$ 150,000 state grant brings RiverLink’s Southside project closer to completion

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A project to turn a runoff problem into a community asset at Erskine Apartments in Asheville is moving forward with a $ 150,000 state grant.

RiverLink’s Southside Community Stormwater Project works to address stormwater issues in the historically black neighborhood and improve water quality in Nasty Branch.

The project will expand an existing wetland, install an overflow measure to address flood-prone parking and redesign a concrete ditch into a natural channel.

A new walking path and shade structure will be constructed, and a chain link fence that prevents residents from walking directly to the nearby Edington Center will be removed.

The Asheville Housing Authority Residents’ Council and Green Opportunities are also partners in the project, and the project will provide on-site green jobs training during construction, teaching everything from surveying and design to construction. , planting and maintenance of stormwater features.

A wetland overflows in a parking lot in Livingston Heights.

Following:Walking trails, edible plants and more: residents have their say on RiverLink’s Southside project

The effort received a grant from the Department of Justice’s Environmental Improvement Grants Program on Oct. 14, with Attorney General Josh Stein on hand at the Edington Center to praise the project.

“It’s a long process, from project idea, to securing funding, to design and actual construction,” said Renee Fortner, Watershed Resources Manager for RiverLink.

She said this funding from the EEG program is a big step towards making the Southside Project happen.

The EEG program has been in operation since 2000, said Stein, the result of an agreement between Smithfield Foods and the state Department of Justice.

An overflowing wetland in the Livingston Heights neighborhood of Asheville.

Smithfield, based in Virginia, provides $ 2 million per year in grants, and to date Stein said $ 37 million has been awarded to more than 190 projects, including about $ 3 million for 27 grants in 2021.

“RiverLink has submitted a really innovative project which is a winning combination,” said Stein. “(It) will improve people’s lives, build stronger communities and preserve the quality of our natural resources.”

The Southside Project also received a $ 30,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina’s Pigeon River Fund in May.

With the EEG funding, the project is completing all the funding it needs and is on schedule to complete the final design early next year and begin construction in late summer 2022, Fortner said.

Fortner said they were waiting for another grant, $ 200,000 from the Water Resources Division of the state’s Department of Environmental Quality, which is expected to arrive by the end of October and secure all necessary funds. to the project.

Little has changed in plans shared by RiverLink in May for the Southside Community Stormwater Project.

Another $ 20,000 from a Buncombe County Strategic Partnerships grant and $ 100,000 for construction from the Housing Authority of Asheville round out the total of $ 500,000.

“We received feedback which allowed us to fine-tune the design according to the wishes of the community,” said Fortner. “Overall, we got a positive response.

Only minor changes were made to the plans as a result of community feedback, she said, including moving a shade structure that was originally intended for an open lawn.

After learning that local children are using it for football and kickball games, the shade structure has been moved from the center of the pitch, Fortner said.

“The people in the community, they were very careful at first when we brought the idea to the community,” Fortner said. “Confidence is broken in this community about things that have happened, with outside groups coming in to say they want to make a positive change.”

Following:Trash Trouts to Nasty Branch: $ 236,000 from the Pigeon River Fund stimulates water quality projects

An overflowing wetland in the Livingston Heights neighborhood of Asheville.

Stein said environmental justice is an additional criteria of the Environmental Improvement Grants program and “is part of how projects are evaluated because we recognize that underserved communities know more than their fair share. environmental problems “.

A recent study showed that low-income and largely non-white areas of Asheville experience more dangerous environmental conditions than wealthy white neighborhoods, and the area around Erskine Apartments was ranked among the most vulnerable areas, according to a map created as part of the study.

It was one of the attractive aspects of this project, said Stein.

He highlighted the partnership with Green Opportunities in particular, saying he had visited the group’s facilities and programs on October 14, calling them “very exciting and promising.”

Derek Lacey covers healthcare, growth and development for the Asheville Citizen Times. Contact him at [email protected] or 828-417-4842 and find him on Twitter @DerekAVL.

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