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‘Save Beaucatcher’ group says Asheville citizens are being lied to


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Helen’s Bridge

Bothwell weighs in on side of anti-greenway movement

By Roger McCredie-   Spokespersons for a group of citizens who oppose plans for developing a greenway on Beaucatcher Mountain are now accusing city employees and others of lying to cover up the potential damage that constructing one could cause.

Meanwhile dueling petitions are circulating, one urging Asheville City Council to give final approval to completion of the project and the other asking that it be discarded altogether.  And Councilman Cecil Bothwell has added his voice to the greenway opposition, saying he will “do all I can” to prevent the greenway, in its contemplated form, from happening.

It’s all unfolding as council prepares to take up the issue at its April 12 meeting.

The “Beaucatcher Corridor,” which is intended to serve as the greenway’s footprint, begins at the parking lot above McCormick Field and meanders northward, uphill, over, and then down again, ending at Helen’s Bridge.  It is the final link in the “River to Ridge” greenway network, a necklace of hiking and bike paths, in various stages of completion, running in a counterclockwise semicircle from the banks of the French Broad to Beaucatcher, which forms the eastern shoulder of central Asheville.  Much of the corridor comprises a generations-old hiking trail through what many agree is the last section of wild woodland within the city limits.

Proponents say the Beaucatcher greenway would be a jewel in the city’s crown, affording superb hiking and bicycling as well as spectacular views of downtown.  Conservationists say it would ravage the hillside forest, scar the landscape, and obliterate irreplaceable old-growth trees. Property owners fear its proposed ten-foot asphalt roadbed would cause catastrophic stormwater runoff, resulting in mudslides and flooding.  Critics of city government see it as another example of reckless disregard for the consequences of pushing through a pet project.

On February 29, a group of environmentalists and Beaucatcher property owners calling themselves “Friends of Beaucatcher Mountain” began circulating an online petition calling for city council to reconsider its existing set of plans for the Beaucatcher Greenway.

The petition was started by Lisa Bakale-Wise, an attorney from New York by way of New Orleans, and her fiancé, Will Spoon, a native of Black Mountain.  The two became aware of the proposed Beaucatcher Greenway development when they bought a house on White Pine Drive, adjacent to the greenway acreage.

“For eight months,” their petition’s preamble states, “community members have suggested viable options that accomplish the same goals faster, cheaper, with less environmental damage, and with community support instead of opposition. Asheville Parks refuses to conduct any environmental impact assessment by qualified professionals.”

The petition had collected 479 signatures as of March 27.

Meanwhile, on March 15, Dana Davis, a member of Asheville’s Parks and Greenways Commission, launched a counter-petition in support of the plan.  Davis’ petition, which has 845 signatures through March 29, is aggressively dismissive of the Friends’ petition, decrying “misinformation” and setting forth a list of rumor-versus-fact points.

The first of those points claims that “only a dozen trees” will be removed to make way for the greenway’s southern trailhead, as opposed to the 82 trees, many of them old-growth, the Friends of Beaucatcher say are doomed.

But the city’s own tree removal spreadsheet, incorporated in the Beaucatcher Greenway plans, does in fact show a total of 82 trees scheduled for removal at the time the Friends’ petition was started, and revisions put that number at 135.  Several trees, mostly oaks, have diameters of between 25 and 28 inches.

According to Department of Commerce calculations, an oak tree with a 25” diameter is roughly 125 years old.

“All we have put forward are the facts that we took from source documents provided by the project planners,” Spoon told the Tribune.  “The [pro-greenway petition’s] 800 signatures [are the] product of misleading information and a powerful PR effort from the many people involved in the project; we have a very small network and limited resources in comparison.”

Davis had not replied to the Tribune’s invitation to respond by press time.

Spoon also flatly stated that City of Asheville Greenways Coordinator Lucy Crown “lied about the number of trees to be removed” in an article published in the Asheville Citizen-Times on March 15.  In that article, Crown is quoted as saying, “much less than 82 trees” would be cleared for the greenway.

But Crown told the Tribune Tuesday that she was misquoted in the Citizen-Times article.  “In all 135 trees are due to be cut along the whole greenway site,” she confirmed, but only 12 are to be cut at the southern trailhead site.  That’s where that twelve trees figure came from.  I was misquoted in that article.”

Enter Councilman Bothwell, who says he is concerned about the loss of trees but even more concerned about the overall impact that installing a greenway may have on Beaucatcher Mountain, period.

Earlier this month Bothwell said he was “shocked” by the methodology the city intends to use in constructing the Beaucatcher Greenway.  He outlined his objections in a guest editorial in the Citizen-Times on March 27, as follows:

— Stairs at both ends of the greenway “make any claim for ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliance laughable and throw into question the whole rationale” for installing a paved roadbed along and over the ridge.

— The paving will cost about $500,000, which is due to come out of the city’s stormwater fund at a time when flooding and erosion repair are already straining stormwater resources.  “Do we want to create and correct a new set of problems before addressing existing ones?” Bothwell asked.

— For that matter, the projected cost of the Beaucatcher project is $3 million, double the old rule of thumb of $1 million per mile.

Bothwell told the Tribune, “The go-ahead for this project was approved before any of us currently on Council were elected. I had only the vaguest idea about the specific plans until they were brought to my attention recently by constituents.   “There has been no real examination of the plan by the current Council up to now,” he said.   “After touring the site and examining the engineering drawings I began to voice concern, first with my fellow Council members and the Parks and Recreation Department … I felt that some of the serious design flaws deserved close scrutiny before we put the plans out for bid [on April 12].

“Mountain True ecologist Bob Gale has toured the proposed route twice and voiced some deep concerns about the damage that will be  inflicted on numerous old trees.” He added.     Bothwell seemed to indicate that as things stand, the Beaucatcher Greenway proposal may indeed go back to the drawing board.  “I can’t speak for other Council members but I believe there are 4 votes questioning the plan as presented,” he told the Tribune.

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