Mayor Charles Worley                                                             January 14, 2005
City of Asheville
PO Box 7148
Asheville, North Carolina 28802

 Re: -Watershed Management Planning contract: Prudent use of taxpayer dollars?
-Existing proposals will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for dubious benefits.

 Dear Mayor Worley:

 The Asheville Watershed is a unique treasure for Asheville and, indeed, western North Carolina.  Thus, how that Watershed is managed is a critically important issue facing City Council.  We see a financial and possibly, an environmental train wreck coming down the track if the City proceeds to award a planning and management contract without modification and additional deliberation.  Allow us to explain. 

 We have reviewed the four proposals submitted in response to the Request for Proposals (RFP) sent out by the Water Resources Department in the summer.  All four proposals have tried to respond to the specifics of the RFP.  Unfortunately for City taxpayers, that document itself was imprecise and overly broad, resulting in the four proposals being themselves imprecise and vague.

 The result is a broad range of proposed bids, from $388,000 down to what is essentially a >time and materials= fee (albeit, some of those fees at $140/hour).  That bid variation itself reveals imprecision in the RFP and makes comparing the proposals one of comparing apples and oranges.  Moreover these hundreds of thousands of dollars you might approve are only for the planning. Implementation will incur even more costs.   Tragically, this plan is rumbling down the track with the City having failed to demonstrate a compelling need for many of the activities proposed.  

 We urge City Council to answer these questions before proceeding.  Not doing so will mean wasted time, resources, opportunities, and taxpayer money.

 1. Priorities straight?  Why is the City going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a dubious Watershed Management Plan when the city water lines and infra-structure are falling apart?  Would not such huge funds be better spent updating our water system or establishing a comprehensive flood control plan?

 2. Road Maintenance?   Why does the City not simply use the comprehensive road maintenance plan outlined in the 1992 Watershed Plan?   That plan states that the entire Watershed road system can be mowed and kept clear in only four weeks by two workers.   Is not the real problem found in the City having short-changed Watershed staff so much so that  not even two workers are available to keep the roads clear?  What is the compelling and precise objective of City Council's pursual of a management plan?  If it is to maintain adequate emergency vehicle access, what would "adequate" be?

3. Demonstrated Needs?   Why is the City going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for planning that may far exceed the actual needs on the Watershed?  Especially when all the Water Department was really concerned about was road maintenance and removal of exotic invasive species of plants?

 4. Logging plan?  We are concerned that the proposed costs of planning alone would create real incentive for extractive timber harvesting and ultimately increase the costs of providing clean water to Asheville’s residents.  Moreover, would not commercial logging at any level certainly go against provisions of the Conservation Easement by harming the views from the Blue Ridge Parkway and putting water quality at risk?

 5. Where is the Public input?: Why has the Council not appointed a Watershed Advisory Committee as was proposed when the Plan was passed in July?  That Advisory Committee would have been very useful in preparing the RFP and in analyzing the proposals received.   In short, we recommend that you build into any Watershed Management Plan an open and transparent process for public input and, thereby, citizen buy-in.

 These questions are but a few of the questions arising from our review of the four proposals. Even as we are disappointed in the RFP process and the resulting proposals, we support the development of a Watershed Management Plan.  Planning should begin with a rational and deliberate process for determining specific management needs and goals, and should include Asheville’s citizens in every step of the process. We think it should cover the following activities:

-Protection procedures to ensure high quality water
-Road maintenance necessary for routine patrols and emergency vehicles
-Removal of exotic invasive species and best practices to avoid their recurrence
-Emergency and Security procedures, including pursuit of a no-fly zone over the reservoir
-Regeneration of American chestnut as was proposed in the RFP
-Preparing a bench-mark inventory of assets in the watershed including soils, plants, wildlife, and aquatic life.

 In short, our recommendation is that you step back from these expensive plans. We recommend the City become creative in using protocols you already have and exploring other ways to less-expensively develop the inventories and additional management protocols needed.  

 We conclude that if City Council proceeds with any of the current proposals, Council will be issuing a blank check to the contractor for activities that are not clearly defined or understood by Council.  Moreover, Council could probably accomplish the road maintenance goals and other activities by utilizing and reassigning City staff and by extracting specific protocols from previous planning documents.  We conclude, too, that Council may gain support of the public for a Watershed Management Plan by specifically excluding from the Plan

-logging for wildlife habitat manipulatio
-logging strips or linear clearcuts as part of the road maintenance plan
-logging as a means to pay for Watershed management activities

The people of Asheville rely on the Council to do due-diligence in spending taxpayer and ratepayer funds. We urge Council to recognize the financial boondoggle it may be approving if any of the RFP submissions are chosen in their current form.

 Thank you for your consideration.


Asheville Watershed Working Group:
Swannanoa Valley Alliance for Beauty and Prosperity
Southern Appalachian Biodiversity Project
People Advocating Real Conservancy
Clean Water for North Carolina
Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition
Western NC Alliance
Wild Law Sustainable Forests Program


 cc:  City Manager, Water Resources Department Director, Asheville City Council, the local media