Letters to the editor

Good riddance to the low-level rad-waste compact

The North Carolina General Assembly acted responsibly by withdrawing from the Southern Low-Level Radioactive Waste Compact. It would have been better had this been done 15 years and $80 million ago; but better late than never. It was irresponsible for our state government ever to have entered into such a Faustian agreement. The regional-compact system of dealing with radioactive waste was a futile attempt to revive a dying nuclear-power industry by passing on the enormous cost and technical burden, from the industry to the taxpayer.

Compacts formed in other regions of the country have either disintegrated or are in the process of doing so. But the Southeast Compact is the largest compact. If North Carolina had followed through on hosting this dump, our state most likely would have become the repository of all so-called “low-level” radioactive waste for the entire nation. Incredible quantities of radioactive materials, including decommissioned nuclear plants and their cores, would have been transported over mountainous roads and by train, from every direction, to the chosen site on the Wake/Chatham County border.

But truth sometimes surfaces and grows like the seeds of trees. It finally seems to be dawning on public and industry officials, alike, that there really is no safe place to bury radioactive waste for the thousands of years necessary. Nor is it safe to transport thousands of truckloads of the waste over our public roads or by rail to some central, sacrificial location.

The only logical course of action is to stop making still more radioactive waste from nuclear power plants. The nuclear industry has created over a hundred nuclear power-plant sites in this country alone that will be forever contaminated. Let these sites serve as the location of above-ground, easily monitored, permanent storage facilities for the already-existing, nuclear-power-generated radioactive waste and for the small quantities of necessary waste from hospitals and research laboratories. We don’t need to contaminate one more acre of land, or one more aquifer.

As the new millennium begins, it’s time to start phasing out the obsolete, dangerous and wasteful technology of nuclear power. It’s time to start building a safe, clean, renewable power grid based on solar, wind and hydropower, coupled with conservation and a concerted effort to maximize efficiency in energy use.

— Avram Friedman

Downtowns, tolerance and bleeding hearts

As a thinking person, I’m compelled to respond to Mr. Jim Harmon’s letter [Sept. 1]. Mr. Harmon is correct in assuming that the “bleeding hearts” (a phrase once used for opponents of the Vietnam War) will find his letter “prejudiced.” Although prejudice may be indirectly expressed, Mr. Harmon’s letter mainly reveals a shameful ignorance of current social realities and a lack of compassionate tolerance. His are the feelings of a petulant child who finds someone else in his sandbox at a public playground.

What residents of Asheville know is that our city is home to diversity; we pride ourselves in it. We realize that our city is not welcoming only to certain people — those who can afford a college education, for example. Asheville, like most cities, is home to many, many kinds of people. Sometimes “home” is any available place to rest in. Mr. Harmon should be thankful for his good fortune; apparently, he has never been homeless.

Yes, New York City (my hometown) has “dealt” with the problem of homelessness. Local law enforcement — under the directive of city government, developers and merchants’ organizations — has succeeded in closing down, for indefinite periods, key public places in areas undergoing rapid gentrification. Generally, these places are traditionally home to what Mr. Harmon calls a certain “element.”

Obviously, it’s not in the interest of the general community, which includes this “element,” to close public spaces for indefinite periods, subsequently imposing enforced curfews. These actions are taken in the interest of maintaining or escalating property values — generally the latter. Escalating property values mean escalating rents. Escalating rents actually impose homelessness on many poor, sick or elderly community residents.

As always, law enforcement is on hand to assist, if necessary, in eliminating this unprofitable “element” from the area. Once these people are displaced, often under threat of violence and arrest, they move on, exposed to further threat of harassment, violence, arrest or illness, due to their disadvantages.

Attitudes like Mr. Harmon’s provide political support for these practices. They also contribute to opposition regarding shelters, hospices, harm-reduction centers (serving those at risk for HIV in prevention, education and treatment) and other services for disadvantaged and suffering people.

New York City has not “effectively” dealt with the problem of homelessness whatsoever. People have been displaced. Existing networks of the poor and homeless have been destroyed. That’s all. Any belief that this “effectively” deals with homelessness (which is itself the problem, not the homeless) is shamefully naive, at best.

Incidentally, opposition to three strategies was expressed in the Tompkins Square riots of the early ‘9Os. Tompkins Square Park, in New York City, once an active community enclave, is now under continual, complete control of local law enforcement. The vibrant life of this cultural landmark has utterly vanished.

As for Asheville, I wonder about Mr. Harmon’s solutions for the “problem,” if any. That he equates “filth, cigarette butts, trash and homeless” is the most revealing part of his letter. Where would he suggest the “downtown element” disappear to? The tone of his letter suggests a possible, final solution.

In closing, I’d like to remind Mr. Harmon that only destroyed hearts don’t bleed.

–Lynne Thermann

Have brains … will travel?

I read with amusement Joy Harwood’s letter in your Sept. 1 issue regarding the lack of available “brain” jobs in the Asheville area. Ms. Harwood stated, “… no one will give me a halfway steady, halfway livable job that will keep a roof over my head.” Could it be that prospective employers sensed the in-your-face tone of entitlement that Ms. Harwood conveyed in her letter? Possibly interviewers were just a little skeptical after Ms. Harwood apprised them of her impressive credentials — including her “IQ of 156”?

I agree, Ms. Harwood, there simply aren’t enough “brain” jobs in this community for folks like you. Let me suggest that you leave immediately to locate the utopia where your vast skills can be truly appreciated. Maybe “Californy is the place you oughta be”?

— Dave Capps

Follow the Pack

I see that a lot of newsprint has been devoted lately to complaining about the new Pack Place sign, and it’s just occurred to me that we need to hear from those, such as myself, who have embraced this addition to our downtown landscape. I find the sign both marvelously functional and aesthetically pleasing. Form and function together are rarities. Pack Place has achieved both, in my estimation.

It’s also occurred to me that, since we’ve brought such a modern convenience as an illuminated sign to our old-fashioned downtown, we should encourage a few more modern conveniences as well.

For example, I can easily see a McDonald’s brightening up our urban scene Better yet, a Bojangles, because I’m a huge fan of “Bojangles Orange.” It’s so bright and happy, and they make good biscuits, too.

Citizens of other modern downtowns are able to enjoy the aesthetics and convenience of Taco Bells (love the little dog and sublime adobe facades), Long John Silver’s (terrific seafaring motifs) — and who in their right mind could possibly deny the simple beauty and functionality of a Dairy Queen? If this were any other modern city in America, the bottom floor of the BB&T building would be a GAP store! Why must we leave town to enjoy such simple pleasures?

For me, the new Pack Place sign sets the stage for a new and modern downtown Asheville, and those who resist it are simply turning their backs on a bright and flashing future.

— Bob Zimmerman

The air bites shrewdly

The air-pollution problem around our area is good proof of the old saying, “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody good.” We all know the pollution is out there: Often we can see it, we can read the rating in the paper, and people with breathing problems can experience it.

But we can always take comfort, each of us, by saying, “Yes, it certainly is a problem, hope they do something about it, sure glad I’m not to blame.” We each feel good knowing we’re not responsible. The ill wind can’t be blamed on us, and that feels good.

It’s CP&L, or maybe Canton, or most likely TVA, but I feel better every time I realize it’s not me. A column in the [daily] paper the other day suggested a nice idea to get away from the heat: Pack a lunch and drive over to Mt. Pisgah, where it’s cooler. If all the SUVs in Asheville were to drive over to Pisgah every hot day this summer, we could have air like Mexico City. But it’s better to drive to Pisgah and blame them big trucks, or maybe the motor homes from out of town.

— Allen Thomas

Deciphering the will of a nonvoting public

Members of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners recently stated they will probably drop the proposed zoning ordinance if the nonbinding referendum weighs heavily against it. This is a proper response from democratically elected representatives.

But before the zoning opponents start cheering, and the commissioners act on “the will of the people,” consider this caveat: It’s an off-year election, turnout is likely to be low.

Suppose that the dreams of zoning opponents come true and 80 percent of the votes cast are against the ordinance, but only one-quarter of citizens participate in the referendum. Under this scenario, only 20 percent of the whole population would have voted against zoning, 5 percent of the whole would have voted in favor, and 75 percent would be saying, by their lack of participation, that they don’t care much either way.

This result would place the county commissioners in a very awkward position. It is their job to act in the best interest of all the citizens — those who vote and those who don’t — but they owe their positions to only those who vote. The majority of commissioners have already determined that zoning is in the best interest of the county. With only a small minority of the whole in opposition (under this low-turnout scenario), the correct thing for the commissioners to do would be to adopt the ordinance and risk losing their jobs in the next election. The alternative is for the commissioners to act like politicians — bend to the will of a small, vocal minority — and save their jobs.

I prefer that the county [commissioners] receive clear, unambiguous instructions from the voters. Regardless of the outcome, I hope that there is a huge turnout, so that we can really know where the citizens of Buncombe County stand. Failing that, I hope that the commissioners will place the referendum in the context of the actual turnout, ignore mere appearances, and do what they think is best.

— Scott Conklin

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