Peaceful warriors

The Canary Coalition wants clean air in WNC

If you’re one of the Western North Carolinians who are growing increasingly frustrated with the quality of air in our region, you’ll be interested to hear about a new grassroots organization called the Canary Coalition.

“Our intention is to build a broad-based, mainstream, grassroots movement throughout the region around the single issue of improving the air quality in Western North Carolina,” explains Canary Coalition Coordinator Avram Friedman. “We feel it is necessary to demonstrate to government officials, with sheer numbers, that the people of Western North Carolina are no longer willing to be used, as canaries are used in coal mines, to determine when the air is unfit to breathe.”

The group was launched partially in response to the state Environmental Management Commission’s decision last month to reduce the nitrogen-oxide (NOX) emissions from older coal-fired power plants in North Carolina by only 56 percent. During public hearings, many concerned citizens, — as well as the N.C. Clean Air Coalition, a statewide alliance of environmental groups — had called for an 80-percent NOX reduction.

“Air quality is an issue that affects literally everyone who lives here,” says Friedman. “And as important as the health concerns are, pollution also poses an economic threat to the region’s tourism. Unfortunately, the nation’s most-visited park, the Great Smoky [Mountain] National Park, now has the most polluted air of any national park, according to the Park Service. Where visibility used to be at an average of 60 miles during the summer tourist months, it has been reduced to an average of about 15 miles.

“The Canary Coalition will make sure that both state and federal agencies know that the people of Western North Carolina are not going to sit by quietly while our air quality reaches record-setting pollution levels,” continues Friedman. “The mountain community deserves the best pollution-control technologies available to be government mandated and deployed immediately, to protect our children’s health, our future and our natural heritage. The Commission, the governor and other government officials making the decisions regarding our air are supposed to be public servants. They are paid by taxpayers’ money. They work for us. They should be making decisions that protect our health, our environment and our economy. And they should be listening to the will of the people that was expressed loudly and clearly during the public input process. The Canary Coalition will be a watchdog organization to help Western North Carolinians be alert to pending legislation and events related to air-quality issues in the region.”

The Canary Coalition is in the process of coordinating a national media event, the Smoky Mountain Air-Aid Concert, to take place at the Ramsey Center in Cullowhee on April 21, 2001. The purpose of the event is to focus national attention on the air-quality crisis in the Smoky Mountain region, as well as help raise funds for an air-quality monitoring station on the campus of Western Carolina University.

“We feel it’s important that we create a national news-media event, because this problem transcends state boundaries,” explains Friedman. “Most of the pollution we are suffering originates in Tennessee, the Ohio River Valley, and points west of here. The whole country must hear our cry.”

The Canary Coalition is seeking sponsorship from local businesses, civic organizations, religious groups, local government officials and individuals. Volunteers are currently being recruited, and donations are gladly accepted.

For more information about the Canary Coalition, call (828) 586-4620 or e-mail to Also, check out their Web site at, where there are links to other related Web sites, an e-mail discussion list and related environmental news.

An author of note

Since 1952, the WNC Historical Association has presented the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award to outstanding publications that promote the history and culture of Western North Carolina or were authored by residents of the region. This year’s winner is Tommy Hays, for his book In the Family Way (Random House, 1999).

Award Committee Chair David Holcombe says, “The entries for this year’s award were all excellent. However, [Hays’ book] has a truth about it that spoke to the entire committee. We are pleased and honored to include this novel as a recipient of the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award.”

In the Family Way is Hays’ second novel. Set in Greenville, S.C., in 1963, the novel is the memoir of 10-year-old Jeru Lamb, whose family is coming to terms with his brother’s death. Hays states, “I wanted to portray what it was like growing up in the South in the early ’60s. I wanted to recapture the innocence, as well as the tensions. But more than anything, I wanted to write about family life in this time and place. I wanted to write a book that went against Southern stereotypes, but rather reflected the intelligence, the depth and the complexity of the people.”

Hays grew up in Greenville and graduated from Furman University and the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. He is director of the Great Smokies Writing Program, a member of the creative-writing faculty at UNCA, and also teaches at the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities. His first novel, Sam’s Crossing, was also published by Random House. He lives in Asheville with his wife, Connie, and their two children, Max and Ruth.

Hays received a 30-inch-high silver loving cup engraved with the names of the previous award recipients (who include such notable authors as Wilma Dykeman, John Ehle, Charles Frazier, Gail Godwin and John Parris) and a $500 cash award provided by Mr. and Mrs. E. Frank Edwinn in honor of the friendship between Mrs. Edwinn’s father, Louis Lipinsky, and author Thomas Wolfe.

For additional information about the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award, contact the Western North Carolina Historical Association at (828) 253-9231.

Supporting OUR VOICE at Tressa’s

A benefit for OUR VOICE, formerly the Rape Crisis Center, will be hosted by Tressa’s Downtown Jazz and Blues Club on Sunday, Dec. 3, 3 p.m.-1 a.m. Admission is $5 at the door, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to OUR VOICE. Music will be provided by R&B band Mavis, featuring Liz Morrison and Joe DiFeo, who will gift their performance. Local merchants will also donate services to be raffled off.

OUR VOICE provides crisis intervention, counseling, support groups, information and referral to victims of sexual violence and their family members, as well as facilitate education/prevention programs in area schools and local organizations. In order to provide these services free of charge to victims of violence, OUR VOICE relies on the support of the community.

On Nov. 12, Tressa’s — along with co-sponsor Mountain Xpress — raised $3,000 for Loving Food Resources with its Tressa’s All Star Revue, featuring dance DJs from Scandals (who worked for free) and a series of special-guest female impersonators, including — among others — Angelica Dante and Celeste Star (all donated their tips to the cause). Art Fryer, owner of Scandals, also contributed much time and energy to making the event happen.

“People were so generous,” says Tressa Thornton, owner of Tressa’s. “A great time was had by all.

LFR is an Asheville-based, grassroots volunteer organization created to provide food to people living with chronic or terminal illnesses. They serve clients in Buncombe, Henderson, Transylvania, Rutherford, Yancey, McDowell and Haywood counties who are living with HIV/AIDS or receiving hospice care. By unanimous consent, Thornton joined their board this month.

Tressa’s is located at 28 Broadway in downtown Asheville. For more information, call 254-7072.

North Carolina authors revealed

It can be fascinating to hear authors talk openly about their recent works, literary influences and the creative process — revealing how they turn their ideas into well-crafted books.

Residents across the state will get the chance to hear just such revelations when the statewide literary series Bookwatch returns to UNC-TV beginning Sunday, Dec. 3, at 5 p.m. The series, hosted by syndicated newspaper columnist D. G. Martin, will showcase a dozen of North Carolina’s favorite authors, each profiled in a 30-minute interview every week.

North Carolina’s William Mangum opens the new season on Dec. 3, with a colorful commentary on his collection of Tar Heel art and stories, titled Carolina Preserves. Other December guests include New Bern’s modern master of love stories Nicholas Sparks (Dec. 10); mystery writer Margaret Maron (Dec. 17); Chapel Hill author Daniel Wallace (Dec. 24); and “Poet Laureate of Appalachia” Robert Morgan (Dec. 31). Bookwatch rings in 2001 with other literary favorites, including David Gergen, Josephine Humphreys, Randall Kenan, Hal Crowther, Michael McFee, Dorothy Redford and Tony Early.

For more information about Bookwatch and UNCA-TV’s other local programming, visit their Web site at

There’s a new chairman in town

While it probably won’t feature the pomp (or circumstance) of a presidential inauguration, an upcoming ceremony right here in Buncombe County will signal a changing of the guard nonetheless.

At 9:30 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 4, the chairman and members of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners will be sworn into office in the newly refurbished fifth-floor courtroom of the county courthouse, notes Clerk to the Board Kathy Hughes.

Newly-elected chairman Nathan Ramsey and returning commissioners David Gantt, Patsy Keever, Bill Stanley and David Young will then troop downstairs to hold the new Board’s first organizational meeting at 11 a.m. in the second-floor commissioners chambers. Ramsey will be the lone Republican on the Democrat-dominated Board.

Ramsey replaces Tom Sobol, who lost his bid for reelection. Despite the hotly contested battle for the position, the chairman’s powers are fairly limited, according to the county’s Rules and Procedures for Board of County Commissioners. The chairman presides over Board meetings, including ruling on whether motions are in order. He also determines whether speakers have gone beyond “reasonable standards of courtesy” in their remarks (and entertains and rules on objections from other board members on this ground). In addition, he may call a recess and adjourn in an emergency. When an issue comes to a vote, the chairman — like the other Board members — only gets one vote.

At the organizational meeting, the Board will elect its vice chair (a post currently held by Keever). The Board also will appoint the clerk to the Board, county attorney and tax collector and will set the day and time for their regularly-scheduled meetings, Hughes says.

If the Board decides to keep its old schedule of meeting on the first and third Tuesdays of the month, the next regularly scheduled meeting will be held at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 5. A 3:30 p.m. “pre-meeting” is usually held in a room just outside the commissioners’ offices, also on the second floor of the courthouse.

Ramsey campaigned on switching the commissioners meetings from afternoon to evening and to a day that wouldn’t conflict with City Council meetings (so that more people could attend commissioners meetings). He said last week that he’d still like to do that, but may have to settle for moving the location of the pre-meeting to the commissioners chambers. The schedule is something that the Board may discuss at its Dec. 5 meeting, he said.

The swearing-in ceremony and other meetings all are open to the public.


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