It's a politician's dream: Without dipping deep into the city coffers, Asheville City Council members get to save a 91-year-old stone bridge that could become a scenic link in a future ridgeline park.
At their April 6 work session, Council members agreed to hire Carolina Mountain Construction Company of Pisgah Forest to stabilize the crumbling Zealandia Bridge, which arches over Beaumont Street, off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. And four-fifths of Carolina's $53,865 bid will be paid with money raised by local residents.
Just a few months ago, the city had been on the verge of destroying the historic structure, which once led to an estate atop Beaucatcher Mountain and is mentioned in Thomas Wolfe's novel, Look Homeward, Angel. But local architect Robert Griffin, offering $5,000 of his own money up front, convinced Council that the funds needed to save the bridge could be raised in the community.
He was right: Spearheaded by Griffin, Preservation Society Director Harry Weiss and members of Quality Forward, city residents have raised $40,000 so far, Asheville Assistant Public Works Director Suzanne Malloy told Council. "We're moving forward, and it's worked well," she said of a cooperative agreement between the city and the fund-raising group called the Zealandia Committee. And if Council decides to go beyond merely stabilizing the bridge and commits to thoroughly restoring it, the group has pledged to raise those funds, too (estimated to come to as much as $350,000).
Malloy also noted that easements have been obtained from the owners of property adjacent to the bridge, despite some concerns about the bridge being a hangout for vandals. Securing those easements clears the way for creating a greenway along the rideline and across the bridge (the city already owns two nearby properties that have been identified as the start of a potential ridgeline park that would offer 360-degree views from Beaucatcher). One property owner even appears willing to donate some of the land needed for the greenway link, Malloy mentioned.
The money fund-raisers have collected so far -- augmented by $10,000 previously budgeted by Council, and $3,685 from Public Works Department operating funds -- will be used to pay Carolina for its work, she reported. The minority-owned firm underbid Taylor and Murphy, the next lowest bidder, by more than $20,000.
"Any feel for when you'll reopen the road?" asked Vice Mayor Ed Hay. It's been closed since early winter, because of falling rocks.
Malloy replied that Carolina could begin work soon, buttressing the bridge supports, and clearing debris and trees. The road below the bridge could be reopened as soon as late April or early May, she said.
Council members indicated that they will award the bid to Carolina as part of their April 13 consent agenda.
Let it rain grants
The Asheville Water Authority wants its share of $1 billion in state bond funds, Water Resources Director Tom Frederick told City Council members on April 6. "That's billion, with a B," said Frederick, noting that the Regional Water Authority of Asheville, Buncombe and Henderson has asked the state for $3 million of it.
That's the maximum amount any single water system can get annually, Frederick explained. The $1 billion worth of Critical Needs/Infrastructure Bonds was approved by voters last November, he continued. And $80 million of that money is being used to fund grants to water systems across the state. The grants are intended to help resolve "chronic problems," such as lines with low water pressure or those suffering repeated breaks, said Frederick. A task force made up of city employees and consultants from McGill Associates identified more than 115 specific projects needed to address such chronic problems in the local system. Tackling the 21 most-pressing projects that most closely meet the state's grant criteria, he continued, would cost $3.3 million.
"This [money] obviously won't solve all our problems," Frederick pointed out, "but it will get us started." The city's aging water system has long been known to need extensive repairs and line replacements, and the task force has identified 73 projects that could qualify for the state grants, to the tune of $10.35 million, he reported.
"When you get the $3 million," said Council member Earl Cobb, speaking optimistically, "do you have to complete these  projects in a year?"
Frederick replied that the state has set no specific deadline, but that the task force projects that all the projects could be completed by the fall of 2000.
Council member Barbara Field asked whether either the city or the Water Authority would be required to provide matching funds for the grants.
No, answered Frederick. But if any of the projects ran over budget, exceeding the contingency funds built into the grant application, the Water Authority would have to pay the difference. "There's no guarantee we'll get the $3 million," Frederick cautioned. He also noted that the grant doesn't necessarily target lines known to leak, because the grant funds are earmarked for fixing chronic water-pressure and service problems.
"We had to pick and choose, based on the fundability of these projects," explained McGill Associates President Gary McGill. A top priority among the 21 projects, for example, is Chunn's Cove, which has been served by a single pump for 25 years. The grant application proposes eliminating that pumping station and upgrading Chunn's Cove's water lines, McGill continued, noting that those repairs represent what the state views as a "critical need," as opposed to other system improvements needed to support growth and development.
"Is this a one-time grant application? Do we get to apply in subsequent years?" queried Council member Chuck Cloninger.
Yes, responded Frederick, indicating that the grant program is projected to last five years. "The money won't be spent all at once," he remarked. "If there's any of [it] left after this first round, we'll go again."
The state's decision on the grants is expected in June, Frederick said.
The Water Authority has a pretty good record on grants this year: As part of a regional coalition, the Mills River Partnership, it recently received $729,992 from the North Carolina Clean Water Management Fund. The money will be used to relocate several pesticide-loading facilities away from the banks of the Mills River, as well as installing riparian buffers, stabilizing stream banks and developing a long-range strategy to further protect the river's water quality. The partnership includes the Water Authority, the city of Asheville, Henderson County, the city of Hendersonville, the Henderson County Soil and Water Conservation District, and Carolina Mountain Land Trust, with the Land-of-Sky Regional Council serving as a technical consultant.