Buncombe, Asheville fund community solar projects
Renewable energy in Buncombe County got a governmental jump-start in July thanks to a pair of unanimous votes by the county Board of Commissioners and Asheville City Council. Together, the two governments approved over $11 million in funding to install roughly 7 megawatts of solar power at public facilities and area schools.
The projects, which will be managed by Asheville-based MB Haynes Corp., are anticipated to save the governments and schools roughly $650,000 in electricity costs in the first year and more than $27 million over the installations’ 30-year operational life. Perhaps more importantly, said Buncombe Commission Chair Brownie Newman, they mark a turning point in local efforts to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Newman recognized the leadership of area students, who last year collected hundreds of signatures supporting the projects, in pushing Buncombe toward renewable energy. “They know that climate change is the biggest threat facing their future and that we have to take it on,” he said.
Despite these recent investments, both the county and city remain far from their goals to power all operations with renewable energy by 2030. An analysis published in July 2019 by The Cadmus Group found that, between planned and “feasible and prioritized” local actions, the governments would only meet a fifth of their needs with renewable power by that deadline.
“We’re still not moving fast enough,” Newman acknowledged prior to the county’s vote. “Time is not on our side.”
RAD developer violates city land disturbance rules
Following resident complaints about rocks, dirt and other debris falling onto Amboy Road, the city of Asheville issued a notice of violation to developer Jay Fiano for conducting unauthorized work on a site in the River Arts District. According to the July 24 notice from the city’s Development Services Department, the developer had an expired site grading permit for 34 Upstream Way and would be required to submit plans for permanent repairs to a “newly formed landslide area.”
Asheville spokesperson Polly McDaniel said city inspectors found that some work at the property, including an additional parking area and extra retaining walls, “was not specifically covered under the existing permits.” However, she noted that the city had not concluded Fiano caused the landslide, and the developer was allowed to make emergency repairs to stabilize the site under the guidance of his engineers.
In an email to Xpress, Fiano said he had been unaware of the expired permit and that recent interactions with city inspectors hadn’t flagged any issues. “A serious problem around here is based on the guys at City Hall who sit behind a desk and write letters,” he said. “They don’t check with the guys in the field.”
Fiano must work with the city to develop an amendment to his original site plan by Friday, Aug. 14. Failure to comply with the notice could hit the developer with penalties of up to $5,000 per day; Ben Woody, Asheville’s director of development services, said Fiano was cooperating with the city and would likely not be assessed any fine.
Asheville School conducts first in-city deer hunt
Archers harvested deer on the campus of the private Asheville School, which lies within Asheville city limits, in the first hunt to take place under rules adopted by Asheville City Council on May 12. Council had amended the city’s firearms ordinance to allow bowhunting for the purpose of deer population control at the request of Christopher Arbor, a teacher at the school.
Although the hunt took place outside the regular deer season, the school had obtained a depredation permit from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to take up to 10 deer between June 24 and July 31. A depredation report filed by Robert McArthur, Asheville School’s chief financial officer, said that two male and five female deer had been killed July 2-5.
Asheville’s revised ordinance also requires hunters to obtain “written notice to proceed issued by the Asheville Police Department.” As of press time, the city had not provided any correspondence between the APD and Asheville School or Backyard Bow Pro, the organization hired to conduct the hunt, in response to a July 6 public records request.
Good to know
- In response to reports that North Carolina residents have received unsolicited packages of seeds from China and other foreign sources, Buncombe County, the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and state Attorney General Josh Stein all urged people not to plant the contents. Anyone receiving such a shipment should contact the NCDA&CS Plant Industry Division at 800-206-9333 or email@example.com.
- The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission reminds residents to avoid disturbing young squirrels that have fallen out of trees. “Humans simply are not as good at taking care of young animals as their mothers,” said Falyn Owens, the commission’s extension biologist. More info at avl.mx/7th.
- The Blue Ridge Parkway reopened the Julian Price Park and Linville Falls campgrounds effective July 31. Other Western North Carolina facilities, including the Crabtree Falls and Mount Pisgah campgrounds, remain closed due to COVID-19. More info at avl.mx/7tw.
- The N.C. Forest Service Buncombe County Ranger’s Office offers guidance for local landowners looking to manage their forests as long-term investments. Forest management plans are available at no cost or $5 per acre, depending on the property. For more information, contact Ranger Dillion Michael at 828-686-5885 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Asheville’s chapter of the National Audubon Society has changed its name to Blue Ridge Audubon. Previously known as the Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society after the early conservationist, the local chapter made the shift in condemnation of Mitchell’s vocal support for slavery. More info at avl.mx/7t8.
- Wands for Wildlife, launched in March 2017 as a program of the Appalachian Wildlife Refuge, was converted into a separate nonprofit on Aug. 1. The new organization will continue to collect used mascara wands for repurposing in wildlife rehabilitation work, as well as conduct education about the impact of plastic use on the environment. More info at WandsForWildlife.org.
- Asheville-based MountainTrue joined the Southern Environmental Law Center and 15 other plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the administration of President Donald Trump. The suit objects to federal actions that weakened the National Environmental Policy Act, which Julie Mayfield, MountainTrue’s co-director, called “our basic national charter for protection of the environment.” More info at avl.mx/7ta.
- Hendersonville-based Conserving Carolina conveyed 315 additional acres to the N.C. Forest Service to complete the Continental Divide Tract in the DuPont State Recreational Forest. The new land connects the forest with a conservation corridor of over 100,000 acres and protects tributaries of the Green River and Reasonover Creek. More info at avl.mx/7te.
- The Canary Coalition, a Sylva-based nonprofit that played a critical role in early efforts to improve WNC’s air quality, has dissolved after 20 years. According to Smoky Mountain News, the move came after the retirement of founder Avram Friedman and fundraising difficulties due to COVID-19. More info at avl.mx/7tg.
According to a July 27 press release from the city of Asheville, the local recycling contamination rate has increased to 8% from a low of 5% several years ago. The city encourages residents to download the AVL Collects app (avl.mx/7t2), which provides information about allowed recyclables and Asheville’s recycling pickup schedule.
- The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality holds an in-person public hearing about hazardous waste cleanup permitting for the former DuPont Brevard facility at Brevard City Hall 1 p.m. Friday, Aug. 7. A digital public hearing will also take place on Tuesday, Aug. 11, and comment may be emailed through Saturday, Aug. 22, to Julie.Woosley@ncdenr.gov. More info at avl.mx/7t3.
- The Friends of East Flat Rock community group, which has organized against SE Asphalt’s proposal to build a new plant off Spartanburg Highway, is accepting entries in a youth poster contest through Monday, Aug. 10. Artists are asked to draw before and after pictures depicting the plant’s potential impact; top prize is a $100 gift card. More info at avl.mx/7t4.
- The N.C. Department of Transportation and N.C. State Parks seek responses to a survey about the Great Trails State Plan. The proposed network would link all 100 of the state’s counties through shared-use paths and trails. More info at avl.mx/7us.
- The Great Smoky Mountains Association invites lovers of the outdoors to participate in the Public Lands Alliance’s visitor intention survey. This monthly check-in tracks changes in sentiment around the use of national parks and forests during COVID-19. More info at avl.mx/7t5.