[Springboard] the local ecosystem around Lake Junaluska

W. J. synergi at yahoo.com
Tue Nov 13 03:21:20 EST 2007

  No doubt that Lake Junaluska is very beautiful, even after the leaves have turned red, yellow, and gold, fallen from the trees, and covered the ground before being covered with snow.
  But to illuminate some of the global contradictions we may be working to clarify, I want to mention briefly the barely hidden truth about the ecosystem underneath that beautiful facade.
  Since I've grown up spending a lot of time in Haywood County, I can speak from experience.
  When you get there, you may or may not notice an extremely unpleasant rotten-egg stench in the air, depending on which way the wind is blowing. That's aromatic evidence of Haywood County's single major industrial plant, the paper mill at Canton, just east of Lake Junaluska. If you're driving west from Asheville, roll down the window and take a whiff as you bypass Canton on I-40. Though somewhat reduced recently, it's hard to miss. It's so distinctive that I can almost smell it again just writing this. Olfactory memory is very powerful!
  Growing up, I couldn't miss the pervasive smell when the wind came from the east. But what they didn't tell me is that this is the least of the offenses to the ecology. The plant is a major emitter of greenhouse gasses, which contribute to the "smoke" that clings to the Great Smoky Mountains. Only recently did we learn that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the nation's most polluted national park, rivaling Los Angeles on a bad day in the summer. A half million acres of undisturbed vegetation soaks up a lot of pollution and adds a lot of oxygen to the air, yet it can't compensate for all the pollution that blows in from outside. But not to worry, you're coming in the winter when air pollution is a lot lower.
  And if you're driving east from Knoxville, you'll be travelling up I-40 through the famed Pigeon River gorge in Haywood County, which has nineteen mountain peaks well above six thousand feet, plentiful rainfall, and no water flowing into the county because of its high elevation--it's the highest county with the most high peaks anywhere east of the Rockies.
  But you may miss the tiny hamlet of Hartford, TN just off I-40 unless you need to tank up on gas before the final 40 miles through the untamed and inaccessible Pisgah National Forest. Hartford is a Dogpatch community known as "Widowville" because of the extremely high cancer rate.
  Many wells in Hartford were dug near the Pigeon River, which, it turns out, has carried high levels of dioxin from the paper mill in Canton for a century. And many people fished in the river before massive fish die-offs because of the toxins. Dioxin accumulates in living tissues over time.
  Even as a five-year-old in 1947, Mary Woody knew there was something wrong with the Pigeon River, which flowed behind her great-grandfather's home in Hartford, Tennessee. "It had foot-high white foam floating along the top, was brown in color and smelled like rotten eggs," Woody says. "But now it's not the smell that bothers us; it's the dioxin."
  [more at http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1594/is_n3_v8/ai_19998018]
  Not to worry, Junaluska tapwater comes from the Waynesville city water supply, which is very pure and delicious.
  You can actually go whitewater rafting on the Pigeon, but it's known as "the Dirty Bird" because of the pollution levels, and I can't honestly recommend it.
  Some people finally got the clue because of the soaring cancer rate, and put pressure on the feds to pressure the paper mill to clean up their act. But the economic reality is that there is only so much they can and will do. Making bleached paper requires a lot of water, and sometimes 95% of the Pigeon goes thru the mill and comes out like a sewer the color of black coffee before it's sent downstream to Tennessee. 
  Big mill, small stream, and the locals depend on the economic value of the largest employer in the county. Champion International finally sold the plant to a new corporation that's 44% employee owned, so they're locked in to their economic interest in keeping that paper sewer running into Tennessee. New technology, and maybe some improvement in the dioxin levels, but remember it's cumulative. It's a chemical weight people live with when there's little economic diversification.
  So with a lot of political intervention to keep the mill going--and, get this, Champion even persuaded Senator Gore to go to bat for them in 1988 to get much-needed votes in the presidential primary!--it's clear that, damn the environmentalists, the locals want their stinky paper mill! So there's been a declaration of "victory" and a political EPA whitewash that allows the mill to continue to pollute. And now people can eat the fish again, since the toxic releases have been reduced an amazing 4 to 7%. But I wouldn't recommend it.
  According to the federal toxic-releases inventory, the mill released some 110,000 pounds of toxic chemicals into the Pigeon in 2004, the most recent data available. Many of these compounds are known or suspected health hazards, including carcinogens, neurotoxicants and developmental toxicants.
  Let's face it, that's at least 109,500 pounds more than the Cherokee Indians--and the European invaders who forced them to march all the way to Oklahoma--ever dumped in the river over the entire eight thousand years of documented human habitation before 1906.
  My grandparents used an outhouse stocked with the Sears Catalogue, which wasn't just for reading while you wait. Nowadays it's all about Charmin and Cottonelle, which is a fluffy bleached paper product  that we take for granted. The bleaching produces dioxin and that awful coffee-colored effluent. And though the mill at Canton doesn't specialize in T.P., they gotta make the stuff somewhere. T.P. plus those nonbiodegradable Pampers chew up a lot of trees.
  The availability of massive uncut forests that the Cherokee and their predecessors had left standing for eight thousand years led the lumber barons to purchase millions of acres of western North Carolina, destroying the natural beauty of the area with predatory cut-and-run style clear-cutting. 
  After WWI the mining industry was outstripped by the growing demand for wood products.You can visit the 'Cradle of Forrestry' which documents modern forest management techniques. 
  Then came WWII with the need for aluminum, which required electricity and water and led to electrification and construction of hydro dams, one of which you can see on I-40 at Waterville. 
  The Great Smoky Mountain National Park was preserved from the lumber companies and the growing need for T.P. by John D. Rockefeller, two state legislatures, and the federal government which together raised ten million dollars by 1936 to purchase the land from companies like Champion International, often at inflated prices.
  The combination of the Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the completion of I-40 through the Pigeon River gorge in the 1960's, the development of the ski industry, and the attraction of the Cherokee Indian Reservation has brought to Haywood County a massive influx of tourists who have contributed significantly to the local economy.
  Though it would not be on any tour that I'm  willing to organize, I have to mention a major new cultural institution in Cherokee, just west of Haywood County. That would be the ten-year-old Harrah's Casino, a massive high-rise complex that looks like a Vegas transplant. http://www.harrahs.com/casinos/harrahs-cherokee/hotel-casino/property-home.shtml 
  Though it has a great economic impact, employing many Caucasians who commute from several states but extremely few Cherokee, I list this enterprise as a cultural institution because of its impact on the changing culture of tourism.
  It's really depressing to stop on this note, but that's the way it is now in the mountains. And I have to reflect on what we have given up and devalued.
  Marshall Jones
  I can resist a footnote on the T.P. industry. What do you think will happen to the global environment when the Chinese start using toilet paper?
  more info:
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