The Buncombe County Board of Adjustment gave its blessing to Duke Energy’s conditional use permit application to build a natural gas facility in Arden, home of its current coal-fired plant. “Locally, we will not be burning coal by the end of 2019,” said Jason Walls, the utility’s local representative, who said the region’s growth could bring a 17 percent increase in power needs over the next decade.
“I get asked a lot about why we are doing this. We are investing in a different energy future than we have today. There was a time we did these projects without individual outreach to customers, and that has changed, and hopefully, you’ll see that with this project,” Walls said en route to touting Duke’s community collaboration. He said the utility will alter construction traffic routes for minimal disturbance, provide visual buffers and even offer car wash coupons for adjacent neighbors who might find their cars lacking that showroom shine due to the dust.
And that construction is set to begin as soon as next week, with contractors starting underground infrastructure installation, and has a completion target date of November 2019. The project will use about 700 people, and Duke officials said they’re looking to contract and hire locally, having held a vendor fair, and are working on opening a local recruiting office for the project.
Duke’s expansion isn’t without its concerns, as two people showed up to ask questions and raise objections. Xavier Boatright, a nearby resident and clean-water advocate, expressed concerns about coal ash leaching into nearby well water and noted some residents use only bottled water. “We and other neighbors live with the uncertainty of well water. Duke has offered minimum in regard to water mitigation. The impacted neighbors ask Buncombe County to halt the application until we aren’t on bottled water and have a safe water supply provided by the company,” he said.
Board Chair George Lycan said he hopes the issue “is being attended to” but noted it’s not within the board’s purview.
Walls added: “Those residents are represented by legal counsel and engaged with our legal team. We’ve done an investigation about how our operations have a direct impact; a lot of those studies continue to be inconclusive.”
Hendersonville Road resident Brenda Smith feared property values of nearby homes are being diminished and asked about where the natural gas would come from.
Walls responded that it comes from the Transco (short for Transcontinental) pipeline, a source that an in-depth Xpress article discovered is tied to fracking.
After the two residents voiced their concerns, the board seemed pleased with the presentation. However, Lycan noted that traffic for the project will wreak havoc in the area, especially during peak commute times. “I think you would get some good publicity if you alter the [traffic] flow during the bad time of the afternoon. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. Would you be willing to consider that?” Lycan asked, with County Planner Debbie Truempy immediately interrupting with a point of order. “This is truly not a factor as far as the application goes,” she advised.
With that, the board unanimously approved the permit.
In other BOA agenda items:
- The Biltmore Company received a conditional use permit to build a new event center. Rick Conard, vice president of operations for Biltmore, said the 26,000-square-foot facility will operate as a conference center and be located next to the Deer Park restaurant.
- The city of Asheville had a variance and a conditional use permit approved for a water tank at 705 Charlotte Highway in Fairview. A city representative said it will add redundancy to Fairview’s water distribution and improve water access for firefighters.
- Commissioners approved a variance for minimum lot setback in the midst of property line disputes. At issue were two neighbors stating the applicant was using a recent and incorrect survey that would have construction encroach on their properties. However, Lycan said the board couldn’t take those issues into consideration. “Our focus with the board is to be strictly reviewing the variance that pertains to the front of structure and setback. We are not allowed to take property line disputes into consideration. You have a valid concern,” he noted right before the variance was unanimously approved.
After the meeting, Xpress asked county staff if the concerned property owners could get a moratorium on construction until the property lines issues are settled. Staff noted that’s not possible, and construction could move forward with the caveat a court might order the building to be torn down if it’s found to be encroaching over its property line.
The Board of Adjustment next meets on Wednesday, Sept. 13.