Last challenge to Duke worth a try

Jackson County is almost at the end of its rope in the fight against Duke Power, but it is important that it make this final appeal. Its citizens deserve one more attempt at getting their fair share in what has become a drawn-out battle.

Jackson County commissioners have decided to try and obtain possession of the Dillsboro Dam through condemnation proceedings. If that works, the county will still have to obtain a permit from the federal government to operate it as a green power source. That is a whole different battle, but first things first — try this one last offensive against Duke.

The battle we are referring to — and that’s truly the best way to describe it — is over what citizens will get from Duke Energy for its right to continue operating its hydropower plants on the region’s rivers. To get new licenses, Duke has had to offer a mitigation package that makes up for the negative effects of building dams, manipulating natural water flows and impacting the environment.

The centerpiece of Duke’s mitigation proposal— arrived at after a multi-year process involving representatives from various federal and state agencies and local governments — is a plan to remove the Dillsboro Dam and re-open a stretch of the Tuckasegee as a free-flowing river. The dam removal plan has made many angry and has led to formal protests from several local governments, with Jackson County leading the way.

The proposal is controversial for several reasons. One, there is scientific disagreement about the potential environmental problems that could occur with sending sediment backed up behind the dam down river. Two, some think the dam is a significant part of Jackson County’s heritage and contributes to the tourism industry in Dillsboro.

Lastly, though, and most important, is that dam removal is simply not adequate compensation for the profit Duke reaps from the region. If Duke had proposed a more wide-ranging and lucrative compensation plan that included dam removal as one component, the protests about the dam may not have been as loud. The major battle cry is not about the dam, but the belief that Duke is not treating the region fairly. As it is, that sentiment has now been boiled down to a fight to prevent the company from having its way with the Dillsboro dam. It’s the final line in the sand for Jackson County.

Commissioner Tom Massie, who voted against continuing the fight against Duke, made several valid points. The county has spent more than a hundred thousand dollars and countless hours in this endeavor. He said that philosophically he wanted to go on, but realistically did not think the county could win.

Perhaps Massie is right. The county may not win. But Jackson County citizens deserve this last-ditch effort.

The grass is always greener ...

Is artificial turf for football fields the best use of lottery proceeds. Apparently school officials in Haywood County think so.

The school board got the county to approve its plan to spend $1.3 million to put artificial turf on the football fields used by Tuscola and Pisgah high schools. Lottery proceeds will be used to pay back a loan to get the job done.

In making the request, it was pointed out that many, many students — from football players to marching band to soccer teams — make use of the stadiums. Also, the artificial turf can stand much more wear and tear, and so it can be used more often by more teams and different groups.

Still, questions are being asked as to whether this is what was intended when legislators approved the “education lottery” a couple of years ago. Artificial turf?

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