BY CYNTHIA HEIL
As many know, Pratt & Whitney, a Raytheon Technologies subsidiary, has been courted by Biltmore Farms as well as state and local governments to build a plant in Buncombe County on Biltmore Farms property that was “sold” for $1. In addition, the developer is building a bridge across the French Broad River, from N.C. 191 to the plant site. The western end of the bridge is adjacent to The N.C. Arboretum and Blue Ridge Parkway entrances. The company is also seeking to have a new interchange built on Interstate 26 to improve access to the plant site.
My reason for writing is not to ask Mountain Xpress to investigate whatever environmental impacts this may create at the site or to inform the paper that the future occupant is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of weapons and weapons delivery systems. I am sure Xpress writers and editors are quite aware of how much the U.S. Department of Defense and the wars it wages contribute to climate change. Neither am I writing to ask the paper to investigate the moral and ethical aspects of bringing a weapons manufacturer to the Asheville area, nor to inform Xpress about the people this particular weapons manufacturer is laying off in other states in order to close plants and move to North Carolina, a so-called “right-to-work” state.
Rather, my reason for writing is to request that Mountain Xpress investigate the cumbersome, secretive processes involved in this deal. A story in the Hendersonville Lightning some months ago revealed that this deal had been in the works for over a year before the public was even made aware of it. Reject Raytheon Asheville members have been advised by several Buncombe County commissioners that board members had to sign nondisclosure agreements and were not, themselves, made aware of what the deal was until the 11th hour. In addition, a state legislator told us off the record that state law supports keeping local officials out of the loop about such deals. Taken together, these facts raise a number of significant questions:
1) Does this mean the county commissioners were dealing in the dark, even down to the $27 million tax incentive package they gave Pratt & Whitney, a $20 billion company? Did the commissioners explore the potential for other forms of county funding that might have benefited far more county residents?
2) The commissioners have already tossed in $5 million for a building at the plant site where A-B Tech will offer job training. Now it seems the state may kick in another $5 million for the project. Whatever happened to the days when employers took responsibility for training their employees themselves?
3) What happened to real capitalism — when someone scrimped and saved in order to build their own business, rather than seeking a government/taxpayer payout?
4) Reject Raytheon Asheville is grateful to those local elected officials at both the county and state levels who have met with us and given us some insight into the processes behind this deal, but many questions remain — including some that even they can’t answer. We have an immense amount of talent in our group, ranging from young adults in the Sunrise Movement to the elders from Veterans for Peace. Those younger members are completely on top of environmental/social/economic/political issues; there are also retired career bureaucrats, engineers and executives, as well as teachers and college professors who conducted research for a living, but even they have found it nearly impossible to disentangle the labyrinth of permitting processes and Chamber of Commerce/Economic Development Coalition tentacles in this deal because of the way everything has been buried. Why is that?
5) Bottom line, how much do the citizens/taxpayers/residents/voters whom elected officials are supposed to be representing in this and other such deals really matter when our hard-earned money is being given away to billionaires by those we entrusted with it? What are the environmental toxins associated with these projects likely to do to our future health and well-being?
6) Lastly, there are many who favor this deal and will, perhaps, want others like it because they are blinded, made giddy by the glitzy bling of jobs, and our elected officials want to make their constituents happy. To them, let me say that maybe this deal works for you, but what about the next one that might not work so well? Don’t you want access to all the pertinent information? Don’t you want transparency?
Cynthia Heil is a retired federal noncriminal investigator who’s lived in Asheville for 21 years. For more background about the Pratt & Whitney project and Reject Raytheon Asheville, or to learn more about the group’s present and future plans, please check the group’s website at rejectraytheonavl.com and our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages under RejectRaytheonAVL.