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Permitting takes center stage in September for World Equestrian Games

Published Sept. 6, 2018

   The World Equestrian Games (WEG) which are administered by the Federation Equestre International (FEI), the worldwide governing body of equestrian sport, is the major international championship event for the eight core equestrian disciplines of show jumping, dressage, and para-equestrian dressage, eventing, driving, endurance, vaulting and reining.

   The Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) at Tryon Resort in Tryon, North Carolina will host FEI WEG from September 11-23, 2018.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Wilmington District staff in the Asheville Regulatory Field Office have worked diligently with TIEC and its consultants over the last five years to permit the site in anticipation of this world-class event.

   According to TIEC, alternate sites throughout the mid-Atlantic were considered.  Ultimately the Tryon Resort site was chosen for several reasons, including the available competition licenses in this region, the areas existing horse culture, and the temperate climate.

It is anticipated that this event will be one of the largest sporting events held in the state of North Carolina, with 500,000 spectators and more than $400 million dollars of projected economic impacts. The FEI WEG is held every four years, halfway between the Summer Olympic Games. In 2014, it was held in Normandy, France, where more than 984 athletes, 1234 horses, 74 nations and 1900 accredited media from 52 countries and 575,000 spectators attended the event.

   “There are several equestrian facilities globally that have hosted the WEG since 1990, when FEI consolidated the World Championships of eight disciplines into one competition, but in the past those competitions have been spread out over various facilities,” said Steven Kichefski, USACE Wilmington District, Regulatory Project Manager.

   According to FEI, hosting all WEG events at one location really began in 2010 with the Kentucky Horse Park and has been trending that way since. The TIEC was very concerned with providing a facility that could host a variety of equestrian activities, yet was compact enough for spectators to shuttle between different events.

   “Working with the TIEC on their timelines and evolving project needs while ensuring the project followed the appropriate review process was a challenge for all involved. In fact, in 2017 the USACE had just issued a permit for a facility expansion around the time when the TIEC learned they would be hosting the WEG. USACE actually had to suspend that permit because the significant infrastructure changes they proposed for the WEG invalidated the previous Environmental Assessment. Also, a large portion of the equestrian center property included a failed development with its own permit history spanning the previous decade which had to be considered in the process,” said Kichefski.

   “While I have been involved with other large development projects in Charlotte and the mountains, the combination of economics, politics and timing with this project was definitely a first for me,” stated Kichefski.

   There were many unique equestrian and logistical criteria driving the infrastructural needs and configuration of this facility, such as the 100 mile endurance event, the four on-site hotels, the international “Olympic style” village or the lodging/parking needs for half a million visitors. “At times it was like looking at a bunch of puzzle pieces and trying to verify each piece’s need and if its impacts could be avoided or minimized by fitting them together in a different way,” Kichefski stated.

   TIEC consultants first reached out to USACE’s Asheville Office to discuss the Equestrian Center in June 2013. Phase I was permitted on Dec. 23, 2013. As other components of the project evolved additional permits were needed. The most recent permit was issued Sept.14, 2017, and included infrastructure improvements to meet the needs of the WEG.

   “During the 404 permitting process, we coordinated with several local, state and federal agencies including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the NC Division of Water Resources (DWR), the NC Division of Wildlife Resources, the State Historic Preservation Office and Polk County, NC. The state, especially DWR, has really put a lot of work into this process as well,” stated Kichefski.