On the evening of July 22, more than two dozen neighbors gathered at the Spring Mountain Community Center amid Fairview’s green mountains and winding country roads to consider how best to communicate with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Several weeks earlier, The Cliffs at High Carolina—a 3,000-acre gated community that will abut many of their properties and stretch all the way to Swannanoa—had submitted an application to the Corps requesting a permit to impact some 6,000 linear feet of stream. The agency is accepting public comments on the proposal until 5 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 8.
The largest development in Buncombe County’s history, The Cliffs at High Carolina—not to be confused with The Cliffs at Walnut Cove in south Buncombe—submitted its plans just before the county’s steep-slope subdivision rules took effect in 2006.
The residents’ primary concern is the massive project’s impact on the local water supply. The jewel in The Cliffs’ crown is the nation’s first Tiger Woods Design 18-hole golf course, which has glossy golf magazines praising the project long before ground has even been broken. But the locals, who seemed less than starstruck, wanted to know what chemicals would be applied to the golf course, how much water would be required to keep it green—and where that water would come from. (A typical golf course consumes some 300,000 gallons of water a day, according to Golf Digest.) Nearly everyone at the meeting relies on well water, a show of hands revealed.
François Manavit, who lives about half a mile from The Cliffs, organized the meeting. “I am not an activist,” said Manavit, who speaks with a French accent, as he introduced himself. “I just care for the community.” Manavit had arranged the tables and chairs outside so the meeting would be visible to passing motorists, “to demonstrate that something is happening here,” he explained.
Also on hand was Jennifer Robertson, an environmental consultant for The Cliffs who prepared the Army Corps application. According to Robertson, the residential units would use Asheville water. The company has also applied for a permit from the state Division of Water Quality to build a wastewater-treatment plant, she said, and the output would be used to irrigate the golf course.
That news seemed to reassure some residents, but others voiced concerns about pesticide use on the golf course, wondering about the possibility of ground-water contamination or toxic runoff. The Cliffs has expressed a commitment to environmentally sensitive golf: Last fall, the company announced the opening of the Center for Environmental Golf Research in South Carolina in partnership with Clemson University. No details concerning anticipated pesticide use were available at the meeting, however.
According to the development’s Corps of Engineers application, three of the five waterways on the Fairview side of the property are designated trout waters. “The presence of trout, even Southern Appalachian-strain brook trout, would not be grounds to nullify any type of state or federal permit,” N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission research coordinator Doug Besler explained in an e-mail to Manavit. “The presence of wild (naturally reproducing) trout would elicit a request from our agency [to install] … buffers and to avoid any work in or around streams during the brook-trout spawning period.”
As questions and concerns went round and round the circle, one point was crystal clear: Anyone who wants to comment to the Corps of Engineers has to do it by Friday, Aug. 8. (The original deadline was Aug. 1, but in a rare move, the agency granted an extension in response to multiple requests from members of the public.) “Any comments received will be considered by the Corps of Engineers to determine whether to issue, modify, condition or deny a permit for this proposal,” the Corps document notes.
In his own written comments, Manavit stated that “disturbance of a watershed is the dangerous opening of a pandora box. We can’t afford to lose our resources for the benefit of sport and entertainment. A public hearing is needed for our community to address our concerns and give the Cliffs an opportunity to excel in its desire to create a ‘green’ and perfect golf course.”
To read the Army Corps of Engineers document and learn how to comment on the proposal, visit www.mountainx.com/xpressfiles/the_cliffs_at_high_carolina_development.