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Environmental groups may merge

Rachel Hodge, left, will become Henderson County's environmental coordinator. She replaces Megan Piner, who was promoted to budget and research analyst. Rachel Hodge, left, will become Henderson County's environmental coordinator. She replaces Megan Piner, who was promoted to budget and research analyst.

ECO, the Hendersonville-based conservation advocacy organization, is considering a merger with the Western Carolina Alliance, an Asheville-based organization with a similar mission.

Members of ECO and the public can find out more about the proposed merger during an information session from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at Bix611, 600 N. Church St. ECO members will vote on the proposal during a meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 8.
The organization's leaders are explaining the proposal to ECO members and exploring how the new larger organization will function at the same time as they deal with the departure of Executive Director Rachel Hodge, whose resignation was unrelated to the merger.
"We've got a lot going on," said ECO chair Jan Partin.
Hodge, who was appointed executive director of ECO a year ago, will become the new environmental coordinator for Henderson County.
"It's a great thing for her, it's a great thing for the county to have an environmental coordinator," said ECO Vice Chair Emily Reasoner said. "I think she'll be really good for the county."
County Manager Steve Wyatt said he recruited Hodge, 27, for the environmental position after he promoted Megan Piner to a budget and research post.
"We're extremely impressed with her," he said of Hodge.
A native of Savannah, Hodge has an undergraduate degree from Georgia College and a masters degree from Florida State University. She was ECO's water quality manager and moved to Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy. She returend to ECO as director in March 2013, replacing David Weintraub.
"I am inspired by the momentum for recycling this community has already embraced and I hope to provide more education and outreach to further encourage the practice of recycling," Hodge said in a written response to questions from the Hendersonville Lightning. "However, recycling is one, although critical, facet of sustainability; I hope that we'll collectively understand and accept the significance of material reuse and waste reduction.
"Holistically, sustainability is a broad field that encompasses much more than waste and energy; it's also about water resources and conservation, transportation, sourcing local products and food, encouraging green-minded businesses to help grow the economy, plus land use and development. In my new position, I hope to paint a bigger picture of sensible options for a truly sustainable future."

County promotes Piner

Hodge replaces Megan Piner, who has been promoted to research and budget analyst. Piner moved into the budget analyst role when Wyatt promoted Amy Brantley assistant county manager. Brantley replaced David Whitson, who retired from Henderson County to accept a job as a church administrator in Candler. Piner holds a bachelors degree in political science and a masters degree in public management from Appalachian State University.
Partin, the ECO chair, said she hopes the organization will continue a relationship with its former director through common environmental goals.
"I think we were all sad to see her go but I think as far as we're concerned we understood why she is doing it," she said. "It's a good career move for her and who knows, the connection we now have with Henderson County could be very beneficial."
ECO leaders are currently working on plans for combining ECO, the Western Carolina Alliance and the Jackson-Macon Conservation Alliance into one large organization serving all of N.C. mountains. The Western Carolina Alliance approached ECO about joining forces.
"They wanted to merge with us, and that is the key word — merge," said Partin, a real estate broker with Beverly Hanks. "We're not being absorbed, we're not going to become something else. We're all going to become one organization, one 501(c) 3."
An exploratory committee has been looking at rebranding and marketing. The new organization, should it become reality, has no name yet. The exploratory committee is also looking into governance and representation from each organization.
"We would have most likely a minimum of two representatives from each area," she said.
The ECO board does intend to fill the vacant executive director post.
"We are going to be hiring an interim director and we're in the process of that now," Partin said. "First of all, with the merger we're not exactly sure what the job description is going to be with this person."
Asheville-based Western Carolina Alliance already covers 22 mountain counties "but they always left us alone because we had ECO," Partin said. It is expected that the merger, if approved, will be headquartered in Asheville with offices in Hendersonville, Franklin and Boone.
"We'll continue to do the things we're doing and we can spend more on programming," she added. "Well have a much stronger we think financial base. The Western Carolina Alliance is much bigger. They have a staff of eight to 10 and they have people with expertise in grant writing and other areas."
Hodge praised ECO's longtime service.
"ECO is such an incredible resource for our area, and after 26 years it has come to be a community pillar for natural heritage protection," she said. "I firmly believe that no matter what, ECO will remain a strong advocate for both the environment and people of Henderson County and WNC.
"What drives ECO is its members, supporters, and volunteers whose commitment to building a resilient community will keep ECO strong even when things around it seem unstable. I have no doubt that ECO's programs and goals will flourish as our region grows and more people and businesses come to WNC to experience the allure of this beautiful place we call home."


Proposed merger

  • ECO would merge with Asheville-based Western Carolina Alliance and the Jackson-Macon Conservation Alliance
  • Formed in 1988, ECO would remain in Hendersonville.
  • The new (unnamed) organization would serve all of Western North Carolina.
  • ECO is holding an information session on the proposal on Saturday, April 12, from 10 a.m. to noon, ECO office, Biz611, at 611 N. Church St.
  • ECO members vote on the merger at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 8, in person or by proxy.