The Transylvania Times -

By Mark Todd
Staff Writer" 

Watershed's Future Up For Debate

 

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Don Surrette, who has a home in the watershed on Long Branch Creek, is concerned about the proposed new state regulations. (Times photo by Michael Rogers)

Passage of legislation by the state House of Representatives that would block reclassification of 16 miles of streams in the Boylston Creek watershed in Transylvania and Henderson counties has local residents wondering what will happen next.

First, observers have to find out what members of the state Senate and Gov. Beverly Perdue will do with the issue.

It could ultimately end up in litigation, according to some local residents who have been watching the struggle closely for three years.

"I think that could be the end result, no matter how this turns out in the Senate and with the governor," said Gerald Hunsicker, a resident of the Boylston Creek area who has attended numerous hearings on the issue.

N.C. Rep. David Guice, R-Transylvania, drafted the bill with a companion bill by Sen. Jim Davis, R-Macon.

It would prohibit the reclassification as trout waters of several miles of Boylston Creek, a tributary of the French Broad River on the Henderson-Transylvania County line, and nine other streams in the watershed.

Guice said he thinks state officials need to do a better job of defining the existing rules before moving ahead in places like Boylston Creek, because they seem to be uncertain about how to enforce them.

Guice said he has seen a lot of erroneous information being circulated about how his bill will threaten the welfare of trout waters.

Many of the arguments being given are just plain wrong, he said.

"I grew up trout fishing, and I fish for trout now," he said.

The House has sent Guice's bill to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources for review.

The 16 miles of streams were recommended for reclassification by the state Environmental Management Commission in 2009 because they were found to have a naturally repopulating trout population.

The new classification would upgrade the streams from a general Class C to Class C Trout Water, which includes the requirement of minimum 25-foot buffers on either side of the stream, limiting grading activities.

Trout are sensitive to pollution and need clean, cool, shaded water to thrive.

The state Division of Water Quality held public hearings for landowners in the Boylston Creek watershed in 2008.

State officials have said they see a need for the protection of valuable streams, like trout streams, because of increasing development throughout the state.

They point out that the Clean Water Act requires the state to classify all streams to ensure appropriate standards are applied to protect water quality. State biologists with the Division of Water Quality make the recommendations for stream classifications.

Susan Massengale, public information officer for the state Division of Water Quality, explained the reasoning behind the state proposal.

"North Carolina has had some pretty dynamic growth," she said. "We were seeing a need for the protection of valuable streams, like trout streams. When we see development encroaching on an area, we have to ensure the uses of a stream are protected, in this case for trout survival and propagation."

Massengale said existing rules don't protect where the trout live.

The point of the classification is to protect the habitat," she said. "Trout don't thrive in water that is clouded with sediment and where the stream bank structure is eroded.

They don't do well where the removal of trees raises the temperature of the water and eliminates a source of the organic matter that provides food for their food."

Transylvania County Commissioner Larry Chapman, like all of his colleagues on the board, opposes reclassification.

Chapman said reclassification is just another assault on personal property rights.

"If the people who live on the stream had not been taking excellent care of it for generations, then it would not even be considered for reclassification," Chapman said.

He believes this will penalize them for doing an "excellent" job and would send a signal to other property owners on other streams not to be concerned about the stream quality.

If they let the water deteriorate, he said, then they would not have to worry about the government coming in and telling them what they can do with their property.

Eric Caldwell, director of the Transylvania County Cooperative Extension Service, has his own take on the issue.

"I moderated the two public information sessions and got a first-hand glimpse," he said.

"My personal take-home message was that there is some misinformation floating around, possibly due to a poor job of information sharing by the folks driving the process. I also got a strong sense that the process itself is flawed, which feeds into the misinformation and distrust."

Little known, Caldwell said, is that there are a large number of county streams already designated as trout streams or given even higher classifications.

Opinions are divided.

Craig Melby, a Brevard businessman who is interested in environmental issues, said he thinks the 25-foot buffer is reasonable.

"As a homeowner or developer, I can deal with that," he said. "Perhaps the rule would best be written so the net effect is no run-off into the creek, and if the landowner can use a method of construction that doesn't create run-off, then fine."

Economically, clean waters and trout fishing are very important to tourism and lifestyle in the region, he said.

"As a landowner, I would think property values would go up when I live on an officially classified trout stream. So for me personally, I don't see the big deal of it," Melby said.

"If it is a property rights issue, then where do we draw the line? Is it OK for people upstream to ‘straight pipe' into the stream or dump other pollution into it? I think not, and sediment from run-off is clearly very damaging."

Jackie Whitmire, president of the Transylvania County Farm Bureau, attended a stream reclassification workshop.

"I could not help but think that the property owners along the Boylston Creek must have done a very good job of protecting the water there, given the excellent state of the waters," Whitmire said.

She said she was amazed that for all that effort those property owners seem now to face being penalized.

"I wonder if this would take the incentive away to keep other streams pollutant free in the future," she said. "There must be a better way to monitor stream quality without infringing on a person's property rights and taking land."

County Commissioner Jason Chappell was one of 18 people who recently went to Raleigh to attend a hearing in support of the Guice bill.

"The stated purpose of the rules has been to create or foster an environment where trout can live, thrive and reproduce," Chappell said. "In this case that is exactly what we already have. Why now does the state want to change what has worked?"

Chappell said the citizens of the Boylston Creek area have sacrificed time, effort, resources, and money to make sure that the streams are in the condition that they are currently in.

"The citizens should be commended, thanked and congratulated for the hard work, not punished for doing a good job," he said. "The punishment comes from the fact they are the ones who have gotten the streams to the level they are, and now they would no longer be able to use their property within the 25 feet buffer minus a few designated uses, without permission."

Chappell said the criteria for gaining a waiver are also not clear.

This includes the probability of not being able to rebuild a home if it is damaged and the foundation or other parts of the structure are currently in the proposed 25-foot buffer.

"This is another attempt at a governmental overreach," Chappell said. "A non-elected regulatory group decided to reclassify and started the process."

Chappell said they didn't notify property owners in advance nor did they notify the county commissioners nor the Town of Mills River.

"Local elected leaders were not part of the process," he said. "Both boards have twice passed resolutions against this process. Both public information hearings that were held locally showed overwhelming support for not reclassifying the Boylston Creek. Local government at the closest level to the people is government that knows the needs of the people best."

 
 

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