Politicizing the Pigeon River Fund is a disservice to all

May 28, 2014

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.

Comments (4)
Posted by: John C Sanderson | May 29, 2014 15:46

It is absolutely "just plain nonsense."

The political party someone is affiliated with should have no bearing whatsoever upon serving on a board such as this. Roughly half of the members of this board have always been residents of Haywood County, and there has existed an unwritten agreement between the board and political leaders that some sort of geographic balance among board members would be appropriate and fair. Obviously, both Republicans and Democrats have served on this board in the past, and I would say that political party affiliation has been virtually irrelevant to their decision making processes. But no more. Evidently "gentlemen's agreements," balance, fairness, and effectiveness are of no concern to those currently holding the reins of power in Raleigh.

Honestly, I can't help but feel that the Republican majority in control of state government is simply trying to show everyone just how much power they have. "Hey, look at us! We can replace every Democrat or Independent on every board anywhere in the state .... not because it will make those boards more efficient, equitable, or effective, but just because we can. So, there!" So, in the rush to show off their political muscles, these unapologetic partisans have caused the Pigeon River Fund and Haywood County to lose the voices and vast knowledge base of people like Bill Teague and Lee Galloway. That is a shame, and it should never have happened - especially not in the way it happened.

These are the actions of children, not leaders.

Posted by: Scott Lilly | May 30, 2014 08:17

"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" -- So how does this program rate for "staying on mission"?  I read something once about it giving money away so that people could launch recreational boats into the French Broad River in the name of (wait for it) TOURISM!  How is bringing more tourists to the French Broad River going to improve water quality?  Maybe those now in charge did not get a satisfactory answer to that question and questions like it.

Posted by: Scott Lilly | May 30, 2014 08:28

I'm not saying this is "politics" -- but look at how this story is told different ways:


"RiverLink - $30,000 to install two stormwater wetlands and enhance the riparian corridor as part of the completion of the Reed Creek Greenway. This project is undertaken in coordination with UNC-Asheville and the City of Asheville and will provide local residents and UNCA students with unique experiential educational opportunities and help address stormwater erosion along the bordering street."




RiverLink's vision is make it possible for people to launch a boat into the French Broad River and have the option of spending a day to more than a week paddling the river and camping along the way. RiverLink recently received a grant from Pigeon River Fund of the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina to help make this happen.




Now not every grant will be perfect.  And once the money is granted, there's no telling what kind of accountability controls there are.  One thing to watch is if this replacement of folks has something to do with WHERE the money will be spent.

Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | May 30, 2014 09:03

              Conquest. Nothing more. Nothing less.



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