In an apparent attempt to avoid going out on a limb, the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners decided Thursday to have a detailed plan prepared for selling city-owned timber at Westwood Industrial Park.
This action occurred after the board once again fell into a familiar pattern in which individual members have been at loggerheads over whether they should simply agree to harvest a 102-acre site there — or make sure all specifics are finalized first.
These include how much of that acreage should be disturbed, and what size buffers need to be left between the site and neighboring properties and stream beds in the area.
“I don’t think we need all the answers,” Commissioner Jon Cawley said during the board’s meeting Thursday afternoon, when it addressed the logging proposal for about the eighth time since it first arose in mid-2013.
Cawley made a motion to begin the process of contracting out the sale of the timber, reasoning that those in the logging business would be able to make recommendations about buffer preferences and similar details as the process develops.
And while there seemed to be some sentiment for Cawley’s motion, Commissioner Steve Yokeley could not accept the generic approach to the timber cutting which it reflected.
“I can’t vote for this — it’s just too open-ended,” Yokeley said of the motion.
Commissioner Shirley Brinkley agreed.
“I think we need a little more specifics,” Brinkley said, suggesting that the project be approached in steps. “I think we need a little more details there.”
Cawley then responded that the city government might be lessening the sum it could receive from harvesting the trees by assigning too many limitations at this point. This could amount to a $75,000 loss, for example, by choosing one buffer size over another which might not be required, the board member said.
He also took issue with a comment by Brinkley, that preparing for the timber sale should be like planning to build a house.
“Are we going to the bank right now, or are we choosing the bathroom colors?” Cawley asked rhetorically.
However, he subsequently withdrew his motion calling for the logging plan to proceed in an open-ended fashion, as the discussion indicated that some parameters should be pinpointed first.
That led to a consensus among the commissioners to have members of the municipal staff, likely a city engineer, prepare a map of the targeted area on Boggs Drive. This will include specific lines for the areas where trees are to be cut in addition to buffers.
Both Yokeley and Commissioner Dean Brown suggested that 200-foot buffers or less result, depending on whether the logging occurs near neighboring property lines — with no buffers to be included where residences don’t exist.
“So at our next meeting, we’ll have a map with more specifics,” Mayor Deborah Cochran summed-up Thursday.
A two-fold purpose is involved with the timbering proposal. It will allow Mount Airy to reap extra revenues, estimated at up to $300,000, depending on the exact parameters of the buffers.
And at the same time, the move will clear the site to provide a large empty spot for a new industry. Local economic-development officials say this is needed to offer clients along with smaller space in another industrial park and buildings vacated by industries that have closed. Money from the timber sale could help offset grading costs, based on past discussions.
In addition to setting the boundaries for the timbering areas and buffers, Yokeley and others directed that the proposal to be voted on by the board at the upcoming meeting incorporate site details recommended by a N.C. Forest Service representative. He has addressed city officials multiple times regarding what’s involved with the logging process.
The forestry expert, Brian Elam, suggested in a recent memo that brush resulting from the tree cutting be chipped on-site by the logging contractor chosen. He also addressed another city concern, the stumps that result, saying these should be left to rot out — which Commissioner Brown believes also will help stem erosion.
Elam further suggests that any bare soil resulting be seeded, mulched and fertilized to prevent erosion, and said the N.C. Forest Service would assist with a regeneration plan for replacing trees cut.
Although Commissioner Brown did agree with the need for details concerning buffers and other considerations, he also said now is the time to begin logging. That’s particularly the case since money is being lost daily because of trees succumbing to disease, insect infestation and age, he said.
“It is not good business to let some $300,000 in trees just sit there and rot and fall down,” Brown said in reading from prepared remarks. “This is not looking after taxpayers’ investments.”
Brown advocates “starting immediately with the timbering project,” implying that it has been delayed too much already.
“If the property had been sold to an industry, they would have cleared the land and built their buildings and parking lots and so on — they would not have spent a year discussing it,” he added.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.