"Slippery little rascal" fans flames of Richmond Hill debate
This past April, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission biologist Lori Williams was preparing for an amphibian study in Asheville's Richmond Hill Park when she caught a glimpse of something curled up beneath a pile of leaves.
It was a Southern zigzag salamander (Plethodon ventralis), a lungless amphibian listed as a species of special concern in North Carolina. "Species go on the special-concern list because we're either pretty sure the numbers are declining, or we simply don't have enough information about them," Williams explains. Little is known about the zigzag, and its habitat range within the park is uncertain. She hopes an ongoing long-term study, which grew out of a partnership between the Wildlife Commission and Asheville Parks and Recreation, will yield more answers. The study doesn't cover the 12 acres slated for a National Guard armory.
But when park advocate James Wood (see "An Exceptional Treasure" on page 8) e-mailed news of the discovery to City Council members and others, he unwittingly ignited a fiery debate.
"It would not be my intention to endorse this slippery little rascal as a means to sidestepping our commitments," responded Council member Carl Mumpower. He later defended that statement as a joke, while arguing that "we should maintain our word" to the National Guard.
That, in turn, sparked a flood of e-mails arguing that Richmond Hill is a poor site for an armory. "There are some pretty special things out there that they should protect," UNCA biology professor David Clarke, who frequents the park, told Xpress. "Riparian habitats have almost been completely eliminated over the years."
There's an odd twist to state species classification: While the critter itself is legally protected, its habitat isn't. Even if the salamander had been found at the armory site, construction could legally proceed. "If they list a species, it carries no weight whatsoever for the habitat," notes Williams. "Federally listed is a different story."
But thanks to a 600-foot buffer separating the wetland from the disc-golf course, this particular zigzag salamander shouldn't be disturbed. According to Project Manager Seth Hendler-Voss of Asheville Parks and Recreation, the buffer -- created at the insistence of concerned community members -- was originally intended to protect the marble salamander, another rare species in the mountains. "This buffer was a very large and generous safeguard," says Hendler-Voss. "We feel like we went above and beyond trying to protect this salamander."
Business as unusual
A concerted effort to support the growth of clean-energy technologies such as wind and solar power could lead to a brighter future for WNC's work force, according to David Wallace, western regional director of the State Energy Office. A Friday, June 29, forum titled "Clean Energy Job Creation Opportunities in Western North Carolina" will feature a Google Earth-based interactive tour of assets in our region by David McConville, and a talk by clean-energy activist Ned Doyle on how shrinking energy demand relates to growing job opportunities. The discussion will also include input from renewable-energy outfits, investment firms, business-incubator programs and area universities. For more information or to reserve a space, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Speaking of jobs, the event marks Wallace's last official day with the agency. He's joining Appalachian Energy, which specializes in solar heating-and-cooling systems, as vice president of strategic development.
Meanwhile, the fate of the Energy Office hangs in the balance amid ongoing budget discussions in the state House.
Biodiesel gains ground at Asheville airport
Airports may be the last places you'd think of as being green. From the jet streams to the pretzel bags and Styrofoam cups trashed on every flight, it's tough to equate any part of the flying ritual with environmental sensitivity.
To its credit, the Asheville Regional Airport has taken steps toward greener practices. A recent partnership with Blue Ridge Biofuels has the airport substituting B20, a biodiesel blend, for the standard gasoline used for ground support equipment. The 10,000 gallons of fuel consumed annually by the airport's fire trucks, tractors, snowblowers and landscaping equipment will now be replaced by an alternative made from, among other things, used fryer oil from Nathan's Hot Dogs, Buckhead Grill and other eateries inside the terminal.