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LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: In power-line fight, history repeats itself

County plunges
into another war

Henderson County’s history of fighting disruptive land-use projects goes back to at least 1961, when the TVA hatched a plan to dam the French Broad River and create 14 large impoundments.

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“The political struggle for control of the Upper French Broad and its tributaries pitted defiant citizens, organized as the Upper French Broad Defense Association (UFBDA), against TVA and their government supporters from Brevard to Washington,” a UNC Asheville student, Stewart Massey, wrote in a 2013 senior thesis on the fight.
Led by Jere Brittain, a sociology professor and descendant of a family that pioneered the Mills River area, a young state House member named Charles Taylor and others, the citizen uprising prevailed. TVA abandoned the plan. Whether that same spirit of the mountains can stop the Duke Energy transmission line might be a long shot. On the other hand, having stood in the observation tower overlooking the pitched battles over an incinerator, an asphalt plant, the Blue Ridge Bike Bash, the Asheville airport speedway and other land-use changes the community regarded as grave threats to a way of life, we’ve learned not to count out Henderson County’s ability to take down Goliath.
“I haven’t seen anything like this since the building height fight,” said state Sen. Tom Apodaca, recalling a proposed high-rise condo Hendersonville voters shot down in a 2006 referendum.
Keep in mind that citizens won all of those fights. There is no incinerator, asphalt plant, motorcycle festival, speedway or high-rise Sunflower. Even if Duke Energy is the exception that proves the rule, by the time it starts stringing wire high over the Blue Ridge, it will know it’s been in a fight.
One of the most powerful legislators in Raleigh, Apodaca joined Reps. Chuck McGrady and Chris Whitmire and veteran County Commissioner in expressing frustration with how little they can do to influence the newest disruption — the proposed 45-mile transmission line and held up by 10-story towers 350 yards apart.
“This is the most frustrating thing that I’ve found this board confronted with since I’ve been on it,” said Commissioner Grady Hawkins. “And the reason is this board finds itself in a gun fight and we’ve not got any bullets.”
The bullets will belong to the people who hire the attorneys who specialize in utility regulation law on the state and federal level.
The fight against the power line has already created coalitions of disparate farm groups, homeowners associations and tourism promoters. So great was the uproar that the N.C. Utilities Commission opened a docket before Duke had even applied for a permit. The regulator has begun uploading the first wave of what figures to be hundreds of comments laying out the case to either build a bigger plant natural gas plant and abandon the transmission line or somehow follow existing power line rights of way.
A win is a long shot, yes, but the battle is shaping up as another Henderson County classic. Our unusual mix of mountain stubbornness, deep connection to the land, legal and corporate savvy and engineering and scientific expertise has coalesced before to defeat powerful economic forces. Maybe it will again. Whatever the outcome, it’s going to be one helluva ride.