Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Watauga County TDA Turns Down $75,000 Grant

More than a year ago, the Watauga County Tourism Development Authority (TDA) had submitted a grant application to the Recreational Trails Program of the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for paddle access and improvements at the Pine Run entrance to the New River and the Green Valley Park entrance to the New River.

The TDA received notice last December that the grant had been awarded.

The contract arrived a month or so ago, and this morning the TDA board considered that contract, which had to be formally voted on. With two members of the TDA board absent, the vote was 2-2, with board members Connie Baird and Kim Rogers voting against the motion by Tony Gray to accept the contract. Board member Matt Vincent was the other "yes" vote with Gray.

The tie vote killed the grant.

We received an email sent by someone who was in the meeting: "The Watauga TDA board voted 2 to 2 this morning to decline the $70,000 plus grant awarded to them to improve river access at the Green Valley Park and Pine Run, because it is against Connie Baird's principles."

Connie Baird is prominent in the local Republican Party. She is almost always the contact person if you want to attend a local Republican Party event which costs money. And she's been a solid roadblock before on the TDA. She was the lone vote against even seeking the grant that she finally succeeded in killing this morning.

She was the deciding vote in killing a contract with a landowner to extend the Brookshire Park Greenway several miles further up the New River from where it presently ends. That contract would have been partially funded by a grant from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund.

She voted against building a canoe launch at Watauga Gorge Park (though she didn't prevail on that vote).

Both Connie Baird and Kim Rogers are in the room/apartment rental business. In the meetings of the TDA that I have attended, both Baird and Rogers have tended to take the following position when voting on projects to increase tourism in Watauga County: "What's in it for me personally?"

Apparently, they don't see anything in recreational tourism -- not to mention big grants -- that improves their own bottomlines.

And that's a crying shame.

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