By Kathy Ross • Guest Columnist
In the last few weeks, I’ve been stuck between speaking my mind and doing what is best for my community. I hate it when systems operate that way, always believing wide-open debate is the best and most honest way to run government. But the remake of the Pigeon River Fund’s board put me up against that principle.
In 1997 the fund was created when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a license for what was then Carolina Power & Light, later Progress Energy, to use the Pigeon River to generate power at its Walters Plant. In exchange, the owner, now Duke Power, is to set aside money each year, building a fund to improve water quality, access and education.
It’s been more than a month since seven of the Pigeon River Fund Board’s nine members learned that a dictum from Raleigh was booting them off midterm, but the restructured board is still raising eyebrows and ire. Typically, the board recommends replacements to fill vacancies when a member’s three-year term ends in August, and the secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources approves them. This go-around, however, that didn’t happen.
A trust fund backed by Progress Energy that has funneled more than $2 million and counting to water quality projects in Haywood County since the mid-1990s is not in jeopardy following the merger of the utility with Duke Energy.
While the Pigeon River Trust Fund isn’t threatened in the short term, the lucrative water quality funding stream isn’t a sure bet forever.
The annual payment of $290,000 ponied up by Progress Energy — and soon by Duke post merger — will eventually run out.
Few rivers have been the focus of as much controversy over the last century as the Pigeon, a fact that makes it worthwhile to also celebrate the victories as the controversy fades away and a whole new era emerges. A major milestone in those efforts — the lifting of the last advisory against eating fish caught downstream of the paper mill in Canton — occurred earlier this month, one that is among the best pieces of news in the river’s recent history.
A new initiative is now underway to encourage landowners to keep the Upper Pigeon River Valley in the Bethel community of Haywood County rural.
On-going farmland conservation efforts in the rural Haywood County community of Bethel got a boost with a $20,000 grant from the Pigeon River Fund this month.
The Haywood County center of the NC Cooperative Extension Service has received a $15,000 grant from the Pigeon River Fund. This project will promote understanding of storm water issues and implement at least 10 residential rain pockets, a storm water best management practice.