LETTERS / Not Just Two Schools Affected By Asphalt Plant, It’s Now Three

Published Wednesday, June 17, 2015 at 2:28 pm

Dear Friends, Commissioners, Citizens of Watauga:

For my first Commissioners meeting, Tuesday, June 16, I was roused beyond expectation. I live in a great community. The attendance was great. We even needed to go to the bigger courtroom (I wonder how often that happens?). The community members spoke eloquently, passionately, and were informed about the issues at hand. Moms, dads, home owners, teachers, professors, doctors, business owners, farmers, children too. They all spoke. They all had heart. And I feel the commissioners felt that heart.

A tremendous thanks goes out to all of you for your commitment in working to make our community healthier and safer. Thank you for sharing what you shared and caring about the issues that effect our community. Thank you to the commissioners for providing a safe and comfortable space for community involvement and expression. Mr. Hodges, you conducted the meeting with total respect and dignity for all present. Thank you. Thank you for allowing even the occasional clapping.

I got an education last night. I got schooled. I saw an aspect of civic involvement for the first time in my 41 years. I saw the potential a community has to bring things to the table for debate. I also saw how our elected representatives got an education too. They had the opportunity to witness how a portion of the community feels about the proposed Asphalt plant on 421. They learned: How that plant will be 2 miles from 2 schools and over 700 children. How it has the potential to seriously impact their health in negative ways, due to the release of know carcinogens, neurotoxins, and pulmonary irritants. How property values will plummet. How the plant will be an affront to the scenic beauty and special character of the County. How residents and farmers in the area are worried about their health and what other industries this will attract to the area. They heard how this plant can seriously undermine our tourism appeal. But I knew all that. And I knew how this portion of the community felt.

What I DID NOT KNOW is that there is currently “no provision for public or county input in reference to an asphalt plant” So in the future, in our county, there can be made a request for a permit for a facility, such as an asphalt plant, without ANY input. Either public or county. Oh yea, there is currently a request for an ASPHALT plant on Rainbow Trail off of 194.

So, this isn’t just about 2 schools and 700 kids; it’s about 3 schools and over 1,500 kids. And yes, Hardin Park School is JUST 1 mile away. (So, I might predict that at the next meeting a whole lot more of our community is going to show up and get involved).

I also was educated, by an environmental economist, an ASU professor, that the potential land devaluation and subsequent decrease in tax revenue has the strong possibility of not nearly being outweighed by the tax revenue of the plant. So, we lose money in the deal.

My education went further. Around 2012 the county commissioned a group to study the Deep Gap Corridor. Their recommendations included to preserve scenic beauty and to discourage heavy industry and the extraction of raw materials. The Commissioners also commissioned a committee, comprised of citizens and the planning commission, to take a look at where we should head as a county. From an economic, environmental, and quality of life point of view. It produced the Citizens Plan for Watauga, which talks of great things (you should read it if you haven’t)  like sustainability, respect for resources, and responsible future development. It also stated it should also involve community input. (Now how does that work with “…no provision for public or county input…” as per asphalt plant permit requests?). Oh yea, it cost thousands of our tax dollars too. And, it seems like it is being totally disregarded in lieu of the present situation.

Now, I want you to hold all this in your mind: Not JUST 2 schools and 700 kids, but 3 and over 1,500 are going to be seriously negatively impacted; and we likely LOSE money as a county, due to property tax adjustments…..AND the Citizens Plan for the County, which cost the county thousandths of dollars, is being totally, completely disregarded as to what type of industry locates here and that process is devoid of public debate and comment.

So, I’m left with the question: Who in the world (or in our county) is benefiting? Are these just oversights? Who is at the helm and where are they steering the ship? How can all this feel so wrong in a community that feels so right?

I said to the commissioners that I don’t doubt their intentions. I think they love their families and love the people of the county. All the people. But I question the alignment of their beliefs and intentions with their actions. They communicated that they “will take it seriously,” and “we will make the right decisions.” They genuinely heard the community and I feel, understood the seriousness of the issue. But they also said, in reference to the requested moratorium, that it is a complicated process. That left me, and others, with the impression that they may feel their hands may be tied. And that ‘tying’ may prevent them from action. I leave them with this:

A firefighter doesn’t debate whether or not to go into a burning building to save a life. He or she risks their own, for that is what they have been entrusted to do and for that reason we often call them heroes. I feel, considering the ‘education’ I got tonight and how there are so many things that just don’t ‘feel’ right, the Commissioners have been given the opportunity the bear their teeth and fight for the Citizens of Watauga County. If it means defending our interests in a legal battle, then so be it. We can help raise the funds necessary to protect our children and our quality of life. We will support our Commissioners.

But these issues go beyond political speak. This is about the moral and ethical direction this county takes in reference to its growth, both economically and spiritually. If we have different views as to what constitutes balance between the interests of business and development and those of the community at large, let that be out in the open. Correct me if I am wrong, but given the education I received tonight, you guys should be fighting like dogs for the children and the rest of us. Otherwise, I and many others want to know why not. Good people can disagree. Good people can admit mistakes. Good people can forgive. I’m just trying to be ‘good people,’ and to move from here, with over 1,500 children and the direction this county takes on my mind.

Thank you and be well.

David Stetter.

 

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