Letters to the editor

Airboats & other opportunities

The possibility of airboats in commercial operation on the French Broad River opens up horizons of opportunity previously undreamed of.

We could have smaller airboats traveling the Swannanoa River, all the way to Black Mountain — perhaps a riverboat anchored in Lake Julian for gambling. No, wait: Better make that Jet Skis in Julian. And how about dirt-bike races over the trails in the Biltmore Estate gardens (weekends only)? As you start to think about it, the opportunities seem endless.

The formula is simple: Find a place where people go with their families for peace and quiet, maybe to listen to the birds or the sounds of water. Then come up with the noisiest or the dirtiest (preferably polluting) commercial venture, and start your business. Public land is best for commercial opportunities, but in cases where there’s a serious dollar to be made, private land will work, too. But it must be really aggravating; mere annoyances won’t do anymore — death of outrage, you know.

Euclid truck-pulls or new pile-driver demonstrations at the Arboretum, rock-band rehearsals in the Pack Library reading room. There’s no limit; the quiet hills of the Southern Appalachians need never be the same. Unimaginable profits. As Pogo used to say: The mind boggles.

— H.A. Thomas

Butting in …

I’m hoping Ms. Andie MacDowell was not too disappointed to find repeated mention of her supposedly notable posterior in the brightest newspaper in her newly chosen small town of residence. No doubt in Hollywood, one would expect to read about one’s neighbor’s or one’s own behind.

Meanwhile, here in Asheville, might it not be kinder, more welcoming, more New Age to rave about some newcomer’s ankles or hands or heart or mind?

P.S. You neglected to mention that she also starred in the greatest movie ever made, Groundhog Day.

— Ron Ogle

Where did all the people go?

I called a company to inquire about services they offered and was given an automated recording saying to press “1” for English, or “2” for Spanish. I pushed “1” and was told to choose from the “following five options.” After listening to all five, none of them fit the question I wanted to ask, so I pushed “0” and was told that was not an option, so I pressed “5” and got another automated recording saying to select from the “following seven options.” I listened to the next seven and still none seemed to fit the question I wanted to ask. So I selected “7” and received an automated recording telling me that all of the agents were busy dealing with other customers and to leave a message and someone would call me right back. I left my name and phone number, and two weeks later, I haven’t been called back. Where did all the people go?

In 1989, Hurricane Hugo roared through Charleston. S.C., destroying six rental properties that I owned. Since the mortgages were paid by the rental income, and now there was none, I was forced into a bankruptcy. It was automatic, you see. Although the insurance would rebuild the properties, they would not pay the mortgages. I tried everything I could think of to avoid the inevitable, but there was no choice. For the next 10 years, I would be turned down on everything that needed credit. I’ve been told time and time again that it was all controlled by computers and there was no one for me to talk with — so I could explain how it was not my negligence. Where did all the people go?

I went to Best Buy and bought a stereo system that cost $750. Having more than that in the bank, I felt there would be no problem paying by check, especially since I had written several checks there before. Upon checking out, however, my check was run through the computer, and I was turned down. They would not accept my check. I asked to speak with a manager and was told that the computer at Equifax had denied … the check, and there was no one to talk to. It was automation. Where did all the people go?

I recently started a business called The Help Line, a 24-hour service for people who need to talk with another human being, day or night. There are no recorded messages. We answer the phone. I put up a Web page on the Internet and started sending people the good news by way of e-mail. I received tons of hate mail, most of which was sent to me by automated responses. Computers were sending me hate mail. Where did all the people go?

I discontinued spreading the good news through e-mail and located a marketing service that, for $2,000 a month, would get the good news out for me. I then received an automated response from BellSouth, my Internet service provider, stating that they had received the enclosed automated complaint as a result of my mailings, and that my account was canceled. There was no phone number for me to call, so I called the phone company, and after listening to several recorded messages and pushing numbers to go from one selection to another, finally, I got a voice that was not automated. I explained what had happened, that what I was doing was not against any law — and since I didn’t want to make anyone mad, I had stopped the mailings two days prior. The nice lady said, “I’m sorry, there is no one in that department you can talk to. All communication is done my e-mail.”

Where did all the people go?

— Dewey Swain
West Palm Beach, Fla.

Make the connector Asheville-sized

The Interstate 26 connector is a done deal, or that’s the impression that one gets if one reads the paper.

I think there is still much to be said on the subject. Yes, I understand that we have this long-standing agreement with Tennessee to finish the road. [But] does this mean that we have to accept this monstrosity that is being proposed by the N.C. Department of Transportation? The [connector] they want to build is based on an old traffic model; who is to say that if they updated the model, the projections would be the same?

Being that this is such a big project, and we will have to live with it for so long, the decision should be based on accurate information.

It is also said that the road is not for through-traffic, that 80-90 percent of the users will be local. It is a connector!! It is meant to be used to haul toxic waste through here.

Another thing I have heard from businesses is that the connector will help bring more tourists to the area. If one thinks about this for a minute, it doesn’t hold water. People come here to “get away from it all” — to enjoy the scenic beauty. I wouldn’t come here, and it bears notice that people don’t vacation in places like Detroit. I mean, you could go to Detroit if you want, but the view is bad due to the excessive pollution — which brings me to my next point.

Do you really think that this road will only affect those homes and businesses in West Asheville? No! It will affect all of us! The pollution is already getting out of hand around here.

We are led to believe that the road is already decided. Think again, and act soon. Write to DOT, city officials, the newspapers — anyone with the power to do something. Let them know that this road is to big. Make the road, but make it Asheville-sized.

— Grace McPhee

Furniture-manufacturer exemptions will endanger public health

North Carolina’s industries are mounting an all-out assault on the state’s health-based toxic air-pollutant (TAP) rules, as evidenced by the state’s proposed exemption for wood-furniture-manufacturing operations. Under the new rule, they would be required only to comply with federal “maximum achievable control technology” (MACT) requirements.

The federal MACT standard is based on the best level of protection provided by the latest model equipment, or in some cases, whatever standard existed at the time the equipment was manufactured — rather than what is considered safe for the people’s health.

Our specific concerns about the proposed furniture-industry exemption are many. Here are a few:

Federal NESHAP standards, which pertain to MACT requirements, are unenforceable. An exemption for the furniture industry would result in no enforcement, unless a federal or state testing program were implemented.

Federal NESHAP regulations are machine-based, rather than health-based, and do not protect those people who live and work on neighboring properties. Only a health-based standard, which limits the amount of toxicity for a specific poison, can protect public health. The specific amounts of toxic air pollutants, the distances to the property boundaries, the site-specific meteorological conditions (such as air inversions and pollution traps and other site-specific conditions) must be taken into account to protect neighbors from air pollution.

The Broyhill and Drexel models, on which the state is basing its recommendation to exempt furniture manufacturers, are not representative of furniture plants in the mountains, which are prone to air inversions and pollution trapping.

The TAP modeling does not include the toxic air pollutants from the facility boilers. … All of a furniture manufacturer’s air pollution — both that which would be exempted and the already-exempted boiler emissions — must be added up to have a true picture of the poisons emanating from a furniture plant.

An exemption for the furniture industry that is based on incomplete information and insupportable conclusions will lead to a wholesale gutting of the state’s health-based standards for air quality. This would open the floodgates for every air-polluting industry to remove state controls, standards and testing, in favor of unenforceable federal standards. We must point out that some federal MACT rules are years away from completion, that EPA has no enforcement mechanisms, and that industry is attacking EPA air-quality regulations and pushing state governments to file legal interventions and other forms of opposition to EPA air-quality standards.

We are disappointed that the state Environmental Management Commission chose not to provide more time for public assessment and comment.

The Environmental Management Commission will probably take action on this proposed rule in July. Comments should be addressed to: Thomas C. Allen, Division of Air Quality, P.O. Box 29580 Raleigh, NC 27626-0580 or fax[ed] to (919) 715-7476.

— Janet Marsh Zeller, executive director
Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League
Glendale Springs

Zeller can be contacted at (336) 982-2691.

Back to the land, and other joyful complexities

Clarke Snell’s opinions [Commentary, “Some down-to-earth thoughts about heading back to the land,” May 19] about why and whether to embrace an alternative lifestyle are valid and refreshing — as is his observation that it is possible to live a lower-impact life right where you are. If everyone embraced his laudable land-ethic, social-ecologic change would occur, intentional or not.

He mentions domes that leak and straw bales that rot. Novel building methods are usually a mistake for beginners. As Stewart Brand observed in How Buildings Learn, low-tech domes have been universal failures — and even the high-tech ones have problems. Traditional styles became traditional through repeated success. Readily available materials are manufactured to fit together in traditional ways. If you choose to fight the whole system, you will spend a lot of time fighting (and fixing leaks), whereas a simple shed or gable roof will make your life easier for years. (Most of Frank Lloyd Wright’s fabled homes, with their convoluted roof lines, leak. Badly. And American architects are famous, worldwide, for designing colanders, instead of roofs.)

But I think Clarke overemphasizes money and skill. There are no free lunches, but there are cheap ones. Reduced expectations and elbow grease work wonders.

Land has always been expensive, and tools have always been essential. Even stealing land from the Natives required weapons and cost lives. And while it is true that today’s $2,000 acre will seem as cheap as yesterday’s $300 acre in 20 years, it is enormously helpful to resist the temptation to borrow money. Sixty percent of the final cost of mortgaged property goes to the bank.

Twenty years ago, we built a 240-square-foot house for $98, using a half-dozen hand tools, a tiny chain saw and a come-along. It is still standing, still dry, and still in use. (An enclosed front porch and stone chimney, added a few years later, drove the cost to $120). Yes, it took hard work, using materials off the land, and scrounging to recycle, but even adjusted for inflation, 50c per square foot is cheap.

Roads are expensive. Footpaths are not.

Wells are expensive. Rain is free.

Skills happen. Read, ask questions, practice.

I am presently writing a book about our 20 years off the grid. My hope is that our experience will help others escape from the simple life of nuclear power, mechanical servants and flush plumbing and find joy in the endless complexity of living lightly on the earth.

— Cecil Bothwell
Black Mountain

Racism vs. the orchestra of life

This is to the citizens of Asheville, and really, more importantly, to the people of this country. Racism is a continually burning fire. It grows in people who cannot think purely for themselves. It grows in the minds of people who don’t have to accept anything — no responsibility, no true love. These people have thoughts passed down to them from somewhere.

Have any of them truly ever sat down with what they hate — metaphorically and physically — and gone through the process of understanding? No. Have they spoken to people from the inner city, and have inner-city children and adults spoken to the people from rural areas? It’s doubtful. Understanding why everyone is here is just one of the keys to life.

This symphony of individuals in the gigantic orchestra of life — it is so important now that we all step back, breathe, relax and look closer at all that surrounds us. It all plays its part in teaching us how to move on to the next level.

— Granpappy
Bat Cave

Police clear the sidewalks, and ignore the crack dealers

I sit down to write while the sun rises on another day in our beautiful mountain town. I am once again saddened by your plight, Asheville. Growing ever so fast, drawing to your cozy mountains thousands of visitors and new residents, your governors are becoming greedy. Your peace officers have on blinders — so focused on removing your artsy, outspoken youth from downtown that Eagle Street remains a crime-ridden drug haven.

Did you know, Asheville, that your police now openly and admittedly practice selective law enforcement downtown? Selecting laws that clear your sidewalks of: tables outside coffee houses, people who stop and sit [on public benches] for a few moments, pets tied to anything belonging to the city, musicians playing on acoustic instruments, citizens carrying signs [as allowed by the First] Amendment, nonprofit organizations serving food to the homeless and needy (quite often the elderly).

Perhaps you are also unaware that the decision-makers, who allot how your law-enforcement funds are spent, have directed so much of your budget to this cause that there is not enough left over to focus on your crack problem. You see, I have personally met with a few police officials who have attended several open-forum meetings with citizens looking for some common ground. On your behalf, I have expressed my outrage at such a blatant campaign to sterilize your downtown — only to be told there is no public support for arresting the drug dealers on Eagle Street, and “the problem is that for every crack dealer we arrest, there is a new one to replace them.”

So what happens now, Asheville? The resurgence of your downtown as a safe, friendly and art-filled place for all of your citizens (young, old, clean, dirty, four-legged or two) is indeed a fact. Will you continue to grow as a conscious, earth-friendly humanitarian; or become a sterile, corporate mall that uses profit margins to measure its successes, rather than the quality of life enjoyed by your whole community?

I am aware of the enormity of this question, my friend; please think long and hard before you answer. So many of our lives will be affected by your response.

Bear in mind that I am but one voice and one opinion. You do not have to pay any mind to me. However, I do intend to bring forth awareness to the members of your community. I hope to gain a much larger voice than my singular one. Perhaps then, you will actually hear what I am saying.

Protect our youth from persecution, give them a safe downtown, and spend our tax dollars arresting crack dealers, not teenagers.

— Kathie Brown

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