© 2024 Blue Ridge Public Radio
Blue Ridge Mountains banner background
Your source for information and inspiration in Western North Carolina.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Stay on the pulse of the decisions being made at meetings for Asheville City Council and Buncombe County Commission, with reports from BPR’s Laura Hackett.

Last night at Commission: Buncombe asks residents to reduce single use plastic but hands are tied on enforcement

A view of the French Broad River from Riverside Drive.
Laura Hackett
A view of the French Broad River from Riverside Drive.

At Tuesday’s commission meeting, Buncombe County took a moment to urge residents and business owners to reduce their use of plastic bags, styrofoam and other single-use plastic.

Commission chair Brownie Newman read a proclamation designating April “Less Plastic Buncombe Month.”

“Single-use plastic litter can degrade into microplastics that threaten the environment and public health and have been detected in the French Broad River,” Newman said.

For years, residents advocated for a ban of single-use plastic in Buncombe, but that effort was derailed by a state budget provision passed last year that prohibits local governments from regulating plastic use.

During public comment, Anna Alsobrook from the environmental nonprofit MountainTrue expressed frustration around the amount of single-use plastic she sees around town.

“We've been sampling for microplastics for four years now, and what I can say is the amount that we're seeing per sample has doubled in that short period of time,” she said. “They wind up in our bodies and we're ingesting them at alarming rates.”

Alsobrook added that “local governments should have the right to regulate waste, especially hazardous waste, but the North Carolina General Assembly took that away from us last fall.”

The state budget provision was backed by the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association, according to reporting by WUNC.

The trade association hailed the law to “preempt any local ordinance on auxiliary containers” as one of its legislative victories in 2023. The group has long opposed plastic bag bans, citing littering — not plastic — as the main environmental concern and calling the issue one of retailer and consumer choice.

The American Legislative Exchange Council, a powerful national conservative organization, wrote model legislation for state lawmakers who wanted to prohibit plastic bag bans in 2017.

North Carolina joined 18 other states in prohibiting any local bans on plastic bags. Twelve states have banned plastic bag use statewide.

On Saturday, Buncombe County will host an Earth Day Clean Up at Lake Julian Park from 9 a.m. to noon. At the same time as the clean up, the county will also host an Earth Day Fair at Buncombe County Sports Park, which will include environmental education workshops and the opportunity to build an eco-friendly birdhouse and feeder. See the county’s website for more details.

A graph of the most commonly used languages in Buncombe County.
Screenshot from Buncombe County
A graph of the most commonly used languages in Buncombe County.

Hola, привет and привіт to a new language plan

The county heard an update on its new Language Access Plan, which aims to enhance the government’s language services. The ultimate goal is to ensure “meaningful access” for residents, which the U.S. Department of Justice defined as accurate, timely, and effective communication at no cost to the individual.

Rocio Quintero, the county’s bilingual communications specialist, said the most common languages in Buncombe beyond English are Spanish, Russian and Ukrainian.

Quintero said the county will “get materials in those languages” initially and continue to monitor for other language assistance needs.

The plan, which will be implemented this spring, is supported by a statewide collaboration featuring nine local governments, from Concord and High Point to Wilmington. The collaboration was funded by a $25,000 grant from the Institute for the Study of the Americas and the Building Integrated Communities Initiative at UNC Chapel Hill.

Buncombe shifts into ‘machine learning’ mode

The county is shifting some of its emergency response services to a machine learning service provided by Amazon Web Services.

At the April 16 briefing meeting, communications director Lillian Govus announced that the county will begin this transition in May.

The machine will field non-emergency calls. Emergency calls, including 911, will continue to be directed to a live-person call center. The measure is an attempt to more efficiently handle the 800+ non-emergency calls the county receives daily, according to Govus.

Other tidbits

  • As part of an eight-item consent agenda, Fairview Park will receive $200,000 in grant funding from the N.C. Office of State Budget and Management to develop a park on the Camp Woodson property in Fairview. The funds will be transferred to Conserving Carolina, who will develop hiking and biking trails at the site. 
  • Commissioners also approved a Certificate of Need letter for the forthcoming AdventHealth Hospital in Weaverville. The letter certified that an additional 26 acute care beds are necessary for Buncombe County. 
  • The county also finalized its use of nearly $100 million in bonds. The funds will go towards school capital projects, county capital projects, county vehicles and to support affordable housing.

Every first and third Tuesday, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners meets at 200 College Street, Room 326 in downtown Asheville beginning at 5 p.m. See the full recording and agenda of the April 16 meeting.

Laura Hackett joined Blue Ridge Public Radio in June 2023. Originally from Florida, she moved to Asheville more than six years ago and in that time has worked as a writer, journalist, and content creator for organizations like AVLtoday, Mountain Xpress, and the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. She has a degree in creative writing from Florida Southern College, and in 2023, she completed the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY's Product Immersion for Small Newsrooms program. In her free time, she loves exploring the city by bike, testing out new restaurants, and hanging out with her dog Iroh at French Broad River Park.