Baughn leads opposition to fracking in western North Carolina

CLAY COUNTY, N.C. – Volume 4

By Tom Bennett
Special to Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition

Hayesville, N.C., Jan. 10, 2015 – Hayesville Mayor Harry Baughn is a happy leprechaun of N.C. politics who has an inner layer of iron.

The General Assembly and governor had slammed through to passage the hydraulic fracturing of North Carolina to see if there’s gas or oil here. The N.C. House main sponsor, Mike Hager of Rutherfordton (now majority whip), had explained: “In energy we have to throw everything against the wall and see what sticks.”

Enter the irrepressible Baughn. He led western North Carolina cities and counties to adopt resolutions opposing fracking, this in defiance of a bizarre non-democratic provision in the Energy Modernization Act of 2014 that local governments have no right to say anything about it.

Vermont and New York banned fracking. ABC News reported this month it may be the cause of earthquakes in Oklahoma and Texas.

CLAY COUNTY SUCCESSFULLY ARGUED to the Golden Leaf Foundation that the uses of money from the golden leaves of tobacco to modernize N.C. local government, arising from a 1999 settlement of a lawsuit, can include sewer upgrades.

A portion of Clay County’s $1 million 2013 grant set in motion the extension of Clay County Water and Sewer District lines along N.C. 69 to the Clay County Industrial Park, beginning in April 2014. This entails, according to McGill Associates consulting engineers’ minutes: “11,000 linear feet of primarily PVC eight-inch gravity sewer with associated manholes; approximately 8,000 linear feet of four-inch PVC force main; and two sewer pump stations.” The importance of this project should not be underestimated as many homes and commercial businesses in close proximity to Lake Chatuge will now have the option of retiring aging septic systems.

The simplest of steps in fact connotes historic N.C. environmental reform: Take up existing guardrails along a main highway, put in sewer pipe, and restore the rails. You now have safety plus good sanitation.

THE N.C. DEPT. OF TRANSPORTATION’S successful bidder, Carolina Bridge Co. of Orangeburg, S.C., constructed piers for a new two-lane bridge for N.C. 175 to carry motorists over Shooting Creek. The old single lane “High Bridge” was then dismantled once TVA brought Lake Chatuge’s levels to a low not witnessed in more than 40 years.

It’s a busy time for Chatuge Dam. In July 2013, the level peaked at 1,927 feet above sea level, or just a foot from the top of the gates. TVA had anticipated heavy rains and lowered the lake level the previous month. Planning helps homeowners.

THE U.S. FOREST SERVICE is studying alternatives for the route of a private easement to the unincorporated Laurel Creek Property Owners Association’s land straddling the rim of the Valley River Mountains on the Clay-Cherokee county line.

It was Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition that pushed for a 2013 successful administrative appeal (by Southern Environmental Law Center) of an earlier inter-agency finding. This first decision somehow had foreseen no environmental impact from a road easement upon steep land draining the Fires Creek tributary of Hiwassee River having the highest water-quality rating.

Five landowners led by a former Clay County manager have since 2008 sought a kind of cabin subdivision high inside the Nantahala National Forest and totally surrounded by it. The 50-acre inholding where hemlock was harvested to tan hides in Andrews somehow never got incorporated into the federal set-aside in the 1930’s. Now hikers treading a revered and remote ridge owned by the American people and believed to be set aside forever could suddenly encounter — in a high glade at the crest — private cabins.

TRY AND SEE if you can begin to understand the setting in which the Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition has spent decades of its staff’s lives to establish the concept of environmental protection here. Read Mary Walker’s May 2014 letter in the Clay County Progress:

“The federal government has a plan in conjunction with the United Nations… President George Bush signed it into law in the 1990s… The eventual goal is for humans to not be allowed into certain areas of the U.S. and be housed in huge metro areas in small apartments.”

Tom Bennett of the Martins Creek community near Murphy, N.C., is a retired newsman, Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition member/volunteer/donor and recipient of the 2015 Holman Water Quality Stewardship Award. E-mail him at