Letters to the editor

Commissioners need to climb this hill

For the past several months, County Attorney Joe Connolly and the Board of Commissioners have suggested to concerned Buncombe County residents that it would be difficult and time-consuming to impose a temporary development moratorium.

Municipal development moratoriums have been legally and successfully used to deal with a variety of land-use concerns. The issue is whether the elected officials are willing and able to impose a temporary moratorium on all mountain construction.

It is important to look at legal precedent: On April 23, 2002, the Supreme Court ruled in Tahoe-Sierra Preservation Council v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency that temporary moratoriums on construction were legitimate regulatory actions, affirming the power of governmental entities to control private property while environmental issues were studied and land-use regulations were reviewed.

A moratorium imposed by the Tahoe planning agency had prohibited all new construction for a 32-month period. Landowners sued the agency, arguing that any government action that caused their property to become worthless — even short-term and regardless of the reason — would constitute compensable taking under the Fifth Amendment.

The Supreme Court ruled that temporary restrictions placed on development do not dispossess the property owners of the entire economic value of their property, and that because the property in question continued to have economic worth after the moratorium, the agency was not obligated to provide any compensation to the owners.

The reason for the development moratorium had been the agency’s concern that rapid development around the lake would lead to water-quality degradation.

In 1983, the N.C. General Assembly clearly identified the dangers of mountain-ridge and slope construction with the passage of the Mountain Ridge Protection Act and this legislative finding: “The construction of tall or major buildings and structures on the ridges and higher elevations of North Carolina mountains in an inappropriate or badly designed manner can cause unusual problems and hazards to the residents of and visitors to the mountains. Supplying water to, and disposing of the sewage from buildings at higher elevations with significant numbers of residents may infringe on the ground water rights and endanger the health of persons living at lower elevations.”

Does Buncombe County’s permitting of 23 major subdivisions on mountain slopes constitute significant construction?

Buncombe and the other 20 counties that make up Western North Carolina have been identified by the N.C. Division of Emergency Management to be at high risk for landslides. Buncombe was one of 15 WNC counties declared a federal disaster area in September 2004. State geologists and other professionals have published extensive reports about slope instability and safe slope construction.

For the commissioners to continue to allow these major mountain subdivisions without benefit of the state-authorized and funded landslide mapping, set to begin next year, is unwise and possibly negligent. And when slope-construction regulations are passed, they must require a site-specific stability analysis by a licensed professional. Public safety concerns dictate that Buncombe County control and regulate for all slopes if there is evidence that ground disturbance will precipitate landslides.

Past, current and pending slope regulations in Buncombe County do not adequately address the serious consequences of the construction of thousands of homes on unmapped and potentially unstable ground. A temporary development moratorium would allow county government to revisit and review land-use policy for all slope construction.

— Lynne Vogel
Mars Hill

Show your mug

Two hundred a day, people! That’s approximately how many bleached white, disposable coffee cups Earth Fare goes through at just one store each day. I keep asking myself why as I see seemingly conscious folks, day after day, use them: the hippie mom with dreadlocks, the man in a suit, the older woman with animal-rights stickers all over her car, even the employees.

Please, I beg you to do the math. Two hundred cups a day is about 73,000 cups a year for just one store! Feeling a wee bit guilty now? Very simple solution! Obtain a mug! Buy a cheap one from the thrift store or, even better, splurge on a really nice mug made by one of our fine local potters. Make this mug part of your life; decorate it, put your name on it. Make it as important as your cell phone and wallet and keys. Advantages? Many stores offer discounts if you have your own mug. In fact, many stores will give you free beverages, because the cup costs them more than what goes in it! Also, your coffee will taste so much better without that dioxin-laden bleached-paper taste.

Finally, you will feel great about doing your part on a small scale to prevent the needless waste of natural resources. Forgot your mug? No problem! Go ahead and use a paper one this time. No one is perfect, but at least you are making a conscious effort.

— Joseph Allawos

Nuclear threat comes closer

I am deeply concerned about the Bush administration’s plans to reprocess spent commercial nuclear fuel for use in military programs. This violates every aspect of the Geneva Convention, and the process creates a highly radioactive liquid that admittedly is extremely difficult — if not impossible — to contain. This poses serious threats to the environment, workers and the general public, and [the idea] was abandoned in the ’70s because of these reasons. To call the process “recycling” is absurd and makes no more sense than consuming one’s own fecal matter! Reprocessing is also economically unfeasible.

Subsidizing this and other aspects of the nuclear industry — as was started under Cheney’s energy plan, using taxpayers’ money to fund such endeavors for the profit of the nuclear industry and corporations — is completely immoral. We need to do away with nuclear energy entirely for the sake of our children and our very survival. Going nuclear to reduce global warming is jumping from the frying pan into the fire! There are many other options to stave off global warming that are far less dangerous to us all.

The casks used for dry storage of wastes have only been tested in computer simulations and must be subject to higher standards. If high-level waste must be transferred, it should not go to the Yucca Mountain facility. That is located on a fault line and the rock is fractured and porous, allowing rainwater to carry the radioactive waste downstream. Savannah River — no better a destination — is the newly targeted site. The I-26 corridor will be used to transfer the increasing number of shipments headed there. Find out more, like I did. Get involved! Contact your [representatives] in Washington. They will be making these decisions. We’re all counting on you!

— Kathleen Riddle

How should we measure conservation?

By far the most cost-effective way to conserve soil and water is with birth control. So, [as many] locally controlled environmental funds and efforts as possible should go to funding birth-control projects in cooperation with existing programs. These programs are currently motivated by HIV prevention and women’s rights, but they happen to be by far our best way to protect natural resources as well.

Some of the current cost-share programs run by the Buncombe Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) are too narrowly focused and can amount to myopic Band-Aids involving questionable cost effectiveness. I am concerned that some of the materials used in the existing projects, such as lumber, cement, steel and herbicides, may cause as much environmental harm wherever they are made as they produce in local benefit, raising concerns about environmental cost-effectiveness.

The current points system with which the Buncombe SWCD prioritizes earmarked cost-share funds is not a cost-benefit analysis, either economic or environmental, and it should be. Although the SWCD is a service organization, one [candidate for SWCD supervisor], James Coman, has a long history of land-use enforcement, as does [SWCD] Director Gary Higgins. I am concerned that if Coman is re-elected, landowners might not feel comfortable allowing inspections for advisory or cost-share purposes. I also feel that conservation must not be associated with aesthetic concerns or regulations, and that it should not interfere with or limit basic housing under 1,000 square feet per unit. SWCD directors and board members should not be associated or involved with land-use enforcement if they are to win the trust and cooperation of landowners.

— Alan Ditmore

Just following the play book

I received recently a flier from the National Republican Congressional Committee that follows once again the Karl Rove play book of attack, mislead and slander personally.

This most recent ad accuses Heath Shuler, Democratic candidate for House of Representatives, of lacking integrity. It cites as evidence businesses with “late tax payment.” Ridiculous! Mr. Shuler sold the business in question some time ago; he has no operational control. The failure of the new owners to pay taxes in a timely manner prompted Mr. Shuler to file suit to have his name removed from the company. Evidently these Washington, D.C., Republicans are no better at investigating a simple tax matter than they were at investigating Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction.

This same flier notes Rep. Charles Taylor helped pass the recent tax cuts that “lowered taxes for all taxpayers” and wants to make them permanent. Fiscal insanity! The three rounds of tax-cut legislation (in 2001, 2002 and 2003) account for at least 62 percent of the nation’s current deficit and went primarily to the top 1 percent income class (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities). By the year 2010, the tax cuts that took effect in January 2006 will give $0 to those who make $75,000 or less and are estimated to cost $197 billion for the 10 years they will be in effect (2010-2019).

Do we really want to send Mr. Taylor back to Washington to act on his promise to make our current national debt of $8 trillion even larger? Is that the legacy we wish to leave to our children and grandchildren? I don’t; do you?

— Ken Chepenik
Pisgah Forest

Hop on the blunder bus

This political season seems an appropriate time to begin cataloguing the blunders of conservatives. The war in Iraq is only the most obvious. Our involvement, driven by ignorance, is destroying an ancient culture. And it has raised the value of terrorism as a tactic.

The metaphor of war is a blunder when applied to terrorism, making it impossible to win. Jihadist cells are technologically adept, embedded in their communities and operating globally. Attacking them provides rationale for further use of the tactic. Denying captives legal rights is an admission of fear, and fear is failure. We must admit our ignorance, then learn from mistakes. Trading our values for security, as conservatives propose, is a blunder.

The war on drugs has resulted in increased supply, lower street prices and increased profitability for importers. Extermination efforts have caused us to wage chemical warfare against peasants in Latin America and Afghanistan. Thirty percent of inmates in our prisons were convicted of drug crimes. These are people desperately seeking inclusion in the American dream. These, the peasants, and U.S. taxpayers are the casualties of the war on drugs. This is a blunder no one wants to address.

Defeating universal health insurance is a blunder for which our grandchildren will be paying. Now, it is a burden on the working poor, the self-employed and employers. Ultimately, it is a burden on us all.

The biggest conservative blunder we are confronting is the Machiavellian pursuit of Republican hegemony. Conservatives have turned our nation into a mediocracy by confusing ideology with thought.

The catalogue of blunders will grow. Contribution is free — one of the joys of citizenship. We also value redemption. As a society, we can admit our errors, replace our leaders and seek a new direction. Redemption is truly conservative.

— Scott MacKay

Consider the source

The EPA is looking the other way while 1,000 percent the amount of permissible nitrogen and 6,000 percent the allowable amount of phosphorous is being dumped into the Chesapeake Bay and Shenandoah River. The culprits are the meat industry — specifically Cargill Meat Solutions and Pilgrim’s Pride, currently being sued by three water preservation groups.

Nitrogen and phosphorous occur naturally in animal waste, but the nature of factory farming is such that enormous concentrations of these chemicals are created, and there is no adequate way to safely dispose of them. These quantities deplete the water of oxygen, leaving little for marine life to utilize, thereby suffocating and killing them. Land animals and birds that depend on aquatic life for sustenance also suffer, making this problem even larger… . Furthermore, the these bodies of water … can take the pollution into other communities, affecting other aquatic lives, land animals and even humans.

Recently, much attention has been given to the global warming aspect of factory farming, but the pollution we see in the Chesapeake and Shenandoah is not, unfortunately, unique. Animals raised for food (and raise is a dubious term, considering the lack of care) are generally confined in extremely cramped quarters to maximize space and production. The more animals, the more waste; the more waste, the more pollution: In California alone, the yearly fecal waste of dairy cattle [could be piled] as high as the Empire State Building. And [waste] is not just [from] red-meat animals; Pilgrim’s Pride is a poultry-processing plant.

The slow killing of the Shenandoah and Chesapeake shows us clearly that the time to do something is now. The Bush administration’s EPA is not poised to do a thing … [but] we can help put a stop to this without governmental assistance. By cutting the majority of meat out of our diets, we cut our complicity in this type of corporate behavior. It’s simple, easy and will leave the world a cleaner, kinder place.

— Wendy Kobylarz

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