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TWO SIDES SQUARE OFF AT WATERSHED FORUM

TWO SIDES SQUARE OFF AT WATERSHED FORUM

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On the one side were environmentalists, self-proclaimed concerned citizens and women voters. On the other were farmers, developers and city planners.

In the middle there was water.What it boiled down to Monday were pure interests, as each of the 29 speakers at a public hearing Monday espoused the critical needs of their varying livelihoods and lifestyles.

The speakers addressed a large crowd, and three state officials gathered at Guilford Technical Community College for a public hearing - the third of eight planned throughout the state to discuss new standards for crucial areas known as watersheds.

The hearings are part of the Environmental Management Commission's charge to write statewide guidelines for the sensitive sections surrounding city reservoirs. The new rules must be drafted by January and in effect by 1992.

In general, they say what can and cannot be built near sources of drinking water, based on how clean the existing source is. The guidelines have developed into major political issues where the objectives of local government or businesses clash with the state's new bent.

In Alamance County, for example, the Board of Commissioners wants to site a new dump on land where creeks feed Burlington's reservoir. Once the new guidelines are written, the state will reclassify that land, which could prohibit construction of a landfill.

The issue has divided the county, with city officials denouncing the move and residents mounting protests. More than 70 Alamance County residents, sporting their trademark yellow ribbon worn over their hearts, drove to the hearing to request tougher state rules. They were joined by the mayors of Graham and Mebane, and the mayor pro tem of Burlington.

``We like calling North Carolina home,' said Alan Horton, a member of Alamance County's grass-roots group. ``The rules you enact to protect the state's water supplies will have a profound impact on whether future generations of North Carolinians will say, 'We like calling North Carolina home.' '

Environmentalists said the state should use this opportunity to set the highest standards possible, since local governments won't be inclined to stiffen the rules.

``That's why we're here,' said Michael Corcoran, executive vice president of the N.C. Wildlife Federation and a member of the commission. ``We can't go backward with development. It's like breaking an egg.'

For others, however, the guidelines were too tough.

``I'm doing all I can to encourage good, clean water,' Moore County farmer Charles Pope declared. ``I like water.'

But that clean water should not be pushed at the expense of over-regulated and overworked farmers, he said.

Hear, hear, developers said. Clusters of homes are better for the environment, they argued, because they reduce the number of streets, leave more natural areas and are better managed. The new rules should not ban such cluster developments near reservoirs, they said.

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