Letters to the editor

“Wake up, Granddaddy”

Oh! I can see it now, as my granddaughter Diamond comes to visit me from Raleigh, and we are strolling around the city of Asheville … We meet Mayor O. T. Tomes scurrying out of City Hall on his way to a ceremony welcoming the new African-American superintendent of Asheville City Schools.

At that ceremony, O. L. Sherrill, chairman of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, presents the superintendent with the keys to the county. Annette Coleman, chief executive officer of First Union Bank-WNC, presents the superintendent’s family with a plaque welcoming them to the city. Chief of Police Walt Robertson would provide an escort to City/County Plaza. Mark Gordon, CEO of Mission/St. Joseph’s Health System, is on hand, sitting next to Dr. Dwight Mullen, chancellor of UNCA. John Hayes is there also, as the director of the world-renowned Center for Social Change.

I can see much clearer now. Chief Will Annarino, thanks for promoting Walt Robertson and making it a little easier to visualize.

“Granddaddy! Granddaddy! Wake up! Are you going to take me to McDonald’s?”

— Roy R. Harris

Drive nice, for a change

Since moving to WNC 18 months ago, I find about one-third of the drivers around Asheville are not the least bit courteous. They cut one off, and they speed up so as not to let one into the proper lane. Some drivers are irate and irascible.

I followed one driver [who was] going west on Patton Avenue. I was going 50 mph; he passed me like I was sitting still. I saw him pull into a video store. …

If one travels to Florida, the drivers there — all of them — are very courteous. So [are the drivers] in a lot of other states — but not WNC. Not all [are bad], but about 30 out of 100 need to go to a drivers’ school and get some education.

— H.W. Rathburn

Loggers, environmentalists and life on the big blue ball

This past Saturday, I drove past the UNCA campus on my way to Merrimon Avenue and was more than a little intimidated by the number of logging trucks parked along the side of the road. My curiosity/concern got the best of me, so I detoured onto the campus to get more information. It turns out that loggers, their families and other concerned citizens from all over Western North Carolina, and as far away as Ohio, had come together to protest.

I stood by and listened as several politicians spoke to the assemblage about “The Environmentalists” and how they were trying to destroy the lives of loggers, their families and their communities. It didn’t take me long to understand that these people were gathered to declare war; it was in their terminology and their emotions (fear, anger and hatred). Yet I still didn’t fully understand …. So I asked.

I was informed that “The Appalachian Forest: 2000 and Beyond,” a conference on preservation and restoration, was taking place in a nearby building. I was directed to “The Map” … [showing] the Proposed Wildlands Project for Central Appalachian Mountains. It is radical. On this map, entire counties (Graham, Cherokee, Clay, Macon) are defined as “Core Wilderness Reserves with Little or No Use” — which, of course, means that people won’t be living there (according to the map). So I can understand why people living in these areas would be concerned and scared, and even angry.

However … the hot topic was logging and its potential cessation. At one point, a woman got up to speak and was introduced as “the wife of a logger.” She was very passionate and emotional as she explained that she and her husband form a fourth-generation logging family. She displayed a picture of their young daughter and stated emphatically and tearfully that her “family is not a welfare case!” She explained that “The Environmentalists” have no idea what it is like to be a logger and have your very livelihood threatened. She also said that part of the reason [for] this protest was to protect the future of her little girl and other children of the area. She talked about how the loggers build their lives around the forests. …. I couldn’t help but have compassion for these people, as they looked at the possibility of changing a very core aspect of their lives.

And I also noticed that most of the arguments being used to support the loggers were very shortsighted, unrealistic — and not completely rational. The proposal that these people had gathered to fight is designed to preserve and protect the phenomenal biodiversity of the Appalachian Mountains. There are creatures and plants that can only exist in this bioregion of the earth.

Humans, however, do not suffer this plight. We are incredibly adaptable creatures who can thrive in a vast variety of bioregions. Most humans believe that it is our right to exist wherever we want, however we want, without regard to the other inhabitants (plants, animals and, even, other humans) that made their homes there before we arrived. Where does this arrogant, self-appointed, self-importance come from?

And as far as the “livelihood” of the loggers and their families being threatened: I’d like to challenge the concept of livelihood. Livelihood is how we live, and living involves, at its most basic level, having food, water and shelter. Only one of these things can be satisfied by cutting down large quantities of trees — shelter — and this can be satisfied by other resources. …

What I believe was meant is how we make our money, not how we live. And the ways we can make money are as infinite as the stars and planets in the cosmos. As I stated earlier, we are incredibly adaptable creatures and don’t have to be defined by what our fathers did and what our fathers’ fathers did, and so on. Perhaps this is an opportunity for people in the logging industry to re-evaluate why they are loggers. Is it their heart’s desire, or is it a habit, or is it a refusal to think for themselves?

[As for] the future of the children, and … the forests, if the trees continue to be logged at the current rate, there won’t be a future for the children. Yes, The Wildlands Proposal is radical, and these are radical times. … If we continue to be so shortsighted, and live with our heads in the sand, our species is going to extinguish itself. …

Perhaps, instead of fighting each other and operating under an “us or them” philosophy, we could attempt to work together to come up with new ways of approaching living in harmony with all things on this “big blue ball.” … Presently — with our cars and pollution; with our money-equals-power; with our disconnection from the natural world; with our dependence on technology; with our perpetual adolescence; and, most importantly, with our alienation from ourselves — our future isn’t a happy picture. I beseech everyone reading this: Please consider alternatives to the lifestyle and ways of thinking we were taught.

— Sharon K. Martin
Black Mountain

On public art and architecture

Since everyone (i.e., Jerry Sternberg) seems to be having their say about the Pack Place sign, here’s my two cents’ worth about that and other notorious Asheville public art and architecture.

The Pack Place sign: I think the sign is fine. Just beautiful. The only thing it lacks is, perhaps, a touch of greenery. My recommendation is that the Pack Place people commission Peter Loewer to put in some plants around the sign to enhance its beauty and make it more acceptable to all the grouchy complainers in our city. Something like, say … kudzu.

The Federal Building sculpture: Actually, I really do like this sculpture, but the building really stinks. An example of monolithic, inhuman, glass-and-concrete architecture. Keep the sculpture; get rid of the building. It may just attract truck bombs from right-wing wackos, anyway.

The Flat Iron Flat Iron: This is so dumb, it’s almost cute.

The Akzona/Merrill Lynch building: Another example of monolithic, inhuman architecture. No shops to create interaction with the people of the city on the ground floor, just gray, foreboding concrete. Maybe I. M. Pei’s “Ship Out of Water” will spring a leak and sink.

The Vance Monument (or the “Pack Square Priapism”): Just lovely. Reminiscent of ancient times, when early civilizations had monuments to their deities in a central public place. Way back then, the people would often decorate themselves, gather at these monuments for ceremonies, beat on drums, chant, expand their collective minds. Hmmmm, maybe the more things change, the more they stay the same.

— Eric Thurston

County can’t handle growth without zoning

Our greatest concern in the coming referendum on zoning should be that, by failure to examine the facts, we do not understand the factors that will characterize the future of Buncombe County and the nature of living in the community. Population growth and commercial development are already upon us and will inevitably increase explosively in the next two decades, and we are not prepared to handle them without adequate and judicious implementation of land-use planning.

It is regrettable that some presumably earnest persons have chosen to make the issue an acrimonious one, introducing a divisive element into an otherwise friendly and cooperative community. What many of those opposed to zoning do not realize is that they have been used and misled by individuals who have a devious purpose. The real-estate developers who are at the root of the opposition have managed to arouse the instinctive resistance of some to change, by using the rallying cry of, “No one can tell us what to with our property!”

Zoning is not adversarial, it is protective. Claims to the contrary could not be further from the truth. Zoning is the means by which property owners can manage their property and maintain its value. In providing a zoning ordinance, the county commissioners have simply fulfilled their obligation to provide for adjustment to changing conditions, so that the people control — rather than the selfish few. The commissioners are the legal servants of the people, while those particular developers are the self-interested agents of no one but themselves. The professional real-estate community disowns them, and so should the residents of the county.

In America, voting is an obligation, as well as a privilege. Every one of us, as conscientious citizens, should talk to our friends and neighbors and encourage them to vote on Nov. 2 for the referendum.

Approval will tell the few real-estate developers that they must get on board and share the rewards of careful community development with the rest of us. And approval will also tell the commissioners that their foresight and leadership are appreciated, and that the residents of Buncombe County are with them.

Although I am confident that the referendum will be passed, nevertheless, it is important to have an overwhelming turnout and approval, so there will be no doubt that the residents of Buncombe County are intelligent and forward-seeing. There must be no question that they want the Board of Commissioners to proceed with the sensible implementation of the long-range planning with consideration to recommendations coming from those who have opposed zoning, as well as those who have supported it.

— Norman C. Smith

Southern legacy: pride or shame?

I have to expand on what Tim Thornton discussed in his recent commentary [“Which way is South?”, Sept. 8] on the South (notice I did not use quotations [when referring to the region], because I consider myself the quintessential Southerner, absent one small, yet very important behavioral trait); you’ll know what I mean when you read below.

I was recently visiting the Asheville area on vacation (I’m temporarily displaced, due to work requirements), and noticed that there was a distinctly racist and putridly fetid odor in the air, this time not aimed at our African-American citizens, but against Latinos and Latino-Americans.

This is repulsive.

I am proud to be a native Ashevillean who wants to encourage our communities to be more tolerant and understanding, while embracing — rather than shunning — diversity. (A factory cannot build a machine using only one type of part; so Buncombe County cannot grow and prosper and become more wholesome without the different parts just waiting on the sidelines to help us all create the most successful integrated community in the state.)

That’s right. It’s time for people to stop beating around the bush and get busy curing the cancer that is racism, which is devouring Buncombe County. And I challenge anyone to dispute me on this — because those who say I am way out of line with my tone obviously either have their heads in the sand or are silent accessories to a terribly and sinfully deplorable injustice.

While I walked the streets downtown, while taking a leisurely neighborhood stroll, while sitting down to eat a meal, I could not miss [the remarks] about “the problem”– and most were by strangers I may have overheard (sorry about eavesdropping). It is as if they are in some kind of automatic funk and will not shut up about “those damned Mexicans.” (Remember, [this attitude] used to be [directed at] the “Floridians” not too long ago)

This area proudly (almost haughtily) boasts of its religious fortitude and moral correctness — but it somehow can’t [match up to] what Christ so brilliantly, yet simply, demonstrated by his behavior. (I am not throwing out the baby with the bath water; there are plenty of citizens, groups and church organizations that have welcomed all newcomers with open arms, no matter what road they have taken to get to us. We must learn from these good Samaritans (e.g. Calvary Baptist Church, among others) and practice what we preach!

Ignorance breeds fear. So learn about our newcomers. They are like our forefathers, alone in a strange land, having emigrated from their longtime homes to make a new home here in our highlands. Diversity is what made Asheville what it was and still is (and can become): rich in culture, and deep in compassion and real hospitality.

We are proud to be Southerners because we believe in the nicer, more relaxed approach to each other as family, friends and neighbors, not as adversaries or opponents in a contest of who can speed, litter or discriminate better.

I challenge everyone reading this newspaper to ponder this: Do we really want to confirm to all the nation that we are nothing but a bunch of stupid, redneck bigots? If so, then that will be our “Southern” legacy, and I will hang my head in shame.

Please: Change.

Oh, and by the way, thank you, Mountain Xpress, for this forum. Your paper is fair to all who receive either [your] praise or wrath. We need more fairness. Thanks, again.

— Rick Nantelle III
Mansfield, Ohio

No room to burn

In 1950, Western North Carolina had 658,000 people and 9,110 square miles of land. Smoke from open burning dissipated over unpopulated expanses of land — it wasn’t a problem. Today, we have close to a million people, but still only 9,110 square miles of land. The unpopulated expanses are now populated. Smoke from open burning now affects people. And there are more people to do the burning. Open burning is a problem.

Along with emissions from industrial and mobile sources, smoke from open fires contributes to regional haze and air pollution, endangers public health, and releases climate-changing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. [Now that] industrial and mobile-source emissions are being reduced through regulatory and even voluntary measures, perhaps it is time to reconsider the issue of open burning.

Open burning is the combustion of organic matter (leaves, brush and branches) by homeowners and developers, to reduce unwanted material to smoke and ash. Advocates of burning claim that alternatives are too expensive to be practical. But, as with most forms of pollution, the true costs are not being considered.

Air pollution is a proven health risk. Medical care is expensive. While it’s difficult to place a dollar figure on pollution-related medical costs, we know that respiratory patients pay out of their own pockets, and we, in turn, pay higher health-insurance premiums.

Likewise, the costs of haze cannot be pinned down. But studies have shown that tourists, whose dollars are so important in this region, will be less likely to visit if they can’t see the mountains.

Along with the problems of health and haze, consider the hazards. Open fires can quickly spread with a shift of the wind on a dry day. Another real hazard is fog. Smoke particles combine with water vapor, especially on cool evenings, to create a dense local fog that can drift across roadways, creating a dangerous surprise for motorists.

When we burn, we create hazards, incur unquantifiable costs, and degrade our quality of life. We need to seriously consider alternatives to open burning.

For developers, the first step might be to reduce the amount of debris. Some home builders take great care to “slip” new houses into the forest, cutting down as few trees as possible. For those trees that must be cut, sizable trunks can be sold to saw mills for lumber; branches and limbs not chipped on site for mulch can be hauled to the local landfill, where they can be chipped, piled up, and sold as mulch; or they can also be buried and left to decompose naturally.

These alternatives are available to homeowners, as well. It makes no sense to burn leaves and brush and then buy mulch for decoration and weed control. A chipper/shredder can quickly turn yard debris into decorative mulch; a compost pile can do the same job over a season. Some municipalities provide central sites for those wishing to haul debris away themselves.

Another option is brush piles for wildlife habitat. We destroy enough habitat; how about creating some? Many desirable songbirds and pest-eating birds will happily make their homes in brush piles. Towhees have a delightful song, and juncos are year-round companions. And eventually, these brush piles will decompose into useful compost.

For the gourmet, another habitat option can be considered. Oak stumps and logs in a well-shaded location are excellent hosts for shiitake mushrooms. And finally, one might consider using the interesting natural twists and turns of large limbs as lawn and garden sculptures.

Whatever option we choose, almost any alternative is better than burning. Many counties across the country prohibit open burning of anything. If we in Western North Carolina voluntarily limit our burning, we take a big step toward cleaner air.

— Kim Carlyle

Home Depot makes the right decision; who’s next?

On Friday, Sept. 10, Home Depot announced plans to phase out the sale of old-growth products. The decision comes as wonderful news for the world’s remaining old-growth forests, as Home Depot is currently the world’s largest retailer of old-growth woods. Many of these products are ripped from the heart of the world’s most endangered forest areas, including the tropical rainforests of the Amazon and Southeast Asia, and the temperate rainforests of North America.

With only 20 percent of the earth’s original forests remaining, Home Depot’s decision comes none too soon.

Over the past two years, groups across the United States and Canada have organized over 500 demonstrations against Home Depot, including protests here in Asheville organized by EarthCulture of Greensboro.

Home Depot claims their decision was not in reaction to the protests, even though [their recent] decision shows a marked turnaround from their previous stance. Two years ago, Home Depot denied selling old-growth [wood], and even two months ago, they claimed that they sold too many products to figure out where they all came from. The company now claims that they were planning to phase out sales all along.

I’m willing to let this inconsistency go, as long as they stick to their agreement.

But a big question remains. Now that the industry leader has committed to stop old-growth sales, when will the remaining home-improvement chains follow suit? We should celebrate our victory against Home Depot, and we must increase our pressure on Lowe’s, Homebase, Hechinger’s and Ace Hardware, [to get them] to join Home Depot and stop the sale of old-growth woods.

— Dane Kuppinger

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