Swannanoa Valley Alliance for Beauty & Prosperity (SVABP)
PO Box 1341, Black Mountain, NC 28711 828-669-6677
Asheville Watershed Management Plan
Our Good, Bad, & Ugly Analysis
of the Asheville City Council's 4-3 approval vote on July 27, 2004
(Hey, don't be discouraged, this is far from over!)
Background: On July 27, 2004, the Asheville City Council voted 4-3 to approve the proposed "Forest Management Plan' after two hours of discussion and public comment. Below is an analysis of the discussion, the substance of the vote, and suggestions on how we can proceed:
GOOD results from the vote:
-No Immediate Logging: No logging will occur any time soon, if ever. The first time City Council will see any specific recommendations will be in the next budget cycle, beginning in March/April 2005 and much public input will be possible before that time. Moreover, Council said that the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Conservation Trust of NC must be consulted and give clearance to any Plan brought to City Council. Councilman Mumpower stated "Nothing will be done until we get a more detailed plan."
-Advisory Task Force to be set up: Mayor Worley said he would make a proposal at a later date for an Advisory Task Force of stakeholders to advise on the staff recommendations.
-Removal of invasive grass before any logging: The recommendation was made by forester Ed Hicks (who prepared the Plan) that no 'openings' (logging) should occur before the invasive exotic Miscanthus grass is removed. The thinking is that the logging openings provide the perfect environment for the spread of the grass. The removal itself will be a major, time-consuming project and is supported by everyone on both sides of the logging question, though there may be differences on the methodology.
-Majority vote doesn't mean majority for logging: Jan Davis, the 4th and swing vote in the approval, was clear that he does not think the 50' strips along roads is necessary and that the City should not be involved in habitat manipulations. His opposition to those two aspects of the 'Plan' amounts to opposing all the remaining logging proposals in the 'Plan.' It appeared he voted to approve the Plan only with the assurance that there is still plenty of time to affect the final, specific actions to be taken. (Note: Terry Bellamy, Holly Jones, & Brownie Newman voted 'no' on the 'Plan'; Mayor Worley, Dr. Mumpower, Dr. Dunn joined Jan Davis in voting 'yes' on the 'Plan.'
-Largest clearcuts eliminated: The recommendation for 5 to 10 acre clearcuts was removed from the 'Plan' even before the vote and will not be considered in the future because they are even-aged management, prohibited by the Conservation Easement on the property.
-Reiteration that the 'Plan' not for Revenue: The Mayor reiterated that the 'Plan' is not intended to be a logging plan for revenue. Though we differ on whether it is a 'logging' plan nonetheless, he was clear that he sees the logging aspect as serving other needs, i.e., wildlife habitat & road maintenance.
-Presentations excellent: The presentations by numerous environmental groups were impressive and clearly laid out the shortcomings, contradictory recommendations, and inaccurate information in the 'Plan.' Despite the 4-3 approval, the quality of the information included in the presentations appeared to give pause to even the ardent supporters of the 'Plan.'
-Blue Ridge Parkway's Participation: Of particular importance was the well-crafted presentation by Gary Johnson, Sr. Planner for the Blue Ridge Parkway, expressing concerns over possible negative impact on the views from the Parkway from any logging.
-Shift of Plan's name from "Forest" to "Watershed" Management: Shifting the name of the overall Plan from a "Forest Management Plan" to a "Watershed Management Plan" is a useful semantic change that helps re-direct the focus of the planning to the overall Watershed and away from simply the forest (which carries the connotation of logging). Now, road maintenance, invasive removal, security, and fire control will more appropriately be included in the Plan's context.
BAD results from the vote:
-Foot in door or graceful way out? The 4-3 approval vote might be logging's foot in the Watershed door as the 'Plan' adopted does have significant logging component. Whether it is or not will depend on follow-up in the coming months by those of us opposed to logging our community's major water source. (On the other hand, the vote may have been a face-saving way of putting the final decision off so the remaining logging aspects can be quietly removed.)
-Opportunity to create trust not improved: The hopeful expression by Councilwoman Holly Jones that the City would cease this opportunity to make the process more inclusion appeared lost in the tone and comments of Councilmen Dunn and Mumpower. Hopefully, the Mayor will be able to recover this opportunity somewhat in the setting up of the Advisory Task Force.
-Councilman Dunn's side comment a harbinger?: Councilman Dunn made the comment, "Common sense says if we're going to cut some trees, why not sell them?" seemed to reveal that he still hopes to make this a revenue generating logging program. He was quoted in the July 21-27 edition of the Mountain Xpress as having suggested at a February 2004 Water Authority Budget meeting that logging old growth (in the Watershed) could generate revenue for the City, 'It's going to take political guts, but it's time,' Dunn declared." That attitude conflicts with Mayor's assurances that the 'Plan' is not a (revenue-generating) logging plan, but we will see.
UGLY results from the vote:
-Embarrassing display by Dr. Dunn: Councilman Dunn's visibly angry attack on the Blue Ridge Parkway's senior planner after his presentation is embarrassing for the City of Asheville. Rather than address the Parkway's concerns about the impact of possible logging on their viewshed, Dr. Dunn lit into the Sr. Planner about an issue completely unrelated to the Watershed Management Plan, a permit dispute over a bridge on Azalea Road. When one thinks how much economic boost the Parkway gives to the City of Asheville in drawing visitors here, it was shocking to see such crudeness and impoliteness by a City representative. He also said later in the meeting in his concluding remarks that he sensed there was "subversive environmentalism" in the room. (Someone fill us in on what that is!)
-Unprofessional expressions by Dr. Mumpower: Councilman Mumpower unnecessarily created division and mistrust rather than taking steps to pull people together. He reiterated his view that those opposing the logging were "just a special interest group" and that "there is a difference between listening to a special interest group and indulging them." (i.e. just about everyone in the packed Council room and the 300 plus mailers). He expressed his irritation with "bullying" and with being "flooded" with emails and calls. With his view of tightly controlled governance, one wonders why he chooses to be on the City Council at all. People were asking, 'What a strange, sad world he must live in." (On the positive side, he seemed dubious of the cost and need for the 50' strips recommended for the roads in the Watershed.)
Where do we go from here?
-City Council's vote gives us an opportunity, now, to step back and nudge the City toward more in-depth planning with greater public input in the process.
-Here are suggestions on how we can do that:
-Thank City Council for listening, for not approving immediate logging, and for committing to involving the public in future discussions and decisions before any final action taken.
-Gather additional information on the Watershed Management Plans from other municipal watersheds, esp. Greenville, SC (which allows no logging and minimal road maintenance to keep roads passable for fire control and security.) Also gather specific information on fire-road maintenance issues, wildlife habitat issues, invasive exotic species control issues, and long-term public-oversight/input possibilities.
-Be part of the Advisory Task Force process by writing to the Mayor and requesting that you or your organization have a representative on the task force.
-Over time, organize public informational meetings in which City staff, the forester, and the public can genuinely discuss the components of the 'Plan.' So far, there have only been one-sided presentations without any opportunity for the public to engage in back and forth on specific questions with those making the 'Plan.'
DO YOU HAVE OTHER ACTION-SUGGESTIONS?
Or Other GOOD, BAD, & UGLY ANALYSIS observations?
Please share them with us! Send an Email to Us at SVABP Today!