Don’t demolish the Dillsboro Dam. That’s the message Jackson County commissioners sent Duke Energy Corp. In the wake of their vote to condemn the property for a park, it will be up to the courts to decide whether the Charlotte-based utility or the county has final say on a small impoundment that plays a big role in the life of this tiny mountain town about 50 miles west of Asheville. At issue is whether a section of the Tuckasegee River is worth more as a free-flowing stream or a lake.
The showdown has been brewing about five years, since Duke proposed removing the dam to increase flow to meet relicensing requirements for hydroelectric projects downstream. “The positive thing is that it will open up a 10-mile stretch of the river and return it to its natural status,” spokesman Andy Thompson says. “That’ll benefit paddlers, fishermen and other users.”
Hold it, says Jackson County, which filed notice in June that it intends to condemn the dam and lake, built in 1913. “Tearing down that dam fails to consider all the other things that impact the community culturally, historically and economically,” County Manager Kenneth Westmoreland says. Dillsboro, population 258, began as a rail stop in the 1800s and has virtually no economy other than tourism.
The stakes, at least in direct dollars, are small. The dam and lake cover only about 12 acres, and Duke has set the value at $78,000. When the county exercised eminent domain, its appraisal came back higher — $630,000. No matter who wins, Dillsboro is going to get a park. The county would seize the lake and land for a park with hiking trails, boating and other features. Duke would give the restored riverfront property to the town for a park.
Westmoreland insists that the lake’s value to Dillsboro is in the thousands of visitors it attracts each year and the hundreds of thousands of dollars they spend. Duke counters that the free-flowing river would attract canoeists and kayakers. Among others supporting the dam’s removal is American Whitewater, a Cullowhee-based organization of more than 100 paddling clubs nationwide. Jackson County has spent about $250,000 in legal fees so far, and Duke, weary of bad publicity from the tussle, offered privately to pay the county $225,000 to drop opposition to demolishing the dam. Commissioners declined. Despite the refusal, the company is confident. It recently began removing thousands of tons of sediment above the dam, the first step to demolition, scheduled for completion early next year.
Another Parton shot
In Roanoke Rapids, Dolly Parton’s brother Randy got nearly $3 million in public money to perform at and manage a theater, a deal that ended in his firing after the town accused him of blowing money on booze and other dispensables. Another Parton — sister Stella — is in the limelight now at Ghost Town in the Sky, which signed her as entertainment consultant. The Maggie Valley theme park (Regional Report, June) has struggled, filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March, seeking $200,000 from Maggie Valley in May and then getting a last-second cash infusion from an anonymous investor after the town balked. She’ll headline three shows this season, sign other acts and direct the park’s new Appalachian Cultural Center. It won’t say what she’s paid.