Buzzworm news briefs

Campaign calendar

Wed, Oct. 25: “Generating Solutions — A Candidate Forum on Energy and the Environment” takes place from 6 to 8 p.m. at Pack Place in downtown Asheville. The forum is sponsored by Environment North Carolina, the new home of NCPIRG’s environmental work. Candidates for U.S. House District 11, N.C Senate District 49, and N.C. House districts 114, 115 and 116 have been invited to attend.

Fri, Oct. 27: The Buncombe County Republican Women’s Club will offer an opportunity to meet and greet local Republican candidates. The event will be held at the Reynolds Volunteer Fire Department from to 7 p.m. For details, call Loretta Reynolds at 274-7883.

Tues, Oct. 31: Last day to request absentee ballots in writing (except in cases of sickness or disability).

Sat, Nov. 4: One-stop voting ends at 1 p.m. Until that time, early voting is available at 10 locations around Buncombe County. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday (exception: the Buncombe County Training Center opens at 8:30 a.m.). Locations are as follows:

Buncombe County Training Center, 199 College St., Asheville

Black Mountain Library, 105 N. Dougherty St., Black Mountain

Enka/Candler Library, 1404 Sandhill Road, Candler

Fairview Library, 1 Taylor Road, Fairview

Leicester Library, 1561 Alexander Road, Leicester

South Buncombe Library, 260 Overlook Road, Asheville

Weaverville Library, 41 N. Main St., Weaverville

North Asheville Library, 1030 Merrimon Ave., Asheville

West Asheville Library, 942 Haywood Road, Asheville

Asheville Opportunity Center, 36 Grove St., Asheville

For more information, call the Board of Elections at 250-4200.

Mon, Nov. 6: Mailed absentee ballots must be received by the board of elections no later than 5 p.m. Requests for absentee ballots due to sickness or disability are due by 5 p.m.

Tues, Nov. 7: Election Day — polls are open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Poll locations are available from your county’s board of elections. Here are a few notes to special-circumstance voters.

Voter assistance: Any voter is entitled to assistance from a near relative. Voters unable to enter a voting booth or mark a ballot because of physical disability, including blindness, or those who are unable to mark a ballot because of illiteracy, can receive assistance from a person of their choice (other than the voter’s employer, an employer’s agent or an officer/agent of a voter’s union).

Voter ID: Voters who have registered by mail since January 2003 who did not provide a valid driver’s license number will be asked for one of these identifying documents: a copy of a current, valid photo identification; a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or other governmental document that shows the voter’s name and address.

Moved recently?: Voters who did not submit a change-of-address to the Board of Elections office by the registration deadline must vote in one of two ways: 1) Report to your former voting location and pick up a form to take to your new location. (This form will verify that you have not voted at your former location.) You will cast your vote at the new location. 2) Report to your new voting location to vote, where you may fill out a registration-change form.

Our Nov. 1 edition next Wednesday will be our last campaign calendar before the 2006 general election on Nov. 7. Please send all announcements no later than Thursday, Oct. 26, to nholder@mountainx.com.

At the bottom of the ballot

So, you get to pick two supervisors for the Buncombe County Soil & Water District during this fall’s election, from a field of four candidates. What exactly does that mean?

Besides staying persistently out of the limelight (no known public forums for these candidates), this elected office is made even more obscure by being tucked on the reverse side of the election ballot — so don’t forget to look for it.

But truth be known, the local Soil & Water District has been in our midst for more than 50 years, according to District Director Gary Higgins, who’s been with the office for nearly half its existence. Conservation districts “started nationwide in the ’30s because of the Dust Bowl [and] excessive erosion,” Higgins explains, and North Carolina had the first such district in the nation: Brown Creek near Charlotte.

“Back in those days,” Higgins says, “most of the problems revolved around agriculture. People didn’t talk a lot about water quality back then.”

Now the district spends a lot of time and money trying to improve water quality in watersheds, and its newest program is a cost-sharing initiative with urban homeowners for such projects as impervious-surface conversion, grass swales, backyard rain gardens and wetlands. Environmental education and technical assistance are the other main avenues of service.

The N.C. districts (96 in all) are governmental subdivisions of the state, with a majority of each board of supervisors elected at the district level. The district boards are responsible for decisions on expenditures, programs, planning and overall direction, according to Higgins.

Xpress asked each of the four candidates for Buncombe County supervisor their reason for running for this under-the-radar position.

Challenger Jeff Turner, a disabled veteran and former plumber and roofer, pointed out that “people are mad all over the county” about storm water, ridgetop development and erosion issues. “Basically, I wanted to do something about that. We’ve got one of the most pristine places in the world, and we keep chopping down trees.”

Challenger Alan Ditmore, who raises beef cattle in Leicester, wants to “bring cost-benefit analysis to the conservation policy. That starts with contraception as having by far the highest cost-benefit ratio. But it also includes prioritizing existing projects by cost-benefit instead of the existing point system.”

Incumbent Elise Israel, an educator currently self-employed in real estate, is completing her first 4-year term on the board. “I’m interested in any environmental-conservation measures to maintain a healthy landscape and environment for our county. Our growth is kind of overpowering our rural landscape and we need to take care of our farmers and agricultural land, and I want to be a part of that.”

Incumbent James Coman, senior planner for Buncombe County, has been on the board for 10 years and is the current chair. “We’ve been losing farmland and especially dairies at a really shocking rate in this county. I’d hate in 10 years for all the milk [our] kids drink to come from Mexico. I see a real need right now to do what we can to keep farmland.”

— Nelda Holder

Normal it ain’t

Paranormal Room
photo by Jonathan Welch

If you’ve ever found yourself in downtown Asheville wondering why you can’t pick up a pair of pumps and an alien-abduction detector in one store, well, your worries are over.

Asheville’s resident paranormalist, Joshua P. Warren, recently opened Asheville’s first “free paranormal museum” in the rear of the Classie Moon Thrift Boutique, where it is curated by shop owner (and Joshua’s little sister) Jessica Warren. “It’s pretty humble right now,” she says as she leads the way past quilted coats and floral-knit dresses, “but eventually it’ll take up this whole room.”

For now, the museum’s collection takes up the better part of a wall and a large table, which is squeezed in among racks of sweaters. Items in the display most of which were personally gathered by the elder Warren, include casts of Bigfoot tracks, a replica of an alien skull, various ghost pictures and a piece of straw from a Yancey County crop circle.

“I’ve wanted to open a thrift boutique for years” Jessica explained in a recent press release. “It seemed natural to incorporate some of Josh’s collection.” Perusing blurry yeti photos while rubbing shoulders with bargain-minded clothing shoppers might not be your idea of “normal” museum going, but the siblings Warren might have a slightly skewed interpretation of the word.

And rightfully so: For those not familiar with the weird work of Joshua Warren, the Asheville native is an author, filmmaker, radio talk-show host, self-styled paranormal expert and ghost hunter. His paranormal-investigation team, L.E.M.U.R., has made more supernatural discoveries than you can shake a protoplasmic convector at.

The museum in the back of his sister’s shop, it seems, is just another step toward enlightening the masses on the truth that is, as the saying goes, “out there.”

“Plus,” Jessica notes, “his fiancee was tired of having alien heads hanging around the living room.”

The museum has debuted just in time for Halloween, but don’t worry — it will remain on permanent display. (Hey, ghosts don’t limit themselves to the month of October, so why should ghost hunters?)

Classie Moon and the paranormal museum, located at 36 Battery Park Ave., are open noon to 7 p.m. from Wednesday through Saturday, and from noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday. Call 252-3492 for more information.

— Ethan Clark

The Homeland Security Expo

Lt. Wally Welch with Newman
Robo-cop: Lt. Wally Welch with “Newman,” the Asheville Police Department’s robot. photo by Jon Elliston

If terrorists, forces of weather or epidemics strike in Buncombe County, local emergency managers have new gear and know-how to minimize the damage. That was the message at the county’s first Homeland Security Expo, held Oct. 18 at the Trinity Baptist Church in West Asheville.

After passing through a basic but hearty lunch buffet in the church’s meeting hall, tables full of emergency personnel, public-health specialists and fire and law-enforcement officers sat down for a series of PowerPoint briefings on worst-case scenarios and what can be done about them.

Western North Carolina’s most recent sizable disaster, the floods of 2004, received some, but scant, mention. Instead, much of the discussion focused on new measures to contain the damage of chemical or biological attacks, hazardous-materials accidents and the like. For example, several speakers detailed their agency’s capabilities for “mass decon” — that is, decontamination of the general public. At the same time, others stressed that the post-9/11 bonanza of government grants for disaster preparedness has pumped lifeblood into public-safety programs that have little to do with terrorism.

After the presentations, attendees toured the church’s parking lot, which was full of the area’s latest technological advances on the homeland-security front, from decontamination trailers to mobile units stocked with anti-nerve agent drugs. The Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department provided what was perhaps the most-graphic display, which featured state-of-the-art weapons, tear-gas dispensers and door-breaching rams.

Lt. Wally Welch of the Asheville Police Department was there to demonstrate how the department uses a robot obtained with a homeland-security grant in 2003. “It’s a Remote Tech M6A; it cost us about a quarter of a million dollars,” he explained. “It’s nickname is ‘Newman’ — that’s kind of an inside joke.”

Newman is equipped to handle a range of dangerous tasks via remote control, keeping humans out of harm’s way, Welch said. A shotgun-style “disruptor” is useful for “rendering safe” suspicious packages that could be bombs. He added: “It also has HAZMAT capabilities — you can roll it up into a chem/bio environment and it can give the readout without [a person] having to do all the suiting up. You can use it for crowd-control or SWAT operations, introducing a chemical into a house, that kind of thing.” What’s more, video cameras and a microphone and speaker built into the robot could find use in hostage-negotiation situations, he noted.

“It does just about everything but cook your breakfast,” Welch said with a laugh.

— Jon Elliston

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