Buzzworm news briefs

Asheville gears up for disaster relief

The devastation wrought by the recent earthquake and tsunamis in southern Asia is epic, and local relief agencies are scrambling to respond — both to the disasters themselves and to the outpouring of support by area residents. The Asheville-Mountain Area Chapter of the American Red Cross is accepting inquiries from families who have been unable to reach their loved ones in the areas impacted by the disaster. Although the organization cannot fully act on such requests at this time, information will be taken so that inquiries can be expedited once systems are established in the affected areas. The American Red Cross will work closely with the International Federation of the Red Cross in making such inquiries as soon as possible. Concerned family members can also contact the U.S. State Department toll free by calling (888) 407-4747.

For those wanting to offer assistance, the Red Cross recommends sending a check. “Cash contributions enable the Red Cross to buy relief products locally or regionally, thereby saving precious financial resources by eliminating the enormous expense of shipping individual items. Assistance is also more rapidly available,” the organization reports.

Asheville resident Patricia Digh has close ties to the devastated region, having lived in Sri Lanka as a high-school exchange student from Morganton. Since the disaster, Digh has been unable to contact the family she lived with there. In the meantime, she’s spearheading “From Asheville to Asia,” a fund-raising effort run in conjunction with the local Red Cross chapter.

“Imagine if everyone in Asheville gave $10: We could be able to send $700,000 to help provide food, clean drinking water and plastic tarps for the millions left homeless,” noted Digh. “Time is of the essence, so that more don’t die.”

She’s encouraging donors to make checks payable to the American Red Cross and to indicate on the check that the donation is specifically for the Asheville to Asia Fund.

A local business with ties to the region is also stepping up to the plate. Ten Thousand Villages, a nonprofit fair-trade retailer with shops in Asheville and Black Mountain is donating 20 percent of its sales Thursday and Friday, Jan. 6-7, to the Mennonite Central Committee’s Asia Earthquake Fund. The stores will accept direct donations as well. Store manager Jennifer Elliot notes: “When our store heard about the earthquake and tsunami … we knew we wanted to help. The benefit shopping event is a natural extension of our mission. Ten Thousand Villages works to help artisans in Southeast Asia and around the world improve their families’ situations by providing fair prices and consistent work. This event is simply another opportunity for customers to help us impact families globally.”

Many other organizations are also working to raise funds for the relief efforts. If you want to research a charitable organization before making a donation, the American Red Cross recommends visiting this Web site: www.charitywatch.org.

Donations to the Asheville-Mountain Area Red Cross disaster relief effort can be mailed to 100 Edgewood Road, Asheville, NC 28804-3597. For additional information on the Asheville-Mountain Area Red Cross, or to make an online donation, visit the following Web site: www.ashevillemountainredcross.org. To learn more about the Asheville to Asia Fund, send an e-mail to info@ashevilletoasia.org. For more on Ten Thousand Villages and its benefit event, visit www.villageasheville.com, or call Jennifer Elliot at 254-8374.

— Brian Sarzynski

A flood of information

Remember the flood of ’04? If for some reason you don’t, just take a stroll along any local river: The plethora of garbage and debris still clinging to branches and littering the banks should jog your memory. The flood flotsam vividly testifies to the disaster’s environmental, economic and personal toll.

Questions, too, still linger in the minds of many. To help answer some of them while offering a scientific perspective on both the flood and the integral role rivers play in our collective experience, RiverLink, a local nonprofit, is once again bringing together scientists from around the region for a forum on Wednesday, Jan. 12, from 6-8 p.m. in A-B Tech’s Simpson Auditorium.

The first such event, held in November, attracted more than 100 people and provided an in-depth look at exactly what happened. This time around, the focus will be on options for controlling floods, the complexities of mountain stream systems, their natural hydrological functions — and what happens when we change those functions.

The free event is open to the public.

For more information, visit RiverLink’s Web site (www.riverlink.org), or call French Broad Riverkeeper Philip Gibson (252-8474, ext. 114).

— Brian Sarzynski

In with the old — buildings, that is

Western North Carolina’s rich architectural legacy provides a mute but still compelling argument for historic preservation. But visitors to the region’s historic downtowns and picturesque rural communities often have little idea of what tough battles were fought to keep those rustic log cabins, whimsical Victorian mansions and sleek art-deco structures from being razed for strip malls and parking lots. The quaint and beautiful heart of today’s tourist-thronged Asheville, for example, would have been torn out two decades ago if citizens hadn’t mounted a grassroots campaign to stop the city from selling off 17 blocks of downtown to an out-of-state developer who planned to erect a giant indoor shopping mall.

Now, mountain residents have a chance to let Raleigh know what they think the priorities should be in protecting historic buildings and monuments. The State Historic Preservation Office is seeking public input on its update of Legacy, North Carolina’s Comprehensive Historic Preservation Plan.

A citizen questionnaire poses such key questions as what is most important to preserve, what are the most pressing preservation needs and issues, and what should the state’s preservation priorities be over the next five years. The Preservation Office is distributing the questionnaire to the general public, as well as public officials, local governments and preservation groups.

“We hope all interested citizens will participate in this preservation planning process,” said Grants Administrator Melinda Courtney Coleman in a press release. “Your input will help set goals, define priorities, and ensure that the plan will be effective.”

The questionnaire is available online at the State Historic Preservation Office’s Web site (www.hpo.dcr.state.nc.us). But don’t let history pass you by — it needs to be returned no later than Jan. 15, 2005, to: North Carolina Historic Preservation Office, 4617 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, N.C. 27699-4617, or fax to (919) 733-8653.

— Steve Rasmussen

Botanical Gardens builds eco-friendly parking lot

Even if you sometimes have to “pave paradise to put up a parking lot,” at least it can be done in a way that minimizes the environmental impacts. Yes, it is possible — and the University Botanical Gardens at Asheville is showing us how.

Work began Nov. 17 on a 32-space addition to the gardens’ current lot on W.T. Weaver Boulevard. The project is slated to be completed in May.

This is not your average parking lot. “The goal is to combine an increase in parking places with an ecologically friendly water-filtration system, to filter runoff before it goes into the streams,” explains Botanical Gardens board president Marianne Cote. “The current parking lot was not adequate to take the visitor traffic. Before the greenway was built on W.T. Weaver Boulevard, people could park on the street, but now they cannot.”

The new addition, situated just east of the existing lot, will be topped with chip-sealed asphalt, a light-gray topcoat that absorbs and radiates less heat than traditional asphalt surfaces, according to board member Gerry Hardesty.

“Parking sites are a source of pollution from leaks and spills of petroleum products,” Hardesty explains. “The first flush or half-inch of rain moves these contaminants into storm drains and waterways.”

The parking lot will include two water-filtration systems for handling storm runoff. Some of it will flow into a “rain garden” (a depression filled with a layer of rocks topped with plant life and soil) for filtering. After that, the runoff will feed into a collection system that drains into a stream. The rest of the runoff will flow directly into a BaySaver (an underground storm-water treatment system that separates and stores sediment and oil residues; for more information, see www.baysaver.com).

An underground pipe will deliver the water to a wetland garden behind the visitor center, and then into a nearby stream. UNCA students will sample and monitor the effluent from both systems for pollutants, says Hardesty.

Cote hopes the project will serve as a model for businesses and homeowners who want to make their lots more environmentally friendly. Staff and volunteers have relocated the few important native plants that were in the area into the gardens, Cote reports. The Botanical Gardens received grants from several sources in support of the $180,000 project: the Janirve Foundation, the Joiner Family, the North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund, the Pigeon River Fund, Progress Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A number of smaller donations also helped fund the project, Cote noted. The contractor is Trace and Company of Mountain Home, N.C.

For more information, contact the Botanical Gardens at 252-5190.

— Megan Shepherd

Goodbye, Vincent’s Ear

After a monthlong struggle to renew its lease, the iconic Asheville nightspot Vincent’s Ear closed its doors for good on Dec. 29. Although there had been formal negotiations on extending the lease, no agreement was ultimately reached with property manager Renee Lantzius, the niece of building owner Dawn Lantzius.

Vincent’s Ear owner Joan Morris said she was informed via e-mail on Dec. 28 that the cafe must completely vacate the space by midnight on Dec. 31. Many in the community have voiced concerns about the Lantzius family’s handling of the situation since informing Morris on Nov. 4 that the club’s lease on the building it had occupied for more than 11 years would not be renewed.

The controversy surrounding Vincent’s Ear had attracted the attention of many in the downtown business community, who saw the club as a vital component of the city’s so-called “creative economy.” Even Kirk Watson — the former mayor of Austin, Texas — had become involved in efforts to save the cafe.

In the wake of the closing, a surprising number of volunteers — both Vincent’s Ear regulars and members of the Lexington Avenue community — have pitched in to help dismantle the long-running business.

“Everybody on this street has been amazing in the last month,” said Morris from the nearly empty shell that was once home to Vincent’s. “I just want to thank everybody.”

Renee Lantzius did not return calls concerning this article.

— Steve Shanafelt

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