The Green Scene

It's beneficial to protect natural systems as our region develops.

That's the simple thought behind Linking Lands and Communities, a project that takes a big-picture look at the regional landscape to better understand where our most valuable natural resources are, what condition they are in, and how we can be more proactive about maintaining them. It's all about protecting our region's "green infrastructure."

The big picture: Balancing development and population growth with natural-resources protection means getting a good look at the data and visualizing it — part of what the Linking Lands and Communities project is about. Map courtesy LOSRC

The Linking Lands project is being spearheaded by the Land-of-Sky Regional Council, which has been hosting a series of open-house meetings that get the word out and invite public comment. The next open houses are scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 19, and Friday, Nov. 20, at Land-of-Sky's offices on New Leicester Highway.

One of the premises of this project, say the folks at Land-of-Sky, is that nature provides valuable services and benefits to our human communities: Natural systems support the tourism, outdoor recreation, farming, and forestry sectors of our economy — and help attract new businesses and residents to our region. Nature also provides clean water, drought and flood mitigation, groundwater recharge, carbon storage, natural medicines, other natural products and so on.

Furthermore, these natural systems do not respect municipal or county boundaries. The Linking Lands project looks at them on the regional scale and sheds light on how they are interconnected.

The first stage of the project, which is being carried out by more than 40 partners in Land-of-Sky's four-county area (Buncombe, Madison, Henderson and Transylvania), involves the compilation of data about the locations and conditions of natural systems in the region — essentially, the French Broad watershed. This information has been turned into maps that display agricultural lands, wildlife habitat and water resources. The data and maps will help Linking Land achieve a variety of goals. These include identifying and protecting a network of farms, forests and water-resource lands that are supporting wildlife and biodiversity; completing an analysis of likely future development patterns in the region; finding ways to integrate future development with conservation goals; and implementing strategies that can be carried out by local governments, developers, land owners and land trusts in the region.

Of course, a key part of Linking Lands and Communities is community — and that means giving regional leaders, property owners, residents, developers and others a chance to offer feedback. The Thursday, Nov. 19, session will run from 4 to 8 p.m. with 20-minute presentations at 4:30, 5:30 and 7:30. The Friday, Nov. 20, session will run from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. with presentations at 11:30 a.m., 12:15 p.m. and 1 p.m. Both sessions will be held at the Land-of-Sky office at 339 New Leicester Hwy, Suite 140.
Partners in the project include the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, the Federal Highway Administration, RENCI @ UNC Asheville, The Lyndhurst Foundation, and the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, Inc. For more information, visit http://www.linkinglands.org or call Linda Giltz at 251-6622.

Cliffside construction moves forward

The North Carolina Utilities Commission has chosen not to conduct a hearing into the N.C. Waste Awareness and Reduction Network's request to revoke Duke Energy's permission to construct the Cliffside plant," says Jim Warren, director of NC WARN.

The commission's Nov. 4 ruling means that construction of the controversial plant, located on the Rutherford-Cleveland county line, can proceed. NC WARN and other environmental, social-justice organizations have been fighting Cliffside and drawing attention to the enormous toll that they believe coal power levies on the environment, society and human health. "It is entirely reckless to be building Cliffside when climate change is already devastating many parts of the world, and when climate experts warn that society has only five years to begin reducing emissions to avoid runaway, catastrophic changes at a potentially 'explosive' pace," says Warren.

Duke counters that demand is growing in the region. In 2007, the company forecast that it would be adding 40,000 to 60,000 new customers every year, creating the need for an additional 2,120 megawatts of new capacity by 2011 and 6,120 megawatts by 2021 (Cliffside will provide more than 800 megawatts). Duke officials emphasize that the construction of two new power-producing units at Cliffside means the decommissioning of older, less efficient — and more polluting — units at the plant. The new units will reduce mercury emissions by 50 percent at the plant, Duke officials estimate.

But NC WARN counters that efficiency programs are reducing the demand for the new plant, that Duke is building it to expand their service area into South Carolina, and that the rate hike Duke proposes to help cover construction costs are too high for existing North Carolina customers.

In its decision to let construction proceed, the Commission noted it has not yet approved the company's proposed 18-percent rate hike, a portion of which funds Cliffside and other capital-improvement projects.

Send your environmental news to mvwilliams@mountainx.com or call 251-1333, ext. 152.

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About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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