Shuler, transit and nuclear waste
Rep. Heath Shuler has been keeping his communications director busy lately. The Democratic congressman's office issued several press releases that garnered attention last week.
"City of Asheville Transit System to Receive $428,000," one announced. The federal "livability grant" will go toward upgrading the city's bus fleet. The project was one of 47 to receive funding out of 281 applicants nationwide.
"Having a strong bus system benefits our environment and air quality, and reduces traffic by reducing the number of cars on the roads,” Shuler said in the release. “I could not be more proud of the city of Asheville for winning this competitive grant.”
Another release notified residents that the "White House Great Outdoors Initiative Will Hold Listening Session in Asheville." The July 15 listening session is designed to solicit ideas about land conservation and how the outdoors can drive economic growth and job creation. Senior officials from several federal agencies, including the departments of Agriculture and the Interior as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, will be on hand to hear residents' thoughts and concerns. Ideas generated in these forums, which are being held throughout the country, will help shape the president's new Great Outdoors Initiative, the White House says. The local session will run from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at A-B Tech in Asheville.
Shuler has also been speaking out to quell concerns that Western North Carolina could be the site of a nuclear waste dump.
In the article "Will Sandy Mush Get Nuclear Waste," Madison County's News-Record & Sentinel reported that rumors have been swirling since early spring that the Department of Energy is once again considering a nuclear waste repository in Sandy Mush. The department circulated a proposal to store radioactive wastes in the area in the early 1980s, before "indefinitely" postponing the plans in 1986.
With the federal government seeming more and more likely to abandon its plan to build a waste repository at the controversial Yucca Mountain site in Nevada, there's been renewed debate in Washington in recent weeks on what to do with such hazardous wastes. But although the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future is looking into alternatives, "Nuclear Waste is Not Headed to Asheville Area," Shuler told the Asheville Citizen-Times.
“At this point, there is no discussion about nuclear waste being housed in our mountains,” he said. “If those discussions begin, I will do everything in my power to shut that idea down, because the unique topography and geological considerations make Western North Carolina far from an ideal location for safe storage of nuclear waste.”
Greener pastures and big-box stores
A nuclear waste dump here could be a nightmare for local government officials, but as of last week, Jim Coman won't be among them.
In the article "Retired Buncombe Zoning Administrator Jim Coman Has Seen Zoning Spread Across the County," the Citizen-Times reports that after more than 30 years of public service, Coman is moving on to less demanding pursuits, such as Civil War reenactment. “It's great entertainment, after being a bureaucrat for 40 hours a week, to go out on the weekend to shoot people,” he said.
Coman wrote and enforced land-use rules for the county as it grappled with contentious zoning issues. “People don't want government involved in their lives, but the minute … anything goes wrong, they call the government,” he observed.
Another controversial development Coman won't have to deal with is the "Large Shopping and Business Center Proposed in Enka." The C-T reported that developers have proposed building about half a million square feet of retail space and half a million more for other uses on part of the former BASF/American Enka property.
The retail space (about half the size of Asheville Mall) could include a big-box store such as Walmart. But in an online post, Xpress Publisher Jeff Fobes pointed out that the proposed "Enka Development on Former BASF Raises Questions and Faces Hurdles."
In the blog, Fobes asked, "What contamination problems lurk on the land and in existing buildings?" Reportedly, there's a landfill on the property that might contain hazardous waste. And traffic congestion could also pose a major challenge to the plans.
The proposal is tentatively scheduled to come before the city Planning and Zoning Commission Aug. 19.