Danger to Flat Creek: Protect our Children


Montreaters love Flat Creek.  We have rock-hopped in the creek as children and even taken a dip in the waters.  It is fresh and clean.  Indeed, Flat Creek water is classified “high quality” according to the State of North Carolina.  The biggest threat to water quality of the Creek, according to experts, is stormwater runoff.


Why is Flat Creek at risk?


The Montreat Conference Center seeks to build a large new hotel on Assembly Drive directly across from Robert Lake Park (where the Galax House now stands). Stormwater runoff from the hotel is inevitable, as explained by the testimony of a stormwater expert in the permit hearing before the Montreat Board of Adjustment.


How does the proposed hotel threaten Flat Creek?


Dr. Barrett Kays, a national expert in stormwater management and infiltration with a PhD in soil science, testified on Dec. 15, 2021 and Jan. 4.  Dr. Kays has worked for 45 years in stormwater management, and helped design the original StormTech technology that the MRA proposed to use for stormwater management.  He also served as Commissioner of the North Carolina Public Health Commission for four years.

Danger to Flat Creek-An Explainer -color.pdf

 Dr. Kays’ testimony set out the damage from stormwater overflow that would result from the hotel, as summarized below.  We strongly encourage everyone to watch the full video recording of his two-hour testimony, available here: www.montreat-stewards.org/permit-hearing.*


Testimony from the expert


Dr. Kays’ analysis showed that the stormwater system is significantly undersized. The technical explanation of this is provided further below.  His testimony set out the risks:


Q: Given that it's undersized...what's the probability that the MRA's proposed StormTech System will work and function as intended, in your opinion? 

A: I believe it will fail and [the stormwater] will surface, and it will contaminate Flat Creek, simple as that.


Q. And given that the detention system will not detain and treat the increased stormwater runoff in that manner, that will lead to the discharge of polluted stormwater to Flat Creek, is that correct?

A. Absolutely.


Q. And given that this system as proposed in your opinion would result in the pollution of Flat Creek, do you have an opinion as to whether or not the use the MRA's proposed hotel would be detrimental to or endanger the public health, safety or general welfare if located where proposed and developed according to the plan as submitted and approved?

A. That opinion is that it would contaminate surface waters and groundwaters in and around the site.

Dr. Kays further explained that those who use Flat Creek -- in Robert Lake Park and further downstream -- would be exposed to this untreated water.  This will carry many contaminants, including likely a “very high fecal coliform count,” which would represent the biggest threat to children and others using Flat Creek. This can cause diarrhea and many severe digestive diseases.  Under the federal Clean Water Act, the Town of Montreat would be responsible for the clean-up of the polluted waters that flow into Flat Creek, he explained. The cost for this cleanup would fall to Montreat taxpayers.


The challenges of this particular site



Most of the site has a shallow seasonal highwater table and shallow rock.  A stormwater system must have at least two feet of separation between the bottom of the system and the top of the seasonal highwater table.  For these reasons, there is not sufficient room at this site to place a system at the required depth.


This means that with the MRA’s proposed system, untreated stormwater would slowly move laterally into the creek.  Additionally, during storm events the system will fill up and water will surface and run down the front lawn of the project and across the street and into the stream. These are two ways that untreated stormwater will enter the stream, Dr. Kays explained.  In short, “The system is not deep enough and can’t be, due to the seasonal highwater table and the water table of Flat Creek.” 



In addition to a challenge with the depth of the system, Dr. Kays’ analysis shows that the proposed stormwater system is undersized by somewhere between 159% and 235%.  The system would have to be shallower, and the system size would thus go up dramatically: this would require a surface area that is 800 percent larger than the plans show.  This size would simply not fit on this property.


Ordinance violations


The above makes clear that the proposed system would not meet the requirements of the Montreat stormwater ordinance to meet expected large rainfalls.


In addition to the limitations of the proposed StormTech system, the MRA plan also shows that it does not intend to treat stormwater at all from the left side of the property, where they plan outdoor parking.  This would also be a basic violation of the Montreat ordinance and State requirements.


Are there alternatives? 


A sand filtration system might possibly work, Dr. Kays said.  However, such a system is ten times more expensive, and it would also be very difficult to fit onto this property given the constraints outlined above.  This should have been presented in the MRA permit application so that independent expert review would be possible.


The Montreat ordinance requires that a Special Use Permit meet all Town requirements, explicitly mentioning stormwater management as one set of requirements.  The stormwater management proposal presented in the MRA application does not meet these Town requirements, and would put Flat Creek at risk.

* In the Dec. 15 hearing, Dr. Kays’ testimony begins at: 7:11:40. His cross-examination begins on Jan. 4 at 0:11:55.

Environmental Danger Big Picture:  What is at stake

“If the MRA builds this enormous lodge and conference complex with an underground parking garage, there are going to be impacts that go well beyond neighboring cottage owners. This is major, major construction that will affect the integrity of Assembly Drive. It will require many heavy cement trucks and fill trucks and house, plus giant drills to put pylons into bedrock many feet below the surface of the slope, which is probably a lot more weight and wear and tear than Assembly Drive was designed to bear. 

Construction also will affect Flat Creek. I expect that even if the construction companies in charge have barriers to down-slope transport of solids, there will still be discharge of hydrocarbons, metals, and probably radiation. The radiation comes from naturally-occurring uranium, radium, and thorium that is present in a lot of concrete aggregate, and it is soluble in water. It’s a very big concern with the construction of an underground parking garage on a mountain slope that feeds groundwater into the stream just a few feet away. An underground parking garage will leach that radiation, plus hydrocarbons from leaking automobile oil and automotive gunk, for as long as the garage exists, into streams and wells. 

Additionally, this conference center/hotel complex will increase the impermeable surfaces on the site by a degree of magnitude. That means a lot of uncontrolled stormwater runoff into the stream and a loss of considerable amounts of tree cover and wildlife habitat

I don’t know that the MRA or anyone else has a legal right to build a structure that will have those kinds of impacts.”

Professor of Politics, Incoming Chair of the Program in Environmental Analysis

Pomona College, California

Co-founder of a community-based water monitoring, education, and stewardship project in the Lake Titicaca basin (Peru and Bolivia)

Threatened Wildlife include the Eastern Hellbender Salamander and Fireflies

Upper Swannanoa River Watershed Management Plan shows threat of development to local streams and rare species.

Montreat was the first Town in North Carolina to be certified as a Community Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation.