A big, done deal

Since October 1997, local employees of Champion International have viewed the pending sale of the company’s Canton paper plant with a mixture of dread and optimism. Now, though, it seems that the latter has won out: Late last month, Champion and the yet-to-be-named company created by its employees and a New York-based investment-banking firm, KPS Special Situations Fund, closed a $200 million employee buyout deal.

The National Center for Employee Ownership called it one of the 10 largest employee buyouts in American history, and the largest ever in the Southeast. And many see the agreement as further evidence that such transactions represent an increasingly viable alternative to plant closings and other large-scale sellouts. “Our hope is that other people across the state will be encouraged and do what [Champion employees] have done,” said Pat Brinkley of the NC Rural Center, one of the organizations providing support for the buy-out.

The negotiations lasted 17 months; and the employees were assisted by various private consulting groups, such as the Southern Appalachian Center for Cooperative Ownership. State government also lent a hand, helping the workers form an employee stock-ownership plan. In addition, the Canton plant buyout may represent the first time employees have benefited from legislation passed by last year’s General Assembly, entitling such employee transactions to the same kinds of tax credits as those given industries recruited to locate in the state.

To learn more, call the Southern Appalachian Center for Cooperative Ownership (232-0632), or Smoky Mountain Local 507 of the AFL-CIO (828-648-1929).

Litigating extinction

Another local group, the Southern Appalachian Biodiversity Project, also had an interesting announcement last month: namely, that it is gearing up to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failure to protect the habitat of four endangered species in the state. The SABP contends that, when listing the species, the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to simultaneously designate habitat critical to their survival and recovery — a violation of the Endangered Species Act. On March 30, the Biodiversity Project sent the FWS the required Notice of Intent to Sue — giving the agency 60 days to correct the problem. The four species at issue are the spruce-fir moss spider, the rock gnome lichen, and two kinds of mussels — the Carolina heelsplitter and the Appalachian elktoe.

“By designing critical habitat for these species, FWS will reduce habitat loss, the number-one threat to their survival,” said Marty Bergoffen, the SABP’s campaign coordinator and staff attorney, in a recent news release. “In failing in its duty to protect endangered species, the FWS is not obeying their mandates under the Endangered Species Act.”

According to the Biodiversity Project, the federal law requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to delineate critical habitat for endangered species whenever it lists a species as endangered or threatened, with only minor exceptions. But of the 34 species listed in this state since 1982, only three have had critical habitat designated.

For more information, call Bergoffen at 258-2667.

Music to the teacher’s ears

In classical music today, the organ often gets short shrift. Apart from Bach’s magnificently eerie “Toccata & Fugue,” much of the most popular instrumental classical music consists of works arranged for brass, strings, wind instruments or, maybe, the piano — but definitely not the organ. The Western NC Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, however, is looking to help change that: They’re holding a competition for a $1,000 scholarship, to entice serious piano students to become serious organ students. The winner can apply the prize money to lessons with any member of the American Guild of Organists.

The competition is open to all WNC high-school students, grades 9 through 12, who have had a minimum of five years of piano study. Applicants should send a tape of them performing a short piano piece, a letter of recommendation from their piano teacher, another letter of recommendation (from a nonrelative), and a paragraph on “Why I might be interested in learning to play the organ.”

Six finalists will participate in a hands-on demonstration class in a local church on Saturday, May, 22; the judges will then award the scholarship to one of the six. Applications are due by May 1, and should be sent to: Benjamin Hadley, Chair, WNC AGO Scholarship Committee, 443 Sky Lane, Hendersonville, NC 28739.

To learn more, call Hadley at 828-891-5133.

Whose cause is it, anyway?

It’s not often that the president emeritus of Harvard comes to western North Carolina, so listen up: Dr. Derek Bok will be in these parts to speak at the 1999 Common Cause/North Carolina Awards Dinner on Saturday, April 17.

Bok, the new chairman of the national board of Common Cause, was first a Harvard professor, then the dean of Harvard Law School, and then the prestigious university’s president (from 1971 to 1991); he now holds the hefty title of “300th anniversary university professor.” Recently inaugurated as Common Cause’s chairman, Bok will honor Jane Bingham of Asheville, herself a charter member of Common Cause and longtime coordinator of the group’s 11th Congressional District Steering Committee.

Common Cause — a liberal, nonprofit lobbying group known for its work on behalf of civil rights and, currently, campaign-finance reform — has been a player in many important political and ideological debates over the last 20 years. Founded by one of the Watergate special prosecutors, the group believes that government should be held as accountable as its citizens.

While the dinner will be held at 7 p.m. at the Radisson Hotel on April 17, the deadline for dinner tickets ($25 each) is April 10; sponsors for the dinner are also being sought, with various prices and levels held accordingly???. An additional $25 contribution will enable a political-science student from UNCA or Mars Hill College to attend.

To register and pay for the dinner, to become a dinner sponsor, or to sponsor a student, call Thomas Coulson at 683-9354.

Hear Berry speak

Acclaimed scholar Thomas Berry will be the keynote speaker at the Student Environmental Action Coalition’s Southeast Multiregional Conference; Berry will speak on the campus of Warren Wilson College on Saturday, April 17. In his books, the historian has explored the foundation of cultures in relation to the natural world.

The conference, scheduled for April 16-18, is expected to attract up to 400 students from around the Southeast; it will feature 16 workshops covering topics ranging from permaculture and Southeastern forest protection to eco-feminism. Local and regional environmental organizations will provide workshop leaders and speakers. Other planned activities include yoga, edible-plant walks and live music by local bands. Weather permitting, most of the conference will be held outdoors.

The coalition is a national organization seeking to correct environmental injustices through “action and education.”

Warren Wilson College was also in the news recently — U.S. News & World Report, to be exact — when the magazine’s 1999 guide to “America’s Best Graduate Schools” named Warren Wilson’s M.F.A. program for writers as one of the nation’s top-20 graduate programs in creative writing. Warren Wilson is the only North Carolina school in the list, selected from the nearly 200 M.F.A. programs nationwide.

To learn more, call 298-3325, ext. 423.

Reading rules

Nothing — absolutely nothing — frees a mind as much as reading. In today’s post-literate society, however, we sometimes need a little reminder of how beautiful the written word can be. Accordingly, the Asheville-Buncombe Library System and the Asheville Community Theatre’s Second Stage have joined forces to present two weeks of literary entertainment. They’re offering a series of free readings from April 11-22 in Pack Library’s Lord Auditorium.

The series will include drama, poetry and short stories presented by veteran actors of all ages from the Asheville Community Theatre. Each thematic program will be presented twice: “Books, Bookworms and Librarians” (Sundays, April 11 and 18 at 2:30 p.m.); an evening of fantasy and science fiction for young adults (Mondays, April 12 and 19 at 7 p.m.); “Imagination,” aimed at children aged 7 – 11 (Tuesdays, April 13- 20, at 7 p.m.); and a film produced by the James Agee Film Project called Tell About the South: The Story of Modern Southern Literature (Wednesdays, April 14 and 21, at 4 and 7 p.m.). On successive Thursdays (April 15 and 22) at 7 p.m., a pair of programs featuring local storytellers — titled The Library’s Oral Traditions — are scheduled.

For more information, call Deborah Compton at 250-4718.

— catastrophically compiled by Paul Schattel

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