Politicizing the Pigeon River Fund is a disservice to all
It is a shame that a group as apolitical as the Pigeon River Fund has fallen prey to politics.
The board was formed in 1996 as part of a federal license agreement allowing a portion of the Pigeon River to be diverted andused for power generation. The power company at the time — Carolina Power and Light — agreed to set up a fund and contribute to it annually. Funds are used to improve water quality in the Pigeon and French Broad River basins, though the agreement states the majority of funds must be used in the Pigeon River basin.
Board appointments are made by the secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and and are generally made on the basis of an individual’s interest or expertise in water or conservation issues.
If that was the case this time, it wasn’t apparent. Long-time members on the board who weren’t Republicans were replaced, even though the terms of some had not yet expired.
When all was said and done, four out of the five Haywood County representatives on the board were replaced, and the new members were all from Madison and Buncombe counties.
The end result is that out of a nine-member board with a mission to spend at least $200,000 to $300,000 annually in Haywood County, there’s only a single Haywood resident that will be part of that decision-making process.
Furthermore, the other long-time board members were replaced, leaving only the DENR representative and the power company spokesperson to carry forward the institutional memory of which projects have been successful and which may plow new ground in improving water quality in the region.
Former Haywood members of the Pigeon River Fund governing board are adamant that politics were never discussed, let alone a factor when they visited the sites of the proposed projects or considered the types of benefits each project might bring.
When the reins of power changed hands in Raleigh, boards appointed by the governor and his cabinent members were replaced to reflect the new political direction, and on boards where major policy decisions are made, that makes sense.
But the Pigeon River Board has no other charge than to study proposals made by organizations that will improve water quality and decide which ones best suit the stated mission.
Replacing each and every member who was a Democrat or unaffiliated with a political party and appointing only Republicans is needlessly politicizing a process. To turn a blind eye to potential appointees in Haywood where the majority of funds must be spent is beyond political. It is just plain nonsense.