Letters to the editor

This is our moment

We are at that “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” place in regards to mountainside development in Buncombe County, when decency and honesty are all that can save the day. And hundreds of citizens are using their power of free speech to let our government officials know that approving steep-slope development plans without adequate restrictions and considerations for environmental impact is just wrong.

The commissioners have heard us. They made a remarkable and timely decision to instruct the Planning Board not to grant any variances to developers’ plans until the commissioners have a chance to meet with the board on Sept. 5. Bravo! They have given us all a chance to slow down, take a breath, look at the current laws and consider what changes may need to be made. As a result, developers have been requesting approval-hearing postponements left and right. Some have even withdrawn their plans. And in pausing the process, the commissioners now find themselves in a position to write our history as a story of right triumphing over wrong.

It was not that long ago that our politicians said we did not need slope laws — our mountains were too steep to be developed. Well, time and technology have changed the game. Mountainside developments are planned from Weaverville to Black Mountain to Candler and communities in between. But in this moment, thanks to our commissioners, we have an opportunity to take another look and set up criteria that preserve the integrity and beauty of our mountains.

Even better news: We have an abundance of folks living here who have experience with true conservation-based development. That’s right, the talent is right here — people who are knowledgeable in every field of study needed for sustainable, conscientious mountainside developing. All that is really needed is for the commissioners to put together a task force comprised of Buncombe County’s best and brightest to assist in setting up guidelines for building on our mountainsides.

But until we can ensure the beauty of our mountains and safety of our citizens, the commissioners should maintain the “no variance” edict from their last meeting and call for a moratorium on accepting new plans until the necessary laws and requirements are in place. It would not surprise me if the developers who are waiting for the outcome of the Sept. 5 meeting threaten litigation if their plans are not allowed to proceed. Let them! It is our county, and we should not be forced to bow down to the power of the almighty dollar. Better to deal with unhappy developers today than to have lawsuits for years to come from citizens whose property is damaged from runoff, whose safety has been endangered, or whose livelihoods are jeopardized from lack of tourists who do not want to visit mountains full of housing developments.

Buncombe County is known all over the United States as progressive, creative, beautiful and welcoming. Let’s live up to our reputation. Let this be what history remembers as the moment in time when we stopped the machine and made the decisions that preserved our mountains — not the moment when we had the chance and didn’t take it.

— Catherine Ball
Asheville

The indispensible wilderness companion

As U.S. Forest Service volunteers, we read your Outdoors article, “Chasing Cold Mountain[Aug. 2] by Danny Bernstein, with great interest and enthusiasm. From our dozen or so years of wilderness experience, we have a few comments about the Cold Mountain hike and about wilderness in general. (The entire hike described in the article is within the Shining Rock Wilderness Area.)

While we agree wholeheartedly that the Cold Mountain hike is no Everest climb, it is no piece of cake, either. It is a piece of work; the hiker needs to be in pretty good condition, and for the maximum enjoyment of most visitors, we recommend dedicating an entire day to the bottom-to-top-and-return trek.

As for wilderness in general, there are some things visitors should be aware of to avoid a lot of grief. Most good-to-know info is covered on the signboards at the entry points, but our experience with the public has taught us there is one item that needs even more emphasis. Over the years, we have met many visitors who were unsure of their location or were somewhere other than where they thought they were. We have given a lot of directions. As Danny hinted, wilderness trails are only minimally maintained (for resource preservation, not for users’ convenience). They are unmarked and, in some places, hard to find. (Ideally a wilderness area should not even have trails.) One can easily get turned around and not even know it.

Therefore, what we preach most is being able to navigate by one’s own resources, not government-provided resources like signs, blazes and maintained trails. We are talking about having a topographical map, compass and the knowledge and proficiency to use them when entering any wilderness (and GPS is not a substitute for map and compass). To enter with less is to set yourself up for getting lost.

We hope this helps visitors make their wilderness experiences safer and happier.

— Tom Bindrim and Joan Lemire
Pisgah Forest

Real issues, right questions

Praise to Tamiko Murray and praise to the Mountain Xpress for an excellent article entitled “Sex, Drugs and Stereotypes[Commentary, Aug. 16]. In recent articles by other local media featuring the violent murders of Asheville women Kelly Smith and Amanda Pike, we fear that the message presented has been: Women who live a life of prostitution and drug use get what they deserve. Media, such as the posters created by the Asheville-Buncombe Drug Commission, tells folks that there is a “better way,” but by not including resources for women who want to find said “better way,” we are only getting half of the story. Murray does an excellent job illustrating this point, as well as the experiences that women targeted in these posters have to live with. Posters like these have the potential to become abusive to individuals and to the community. For example, we know that women who live with addiction and do sex work to support their addictions will, by the nature of their work, enter systems that may only reinforce their status as outsiders and throwaways, furthering a cycle of abuse. The posters mentioned in this article illustrate a system that is characterized by its ability to label individuals, maintain various levels of status and reinforce the notion that women are at fault for many of society’s troubles.

The good news is that there are some resources left in the wake of mental health reform. OUR VOICE offers free therapeutic services, advocacy and outreach, and case management for anyone who has been affected by sexual abuse and assault. Helpmate offers court advocacy, group and individual therapy and shelter for folks whose experience includes domestic violence. The list of local substance-abuse treatment providers is longer than one may think, and Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meet in many locations at many times each day at no cost for anyone who has the desire to stop their substance use.

Targeting this population specifically, Women At Risk is a low-cost alternative to jail and prison that provides court advocacy, weekly jail visits, on-site women-only 12-step meetings, intensive case management service, a 16-week therapy group and many levels of outpatient substance-abuse treatment. There are resources. Resources exist specifically for women who live with addiction and women who are at risk of assault, or worse. Thank you, Murray, and thank you, Xpress, for finally hitting on some of the real issues and asking the right questions.

— J. Louise Newton
Court Liaison, Jail Outreach Coordinator
Women At Risk
Asheville

Contact information for the organizations in this letter is as follows: Alcoholics Anonymous, (local hotline) 254-8539, (national) 800-524-0465; Helpmate, (crisis line) 254-0516, (office) 254-2968; Narcotics Anonymous, (local hotline) 258-4537, (Carolinas) 888-370-6262; OUR VOICE, (crisis line) 255-7576, (office) 252-0562; Women At Risk (252-2485).

Walk this way

William Bartram must be spinning in his grave!

A developer from Peachtree City, Ga., along with “unnamed investors” stand to make over $20 million by carving up 160 acres of Beaverdam mountainside, with slopes over 30 percent.

The Buncombe County commissioners talk the talk — they “say” they oppose the development — but they can’t, won’t and haven’t done anything.

The Asheville City Council talks endlessly about “sustained growth,” yet we see no action.

I suggest our elected officials start “walking the walk” now.

Score: Out-of-state developers, $20 million; citizens of Asheville and Buncombe County, zero!

— Brian Jones
Asheville

Was that for real?

Referring to letter-writer A. Shebar’s “Two for the Vote of One” in the Aug. 16 issue, I would like to quote the penultimate line: “That is why on Nov. 7, I will cast my vote for Nancy Pelosi by voting for Democrat Shuler.”

I think your readers should be aware that incumbent Charles Taylor’s ad campaign is focused on creating, in the minds of voters, a connection between Pelosi of California and Shuler of North Carolina, who probably share nothing politically except that they are both Democrats. This disinformation is classic Charles Taylor/Karl Rove tactics — do not discuss the issues; rather, slime the opponent by innuendo and association that possess little or no truth except in the strategies of campaign managers.

Frankly, until proved otherwise, I suspect the Shebar letter is a Republican plant: Have someone write what appears to be a sincere letter from a person within the opposition’s camp that makes the opposition camp seem foolish or dastardly.

C’mon. Heath Shuler dancing to Nancy Pelosi’s tune? You’re gonna have to do better than that to get my vote. Gimme a break!

If the above is not true, if my suspicions are invalid, I apologize to letter-writer Shebar, with the admonition that however sincere or well-intended that person is, he or she is also incredibly politically naive.

But if my suspicions are correct, then let me quote a cartoon character with more integrity than the letter’s author. That would be Daffy Duck, who said: “That’s despicable!”

— John Nation
Asheville

Counting the currency of corruption

There is no reason a politician should be caught with his hand in the till. The currency of corruption is not cash, but information passed by the casual contact of peers. By interpretation, opportunities to grasp power are found. … Wealth beyond the dreams of avarice is attendant, and this has become the ineffable flow of accountancy.

There is a regular flow of personnel between congressional offices, K Street lobbyists and corporate headquarters. Much of the information passes by means of old-fashioned, casual conversation — as occurs among our male leaders in the locker room of the Y. This is untraceable, while it leaves a trail. A congressman receives a message about what a corporation wants for legislation, along with an obtuse bit of knowledge about potential markets. Said congressman may be ethically proscribed from using this, but if his bank combines this with some other bit, a fortune can be made. Sometimes, it is necessary to create a bit, which is where legislation comes in. This may even result in investment capital.

If this sounds like corruption, you are wrong. A congressman who functions with such shrewdness has cited his business acumen as a qualification for office and evidenced this by his successful enterprises and personal fortune. His activity is sanctioned by priests of money, academic economists, who have said that major societal decisions are best left to those with the best track record. Further, that while these decisions appear to benefit the decider most, the aggregate gains far more. The logic runs like this: Whatever is good for (your corporation here) is good for me and, tangentially, for the nation. This is not corruption. It’s Republican politics-as-usual.

If you think this a paranoid conspiracy theory, check out Rep. Taylor’s history in office.

— Scott MacKay
Asheville

When the moral watchdogs bite

In his letter printed in your Aug. 16 issue [“Support Banned Food“], Brad Kepley responds to an earlier article by saying he will do his best to eat live lobster, crab, and foie gras because Chicago and Whole Foods Market have banned them, and he despises companies and elected officials acting as moral watchdogs.

While I applaud Mr. Kepley’s desire to take a moral stance, I think he’s chosen the wrong one. Here we have a company making a truly moral decision that goes against their bottom line, and Mr. Kepley is angry at them? How about all the other corporations that not only don’t care about the welfare of animals but that of people and the environment as well, as long as they sell more of whatever it is they’re pushing. They, too, are taking moral stands, though we accept those positions blindly, as if they are perfectly natural.

By that standard, I assume Mr. Kepley will not be buying lobster, crab and foie gras from companies that sell them, as they are clearly taking a moral stance as well. Additionally, I assume he will be giving up driving and the consumption of any fuel since large corporations are pushing big cars and the consumption of oil, another moral (or amoral) position. I also assume he will be taking up a career in stem-cell research, in defiance of the moral watchdog in the White House.

On the other hand, if Mr. Kepley really does eat as much foie gras as he can, we won’t be having this disagreement for very long anyway.

— David Levine
Asheville

A brief quiz for Americans

Personally, I don’t support Democrats or Republicans. They’re both soft on corporate corruption, which is such a big factor in the negative trajectory our country is taking, but the current Republican administration is wildly damaging. America’s closer to becoming a fascist, totalitarian regime than it’s ever been before.

How is it acceptable for our president to quote Hitler? How is it acceptable for us to give up our supposedly inalienable rights (NSA wiretapping, the PATRIOT Act) to an administration that squanders our trust and the lives of our troops in a war that has nothing to do with the 9/11 attack? How can the Republicans presume to take such a tough stance on terrorism when the only terrorist attack to happen on our soil was on their watch?

Where is Al Qaeda? Where’s Bin Laden? We’re not looking for them. We’re too busy colonizing Iraq for its oil and bolstering Israel as a superpower in the Middle East to protect ourselves from terrorists or even natural disasters. The treatment of Katrina victims was appalling. Who can tell me that we’re more protected from terrorists now that Bush is in the White House? Who can say that with a straight face and empty pockets?

— Amanda Rodriguez
Asheville

Expand that compassion

The extent to which the Bush administration and the Republican Congress have neglected the safety and well-being of the American people is immoral. The ones in power lack compassion and understanding, except for “their own kind.” They call people “evil” and “un-American” if their opinions differ from what these blathering bigots are trying to get our citizens to believe. We need relief from the abuse inflicted on us by the White House and its lackeys.

— Jane J. Carroll
Black Mountain

Correction

• In our Aug. 16 “Gallery Gossip” column, artist Julyan Davis was incorrectly referred to as “she.” Davis is, in fact, a man, and his landscape paintings were recently featured in the Showcase Gallery at Blue Spiral.

• In “Our Hands are Tied” (Aug. 23), Xpress incorrectly reported that Dr. Michael J. Zboyovski is the registered agent for Beaverdam Conservancy LLC. That agency is held by Michael J. Zboyovski Jr.

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