Letters to the editor

Outdated agreement clouds water future

A main reason for writing this letter is to express my appreciation for your reporter Jonathan Barnard’s excellent, informative accounting of the Regional Water Authority’s April 20 board meeting [“Feels like old times,” May 5].

The Regional Water Authority meets monthly, third Tuesdays, at 8:45 a.m., first floor, City Hall, with [a] public comment period. I attend most of these meetings and learn much about our water system, owned by the city of Asheville.

The present chair of the nine-member RWA board representing Asheville, Buncombe and Henderson counties is William Lapsley, a civil engineer residing in Henderson County. Director of William G. Lapsley and Associates, he is certified to practice land, water and sewer-system planning in North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida. He was associated with the Asheville Water Resources Department and the planning for the Mills River treatment plant.

We are fortunate to have a person [with a] water maintenance and resources background to lead our Water Authority during this period of fund-seeking for the millions of dollars imperative for the repairs and upgrading of our ancient water pipes.

It is vital that citizens become informed, educated to our problems, and ready to cooperate and support the Authority and its budget of $27,940,616.

Presently, this budget requires the approval of both Asheville and Buncombe County, reflecting the RWA’s lack of authority. In addition, this board has no authority over its staff in the Water Resources Department. This is controlled by Asheville’s city manager.

Other facts that the public should know indicate the difficulties our RWA faces, particularly in fundraising. Unfortunately, it is not a true, independent authority. Its basic actions are provided for under a Regional Water Supply and Service Agreement, written first in 1987, with the latest edition in 1996 [revised] to include Henderson County.

This document is a millstone around the neck of the RWA. It is outdated, in the final analysis, and depends upon what are seen as [the city of Asheville’s] assets. Buncombe County is considered to a lesser degree, with only slight concern for Henderson County.

The 1996 agreement provides that Asheville and Buncombe County shall be paid a percentage of revenues from the water system annually, [with] the city receiving 5 percent and the county 2.5 percent (to be used by the county for economic development purposes). This represents approximately $1.6-$2 million [annually] that could be used to improve the water infrastructure.

David Hanks is working with the consultants Brown and Caldwell of Charlotte on an Asset Management Program Action Plan. This plan emphasizes providing dependable, reliable services to the customers by finding the most effective costs of asset ownership. Copies of this plan are obtainable by calling 259-5959 (City Hall).

The proposed Water Fund Budget for fiscal year 2004-05, in the amount of $27,940,616, was presented by staff to the RWA on April 20. It is still in discussion, with another RWA meeting [set for] Thursday, May 27, at 8:45 a.m. (City Hall, first floor; public invited).

The proposed budget maintains current water rates. A new capital improvements fee [with projected total revenue of] $5,293,896, is being proposed to fund a replacement and refurbishment (R&R) program plus other systems improvements. It provides for adequate debt-service coverage, essential operations, capital improvements and maintenance programs. It also includes a capital-outlay increase [of] $7,046,006 for replacement of capital equipment, and funding for an aggressive meter change-out program. This could change water rates to lower rates for the small water users, and raise rates for larger users.

Citizen input and support is essential for the RWA’s attempts to: have water rates that are fair to the water users; [funds] necessary to repair and replace our ancient water system; and [dissolve or replace] the present Water Agreement by an up-to-date agreement favoring water maintenance and wise asset management.

— Hazel Fobes
Chair, Citizens for Safe Drinking Water and Air
Asheville

UNCA should learn from history

Fifteen years ago, the University of North Carolina at Asheville (UNCA) proposed building a parking lot on 10 acres of woods at the edge of campus. Because of public opposition, UNCA withdrew its plans and, instead, permanently established a native-plant garden. This garden, known as the Botanical Gardens at Asheville, is now a vital educational and ecological resource.

Instead of building a parking lot on 2.5 acres of a 46-acre urban forest as a quick fix to a recurring parking problem, UNCA should learn a lesson from its own history. Instead of opening the forest up to further development, UNCA should preserve the land as a legacy to be enjoyed by the grandchildren of its incoming freshman class.

The more a university grows, and the more a city grows, the more valuable green space becomes. Building a parking lot on a mature pine forest is a shortsighted misuse of urban green space. Left intact, the adjoining 46-acre tract of recovering hardwood forest will become an educational, cultural and economic engine for the university and community.

Ultimately, the choice is between forest and parking lot, trees and cars. The community has spoken (see for yourself at uncaforest.org). Join us in urging UNCA to preserve the urban forest for the irreplaceable relic of our natural and cultural history that it is.

— M. Beth Keefauver
UNCA neighbor
Asheville

Questions must be asked

It is becoming increasingly clear that the U.S. abuse of Iraqi prisoners is indeed systematic, thereby involving decision-makers all the way up through the so-called chain of command. That is not to say that beheadings or other retributions are justified, or easily forgiven. And so the consequent questions loom even larger:

Why did the Bush administration start this war?

Will we ever find the dreaded “weapons of mass destruction”?

Had Iraq been complicit with Al Qaeda before the U.S. invasion?

Was the removal of Saddam worth this devastating invasion?

Is Iraq a realistic candidate for Bush’s “democracy”?

Has the U.S. “coalition” shown its true colors of aggression and abuse, thereby nullifying its moral imperative to bestow freedom and democracy on this oppressed Arab nation?

And even if not, is that perception in the Arab world now irrefutable, thereby undermining any future efforts by the Bush administration toward “nation-building,” which go far beyond any such Clinton doctrines?

Are “we” (the so-called Western interests) not doomed in this ill-advised venture?

And if so, should we not withdraw immediately, and allow these oppressed people to truly shape their own destiny, without intervention?

These are questions that must be asked.

— Holly Boswell
Black Mountain

Questions must be asked

It is becoming increasingly clear that the U.S. abuse of Iraqi prisoners is indeed systematic, thereby involving decision-makers all the way up through the so-called chain of command. That is not to say that beheadings or other retributions are justified, or easily forgiven. And so the consequent questions loom even larger:

Why did the Bush administration start this war?

Will we ever find the dreaded “weapons of mass destruction”?

Had Iraq been complicit with Al Qaeda before the U.S. invasion?

Was the removal of Saddam worth this devastating invasion?

Is Iraq a realistic candidate for Bush’s “democracy”?

Has the U.S. “coalition” shown its true colors of aggression and abuse, thereby nullifying its moral imperative to bestow freedom and democracy on this oppressed Arab nation?

And even if not, is that perception in the Arab world now irrefutable, thereby undermining any future efforts by the Bush administration toward “nation-building,” which go far beyond any such Clinton doctrines?

Are “we” (the so-called Western interests) not doomed in this ill-advised venture?

And if so, should we not withdraw immediately, and allow these oppressed people to truly shape their own destiny, without intervention?

These are questions that must be asked.

— Holly Boswell
Black Mountain

Fairy tale leads to nightmare

When I first heard members of the military discussing the severity of interrogation allowable in the “war against terror,” including the possibility of torture, I was immensely alarmed, horrified, stunned and hardly able to breathe. I could sense that “terror” was going to be the next catchall enemy term, an excuse for any kind of behavior, as “communist” was in the ’50s. The Bush administration and its cohorts like Elizabeth Dole were painting the occupation of Iraq in almost fairy-tale terms, about how we were there to better the lives of the Iraqi people and introduce them to democracy.

It’s time to get out of Iraq, and the sooner the better. No one knows who is running the prisons; a few soldiers, in some cases, are in charge of thousands of detainees; interrogation has been “privatized.”

For the young soldiers, the situation is [dehumanizing] and depraved. For Iraqi detainees and prisoners, trust me, the situation is far worse than “hazing.” The wires, the hoods, the dogs, the humiliation, no hope of justice, and not even any concrete charges in many cases — no, Elizabeth, I don’t think we’re spreading truth and goodness here.

I remember how they talked — the “shock and awe” seeming as though the precise bombs would just sever the military targets, and the United States would just fly away in fighter jets and reap the praise. Now we know the truth, or at least enough of it to know it’s time to get out. I don’t want the world to hate my country. I don’t want to hate it, either. It’s time to get out of Iraq.

— Linda Metzner
Weaverville

Ambassadorship raises human-rights concerns

How serious can the Bush administration be about condemning human rights abuses in Iraq when — of all the possible candidates — they chose John Negroponte to be our U.S. ambassador to Iraq?

John Negroponte was Reagan’s ambassador to Honduras from 1981-1985. It was under Negroponte’s tenure in Honduras that the contra component of the illegal Iran/Contra scandal flourished, including the proliferation of U.S.-trained death squads and torture teams that were turned upon Nicaraguans and Hondurans.

Negroponte claims that he didn’t know that this was going on under his watch. Detailed investigative reporting in 1995 by [The (Baltimore) Sun] concludes that Negroponte “helped conceal from Congress the murder, kidnapping and torture abuses of a CIA-equipped and -trained Honduran military unit.”

Is this the ambassador that we need right now to assuage the damage to our reputation after the Iraqi human rights abuses by our military? Or was Negroponte chosen by Bush precisely because of his odious but discreet performance in Honduras?

We can do better. Ask Sens. Dole and Edwards, who both voted “for” Negroponte, to take a moral stand: recall and replace Negroponte with an ambassador who has no ambiguities regarding respect for and enforcement of human rights.

— Anne Walch
Asheville

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