Hendersonville Times-News Jan. 14, 2008

Council mulls potential use of old Meritor land

By Harrison Metzger
Times-News Staff Writer

Fletcher leaders may decide tonight whether to reduce the acreage of wetlands to be restored at the town's 95-acre proposed Meritor park site to allow building there.

Council plans to continue a discussion started at its Jan. 7 agenda workshop on the N.C. Ecosystem Enhancement Program's plans to restore 12.6 acres of wetlands at the property. Local industry Meritor, previous owner of the land, donated it to the town originally with restrictions that would allow it to be used for recreation only. Now those restrictions have been lifted as part of an annexation agreement with the town.

The Ecosystem Enhancement Program restores wetlands and streams to compensate for streams and wetlands destroyed or altered by highway projects. State planners have been working since 2004 on plans to restore wetlands and streams at the property based on it being used as a park, Michael McDonald of the program said.

Council members expressed concern that the bulk of the restored wetlands, about 5.5 acres, are planned on the southern part of the property accessible off Rockwell Drive.

"I guess I am concerned this plan is taking the best part of the property for development and is making it non-developable," Councilman Bob Davy said. Mayor Pro Tem Eddie Henderson suggested the town ask the state to do away with the restoring wetlands on the south part of the parcel. But McDonald and other state officials said most of the property was once wetlands before it was ditched and drained, and may not be suitable for building.

"We've got groundwater at 1 to 2 feet (below the surface) through much of this area and clay soils which holds the water in," said John Jamison of the program.

McDonald said the state wants to keep the wetlands because of their ability to filter out pollution from the adjacent industrial park. Wetlands also help control flooding.

The state has completed about 60 percent of the design of the project. If no changes are requested, state officials said they could start work this summer on the roughly $1 million project to restore streams and wetlands.