This morning at 8 a.m., the Watauga County Commission held a special called meeting to consider supporting the Tourism Development Authority's (TDA) plan and grant application for two river-access points on the New River at Pine Run Road and at the Green Valley Park. This special meeting of the Commission followed close on a special public hearing last night conducted by the TDA to gather public comment on the plan to improve recreation infrastructure in Watauga County.
At the public hearing last night, we heard 95% support for the two river access developments. We would score that at 100% support, except that a couple of adjacent property-owners at the Pine Run Road access expressed some reservations -- worries -- about parking, obstructions to their properties, and the prospect of more litter ... all of which the TDA promised to deal with. And the property-owners appeared placated.
At the Commission meeting this morning, with two commissioners absent, the remaining three commissioners voted unanimously to support and endorse the TDA grant application for some $75,000 in outside funding for the projects, with about $18,000 in "matching" funds from the TDA.
End of story?
Not really. Why these special called meetings? Because the new Republican majority on the County Commission insisted on them, and their coolness to continued development of recreation infrastructure in the county is a matter of record. As soon as the new majority took charge in December of 2010, they began quietly replacing members of the TDA board with people who vote consistently to shut down Watauga County for recreational development.
Case in point: At their Nov. 15, 2011, meeting, with a couple of progressive votes on the TDA absent, the remaining members of the TDA board voted not to reauthorize TDA matching funds for another grant application to the NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund to acquire conservation easements for extending the greenway from Brookshire Park further down the New River toward Todd. The new appointees to the TDA Board didn't even want to apply for outside funding in the form of a grant.
TDA matching funds: To date, the planners at TDA have been very successful at applying for and receiving over $900,000 in grants for infrastructure, most of which require some "cash match," usually a small fraction of the total, from the grantee (for example, the $18,000 "match" from the TDA reference above). These many successful grants are behind the development of the new Rocky Knob bike-and-hiking park, as well as many other improvements.
The TDA raises its money from an occupancy tax on visitor lodging -- motels, beds-and-breakfast establishments, etc., so it's non-residents who have really funded the "match" for our recreation development. Little comes from the regular Watauga County budget.
But that "little" is under assault, and the vision of improving the local economy by making Watauga County an outdoor recreation destination is imperiled. Though we passed through a gauntlet this morning, reappointments of key persons on the TDA board are upcoming, and the future is very much in doubt.