Release from High Country W.A.T.C.H:
High Country W.A.T.C.H invites fellow community members to attend the Watauga County Commissioners meeting this afternoon. We will be sharing with the commissioners, and the public, information pertinent to two topics—the High Impact Land Use plan and a requested moratorium on the asphalt plant Tennessee-based Maymead Inc. is attempting to build on the Doc and Merle Watson Scenic Highway. The High Impact Land Use plan looks at the long-term wellbeing of our community, and the moratorium will protect us from imminent danger while we gather more information about the proposed site.
This afternoon, in addition to requesting a moratorium on asphalt plants, we will ask the commissioners to return the High Impact plan as it is currently proposed in favor of one that includes the enforcement of the four strategies included in the Citizens Plan for Watauga County under Gateway Corridor Strategy, Deep Gap, a commissioner-sanctioned plan that calls for maintaining scenic views, compact development, highway vitality, and appropriate appearance standards. We will additionally ask for increased setbacks and no high-impact industrial development on the Doc and Merle Watson Scenic Highway, and we will request public hearings for all high-impact polluting industrial projects.
Our community group is asking for a moratorium, or a temporary pause, on high-impact polluting industries in Watauga County. Toxins listed by the North Carolina Division of Air Quality as those emitted from asphalt plants include known carcinogens, as well as toxins proven to adversely affect the central nervous system, blood and liver function, and upper respiratory systems. They’re toxins known to aggravate asthma and cause pulmonary disease. The list goes on.
Asphalt plants reportedly have a two-mile toxic fallout radius. The radius of the one proposed for Watauga County would include Parkway Elementary School and Two Rivers Community Elementary School, a 4-mile section of the Blue Ridge Parkway, 7 miles of the South Fork of the New River, 8 churches, Rocky Knob Bike and Hiking Park, several farms raising vegetables and livestock, and many hard-earned homes. Real estate prices before and after Maymead’s Avery County asphalt plant was built reveal that nearby property dropped an average of 27% in value. There are indications that Maymead is considering an attached quarry at the proposed Watauga County site. Studies show that homes as far as 3 miles from a quarry drop in value.
The proposed asphalt plant site is in an area known for high-density fog and inversions that trap it for long periods. Toxins that mix with fog are more easily inhaled into lungs, and complex terrain and weather factors stand to increase the density of toxic fallout deposited onto homes, schools, and waterways near the plant. The toxins of asphalt plants have proven links to birth defects, below normal brain and lung development in children, and have been shown to cause and aggravate attention deficit disorder and breathing-related illnesses—in addition to emitting proven, category 1 carcinogens. We are confident that the county commissioners will not choose an out-of-state, toxic industry over the lives of the seven hundred vulnerable citizens attending Parkway and Two Rivers Elementary Schools—or over the already-compromised health of our elderly residents.
Unique, atmospheric conditions create a site-specific, imminent threat—not just because of the trapped toxins, but also because of the potentially deadly mix of pollution-thickened fog and asphalt plant trucks pulling onto a main thoroughfare. We ask that the commissioners create a moratorium for the maximum time allowable by law, with the understanding that a comprehensive study would require data from all four seasons.
State statues grant county commissioners the right to enact moratoriums—with special considerations when public health is endangered. David Owens, Professor of Public Law and Government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has written of statutory authority: “If there is an imminent threat to public health and safety, the moratorium may be adopted without notice.”
We are confident that Mr. Hodges and Mr. Blust will make good on their promise to do what’s right. We are counting on Mr. Welch, Mr. Kennedy, and Mr. Yates to join them in protecting our children, our friends, our neighbors, our homes, our land, and our livelihoods, by issuing a moratorium on high-impact polluting industries in Watauga County, including asphalt plants, effective immediately.
Thank you for being here this afternoon.