By Jesse Wood
March 5, 2013. At a regular meeting on Tuesday, March 5, the Watauga County Board of Commissioners adopted a resolution requesting the N.C. Department of Transportation to consider alternative plans and options regarding the replacement of four bridges along Justus Road to limit the impact those changes have on Maverick Farms.
The resolution came after Hillary Wilson, executive director of Maverick Farms, spoke before the commissioners in February. She said that the NCDOT’s plans would destroy much of the important vegetable-growing land amongst the farm because of a road being rerouted through the farm field.
In a press release dated Feb. 6, a spokesperson for Maverick Farms wrote that a contractor for the project said that work on the bridges would begin in the spring – whether Maverick Farms consented to the project or not – and the land would be condemned under eminent domain.
This Tuesday morning before the resolution was adopted, Chairman Nathan Miller said that he had spoken with Ivan Dishman, NCDOT engineer, about the project.
“I mentioned this and [Dishman] said that they are working with [Maverick Farms]. They got some different plans to run by them. Whether that’s what they will do or not [I don’t know],” Miller said.
Recently in an update on its website, a spokesman for Maverick Farms wrote that Maverick Farms met with two local NCDOT officials Dishman and Mike Pettyjohn after the Feb. 19 commissioner meeting.
“The meeting was neither good nor bad. On the plus side, the DOT announced it will not actually be making a take-it-or-leave-it offer next week, as they told us three weeks ago. Instead, they said they will ‘look into alternatives’ and get back to us ‘soon.’”
Commissioner David Blust who voted for the resolution supporting Maverick Farms stated that one of the four bridges was in dire need of replacement because fire trucks can’t make the turn.
“You really do want that bridge fixed, right next to the church,” Blust said.
In the resolution, commissioners noted their continued support for the replacement and improvement to the bridge and roadway at the intersection of Justus and Clark’s Creek roads.
As for the other three bridges, the commissioners requested that alternatives that would limit the impact to the farmland of Maverick Farms be considered.
Below, view the adopted resolution, meeting minutes where Wilson spoke before the board and a press release from Maverick Farms.
A draft of the resolution adopted Tuesday morning:
RESOLUTION REQUESTING THE NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION CONSIDER ALTERNATIVE PLANS AND OPTIONS REGARDING THE UPGRADE AND REPLACEMENT OF THE FOUR BRIDGES AND ROADWAYS ON JUSTUS AND CLARK’S CREEK ROADS (SR 1136 & SR 1137)
WHEREAS, Maverick Farms has been in operation since 1972 providing agriculture products to the community; and
WHEREAS, Maverick Farms is a vital asset to the community as an engine for sustainable agriculture, job training, and providing access to healthy, locally grown food; and
WHEREAS, the Watauga County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution May 17, 2011, endorsing and supporting the residents of Justus Road and Clark’s Creek Road (SR 1136 & SR 1137) in their efforts to obtain assistance from the North Carolina Department of Transportation in making the necessary safety improvements to Justus and Clark’s Creek Roads; and
WHEREAS, the North Carolina Department of Transportation has completed the preliminary designs for the replacement of the four aging bridges: one at the intersection of Justus Road and Clarks Creek Road (identified in the adopted resolution by the Watauga County Board of Commissioners on May 17, 2011) and the three others on Justus Road; and
WHEREAS, the replacement and upgrades of the three bridges on Justus Road has the potential to significantly, if not totally, eliminate Maverick Farms ability to provide agricultural products to the community and the revenue necessary to sustain the farm; and
WHEREAS, the Watauga County Board of Commissioners have received an outpouring of support for Maverick Farms and its continued operation.
NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Watauga County Board of Commissioners continue to support the replacement, improvement, and upgrades to the bridge and roadway at the intersection of Justus and Clark’s Creek Roads as requested by the residents in May of 2011; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Watauga County Board of Commissioners request that the North Carolina Department of Transporation consider any and all options and alternatives to limit the impact on Maverick Farms with the three additional bridge replacement and road improvements scheduled for Justus Road.
ADOPTED this the 5th day of March, 2013.
Nathan A. Miller, Chairman
ATTEST: Watauga County Board of Commissioners
Anita J. Fogle, Clerk to the Board
Watauga County Board of Commissioner Minutes for Feb. 19, 2013.
Ms. Hillary Wilson stated that the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) planned enhancements to three bridges located on Justus Road in Valle Crucis which would be detrimental to the farming operations of Maverick Farms, an educational non-profit dedicated to promoting family farming as a community resource and reconnecting local food networks. Ms. Wilson stated that the bridge improvements would cut through the heart of the farm which was located on both sides of the road.
Ms. Wilson requested the Board of Commissioners’ adopt a resolution requesting the NCDOT study all viable options available prior to following through with the planned bridgeenhancements. Ms. Wilson stated that she had not yet received a notice of condemnation.
County Manager Geouque stated that the farm was a part of the Voluntary Farmland reservation Program and, therefore, condemnation of the property needed for the bridge enhancements would have to come before the Voluntary Farm Preservation Program Board to allow for a public hearing to be held. The final decision; however, was ultimately NCDOT’s.
Commissioner Yates suggested Ms. Wilson contact Mr. Jim Palermo, a local resident, who was recently appointed to the State Board of Transportation.
Commissioner Kennedy, seconded by Vice-Chairman Blust, moved to send a letter to the North Carolina Department of Transportation requesting they revisit the Justus Road bridge enhancement project due to the potential loss of farmland.
The motion died as County Attorney Eggers stated that a motion could not be made during the public comment period.
Chairman Miller directed the County Manager to draft a resolution requesting the North Carolina Department of Transportation requesting they revisit the Justus Road bridge enhancement project due to the potential loss of farmland to present for consideration at the March 5, 2013, Board meeting.
Press release from Maverick Farms dated Feb. 6:
Maverick Farms, a long-time leader in the effort to create a just and accessible local food system in Watauga County, is under imminent threat from North Carolina Department of Transportation plans for altering an unpaved dead-end country road that runs through the farm, the Wilson family found out on Feb. 5. The plans, as laid out by a private contractor working for the DOT in a meeting with the family, could mean the end of Maverick Farms, because they would destroy much of the 2 most important vegetable-growing land, as well as affect agritourism and educational events held on the farm.
The contractor informed the family that the road work, which involves replacing and dramatically expanding three bridges, would begin in the spring, with or without the family’s consent. The contractor said DOT intended to condemn the land under eminent domain if the family refused to settle.
“That the state can do this without seeking our input, much less consent, is unacceptable,” said Bill Wilson, who began farming the historic farm in 1972 under the name Springhouse Farm.
Wilson’s daughters, Alice Brooke (currently a PhD candidate at UNC-Chapel Hill) and Hillary Wilson, took over the farm in 2004 and launched Maverick Farms with several friends, including Tom Philpott, who now serves as food and agriculture correspondent at Mother Jones Magazine, Sara Safransky, now a PhD candidate at UNC-Chapel Hill, and Leo Gaev, the artist-operator of Metalworks (http://leogaevmetalworks.com/home.html) in Carrboro, NC.
Wilson said the family knows better than anyone else the importance of improving the road, but “that there are ways to do so that don’t require destroying this this family farm.” He added: “I have offered to work with the DOT and even to cede right of way for a new road on an alternative route that does not involve wrecking our working farm. The DOT has refused to consider my offer.”
Apparently in order to maintain the existing bridges until the new ones are finished, the proposed plan maximizes damage to the two fields.
“The plan as it was presented to us yesterday would actually make the road more dangerous for everyone — everyone who works on the farm, students, guests, animals, as well as the daily drivers,” Wilson said. “Since the bridges are the justification for this project, they propose three 50-foot paved culvert bridges that then go back to 1-lane unpaved road in between, creating dangerous bottlenecks. And it means they are not forced to pay for irreparable damages to our 140-year old farmhouse, historic barn, woodshed and springhouse.”
Hillary Wilson, executive director of Maverick Farms, said that the organization is now seeking community support in this struggle to keep the farm viable.
“Honestly, I’d rather be planting seeds in the greenhouse and planning the growing season,” she said. “But this is about whether the farm has a future — literally what I can plant this spring is up to the DOT.”
The Wilsons and the rest of the Maverick Farms organization will fight to save the farm through a variety of means, starting with challenges to how decisions that directly affect working farmland were made without community input. The historic farm is part of the Voluntary Farmland Preservation Program.
“My entire income is from the farm. This represents an irreversible loss of precious farmland and income,” she added.
About Maverick Farms: Maverick Farms is a 501(c)3 educational non-profit dedicated to promoting family farming as a community resource and expanding access to healthy food by reconnecting local food networks in the High Country of North Carolina. In 2009, Maverick
Farms launched High Country CSA (HCCSA), a multi-farm project that links area farmers and consumers. HCCSA is committed to being accessible to low-income community members—it accepts EBT benefits as payment and works with the Appalachian District Health Department, the
Children’s Coalition, and the Community Care Clinic to make subsidized shares availble to low-income families. In 2012, HCCSA had 100 members. In 2012, Maverick launched the Farmer Incubator and Grower program in conjunction with Appalachian State Community’s Sustainable
Development Department. In addition, Maverick grows vegetables and eggs for sale at the Watauga County Farmers Market. Learn more at maverickfarms.com/ or http://www.facebook.com/maverickfarmnc.