Protecting Henderson County’s rural character requires a renewed effort by citizens to insure that growth doesn’t come at the expense of clean water, clean air, or protected viewscapes. ECO’s Green Infrastructure Committee has begun to look into several areas that could dramatically make a difference. Please join us to protect this sacred place. Committee meetings are held the third Thursday at 4:00 PM.
Storm Water Runoff
Forest cover and farmland are being converted for use as homes, streets, and shopping centers. Where there used to be acres of land to absorb rainfall, there are now paved surfaces and rooftops. These surfaces use gutters and storm drains to channel rainwater directly into streams. Stormwater runoff never gets filtered. It picks up contaminants including pesticides, fertilizers, automotive oil and grease, bacteria and viruses, and trash. It is the single largest source of pollution in our streams and rivers and is dangerous to human and environmental health.
Stormwater can be managed if we adopt systems that mimic nature. Instead of directing runoff into streams, we can direct it to swales (grassy areas and ponds), rain gardens, and sandy filters. We can put into our communities permeable pavements, green roofs and cisterns. The plans of residential and commercial developers can include conserving a site’s natural way of distributing runoff, known as Low Impact Development (LID).
The county has begun some exploratory measures to determine the level of runoff in the county watersheds. The more citizens get involved in the process, the faster the county will adopt a local ordinance. Sedimentation and erosion inspections are already going on, so adding this level of work should not be burdensome and will be paid for by permitting fees that are now going to Raleigh. Developers would benefit by getting faster turnaround on their storm management plans. By adopting a local plan, the county would insure best management practices for stormwater management are followed including:
►Imposing limits on the percent of impervious surface allowed in new developments, ►requiring that buffers of 75-100 feet must be maintained along wetlands, springs, streams or any other bodies of water, ►requiring natural filters or buffers be put in place to remove pollutants from stormwater runoff where needed to prevent erosion and more.
Open Space Plan
Open space is land not intensively developed for residential, commercial, industrial or institutional use. As open space is appropriated for homes, streets, and shopping centers, more asphalt and concrete surfaces are created allowing for increased stormwater runoff damage and pollution. The natural environment becomes more fragmented, contributing to habitat and biodiversity destruction, environmental degradation, and urban sprawl. Forest land and farmland is lost. Local economy is impaired as the aesthetics and health of the environment is reduced.
Creating an Open Space Plan for the county will protect farmland, hardwood forests and more. The county has made some progress by adopting a recent ordinance that encourages conservation design. We need to take it the next step.
Adopt land use policies that conform to the terrain and the needs of the environment to sustain itself. Require new development to dedicate 25 to 50% (depending upon topography of development site) to open space with appropriate LID requirements. Create and maintain buffer zones for any surface water on any new development.
Limit new development to 25% slope in mountain areas. Create opportunities for greenways, a linear chain of open space preserves.
Steep Slopes Restrictions
Building a home on steep slopes presents many challenging problems. Our present Land Development Code permits the construction of subdivisions on slopes up to 60%. The Land of Sky Regional Council prepared a report which explored the negative impacts of developing on steep slopes including their effect on water quality, septic tanks, landslides, wells, roadways, sedimentation and erosion, storm drainage runoff, roadway maintenance, emergency response, ground water recharge, forest fires, etc. Their report also states that the steeper the slope the greater the need for a larger defensible distance between the trees and the home. For example, a 20% slope should maintain 30’ around the home, but for a 40% slope the distant should be 100’ from the home. This is only one example of the impacts of developing on steep slopes.
From reviewing information available on this subject the overwhelming recommendation for developing on slopes is not to exceed 25%. The Land of Sky Report was very professionally prepared and thoroughly documented and we urge all interested parties to read it.
- Where do we go from here?
How do we insure that we as individuals protect the balance of the land yet to be developed? Let your voice be known at Commission meetings, write your letters, send E-Mails and use the telephone. Protect the natural resources of the mountains by not allowing building construction on slopes greater than 25%.
Wastewater Treatment Consolidation
Package sewage treatment plants are an approved method of treating raw sewage emanating from industrial, commercial or residential projects. They fill a need in order to develop projects and provide a higher degree of treatment than septic tank / drain-fields.
The question is how many small wastewater treatment plants should be allowed upstream of the proposed drinking intake that will serve as the main water supply for over 60,000 people in the county? As we speak there are approximately 110 small package wastewater treatment plants that discharge their effluent into streams, small tributaries or directly into the French Broad River upstream from the proposed inlet.
What actually happens when there is a mechanical failure to either the STP or the pump station at the treatment plant?
If the pumps in the pump station fail or have an electrical shutdown, they could cause a very serious health hazard. If the problem is not fixed by the time the station fills, then you have a raw sewage overflow. It doesn’t get much worse then that. That is raw sewage going into the receiving water body. The only other situation that may be as bad is a sludge overflow from the plant itself. This can be caused by any number of problems, i.e., mechanical breakdown, poor design, overloading, improper maintenance or operation.
Raw sewage or sludge entering our waterway is unacceptable. ECO needs help to monitor these and other environmentally hazardous material. Please sign up and volunteer your time to help keep our beautiful mountains, rivers and streams clean and safe.
The County Engineer has already begun looking at how to take individual package plants off-line and there is currently discussions about the county purchasing the privately-owned Etowah sewer system. This is a potential revenue source for the county since that can get access to Clean Water Trust Fund monies to hook up to a regional course at Woodfin and they get user fees from residential and commercial users. From the environmental perspective its an ideal choice provided that the additional infrastructure doesn’t increase development out of proportion.
ECO is determined to begin its own bacterial testing to determine the scope of the problem and to alert policymakers. Commissioners need to hear from the public that this is a twice green proposition.