Monday, December 1, 2008

Strategic Funning

While most folks may think that strategic planning is a headache of a process, we here at the WNC Alliance do our best to make things as interesting as possible. Our facilitators (God love 'em) Pam Sugarman and Judy Futch brought us toys, crayons, candy, and paper to keep us distracted from thinking we were actually working. Well, it worked- and here are some fun photos from our weekend.

Linda Tatsapaugh, Julie White, and Kristan Cockerill huff (I mean smell) the delicious scented markers (notice Julie's ball on her lap ie. detachment disorder)

Scary monsters lurked everywhere.

Phillip Gibson maps out Antarctica with an intensity that could melt through icebergs.

Wendy Pataprsty doodles while contemplating buying a vowel.

What a bug sees when flying at Randall Boggs.

And last but not least, the whistling hot water pot. It attempted to serenade us so we evicted it to the hallway (doesn't it look so lonely? I felt a bit "Brave Little Toaster" about this one).

All-in-all, it was a hard working weekend where we took a long look at our priorities and how our members weighed in on what they wanted- and started the design of our strategic plan that will be out next year. Look for the draft plan in your winter copy of Accent!

The Cliffs and a dash of indigo dye

The Green Scene

On an ice-cold November night, almost 200 people gathered for a public hearing called by the state Division of Water Quality concerning developer Jim Anthony‘s request for permission to alter 6,149 feet of streams and disturb about a quarter-acre of wetlands at The Cliffs at High Carolina. The 2,780-acre project straddles a mountain ridge between Fairview and Swannanoa.

The evening’s comments riffed on jobs, dried-up wells, golf-course chemicals, endangered trout, The Cliffs’ track record on other projects, past mistakes by other developers and—a Buncombe County favorite—what makes you a true native (or not). Toss in a few jokes about getting to meet golf-course designer Tiger Woods, and you’ve got a two-hour hearing.

As the crowd filled the A.C. Reynolds High School auditorium, Fairview resident Alicia Rocawich told Xpress that she and her partner are “actually quite pleased” to have The Cliffs for their neighbor. Though she’ll be installing a whole-house water filter to reduce potential sediment problems, Rocawich called the upscale developer “one of the most conscientious, when it comes to the environment.”

A large contingent of businessmen made a similar point, also emphasizing that The Cliffs has had a significant positive effect on Western North Carolina’s economy. One business owner reported that his grading company has grown from 10 to more than 50 employees, mostly in the last seven years of doing business with various The Cliffs projects in the region.

Contractor Dennis Whitmire assured residents, “We have never been asked to cut any corners at any time when it comes to the environment. Nonetheless, some residents were more cautious. “It all gets down to trust,” said Bill Boyd, who lives in the smaller Alpine Mountain subdivision nearby. “Ninety percent of developers I do not trust. I hope Mr. Anthony will do what he says he will and protect [our] ground water [and our] streams.”

Like many others, Boyd said he worries that the golf course and the approximately 1,000 homes planned for The Cliffs will deplete ground-water supplies, causing wells to go dry. Some speakers said this is already happening.

Ironically, some people said they experienced water problems when Alpine was being developed some years ago; they don’t want a repeat. Fairview resident Dede Styles recounted that a stream on her property became so choked with sediment back then that she had to find an alternative water source. Styles, a heritage dyer, uses centuries-old methods and natural ingredients to color cloth, she explained. To ensure good results, she needs good water. “At least I can see the silt. What about the chemicals I can’t see?” asked Styles.

She’s afraid Anthony’s proposals won’t keep out the fungicides, pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers used in modern golf-course maintenance.

Many share her concern. Fairview resident Fran├žois Manavit quipped, “I don’t want a toxic, Tiger-designed golf course.” It’s time for an organic golf course, he asserted, adding that Anthony should consider alternatives for his proposals, such as building bridges over streams instead of running them through culverts. “The Cliffs should not bury a trout stream for any reason,” Manavit declared.

Representatives of several nonprofits questioned whether such behavior is even legal. D.J. Gerken, counsel for the Western North Carolina Alliance, argued that the state can’t grant the permit “if alternatives exist that have less impact.” The proposed underground culverts, some about 1,000 feet long, may be “impassable barriers to trout,” he said, suggesting that state officials require a “substantial rewrite” of the proposal.

Some speakers had little faith that the state agency was up to the task of monitoring the situation if the permit were approved. They urged state officials to deny it. Black Mountain resident Bill Gunn observed that toxic chemicals have been found as far away as the Artic. “They don’t arrive there by truck: They arrive in the water. We will all be affected by [what happens] at The Cliffs,” he said.

After more than two hours of these and many other comments—all dutifully recorded by state officials—the hearing came to a close.

“It really matters what’s in the water,” Styles told Xpress as the crowd dispersed. She’s now able to draw water again from the stream that was muddied by Alpine-related development, she says. When it was at its worst, Styles collected water from a pristine source near the Blue Ridge Assembly, although something in its natural makeup prevented her from dying cloth indigo blue.

She wonders how a trace of golf-course fungicide or runoff from salted roads at The Cliffs in winter might affect her efforts to create natural greens, yellows and reds. Just a quarter-teaspoon of iron in a big pot of dye can change it from a pleasant red to a drab green, she noted. Still, casting a pragmatic eye toward The Cliffs, Styles mused, “Something good might come out of [it], such as jobs, and they might do a better job [than other developers have] of keeping silt out of the water.”

All the same, she concluded, “I have to share my water, because it goes on down to the river.”

DWQ is accepting written comments, sent by regular mail, fax or e-mail. Comments must be received no later than 5 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 18. Mail them to: N.C. Division of Water Quality, 401 Oversight Unit, 1650 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1650, Attn: Cyndi Karoly (919-733-1721, FAX: 919-733-6893,

Copies of The Cliffs’ application are on file and can be viewed at the Division of Water Quality’s Asheville office (2090 U.S. Highway 70, Swannanoa, NC 28778). For more information, call 296-4500 or the Raleigh office (listed above).

Send your environmental news to or call 251-1333 ext. 152.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Stop Cliffside!

The Green Scene- Rebecca Bowe's last one...

The Green Scene

Like many newcomers to Asheville, I moved here after being smitten by the area’s natural beauty: All it took was one invigorating late-summer dip at a swimming hole in Madison County about three years ago. But when people gush about Asheville’s unique sense of place, they’re referring to something more than just the picturesque mountain vistas (usually, anyway: Sometimes they just want to sell you a luxury mountaintop home site).

Part of Western North Carolina’s appeal, I think, is that it’s full of regular people who care deeply about what’s happening in their community. People get all charged up about protecting things, whether it’s endangered brook trout, family farms, national forestlands or an embattled magnolia tree. Many of them can tell you more about compost than you ever dreamed you’d need to know. Groups of neighbors are willing to pull together and spend hours of their free time on weeknights, hatching strategies to go up against power plants, big-box stores or mismanaged toxic-waste sites. Some people’s idea of a good time is joining a 100-mile march from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to downtown Asheville to protest air pollution. For others, it’s tinkering with a diesel vehicle to make it run on straight veggie oil. Still others embrace the drudgery of scrutinizing permits, invoking the finer points of environmental law, or patiently sitting through lengthy local-government meetings for the chance to chime in with a three-minute statement.

And without this vibrant, green-minded community, Green Scene would have been quite a yawner. It’s the folks who are out there making news who deserve the real credit.

I applaud Barry Durand, who brought the CTS toxic-contamination site to Xpress‘ attention, for his dedication in pushing for a full-scale cleanup. Organizations like Wild South, the Dogwood Alliance and the WNC Alliance should be recognized for their commitment to protecting Southern forests. The WNC Green Building Council, Warren Wilson College’s Environmental Leadership Center and the Southern Energy and Environment Expo should be commended for bringing information about green-building practices and energy efficiency to the masses. Clean Water for North Carolina and RiverLink have organized successful efforts to protect water quality. Asheville’s fledgling Green Opportunities program is working to link green businesses with low-income youth in order to provide job-training skills in the environmental sector. The Canary Coalition, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and the Southern Environmental Law Center have shown unwavering commitment in their opposition to new coal-fired power plants. SouthWings has taken countless journalists and activists airborne to gain a bird’s-eye perspective on the environment. The Bountiful Cities Project, the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project and the Pisgah View Apartments Community Peace Garden have all helped make locally raised produce available to area residents. A-B Tech is helping green entrepreneurs develop new technologies, and renewable-energy outfits such as Appalachian Energy, Sundance Power, FLS Energy, Blue Ridge Biofuels and others are already out there implementing clean-energy systems. The Blue Ridge Forever campaign is working to protect 50,000 acres of natural lands, and the All Taxa Biodiversity Project is leading an effort to discover new species in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

I could go on and on: There are hundreds more I haven’t named. This region is rich in biodiversity, but it’s also got a wealth of talent, expertise and idealism aimed at solving environmental problems. There are many challenges to confront, but it’s heartening to see so many dedicated individuals.

With that, I’d like to wish the readers of this column a fond farewell, at least for now (see “Letter From the Editors” elsewhere in this issue). But never fear: Green Scene will be right here, where it should be, after I leave.

From now on, send your environmental news to

Fire on the Mountain

June 2008, Blue Ridge Outdoors Newswire

Development on a 50-acre inholding in the Fires Creek Area of Nantahala National Forest could pollute trout streams and degrade the trails—including the classic 26-mile Fire Creek Rim Trail.

The U.S. Forest Service is in the initial stages of considering a proposal for road access to the inholding. The Phillips Ridge Trail, which follows Laurel Creek, would be converted into a road for the inholders. The proposed road would be only a few feet from Laurel Creek, presenting sedimentation issues and other environmental hazards. A development with road access in the midst of this otherwise unspoiled area would also degrade prime wildlife habitat and negatively affect the Rim Trail that surrounds the area.

“The combination of impacts to the Phillips Ridge Trail and the Rim Trail would impact the recreation potential of the entire watershed,” says Ryan Griffith of WNC Alliance.

A 0.9 mile section of the Phillips Ridge Trail was upgraded in 2006 for higher level road use using public storm damage funds. According to Griffith, this road upgrade was not in the public interest and was counter to the uses called for in the Nantahala Management Plan. Yet the proposed development access relies on this upgraded section of road. Griffith and WNC Alliance maintain that it is not appropriate to keep this upgrade that the public does not need or want for the benefit of the developers. This section should be returned to its service as a trail and stream impacts that resulted from this upgrade should be addressed.

The Forest Service is currently receiving public comments on the proposal through June 6 at:

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Global Weirding. WNC Alliance in the news part 3

A postcard from the climate frontier

Editor’s note: Xpress reporter Rebecca Bowe was part of a team of journalists invited by the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism to travel to Alaska Aug. 13-16 to view the on-the-ground effects of climate change. Her experiences there provided some of the material for this article.

Click the image above to view a slideshow by Rebecca Bowe and Jason Sandford.

What if Asheville were hotter year-round than Atlanta is now? That could be what’s in store by the end of the century if global carbon-dioxide emissions continue to rise at their current rate, according to Tom Peterson of the National Climatic Data Center. A computer model developed by the data center predicts that Asheville’s average temperature would rise 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of 2099—making it slightly higher than Atlanta’s present-day average.

“If our temperature was like Atlanta, we would be building houses differently, we would be growing different trees here, there would be different trees in the forest, there would be different crops,” Peterson points out. “So it makes for a significant change.”

And if 2099 seems comfortingly remote, consider this: Asheville’s average temperature has already started climbing. “In general, temperatures have been rising,” says Karsten Shein, acting director of the data center’s climate-modeling branch. “Our average temperature between 1903 and 2007 has increased a little over half a degree. The average maximum temperature for each year has gone up by almost 2 degrees Fahrenheit.”

Perhaps you haven’t noticed. Although climate change is a hot topic in Asheville, it’s still more of an abstract concept than a life-altering phenomenon at this point (for a reality check, see sidebar, “Burn, Baby, Burn.") But go to one of the planet’s northernmost regions, Alaska, and global warming is hard to miss.

Glaciers in the Kenai Peninsula are receding faster than ever. Millions of acres of forests have been ravaged by pests that thrive in warmer temperatures. Farther north, the permafrost is thawing both more deeply and at higher latitudes than before, and coastal villages are finding themselves exposed to violent storms as their protective barrier—sea ice—vanishes.

But we live in an age of global awareness, and changes in the distant Arctic haven’t gone unnoticed here in Western North Carolina. The Asheville-based National Climatic Data Center, the world’s largest repository of weather information, supplies the stats that the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change uses to produce its climate-change assessments. In that sense, our area is influencing the understanding of an issue that literally affects the whole world as we know it.

Strange weather

Freeze frame: Ice calves at the Aialik Glacier, in Kenai Fjords National Park in southcentral Alaska, and spills into the sea. Freshwater from melting glaciers contributes to sealevel rise. Photo by Rebecca Bowe

Climate scientists emphasize that no single weather event—be it a heat wave in Europe, Hurricane Katrina or a severe drought in Western North Carolina—can be directly pegged to climate change. That said, the IPCC has cautioned that violent downpours, droughts and other sorts of extreme weather will become more likely as the climate shifts. But scientists base their findings on averages and long-term trends, not on ever-shifting extremes. As Shein puts it, “There’s a big difference between weather and climate.”

“It’s tough for people to comprehend this single global number as being something significant,” he says, referring to the rise in the average global temperature. “In fact, it’s made up of data from 20,000 stations around the world taking daily weather observations. They take all this together, then they boil it down into this one number.”

It took decades for scientists to reach consensus on the concept of human-induced climate change, notes Doug Causey, vice provost for research and graduate studies at the University of Alaska, Anchorage. But after reviewing the long-term data and sounding it out with experts from every corner of the globe, the evidence became impossible to ignore.

The IPCC issued its first climate-change assessment back in 1990—but for many folks, it still hasn’t sunk in. “You can go back far enough in Earth’s history and find carbon-dioxide levels that were higher than they are now,” says Causey. “The strongest point is ... the speed at which it’s increasing.” As an analogy, he says, picture a car backing up slowly toward a garage. If that same car were to rocket backward at full speed, it would travel the same distance, but with a terrible impact.

Satellite images of the Arctic ice cap confirm that the summer sea-ice cover has been shrinking dramatically over the last half-century. On her first research trip to the North Pole in the summer of 1991, Brenda Ekwurzel, a climate specialist with the Washington, D.C.-based Union of Concerned Scientists, says she was shocked to see the ice separated by vast amounts of open water. The amount of frozen cover reached an all-time low in the summer of 2007—23 percent below the previous record low, set in 2005—according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. It’s still too early to tell whether 2008 will bring an even lower number, but so far, things aren’t looking good. Last month, ice loss averaged 30,000 square miles per day, the center reports—the highest figure scientists have ever observed in August. Since the 1950s, the center estimates, summer sea ice may have declined by as much as 50 percent. As a result, the fabled Northwest Passage is now open for the first time in human memory.

In her element: Climate expert Brenda Ekwurzel, from the Union of Concerned Scientists, near the site of Exit Glacier in Alaska. Photo By Rebecca Bowe

This trend spells trouble for polar bears, ringed seals and other marine life for which summer sea ice represents critical habitat. But the diminishing Arctic ice cap also has significant implications for weather patterns worldwide. Worse yet, the process creates a kind of feedback loop: As reflective polar ice disappears and dark ocean is exposed, more solar rays are absorbed, fueling further melting. “We’re losing our air conditioner in the north,” says Ekwurzel.

Asheville resident Drew Jones, who heads up the Southeast office of the Vermont-based Sustainability Institute, puts it this way: “The polar ice cap is melting. That is our canary in the coal mine.”

From Asheville to Copenhagen

When Xpress caught up with Jones, he was preparing for a trip to Greenland to “watch the glaciers melt. There’s a group of European businesspeople who are very concerned about climate change,” he explained, though he wasn’t at liberty to identify the businesses. “The European heat wave several years ago was their Katrina.” (The 2003 heat wave, which logged some of Europe’s hottest summer temperatures ever, caused 35,000 deaths, according to the Earth Policy Institute, a Washington-based environmental think tank.) After touring some glaciers with the group, Jones planned to lead them in an exercise using a computer game designed to help people truly grasp the implications of climate change.

Jones, who studied environmental engineering and systems dynamics at Dartmouth and MIT, also teaches systems dynamics at UNCA. Among other things, his work at the Sustainability Institute involves serving as a consultant to companies that want to green their practices. But what’s attracted the most attention lately is the Climate Bathtub Simulator he and a partner created. A video produced by Morgan Stanley’s Office of the Environment last winter features Jones employing the simulator to deliver a tutorial on climate change.

The game uses a bathtub as a metaphor for the atmosphere. The player decides how much “water” (carbon dioxide) flows in. If the level gets too high (the threshold is an atmospheric concentration of 450 parts per million of carbon dioxide), the bathtub overflows—and in the real world, severe consequences kick in. If current emissions are allowed to continue unabated, the bathtub will overflow in the year 2035.

“If we’re going to make decisions about long-term trends,” says Jones, “we have to get to the point where my grandmother could understand what we’re trying to say.” A few major corporations, including Nike and Citibank, have given the Sustainability Institute funding to help disseminate the simulator, notes Jones.

Ultimately, he hopes the bathtub simulator can be used to prep delegates to the 15th Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, who will travel to Copenhagen in December 2009 to hash out an international agreement on curbing greenhouse-gas emissions. Such a treaty would replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

Polar bear territory: NASA satellite images display the decline in Arctic summer sea ice from 1980 (top image) to 2007 (below). Courtesy NASA

Although the bathtub’s overflow point is meant to dramatize what it would take to stabilize carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, says Jones, balancing the climate would require more drastic measures. “Stabilizing the climate means an end to burning fossil fuels by 2050,” he says. That would reduce the global concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide to 350 parts per million. Today, we’re hovering somewhere around 387 parts per million. And if business as usual continues unabated, we’re on track to triple the global concentration by 2100, according to the IPCC.

Shrinking glaciers

Greenland isn’t the only place one can travel to watch glaciers melt. All over the world, ancient land-based ice masses are on the move, says Ekwurzel. And as fresh water spills into the sea, it contributes directly to sea-level rise. Between 1961 and 2003, sea level rose by an average of 1.8 millimeters per year, according to the IPCC’s 2007 assessment. And between 1993 and 2003, sea level was rising by about 3.1 millimeters per year.

Looking ahead, the enormous Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets would seem to be, hands down, the biggest players in future sea-level rise. If they melted entirely, each one has the potential to raise sea levels by 16 to 23 feet. A global temperature rise of 3.6 degrees to 9 degrees Fahrenheit might irreversibly destabilize the Greenland sheet, according to NASA, but it would take centuries to melt entirely. Still, such a temperature rise lies within the range of several climate projections for the 21st century.

In Alaska, you don’t need to look far to find a shrinking glacier. Portage Glacier, near Anchorage, has receded nine miles in the past century. And a visitors’ center built to showcase the natural wonder no longer does: Over the past 14 years, the ice mass has retreated around a corner in the distance. Compared with all the receding glaciers in Patagonia, the western United States and the Asian highlands, Alaskan glaciers are expected to be hit the hardest—and thus to contribute the most to sea-level rise. “You are right at the epicenter,” Ekwurzel told her small audience in Seward, Alaska.

A boat tour that goes up to the face of the Aialik Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park lets visitors see ice split away from the 400-foot-high, mile-wide mass right before their eyes. Up close, that glacier seems volatile. The blue tower of ice pops and cracks, and occasionally a hefty mass will calve with a low roar and plummet into the frigid water, stirring up waves and gulls.

The 10,000-year-old Exit Glacier, near Seward, is one of more than 35 that flow from the massive Harding Icefield in Kenai Fjords. It’s been in steady retreat for more than a century; a series of markers show how far the edge once extended. In the past decade alone, it’s retreated some 1,000 feet; it’s also getting noticeably thinner, park rangers report.

In August of 2005, newspapers reported that a delegation from Washington—including Sens. John McCain and Hillary Rodham Clinton—visited Exit Glacier as part of a global-warming-themed tour. “The question is, how much damage will be done before we start taking concrete action,” McCain stated upon his return. “Go up to places like we just came from: It’s a little scary.”

See a pattern? A graph displaying the relationship between atmospheric CO2 concentrations and global temperature rise. Source: Arctic Climate Impact Assessment

McCain’s running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, however, has stated publicly that she doesn’t think global warming is human-induced. In an interview in Newsmax several weeks ago, she said: “A changing environment will affect Alaska more than any other state, because of our location. I’m not one, though, who would attribute it to being man-made.”

At this stage of the game, says Ekwurzel, the biggest contributor to sea-level rise has actually been not melting ice but warmer oceans. Since 1950, the oceans have absorbed 20 times as much heat-trapping gases as the atmosphere has, according to a calculation by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Not included in the IPCC’s projections is evidence that further warming could reduce the oceans’ ability to absorb that much CO2—leading to an even greater atmospheric CO2 concentration, says Ekwurzel. For now, “The oceans are saving us from ourselves,” she says. “If you were to take all that heat and release it to the atmosphere instantly, you would boil off our atmosphere.” As the water has gotten warmer, it’s also plumped up—a process known as thermal expansion.

“If you increase temperature, sea level will rise,” says Asheville scientist Leonard Bernstein, a lead author of a section of the 2007 IPCC report, whose authors shared in that year’s Nobel Peace Prize. “Ocean water is going to expand, and when it expands it’s only got one way to go—and it’s up.”

Playing the odds

While a rise in sea level is a guaranteed result of climate change, things like hurricanes and wildfires fall into the category of probable effects. One risk, for example, is that up to 30 percent of plant and animal species could face extinction if the global average temperature increases more than 3 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit relative to 1980 - 1999 temperatures, according to the IPCC. Many projections suggest that the low end of this range could be reached by midcentury.

“It’s a matter of playing the odds,” says Bernstein. “The more climate change you have, the worse the odds get.”

Another such problem is pest infestations, which scientists say are likely to become more common as temperatures rise. In Alaska, some 3 million acres of spruce have been destroyed over the last several decades by a native pest, the spruce-bark beetle, which thrived during a series of warmer-than-average summers. “Everything that could be killed was,” said Ed Berg, an ecologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, during a tour of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, where patches of ghostlike dead spruce still stand. Historically, noted Berg, a cycle of several warmer years followed by cooler ones has kept these kinds of outbreaks at bay. But during this massive infestation, the typically warm summers were even hotter, and the normally cooler winters were weaker. “The cycle is still there,” said Berg, “but everything is amped up.”

Not too green: Asheville resident Drew Jones stands before some melting ice in Greenland. Courtesy Drew Jones

Spruce-bark-beetle outbreaks have happened before, but this is an extreme example. Still, Bernstein voices some skepticism that this kind of pest infestation can be attributed directly to global warming. “Climate change could be a factor, but there are a lot of other factors when you talk about pest infestations,” he cautions.

Other changes in the wildlife refuge suggest that it’s drying out. Coring samples tell scientists that for nearly 14,000 years, the peat wetlands have been dominated by sphagnum moss. Walking through these fens is much like traversing a giant trampoline: If you jump up and down, 22 feet of spongy moss bounces beneath your feet. But in the last several decades—for the first time in thousands of years—some shrubs have started taking root in the fens, and trees are crowding in around the perimeter. That may not seem like such a problem to the casual observer, but in the big picture, says Berg, it’s a drastic change that signifies a serious decline in the ecosystem’s water supply.

A choice

Bernstein, who previously worked on environmental issues for Mobil, sees himself as a centrist in the spectrum of opinion concerning climate change. And overall, he takes a much more optimistic view than, say, the movie An Inconvenient Truth.

“We are going to see climate-change impacts,” says Bernstein. “There’s just no way that the world can turn around its economic system quickly enough at this point to avoid some significant change. But I don’t belong to the catastrophe school. I think the Jim Hansens and Al Gores of the world”—Hansen is a NASA scientist who’s been very outspoken about catastrophic climate change—“It may be necessary for them to be out there screaming disaster to get action, but I think the reality is that the impact’s going to be a lot smaller than you would be led to believe.

“Because the assumption that goes into those [worst-case-scenario] impacts is that the world sits around and does nothing, at least until 2100. And that’s no longer a valid assumption. You’ve got a small portion of the world that is very serious about this; you’ve got a larger portion of the world that is thinking seriously about it. So things are going to happen. And a scenario that says we sit around until 2100 just doesn’t make sense.”

Hansen, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, began issuing serious warnings about climate change—including testifying before Congress—in the late 1980s. Since then, the nation’s carbon-dioxide emissions have ballooned by nearly 20 percent, and global emissions have climbed 34 percent. Meanwhile, the Bush administration declined to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, and China—now experiencing a tremendous growth spurt fueled in part by coal—has surpassed the United States as the world’s No. 1 emitter of greenhouse gases.

Burn, baby, burn

by R.B.

Bringing the heat: Progress Energy’s coal-fired power plant in Skyland is Buncombe County’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Xpress File Photo

Global warming or no, it’s hard to wrap your brain around something as amorphous as carbon dioxide. To make it more tangible, here are the top three point sources of carbon-dioxide emissions in Western North Carolina and figures on how many tons of heat-trapping gases they’re spewing into the air every year.

The following list is based on 2004 Environmental Protection Agency data compiled in the agency’s Emissions & Generation Resource Integrated Database. Greenhouse-gas equivalencies were calculated using an EPA emissions calculator that can be found at

Who: Duke Power Co.
What: Cliffside 780 megawatt coal-fired power plant (soon to be expanded)
Where: On the border of Cleveland and Rutherford counties
Annual CO2 emissions: 3,642,271.4 tons.

According to the EPA’s calculator, a facility would have to burn an estimated 17,254 rail cars’ worth of coal to emit this much CO2. It’s the same amount that would be emitted by 605,167 passenger vehicles driving 11,856 miles per year. In order to offset the emissions from a single year, you’d have to plant 84,723,407 tree seedlings and grow them for 10 years.

Who: Progress Energy Carolinas
What: Skyland’s 837 megawatt coal-fired power plant
Where: Buncombe County
Annual CO2 emissions: 2,394,971.8 tons.

To emit this much CO2, a facility would have to burn an estimated 11,346 rail cars’ worth of coal. It’s the equivalent of 397,927 passenger vehicles each driving 11,856 miles per year. To offset one year’s emissions, you’d have to plant 55,709,770 tree seedlings and grow them for 10 years.

Who: Blue Ridge Paper Products
What: Canton’s coal-fueled paper mill
Where: Haywood County
Annual CO2 emissions: 139,940.5 tons.

A facility would have to burn an estimated 663 rail cars’ worth of coal to emit this much CO2. It’s roughly equivalent to 23,251 passenger vehicles each driving 11,856 miles per year. In order to offset one year’s emissions, you’d have to plant 3,255,176 tree seedlings and grow them for 10 years.

Hansen recently traveled to Kent, England, to testify on behalf of activists who had defaced a power plant to protest global warming. “You should try to do things through the democratic process, but we really are getting to an emergency situation,” Hansen was quoted as saying. “We can’t continue to build more coal-fired power plants that do not capture CO2 if we hope to solve the problem.”

As Ekwurzel puts it, “Really, it’s a choice of how hot the planet’s going to be, and how much sea-level rise we’ll have. ... The largest uncertainties going forward are our activities.”

Alaska is almost two-and-a-half times the size of Texas, and all of it—snow-capped peaks, jagged coastline, humpbacks in the ocean and moose grazing along a bike trail—seems to exist on a grander scale. Face to face with the Aialik Glacier, watching portions of that astounding tower of ice calve with a roar and spill into the sea, one tends to feel small and insignificant. It seems far easier to imagine perishing in the harsh Alaskan environment than to envision having any sort of effect on it. Yet collectively, that seems to be exactly what we’re doing.

Acting locally

Meanwhile, back in Western North Carolina, a severe drought has been in effect for more than a year now, and the French Broad River has dipped to its lowest level in more than a century. Is the drought a direct result of climate change?

It’s tough to say, responds Shein of the National Climatic Data Center. The current drought ranks among the most significant on record for the region, and it comes at a time of generally rising temperatures, but it’s not the worst one ever. “We had an even worse one back in 2002,” notes Shein, referencing the center’s data. (That data, by the way, has been in increasing demand as people have become more aware of the reality of climate change. Shein says the center has had a much higher volume of requests for weather and climate figures.)

And as the climate shifts, the region’s future rainfall becomes harder to project, says Peterson, who was also a lead author of the IPCC report. “We’re very uncertain about how precipitation will change in WNC,” he notes. “About half the models are showing an increase, and about half the models are showing a decrease. What we can say is this: If the temperature increases and the precipitation stays the same, then there will be an increase in the amount of evaporation—so there could be water stress.”

But whatever the future brings, Asheville has already made a commitment to taking action. In 2005, then Mayor Charles Worley joined mayors nationwide in agreeing to reduce the carbon footprint stemming from municipal operations by 2 percent per year, and Warren Wilson College has agreed to help the city reach that target. The Southern Energy and Environment Expo, held last month at the WNC Agricultural Center, showcased renewable-energy technologies and green-building materials that are starting to catch on in the region. A-B Tech’s business-incubator program is helping green entrepreneurs develop clean technologies and bring them to market, and companies such as the Fletcher-based Appalachian Energy, which sells solar power systems, are already well-established. A host of local nonprofit organizations, such as the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and the WNC Alliance, are also working on climate-change issues.

When it comes to reducing carbon-dioxide emissions, energy efficiency gives “far away the biggest bang for the buck,” says Bernstein, whose work with the IPCC focused on climate-change mitigation. A number of efforts—including the city of Asheville’s decision to hire a sustainability coordinator and the INSULATE! program launched by Warren Wilson’s Environmental Leadership Center—have begun working toward that end. Meanwhile, Asheville members of Rising Tide, an international activist network, have sought to shed light on the urgency of climate change via less conventional means, such as locking themselves to construction equipment at the site of Duke Energy’s Cliffside power plant in Rutherford County.

Yet there’s still much work to be done, both on the local level and beyond. “We’ve squandered eight years going backward,” sputters SEE Expo founder Ned Doyle. “Eight years have gone by, and we’re worse off than we were in 2000. We are at a significant point.

“We know we have solutions,” he continues. “We just have to employ them, and we need to do it now. I’m sick of waiting.”

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

WNC Alliance in the news part #2- The Cliffs

The Green Scene

The Blue Ridge Forever coalition has just released its “Conservation Vision for Western North Carolina,” a report spotlighting 28 areas in North Carolina’s 25 western counties deemed to be in critical need of protection.

A different point of view: Fairview resident Francois Manavit speaks out while Jim Anthony, CEO of The Cliffs, looks on. The two are on a mountain that’s slated to become The Cliffs at High Carolina. Photo By Rebecca Bowe

As part of its overarching goal of setting aside 50,000 acres of land by 2010, the coalition’s 13 partners—regional conservation organizations—used criteria such as rare ecosystems, high-quality waters, linkage to already-protected habitat and exceptional views to prioritize parcels and draft funding proposals for locking each one into a conservation easement.

“With population and development growing at unprecedented levels in Western North Carolina, land trusts are having to take a broader look at where they invest their limited resources,” says Phyllis Stiles, Blue Ridge Forever’s campaign director. North Carolina leads the nation in loss of farmland, and an estimated 100,000 acres of other natural land are also developed each year, the coalition reports.

The coalition’s list includes areas that are important to tourism, such as the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Great Smoky Mountains and the DuPont State Forest. Other areas, such as the New River headwaters, the North Fork of the Catawba River and upper Linville Gorge, were selected for their value in protecting water quality. “The recent drought has awakened everyone,” Richard Rogers, executive director of the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, said at the Sept. 4 launch event.

Farming communities in Spring Creek, Fairview, Sandy Mush, Pisgah Ridge and Bethel also made the list. Working farms are “something we don’t want to see in a museum,” Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Vice Chair David Gantt said during the event.

Blue Ridge Parkway Superintendent Philip Francis was also on hand to praise Blue Ridge Forever’s preservation efforts. “If we don’t take care of this, there’s no guarantee it’s going to be here in the future,” he said about the Parkway’s famous views.

To learn more, visit

The view from on high

The Cliffs at High Carolina will feature the first (and, so far, only) U.S. golf course designed by superstar Tiger Woods. His only other custom-designed course is located in Dubai, where it will serve as an amenity to a cluster of multimillion-dollar palaces.

Having the stamp of Tiger Woods’ design on Buncombe County’s largest residential development, which will span 3,000 acres between Fairview and Swannanoa, has ignited widespread interest. The Cliffs’ calculated marketing approach doesn’t hurt either, ensuring that glossy ads for high-elevation living are inserted in magazines addressed to targeted households and on international flights to key destinations. Cliffs CEO Jim Anthony says 130 people have already put down $10,000 apiece to reserve their homesites (there will be up to up to 1,200 in all).

On Sept. 5, several Cliffs representatives, including Anthony himself, joined a group of neighboring residents, local elected officials, AdvantageWest representatives and the media for a tour of the property. Tommy Jenkins of AdvantageWest praised the project: “After you have the build-out, there’s a spillover economically that will be phenomenal. People will be coming from all around the world. It’s going to be good for the business community, for service communities, all your retail outlets and plus, it’s going to make a tremendous addition to [the tax base].”

But Fairview and Swannanoa residents questioned the massive project’s water usage, traffic impacts and effect on views. Francois Manavit, who lives on the Fairview side of the property, fears it will damage local water resources, worrying that polluted storm-water runoff or chemicals applied to the golf course could have adverse effects downstream.

“If we were to affect your stream, it would be a legal liability,” Anthony told Manavit. “And I’m not too crazy about legal liabilities, so you don’t have to worry.” According to a fact sheet provided by The Cliffs, Asheville’s water system will supply all the homes and amenities at High Carolina, with a total flow projected at 600,000 gallons per day. Residents will be required to install cisterns or rain gardens. The golf course will be irrigated with effluent from an on-site wastewater-treatment plant, which the state Division of Water Quality has not yet approved. An on-site pond, plus water collected in cisterns, will also be used for irrigation.

Manavit distributed a thick packet of comments submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers by residents, the WNC Alliance, an attorney from the Southern Environmental Law Center and others, expressing concern about the development’s impact on the more than 6,000 feet of stream on the property. Although AdvantageWest representatives lauded the project for its environmental sensitivity, many local environmentalists are concerned about the ecological impacts of this enormous gated community.

WNC Alliance in the news part #1- thank you Betty and Al!

Buncombe Commissioners

Controversy over the Buncombe County commissioners’ approach to Planning Board appointments continued at the commissioners’ Sept. 2 meeting. Critics questioned both the makeup of the powerful board and the lack of transparency in how the appointments are being handled.

“Bring balance”: Al and Betty Gumpert, vocal critics of the county’s approach to appointing members to the Planning Board. Photo By Jonathan Welch

The commissioners disqualified nine of the original 21 applicants, based on an unwritten rule requiring that all school districts be represented. Before the meeting, the commissioners interviewed six of the remaining 12 applicants for four seats on the nine-member Planning Board. The four board members up for replacement have already served a second three-year term—the maximum number allowed—without ever having been formally reappointed (see “Changing of the Guard?” Aug. 27 Xpress).

The next day, however, Clerk to the Board Kathy Hughes announced that another seat—currently held by landscape architect Jay Marino—may also become open. Activists, she said, had called attention to the fact that Marino has also been on the board since 2002. Marino’s seat represents the Asheville City District.

Meanwhile, some activists also say the board is tilted too heavily toward development interests at the expense of broader community concerns.

“Citizen groups such as the WNC Alliance, Mountain Voices Alliance and Friends of Town Mountain are advocating for a balance between development and community interests on the Planning Board,” Al Gumpert, president of the Friends of Town Mountain, said during the public-comment period before the formal meeting.

“Among the remaining 12 applicants are three or four real-estate agents, a developer, a contractor, a mortgage broker, a landscape architect and a construction executive. It would appear that the majority of the applicants, if appointed, would not bring balance to the Planning Board but would maintain the current bias toward development and have significant conflicts of interest. For example, a real-estate agent might approve a developer’s subdivision plan at a Monday Planning Board meeting and solicit that developer for a listing on Tuesday.”

Confusion about the rules governing the selection process also sparked criticism. Wondering why they’d been rejected, the disqualified applicants contacted county staff before the meeting and were told it was because they don’t live in the school districts—Erwin, Enka, Owen and Roberson—where the four members who are stepping down respectively reside. Although it’s not a written rule, the Planning Board has traditionally had one member from each of the county’s six school districts plus three at-large members.

Of the 12 remaining applicants, 11 had actually applied by district. The twelfth, Tom Alexander, was the only at-large applicant who was not disqualified. Instead, Alexander was allowed to remain under consideration for the Roberson district where he lives. Professionally, Alexander is in charge of business and development for Taylor & Murphy Construction Co. The board’s current chair, Bill Newman (one of the members being replaced), happens to be vice president of Taylor & Murphy.

“Is it just a coincidence the current Planning Board chairman works for the same company?” Gumpert asked the commissioners.

He also said he’d been unable to find any evidence of the rule about board members having to reside in certain districts. “That’s not a written policy—it’s not the county code. It seems like something you made up out of the blue,” asserted Gumpert.

“It wasn’t from out of the blue,” Commissioner David Young shot back. “When we first set up the Planning Board, that was our intent. Granted, we didn’t make it a formal policy because we wanted leeway; but by doing that we make sure, for example, that we have someone who understands the Erwin District. It seems to be good from a balance standpoint.”

The nine disqualified applicants are: former Biltmore Forest Mayor Ramona Rowe; Claudia Muse, director of the WNC Health Coalition; green builder Richard Soderquist; Dennis Michele, past president of the Asheville Civitan Club; retired builder Steve Norris; conservationist Barbara Clough; Joe Sechler, co-founder and former president of the Friends of Town Mountain; green engineer/landscape architect Tony Hauser; and attorney Stephen Lending.

If Marino’s seat is opened up, Sechler, Hauser, Lending and Soderquist would be eligible to apply for it, said Hughes. But she added that there was still some uncertainty about whether that would happen.

“The commissioners [could] decide to waive the two-term limit and allow him to continue to serve,” Hughes told Xpress. “It is their rule and they can do that. We haven’t advertised for that seat yet, but the board will probably announce that we’ll be interviewing for it soon.” The process, she admitted “is all a little confusing.”

The remaining four current members, all of whom were appointed in 2005 and are thus eligible for a second term, have indicated that they want to continue serving on the board and will most likely be reappointed by the commissioners, said Hughes. “They haven’t indicated that they want to open those seats up for interview,” she added.

The Planning Board has final approval over subdivisions and some other developments in the county. Its recommendations also carry weight on such important—and controversial—issues as rewriting development rules and interpreting them in connection with things like building on steep slopes.

The commissioners are expected to vote on the Planning Board appointments in early October.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Judge to rule parkland must stay public, attorney says

Mark • STAFF WRITER • published August 28, 2008 12:48 pm

ASHEVILLE – Superior Court Judge Marlene Hyatt has asked attorney Joe Ferikes, who represents members of the family of the man who gave the land to the county more than 100 years ago, to prepare a draft order granting his clients’ request for judgment in their favor, Ferikes said at mid-day today.

Hyatt will rule that the property must remain available to the public, thus blocking plans by local developer Stewart Coleman to build a nine-story condominium building on the parcel, Ferikes said.

“It means the case is over and we’ve won,” Ferikes said.

The outcome won’t become official until Hyatt signs an order and it is filed, Ferikes said, and it is possible that the details of the order will not become known until then. It is common for judges in civil cases to have attorneys for the winning side prepare a draft order that becomes the basis for the judge’s order.

Ferikes said it will be possible for Coleman to continue to own the land but that Hyatt’s ruling would not allow Coleman to carry through with plans to put a condominium building on the property.

Hyatt’s action will mean that the land “can only be used for public purposes” but does not necessarily invalidate Buncombe County’s 2006 sale of the property to a Coleman company, Ferikes said.

However, he said, “I’m hoping the county does the right thing here. Give him his money back and take the title back and tell the public and all of us that they are never going to do this again and execute documents” to that effect.

Relatives of George Willis Pack, a wealthy lumberman who donated downtown parkland to Buncombe County in 1901, brought the suit last year.

Buncombe County commissioners voted in November 2006 to sell a small corner of City-County Plaza that contains a large magnolia to a Coleman company along with an adjoining alley and an old building. Coleman wants to combine that property with the Hayes & Hopson building at the corner of Marjorie and Spruce streets to build a nine-story condominium building.

Louise Pack Metcalf, an East Asheville resident who was one of the plaintiffs, could hardly contain her emotion shortly after hearing the news.

“I am so thankful. I just thank God that they left it as parkland,” she said. “I’m thankful that just one time the system worked for the people and not for the big man.”

The Packs were seeking simply to keep the land available to the public, Ferikes has said, not to have the land return to the Pack family.

Read Friday’s Citizen-Times or return to for more on this story.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

WNCA in the Mountain Express!

The Green Scene

Elk Mountain resident Kathryn Geitz watched warily last month as a pickup truck pulled up to Ciel, a high-end development site near her home, and people wearing protective suits set to work spraying an herbicide throughout the property. In the following weeks, patches of vegetation turned brown.

“The spraying affected us and our dogs,” Geitz told Xpress. “We have recovered from the nausea and the vomiting but if you look at the animals, particularly the black bears, they are suffering the most from this act of cruelty to our natural setting.”

Mountain view: Before and after pictures taken late last summer (image on top) and this past April (bottom) show how a lot changed after the forest was thinned and the underbrush turned to mulch. Nearby residents say this land-disturbing activity continued for months, despite the developer’s failure to get a permit for it.

Buncombe County’s Planning Department called it a violation of the subdivision ordinance. The developer, David Zimmermann, had failed to adhere to the limits on land disturbance specified in the permits and spelled out by the county’s steep-slope-development rules. In a June 23 letter, planning staff notified Zimmermann that all existing permits would be frozen and no new ones issued until a plan for full revegetation had been submitted and implemented.

On its Web site, Ciel touts the subdivision as an “environmentally sound, resource-friendly” community.

Geitz, however, calls the county’s action “too little, too late.” She and other neighbors, she says, had called the county repeatedly to complain about tree cutting and land clearing at Ciel, which they believed was a violation, but nothing was done. “When one drives up Elk Mountain,” says Geitz, “one can see a remarkable difference in the landscape toward the top. ... It is like a bomb was dropped. The foliage has been mutilated and is dead, dead, dead.”

This annoyed neighbor isn’t the only one harboring suspicions about the county’s commitment to its steep-slope ordinance. Since April, activists from two local groups—the Western North Carolina Alliance and the Mountain Voices Alliance—have been sounding the alarm via widely dispersed e-mails, maintaining that proposed changes to the subdivision ordinance could weaken restrictions on “land-disturbing activity” in such developments.

Proposed by county staff and Planning Board members, the changes have been submitted to the Board of Commissioners but have not yet been formally approved. Meanwhile, county staffers contend that critics of the rule changes are misinterpreting the ordinance’s language.

At the heart of the dispute is a disagreement about what the current ordinance actually says. The activist groups maintain that one proposed change in particular, which would count land disturbance for infrastructure separately from that allowed for construction, would undercut the law. “This change would allow significantly more land clearing—up to 60 percent of a site, in some cases—than permitted under the current ordinance,” the WNC Alliance claims.

But county planner Debbie Truempy says the change merely clarifies the ordinance’s original intent. “What we’re proposing is to put limits on the [infrastructure] when there are none now,” she told Xpress.

In an e-mail to Elk Mountain residents, a county staffer wrote: “Currently, the Planning Board only applies the land-disturbance limits to the development of individual lots and does not apply any land-disturbance limits to the installation of infrastructure. The perception that we are allowing the developer to clear up to 60 percent of the lot is not the case at all. In the past, the developer did not have any limits on the amount of disturbance for roads, water-line installation, etc.”

But Ryan Griffith, outreach coordinator for the WNC Alliance, maintains that land-disturbance limits for infrastructure have been in the ordinance all along—they just haven’t been enforced. “It appears that the planning staff has never actually enforced the [current] land-disturbance rule,” says Griffith, citing attorneys whom her group had asked to look over the ordinance. “They’ve never actually counted in the infrastructure building as part of land-disturbing activity. ... Now they’re trying to change it so that they can separate that out—which sort of covers their butts for not ever enforcing it.”

Also at issue is the proposed elimination of a requirement that a specified portion of the property “remain in a natural state,” defined as “the condition prior to development or other human activity.”

According to Truempy, this requirement has proved too restrictive because, it doesn’t allow for the removal of invasive plants. Yet this is precisely the basis on which the county found Ciel to be in violation.

Meanwhile, Board of Commissioners Vice Chair David Gantt has also voiced concern. “So they’re doing the roads, disturbing a great portion of the mountain, and then they’re saying OK, we have so much percentage left ... that we can disturb—which was not the intent,” he says. “And [the ordinance] clearly says that. I don’t understand why that’s not being done. We’re going to hopefully get some new Planning Board people on there who will basically look at what we say, instead of just doing their own interpretation. They’re basically saying that you can disturb it all, and ... that’s not what we said the first time.”

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Alien Invasion!

As you know, the WNC Alliance works really hard at removing invasive exotic plants from critical habitat. Here is a little jewel of a video that we found that perfectly describes how bad invasives can be.

And here are photos from an invasive outing we did last fall at Sandy Bottom in Bent Creek last fall. Look how much alien butt we kicked!

Look, our pile is the size of a medium-sized child! Whoohoo! Take that, Japanese Stiltgrass!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Cowee Rockstars!

Check this out and learn about Norma's porch.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Victory against the proposed concrete plant!

Board unanimously rejects concrete plant

After seven hours of testimony, public comment and deliberation Wednesday night, the Buncombe County Board of Adjustment voted unanimously to deny a conditional-use permit for a concrete plant proposed for north Buncombe County.

Blue Ridge Concrete, an offshoot of a Savannah-based company, applied nearly a year ago for a permit to build a plant on Murphy Hill Road near the intersection with Old Mars Hill Highway. Since then, neighbors of the site have argued that the area, though open zoned, is actually a residential community unfit for a concrete plant’s industrial nature. (Pictured at right is the site of the proposed plant.)

Community activist Martha Claxton, organizer of the North Buncombe Community of Concerned Citizens, said that she was elated with the 7-0 vote to refuse the permit. She’d expected a victory, she added, but not necessarily such a decisive one.

Roughly 300 people showed up at the hearing held at North Buncombe Middle School, a site picked after a March hearing venue was too small to fit the turnout of opposition.

Meanwhile, Blue Ridge Concrete still owns the Murphy Hill Road property, but there is no word as to what is next for the company. Owner Mark Turner had no comment after the decision.

Look for full coverage in the May 21 issue of Xpress.

Brian Postelle, staff writer

A New Model For Growth

"A conspiracy against property rights? (An opinion letter from the Franklin Press)

Have you followed the Mountain Landscapes Initiative story in our local press? What great promises they make. We will have a neat, clean, orderly community, consisting of seven western counties, because participation by the people will make the laws MLI drafts righteous. Now here is the rest of the story.

The Lawrence Group from St. Louis, specializing in "New Urban Planning," will be conducting the meetings. Someone from St. Louis is supposed to tell us how to plan here in the mountains?

Let's be clear, they will be preparing land use plans that will impact our property rights. But how can environmental groups or non-government offices like Land Trust for the Little Tennessee, Western North Carolina Alliance, Preservation North Carolina, Cowee Community Development Organization, or even the Department of Transportation draft laws that affect us? What happened to the "peoples voice" concept. Are special interest groups like these appropriate to draft laws for us, the citizens and taxpayers? No, they are not!

We need to be clear-the central planning which MLI proposes is directly opposite to our present model of property rights and property management. Why are we being offered a new model when there is nothing wrong with the present one?

Central planning like this has been tried over and over but always comes to an unsatisfactory end. America was not founded on socialism.

All of this begs the question. Why did our commissioners pay Mountain Landscapes Initiative, a non-governmental organization, $10,000 to write laws that will have a serious impact on our property rights and not require any accountability? Further, MLI was not voted in so it cannot be vetoed out. Which, in my opinion, makes them very dangerous as they will be around indefinitely, chiseling away at our property rights.

Norman Roberts


Thank you, Norman Roberts for taking the time to voice your concerns in the Franklin Press.
Without viewpoints such as yours we would not have the opportunity to have these discussions that the Mountain Landscapes Initiative is facilitating.

You ask, "Why are we being offered a new model when there is nothing wrong with the present one?"

Let's unpack that for a minute. First of all, lets talk about the "offering" of this new model. The Lawrence Group, based out of St. Louis, are only consultants. A consultant is someone who offers advice on an area of expertise, and it just so happens that the Lawrence Group are experts at architecture and planning. But we here in Western North Carolina are also consultants- we are experts at knowing the changes in the land- whether it is a natural change or a man-made one. That's why locals are involved in this process. While the Lawrence Group may be sophisticated and very savvy at the general principles of architecture and planning, we, the people of WNC, know what has and has not worked in this region for many generations. The end result, therefore, will not be an "offering" on the Lawrence Group's part of a new model, but a collaborative effort between experts in planning and experts of WNC to create this new model.

Which brings us to our second point- the present model is NOT working. Look up at your mountains for a minute. We are looking at ours right now, and they are beginning to look like patchwork home sites for 9,000 sq ft homes. Whether or not you think this is right is not the point- at some point this development begins to effect the area around it. Locals are being taxed off their land that has been in their family for generations because of the rise in property value due to the rise in demand for that property. Wells are running dry because of the added pressure that development is putting on our aquifers. Houses are being built in areas that are destined for major landslides- which is not only unsafe for the new homeowner but is also very dangerous to the locals in the valley below. Residents are terrified that they are loosing grip on the beauty and serenity of a mountain lifestyle that their families have stayed here for generation after generation. These are only a few of the issues that accompany unbridled development.

On that tone, we recognize that growth WILL happen, but we want it to happen on our terms. We do not want to pay the cost- rising taxes and the like- for the pressure that large, unplanned developments are putting on our infrastructure. We don't want to deal with the long term effects that a developer from Florida imposes on us when he/she is here to make a quick buck and then leaves. This is OUR community, and while we are excited to have a new diversity and new faces to look at and share it with, we want it on OUR terms.

This is not socialism. This is regionalism. We are proud of our communities and landscape and want to see them stay in tact for hundreds of years to come. This doesn't mean unchanged- it means promoting the values of this area that our great-grandparents would be proud of. When it comes down to defending property rights, we are on the same page- we just want to have something left to defend.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Haywood County Rockstars!

The Haywood Community Alliance is a group of rockstars who are working hard to protect the communities and mountains in Haywood County. Since their inception, they have created model ordinances for the County Commissioners to implement, activated other members of the community through a petition requesting an environmental disclosure statement from developers of large subdivisions, and started their own campaign to raise awareness about development issues in Haywood County.

So basically they rock. Here is a recent video taken by the Mountain Landscapes Initiative (find out more at featuring two of our active members of the Haywood Community Alliance.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Ways to be even cooler than you already are!

If you are feeling lonely or depressed, we have the perfect cure! Just buy one of our "25th Anniversary" t-shirts for only $18 bucks and you will have new friends glued to you! It has been statistically proven. Here are some testimonials:

"My life sucked until I invested in the future of WNC through the purchase of the WNC Alliance's 25th Anniversary t-shirt. While wearing it, I immediately became the life of the party, and it seemed like everybody wanted to get to know me. I met my wife through her attraction to my t-shirt. I had to buy seven so that I could wear a clean one every day of the week!"

"I was in and out of therapy for years until I bought the WNC Alliance's cure-all t-shirt. Now I am happy all the time!"

"I finally got the promotion I was waiting for once my boss saw how hip my new t-shirt was."

It's plain to see that this t-shirt will change your life! Act now! Buy one today! Call 828.258.8737 to place your order!

The back of this totally cool shirt.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Making Mud Creek not so dang muddy (or trashy)!

Mud Creek, the stream that runs through Jackson Park in Henderson- ville, is accurately named as it is mostly brown and it smells bad. Unfortunately the fact that this body of water is muddy is not the river’s fault, but can be partially attributed to the mounds of trash dumped or thrown haphazardly into this delicate ecosystem.

The environmental club at Rugby Middle School in Hendersonville named “The Rugby Rose Team”, along with the WNC Alliance, worked hard on April 12th to clean up a section of Mud Creek to alleviate the trash problem. This event was sponsored by American Rivers as part of 2008’s National River Cleanup. All in all, we pulled about 12 bags of recycling and 8 bags of trash- which included fast food wrappers, Styrofoam, lost camping gear, fishing lures, tires, bottles galore, t-shirts, broken pottery, pants, tin cans, balls, and several mismatched shoes. (If you are missing any of these items please contact the WNCA office. No, just kidding!)

The Rugby Rose Team ( is in the process of planning a second river clean-up event at Mud Creek, so if you are interested in getting involved contact Ryan at 258.8737. We would love to have you join us! We would also like to give a special thanks to the staff at Jackson Park for hauling our trash for us, and to Hartwell Carson at Riverlink for loaning us the waders so we would not get wet- or too wet, as it turns out!

Missssssss Metcalf, you look stunning in those waders!

The Office Buzz

We have been experiencing many needed changes here at the WNC Alliance recently, all to make our environmental work in the community even more effective.

First of all, we started making coffee twice a day. This has increased staff production exponentially.

We have also added on new staff, including a real-life bookkeeper, a capacity-building AmeriCorps Vista volunteer, a not-so-new community organizer/membership and outreach director, and a new Executive Director who starts the 2nd of June. We have two new chapters (Haywood and Buncombe) with a third in the wings- Henderson. We have expanded our outreach to include the Latino Communities in both Buncombe and Henderson, and to that regard have a new Panamanian Steering Committee member. We have a new chair of our Executive Committee- DJ Gerken, who is not only extremely intelligent but also makes everyone around him feel as smart as he is- a great quality to have in a leader.

And we are going through a strategic planning process to increase our effectiveness in our region. We plan on a revamp of the group to figure out what is working and what is not. We continually strive to include our rich 25 year history into our daily work while working to make our group even more progressive. It's not an easy task, but the sooner we master this, the better off we will be!

You should come visit us at our office. 29 N. Market St: It's the new coolest place to hang out.

Not once in our 25-year history have we ever been known as the Waratah National Cat Alliance. FYI.