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Commissioners To Hold Public Hearing on Tuesday Regarding High Impact Land Use Ordinance

By Jesse Wood

The Watauga County Board of Commissioners will hold a public hearing on proposed amendments to the county’s high impact land use ordinance on Tuesday, June 16. The meeting starts at 5:30 p.m.

A group of citizens called High Country WATCH (Wataugans Against Toxins Close to Home) plan to attend the meeting and speak out against a proposed asphalt plant that Maymead is planning to operate off of U.S. 421 in Deep Gap if it secures the required permits from the state.

The proposed amendments to the ordinance came about after the N.C. General Assembly passed a law eliminating the Town of Boone’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) last year. (Currently, the town still controls the ETJ as the municipality and the state are entangled in a lawsuit that hasn’t been settled. The next hearing in this case is set for early July.)

Following that legislation, citizens of the ETJ appeared before the commissioners asking for residential buffer zones from polluting businesses because town regulations would be thrown out of the window if Watauga County took control of the ETJ.

Citizens were asking for a two-year moratorium on polluting industries operating in the ETJ and at least a 1,000-foot buffer between polluting industries and residential dwellings.

The commissioners approved a 90-day moratorium (which has passed and was a moot point because of the lawsuit) and directed the Watauga County Planning Board to recommend changes to the ordinance and bring the matter back.

Among the potential changes to the High Impact Land Uses ordinance is the key amendment instituting a 500-foot buffer between any residential dwelling and asphalt plants, cement mixing facilities and quarries/stone crushers.

Members of High Country WATCH will be asking for a moratorium on all new asphalt plants. If that isn’t enacted, then concerned citizens will have to turn their attention to the N.C. Division of Air Quality.

“Commissioners have the opportunity to do the right thing on Tuesday – they can declare a moratorium on high impact development in Watauga County. OR they can pass toothless High Impact Land Regulations that zone the county for high impact development. Please come to the Commissioners meeting on 6/16 and tell that high impact development is the WRONG direction to take Watauga County’s economic development!” Anne Ward posted on the High Country WATCH Facebook page.

On Monday, Tom Mather, a spokesperson with the Division of Air Quality said that while the department isn’t required to hold a public hearing the decision was made because of the “level of public interest.”

Mather said that once the application is reviewed and deemed complete, the Division of Air Quality will follow these steps before denying or approving the permit:

  • Conduct and/or review air quality modeling for estimated emissions from the facility.
  • Prepare a draft (or proposed) air permit that specifies that types of air pollution controls, production rates, fuels and other factors to ensure that the facility would not violate air quality standards.
  • Publish a public notice on the DAQ website (Events Calendar) along with the draft permit at http://www.ncair.org/calendar/
  • Allow 30 days for public review and comments on the draft permit, unless the DAQ Director decides to schedule a public hearing, which would extend the comment period.
  • If a hearing is held, the hearing officer would prepare a report with recommendations for the director.
  • The DAQ director would then make a final decision on whether to issue the permit as proposed in the draft, issue a permit with modifications, or deny the permit.

High Country WATCH has voiced concerns that the asphalt plant would deteriorate the quality of life in the area and will be too close to local schools, churches, and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Mather said that Division of Air Quality permitting process is to ensure that facilities do not violate state and federal air quality standards.

“DAQ has no authority over the location of facilities, truck traffic, noise, proximity to schools or neighborhoods, and other land use issues.  If citizen are concerned about zoning or land-use issues, they should contact local government officials,” Mather said in an email.