Riverwalk Greenway completion 'frozen,' other routes and options to be explored

Ty Roush
Black Mountain News
Black Mountain may need to find an alternative route to complete its greenway project, town manager Josh Harrold said.

BLACK MOUNTAIN - The town is looking for alternatives to complete its greenway project, Town Manager Josh Harrold told the Board of Aldermen in an Oct. 29 meeting.

The $6 million federally funded project’s second phase includes the connection of the Flat Creek Greenway through the current Riverwalk Loop and under N.C. 9 to The Oaks Trail. An initial 1.5-mile route was planned along Flat Creek to provide pedestrians and bicyclists a path under U.S. 70.

The town is experiencing issues creating a “no-rise” scenario, Harrold said, where construction does not increase the level of floodwater. If the project does result in a rise, the town would then be liable for worsening flood conditions regardless of how small the increase is.

Additional federal regulations require the no-rise scenario in order for projects to receive complete funding. Black Mountain is required to submit at least 60% of engineering work to the N.C. Department of Transportations before moving to a right-of-way acquisition phase.

The town has compiled a list of 16 scenarios to simulate a potential no-rise scenario. Harrold says none have been successful.

These challenges related to the no-rise scenario and complying with federal regulations is why the project has taken so long, Harrold said.

Because it’s a federally funded project, “the rules are a little more stringent, you’ve got to go through some more red tape,” Harrold said. “I think that is part of the reason that it has taken as long as it has to get where we are.”

Planning director Jessica Trotman added that the NCDOT overspending in the 2019-20 fiscal year has postponed the right-of-way acquisition for three to six months.

Three options are available for the board to decide on how to move forward with completing the project, Harrold said. Purchasing the four nearby properties, owned by a single property owner, is probable to mitigate any potential flooding concerns.

The total tax value is estimated to be $1 million, with an unknown market value attributed to the properties.

Issues with purchasing the properties include the property owner’s willingness to sell and a lack of funding from the DOT until “maybe eight years from now,” Harrold said. Should the town receive DOT funding, the town may not be able to use it to purchase the properties.

"As (Larry Harris) mentioned, at this point, we're kind of frozen with our funding with the DOT of moving any farther past engineering right now," Harrold said.

Another option is to find an alternative on-road route that would not be subject to a no-rise scenario. Should the town move forward with an on-road path, complications arise in the development of multiuse paths and additional traffic signals for the nearby road.

If the board decides to not move forward with either option, Harrold said that a third option may arise as discussion progresses among board members. 

‘Back to the drawing board’

Pam King, who was elected to the board alongside Doug Hay and Archie Pertiller Jr., said during her campaign that completing the greenway project was a priority. A former member of the town’s Greenways Commission, King says election results proved that the greenway’s completion is a primary objective for residents.

Even if there are new complications in getting it done.

“It’s a little bit back to the drawing board now on that, and it’s discouraging, but I think there still remains a commitment to get it done,” King said. “And I’m going to have to get deep into the details of that to find out what I can do to be helpful.”

Former Mayor Mike Sobol, who said that he remembers discussing the greenway in the ‘90s, added that the project has “taken long enough.”

“I think 25 years is long enough to be working on a greenway,” Sobol said. “I think it’s time to get it done.”

Despite the longevity of the project, King is confident that it will be completed.

“Greenway projects are not for people that need instant gratification,” King said. “They just take forever, but this has been especially long.”