At the beginning of this year, a survey conducted by the Lake James Environmental Association indicated that many believe McDowell County is not doing enough to protect the lake from pollution. Now, a representative of this association says the McDowell side of the lake is under assault.
Jeff Noble is a resident of High Trail Drive in Nebo and a member of the board for the Lake James Environmental Association. Founded in 1973, the LJEA is a non-profit organization with the mission “to protect and enhance the health and beauty of Lake James and its watershed.”
On Saturday, Noble sent an email to both County Planning Director Ron Harmon and The McDowell News containing a photograph he took of the litter and trash in a section of the lake near his home.
“The McDowell side of Lake James is under assault,” he wrote in his email. “Every time it rains more than an inch or two, huge amounts of human litter and trash are swept off the riverbanks and roadsides upstream of Lake James and then flows into Lake James where it settles into an unsightly (and possibly unhealthy) mess.
“This situation is totally unacceptable. And, of all the complex issues that confront one of our most important county ‘jewels,’ this one is the most easily preventable. Moreover, I believe McDowell County, Marion, and Old Fort are at least partially complicit in that they are not enforcing current litter laws and zoning regulations.”
In his email, Noble said he would be glad to meet with Harmon in person to discuss this problem further.
On Monday, he told The McDowell News that he took this photo last Friday afternoon from his kayak directly behind his home.
“As far as other parts of the lake being affected, there may be some relatively minor effect (eventually), but because of the fact that 2/3 of the water volume flows into the lake on the McDowell side and because it flows through more urban areas, the McDowell side as compared to Burke (and especially the Arbor and Black Forest communities) seem to bear the brunt of the problem,” he wrote in an email.
He added that, as of Monday, the lake looks a little better.
“The trash is more dispersed and/or more settled back in the coves,” he wrote Monday. “That said, much trash is still floating out in the middle of the lake. I was down at my dock this morning and was able to scoop up trash as it floated by (including a completely full can of paint).
“I believe that there are many things that can be done to get a handle on this problem, and that the county should play a lead role in doing their part. Like others who have recently moved to McDowell or invested in property here, I have a strong appreciation for all the unique natural amenities of this area, and I am willing to do my part to keep it that way.”
County Manager Ashley Wooten responded to Noble’s email on Monday. He wrote that McDowell County takes the responsibility of proper trash disposal seriously.
“I believe everyone shares your perspective that any amount of trash in the lake is unacceptable,” wrote the county manager. “You are also certainly correct that much of the trash is more than likely washed downstream from somewhere in the 300+ square miles of the county that drains to the lake.”
In his email, Wooten wrote that the county has sponsored the annual Lake James Cleanup for more than 20 years. The county has also implemented several ordinances that require proper disposal of solid waste at either the convenience centers or the transfer station.
“We also require that vehicles hauling solid waste tarp their loads to prevent trash from blowing onto the roadsides,” wrote the county manager. “Unfortunately not everyone follows the rules and ordinances, so the McDowell County Sheriff's Office solid waste enforcement officer is frequently out responding to calls about illegal dumps and littering. Also, while the County does not have authority over roads, County staff often fields calls about litter along the roadsides and forwards that information to NCDOT.”
Wooten wrote he would ask Matt Burneisen of the Keep McDowell Beautiful office to contact Noble and get more information about where the photo was taken and offer assistance for coordinating cleanup activities. He also invited Noble to meet him and his staff and figure out a possible solution to the problem.
That same day, Noble got a phone call from Burneisen about the situation. He said he was surprised to hear that the Sheriff’s Office has a litter enforcement officer since he understood that this position had been vacant for two years.
“The good news is that Ashley offered a meeting,” wrote Noble to The McDowell News. “My objective for this future meeting would be to get a commitment from McDowell County to assume a leadership role in analyzing the problem and in beginning to identify long term solutions (not just a volunteer led annual cleanup). I also think that LJEA should play an active support role.”
In January, the LJEA released the results of a 2017-2018 survey about the condition of the lake and the role of the association. The survey showed a difference of opinion between McDowell residents and Burke residents regarding the overall water quality in the lake that is shared by both counties.
For example, while 51 percent of Burke respondents to the survey rated Lake James’ water quality as excellent only 29 percent of McDowell respondents said the same thing. Those same respondents also said McDowell isn’t doing enough to protect the lake.
The survey posed this question: “In your opinion, are the following doing enough to protect the health of Lake James and its surroundings?” The choices were McDowell County, Burke County, Duke Energy, the state of North Carolina, federal government, LJEA, individuals and others.
Only a very small percentage of the respondents said McDowell is doing enough while approximately 90 percent said McDowell isn’t doing enough. Around 50 percent said they didn’t know.
But on the other hand, around 40 percent said Burke County is doing enough while slightly more than 40 percent said Burke isn’t doing enough. More than 60 percent said they didn’t know.
As for Duke Energy, 20 percent of the respondents said the electrical utility giant is doing enough while almost 80 percent said it isn’t doing enough. Around 50 percent said they didn’t know. Almost 80 percent said the state isn’t doing enough. The results were similar for the federal government. Around 90 percent said the LJEA was doing a good job protecting the health of the lake and its surroundings.