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Commissioners look at county recreation needs and revisit wind-energy ordinance  

Continuing to work through a heavy load of issues, County Commissioners met again in an extended work session March 3.

Topics for discussion included the proposed Land Transfer Tax and plans to build a new athletic field in the Beaver Creek community to help offset the need for more athletic fields.

“We need ball fields and we need soccer fields that seems to be more and more what Parks and Recreation is hearing because soccer is getting to be a big thing now and we don’t have the room to put all these facilities in,” said County Manager Dan McMillan.

Following the work session the commissioners met in regular session.

Jane Banks, executive director of Ashe Services for Aging gave an update on the county aging plan.
Reading from the Ashe County Aging Plan, Banks explained that mandated by state law, the Division of Aging and Adult Services is required to submit an Aging Services Plan to the NC General Assembly every five years. In the spring of 2006 one county in each of the state’s 17 regions was selected to participate in a consumer-driven process to develop an effective plan to create senior-friendly communities to meet the unique needs of the senior population. In Region D, Ashe County was selected to participate in the process of planning a senior-friendly community and Ashe Services for Aging was asked to serve as the lead agency. In Sept. 2006, county commissioners created a 14 member Ashe County Planning Committee with the task of developing a five-year aging plan for county residents. As part of the planning process the committee took a three-prong approach to gather information; first a random survey was conducted with a 30 percent response rate from the surveys. The survey forms collected information on wellness, transportation, access to services and public spaces, recreation facilities and activities and community life among other topics. Next the committee held a series of comprehensive interviews and focus groups with more than 50 support service providers, health professionals and civic organizations. After two-months of data collection from the surveys and focus groups the committee produced an analytical report and established ten priorities for future action.
In Feb. 2008 the committee chose four of the ten initiatives to begin creating action plans to address the concerns-Information and Assistance; Transportation; Housing, Maintenance and Repair and Assistance for Caregivers.

Subcommittees consisting of Aging Plan Committee members, community members, business, industry, service providers and state and local government officials will be formed to address each of the four initiatives. As the program progresses and an initiative is met and removed from the list another from the original ten initiatives will be added.

Representatives of the county Parks and Recreation department made themselves available.

For the last several months Parks and Recreation representatives have been looking for land that will work for needed athletic fields. One possible location is county-owned land in Beaver Creek. The property is currently designated for development of an industrial park but can be temporarily used for athletics. Preliminary plans have been drawn up for how best to use the property and by all indications it is sufficient to allow football and soccer fields, practice fields and parking. Commissioners voted to authorize $5,000 to begin the project.
Commissioners then heard Dr. Richard Calhoun who requested that the commissioners revisit the Ashe County regulation of wind energy systems ordinance.

“As you know the [wind] ordinance was adopted about eight-months ago and I applaud you for the foresight to debate the issue and allow the public to educate themselves as there has been a volume of information to digest and reflect on. I have been following the development of wind power over the last 30 years and it is truly amazing how far the technology has come; currently in Germany, there is a new unit available that will supply 4,000 homes but the unit is tall and the unit is big. The units that were proposed for Big Springs Mountain would supply 300 homes,” Calhoun said.

“My interest in the development of wind ordinances has been to benefit our county. I knew it would be an uphill process but someone needed to start.”

Calhoun stated that he had spent considerable personal funds working to get wind energy started in the area but as the process moved forward he began to realize that a private citizen with limited resources would have difficulty continuing the process. Calhoun informed the board of new studies being conducted on wind energy that supports the development of wind energy on the coast and in the mountains.

Calhoun said he was disappointed that more concern was not being raised over a proposed coal burning power plant in Wythe County Va.

“This plant would be about 40 miles from the NC line and is a $1.6 billion project of Virginia Power that could put an estimated 3,300 tons of sulfur-dioxide into the air that could possibly damage 12,000 acres of the Linville Gorge wilderness area. The prevailing winds would bring the pollution right to us; not only the sulfur-dioxide but also mercury and acid rain would wreck our mountain environment,” Calhoun said.

Calhoun questioned the lack of public and governmental outrage to the proposed plant asking why no one seemed to see the disconnect adding that it was ironic the state attorney general was able to file suit against the Tennessee Valley Authority for its coal-burning plants but no one was questioning the same situation with Virginia.

Calhoun presented the commissioners with updated statistical information on wind energy systems and voiced his displeasure that the county planning board did not have more input in writing the current county ordinance and hoped that they would be involved if the county reconsidered the issue.

Calling the need for more sources of green energy the commissioners thanked Calhoun for appearing before them and assured him that if more data became available that warranted action by them, they would certainly revisit the issue.

“Concerning the ordinance we have adopted here in Ashe County, it is a document that assures in the future Ashe County will be involved in any discussion regarding wind energy; our ordinance is designed to regulate but not prohibit wind energy,” said Chairman Richard Blackburn.

Blackburn then opened the floor up for public comment; Billy Robinson of West Jefferson addressed the commissioners stating, “My comment is simply to congratulate the commissioners on passing the present wind ordinance. Dr. Calhoun suggested that we educate ourselves on the issue; well we need to educate ourselves that there is a vast difference in the topography between Ashe County and Currituck County and no one-size-fits-all ordinance could apply. Another issue we might want to educate ourselves on is the difference between a wind-mill and an industrial-scale wind turbine because we are talking about two different things,” Robinson said.

Following a short executive session for economic development, commissioners reopened the regular session to hear presentations for board appointments.

First presentation was made for the Long-Term Care Joint Advisory Committee. Second presentation was made for the Recreation Advisory Board; Russ Hanes, Dr. Leigh Bradley, Marc Payne, Steve Johnson, Michael Vannoy and Carol Coulter were unanimously approved to serve. Linda McDaniels was appointed to fill the vacant position on the Department of Social Services Board of Directors.

The next commissioner’s meeting is scheduled for March 17 at 3:30 p.m. in the county courthouse. A work session will precede the meeting and will begin at 2:00 p.m. in the second floor conference room of the county courthouse.

By Ron Fitzwater

The Mountain Times

13 March 2008

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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