Smart growth and human health

Designed for community leaders and activists alike, Western North Carolina Tomorrow is sponsoring an emerging-issues symposium, to be held at the Grove Park Inn, on human health and the environment in the 21st century.

Keynote speakers, including Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher and a bevy of acknowledged academic experts, will take aim at water quality and water resources, Appalachian air pollution, land development, global climate change, infectious diseases, natural hazards, and their effects on human health.

“Approaching the issues from global, national, regional and local veiwpoints, they will help participants gain a broader perspective of their challenges and responsibilities,” writes Phillip Gibson, for WNC Tomorrow, a division of the Moutain Resource Center at Western Carolina University. He adds it’s a rare opportunity to hear experts “trace global change to the level of national and local impact, and for participants to learn how they might lead their communities to more positive outcomes in the [new] century.”

Pegged as a first annual event, the symposium will kick off at 8:30 a.m. on Jan. 21, and last until 2 p.m. To attend, you must register by Jan. 14, and there is a $30 fee.

To learn more about the symposium or to make reservations, contact Nell Leatherwood or Phillip Gibson at (828) 227-7492, or email

Remember the Great Drought of ’98? Well, Asheville’s water-shortage problems are officially over — at least for now — according to one local official who should know. Asheville Water Resources Director Tom Frederick says things have improved so much that — exactly one year after the combined water level at the North Fork and Bee Tree reservoirs reached an all-time low — North Fork is expected to reach capacity.

“Boy, what a difference a year can make,” said Frederick in an uncharacteristically playful media release. “Mother Nature has been better to us this year, and the completion of [the Mills River Water Treatment Plant] has been a significant boost to our service capability. The situation has completely turned around from last year’s time.”

Thankfully, 1999 brought more rain to the area, and in late October, the new Mills River Plant was brought on-line to serve customers in north Henderson and south Buncombe counties. That helped ease some of the demand, particularly on the North Fork Reservoir. Frederick also credits conservation-minded customers for helping the Water Resources Department maintain high levels of both service and water quality during the drought.

Accordingly, Frederick is optimistic about the coming year — and about the Mills River Plant’s 5 million-gallon-a-day capacity. “The future water needs of this area will be addressed with the addition of the Mills River Water Treatment Plant,” Frederick explained, adding, “This community certainly has much to be grateful for, this year.”

To learn more about Asheville’s Water Resources Department, or the Mills River Water Treatment Plant, call Frederick at 259-5955.

What the world needs now

With so many talented visual artists living in Asheville, you might expect to find more art on city streets. One recent addition, however, is the colorful mural on the front of the concession stand at West Asheville Park. Painted by about 25 West Asheville kids ranging in age from 4 to 15, the mural was created during the neighborhood’s first West Asheville Estates Block Party, last fall. The mural will be on display for at least two years.

Local artist Sarah Elsner, who coordinated the project, used donated house paint from various West Asheville homes. In a recent Parks & Rec press release, Elsner said she’d been inspired after seeing the mural created at last summer’s Bele Chere. The new mural’s theme, “Our West Asheville Home,” is painted in red letters across the top, together with the hopeful motto, “Heal the World.”

According to the release, the mural symbolizes West Asheville’s new community spirit, as evidenced by the neighborhood block party — which drew more than 150 people, back in September.

For more information about the West Asheville Park mural, call Sarah Elsner at 236-0110, or the Asheville Parks and Recreation Department at 259-5800.

Watching the skies

Though many people scoff at UFO sightings, a number of local groups and individuals feel the real story has yet to be told. And, if you read this by Jan. 12, you can attend the Blue Ridge UFO Research Society’s 7 p.m. meeting at the First Citizens Bank Community Room, in Hendersonville. They’ll show a video about a controversial incident involving the alleged crash of an alien spacecraft, and the subsequent retrieval and cover-up by the U.S. government.

The 92-minute documentary, by UFO researcher and investigator Stan Gordon, takes a close look at the Kecksburg, Pa., case in which a spacecraft, complete with alien life-forms, is said to have crashed in 1965.

“What Gordon did is research the matter, and he uncovered a lot of people who are still living, who saw what happened during that time,” explains Frederick Chaffee, the Society’s corresponding secretary. “Firemen were evidently called to the scene, but the military moved in, and everyone else was told to get out, because it became a top-security thing. The firemen who responded to the case apparently did see something — a craft that was nothing like anything they had ever seen before. It wasn’t a helicopter, it wasn’t a plane, it wasn’t anything that they could visibly identify as an aircraft. Some of these individuals are still living, and Stan Gordon interviewed them.”

Chaffee, who recently completed his third consecutive term as UFO Society president, acknowledges the similarity between the Kecksburg case and the more celebrated Roswell, N.M., incident of the late ’40s. But this case is different, he says, because it happened “much closer to home,” and much more recently — meaning most of the participants are still alive, with clearer memories of what happened. “Gordon ties [the video] together with news clips and articles from the local paper, and so on,” Chaffee explains. “It’s an update on what we think really occurred.”

As for the skeptics and UFO debunkers out there, Chaffee says they have their place. But he maintains that, when pushed for facts and figures, the skeptics usually come up short. “Some of the hard-core skeptics like to come to various symposiums every year, but they don’t say anything in the auditorium,” he reports. “They’d rather undercut [the theories] out in the hall. They listen during the meetings, and then afterward try to corner the press out in the hall. Basically, not one of them has come across with an argument that can really justify their position.”

To bolster his own position, Chaffee references Northwestern University Astronomy Department Chair Dr. J. Allen Hynek. According to Chaffee, Hynek spent many years working with Project Bluebook, the government’s official investigation of “flying saucer” reports, long branded a cover-up by UFO enthusiasts. “Hynek was one of the main people calling these things swamp gas and so on,” says Chaffee: “But … after analyzing all the sighting reports and all of these cases, he became convinced that he was on the wrong track altogether, and then he organized his own group, and they investigated UFOs. Eventually, he became one of our spokespeople for supporting the … theories of alien visitations.”

For more information on the Stan Gordon video or the UFO Society, call Chaffee at 692-8937.

What the world needs now, vol. 2 and 3

Asheville’s homeless problem — though never as bad as, say, Atlanta’s — remains a significant concern. But a recent U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant of more than $450,000 will help provide housing for some of our community’s neediest people — homeless youth and individuals with disabilities.

The grant, one of 1,834 federal Department of Housing and Urban Development awards totaling $750 million, came about after the city teamed up with Mountain Housing Opportunities, WNC Housing and Eliada Homes. The 1999 award represents a 67 percent increase over the previous year’s funding for such projects.

“The key to our success was collaboration,” said Charlotte Caplan, the city’s Community Development director, in a recent media release. “Thirty-five agencies in Asheville and Buncombe County have contributed to the development of Continuum of Care … [which] ensures that services are coordinated, gaps in service are identified, and duplication is avoided. Clearly, HUD has recognized the excellence of our programs.”

In other local news, the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners has named Buncombe County’s Hazardous Waste Education and Management Program an Outstanding County Program for 1999, due to its “superior innovation” and collaborative efforts to boost public awareness. The award will be presented at a Buncombe County Board of Commissioners meeting later this year.

A county media release praises county staff for their excellent job of educating and helping local businesses minimize and recycle hazardous waste. Buncombe has the only county-level certified hazardous waste inspectors in the state, and county staff visited interested businesses and industries at least twice a week to advise and instruct. The county has also established an information hotline covering frequently asked questions.

For more information on the Continuum of Care grant, contact Charlotte Caplan at 259-5723. To learn more about the county’s award, call Bob Hunter at 250-5466.

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