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DRBA urges county supervisors to show support for Smith River

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Representatives of the Dan River Basin Association (DRBA) on Tuesday asked the Henry County Board of Supervisors for a letter of support to recognize the Smith River and its economic potential and for Henry County to be represented at all future stakeholder meetings regarding the Smith River.

The emphasis is “on taking more control of our water resources, utilizing them for the benefit of our community,” Brian Williams, program manager for DRBA, said in an email.

“It’s not just about fishing or boating or trails. It’s about the whole recreational, historical and cultural natural resource package we have to offer in Henry County and the Dan River Basin region. We (cannot) reach the potential of our river until we have a flow schedule more conducive to improving the fishery and the recreational opportunities on the Smith,” Williams wrote.

“For the Smith River to progress as an economic engine, we must sit down at the table with all stakeholders and work on a plan to improve the flow regime from Philpott Dam and utilize that resource to the benefit of the citizens of Henry and the surrounding counties,” Williams wrote.

Williams and Andy Parker said at the supervisors meeting that they think there needs to be minimum flows on the Smith River on weekends to increase recreation.

Parker, a former supervisor, also said he thinks this area has the potential of the Bryson City, N.C., area, which he said has great economic benefit related to the Nantahala River.

According to congressional testimony by Sutton Bacon of the Nantahala Outdoor Center Inc. on June 22, 2011, a study by researchers at Western Carolina University estimated that whitewater recreation on the Nantahala annually contributes more than $85 million to the local economy and represents 1,061 jobs in the eight westernmost counties in North Carolina. The study also showed there were intangible benefits to the region, such as contributing to the cultural life and reputation of the region as a tourism destination.

The Nantahala Outdoor Center is an employee-owned outdoor recreation company in Swain County, N.C.

The supervisors decided to take some time to review some information that Williams provided and consider his request.

Also at its 3 p.m. meeting Tuesday, supervisors considered approving an additional appropriation of $8,655.58 as the county’s share of 3 percent state bonuses for employees of the Henry-Martinsville Health Department. The health department had calculated that the county was due a refund of $5,162.39 from the county’s fiscal year 2012 contribution to the health department, making a difference of $3,493.19. The health department asked to keep the refund amount and requested an additional appropriation of $3,493.19 to cover the remainder of the cost of the bonuses.

County staff reluctantly recommended approval of the $8,655.58 appropriation, according to a board document.

It states: “Staff has a fundamental issue with paying for a bonus to employees over whom neither the board of supervisors nor the county administrator has any supervisory control. Staff also has a problem contributing to these bonuses when our own employees have no extra money coming their way. This (in) no way should be taken as a criticism of the employees of the Henry-Martinsville Health Department, but rather of a system that makes localities pay for something they had no part in approving or managing. Staff has reached out to our General Assembly representatives to seek a remedy for this inherently unfair practice.”

After County Administrator Tim Hall went over the information above with the supervisors, Dr. Gordon Green, director of the West Piedmont Health District, asked for time to speak. He said, among other things, the health department was requesting only the $5,162.39 already funded by the county. Green said he believes the health department can make up the other $3,493.19 within its budget. He said the health department manages funds contributed by localities very well, and, on average, for every $1 a locality puts in to the health department, the health department generates $3.50. He said the health department aggressively pursues grants.

The supervisors approved an appropriation of $5,162.39.

Hall said in an interview that Green’s request for $5,162.39 was a change in the health department’s original request.

On another matter, the supervisors approved a resolution concerning sequestration, or automatic budget cuts that will take effect if no federal budget resolution is reached before the end of the year.

The resolution urges Congress and the administration “to amend the Budget Control Act to mitigate (or lessen) the drastic cuts to state and local governments, including education, that would affect our students and communities.”

The act “will impose $1.2 trillion in across-the-board budget cuts to almost all federal programs. Unless it is acted upon by Congress, it will become effective on Jan. 2, 2013,” a board document states. It added that sequestration reductions will have significant implications for Henry County.

The supervisors also approved a list of projects for submission in the regional Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS).

Each year the West Piedmont Regional Economic Development District — which serves Henry, Patrick, Franklin and Pittsylvania counties, the cities of Martinsville and Danville, and the town of Rocky Mount — compiles an updated CEDS, a board document states. It adds, “The plan will be forwarded to the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) to maintain the eligibility of participating localities to receive EDA funding.”

Local proposed projects are:

• Priority 1: site work on the Commonwealth Crossing Business Center; building a 40-slip marina at Philpott Lake; providing PSA sewer service to three wastewater lagoons along Grassy Creek and sewer to U.S. 58; the Monta Vista water line (ties Monta Vista system to Oak level system); a multi-phased streetscape enhancement project designed to improve the Virginia Avenue (U.S. 220) corridor; various river access and trails projects;

Upgrade the Philpott water plant; upfit the county-owned shell building at the former DuPont site; develop a speculative hangar for aviation-related business at Blue Ridge Regional Airport; infrastructure improvements (water and sewer) to serve Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre (water/sewer/fiber conduit); grading of lot 2 at Patriot Centre at Beaver Creek;

Extension of water service along U.S. 58 west corridor to Mayo River and adjacent residential areas and to Blue Ridge Airport; South Street community development project; development of the Baldwin block.

• Priority 2: continue to retrofit county buildings to make them more efficient in utility usage; infrastructure improvements at Patriot Center; develop lots 3, 4 and 5 at Commonwealth Crossing;

• Priority 3: study and implement a plan to encourage entrepreneurial activities; upper Smith to lower Smith force main (force main to connect PSA sewer lines to allow lower Smith to treat all of county’s sewer); Philpott water storage tank (construct a 750,000-gallon water tank to improve water distribution).


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