Mayor Charles Worley & Asheville City Council
City of Asheville
PO Box 7148
Asheville, NC 28802
Re: -Request for investigation: Apparent inaccuracies by COA officials to
request for tour of Asheville Watershed
Misuse of Asheville Watershed?
Dear Mayor Worley and Asheville City Council members:
I am writing to bring to your attention a matter of public concern which raises serious questions of public confidence in dealing with the City Manager and Interim Director of the Water Resources Department.
As you are aware, the City of Asheville Water Resources Department is in the process of having an outside contractor, Mr. Ed Hicks of Wildwood Consulting, LLC, develop a forestry management plan for the Asheville Watershed. While our organization is concerned about the intent and extent of this not-yet-published plan, we are equally concerned that the credibility of City Manager and Water Department Director has been drawn into question due to apparently inaccurate statements in response to our initial inquires and requests related to the plan.
Attached is a packet of correspondence that began with Water Resources Interim Director David. Hanks in July 2003 and continued through City Manager Jim Westbrook's March 12 letter. We draw your attention to our repeated request to tour the watershed to see for ourselves the problems of "fire" and "access" which Mr. Hanks indicated were the motivators for initiating the development of a forestry management plan.
Citing post 9/11 security concerns, Mr. Hanks twice denied our request for a forestry tour in letters dated August 27 and October 20, 2003 . In the latter letter, he wrote: "We no longer allow access to our watershed for tours of any type or to the general public and limit access to the water treatment plants to essential personnel only."
We wrote to Mr. Westbrook on February 12 noting the discrepancy in what Mr. Hanks wrote to us and the fact that, at about the same time of his denial letters to us, a tour of the watershed had, indeed, been given to a group of summer camp directors and landowners to review American chestnut growth issues. We also informed Mr. Westbrook that the tour group even had a grill-&-picnic near the old 'club house' by the lake.
Mr. Westbrook responded to us on March 12, 2004 that "Mr. Hicks has brought individuals with specific expertise to accompany him on the watershed on numerous occasions with the approval of the Watershed Superintendent. The watershed or lodge area has not been used by tour groups or civic groups..."
Having interviewed a camp director who was on the tour, we learned the following:
-Several summer camps and large landowners created an informal coop to examine their own forests and how to best manage and preserve them for the future.
-This group hired Mr Hicks to advise them and have meetings during the year to examine relevant forestry issues.
-Mr. Hicks' first activity for this group was to tour the Asheville Watershed with a focus on American Chestnut regeneration. A representative from the American Chestnut Society was in attendance.
-Contrary to Mr. Westbrook's letter, most in this group had no forestry expertise and were not there to assist Mr. Hicks in developing the watershed's forestry management plan. Quite the contrary, they were there to learn from Mr. Hicks and the representative from the American Chestnut Society.
-Contrary to Mr. Westbrook's letter, the group did have a grill-&-picnic near the 'club house' by the lake.
We request the Asheville City Council to investigate this incident to determine the accuracy of what we have learned and, if accurate, to determine the following:
1. Double-Standard? Why is it OK for Mr. Hicks' personal, private group to tour the watershed for educational purposes but not for our community group to do so in relation to an important watershed management issue? Who gave permission for that tour?
2. Misrepresentation? Why did Mr. Hanks and Mr. Westbrook apparently misrepresent the facts in communicating with us about the 'tour' and the use of facilities for a picnic?
3. Misuse of Watershed for private gain? Why would the Water Resources Department allow Mr. Hicks to use his privileged contractor access to the Asheville Watershed for his company's own hired-out activities -- while at the same time denying access to our community organization to see the forestry issues the Department claims are of concern to the integrity of the watershed? (I want to point out that we are not questioning Mr. Hicks who no doubt had permission to do what he did. We are questioning the lack of consistency and management oversight by Water Resources Department officials and their subsequent apparent coverup of the facts.)
4. Full disclosure? What other "experts" has Mr. Hicks taken into the watershed for advice on the forestry management plan and why was their expertise needed? Have any other individual or group tours taken place?
5. Public Confidence? How can the public have confidence in either the rationale for or technical facts about the upcoming forestry management plan or statements by Mr. Westbrook and Mr. Hanks if apparent inaccuracies such as described here are allowed and perpetuated without correction and accountability?
In conclusion, please remember that our community was drawn into four years of controversy (1987-91) by an earlier effort to log the Asheville Watershed. That controversy was aggravated unnecessarily by the dismissive way the Water Department handled public concern over the plan and the inaccuracy of the facts given to the public. In the end, the public's concerns were addressed and the logging stopped, but the credibility of the Water Department was negatively affected and led to exposure of other department mismanagement including the notorious Rod & Gun Club's misuse of Watershed property. We see the same dismissive pattern emerging in Mr. Hanks' and Mr. Westbrook's letters.
What has been described in this letter and the attached correspondence should be a red flag for all of us. We urge you to see the big picture and not to permit the upcoming forestry plan discussion to be characterized by the apparent double-standard and misrepresentations seen in Mr. Hanks' and Mr. Westbrook's letters. While we will address the substance of the forestry management plan once it is published, we request that you set a constructive tone now by substantively investigating this situation. In that regard, we request an opportunity to meet with you at your convenience for this purpose and/or that you put this issue on the agenda of a City Council meeting. We also reiterate our request for a tour of the Watershed to see the 'fire/access' problems Mr. Hanks described. Thank you.
attachment: packet of correspondence
NOTE: AS OF MAY 23, 2004, THERE WAS NO REPLY TO THIS LETTER FROM MAYOR WORLEY