Council scales back watershed study

By Mark Barrett, Staff Writer
Jan. 18, 2005 10:22 p.m.

ASHEVILLE - City Council on Tuesday backed away from spending $284,540 on a detailed management plan for the city's North Fork and Beetree watersheds, saying the benefits wouldn't justify the cost.

The move pleased some environmentalists who had worried the plan would be a step toward commercial logging on the 20,000 acres. The two contiguous tracts are located to the north of Black Mountain and Swannanoa and generally to the south of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The plan "would be a foot in the door" for logging, said Monroe Gilmour, who lives near the North Fork watershed, Asheville's primary water source.

How to manage the watersheds - especially, whether to cut trees on them - has been the subject of disputes. The last one was last summer, when council adopted a plan that called for upgrading watershed roads, repairing bridges and clearing trees from slopes above roads and raised the possibility of logging.

Council amended that plan when it adopted it in July to provide that no logging would occur on the watersheds without its approval.

Council on Tuesday was discussing whether to commission a much more detailed study. Council instead asked city staff to come back with a scaled-back proposal that staff would primarily develop, possibly with help from a consultant.

The detailed study would have involved consultants closely examining roads, stands of trees and other features over a five-year period and recommending how to handle them, said David Hanks, the city's interim water resources director.

That would have included what trees could be cut. Hanks said, "The only way to generate any money is through timber."

Councilmen said the proposed contract just seemed too expensive, particularly since it involved only study, not actual maintenance.

"This thing seems to have taken a whole life of its own that I didn't foresee," said Councilman Jan Davis.

"If our goal is clean water, the natural processes that have been at work for thousands of years . do a very good job as long as we don't mess it up," said Councilman Brownie Newman.

Contact Barrett at 232-5833 or

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