y’all are all about change, the new president is about change, the Democratic Party says it’s about change,” said Rice. “Public comment was taken off the airwaves. What are you going to do to change that?”

Noting that the city televises its public comment, Rice said the county’s blackout policy “needs to be changed—and we don’t need to wait a year-and-a-half to do it.”

The board stopped televising the public-comment periods (which take place before and after meetings) several years ago, saying it was dominated by political grandstanding. Activists across the political spectrum have consistently criticized the decision, saying it decreases transparency in government.

In Xpress candidate surveys before last month’s election, both Jones and Gantt said they would favor such a step, and Bailey said he wouldn’t oppose it if guidelines were established. Peterson opposed televising public comment, and Stanley declined to take part in the survey.

And now, the votes might be there to make the change.

“I said I would support it, and I do, as long as there are some restrictions so things don’t get too out of hand,” Bailey told Xpress. “I think there’s a way to do a good job of that.”

Gantt, meanwhile, reiterated his support. “This will be one of the topics I’ll be talking to the other commissioners about at our retreat in January,” he said. “But the time’s come to do this. We are going to have safeguards in place so that public comment won’t take over meetings: People will get their say, but we also want to get onto the business we were elected to do.”

What’s in that water?

During the pre-meeting public-comment period, county staff asserted that rumors of more wells testing positive for trichloroethylene contamination near the former CTS of Asheville plant on Mills Gap Road are false. TCE, an industrial solvent and suspected carcinogen, has been found in a number of wells near the sight.

“We were on a conference call late last Thursday with [the Environmental Protection Agency] and [the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources]: There have been no new tests that have come out positive,” reported Department of Social Services Director Mandy Stone. “There’s been one well that’s tested positive for chlorine, but it may be from how the well was treated —and it’s within acceptable limits.”

She added that DENR is conducting additional tests as part of its overall assessment of the area’s ground water. The EPA, the county and DENR have agreed to bring in an outside consulting group to do water testing beyond the original three-mile radius from the site.

Stone was responding to comments by area resident Aaron Penland, who asserted that two more wells had tested positive for contamination and called for independent water testing.

“I don’t know when the last update you received was, but in the last week I know about two more wells,” said Penland. He added that he believed the results of the latest tests are suspect because they were identical to the earlier readings for all the other wells.

“So what I’m asking you is to see if there’s any way we can get a grant from the county, from anyone, to have UNCA use the machine they have to test the water the exact same way that DENR does. We’re looking for someone unbiased. It will be good for the university, the students and the community.”

For residents, said Penland, it’s a life-or-death issue. “I’ve had nine family members die in the last 10 years of cancer. I just buried an aunt two months ago; I’ve got another cousin that’s going to die before the end of the year,” he noted. “I know of 15 other people that live in this area that have all contracted brain tumors, heart defects, diabetes—this is all linked to TCE. Help us save these people and stop the spread of these illnesses.”

Stone said the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services is currently studying illness in the area to see if it’s linked to TCE.

Gantt, who lives nearby, said he shares Penland’s concern. “We’re going to take care of people out there,” promised Gantt. “That’s why we agreed to run a water line out there and why we agreed to test.”

Earlier this year, Asheville and Buncombe County teamed up to put residents of The Oaks subdivision on city water.

Stanley, meanwhile, asked Penland to let the commissioners know when he found out how much money UNCA would need to do its own testing in the area.


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2 thoughts on “Buncombe Commissioners

  1. Bruce E. Clyne

    Great Job everyone.

    What a great start to a new view of the County Government. We are proud of each of you. Keep up the good work.

  2. john weber

    Hello Sir or Mam, my name is John Weber. I am writing you because Child Protection came into my families’ life this past June and we were harassed for a period of months before being lied to and our child taken. She has been in custody for two months. Our son was just born last week and my wife has been by his side every moment and then here come the social workers harassing her again. My wife was advised at the hospital by two very rude power hungry social workers that we would talk at some point after our visitation with our daughter, which was coming up in a couple hours. She called me and told me and I went to get her and we went to our visitation with our daughter. The social workers barge in on our visit and ruin it by harassing us some more telling us we would not be leaving the hospital with our child, that they were taking custody. I am an executive director, I worked hard to get through school and I am state licensed as a Long-Term Care Administrator. What I mentioned above doesn’t even touch on what they did in the past to get our daughter, but we tape recorded everything and we have it dictated and they violated proper modus operandi on numerous occasions, which I highlighted in the law on all levels, from federal/state to their own counties policies and procedures as well as the ethical standards put in place by the NC board of social work. We are just waiting for our day in court to see how this system is and if it’s as corrupt as we see it now. If they win despite our substantial evidence, we plan on taking further action. I am writing you because I feel like we should use cases like mine to make provisions in the law in all states so that a social worker can ONLY remove a child from its parent(s) when there is imminent risk of danger exists and imminent must be clearly defined and social workers should receive extensive training on child removal. In ALL cases, a non bias integrity based contracted service, run through a monitoring type ombudsman agency, will send out a trained child psychologist removal specialist to investigate the claims based on evaluating the child at home several times in a short period and the recommendation should be made by them, not social workers set to standards that place incentive on destructive activities. Social workers also need to be held to the constitution. Why are they not? I realize a large part of our country is corporate; I can deal with that. When instituted corporations are governing families, we have a major predicament. Provisions must be set forth so that these individuals are monitored and not aloud to steel peoples children. They are walking all over people utilizing fear, coercion and duress and they are also allowed to admit hearsay into evidence? They made up 35 lies on me and my wife and took our child while violating several laws, and they are caught red handed in my case. Can you help us reach out to legislation, or can we help you to push for provisions that would not necessarily cut into this massive funding stream, but gear it toward the appropriate families so that innocent people can not be harassed, legally?
    I have several ideologies that would not impede on the funds, but improve the systemic approach taken so that its focal point lies on quality and not quantity. If quality is initiated, we will enable social workers to target the correct population. The system needs an overhaul for various reasons. Please Contact me and we can talk, I have a lot of good information that would help you help the people of our state to have a better quality of life.
    42 U.S.C. § 671(a)(15) Reasonable Efforts
    42 U.S.C. § 671(a)(19) Relative Placement

    These are two of the Federal laws they have broken. There are a multitude of state violations (7B) they have committed. I can forward anyone interested the recorded dictations, the evidence and anything necessary to stop this corruptive movement. Provisions must be made and my daughter must be released. My character has been slandered and I have been libeled. My rights have been violated and the continuity of our family deeply disturbed.
    Thank you
    John Weber

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