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Mills River strong in farming

MILLS RIVER — The fertile French Broad Valley of Mills River accounts for about half of Henderson County's $800 million agribusiness economy and about 4,000 jobs, Mark Williams, executive director of Ag-HC, told the Mills River Town Council.


Southern Mountain Fresh is the new program for branding and promoting locally grown or produced products. Williams praised the success of new wineries, a new agritourism venture and hard cider production. While growing hops for breweries is an uncertain venture, barley may a better fit for local farmers.
He spoke of the value of designated agricultural districts.
"People move in and don't always understand agriculture," he said, referring to the use of air cannons and fertilizer on farms. Williams said that he had been working with U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows on the farm bill in Congress and added that undocumented farm labor remains a major issue here. Williams concluded by raising hopes of a possible new agribusiness that could significantly boost Mills River. "You nurse them along and hope they materialize. Stay tuned," said Williams.
In other action from the meeting on Thursday, the council:

  • Approved a letter to the U.S. Forest Service opposing the agency's plan to manage the Nantahala and Pisgah national forests as wilderness areas instead of for recreation and logging. in lieu of managing the same forests for sustainability. "There are jobs created by the forest management program from service providers to manufacturing and sale of products resulting from material that is removed," the letter said. An increased risk of wildfires because of uncontrolled forest growth is a threat to property of Mills River residents next to the national forest. The Mills River Fire and Rescue also opposes the proposed land management plan.
  • Authorized signs at the town park about the Mills River. Alyssa Wittenborn, program director of the Mills River Partnership, a nonprofit organization dedicated to water quality protection, presented a proposal for signage in the Town educating people about the watershed. When Councilman Roger Snyder asked who would maintain the signs and Wittenborn responded that in the long run it would be the town's responsibility. After discussion regarding the location of the signs, the council approved the request.
  • Authorized a $70,633 contract to pay the salary and benefits, a patrol vehicle, vehicle maintenance and equipment for town coverage by a sheriff's deputy under a contract with the Sheriff's Department for the 2014-15 year.
  • Set a hearing for a special use permit the Riverside Stump Dump needs to continue operating. Town Manager Jaime Laughter said that Riverside was operating as a non-conforming use in a mised use zone. It is taking on more volume and needed to comply with state solid waste management regulations, one of which requires the company to secure a letter from the town saying it is in compliance with zoning. Laughter reminded the Council that the hearing would be quasi-judicial and that discussion regarding the merits of the application were premature. Council set the hearing for May 22 at 7:15 p.m.
  • Authorized a new three-year contract for Laughter, which pays $75,000 a year. The council also canceled it May 8 meeting, approved a bench on the walking trail, approved a dog agility demonstration in the dog park on May 3 and denied a request by the Domestic Awareness Rights Foundation to play amplified music at a May 10 event at the park.