Your daily news update for February 5th, the day the largest Jell-O (9,246 gallons) was made in Brisbane.

Land Preservation in WNC

Another major win for outdoor enthusiasts was announced this Tuesday in Transylvania County.

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, The Conservation Fund, and the U.S. Forest Service issued a statement declaring plans to conserve nearly 8,000 acres along the Blue Ridge Mountains in the area. In 2013, more than 3,200 acres of working forestland and a large portion of the headwaters of French Broad River’s east fork were obtained and protected by the North Carolina Forest Service. A grant from the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program, along with state and private funding, made this acquisition possible.

Located on the border of North Carolina and South Carolina, the newly-protected acreage will become part of the prospective Headwaters State Forest. The area sits adjacent to 100,000 acres of existing conservation lands in both states, providing habitat for endangered plant and animal species.

Ranked 7th on the 2013 national Forest Legacy Program priority list,  the State and The Conservation Fund utilized a $3 million grant to purchase 711 acres of land. Additional private and state funding of $5.4 million allowed for the protection of another 1,186 acres. Additional acquisitions are expected to made in 2014.

The N.C. Forest Service plans to create a multi-use management plan for the land, allowing sustainably managed timber production alongside a variety of public recreational uses, including hunting and hiking.

Coal Ash Spill in NC

Duke Energy reported Monday that 50,000 to 82,000 tons of coal ash (enough to fill 20-32 Olympic-sized swimming pools) spilled into the Dan River from an unlined pond at its retired power plant in Eden.

A 48-inch stormwater pipe beneath the unlined ash pond broke on Sunday afternoon, draining water and ash from the 27-acre pond into the pipe. A team of specialists from Appalachian Voices remains on-site to sample the water for toxics such as arsenic, as well as other contaminants. Yesterday, two members of the team were on the water in canoes, scouting the river from the point of discharge at the retired power plant to a few miles downstream. Their reports show signs of discolored water and ash that stretches close to 20 miles downstream.

Environmental groups have previously filed lawsuits in an attempt to force Duke and other utility services to remove ash stored near waterways faster and more consciously. Greenpeace in particular has stepped to the forefront of the spill aftermath, forcing Duke Energy to answer accusations and questions on drinking water safety.

This is the second incident this year where hazardous materials leaked into a waterway and threatened the local drinking water. Residents in West Virginia are still without clean water due to the chemicals that spilled into the Elk River last month.

Freedom to Float Bill Defeated in the Senate

Virginia paddlers were turned upstream on Friday when the Freedom to Float bill was defeated in the Senate 10 to 30.

The American Canoe Association believes this bill was a reasonable approach for non-motorized vessels to use non-tidal rivers, streams, and creeks for recreational purposes. Paddlers would have been allowed to float on drainage areas of at least seven square miles without being held liable for civil or criminal trespass.

For more information on the issue of river access, check out this story by BRO contributor Beau Beasley.