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Ruling issued on dump near Great Smokies.

A North Carolina judge ruled in May that a 104-acre landfill proposed near Great Smoky Mountains National Park cannot be blocked on legal grounds, despite its likely effect on the park's black bears.

NPCA and local members of the Izaak Walton League of America filed an appeal last year after the state issued Haywood County a preliminary permit for the dump. The appeal presented evidence that the landfill would be a dangerous lure to black bears. It also argued that the plans violated North Carolina solid waste management regulations, which prohibit construction of landfills within 50 feet of streams.

After examining the landfill site, hydrogeologist Ellen Smith told the court that, in her professional opinion, the body of water that flowed across the site constituted a stream. Haywood County had argued that it was merely groundwater seeping up from the earth.

Dr. Michael Pelton, a University of Tennessee bear expert, testified that the smell of garbage would attract omnivorous and keen-nosed bears to the dump. The site is between Pisgah National Forest, which includes the Harmon Den Bear Sanctuary, and Great Smokies. Further, it is close to one of the remotest parts of the park, the Cataloochee area, where officials have traditionally relocated bears with a record of seeking out garbage or campers' food.

To reach the dump site from the national forest, bears would have to cross Interstate 40, greatly increasing the risk of accidents that could injure or kill both bears and people.

Once bears have developed a taste for garbage and other sources of human food, they begin to seek out rather than avoid populated areas. These might include private land near the dump site, heavily visited areas of the park, and neighboring towns.

Pelton and other bear experts estimate that such habits cut a bear's life expectancy in half. The animals may swallow broken glass, metal scraps, or poisonous substances from the garbage they feed on. In some cases, they are killed by officials as a threat to human safety. They are also much more vulnerable to hunting and poaching, because they have lost their natural wariness of people. Poachers kill an estimated 45 to 80 bears in and around Great Smoky Mountains every year. This number is especially worrisome because of the slow rate at which black bears reproduce.

Administrative Law Judge Thomas R. West stated in his ruling that he found himself "affected" by Pelton's testimony. He also said the evidence presented by Smith was "particularly credible." However, West ruled that by law the county's plan to divert the stream into a culvert made it technically no longer a stream. He also found the county had fulfilled state requirements by developing a plan to keep bears from the site, even if there was evidence that its success would be limited.

"This is still a completely inappropriate site for a landfill, and placing one here will create serious problems," said Don Barger, NPCA Southeast regional director. "We will continue to do whatever is possible to oppose construction and operation of the dump at this site."
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Title Annotation:proposed landfill near Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Publication:National Parks
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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