Last updated: August 22. 2014 12:42AM - 548 Views
By - tjoyce@civitasmedia.com

City Engineer Mitch Williams points Thursday night to a 65-acre site at Mount Airy's Westwood Industrial Park where trees will be cut.
City Engineer Mitch Williams points Thursday night to a 65-acre site at Mount Airy's Westwood Industrial Park where trees will be cut.
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Paul Bunyan would be proud of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners, which voted unanimously Thursday night to launch a logging project at Westwood Industrial Park.

The 5-0 decision capped off more than a year of debate among city officials, most recently centering on how much of a forested 102-acre tract at the park should be disturbed and other details such as buffer distances.

After about 10 meetings in which the topic was discussed with no clear resolution reached, a breakthrough of sorts finally was reached at the commissioners’ last meeting on Aug. 7. They decided then to have a map prepared by the city engineering staff setting specific boundaries and other conditions to be voted on at this week’s session.

City Manager Barbara Jones said the measure adopted Thursday night reflected the concerns and directives given by the board at the last meeting. These are aimed at maximizing the timber harvest while also impacting neighboring properties and the environment as little as possible.

Officials settled on a 65-acre site situated at the end of Boggs Drive in the industrial park, which also borders North Franklin Road near a city water-storage tank.

After the trees are cut, a 200-foot buffer will be left along property lines of adjoining homes, while a buffer of at least 100 feet will remain around two streams on the property. There also will be no timbering on the north and east sides of the streams.

No Graded Pad

But while the 5-0 vote suggested there were no axes left to grind, some lingering concerns did sprout from board members about the plan.

Commissioner Shirley Brinkley, for one, questioned a part of the proposal stating that no graded pad for new industry will result from the logging.

“I thought the whole idea was to get a site ready,” Brinkley said in reference to previous discussions about the need for such a cleared space at the industrial park.

However, City Manager Barbara Jones reminded that the consensus at the last meeting was simply to focus on the timber-cutting aspect and delay the consideration of a pad. “That’s a different process,” Jones said of a feature that could cost more than $1 million.

Commissioner Jim Armbrister also commented about the repeated use of the word “suggested” in the timbering resolution under consideration.

For example, there are suggestions about reseeding, mulching and fertilizing all bare ground left behind and the replanting or reseeding of some areas with loblolly pines and mixed hardwoods. Those were recommendations made by a local forestry expert.

City Attorney Hugh Campbell explained that such items will be finalized when the city undertakes the next major step in the process, choosing a logging company to cut the timber. These can be negotiated in the contract, Campbell said. That will include whether stumps will be left behind and similar considerations such as clear-cutting, based on discussion Thursday.

The board’s Jon Cawley agreed.

“I thought all of us were of the understanding this would all be worked out in a contract,” Cawley said. He added that the plan voted on Thursday night should not be viewed as “a final document.”

The wording of the resolution authorizes city staff members to now meet with Brian Elam, a local member of the N.C. Forest Service, to begin the timbering process, which presumably will incorporate his guidance on the best way to proceed. The logging company also might have some preferences on how the work will occur, city officials said.

Actually getting the timber harvested could be a two-year process, Elam has said.

No information was presented Thursday night on how much money might be realized from the sale of the city-owned timber. The most recent figure given was $300,000, but at this point a solid revenue outlook seems elusive, given that it will have to be weighed against expenses posed such as the replanting of trees on the affected site.

But the forestry representative has said that the municipality is losing money daily by not harvesting older trees constantly being lost from age, disease and insects.

After Thursday night’s vote, Commissioner Dean Brown thanked his fellow council members for acting on an issue that has been in the works since mid-2013.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

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