In the Pilot Mountain’s Board of Commissioners’ meeting held on September 14, 2015 I was not only shocked by the motion to enter closed session for personnel reasons, I was shocked that no one from the newspaper attended.
Here is what has not made the news. In January 2015, Mayor Dwight Atkins signed and mailed two grant applications for Greenway projects that would also enhance or restore degraded waters and protect unpolluted waters. The grant funding would come from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund (www.cwmtf.net). In layman’s terms we have problems in Pilot Mountain such as storm water runoff issues, stream bank issues, exposed pipes and other issues that could cause contamination to our creeks that run into our source of drinking water. The town is not financially stable enough to pay the costs needed to address the issues. The two applications cover two areas. One area is behind Lola Lane along Pilot Creek (behind Shell Rapid Lube area). The second area runs along Depot Street and Main Street (along Chinquapin Creek).
I support transparency and including the citizens of Pilot Mountain in all issues. A project this large (over $2 million in costs) needs the public’s stamp of approval.
The two applications were filed in January 2015 without board approval. The former Manager, Amanda Reid, advised Mayor Atkins that board approval was required. After the applications were submitted, at the recommendation of the manager, the mayor sought board approval at the February 23, 2015 meeting. In August 2015, one of the two applications was amended to remove a component of the application. The amendment was filed by the mayor without board approval. As of today, the mayor has not asked the Board for approval for the amended application. The component that was removed from the application is a very important component, addressing storm water issues behind Lola Lane. It is one of the major issues for possible contamination of the waterways and must be addressed. However, the board has not been asked for approval and the board has not had any presentations or understanding of how we would address the storm water issue now that it has been removed from the application.
I also have a problem with the supporting documents for the grant application listing that all easements have been committed as of date of the application (Jan 2015). That’s not possible. Those 45+ property owners were not notified until April 2015 by way of invitation to an informational meeting. The town does not have the money to put with the grant funds (called matching funds). The town is using the value of people’s property needed for the Greenway as the towns match (the town’s contribution to the project). A project of this magnitude requires the support of these property owners. Listing that the town has verbal commitments from all the property owners when we in fact do not have commitments is wrong.
I am not against this grant. It could be great for Pilot Mountain. The Lola Lane Greenway could finally be a link between the mountain and our town. My concern is that the board was not asked for approval (not only once but twice). Our board has not been given any information of the effect of removing the storm water component in the August 2015 amendment and how we will deal with the real underlying issues – water contamination. Easements from property owners are listed as verbally agreed when they were not.
I was once given some great advice from my boss that said “don’t come to me and whine without a solution to your complaint”. So I have been in contact with Mount Airy for guidance on how they communicate with their board, the public and property owners. Mount Airy has successfully completed this type of project before. The have an inclusive, transparent, and hands on approach to educating their board members, the public and property owners affected. We can model ourselves after our neighbors as part of the solution. Another solution would be to invite the Project Administrator, Charles Anderson, from Resource Institute to give presentations to the board and the public keeping everyone up to speed during the entire process. Another step in the right direction would be to reach out to all 45+ property owners in person and share the vision of the project and how water contamination is a serious problem to the health of this community. I have now joined the task force for this project to provide transparency and accountability.
If Pilot Mountain is awarded the grants, I do not want to look back through a cloud of mistrust. Applications submitted without board approval. Paperwork stating property owners have given easements for their land when they have not. That’s not how you gain trust and community support Mayor Atkins. Let’s work together to fully understand this project and let the community and property owners be involved. If we are awarded the grant and complete the project, let’s be able to look back and be proud, as elected officials, that we did it right.
Commissioner Kim Quinn
Town of Pilot Mountain