McDowell Commissioners updated on transportation, shooting range

MIKE CONLEY/MCDOWELL NEWS

On Monday, the McDowell County Commissioners heard about the latest developments at Lake James State Park, which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. Superintendent Nora Coffey and Judge Bob Hunter with the Friends of Lake James State Park board gave an update about what’s happening there. They and board member Annette Bryant also presented a plaque to the McDowell County Commissioners.

McDowell County continues to make progress toward establishing a transportation department.

An update on the creation of a new transportation department for McDowell was presented by County Manager Ashley Wooten at Monday’s regular meeting of the County Commissioners.

Wooten said there’s a long list of items that need work before the new department starts operation. One of these is a policy manual that has to be in place. This is mandated by the N.C. Department of Transportation.

County officials are now accepting applications for the new Transportation Advisory Board as well. They said the preference is for the new board and its by-laws to be finalized by the December meeting.

Furthermore, the county is looking to hire a transportation director, who can oversee the department.

“There’s not a lot of action tonight but a lot is happening,” said Wooten to the commissioners. “A lot will be done next month.”

In a similar matter, McDowell officials are continuing to work with the state about the proposed shooting range.

Last month, Commissioner Tony Brown, Planning Administrator Ron Harmon and Wooten traveled to Raleigh to talk about the shooting range project with N.C. Wildlife staff. State officials told them about a possible timeline and other public ranges that have opened up in the last year or two. These might be good places to visit or call about, said county officials.

A sound test by an independent firm will be conducted later this month and a public meeting will have to be held to discuss the range. That meeting will likely be held in January.

N.C. Wildlife officials have said their department would build the shooting range. The county would be responsible for maintenance and minor repairs. McDowell officials said Monday they wanted to make sure the state would be responsible if major work is needed at the shooting range in the future.

“They did make the commitment to us that this would be a partnership with them,” said Brown.

In other business, the McDowell County Commissioners heard about the latest developments at Lake James State Park, which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. Superintendent Nora Coffey and Judge Bob Hunter with the Friends of Lake James State Park board gave an update about what’s happening there. When he was a state representative, Hunter played an important role in getting the park established back in the late 1980s.

Coffey said the new $3 million visitor’s center is now being designed, which is a result of a bond referendum passed by North Carolina voters. A ground-breaking ceremony will take place in the spring. The park has 10 permanent positions and this is expected to increase when the visitor’s center opens.

Coffey and Hunter said they wish to add an RV campground at the park but the funding for that is not yet been available.

Lake James State Park now averages close to 600,000 visitors a year and it’s expected to grow.

“We’re growing in population every year,” said Coffey.

During Monday’s meeting, Coffey, Hunter and board member Annette Bryant presented a plaque to the McDowell County Commissioners.

In a similar matter, the commissioners approved a request from representatives from the McDowell Trails Association (MTA) about the Fonta Flora State Trail.

The MTA recently received a Duke Energy grant to help plan the routing of the Fonta Flora State Trail from the Burke-McDowell county line at Lake James towards the McDowell House. This trail will have a website and an interactive map for trail users. The total cost of the project is $48,300.

Duke Energy Foundation awarded the MTA $27,000 towards the project while Burke County provided a match of $16,000. At Monday’s meeting, MTA representatives asked the McDowell Commissioners to financially support this effort by giving the remaining $5,300.

MTA President Frank Dean said this trail that will run along Lake James and through McDowell will help promote our natural beauty to tourists and others.

“I think you can see what an economic engine we are creating here,” he said to the commissioners.

County officials approved providing the remaining $5,300.

Before the regular meeting got started, the commissioners met with architect Chuck Hamrick about the ongoing renovation work for the courthouse.

The idea is to add a third courtroom to the existing building, which was completed in 1923. Hamrick’s plan calls for it to be located behind the courthouse on the top level of the parking deck. The renovation work for the courthouse also includes repairing the leaks on that parking deck and replacing the windows in the building. County officials are also looking to upgrade the heating and air conditioning system.

Wooten said Hamrick has not given updated cost estimates for this work. The focus now is trying to see how this renovation would affect courthouse functions.

“We’re just trying to get an understanding about what the impact to the facility and the employees would be,” said the county manager.

In other business, the McDowell County Commissioners:

• Heard a report from Doug Gouge, the county’s veterans services officer, about the important economic impact that veterans have on our local community.

• Announced that November 2017 is Manufacturing Month in McDowell County.

• Approved a series of water system leak adjustments, project budget ordinances, project closeouts and budget amendments.

• Reappointed Chris Allison as a full-time member of the Planning Board and Terry Young as an alternate member.

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