Letters to the editor

Cut the ridicule and discuss the forest

There has been a rash of letters [and commentaries], flying between members of the local timber industry and conservation leaders [Xpress, June 16, June 30, July 7, July 14]. Steve Henson and Tom Thrash have written in, stating that the conservation community is promoting an extreme agenda for Western North Carolina. As proof of this, they cite an article printed back in 1992 in a magazine called WildEarth. Tom Hatley, Janna Gower and other conservationists have responded that Steve has deliberately misrepresented their organizations’ goals. As one of the authors of the WildEarth article, I feel a responsibility to respond.

First of all, Steve has exaggerated the positions taken by the Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition. It seems hard to believe that Steve could not be more aware of the true positions taken by the Coalition, which involve protection of remnant areas of old growth, our last roadless areas and places of outstanding scenic and ecological values on our national forests.

These positions are supported by an overwhelming majority of the American public and people in Western North Carolina, which is part of the reason the U.S. Forest Service has reduced logging levels on our local national forests.

With that said, I want to acknowledge that I agree with Steve and Tom that there are positions taken in the WildEarth article that are extreme, and which I do not support. When I participated in writing the WildEarth article back in 1991, I was 19 years old. I suspect that Steve and Tom held some views when they were 19 that they do not completely agree with today. It is true that I did not think about the full economic and political considerations of what I helped write. In my defense, I would say that it is not in the nature of teenagers to think about the full economic and political considerations of anything.

I grew up on a farm in a part of the Blue Ridge Mountains that was experiencing (and still is) unbelievable growth and development. I was just beginning to learn about how air pollution was killing off the forests on Mount Mitchell and in the Smokies. I was really frightened about what the future held for our mountains. A lot of people spend their teenage years drinking, driving too fast and dropping out of school. If the craziest thing I did in my teenage years was help write an article that espoused extreme positions on environmental issues, I am prepared to live with that. On the other hand, if the WildEarth article upset people or caused undue alarm, I am sorry for that, and I take responsibility for it.

With this in mind, I want to make several things clear. For the record:

1. I do not think the Blue Ridge Parkway or other major roads should be closed.

2. I do not think that the government should acquire land for conservation purposes by eminent domain or other coercive techniques.

However, I do think that national-forest lands should be protected from commercial logging. As a person whose family is in the timber industry, I am completely comfortable with the private sector meeting our nation’s need for timber products, without help from the government.

I also support creating stronger incentives for people to be good stewards of their land. There are many people who do not want to develop or clearcut all their land, but are virtually forced to by economic circumstances. If we value open spaces and protected lands, we should be willing to reward landowners who take steps to voluntarily conserve their property for the future.

I would be willing to participate in a debate with Steve and Tom and any other local timber-industry or property-rights activists. I would also be willing to meet with these folks over lunch to talk about what it is we both really want.

I have tried to build bridges with people who have expressed concern about the goals of local conservation groups. I have made repeated efforts to meet with local leaders of property-rights groups. My calls have not been returned. I will try again, because I think there has got to be a better way for these groups to communicate than just ridiculing one another in the pages of the Mountain Xpress.

— Brownie Newman
Asheville NC

Cleaning up the water, cleaning up our lives

When I read Mountain Xpress’ report on Asheville’s drinking water [“Wish I had a river,” June 9], I was relieved to find out all I needed to know about where my water would be coming from, the drought, and how the new treatment plant would be paid for by the authorities. I read about previous years’ neglect, about leaking water mains, and the need to fix them. All of this is very important. But deeper questions were left out.

What’s causing our water shortages? What do shortages mean for how clean our water really is? It’s partly rainfall. But it’s also simply growth and business.

Asheville demands more water than can be supplied by the very clean reservoir sources we’ve been using for decades. So to support more people and more business (which uses extremely large amounts of water, and at lower rates than residents pay), we turn to a river like the Mills. Problem is, rivers are simply dirtier than reservoirs, such as Bee Tree, which are protected from human development.

The Xpress article mentioned water quality, but it spoke of cleaning up the pesticide-mixing stations near the river, and about working with farmers to limit their chemical runoff. That’s about it.

After working for a year on drinking-water issues for a national environmental group in the Florida Everglades, I know that moving mixing stations is not enough. Not nearly.

We have created over 650,000 chemicals, and thousands more are approved every year. Not only are we not sure how these chemicals work if they get into our bodies through our water, we don’t know how they synergize, or work together, inside us — in pairs of compounds, or in threes or tens. Every farmer’s field along the Mills River is a “pesticide-mixing station,” and every summer, those chemicals go into the groundwater, and, via rivulets, some make it to the river.

Water-treatment plants are not made to filter out all the chemicals that businesses put in the water. Chlorine certainly doesn’t. In fact, chlorine interacts with them, producing byproducts that are linked to colon cancer. Some pesticides are like human-growth hormones — they change reproductive organs in infants. Some are believed to cause cancer. We’ll all be drinking them, later this summer.

Even worse, the Mills River-plant intake is very near the French Broad River. There is a good chance the French Broad will end up in your lemonade.

These facts are unknown to ordinary citizens not schooled in water treatment. But it is our right to know.

Some cities have, wisely, used local water supplies as carrying-capacity indicators: The city grows until it runs out of water; then it stays the same. … If we really slowed growth, as truly futuristic towns like Boulder, Colo., are doing, we would be surely making progress.

There are forward-thinking farmers in WNC who are farming organically, without chemicals. These are the people we should thank — they are not pouring bug killer into our lemonade. Yet Ingles does not buy their produce. The city of Asheville and the state of North Carolina don’t recognize them as saving the health and welfare of their citizens and give them tax breaks, or fund programs in chemical-free farming.

Most people ignore the fact that there are pesticides in their food. They mistakenly think the government will protect them. They don’t realize that federal law actually allows the probability of a certain number of cancer deaths every year due to chemicals in the air, water and our food. There are a minority of parents, like my wife and I, who spend extra money for chemical-free, organic food for our children. When the Mills River plant starts up, I’ll have to spend more money on a better home water purifier, one that says it takes out pesticides. I’m not happy about that.

What’s led us to this? More demand, more people moving to Asheville, plus the antiquated “arms-race” engaged in by farmers against bugs (the farmers are losing and exposing themselves and us to their own cancer-causing chemicals), and businesses that are allowed to pollute our rivers while using very large amounts of cheap water.

We have an opportunity to clean up our way of life, and really take a close look at how growth will, otherwise, eventually strangle Asheville’s quality of life. And it will — I’ve seen it happen in Miami.

This can be the opportunity to shut down sources of pollution and manage growth. Will city and state officials do the right thing if they don’t hear from their voters? Given their track record, you decide.

— Hamish Ziegler
Asheville.

Don’t double-wide I-240 — or prepare to enlarge it through downtown

As Asheville prepares to meet the new century, it faces a major transportation decision in the I-26 connector project. This decision ought to be made using all the knowledge we have gained from the 20th century. The latest knowledge, proved in study after study, [reveals that] increasing road capacity by adding lanes does not decrease traffic congestion.

In other words, adding more lanes to a road does not make the traffic jams at rush hour any better. There are, to be sure, usually short-term benefits, but soon, a phenomenon known as “traffic attraction” occurs. Folks who took another route to work — or left a little earlier or later — now use the new lanes. Development follows the new road capacity, creating more traffic, and [soon], the traffic is as bad as before.

The Surface Transportation Policy Project recently published a report on several studies [looking at] metropolitan areas that had spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build and enlarge multi-laned freeways through and around their cities, [and comparing them] with others that had not. The comparison showed that traffic congestion is the same in both groups of cities. The cities that had increased road capacity had gobbled up their communities and their landscapes, and spent those hundreds of millions of dollars — but their traffic congestion was no better. And the cost of maintaining those extra lanes was higher.

Since adding lanes to I-240 through West Asheville will not solve the problem, we should not do it. What should we do? The business community is not alone in wanting a speedy solution to the already dangerous Smoky Park Bridge traffic, which will worsen with increased local traffic in the area and the additional through-traffic that I-26 will bring. The current DOT plan is, first, to widen I-240 to eight lanes, and only then to construct a new bridge over the French Broad River and realign the interchange. This will leave the bottleneck at the bridge for a longer time than if we put our effort into designing the best new bridge we can, and getting it built.

We should be able to take the circa $200 million [needed] to widen I-240 and spend it on alternative ways of moving people and goods. It is only for [handling] rush hours that the road widening is proposed. The new through-traffic will not be rush-hour traffic.

Good pedestrian and bike access across the river and to Hillcrest could be built. The business community could take the lead in using flex time and staggered start times and allowing employees to work from home some of the time. Computers could [help hook up] regular commuters with others traveling to the same place at the same time. A park-and-ride lot at the junction of I-240, I-40 and I-26 — with buses running every 10 minutes during rush hour to downtown and Biltmore — might take care of a lane by itself. If I-240 is not widened, the new bridge can connect less obtrusively in West Asheville, and not have to gobble up Westgate or the golf course.

To give the new “kinder, gentler” DOT the benefit of the doubt, I believe that, if the community could reach consensus that the only traffic improvement we want right now is a new bridge and intersection redesign, then that’s what we’d get. With any luck, and a strong community effort, we have a chance of getting the money DOT would save from not widening the road, [and be able to spend it on] these other ways of handling rush hour. Given DOT’s current tight budget, if the community divides on this issue, I fear we would get nothing.

I-240 is at least eight lanes wide from its eastern boundary to the open cut through Beaucatcher Mountain. If it is widened to eight lanes from the river to the I-40/I-26 junction southwest of town, traffic attraction will create a bottleneck on I-240, from Beaucatcher Mountain to the French Broad River, right through the heart of downtown. Try and reach consensus on that traffic problem! The time to seek better solutions is now.

— Betty T. Lawrence
Asheville

Civil service law is a labor (not a racist) issue

On July the 15, S.B. 532 (amendments to the civil-service law for the city of Asheville) was ratified by the North Carolina General Assembly. I feel it is my responsibility as an officer of the Asheville Fire Fighters Association (AFFA) to set the record straight, as it relates to our participation in this process.

Over the past several months, City Councilman O.T. Tomes has publicly characterized the position of the Fire Fighters Association as misinformed and paranoid. A political cartoon in the Mountain Xpress [May 19] even portrayed the issue as a burning cross with the inscription “RULE OF THREE.” This attempt to depict our opposition as racial did nothing constructive for this community or any group involved.

This is, and has been from the onset, a labor issue for the Fire Fighters Association. Our organization has opposed the city’s repeated (1989, 1993, 1995) attempts to weaken and/or abolish the civil-service law.

The AFFA insisted on being included in the Civil Service Law Task Force, which met several times during February and March of this year. During these meetings, our contention was that the rule of three was not the sole reason that the workforce did not reflect the community’s ethnic makeup.

When the task force’s recommendations were presented to City Council, the changes that were proposed were sweeping: Most of the audit function was [to be] deleted from the law (The Civil Service Board is an independent body, made up of five city residents; two are appointed by Council and two are elected by city employees; the fifth member is chosen by the first four).

At the public hearing that was held, our president, Mike Knisely, and I asked the Council not to eliminate this independent oversight. It was only after our pleas failed that we took these concerns to our local delegation to the General Assembly. Once the delegates read the language of the proposed changes and we had met with the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Charles Carter, we were urged to meet with representatives of the city and work out some kind of compromise (our local members of the General Assembly had pledged not to change anything until all concerns were addressed).

Our executive officers met with the city’s Human Resources director and the city attorney, and hammered out a very unique set of amendments. Over the next several years, we will have the opportunity to compare two different ways of administering promotions. The Fire and Police departments’ employees will have an opportunity to help formulate promotional procedures, and the Civil Service Board will audit and oversee the process.

I feel that the AFFA has proven that our concerns merited consideration, and that we could work within the system to solve a problem. And regardless of how some individuals view our organization, we have fulfilled our mission to our members (which is to protect their rights and benefits).

— Glenn Holbert, secretary/treasurer
Asheville Fire Fighters Association

No moral high ground for livestock industry

Regarding John Pilson’s letter [in support of animal agriculture, published July 14], I can only hope he doesn’t typify the mentality of Warren Wilson College in general.

It’s not surprising that people who work in the livestock industry are hyper-defensive and eager to promote misinformation. It’s a multi-billion-dollar industry, one that all taxpayers substantially support, whether or not we consume the products or agree with the m.o.

[In his reply to Stewart David’s letter, published June 30], Mr. Pilson suggests that Mr. David “has spent little time speaking with farmers who raise animals …” and states that “we care for, love, respect and honor our animals.” Mr. Pilson, I come from a Midwestern farming background; I am very familiar with “farmers who raise animals,” and all I can say is, pleeeeease! I’ve been there, honey!

The USDA meat-and-poultry inspectors have listed the cruel practices commonly used by livestock handlers — among them: beating with an inflexible material, poking animals in the eyes, anus or vulva, overcrowding of pens so that animals are trampled on, torment of animals for amusement, hauling animals in open trucks in all weather, leaving dead animals on trucks with live ones, and dragging downed and injured animals.

Unfortunately for the animals, buying “local meat” still renders the animals just as dead. And whether “chemical-free” or not, carrion isn’t healthy food for humans, who are not carnivores, and lack the kind of teeth, saliva, stomach acid and shorter intestines needed to quickly process decaying matter. The consumption of meat by humans is directly linked to a number of chronic diseases.

As far as the “moral high ground” goes, caring about the impact of your behavior on others and acting on that does seem a tad more enlightened than participating in the brutal, needless deaths of sensitive, feeling beings. Maybe it’s just me.

— Alexandra Johannsen
Hendersonville

Let the debate begin

The Southern Appalachian Biodiversity Project accepts the challenge from the Southern Appalachian Multiple-Use Council [Letters, July 14] to undertake a public discussion of public-lands logging. For too long, this subject has been only in the realm of the Forest Service and the timber industry. Now is the time for the interests of the public and forest-dwelling fish, wildlife and plants to be heard above the roar of chainsaws. We propose a panel discussion, with six people and a neutral moderator.

The national forests were first set aside from logging by an act of Congress in 1891, in response to the rapacious clearcutting that was occurring throughout the United States. Unfortunately, only five years later, in 1896, an appropriations rider (much like Rep. Charles Taylor’s infamous Salvage Rider of 1995) opened up the new forest reserves to commercial logging. It has only taken timber corporations one short century to eradicate 95 percent of the old growth in the national forests. Simultaneously, 400,000 miles of roads have been built, streams have been clogged with silt and debris, and herbicides have been wantonly sprayed over vast pine plantations.

However, it’s not just the forests that are being wasted. The Forest Service also bilks the taxpayers, by providing over $1 billion per year in subsidies to the timber industry. That’s easily enough to pay each national-forest timber worker not to log — and have plenty left over for ecological restoration, taxpayer relief and alternative-fiber research.

These are the elements of the National Forest Protection and Restoration Act, HR 1396. SABP is happy to discuss NFPRA at any time, with anyone, in any public forum. We also invite other interested members of the public, including the Wildlands Project, to join in the discussion. We are confident the public will hear our message. The Campaign to End Commercial Logging on Public Lands is not a conspiracy to depopulate Western North Carolina. It is a bold initiative to conserve and restore the depleted biological diversity of our beloved Blue Ridge Mountains, as well as other national treasures. We invite the public to join us.

— Andrew George, executive director
Southern Appalachian Biodiversity Project
Asheville

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