By Diane Tilson, Chair, Watauga County Democratic Party:
May 13 marked the one year anniversary of the formation of High Country WATCH. Little did we know, when this group formed to fight the proposed asphalt plant on the Doc and Merle Watson Scenic Byway, that so much time, so much effort, and so much money would be needed to continue this struggle to protect our homes and ensure that the air that we breathe is not filled with volatile compounds that are proven to cause cancer and other health problems.
Many articles have been written about High Country WATCH, about the public meetings, the fundraisers, and the months of public hearings that ended with a surprising decision for Maymead Materials and Johnny Hampton.
Why surprising? As a witness to the testimony during many of those public hearings and the closing arguments of the attorneys, I could not believe that the members of the Watauga County Board of Adjustment — a board appointed to hear sworn witness testimony and make decisions based on facts — would take less than 15 minutes, with no deliberation whatsoever, to find in favor of Maymead and Hampton.
The health and well-being of thousands of people … men, women and vulnerable children and older adults … were completely disregarded by the five men appointed by the Republican members of the county commission. They did not take the time to look at the evidence, listen to the contradictory testimony and ask the probing questions to ensure that they understood the many legal nuances which had been presented about why the High Impact Land Use Permit, issued six years ago, could not possibly still be valid.
But we are still fighting. We stand firmly behind Carolyn and Randall Henion as they continue to carry the banner for all Watauga County in their pursuit of justice through their appeal to overturn this decision.
We also fight to protect the beauty that attracts folks who come to hike, bike, canoe and enjoy the pristine beauty of the mountains. These folks also bring in millions of tourist dollars.
Will they want to see black smoke belching beside the Scenic Byway and within sight of the Blue Ridge Parkway?
We are also going to fight this November. The Watauga County Democratic Party will do our best to make sure that we have county commissioners who will protect our families and the natural resources and beauty of the High Country. If nothing else, I hope that the struggle to protect our homeland has shown how desperately we need to have a change on the county commission. David Blust and Perry Yates have to run for re-election this fall, and they did not stand up for us. Sure, they beefed up the High Impact Land Use Ordinance and it will offer better protection in the future, but they did not do what needed to be done to protect us right now.
This November, vote for Democrats John Welch, Diane Blanks and Larry Turnbow for county commissioners. They will stand up for you.