More than four years after construction began, a bridge in Enka for which county leaders allocated $3 million of taxpayer funding has yet to carry a single car from Smokey Park Highway over Hominy Creek. The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners may bring that state of affairs to an end on Tuesday, Feb. 18, when members will consider $650,000 in additional money to connect the bridge to existing roads at the board’s regular meeting in Room 326 at 200 College St.
In a report available before the meeting, county staff members blame unspecified “funding constraints” for the delay in putting the bridge to use. The total cost of the new road connections is estimated at $4.3 million: $2 million would come from the Appalachian Regional Commission, $1.3 million from the N.C. Department of Transportation and $350,000 from Fletcher Partners, the private corporation that developed the Enka Commerce Park to which the bridge will connect.
The report also notes that the bridge will improve access to the Enka Intermediate School, a future fire substation and existing industrial users of the commerce park. Currently, vehicles traveling west on Smokey Park Highway must continue on to Sand Hill Road to cross Hominy Creek. The bridge would shave roughly 2 miles off that drive.
“Feb. 18 is going to be a day that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time,” said Commissioner Joe Belcher, whose District 3 includes Enka, during a discussion of the project at a Feb. 4 pre-meeting of the board. “I want to thank the entire board for being supportive of this, but I would particularly want to thank [board Chair] Brownie [Newman] and [District 3 Commissioner] Robert [Pressley]. I’m really excited about what it’s going to do for the community.”
In other business
Also on the theme of economic development, the commission will hold a public hearing regarding a $170,000 grant for health care plastics manufacturer Nypro. According to a presentation available before the meeting, the company has pledged to invest $18.4 million in the county and create 68 new jobs at an average hourly wage of $21.94 in exchange for the taxpayer funding.
Two agenda items concern the county’s health policies for employees. The first seeks the commission’s approval for a 6.6% hike in staff insurance premiums and a health risk assessment program for workers and their spouses, which some employees have criticized as invasive and lacking transparency. The second would prohibit anyone on county property, including employees, from vaping or using e-cigarettes.
And another resolution, added to the agenda by Newman and commissioners Jasmine Beach-Ferrara and Amanda Edwards, would affirm “the right of Buncombe County citizens to vote in municipal elections.” The move is likely a response to the Jan. 21 request of Black Mountain and Montreat residents for a formal censure of their municipalities, which (along with Asheville and Biltmore Forest) moved elections from 2019 to 2020 and extended the terms of their elected officials by a year. In Asheville, that extra unelected year came at the behest of Mayor Esther Manheimer, who asked state Sen. Terry Van Duyn for the change during negotiations over districting at the General Assembly in 2018.
The agenda makes no mention of any resolution regarding gun rights. An overflow crowd packed Commission chambers on Feb. 5 to support declaring Buncombe County a “Second Amendment sanctuary,” and an online petition with the same goal currently has nearly 1,700 signatures. Since that meeting, neighboring Madison and Yancey counties have both passed sanctuary language.
The board’s consent agenda for the meeting contains seven items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Highlights include the following resolutions:
- Allocate $84,000 from the Future Conservation Easements budget to pay for closing costs on three farmland preservation projects. Roughly 137 acres across Leicester, Black Mountain and Fairview will be protected from development in perpetuity.
- Appoint deputy finance officers in the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office. These staff members will be responsible for signing off on transfer checks from the inmate commissary trust, a system that operates outside of the usual county finances.
- Correct the formal language of the commission’s Dec. 17 approval of the East Asheville Library. Although the total cost of the project as presented was nearly $6.98 million, the resolution as approved only covered $5.94 million of that cost.
The commission will hold a pre-meeting at 3 p.m. in the same location. The full meeting agenda and supporting documents can be found at this link.