McDowell Commissioners discuss litter problem

The McDowell County Commissioners said they are concerned about roadside litter and trash in this community and will look at ways to address the situation.

During the regular meeting on Monday, County Manager Ashley Wooten said he and several commissioners have heard quite a bit from local residents about McDowell’s litter problem.

“We’ve got a lot of trash in McDowell County,” said Commission Chairman David Walker.

At the citizen comment portion of Monday’s meeting, local residents voiced their concerns to county officials.

“I live on Old Fort/Sugar Hill Road and there’s litter everywhere,” said Judy Long to the board.

Long said she recently picked up three trash bags full of litter from the road.

“This is ridiculous,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking and it’s very frustrating.”

Walker told Long and others who were at the meeting that if you pick up trash from the side of the road, then you should contact a sheriff’s deputy who can properly go through it and dispose of it. He said sometimes people’s mail gets thrown out along the side of the road. In addition, hypodermic needles or illegal substances have been found along the roadsides.

And it is not just roadsides that are threatened. According to the latest report, Lake James continues to have good water quality but that could be threatened by the trash coming into it, particularly the amount coming from the McDowell side.

“Any amount of man-made litter or trash in Lake James or its watershed is too much, given that unlike many other environmental threats, this is one threat that is easily preventable,” reads the State of Lake James Watershed Report issued in January. “Lake James is being overwhelmed with trash, especially on the western (McDowell) side where two thirds of its total water volume enters the lake. This problem is all the more shocking given that Lake James is a ‘headwaters lake’ and that it drains a mostly rural area.”

On Saturday, March 23, the annual Lake James Cleanup of the Burke side will take place from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. starting in the Paddy’s Creek Area of Lake James State Park. The event is a partnership of the Community of Lake James Inc., the Lake James Area Wildlife and Nature Society, Lake James State Park and the Lake James Environmental Association. More than 200 volunteers recovered 10 tons of trash and 165 old tires during last year’s cleanup, according to a story by The News Herald of Morganton.

But the State of Lake James Watershed Report stated that these annual cleanups can only do so much. “Volunteer annual lake cleanups are helpful but much too limited, treat only the symptom, and don’t get at the root cause or actively deal with prevention,” reads the report.

An article from The McDowell News about this report was included in the agenda packet for the commissioners.

On Monday, the commissioners voted to direct the Planning Board to evaluate current littering rules in McDowell. The Planning Board will recommend back to the commissioners any revised or new ordinances that should be adopted to address the issue. The commissioners also voted to send a resolution to the General Assembly to request that the state of North Carolina increase fines for littering.

In other business, the McDowell County Commissioners:

• Approved the wayfinding signage agreement with the McDowell Tourism Development Authority. Through this effort, signs will be placed around McDowell directing motorists to such attractions as the Blue Ridge Parkway, Catawba Falls, Lake James, the trails, downtown Marion and Old Fort’s attractions. The TDA will be responsible for the installation and the upkeep of these signs.

• Heard a presentation from Bob Yutzy about the maintenance of the dams within the Muddy Creek Watershed. The county currently budgets $20,000 a year for ongoing maintenance of these watershed/flood control structures.

• Approved an agreement with the city of Marion and the McDowell Trails Association about the maintenance of trails in McDowell.

• Heard an update about the third courtroom, which is close to being completed. The contractor has started renovating other areas of the building, including the former law library on the third floor. The space underneath the new courtroom (formerly a portion of the parking deck) was originally not to be renovated as part of the courthouse project. But officials with the new public defender’s office have indicated they would prefer to be in that space, rather than a temporary office on West Court Street. Architect Chuck Hamrick prepared a sketch to give county officials an idea of how the space could be used for the new public defender’s office. Early estimates of the work are in the $315,000 to $350,000 range. Wooten suggested to the commissioners that they might want to ask the General Assembly for funding assistance since their action created the necessity for the space. The commissioners agreed to do this.

• Agreed to allow the county government become the new fiscal agent for the MATCH program. MATCH stands for McDowell Access To Care & Health. It is a streamlined system of health care “that improves access to care, engages the patient in their physical, behavioral and social health and utilizes community resources in the best way possible.”

• Agreed to reappoint Wooten and former Commissioner Dean Buff to the Isothermal Planning and Development Commission.

• Approved the records retention schedule. Every several years, the state archives department updates the records retention and disposition schedule for various county departments, which has to be adopted by counties.

• Adopted a resolution supporting a statewide initiative for legislative funding that would reestablish a passenger rail connection for western North Carolina. The resolution states that McDowell County “fully supports the creation of an attractive, marketable and cost effective bus-rail connection service for Western North Carolina.” The resolution also calls for new funding for a two-year trial period by the N.C. General Assembly to the state Department of Transportation Rail Division for a proposed Amtrak Thruway bus service between Asheville and Salisbury. “This service will be evaluated prior to the completion of two years by Amtrak, the North Carolina Department of Transportation Rail Division, the Western North Carolina Rail Committee, Inc. and the communities served by the Salisbury-Asheville bus-rail connection,” according to the resolution.

• Held 25-minute closed session regarding a personnel matter. No action was taken after the closed session.

• Agreed to hold a special meeting on Monday, March 18 at 11:30 a.m. to hear updates about the Department of Social Services.

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