WCU tuition hike to offset budget crunch
To help offset the impact of budget cuts recently authorized by the N.C. General Assembly, Western Carolina University will raise in-state undergraduate tuition and fees by 17.5 percent effective for the fall semester.
University of North Carolina system President Erskine Bowles approved the plan Wednesday, July 14. A special provision of the state budget allows UNC campuses to increase tuition by as much as $750 for the 2010-11 academic year, a measure intended to help address a $70 million cut to the UNC system’s budget.
Western Carolina’s plan would raise tuition by $572.80 for 2010-11, in addition to a $137 increase in campus-initiated tuition previously approved by the UNC Board of Governors.
The tuition increase will maintain a quality student academic experience at WCU and will generate about $3.8 million, said Chuck Wooten, vice chancellor for administration and finance.
Eighty percent of the increase – or $3.1 million – will be used to prevent the loss of 32.2 faculty positions at WCU.
Another 20 percent will go to need-based financial aid, Wooten said.
But WCU is not alone in tuition increases. All campuses in the UNC system are raising tuition.
UNC Chapel Hill and N.C. State University both had supplemental tuition increases of $750 in addition to campus initiated tuition increases.
Bowles said additional tuition charges are the only way the system can maintain quality.
“I have long prided myself in being a ‘low-tuition guy.’ A supplemental tuition increase of up to $750 certainly flies in the face of that,” Bowles said. “Nonetheless, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that low tuition without high quality is no bargain for anyone – not our students, their future employers or the state taxpayers. To compete successfully for the jobs of tomorrow, North Carolina must have a highly trained, highly skilled workforce.”
A comparison to public peer institutions nationally, conducted using the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, ranked WCU as having the lowest tuition and fees for resident undergraduate and graduate students in 2009-10.
“This is a difficult decision,” WCU Chancellor John W. Bardo said. “However, even with this increase, our overall tuition rates will be low compared to our public peer institutions and other UNC campuses similar to us in size and mission.”
In response to budget cuts and reversions last year, Western Carolina eliminated or froze 94 positions – primarily in administrative areas, Bardo said.
“It is critical that we preserve our core programs, retain our outstanding faculty members, minimize the impact of cuts on class size and class availability, and provide critical student support,” Bardo said.
Typically, students would begin receiving bills for the fall semester later this week. Because of the recent changes, billing for fall 2010 semester will be delayed to allow time for adjustments in financial aid packages, said Nancy S. Brendell, WCU bursar.
Electronic notifications for billing will be sent on Friday, July 23. Students should make full payment by Aug. 13 to guarantee their class schedules.
For more information, visit tuitionfees.wcu.edu.
WCU arts venue celebrates five years
A semiformal gala featuring red carpets, bright lights, gallery openings and a Gershwin musical is planned for Friday, Oct. 22, to celebrate the fifth anniversary of Western Carolina’s Fine and Performing Art Center.
The venue had its grand opening in October 2002 with a performance by comedian Jay Leno.
Since then, more than 100,000 visitors have passed through the doors of the Fine and Performing Arts Center, which is home to WCU’s Fine Art Museum. The center has hosted events ranging from sellout performances of music, drama and dance to visual arts, music and drama festivals for Western North Carolina children.
Tickets on sale for re-creation of 1938 radio show
Witness an authentic performance of the classic “A Christmas Carol,” with one of the original performers in the 1938 radio show that starred the legendary Orson Welles.
Tickets go on sale Tuesday, Aug. 10, at Western Carolina University for a December re-creation of the Campbell’s Playhouse radio adaptation of “A Christmas Carol.”
The WCU production will use Welles’ personal script and will star Arthur Anderson, who will reprise his role of the Ghost of Christmas Past that he performed in the original radio show more than 70 years ago. Now 87, Anderson was 16 at the time he portrayed one of Charles Dickens’ ghostly trio opposite Welles in the 1938 broadcast.
“A Christmas Carol,” which includes a live orchestra and sound effects, will feature the talents of WCU faculty, staff and students, as well as radio professionals from Western North Carolina.
Presented with special permission of the show’s original sponsor, the Campbell Soup Co., the performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 9, in WCU’s Fine and Performing Arts Center. All tickets are $10 each.
The academic-based entertainment event is being mounted by director Steve Carlisle, a stage and screen veteran who is associate dean of WCU’s Honors College; musical director Bruce Frazier, the Carol Grotnes Belk Distinguished Professor of Electronic and Commercial Music; and producer Donald Connelly, head of WCU’s department of communication.
The team previously collaborated on the 2008 live radio show production of Welles’ “The War of the Worlds” and last year’s nationally acclaimed Veterans Day tribute “On the Home Front, Nov. ‘44.”
The show is a joint production of the Department of Communication, Department of English, School of Music, School of Stage and Screen, and Honors College.
Visit FAPAC box office or 828.227.2479.
Blooms in the southern mountains
Each July since 1991, I’ve led field trips along the Blue Ridge Parkway offered as part of the Native Plants Conference sponsored by Western Carolina University. This year’s outings (July 25) will have taken place by the time you read this.
Between Waterrock Knob and Mt. Pisgah, the eight participants in my group will identify perhaps eight fern species, several grasses, a few lichens, maybe a mushroom or two, and more than 100 wildflower species, including wild quinine, large-flowered leafcup, bush honeysuckle, green wood orchis, starry campion, Indian paintbrush, enchanter’s nightshade, Small’s beardtongue, downy skullcap, tall delphenium, pale Indian plantain, tall bellflower, southern harebell, horsebalm, round-leaved sundew, Blue Ridge St. Johnswort and false asphodel.
No group of flowering plants along the Parkway, however, will be of more interest to participants than the “Monardas,” a genus in the mint family that includes the ever-popular bee balm. There are two other distinct “Monarda” species — wild bergamot and basil balm — that appear in this section of the Southern Blue Ridge Province in addition to a hybrid backcross called purple bergamont.
“Monardas” are sometimes called horsemints because “horse” signifies “large” or “coarse,” and the members of this genus are generally larger, coarser plants than many other members of the mint family. In this instance “coarse is beautiful.” Most of the horsemints have quite appropriately been introduced into cultivation.
Here’s a checklist of those three horsemint species and the hybrid found in the Western North Carolina mountains. All flower from mid-June into September and can be readily located along the parkway, especially in the areas of the Grassy Ridge Mine (milepost 436.8) and Standing Rock Overlook (milepost 441.4).
• Bee balm, also called crimson bee balm or Oswego tea (Monarda didyma): occasional in moist, shaded situations; adapted by scarlet color long tubular shape of flowers for pollination by hummingbirds, but often “robbed” by bees and other insects that bore “bungholes” at the base of the corolla tube; note the reddish leaf-like bracts just below the flowers; called “bee balm” because it made a poultice that soothed stings; sometimes called Oswego tea because of its use as a steeped medicinal by the Oswego Indians of New York; generic name honors an European botanist, Nicholas Monarda, who had an interest in medically useful plants from the New World. No red flower — save, of course, cardinal flower — is more resplendent. And like cardinal flower, this member of the mint family often haunts a lush and dark setting so that when it catches slanting light the flaming crimson gleams like a beacon.
• Wild bergamot (M. fistulosa): common but variable species flowering in open fields, meadows, and on dry wooded slopes; petals are usually lilac or pinkish-purple (rarely white) with the upper lip bearded at the apex; bracts often pink-tinged; frequently visited by butterflies; oil with an odor resembling essence of bergamot was once extracted from the plant to treat respiratory ailments; brewed as tea by the Cherokee for many ailments, including flatulence and hysterics.
• Basil balm (M. clinopodia): occasional in both moist and dry woods and thickets; similar to wild bergamot but with paler pink or white flowers that have purple spots on lower lip and whitish bracts; common name indicates that it was used like bee balm as a poultice. Wild bergamot and basil balm often interbreed along the parkway.
• Purple bergamot (M. media): an infrequently encountered natural hybrid backcross of the above species displaying deep reddish-purple flowers and dark purple bracts; habitat about the same as bee balm, so look for color differences between scarlet of that species and deep purple for the hybrid; despite the hybrid status it’s reliably distinctive and exciting to encounter.
Note: Excellent colored illustrations of each of these horsemints appear opposite p. 92 of Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1977). Dotted horsemint (M. punctata), which has purple-spotted yellow flowers, is primarily a species of the piedmont and coastal plain that does not — to my knowledge — appear in the Southern Blue Ridge Province.
Invigorating Cullowhee could hinge on Forest Hills
An unusual proposition has landed on the doorstep of Forest Hills, a tiny speck of a town at the edge of Western Carolina University.
In hopes of transforming Cullowhee into a more vibrant college community, a group dedicated to reinventing the lackluster area around campus wants Forest Hills to expand its town limits and annex a portion of the university and its surrounds.
It would be quite a leap for a town of Forest Hills size. With only 347 registered voters, a property tax rate of just one cent, and an area of a little over one square mile, the Village of Forest Hills seems more like a homeowners association than a bona fide town. It has no town hall and no paid employees.
Yet being part of an incorporated town is crucial in the quest for WCU’s campus to be more than an island in the middle of nowhere, according to those advocating the idea.
The restaurants, coffee shops and bars typically found around universities are markedly absent at Western — witnessed by a standing joke on campus that “Cullowhee is a state of mind.”
Incorporating would give Cullowhee the option of allowing alcohol sales and bring greater access to state and federal grants, supporters say.
Conjuring up a college town from thin air isn’t exactly what advocates have in mind, but they do want a more robust commercial district. In particular, the area along Old Cullowhee Road bordering the Tuckasegee River isn’t reaching its potential.
“I think it is difficult to sustain a business there. We have seen restaurants come and go, businesses change hands or just go defunct,” said Brian Railsback, dean of the WCU Honors College who is active in Cullowhee revitalization efforts. “Rather than a backwater to the university, it could become a hub.”
The appeal came to Forest Hills by way of the Cullowhee Revitalization Effort, a group that goes by the acronym CuRvE.
The decision is ultimately up to the five members of the Forest Hills town board. So far, they appear willing to hear out the idea.
“We are part of the larger Cullowhee community, and we don’t want to divorce ourselves from that but instead look at our mutual interests,” said Clark Corwin, a Forest Hills town council member.
Details of the proposal are still in formation, including exactly what area CuRvE wants Forest Hills to annex. A public presentation by the group next week should shed light on those questions.
“I want them to share with us what their visions is and see if any of it fits with how the village is evolving,” Corwin said.
The town board is eager to keep Forest Hills residents abreast of the proposal, so much so that it sent a letter to every household in the town limits inviting them to the public meeting.
“The council would appreciate your presence and participation during this meeting,” the letter states.
The proposal to grow the town’s size comes with the suggestion for a name change: from Forest Hills to Cullowhee.
A name change would certainly create a shift in the town’s identity, Corwin said. But mention the two names to an outsider — Forest Hills and Cullowhee — and it’s easy to guess which one they’ve never heard of. Corwin said his post office address is in Cullowhee, after all, not Forest Hills.
Railsback said his group envisions a commercial district along Old Cullowhee Road with a “river walk” feel.
Road to redemption
One barrier to revitalization in Cullowhee is the lack of alcohol sales. Whether it’s a six-pack at a gas station or a glass of wine with dinner, alcohol sales aren’t allowed by Jackson County. Incorporated towns have the option of allowing alcohol sales, however.
If the annexation goes through, and if Forest Hills in turn passed a law to allow alcohol sales, it would help attract restaurants, Railsback said.
“That is the most important source of revenue for many restaurants,” Railsback said.
Railsback said legalizing alcohol sales is not the driving factor in the annexation plan, however.
“We didn’t all sit around say ‘Hey, let’s get incorporated so we can drink,’” Railsback said.
If it does pan out that way, however, beer could be sold at the Ramsey Center, where concerts and sporting events are held, and wine could be served during receptions at the Fine and Performing Arts Center — since both buildings would be taken in by the annexation.
The revitalization crew will try to convince the property owners in the area being annexed to support the move. But the most important pitch is to the people of Forest Hills. Many Forest Hills residents are affiliated with the university, from retired professors to currently faculty. For them, the motive to revitalize Cullowhee might be reason enough to support the idea.
But to others wondering what’s in it for them, Railsback points out that expanding Forest Hill’s town limits is the only way to give them control over how growth around the university will look.
“Whatever happens in Cullowhee is going to be right at their front door,” Railsback said. “If you just passively sit there, you won’t have a say in what this will look like. I don’t think that will be in their best interest.
“Let’s face it. Even if you are in Forest Hills, you are living in a part of Cullowhee. I think people are interested in having a say and being a part of creating an identify for that,” Railsback said.
Forest Hills’ forte
Land-use planning just happens to be what Forest Hills does best. In fact, it’s their raison d’être.
The residents of Forest Hill incorporated as a town in the late ‘90s with one main purpose in mind: to keep student housing out. The town sits at the edge of the University and was at risk of becoming inundated by student apartments, condos and rental units.
Residents wanted to maintain their neighborhood feel. As a town, they could pass zoning laws to do just that. The town is currently refining its ordinance to limit the number of non-related people who can live under the same roof in an effort to prevent large groups of students from renting homes in certain neighborhoods.
The town hires off-duty deputies to patrol on weekend evenings during the school year to keep a check on loud partying.
Other than the security patrols, the town’s only other service is fixing potholes and street maintenance.
Corwin sees merit in Forest Hills being a master of its own destiny, rather than allowing Cullowhee to grow up around it.
“Either way, we are going to be affected. One way, we can have participation,” Corwin said.
Incorporating a brand-new town of Cullowhee will continue to be a fallback plan if Forest Hills doesn’t take the bait.
When Cullowhee Revitalization Effort launched three years ago, Railsback said the group quickly realized not being an incorporated town was hurting them. They weren’t eligible for some state and federal grants. From sidewalks to sewer lines, the area was missing out on funding it could get it only if it were incorporated, Railsback said.
“CuRvE didn’t begin with the idea of incorporation but we recognized pretty soon if you want to improve infrastructure or get grants or even stimulus money, no one is going to touch that if you aren’t incorporated,” Railsback said. “If you have a bunch of volunteers in an unincorporated area, you aren’t going to say ‘Here is $1 million, go to it.’”
Railsback said the proposal to Forest Hills came up as an alternative to jumping through the myriad hoops of incorporating a new town.
The idea to partner with Forest Hills has been percolating for more than a year, but it was publicly broached with the Forest Hills town board in December.
“We didn’t have a plan or anything then. We just said ‘Here’s what we are trying to do and would you be interested in some kind of expansion and being involved in creating Cullowhee,’” Railsback said. “Or should we reinvent the wheel and create our own Cullowhee, which could present problems for Forest Hills.”
Meanwhile, property owners in the area to be annexed also need convincing that something positive will come from having to paying town property taxes — albeit exceptionally low ones.
“If I was a property owner I would think on the one hand, I will have a city tax to pay, but on the other hand, if what comes with that is a whitewater park down the road and sidewalks and improvements and I can sell beer and wine, the property value would increase,” Railsback said.
Property owners would also be subject to whatever zoning laws Forest Hills leaders come up with.
If property owners sign on voluntarily, it will make the process far easier for Forest Hills. If they don’t like the idea, Forest Hills can annex them anyway, but the process is more cumbersome.
Railsback said the university administration supports the move. University leaders hope to create a new university “center,” a commercial district to fill the void of a college town. Being incorporated would help.
“The university likes it because if you are going to build a town center and you want a supermarket to come here, it is a much more attractive if it is an incorporated area,” Railsback said.
Want to learn more?
The Cullowhee Revitalization Endeavor will present a formal proposal to the Village of Forest Hills to annex part of the university and surrounding area at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 3, at the Ramsey Center hospitality room on the WCU campus. It is open to the public.
Catch film with WCU ties
The feature film “Wesley” will be screened at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 13, at the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts in Franklin.
“Wesley” is based closely on the actual events of John Wesley’s life, a story that already reads much like a Hollywood screenplay.
Arledge Armenaki, WCU associate professor of cinematography, was the director of photography for the movie.
Sixteen Western Carolina University students got hands-on experience as crew for “Wesley” during filming on locations in and around Winston-Salem and Morganton for two months in 2007 and two weeks in 2008, including a sold-out red carpet premiere. WCU students and faculty also were cast in the movie.
Wesley is a compelling and controversial main character that women found intensely attractive; there is adventure on the high seas, a terrible storm and near-shipwreck. In the newly settled Savannah, Ga., there is an incredibly romantic but star-crossed love affair that ends tragically. Wesley is crushed, and on his return to England, we experience his spiritual struggle and finally renewal. We are then swept away with his preaching in the fields and his efforts to help the lowest classes of society. His ministry is controversial, there is mob violence, confrontation, and tension followed by his victorious preaching to thousands in his hometown.
Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the center box office at 1028 Georgia Road in Franklin, at Dalton’s Christian Bookstore in Franklin and Waynesville, and online at GreatMountainMusic.com, or call 866.273.4615.
Majority supports alcohol sales, and its many benefits
By Michael Morris • Guest Columnist
The sale of alcohol has become a hot topic in Western North Carolina. In 2010, voters in Burnsville and Weaverville passed ballot measures approving alcohol sales, and last August voters in Clay County approved countywide alcohol sales.
Here in Jackson County, consumers have been able to purchase on-premises beer and wine in Dillsboro since 2005. In Sylva, the county seat, alcohol sales have been permitted in some form since 1967, and voters approved on-premises mixed beverage sales in 2006.
More recently, a Western Carolina University Public Policy Institute/Smoky Mountain News poll indicated that 56 percentof registered voters would support legalizing countywide alcohol in Jackson County.
One part of the county that has the potential to benefit from countywide alcohol sales is the area surrounding Western Carolina University. The university and its surrounding community is growing and expanding at a fairly rapid pace. With the expansion of the university, there is potential to attract business, expand infrastructure, and become a place that offers residents an enhanced array of goods and services.
Concerned residents of Jackson County may be fearful that alcohol consumption among the student population will increase, causing more alcohol-related illegal activity than previously seen in Cullowhee and surrounding areas. As a student at Western Carolina University, I am deeply concerned about the potential negative effects that legalizing the sale of alcohol will have on the student and non-students residents of Jackson County.
However, there are some real advantages to locating bars and restaurants within walking distance of the campus. I know too many students who make the dangerous drive between Sylva and Cullowhee, and on-campus establishments would make it possible to walk to a restaurant, have a couple of beers, then walk home safely.
Other areas in Jackson County may also benefit from the expanded sale of alcohol. Tuckasegee, Cashiers, and parts of Jackson County near Cherokee could attract restaurants that would normally not be interested in locating in an area without the option to sell alcohol. These restaurants would enhance the quality of life in these communities and contribute to the county’s tax base.
Many locales within Jackson County are doing themselves a disservice by allowing or even pushing revenue away from their areas. It is likely that Jackson County residents also leave the county to purchase alcohol and eat at restaurants located just over the county-in Haywood, Macon, and Transylvania counties.
There are residents, however, who debate against alcohol sales by saying that the revenue generated would not be worth the funds it would take to increase law enforcement and deal with some of the social issues that come with alcohol and its users. If countywide alcohol comes to Jackson County, the county and the university should partner to implement an alcohol awareness campaign and collaborate on taxi and bus services.
In these tough economic times, it is worth considering countywide alcohol in Jackson County. If alcohol is to be legalized countywide, then it should be done in the most constructive and safe way possible.
(Michael Morris is a senior majoring in political science at WCU.)
Yates named Kimmel Professor of Construction Management
The only woman to head a college or university construction management department in the United States has joined the faculty of Western Carolina University as the Joe W. Kimmel Distinguished Professor of Construction Management.
J.K. Yates began her duties as Kimmel Professor and head of WCU’s department of construction management June 15.
Prior to joining the WCU faculty, Yates served as chair and professor in the department of construction management and engineering at North Dakota State University.
WCU’s Joe W. Kimmel Distinguished Professorship in Construction Management was endowed in 2006 through gifts provided by Asheville businessman Joe W. Kimmel.
Poll shows majority in Jackson tired of trekking to town for beer
Whether you’re a college student in Cullowhee or socialite in Cashiers, stocking up on beer, wine and spirits requires a trip into town. But a WCU Public Policy Institute/Smoky Mountain News poll shows 56 percent of voters in Jackson County support alcohol sales everywhere in the county, not just in Sylva and Dillsboro, compared to 39 percent who would be opposed.
This particular question polarized respondents more strongly than any other issue on the poll, which was conducted by the Public Policy Polling in Raleigh, one of the Southeast’s most respected polling companies. Only 5 percent of those polled were undecided. Most questions saw undecided numbers of around 20 percent.
The poll questioned nearly 600 registered Jackson County voters.
“It’s fascinating that so few people are unsure,” said Christopher Cooper, director of the Public Policy Institute at WCU. “It seems like the kind of issue, if it’s ever on the ballot, that would lead to a high voter turnout.”
The alcohol question sticks out in a poll where most of the questions address trust in government. Clay County — one of the region’s smallest and most rural — recently voted to allow alcohol sales countywide, so it seems to be an emerging issue in Western North Carolina, Cooper said.
Though the area has traditionally been conservative on alcohol sales, a lingering recession may have created more favor for the potential boost in tax revenues that widespread alcohol sales promise.
Jackson County Commissioner Tom Massie, however, doesn’t see the issue as pressing.
“I don’t have a whole lot of people stopping me in the grocery store, on the streets or calling me saying ‘We need alcohol sales,’” said Massie. “It’s not one of those things on my radar screen.”
Massie doesn’t see a trend toward acceptance in Western North Carolina, either. Clay County seems to be more the exception than the rule in the region, according to Massie.
“That’s got a whole lot more to do with tradition and deep-seated beliefs held by the populace,” said Massie.
Though Jackson County Commissioner Mark Jones said there is actually more acceptance of alcohol in general, the primary motivating factor for legalizing alcohol sales countywide is most likely financial at this point.
“It is a revenue-generator at a time when sales are down and economies are tough,” said Jones.
WCU sees opportunity
According to Cooper, the biggest supporters of countywide sales were men, liberals, the more educated and the young.
Those who face a long drive to get a six-pack of beer or a few bottles of wine resoundingly said “yes” to countywide alcohol sales as well. About 68 percent of Cashiers residents clamored for change in Jackson County’s alcohol policy.
Meanwhile, Sylva residents just barely supported countywide sales, with only 50 percent voting “yes.”
Though WCU Chancellor John Bardo was reluctant to comment on the results of a poll conducted by the university, he did say legalizing alcohol sales in the county would have a tangible impact on the college.
The main effect, Bardo said, would be the potential for a viable commercial environment around the university. For now, Cullowhee is short on restaurants and grocery stores, and the total ban on alcohol sales may be to blame.
“People want to be able to go out to eat,” said Bardo. “It’s part of the quality of life they’re looking for.”
Alcohol sales countywide might lead to higher tax revenues for local government, a better business environment in Cullowhee as well as a positive impact on student enrollment.
“More services make the university more attractive,” said Bardo.
Jones agreed that Cullowhee businesses would make a handsome profit if students weren’t forced to drive to Sylva to buy their alcohol.
Moreover, Jones cited the trend of more retired individuals moving to college towns for its culture and activities. Allowing alcohol sales in Cullowhee would enhance the area’s attractiveness to these potential residents, Jones said.
But Massie said the few miles drive to Sylva most likely isn’t a major problem for students at Western. He recalled the days Jackson County was completely dry, when students would make beer runs all the way to Waynesville.
“College kids, if they want beer, and it’s legal for them to get it, they’re going to get it,” said Massie.
Cashiers highly supportive
Commissioner Jones, who manages High Hampton Inn in Cashiers, constantly encounters guests who query him on the nearest place to buy alcohol.
“For convenience, I send them to Highlands [in Macon County],” said Jones. “I’m guilty as charged.”
With Highlands a lot closer than Sylva, guests and residents alike often opt for the quicker trip when they’re thirsting for beer, wine and liquor. Jones said he cannot gauge how many thousands of dollars in potential tax revenue Jackson County loses each year in the process.
Some businesses in Cashiers are allowed to sell liquor, but only if they are established as a private club. Because these venues are required to purchase alcohol only from a Jackson County store, every restocking requires a drive down the mountain to Sylva or Dillsboro.
“It would save a lot of time, gas and trouble and expense to have an ABC store [here],” Jones said.
Though Jones supports countywide alcohol sales, he said he would rather see citizens petition to put the issue on the ballot than for the commissioners to get involved.
Massie, too, said he’d like to see a vote by the people, though he did not have a strong opinion on the matter.
“I’m not a teetotaler so it doesn’t bother me one way or another,” said Massie.
Still Massie, Jones and Commissioner Brian McMahan said they are all concerned that Jackson County ranks in the top 10 in North Carolina for alcohol-related accidents.
Though towns benefit economically from alcohol sales, there’s always a price to pay. “The trade-off is what are the social problems and liabilities that come with the sale of alcohol,” said Massie.
“Any time you have alcohol sales, you’re going to have that problem,” said Jones, adding that part of the tax revenues from alcohol sales do go toward law enforcement and education.
For McMahan, having widespread alcohol sales would probably not be worth the risks. McMahan said he would neither support legalizing alcohol sales in the county nor putting the issue on the ballot.
“The present system works, and there’s no need to change it,” said McMahan.
Sylva not swayed
Cooper has two theories to explain why Sylva voters were more reluctant than others to welcome countywide sales.
Of the alcohol tax that stays locally, Sylva shares half of the tax revenue from alcohol sales with the county and keeps the other half.
Allowing alcohol sales everywhere obviously means fewer people driving into Sylva or Dillsboro to buy their beer, leading to a direct decline in the town’s revenues. Sylva voters might have taken that into account when a higher number of them opposed countywide sales.
Cooper’s other theory is that alcohol is already widely available to Sylva residents.
“If you live in Sylva, what do you care if there’s alcohol in Cashiers?” said Cooper.
Massie, who represents Sylva on the county board, has another conjecture altogether. While elected officials and town employees are well-aware of the alcohol’s impact on revenues, that’s probably not driving your average Sylva resident to vote “no.”
“Sylva has a concentration of some of the biggest churches in the county,” said Massie. “That’s what I’m thinking is the reason.”
When asked how he felt about the catastrophic BP oil spill, Robert Young paused for the first time during the interview, visibly moved.
“It’s depressing...don’t make me cry,” Young said before walking over to his desktop and opening up a recent home video of his sons enjoying a vacation on the Florida Panhandle.
The water is crystal clear, the sand pure, and his sons are laughing, one riding a boogie board for the very first time.
“I was that boy,” said Young, who heads Western Carolina University’s Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines. “The guys are just dying to go back again...We can’t. We can’t go back now.”
Like many others, Young is finding it difficult to find an outlet for his anger.
“It’s not very satisfying getting angry at a multinational corporation,” said Young. “I can’t not buy gas at the BP station in town. It’s locally owned...We can’t hurt BP. That’s what’s so hard.”
Even with no chance of a do-over on the Gulf Coast crisis, Young and his team of coastal scientists at WCU have gotten actively involved in its aftermath, hoping to make a positive impact.
An unusually vocal scientist, Young’s opposition to the current plan of attack — which calls for building sand berms to block oil from reaching the shores — has earned him national attention.
Young has made the rounds, speaking to NPR, Newsweek and the Rachel Maddow Show and writing an op-ed for The New York Times, actively opposing Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s push to construct the sand barriers.
Young said there’s little evidence the barriers would work. They would be susceptible to erosion before the project is even complete, not to mention the slim chance that they would survive the impending hurricane season.
Moreover, the sand berms would alter tidal currents, leading to the erosion of natural barrier islands that protect the coast from hurricanes, Young said.
Even with the EPA speaking out against it, the project is moving ahead with the construction of test sand berms. Young is devoted to continue monitoring the process.
Meanwhile, coastal scientists at WCU’s Shoreline program, including two Western grads, Katie McDowell and Adam Griffith, have captured aerial photography during flyovers off the coast of Louisiana.
Last week, Griffith returned to the state to scope out the damage done along the coastline, accompanying two volunteers from the environmental nonprofit Louisiana Bucket Brigade.
What Griffith witnessed upon reaching the beach at Isle Grand Terre left him horrified.
“Oil in large pools was evident on the beach. Hermit crabs wandered around next to bubbles of oil while dolphins frolicked in water that wasn’t quite the right color. Foul fumes were ubiquitous and oil could be seen oozing out of the wetlands,” Griffith wrote in a guest blog entry for LA Bucket Brigade.
That oil will undoubtedly gush to more and more locations. Griffith’s goal, like that of the Bucket Brigade, is to amass a large-scale collection of images to archive the environmental disaster as it unfolds in specific locations.
“Hopefully, these images will help remind us what the land should look like,” Griffith writes in closing his blog entry.
Griffith said the BP oil spill has the potential to be one of the most polarizing moments in our lives, almost like an environmental version of the Sept. 11 attacks.
As a coastal scientist, McDowell said she can clearly grasp how the oil spill will impact the ecosystem for years to come.
“You realize how big-scale it’s really going to be, how devastating it’s really going to be,” said McDowell. “You realize how fragile the ecosystem is.”
Though McDowell hasn’t been back to Louisiana since the flyover in April, she would like to devote every single day to studying the oil spill.
“Everyone wishes they could do more than what they’re doing,” said McDowell. “It’s hard because I think about it all day long.”
Western’s internationally renowned program
Unlike most other programs of its kind, WCU’s Program for the Study of Developed Shoreline houses the oft-separated fields of science and policy under one roof.
That places PSDS scientists in a uniquely difficult position.
“The people who solely do policy and management often think we’re naïve scientists who don’t really have a grasp of the intricacies of politics and policy,” said Young. “The scientific community quite frequently decides not to take scientists who communicate regularly with the public as seriously as scientists who sequester themselves in a lab somewhere, and slip their results under the door.”
But since so many scientific programs receive grants — which are funded by taxpayers — Young said it’s imperative that scientists talk to lay people about their findings.
With few scientific journalists left standing, it’s up to scientists to communicate directly to the public, Young said.
For that reason, the coastal scientists that Young hires must have excellent communication skills. McDowell, for instance, tutored at WCU’s writing center as a student.
McDowell is now working on building a national database that details how high the seas have risen in specific locations during past hurricanes.
In a few weeks, WCU Shoreline scientists will assist in dam removal project in Washington state, one of the largest ever projects of its kind.
PSDS has five full-time staff and, seven research fellows from universities around the country, in addition to one from Ireland.
The program, which has been around for about 25 years, was formerly headquartered at Duke University.
Its director, Orrin Pilkey, handed the program over to Young, who was too enamored with the mountains to move back to Duke, where he completed his graduate studies and is now an adjunct professor.
Pilkey serves as a Young’s mentor and collaborator, and continues to participate in shoreline studies program, officially making it a joint effort between Duke and Western.
PSDS scientists work all over the country, in addition to exotic locales like Morocco, Honduras and New Zealand. Much of what they do involves evaluating coastal engineering projects, whether its building beaches or “mining” sand from the beach to use in construction projects.
The program’s ultimate goal is to preserve and support the proper management of the world’s beaches. PSDS scientists not only work to study the impact of development on shores, but also chime in while harmful policies are being pursued.
For example, Young protested against the idea of building a sea wall to protect a road in Florida’s Gulf Highlands National Seashore.
He said the idea would do more harm than good. Moreover, it wouldn’t work to protect the road. Scientifically speaking, it was simply a bad idea.
Young wrote a two-page scientific opinion and got the signatures of 25 coastal geologists from across the country to sign on before sending it to the head of park services. As a result of their combined input, the effort was abandoned.
Often, PSDS scientists are asked why they’re headquartered in the middle of the Appalachian mountains. McDowell seems well-trained on the response.
“Knowing what we know about global warming, sea level rise, and what happens on the coast, we feel a little bit safer here in the mountains,” said McDowell.
Another tangible benefit is being roughly equidistant from the east coast beaches of North and South Carolina as well as the Gulf. McDowell emphasized that people all over the world study coastal geology, whether or not they’re stationed anywhere near the coast.
Though he opposes the idea of sand berms, Young doesn’t have an answer on what would protect the Gulf Coast from the oil already creeping ashore.
Young is curious why the plan now isn’t to place sand on the barrier islands rather than in front of them. He emphasizes that traditional methods like booming and skimming should not be abandoned.
Young got especially vocal after the governor’s office of Louisiana applied for a permit from the Army Corp of Engineers to do massive engineering. He and his team had examined the proposed project and found major flaws.
“We were concerned about spending all that time and energy and manpower on a project that wasn’t going to work,” said Young. “...No one would be happier for me to be wrong than me.”
If the project had any hope of succeeding, its ancillary environmental effects would not matter. But Young sees a miniscule chance at success.
While other scientists probably agree, few have piped up.
“There are scientists all over the east coast and Gulf Coast, and I haven’t heard them,” said McDowell.
Young, McDowell and Griffith argue that there’s an obligation for scientists to share what they know.
“I think there is tremendous value in science intrinsically, but if we can share that with a larger audience, we can maximize benefit,” said Griffith.
For them, science — not politics — must guide efforts to clean up the oil spill.
A team of the best engineers and scientists should be consulted for every aspect of the response to the oil spill, according to Young.
“We should be putting them in rooms and brainstorming for ideas,” said Young. “We should have them on the scene in places — not so we can conduct yearlong studies —but so we can get as many ideas and eyes on this as possible.”
Griffith agrees that discussion on how to go about the cleanup should be a short part of the project.
“I think science’s perspective is valuable, but I think that part of the conversation needs to occur quickly and concisely,” said Griffith.
Grassroots efforts could also play a significant role, and Griffith said he’s sure there are citizen activists out there already cleaning up oil on their own.
Grassroots Mapping, for example, is using citizen volunteers to send up automatic cameras on kites and balloons to take photographs of the oil-stained shoreline. Those images are then stitched together to form a panoramic aerial shot.
“They’re not talking about what to do,” said Griffith. “They’re doing something.”