The Green Scene

News from around the region lands in the Xpress inbox via various routes each week, from old-fashioned e-mail to TweetDeck (a handy tool for tracking all those 142-character tweets) to a message from a BlackBerry-toting concerned citizen. Here are a few standout tweeted tips:

Appeals court overturns trout stream variance in Yancey County

The North Carolina Sedimentation Control Commission wrongly granted a variance that allowed Mountain Air Development Corp. to take down trees, clear other vegetation and otherwise disrupt a large swath of protected trout waters in Yancey County six years ago while building a golf course, the state Court of Appeals ruled on Nov. 17.

A group of Yancey residents has been fighting the development since its first phase was built in 1996, explains Hope Taylor, director of the nonprofit Clean Water for North Carolina (see "Mountain Air, Mountain Water," Feb. 12, 2003, Xpress). The latest court battle began in 2003, when the commission — part of the state Division of Land Resources — granted the variance. That decision exempted Mountain Air from adhering to a 1973 state statute that prohibits land disturbance within a 25-foot-wide buffer zone on designated trout streams. Mountain Air removed trees and tree canopy along almost 3,000 feet of Banks Creek, cleared all vegetation along 160 feet, diverted a portion of the trout-protected stream through a pipe system, and then started constructing a fairway.

In seeking the variance, Mountain Air had maintained that the disturbance would be both minimal and temporary. "It's not temporary if you're putting a stream in a pipe," says Taylor. "It's no longer a trout stream." Clean Water joined two Yancey County residents who live in or near Banks Creek, Nancy Hensley and Diane Kent, to challenge the state's decision on the variance.

A Superior Court judge upheld the variance in 2008, but the petitioners appealed, and the case was heard in Appeals Court last May. Two of the Appeals Court's three judges have now ruled in Clean Water's favor, determining that the disturbance was not temporary or minimal and, further, that "enclosing a trout water within nearly 2,000 feet of pipe cannot comply with the ultimate legislative intent of the trout water provision included in [state statutes for] the protection of trout populations and habitat."

But since one judge dissented, Mountain Air has the right to appeal, says Julie Youngman of the Southern Environmental Law Center, the nonprofit that represented Clean Water in the case. "If [it's] not a unanimous decision, then whoever lost has an automatic right of appeal," she explains. Mountain Air has until mid-December to file an appeal, which would send the case to the North Carolina Supreme Court.

Green projects in Tennessee gain recognition, more funding

Oak Ridge National Laboratory will be putting the world's fastest supercomputer to work on climate change. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is one of nearly 40 research organizations to get booked for some data-crunching time on Jaguar, which recently edged out IBM's Roadrunner supercomputer as the world's No. 1 speed machine. Jaguar has a theoretical peak velocity of 2.33 petaflops (in other words, more than 2,000 trillion calculations per second; the actual, tested speed that put Jaguar ahead of Roadrunner was 1.759 petaflops). Earlier in 2008, the computing beast underwent a $19.9 million upgrade funded by federal economic-stimulus money. "This machine is at the intersection of better climate-change science and energy-technology policy," says Thomas Zacharia, deputy director for science and technology at Oak Ridge.

The NOAA, which has offices in Asheville, plans to use Jaguar to help develop high-resolution models to predict climate change. (For more information on the supercomputer, see www.nccs.gov/jaguar.)

Meanwhile, the University of Tennessee's Biofuels Initiative has been awarded $2.35 million to expand its ongoing research on switchgrass as a nonfood-crop alternative to corn-based ethanol. The award will help the initiative — a public/private partnership involving the university and companies such as Genera Energy — add 1,000 acres of switchgrass to the nearly 6,000 already slated to be grown next year by local farmers near Knoxville, Tenn., by 2010 (this year, local farmers produced nearly 3,000 acres for the project). The new funding will support relevant research, such as comparing the large-scale production of different switchgrass varieties and evaluating preprocessing techniques.

FLS Energy wins green business grant

FLS Energy Inc. has been awarded a 2009 North Carolina Green Business Fund grant, Gov. Beverly Perdue announced Nov. 18 during the state's Energy Policy Council meeting at N.C. State University. The Green Business Fund is supported by federal recovery dollars through the N.C. Energy Office's State Energy Program.

The $95,000 grant will help FLS Energy commercialize and market its Easy Solar Kits, which provide low-cost, solar-thermal technology to homeowners and residential developers. The trademarked kits integrate solar modules into an easy-to-install system that can provide 75 percent or more of homeowners' hot-water needs, say the folks at the Asheville-based company.

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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