Green Scene: An open question

Industrial devolution: The contaminated CTS of Asheville plant is now being evaluated by Buncombe County as a candidate for condemnation. A recent building inspection describes 13 holes in the roof, all window glass broken, exterior doors removed, and numerous graffiti tags within. Photo courtesy of the EPA.

A recent bid by neighbors of the contaminated former CTS of Asheville plant on Mills Gap Road to have the property condemned has taken a step forward. A group of residents requested the move at the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners’ June 21 meeting (see “On Retainers,” June 29 Xpress).

Action by state and federal agencies to remediate the site has proceeded at a snail’s pace for decades. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering placing the abandoned electroplating plant on its National Priorities List, which would rank it among the nation’s most contaminated sites and might provide federal funding for a cleanup if the responsible party can’t be forced to do so.

“Make it safe or tear it down,” says Tate MacQueen, one of a number of Mills Gap residents who’ve pushed for a cleanup. They say the blighted site has become a hangout for teens.

County building-inspection staff visited the site June 24 and 29 (the first step in the condemnation process). Their report notes 13 sizable holes in the roof, which shows extensive evidence of decay, and steel supporting beams are corroded. Although the property is enclosed by a 6-foot, chainlink fence, much of the glass in windows and doors has been damaged or removed, as have all exterior doors, leaving the building accessible.

“Given the extent of decay … it doesn’t seem feasible to repair these holes,” the report states. “In all probability the roof, roof decking and some of the cross members would need to be replaced.”

Recent photos taken by an EPA contractor show extensive graffiti, evidence of trespassing. To secure the premises, the report notes, door and window openings would need to be covered with plywood, which would require continued maintenance.

The report doesn’t actually recommend condemnation, however, and it’s unclear if the current property owner, Mills Gap Road Associates, would try to fortify or simply demolish the derelict structure. The company will be given time to consider its options, County Attorney Michael Frue told Xpress.

It all goes back to local decisions made years ago, MacQueen maintains. In 1997, the county’s Board of Adjustment approved subdividing the CTS property so that most of it could be developed as Southside Village, even though the state had documented the contamination as early as 1990. “The local agency should have known they were subdividing a contaminated property,” MacQueen asserts.

Meanwhile, he argues, “The building is clearly unsafe; it’s uninhabitable for any type of business use, and it’s in violation of building code. All of the ingredients are there for the county to do the right thing on the safety issue.”

The county has notified the property owner of the concerns but has not yet set a formal notice of violation. In the meantime, Mills Gap Road Associates has some time to consider its options. If the owner fails to take prompt corrective action, the inspector can move to condemn the building as unsafe.

75 and counting

Long ago, much of the eastern U.S. was blanketed by mature forest. (It's been said that a squirrel could travel from the Atlantic to the Mississippi River without touching the ground.)

Deforestation proceeded slowly, mostly via small-scale farms and towns, until the early 20th century, when industrial-scale logging began clearing whole watersheds of trees, using now-defunct railways to transport the heavy logs. As a result, there’s precious little old-growth forest in the southern Appalachians, and what remains generally requires some serious hiking to get to (interested readers should contact the WNC Alliance for locations and more info.)

But one easily accessible exception is the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest near Robbinsville. And on July 30, the National Forests of North Carolina and the Partners of the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness are staging a 75th-anniversary celebration, in partnership with the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation and Alcoa (see box).

The daylong event will take place at Rattler Ford Campground, with activities including both 5K and 10K races, outdoor exhibits by various conservation groups, and a 1 p.m. rededication ceremony featuring Joyce Kilmer’s descendants and other special guests, including Rep. Heath Shuler. There’ll also be guided walking tours, presentations and refreshments.

The event commemorates the original dedication of 3,800 acres of Forest Service land in Graham County to Kilmer, a poet killed in World War I (“I think that I shall never see/A poem lovely as a tree”). Congress later designated more than 17,000 acres of backcountry as the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness.

— Send your local environmental news and tips to sandrew@mountainx.com, or call 251-1333, ext. 153.

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