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MossColumn: Power line tougher than firing range

Opponents of disruptive land uses have had little to celebrate during this summer of discontent. That changed suddenly and dramatically on Tuesday night when the Henderson County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to kill a shooting range and law enforcement center at the former Camp Flintlock in Green River.

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The commissioners got romanced by Sheriff Charlie McDonald and then sold him out when faced with an uprising by dozens of Green River residents, who were by turns angry, emotional, articulate and even witty.
You can’t throw a rock without hitting a Beddingfield in the Bob’s Creek and Green River communities and a well-struck kickball might have grazed the noggins of a dozen or more citizens from the southern Henderson County pioneer family.
For his part, McDonald was philosophical and gracious in defeat.
“As far as the outcome, it’s how the American system works,” he said after the commissioners shot down a project he’d been working on since last spring. “I feel very confident that the commissioners see the need we have and that they're committed to finding a way to solve the problem. … At least it got the need out on the radar and it wasn’t swept under the rug.”
The question was whether being on the radar is enough to save McDonald’s ambitious proposal for a broad based training center. An area always seems way out in the boondocks until someone proposes an outdoor shooting range or a 10-story high-voltage line. See last year’s Dana shooting range and this year’s Duke Energy transmission line.

Firing line, power line: Is it needed at all?

The opposition to the power line and the shooting range is alike in one way.
Tuesday night one of the stronger arguments dug into the core question not of where to put a shooting range or how well to buffer one but whether a fancy law enforcement training center ought to be a priority in the first place for the governing body of a mid-sized county with a low crime rate. McDonald does a persuasive job defending the need for a range so deputies can qualify to state standards and above and practice tactical procedures outdoors. He’s right when he says we all want law officers to be well trained. But neither McDonald nor the commissioners were able to quell the suspicion that a $3½ million training center on 125 acres of woods with buildings and a pond would be for local law officers only. The commissioners are known for their fiscal discipline and County Manager Steve Wyatt is no slouch when it comes to creative financial structuring. Would they really resist the temptation to monetize this one-of-a-kind facility by renting to agencies across the N.C. mountains?
As we have observed before in regard to the power line opposition, mountain natives are rooted, stubborn and proud when it comes to homesteads passed down through seven and eight generations. From their testimony, at least three quarters of the speakers were natives and most of the rest spoke of having lived here since the 1980s or earlier. These were not newcomers in a golf course subdivision on the other side of Pinnacle Mountain. They didn’t need lawyers and fancy charts. They had their own stories, told from the heart, often with tears. When they were done speaking, few observers sitting in the assembly room would have predicted that a single commissioner had the gall to vote yes on the shooting range. They all voted no.

Duke lives on

County Commissioner Charlie Messer talked Tuesday night of killing two birds with one stone. The board’s throw killed the firing range all right but only beaned Duke Energy.
The Hendersonville City Council and the Board of Commissioners have shown constructive leadership on the power line issue, a welcome contrast to some of the unrealistic demands opponents have floated. The council took a surprisingly bold position, inviting Duke to come through the city provided it minimize property depreciation, erect monopoles and help build a greenway.
In their resolution, county commissioners asked the Public Staff of the Utilities Commission to retain “an independent consultant with expertise in electric utility system master planning to render an independent opinion” on the need for transmission line project. That’s a double declaration of “independents” but it remains unclear how that independent study differs from the role of the public staff itself, which by law is required to objectively evaluate a utility application and render an independent recommendation to the Utilities Commission on behalf of ratepayers.
More encouraging was the sense that Henderson County and the Hendersonville City Council are united in asking Duke Energy to run the lines along existing easements and make the structures as visually bearable as possible and to allow greenways underneath them.
Tuesday night county commissioners felt the love from Green River with a single unanimous vote. They’ve got to be wishing that the transmission line fight were as easy.