Saluda community meeting draws large crowd

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, August 26, 2015

COVER 8.27

The Saluda Fire Department hosted a crowd nearly half the size of the town’s population of approximately 700 on Tuesday, Aug. 25.

 “It’s the biggest turnout for anything held in Saluda,” said event coordinator Cathy Jackson.

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 Jackson is one of many that met just one-week prior to hammer out the details on the meeting.

 The crowd initially grew to approximately 250. Over the course of two hours, the drop-in style meeting drew nearly 400 attendees, according to organizers.

 The purpose was to educate Saluda area residents in regards to Duke Energy’s Western Carolinas Modernization Project, and assist those without access to the Internet in making public comments as the cutoff date of August 31 grows near.

 Terry Schager was invited by Jackson to kick off the informational period that highlighted facts and statistics that oppose Duke Energy’s justifications of the project.

 Schager, in the past months, has become somewhat of a traveling Duke Energy expert. Hailing from South Carolina, he spearheaded a similar meeting at the Gowensville Community Center on August 7. His presentations have since been heard throughout the Foothills region and are well received.

 “If we can prove that what they say they need isn’t accurate, then we have a leg to stand on,” said Mark Stierwalt, following Schager’s presentation.

 Stierwalt, like Schager, opposes the “not in my backyard” argument being used by many project opponents.

 He represents Mountain True, a Western North Carolina-based conservation organization.

 “With a collective voice we are much louder, we’re all on the same team,” said Stierwalt. “They want to divide and conquer.”

 Stierwalt fears that the passion to fight the project as a whole will be lost once the official line is announced.

 “Even if they choose a line that isn’t in your backyard, you need to continue to fight like it is,” said Stierwalt. “This is our community.”

 “This could drag out for years,” added Schager. “They hope you’ll get worn down and give up. Be patient.”

 Following the speakers, organizers opened the floor to questions, and later dismissed to stations that included a handwritten letter table, general information table and laptops allowing attendees to make comments on the project website.

 “It’s not a question of not in my backyard, it’s a question of not in my Blue Ridge Mountains,” said Lake Adger resident Kate Bond. “They’re not just taking property, they’re also taking views.”

 “It’s really devastating for us,” she added.

 Zora Rhodes Davies shared the same point of view.

 “We need to be a NIMBY together,” Davies said.

 She has spent the bulk of the past eight years crafting an organic garden that now falls within 100 feet of a potential route.

 “It’s like Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel and someone coming behind him and dumping paint on it,” said Davies.

 Aaron Bradley, Saluda resident and meeting organizer, opened up about his motivation for getting involved.

 “My great, great grandfather settled there for the same reasons why we never left,” he said. “The serenity and the beauty that you find here is unparalleled.”

 The Bradley family owns a farm in Saluda, which is nearing its 115th anniversary.

 “You have families here who have worked so hard for so long to preserve their land and keep it in their family, then you have a company like Duke Power than can come in and say ‘it’s ours now, we’re buying it’, and it’s not right,” said Bradley.

 Bradley, like many others who attended the meeting, believe that the motivation to live in the Foothills region will disappear with the construction of transmission lines the size of what Duke Energy has planned.

 “If this was the best scenario we would suck it up and deal with it, but this project is not in our best interest,” said Bradley.

 Before dispersing, Schager and Jackson encouraged those in attendance to make an appearance at the upcoming Public Service Commission meeting at Landrum High School on Thursday, Aug. 27.

 “If you can get down to Landrum, do it,” said Schager.

 Although the PSC will only be allowing comments from South Carolinians, Schager and Jackson believe that a packed house of passionate, sign-toting opposition would speak volumes.

 The meeting will take place at 6 p.m. in the school’s auditorium. The doors will open at 5 p.m., and those wishing to make a comment up to three minutes in length will be required to sign in prior to doing so.