Canary Coalition picks up steam

by Lisa Watters

The Canary Coalition — formed last October to address the region’s deteriorating air quality — is quickly developing into a broad-based grassroots movement. A number of other organizations have either joined or endorsed the coalition’s efforts, including the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce, the Jackson County Travel and Tourism Authority, Sylva Partners in Renewal, the Sylva Herald and, earlier this month, the Caney Fork Community Association.

“It’s exciting to see this happen,” says coalition coordinator Avram Friedman. “The Canary Coalition welcomes and urges all parts of the community to join in this effort. Community associations, civic organizations, local-government officials, churches, businesses and individuals: We need everyone. We all have to breathe.”

In January, the coalition hosted a meeting with other groups based in Western North Carolina to coordinate the production of Smoky Mountain AirAid, an event designed to focus national media attention on the regional air-quality crisis. Representatives of the N.C. Clean Air Coalition, the Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices, A.S.H.E. (a UNCA student group), the Western North Carolina Alliance, Civitan and Jubilee were among those on hand.

At the meeting, it was decided to change the date of the AirAid — originally planned for April 21 — to early October, to allow more time for getting commitments from entertainers and raising the needed funds. The event will be staged in the Liston B. Ramsey Regional Activity Center on the campus of Western Carolina University in Cullowhee.

“People in other regions of the country don’t realize the nature of the problems we’re having here,” explains Friedman. These problems, he says, include “soaring incidences of child asthma attacks and other pulmonary diseases, which have been linked directly to ground level ozone and particulate matter inhalation; trees dying by the thousands in the Smokies and on the Blue Ridge Parkway due to weakness brought on by sulfur-dioxide emissions and the acid rain that results; the endangerment of hundreds of rare plant species that exist only in this region and nowhere else on earth.”

Most of the pollution in the Smokies, says Friedman, comes from coal-fired power plants both inside and outside of North Carolina. “This makes it a problem that has to be solved on a national basis, as well as on the state level. If we don’t boom this message out to the rest of the country and the world, no one else will, and nothing will be done to stop it. Our representatives in Washington and Raleigh have to know, in no uncertain terms, that this is … an issue that cannot be ignored. The more people, organizations, businesses and churches that join … the stronger the message will be.”

Earlier this month, the coalition joined forces with the N.C. Clean Air Association to release the Clean Smokestacks Plan, which seeks to reduce emissions from the state’s 14 coal-fired power plants by 80 to 90 percent. A lobbying effort is under way to enlist support in Raleigh for the needed legislation.

On Wednesday, April 4, the Canary Coalition and other member organizations of the N.C. Clean Air Coalition will stage a lobbying day in Raleigh. Together with the WNC Alliance, the coalition is organizing a bus or car pool from Asheville depending on how many people want to go.

For more information, to obtain a copy of the Clean Smokestacks Plan, or to make the trip to Raleigh, contact the Canary Coalition at (828) 586-4620, or visit their Web site (

Lights, camera, action

The film industry seems to be a growing force in WNC: Think of 28 Days, Hannibal and the soon-to-be-released independent film Songcatcher, just for starters. Set in the WNC mountains just after the turn of the last century, Songcatcher has garnered attention and acclaim, including a special jury award for the entire cast at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival.

Want to learn more about the nuts and bolts of how those local films get produced? The Asheville Film Board’s public forum, “That’s a Wrap: Producing Film, TV and Theater,” is a good place to start. The free workshop will be held Thursday, March 22 in A-B Tech’s Laurel Auditorium, starting at 7 p.m.

This is the second in a series of forums designed to raise awareness about this growing industry’s economic impact on our area. Successful local producers will offer firsthand insights into the process of creating films, television shows, theater productions and commercials.

The forum will cover such topics as getting projects off the ground, pre-production, raising capital, finding local support, assembling a talented crew, and then coordinating the many aspects of production.

Panelists include Robin Farquhar, artistic and executive director of the Flat Rock Playhouse; Gayle Wurthner, scenic artist for Songcatcher, The Music Box and Ironweed; producer Rob Labrecque, (Lone Star, Crusoe, My Dog Skip); Bill Olsen of Little BIG Films (currently developing Hiding Ezra); Reba Williams and Marcia Flowers of WhiteFlower (currently producing the feature film Bubble Gum Cigars and the documentary We Got the Beat: The History of Women in Rock ‘n’ Roll); producer Kurt Mann of Ironwood Productions (The Healing Doctor and Visions of a New Millennium); producer Robin Turner of WLOS-TV; and Paul Bonesteel of Bonesteel Films, whose clients include Biltmore Estate, the city of Asheville, the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce and the state of North Carolina.

Future Asheville Film Board forums will look at how local businesses can benefit from working with media producers and how best to cope with inconveniences during location filming. The board will also continue building its data base of local people seeking temporary employment in media production.

A question-and-answer session will follow the discussion. A near-capacity crowd attended the first forum last year, and additional auditorium wings will be opened if necessary. Spaces cannot be reserved in advance; register at the door.

To find out more, call (828) 259-5484 or check the board’s Web site (

Ridin’ for hope

Many folks enjoy horseback riding, but for someone with a disability, it can signify much more — a road to recovery. For the last five years, Mountin’ Hopes Therapeutic Horseback Riding Center in Mars Hill has been providing this experience to children and adults with physical, cognitive and/or emotional disabilities.

It all costs money, though, and Mountin’ Hopes is sponsoring a 10-mile ride on Saturday, March 31 to raise operating funds. Local riders who own horses will have a chance to explore the beautiful trails at Camp Rockmont in Black Mountain. Each rider must raise a minimum of $50 in donations from friends (a $10 entry fee will be deducted from the money each rider raises).

The ride will begin at 11 a.m., following rider check-in and briefing and a vet check of their horses. Riders will cover two five-mile loops, with a lunch break in between (free bag lunch provided).

ASTM-approved hard hats must be worn throughout the ride. Riders between 8 and 13 years old must be accompanied by an adult; no riders under 8 may participate. Proof of a negative Coggins test, dated within the past year, must be shown for each horse upon arrival at the camp.

This is not a race; the only competition will be seeing who can raise the most money for Mountin’ Hopes (there are prizes for the top fund-raisers). Each entrant will receive a log to record contributions; it should be brought to the ride along with the money collected.

Mountin’ Hopes is a tax-exempt, nonprofit corporation serving clients in Buncombe, Madison and surrounding counties. Qualified instructors assisted by trained volunteers lead weekly classes using specially trained horses and ponies. All operations are conducted following North American Riding for the Handicapped Association guidelines. More than 50 clients took part in the fall session; the spring session begins in April. Grading has been completed for a covered arena; the Center hopes to raise the needed funds and build the facility this year.

To request an entry form, call Cara Gregory at 689-2291. For more information about Mountin’ Hopes or for a client registration form, visit their Web site (, or call 649-9226.

Poisoning the public?

How many human-made chemicals have been released into the environment over the last 50 years? Try 75,000 — and counting. Meanwhile, public-opinion surveys show that a majority of Americans believe the government is making sure they’re protected against any that might be harmful.

Is that trust justified? In Trade Secrets: A Moyers Report, premiering Monday, March 26 at 10 p.m. on UNC-TV, journalist Bill Moyers and producer Sherry Jones deliver a resounding no. Our health and safety, they charge, have been put at risk, and powerful forces don’t want the truth to be known.

This investigative report — supported by page on the PBS Web site ( — is based on a massive archive of secret industry documents as shocking, says Moyers, as the “tobacco papers.”

Moyers and Jones won the Peabody Award for their last collaboration, Washington’s Other Scandal, a special report revealing how both political parties contrived to bend and break campaign laws during the ’96 election.

Whose rules?

County residents who live just outside the Asheville city limits may soon be offered their choice of land-use regulations, courtesy of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners.

The commissioners have scheduled a public hearing on a plan to enact limited zoning in an area just beyond the city limits. The hearing will be held on Tuesday, March 27 in A-B Tech’s Laurel Auditorium, starting at 7 p.m. The county plan would prevent the city from exercising its extraterritorial jurisdiction.

Under state law, the city can expand its ETJ a mile beyond the city limits — except in areas where the county has subdivision regulations, building-inspection services and a zoning ordinance, as in Limestone and Beaverdam townships, county officials say.

City staff members have proposed expanding Asheville’s ETJ along entryway corridors, in areas where infrastructure expansion is planned or likely, and in areas with a variety of land uses.

Within its ETJ, a city can exercise a number of powers, including zoning, subdivision regulations, building inspections, floodplain management, junked-vehicle regulations and erosion-control requirements.

Maps of the proposed ETJ expansion areas are available at all Buncombe County public libraries.

WNCAP hires new executive director

The Western North Carolina AIDS Project — which helps connect people impacted by HIV and AIDS with the services they need, as well as providing AIDS education in the community — has announced the appointment of Dr. Ronald Curran as the agency’s new executive director.

Before joining WNCAP, Curran spent seven years as director of operations for ResCare/VOCA of North Carolina, a service-and-support provider for developmentally disabled and mentally challenged individuals. He has also worked at the Caswell and Black Mountain centers in North Carolina and served on the faculty of the University of Georgia at Athens.

Curran’s appointment concludes a six-month search; applications were received from six states and three countries.

“Dr. Curran joins WNCAP to become an even more active member of the Asheville community,” said Sonya Greck, who chairs the agency’s board. “He brings to WNCAP a wealth of knowledge in the human-services arena, as well as strong business and program-management experience — two areas that were emphasized throughout the search process.”

Curran has lived in Fairview for more than seven years, splitting his time between offices in Charlotte and Asheville. His new position will enable him to remain in the Asheville area full-time.

WNCAP began in the 1980s as a coalition of volunteers; it is now a federally funded agency with paid staff.


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