Friends of East Flat Rock wins first vote on proposed asphalt plant
At nearly 11,000 signers strong, a petition against the proposed SE Asphalt plant off the Spartanburg Highway in Henderson County organized by Friends of East Flat Rock has garnered significant grassroots support. On Aug. 20, the community group scored its first official victory when the Henderson County Planning Board voted 5-2 not to recommend the project.
Board member Rick Livingston, who made the motion to deny the recommendation, said the plant’s location in a “very residential area” was incompatible with both the county’s comprehensive plan and East Flat Rock’s community plan. He also noted that the board had received extensive email and phone comment opposing the project, some of which had been “on the edge of being threatening and intimidating.”
Shannon Nicholson, a co-founder of Friends of East Flat Rock, called the vote “a big win” in an Aug. 21 blog post but emphasized that the final verdict on the plant lies with the Henderson County Board of Commissioners. “SE Asphalt will not slow down. Neither can we,” she wrote.
The website for the asphalt company, which is owned by Jeff Shipman, said opponents’ concerns are unfounded and that the location exceeds all county requirements for setbacks from adjacent properties. “The only information I have seen supporting the opposition has all been debunked misinformation,” the site states. “We will continue to fight for our God-given right as an American and the American dream.”
At press time, the Henderson County commissioners were expected to schedule a public hearing on the project during their regular meeting of Tuesday, Sept. 8. The proposed date for that hearing is Thursday, Oct. 1.
Haywood, Transylvania tourism authorities debut outdoors education campaigns
The COVID-19 pandemic has led many vacationers to avoid crowded urban centers and seek adventure in the great outdoors of Western North Carolina — including some who haven’t previously set foot in the mountains. In response, two of the region’s tourism agencies have launched educational efforts to help those visitors enjoy nature responsibly.
The Haywood County Tourism Development Authority is focused on hiker safety. Visitors to the county can obtain a card with safety tips and a free orange safety whistle to call for help in the event of an emergency. “As a reminder, a cellphone is not always a reliable option while hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park or along the Blue Ridge Parkway,” says Lynn Collins, the agency’s executive director.
Meanwhile, Transylvania County Tourism is going beyond the traditional “leave no trace” message with a “Leave It Better” campaign. Videos, ads and posters encourage visitors to pick up any trash they encounter in the wild to help protect public lands and the wildlife that calls them home.
The Collider launches ‘Faces of Climate City’ series
Since 2016, The Collider has been working to brand Asheville as “Climate City,” a place with leaders who understand the challenges and opportunities of climate change and the resources provided by the National Centers for Environmental Information. The nonprofit’s latest initiative aims to put many faces to that name.
As explained by Mary Olson, a volunteer with the climate solutions collaborative, the yearlong photo exhibit seeks “to support Climate City as a growing community identity.” Each month, portraits by local photographer Marc Pierre will highlight two figures from the area’s climate research institutions, governments and sustainability-oriented businesses.
The first two people to be featured are Mary Spivey, The Collider’s community manager, and Sherry Wheat who, with Olson, runs Climate School Asheville. The Collider is hosting the series online at avl.mx/84d.
Watch and learn
- The Outdoor Economy Conference is moving online as a series of virtual workshops each Thursday in October. Keynote speakers will include Teresa Baker, founder of the Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge; Lise Aangeenbrug, executive director of the Outdoor Industry Association; and Dr. Nooshin Razani, director of the Center for Nature and Health at the University of California at San Francisco. Additional information and tickets are available at OutdoorEconomy.org.
- Outdoor history buffs now have access to over 8,000 photos, drawings and documents from the Blue Ridge Parkway’s archives. Kat Connelly, a visual information specialist with the National Park Service, has recorded a webinar detailing how to find and download those assets at avl.mx/81h.
- The Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site in Flat Rock is hosting a video series for pet owners about safe hiking with dogs. Crystal Tysz, training and behavior manager at the Blue Ridge Humane Society, is posting new advice each Wednesday on the site’s Facebook page, available at avl.mx/81i.
- As Asheville prepares to finalize the North Fork Dam Improvement Project by the end of October, officials have released a video about changes to the infrastructure for the city’s primary drinking water source. New spillways are expected to make the dam more resilient during extreme storm events and reduce the need for water releases, which have contributed to flooding in Biltmore Village. To view the video, go to avl.mx/81j.
- The annual Hawk Watch returns to Grandfather Mountain throughout September. While visitors will not be permitted to participate in the official count due to COVID-19 safety concerns, the park continues to offer views of migratory raptor species such as broad-winged and red-tailed hawks.
The Buncombe County Sustainability Office earned an Excellence in Innovation Award from the N.C. Association of County Commissioners for its participation in the Energy Innovation Task Force. A public-private partnership involving the county, city of Asheville and Duke Energy, the task force helped prevent the construction of a natural gas-fired peaker plant at Duke’s Arden facility.
- Fairview resident Virginia Ward, a volunteer with the Blue Ridge Parkway, received the 2019 Youth Award as part of the George and Helen Hartzog Awards for Outstanding Volunteer Service. The accolades recognize the top volunteers across the entire National Park Service; Ward was honored for her work monitoring rare plant species.
- Looking Glass Creamery in Columbus was rated Certified Animal Welfare Approved by A Greener World, an Oregon-based nonprofit that assesses sustainable agriculture practices. The label indicates that Looking Glass cows “are raised outdoors on pasture or range in accordance with the highest animal welfare standards in the U.S. and Canada.”
- The Rotary Club of Asheville and Rotaract Asheville pitched in to refurbish a play space at the WNC Nature Center. Although the facility remains closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, patrons will enjoy a new fort-building station and sensory path when it reopens.
- UNC Asheville was honored as a Tree Campus USA for 2019 for the second consecutive year. Tree canopy covers approximately 70% of the campus — significantly more than the citywide average of 44.5% cited by Asheville’s 2019 Urban Tree Canopy Study.
- Warren Wilson College received a STARS Gold rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. The association’s report highlights the college’s divestment from fossil fuels, use of alternative fuel in campus vehicles and recently developed land innovation program.
- Western Carolina University has been awarded a grant of more than $517,000 from the National Science Foundation to organize and curate its biological collections. Gathered in the Southern Appalachian Mountains since the early 1900s, the roughly 47,000 samples of plants, arthropods, birds and mammals illustrate the region’s rich biodiversity.
Updated at 12:36 p.m. on Sept. 8 to accurately reflect the plans of the Henderson County Board of Commissioners.