Put it on paper: Blue Ridge permit comments due
Area residents have until midnight this Friday, Feb. 9, to go on record about air emissions at Blue Ridge Paper Products in Canton. The facility is seeking a Title V air-emissions permit as required under federal standards for major emissions sources.
Formerly owned by Champion International, the employee-owned pulp-and-paper mill in Canton is one of the region's biggest employers, and is also one of the two largest point sources for hazardous air pollution in Western North Carolina (along with the Progress Energy plant in Arden).
Title V permits apply to facilities emitting more than 100 tons per year of any regulated hazardous material. According to EPA data, Blue Ridge Paper emitted some 2.5 million pounds of such substances in 2004.
The N.C. Division of Air Quality granted Blue Ridge a Title V permit on June 15, 2005, but the company appealed the permit's conditions. The current application incorporates details of the settlement from that appeal, and other changes that include an alternative pollution-control system, according to Brendan Davey of DAQ's regional office in Swannanoa.
"There are no air pollution emissions increases [authorized] by this permit," Davey says, explaining that the application contains the same types of emissions that were examined in the original permitting process. Pollutants emitted by Blue Ridge include ethanol, a known neurotoxin (1.7 million pounds in 2005); aldehydes (196,000 pounds), which cross-link ("glues") cells in the lungs, and reduced sulfur compounds (520,000 pounds), known to be eye and respiratory irritants.
Written public comments in this round will help the DAQ determine whether to require a public hearing during this second permitting process.
"Comments do not have to be technical; they can just talk about their experiences in and around [the facility]," says Hope Taylor-Guevara, executive director of Clean Water for North Carolina. The grassroots advocacy group, which maintains a regional office in Asheville, has offered to help concerned residents frame their written comments.
"Paper-mill permits are one of the most complex," Taylor-Guevara says, noting that if people want a public hearing, "they need to request it, and they need to ask to be informed when it is." CWFNC submitted formal comments and testified at the original public hearing for Blue Ridge's application, and is also filing comments in this round.
Davey, who agrees that paper-mill permits are more complicated than other Title V applications, notes that Blue Ridge has operated under a state permit since contesting their original Title V permit. "Most sources have theirs already," he says of other Title V facilities.
The full Blue Ridge application and associated materials may be reviewed during business hours at the Division of Air Quality's regional office (2090 U.S. Highway 70 in Swannanoa). To obtain a copy of the materials, call Wallace Pitts at the agency's office in Raleigh, (919) 715-1060.
Written comments or requests for a public hearing must be postmarked no later than midnight on Friday, Feb. 9. Comments should be addressed to: Wallace Pitts, Division of Air Quality, 1641 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1641. For assistance in preparing written comments, call Clean Water For North Carolina (251-1291).
- Nelda Holder
Dome is where the heart is
It may be tempting to dismiss the geodesic dome, the late Black Mountain College thinker R. Buckminster Fuller's most visible invention, as an artifact of America's countercultural past, the architectural equivalent of incense, crocheted plant-hangers and Blue Oyster Cult. But an article in The New York Times last month predicted a dome resurgence, returning a gloss of respectability to this most forward-looking of American architectures. Buried in the story was the mention that an all-dome development was destined for our own little corner of North Carolina.
The subdivision's planner, Michael Busick, is founder of the Florida-based dome-kit manufacturer American Ingenuity. The subdivision, which could start to fill in as early as this summer, will be located between Burnsville and Marion along N.C. 80, he says. As many as 30 domes may eventually be built on lots varying in size from two to five acres.
If Busick's product is a might trippy-looking, in conversation he sounds less like a guru than the engineer next door, with a voice as flat and unvarying as a drafting table. His own dabbling in the business dates back to the 1970s, when domes were enjoying their first spike in popularity (which Busick attributes to "the hippie generation"). He ran across a salesperson for wood-framed domes at the time and knew he could do better.
"I thought, well, wood is not the best material to build a dome with," he says. With some tinkering, he came up with a prefab design that uses composite frames, dense foam insulation and a sprayed-on concrete exterior. American Ingenuity's kits sell for between $50,000 and $70,000, and construction costs are said to be similar to those of conventional homes in comparable locations.
Domes themselves may have their detractors (the late curmudgeon-for-the-Earth Edward Abbey was one of the most virulent), but Busick contends that the owners of the hemispherical structures tend to be very nice people.
"Open-minded is one way I'd describe people who choose geodesic domes," he says. "We've also noticed, in the act of doing business, that it's more pleasant dealing with dome people."
Some of that congeniality might derive from the fact that they're saving money. A dome's thick insulation and high volume-to-surface-area ratio ensures that "heating and air conditioning are less than half of what a conventional house would be," says Busick. Domes also resist storm damage -- falling trees, say, or the destructive flapping of Jim Cantore's rain slicker -- a fact that's making them more popular in Florida's "Hurricane Alley" with each passing season.
But Busick's most convincing testimonial may be the fact that the man lives in one himself.
"Oh, sure I do," he says. "Our offices are domes, as well -- two, in fact, connected to each other. Our factory is a dome. Even our dog has a dome."
- Kent Priestley
Get your howl on at the Nature Center
"We wait for no one, we are howling at the moon." That's how Dougie MacLean celebrated howling in song ("Charlotte," Who I Am, 2001). But how many of us have ever really done it (at least when sober)?
The WNC Nature Center will host its annual Wolf Howl on Tuesday, Feb. 13, from 6 to 8 p.m., when local experts will lead visitors on a trek into the elusive world of wolves. The center promises fun and informative indoor and outdoor presentations on red and grey wolves of North America, urging attendees to "come prepared to vocalize with these howling predators."
This may be the memorable Valentine's Day date you've been searching for.
Seating is limited, so preregistration is recommended. Remember to dress for the cold night air, and bring flashlights for your safety and cameras to capture the moment you catch a glimpse of these fascinating creatures of legend. Refreshments will follow the Howl. Admission is $5 per person, and the event is not recommended for children younger than 5.
For additional information about the Wolf Howl or to purchase tickets, call 298-5600, ext. 305.
- Cecil Bothwell
Asheville tax report not a Locke
Numbers released by the John Locke Foundation place Asheville third in the state for per-capita taxation in 2005, with local fees and taxes totaling $1,892 per person, but the city's chief financial officer challenges the report's validity.
The annual report, titled "By The Numbers," is a product of the Center for Local Innovation (a division of the conservative, Raleigh-based nonprofit) based on information from the state treasurer's office, the U.S. Census Bureau and the N.C. Bureau of Economic Analysis.
The report seeks to calculate the cost of local government for individual residents, combining county and city taxes and fees, policy analyst Michael Lowrey explained. This is the second year in a row that Asheville has ranked third.
But the city's chief financial officer, Ben Durant, emphasizes that many hidden factors can affect such rankings. Absentee landowners, for instance, can skew per-capita property-tax rates. But the most glaring factor, he said is the way the calculations use sales-tax figures. Sales tax is a standard 7 percent across the state, but the report divides a city's total sales-tax revenue by its population to come up with an individual sales-tax "burden." The problem, says Durant, is that this method doesn't accurately reflect a tourism-based economy such as Asheville's, where much sales-tax revenue comes from nonresidents.
"More people are spending money, and that's a good thing for the economy," he said. "To present that as a burden is very misleading."
Asheville ranked ninth in individual property taxes, another major factor in the report's calculations.
According to the report, Asheville ranks below Charlotte and Wilmington in a field of 29 North Carolina cities with populations greater than 25,000. Other Western North Carolina towns also show up in the report's list of small and medium-sized cities: Brevard ranks 11th and Waynesville 17th in the state.
- Brian Postelle