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County To Attempt Dillsboro Dam Takeover (NC)

Posted: 06/10/2009
by Kevin Colburn

Earlier this week Jackson County, NC county Commissioners decided to attempt a takeover of Dillsboro Dam on the Tuckaseegee River using their power of eminent domain, also known as condemnation.  Such powers are limited to specific circumstances, one of which is the creation of a public park.  To facilitate their takeover they formally adopted a plan this week to create a park around the dam and reservoir.


This decision comes amidst a number of lawsuits, and is an attempt to block a federally approved Settlement Agreement forged by a large number of local, state, and national groups, including American Whitewater, Carolina Canoe Club, and other recreational and environmental interests.  The agreement calls for the removal of Dillsboro Dam.  The dam removal is core to the Settlement Agreement which also calls for new recreation and ecological flows in the river, protection of riparian lands, creation of parks and river access areas, and many other benefits to the region.  Should the County prove successful in their attempt to take the dam from Duke Power, it is likely that the Settlement Agreement would be reopened for additional negotiation.    


Many questions remain about the viability of the County's decision.  First, Duke Power itself has more powerful federally granted power of eminent domain that they could presumably use to take the dam back.  Second, it is unclear if the County can take the dam itself, or merely the land.  Third, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has required that the dam be removed, and this decision may be binding on whoever owns the dam.  These are just a few of the remaining legal questions, which will almost certainly be decided in a court of law.    


To paddlers, perhaps the most significant impact of this latest development is delays in the restoration of flows to the West Fork of the Tuckaseegee and Upper Nantahala, we well as delays in the restoration of a free flowing Tuckaseegee River through Dillsboro.  These releases should have begun in 2006 and have since been tied up by delays relating to the fate of Dillsboro Dam.  Given the multiple court challenges and this most recent development, it is unclear when river restoration activities will begin on the Tuckaseegee.  So far however, not a single effort of the County to impede river restoration has been successful, unless you consider expensive delays to be success. 


To learn more you may be interested in recent articles in the Smoky Mountain News and the Asheville Citizen Times

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