The city of Asheville should pull the plug on plans to build a National Guard armory in Richmond Hill Park. It’s becoming increasingly clear that this is simply the wrong place to put such a facility.
The land given to the National Guard in exchange for grading work includes several hundred feet of Smith Creek, which has already been adversely affected by sediment because of the Guard’s failure to use best-management practices during construction of the parking lot for the park. Any further damage at the armory site will impact the entire creek as it flows through the park.
The current plans also include a field-maintenance shop with a rack for washing vehicles, and the Guard’s own environmental assessment recognizes the likelihood of spills and leaks of hazardous materials, erosion and sediment-loading in Smith Creek. All this should give the city serious reservations about moving forward as planned.
Here’s why the city should nullify its contract with the National Guard:
1. The Guard’s environmental assessment failed to acknowledge Richmond Hill Park’s ecological value and significant resources, including species listed by the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program and the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission as species of concern.
2. The grading work performed by National Guardsmen at Richmond Hill was not conducted according to the site plans.
3. The grading work did not abide by state and local erosion-control laws designed to prevent runoff into waterways.
4. The Guard was unable to correct the construction work within the standard 30-day time frame set by the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
5. As a result, the city had to spend an additional $50,000 bringing in an outside firm to correct the work performed by the Guard.
6. The original agreement was based on the Guard’s providing an estimated $1 million worth of grading work in exchange for the land. Much of this work was never done because of significant problems in protecting Smith Creek from runoff and the extent of the environmental degradation that was occurring.
7. The Guard has already received about $23,000 from the sale of timber removed from the armory site.
8. The closest interstate access to the armory would be via Riverside Drive—one of the first local roads to flood during big storms.
9. Having Richmond Hill Park bordered by a “25-meter antiterrorism/force protection security buffer,” as described in the environmental assessment, is inappropriate for such a unique and valuable natural area.
10. Richmond Hill Park is priceless and should be recognized for what it is: Asheville’s premier urban forest!
The ball fields have been scratched from the plans due to the steep slopes, prior environmental missteps and concerns about traffic in the Richmond Hill neighborhood. Instead, the city should site these facilities along Riverside Drive, which would create more public space along the riverfront and provide safer, more convenient access for young athletes and their families while protecting water quality and making Asheville more beautiful.
We know we need to preserve the natural heritage of our mountains, and Richmond Hill Park’s high-quality forests and streams are best suited as a refuge for wildlife and families looking to escape from the stresses of modern life, and as an outdoor classroom for teaching children about the natural world they live in and are part of. Beautiful wildflowers, abundant wildlife and cool forest breezes make Richmond Hill Park an exceptional treasure that’s unique in our city parks system. The recent discovery of the Southern zigzag salamander—the fourth special-status species found in the park to date—only underscores its remarkable biodiversity.
Simply put, this irreplaceable forest treasure is too precious to be lost to shortsighted development pressures. And despite the mistakes already made, Asheville can still rise to a higher level of environmental awareness and stewardship. Tell City Council you want Richmond Hill Park back—and the plans for the armory canceled!
[James Wood, a UNCA graduate with majors in environmental science and biology, enjoys using Richmond Hill Park for jogging, dog walking, studying, disc golf and escaping the stresses of everyday life.]