Letters to the editor

The barriers to sustainability

As one of the founding members of the now defunct Earthaven Forestry Cooperative and now a project manager with The EcoBuilders, the company Joseph Allawos was referring to in his letter [“Those Green, Green Fields of Home,” March 8], I would like to give a response.

Earthaven Forestry Cooperative conducted environmentally sensitive logging by harvesting trees that were diseased, of lower genetic quality or lower in grade than the trees we left. This is called low-grading, as opposed to the high-grading and clear-cutting alternatively done in these mountains. The forest stand that is left [after low-grading] is a mixed-age and mixed-species forest that is healthier than before the cut was made.

After harvest, we processed the logs into lumber in a manner that involved little waste and then added value to that lumber by producing naturally built homes with it. [But] because of building codes, lumber that has not been graded and stamped cannot be used as structural members in the building of a home — unless that lumber was produced from trees harvested from the land the house was built on.

We found this to be an economically unprofitable venture and after five years, we decided to fold. Two of our members have ended up working for The EcoBuilders. We remain very committed to using lumber that has been harvested in a sustainable manner, [but] it is not available for purchase in this bioregion. The fir used in our buildings may very well have come from Russia or the Ukraine. But there is no locally available alternative. FSC-produced [Forest Stewardship Council] lumber can be purchased and shipped from California, but homeowners have not been willing to bear that expense. If we, as consumers, demand that our retailers carry FSC lumber, then they will do so. We, as a company, have been working with local lumber suppliers to get that to happen.

OSB is also not of sustainable origin, but again — there is not an easy alternative. Earthaven Forestry Cooperative used diagonal bracing for sheer reinforcement, as the building code will allow, and we are talking within The EcoBuilders of going in that direction. However, as FSC lumber is not available locally, this would mean more lumber usage of an unsustainable source. I, for one, would love to see an alternative to OSB.

As for Tyvek, I am of the opinion that you need to do a full energy and toxicity audit when you choose building materials, looking at the embodied energy of the manufacture and shipping of a product as well as its toxicity, and comparing that to the savings in energy over the lifetime of the building and the toxicity involved in the production of that energy. Then you decide whether the product is a good choice. … My intuitive understanding is that such an audit would reveal that the high embodied energy and toxicity involved in [Tyvek’s] manufacture is less than the energy that would be leaked from the building’s envelope over its lifetime and the true cost of the energy used to heat the home.

The questions Joe raised are very good ones, and I hope that we all continue to ask them. I would, however, hope to see those questions raised in an inquisitive manner, as opposed to an emotionally reactive one.

— Shawn Swartz
Black Mountain

Different shades of green

A little research could have been helpful before Joseph Allawos wrote his sweeping critique [“Those Green, Green Fields of Home,” March 8] of a new home under construction in Montford, framed by The EcoBuilders, Inc. — an Asheville-area green builder. Mr. Allawos’ opinion is that since conventional lumber, OSB, Tyvek and pressure-treated boards were used in the construction, The EcoBuilders should remove the “Eco” from their name. But exactly what does make a “green-built” home as opposed to a “natural” home? As a co-founder of the now-defunct Earthaven Forestry and Building Company, current vice-president of The EcoBuilders and the lead carpenter for the crew that framed the house on Montford Avenue, I believe I have a unique perspective on this subject.

The EcoBuilders’ philosophy emphasizes environmentally conscious site preparation, conscious resource use, energy efficiency, indoor air quality, native species landscaping, and aesthetic and functional design. One goal is to build homes that are affordable. If the company was unwilling to compromise its ideals (which certainly include building only with local, sustainably harvested lumber, sheathing that doesn’t feed the chip mill/clear-cutting industry, and nontoxic exterior-grade boards), either we would be out of business or only building homes for the super wealthy. Instead, The EcoBuilders choose to accept that compromises must be made. We incorporate our philosophy into our building practices and work diligently to effect change in the building industry. This includes working with the building inspectors throughout the area to educate them on new products and encouraging building suppliers to stock and promote “green” building materials. As a result of our efforts and those of the Asheville Area Green Building Council, Westall-Chandley will dedicate a section of their new showroom to the increasingly expanding market of environmentally conscious building supplies.

I respect Mr. Allawos for his commitment to his ideals. I personally did some custom sawmilling for him on his organic farm some years ago. Yet I question how energy-efficient his home is. Natural-built homes can be beautiful, but they can also be leaky, moldy and unhealthy. My advice to Mr. Allawos and others like him: Broaden your perspective, and before you judge others — take a good look at yourself. How perfect are you?

— Greg Clark
Swannanoa

A bird in hand

If North Shore Road advocate David Monteith [“The Road Less Traveled,” March 8] believes that the $52 million offered as a potential settlement deal “is not there” to be awarded, then where does he think the $590 million to build the road will come from?

The few that are in favor of building the North Shore Road through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are doing a great disservice to themselves and the people of Swain County by favoring a road that will never be built instead of a hefty and helpful cash settlement. If they get their way, Swain County will likely end up with nothing.

— Kim Porter
Weaverville

No Pollyannas for me

“Don’t worry — be happy.”

Those words might be appropriate for Bobby McFerrin, but I don’t think they apply when it comes to reviewing restaurants, movies, production of automobiles, to name a few items.

I’m still shaking my head in bewilderment over Chuck Landers’ letter to the editor [“Singing for Your Supper,” March 15]. Maybe if there had been more critical analyses of the American automobile industry, it wouldn’t be in the present dire situation.

Mackensy Lunsford’s restaurant reviews have been, for the most part, thoughtful, well-balanced and fair. She expresses one person’s opinion — a fairly educated one at that. Do I always agree with her reviews? Of course not. But to insist (threaten?) that Ms. Lunsford only speak positively of all restaurants demeans the whole idea of the restaurant-review process. We have many examples of those types of “reviews” in the local magazine handouts. The restaurant descriptions come from the restaurants themselves which, in most cases, also advertise in these publications. These publications serve a good purpose in showing off a restaurant. But, as most can attest, the glowing descriptions do not always reflect reality.

I applaud Ms. Lunsford’s effort to improve the already fine dining experiences in the area. Writing only glowing reviews destroys the credibility of such articles. On the other hand, to express only damning opinions would not serve either the public or the restaurant owners. A balanced evaluation is one I will trust, and it might interest me enough to visit a given restaurant. Would I expect any review to rate a restaurant as perfect? No more so than I could expect any evaluation of any other item, person or service to find perfection.

Maybe Mr. Landers only wants to hear good news. I only wish that the world situation allowed that! One can only live in Disneyland so long.

— Ken Workman
Etowah

Keep student information private

I am writing to voice my concern about military recruiting in our public schools. While I support the troops and the rights of a volunteer military, I do not support institutionalizing involuntary recruitment practices.

The No Child Left Behind legislation automatically gives the military the right to take any student’s private information without any form of parental permission or notification. This snooping into students’ private school information needs to stop! There is an opt-out provision in the legislation, but rarely are students or parents informed of it.

I encourage students and parents all over our state to send a letter to their school’s administrators asking them to keep student information private. A sample form can be found at www.militaryfreezone.org/opt_out.

— Sophia Pensado-Garcia
Waynesville

Dime’s worth of difference?

Changes in the new version of our five-cent piece are symbolic of what is happening to our nation. Thomas Jefferson’s profile has been reduced to a facial glimpse that is backing out of view. What was once easily recognizable as a founder of our democracy is now an unidentified partial-head.

Jefferson was a principal author and architect of the Constitution. Our Constitution and democracy have been completely shredded in the name of wartime powers assumed by the executive branch. Continuous war, an Orwellian concept, has become the basis of our foreign policy. Thus “wartime powers” of the executive are continuous. Democracy has been put on hold until war ends — continuously.

Enactment of the “Patriot” Act has stripped us of many freedoms granted us in our Bill of Rights. Born of fear and as a reaction to terrorism, this act has succeeded in little other than taking away freedom.

Jefferson recognized the importance of separation of church and state. He even refused to discuss personal religious beliefs [in order] to avoid the impression of a state-endorsed religion. Today we see bold, blind efforts to merge religion and government into a “Christian” nation.

Jefferson’s concepts of freedom, liberty, justice, separation of church and state are out of step with the extreme right-wing politics of today. Pushing his identity off of our nickel says a lot about the lack of reverence and appreciation of what he and others accomplished.

The executive branch of government has failed to defend our Constitution. Instead, it has attacked it. The legislative branch has failed to restore it. The judicial branch has become more hostile to it. That leaves we, the people, responsible for defending and restoring our Constitution. It has always been our responsibility.

Patriots can win back our country. Flag waving won’t do it. True patriotism takes courage: the courage to fight for impeachment of those who regularly commit domestic and international crimes. The courage to stand up to and speak out against officials and actions that have hijacked our government and replaced democracy with corporatism. The courage to see through the media lies and to seek out the truth.

Free trade agreements, world trade organizations and globalism are courtships which create the marriage of corporation and government. Corporate control of government is the definition of fascism.

Fascists have always been passionate flag-wavers. Courageous patriots have always been the ones who win freedom and democracy. Have courage, America. Have courage!

— Tom Alba
Asheville

Exotic disease attacks Congress

Isn’t it amazing? The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, by an 11-5 count, voted down a bipartisan effort to set up an independent office to enforce congressional ethics and lobbying laws. Sen. Susan Collins, chair, and Sen. Joe Lieberman, ranking Democrat, introduced the ill-fated proposal in hopes of shoring up the lawmakers’ reputations after the Abramoff debacle.

Lawmakers have recently been giving their Abramoff donations to charity for fear of being associated with him. When they received that money, Jack Abramoff was a close associate; now it seems that few, if any, even know him. I’m afraid our lawmakers and our president are suffering from an exotic disease called “can’t recall,” which seems to have no cure.

The independent committee proposal was designed to take away any threat of conflict-of-interest problems caused by self-policing. Collins called the current system “a joke.” Sen. George V. Voinovich, however, informed everyone that the current ethics panel needs no help because it is already doing a thorough job of enforcing the chamber’s rules.

Instead, Voinovich proposed an amendment requiring more openness in the present committee. An annual report would list the alleged rule violations dealt with by the committee in its present configuration.

House Majority Leader John Boehner favors “disclosure, transparency, and oversight systems.” Soapbox speeches about banning gifts from lobbyists and [requiring] complete disclosure seem to be getting fewer and fewer. I’m sure our lawmakers will come up with a nicely worded, watered-down proposal that will be to their advantage. After all, don’t they deserve all the golf trips and skybox seats and countless free meals freely given to them by the nice lobbyists with absolutely no ulterior motives?

I await the final outcome. They are improving the process — at least on paper. All the gifts and trips and other goodies will have to be reported to the ethics committee. Did I mention that exotic disease, “can’t recall”?

— Gary M. Poppas
Canton

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