It’ll be a new meeting Thursday, but Mount Airy officials plan to revisit an old issue once again — a plan to sell timber from the city-owned Westwood Industrial Park.
The board of commissioners has scheduled discussions on the plan about seven different times since mid-2013, a rough count shows, but have yet to move forward with harvesting trees an expert says are losing value each day they go uncut.
In the latest case of deja vu all over again, the commissioners are slated to address the issue during Thursday’s session beginning at 2 p.m. in the Municipal Building.
This will be a continuation of the last discussion on the plan during the board’s June 19 meeting, in which commissioners voted 3-2 to delay launching the timber-cutting project until more information was obtained.
Despite multiple presentations by Brian Elam of the N.C. Forest Service to explain the intricacies of the logging process and answer questions from the board, questions still remained among its majority in June.
These include specifying how much of a buffer should exist between neighboring residences and the 102-acre timbering site at the end of Boggs Drive and how much of that acreage should be disturbed; how erosion will be prevented; plans for replanting trees and maintaining the area after the logging; and whether a shell building or graded pad for new industry should result.
Concerns about the project also were expressed by residents during a public hearing in February.
Forestry Expert Responds
Although Elam will be unable to attend Thursday’s meeting — due to being on call to assist with fires that develop out West — he has submitted information responding to questions raised at the June meeting.
In his written reply, the forestry expert addresses each concern and generally indicates that the timbering could be done without major problems and the property would not be adversely affected so long as basic conservation measures are taken.
“Nobody will tell you timbering is beautiful or attractive, but is necessary for sound forest management and part of being responsible landowners,” Elam wrote.
He also recommends that city officials decide specifically what they want to do with the industrial site on a long-term basis, and suggests that a graded pad — one proposal linked to the timber harvesting there — might not be the way to go.
“Unless you have a buyer interested in the property right now, I would not put the resources and time into grading and a concrete pad for something you have no idea what it will be used for,” Elam wrote.
Estimates have put the costs at more than $1 million for a 17-acre graded pad to around $2.5 million for a 45-acre pad.
It has been reported that $300,000 could be realized from the timber sales, which could go toward the cost of developing space in some manner for new industry at Westwood which economic-development leaders say is needed.
Commissioner Jon Cawley has been a proponent of moving ahead with the project, citing concerns including the need to harvest older trees in the stand that are constantly falling victim to age, insects and disease.
He voted against, and seemed agitated, by the move to delay the project on June 19, saying that many of the questions posed had been answered repeatedly by Elam.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.