Filmmaker David Huff might seem like an unlikely tree-hugger, trekking into the forest bearing a heavy load of high-tech recording gear. Then again, the subject of his documentary—hemlock expert Will Blozan, who spends a lot of time scaling old-growth trees in the Cataloochee Valley—could be considered an unlikely film star. What Blozan and the Back 40 Films director share, however, is a desire to sound the alarm to save Southern hemlocks from a menacing insect before it’s too late.
Huff screened some raw footage from his documentary The Vanishing Hemlock: A Race Against Time, a work in progress, at a recent symposium titled “Saving Our Hemlocks from Hemlock Woolly Adelgid: An Urgent Call to Action.”
“I realized it wasn’t just the trees along the trails I was hiking … it was whole hemlock forests being wiped out,” he told the crowd assembled at the Grove Park Inn. An aerial view of the mountains came onto the screen, with vast patches of gray interspersed throughout the forest canopy. “All that gray is dead hemlock,” he said.
The symposium also featured a discussion on the use of insecticides to control the pest, and a field trip to tour hemlock devastation and treatment sites in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Richard Cowles, who’s conducted extensive research on the problem, shared some of his findings. “Hemlocks do have a tremendous capacity to re-grow—if you can protect them from HWA,” he told the crowd.
To learn more about David Huff’s documentary, visit www.thevanishinghemlock.com.
The other CTS
CTS of Asheville, which manufactured electronics equipment on Mills Gap Road near Skyland until the mid-1980s, is not the only CTS Corp. operation that left a toxic legacy in its wake. The company’s Printex facility in Mountain View, Calif., was also held responsible for releasing trichloroethylene into the ground water. That facility is now counted on the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Priority List, part of the EPA’s Superfund program. That makes Printex one of several overlapping Superfund sites concentrated in the southern San Francisco Bay Area, where a combination of the high-tech industry and the military fouled many an acre with toxic waste. It’s hardly a coincidence that Lenny Siegel, director of the nonprofit Center for Public Environmental Oversight, hails from Mountain View.
Siegel, who travels the country helping neighborhoods cope with hazardous-waste sites, visited Asheville Sept. 17 to give a lecture and talk with neighbors of the CTS of Asheville site about what role they can play in obtaining a full-scale cleanup. Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Chair Nathan Ramsey attended and asked Siegel a handful of questions. The state Division of Waste Management is trying to map the ground-water contamination plume, but to date, no remediation has taken place. Currently, the site remains under state—not federal—jurisdiction.
“I believe that this … would be a Superfund-caliber site,” said Siegel, a leading expert on military-facility contamination who’s visited countless Superfund sites nationwide since founding the nonprofit in 1992. “My advice is to try to get the site listed,” he said, adding that the federal program tends to allow for greater transparency and more community input throughout the cleanup process.
At numerous public meetings held in Skyland by the Division of Waste Management and the EPA, agency officials have stated that the site had been considered for the National Priority List more than once but never made the cut. But new data—including ambient-air and drinking-well sampling—has since been collected that could make a difference in the EPA’s scoring system. For his part, Siegel seemed to believe it’s just a matter of applying the right amount of pressure.
“The response by the government … is directly proportional to the level of community activism,” he told the small crowd of residents. “In my experience, the No. 1 factor is politics: It’s when people get involved.”
“It takes the EPA 30 days to screw in a light bulb,” he added. “But the EPA can move quickly if there’s enough pressure on it.”