Giles Morris

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The census has been part of government since Roman times and it has the baggage to prove it. As the U.S. Census Bureau kicks off its 2010 effort, the federal agency is enlisting the help of local organizations to help communicate the message that an accurate count is crucial to the federal government and does not involve the sacrifice of personal privacy.

"It's extremely important that community organizations and local governments partner with the census so we can spread the word about how it works and what it does," Andrea Robel, community outreach coordinator for the Bureau's Charlotte office. "If a county has as few as 100 people uncounted, that's leaving millions of dollars on the table over 10 years."

Derek Roland, Macon County's planning director, has coordinated the complete count committee, which boasts participation from over 20 organizations around the county including immigrant populations. Roland said the county manager and its commissioners were adamant about supporting the census effort from the start. "Number one, it's about money," Roland said. "The census determines up to $400 billion in federal funds that come to counties each year and the more accurate our count is the more we benefit."

The U.S. Census occurs every 10 years as required by the U.S. Constitution and its aim is to count every resident, including non-citizens, in the United States. The 2010 census will be used to distribute more than $400 billion of federal money to local institutions. B.J. Wellborn, media team leader for a five-state U.S. Census Bureau office based in Charlotte, is in charge of coordinating the public relations effort in an area that includes rural Western North Carolina. The Census Bureau launches a 2010 Census Road Tour this month, which will visit Franklin in March. The Road Tour will communicate the importance of the census directly to the public.

"It's really an attempt to get around the state and visit neighborhoods, particularly neighborhoods in which we may have had a hard time getting accurate numbers in the past," Wellborn said.

During the road tour, an interactive bus featuring exhibits that show the history and significance of the census as a part of American democracy, will visit communities across the country. The U.S. Census Bureau has also undertaken a paid ad campaign that will begin airing in January. For most residents the U.S. Census consists of a 10-question form that comes in the mail. But in rural areas, where people often only have a post office box or an off-site mailbox, the response to mailed surveys can be difficult to guarantee. Wellborn said the last U.S. Census boasted the best numbers ever and she expects even better accuracy this year. Still, she acknowledged the importance of local partnerships with local governments in Western North Carolina.

To that purpose Andrea Robel, the Bureau's outreach coordinator, has gotten the help of county government to create "complete count committees" capable of leading a local, grassroots information campaign. Complete count committees have been established in Swain, Jackson and Macon counties. Haywood County elected not to form a local county committee citing budget restrictions. The job of the committees is basically to reach out to their constituent groups and urge people to mail back the census questionnaire in a timely fashion.

The census does not record tax or social security information and the laws that govern the census prohibit any proprietary information from being released. Still, the public perception that the government uses the census to get in people's business is hard to shake. Census questionnaires will be mailed in March. In April, the hard work of counting people who haven't responded begins.

That's where the local groups can really help the effort, according to Robel. The Asheville census office, which serves 11 counties in North Carolina and Tennessee, expects to hire between 900 and 1,000 local people to go door to door to addresses that have not responded to the survey. The canvass workers will be hired in their home counties and must pass a basic test and fill out an online application to get hired. Support from the local count committees will help residents understand the importance of responding to the questionnaire and make the census a success across the board. Historically undocumented immigrants and rural people without mail service are least likely to respond.

Those interested in census jobs can find application information at or by calling 866.861.2010.  The information is also available via the Employment Security Commission or


After months of hard work, Macon County’s steep slope committee shared its recommendations with the county’s planning board last week.

Now the question is whether the committee’s work will survive with its core principles intact if or when it is adopted by the county commissioners.

“There is going to come a time that the commissioners are going to have to step up to the plate,” said County Chairman Ronnie Beale. “This is the first opening of the book.”

A committee with a cross-section of building and environmental interests met 10 times over a period of eight months, but the initial meetings defined the mission.

“During the first two meetings we determined we would try to approach this from a public safety standpoint and from the standpoint of minimizing property damage,” said Al Slagle, the steep slope committee chairman.

That decision meant the committee would not consider regulating slope development for environmental or aesthetic reasons, said committee member Susan Ervin, a member of the planning board.

The recommendations include two sets of standards: one for slopes between 30 and 40 percent and one for slopes over 40 percent. Developers will have to hire an engineer when building on the steeper slopes, but in the middle window, county staff will perform in-house inspections.

The two-tiered approach was an attempt to minimize the cost burden on developers and the county, but Slagle said the committee also determined the county would need a more robust oversight apparatus.

“One of the things we decided was if we’re going to try to level the playing field, it’s going to take some additional county personnel to enforce things,” Slagle said. “Right now a lot of enforcement is based on complaints, and we felt we needed a way to track grading and land disturbance projects.”

A group of grading contractors, developers and builders attended the meeting to learn about the committee’s recommendations. Many of their questions centered on how the regulations would be enforced and how they would shift the cost burden for building on mountainsides.

One local builder asked the committee to consider the financial impact of their recommendations, citing a recent single family home project that required close to $20,000 in additional costs due to engineering fees. Others said the building industry couldn’t support more regulations in the poor economy.

Paul Shuler, a grading contractor who sat on the committee, explained the predicament of having no regulation over steep slope projects.

“I go out here and give a man a price according to the regulations and then this other yahoo comes in and puts a road in for a third of the cost,” Shuler said. “And it washes away three months later and they ask me to come fix it. We’re trying to get in on the same playing field so the roads don’t wash away.”

Stacey Guffey, former planning director and a member of the slope committee, put the discussion in perspective.

“You have to ask ‘What does it cost the builder? What does it cost the developer?’ But you also have to ask ‘What will it cost the taxpayers if we don’t do this?’” Guffey said.

Lewis Penland, chairman of the planning board, was pleased by the lively discussion inspired by the committee’s findings. He applauded the concerned developers and builders who voiced their opinions. He said the regulations are really aimed at contractors who exploit the system.

“I think the unfortunate thing about tonight is the people who should be here aren’t here,” Penland said. “I’m as mountain as anybody, and I don’t like regulation, but I can’t see any other way to fix the problem.”

The county planning board will debate the committee’s findings during next month’s meeting. The planning board can endorse all or some of the recommendations and decide whether to send them on for the commissioners’ consideration.

Commissioner Bobby Kuppers, the county board’s liaison on the planning board, applauded the committee’s work.

“It’s easy to do things that are easy. It’s easy to pick the low hanging fruit,” Kuppers said. “What this committee did was climb up the tree a little bit.”

Kuppers also foreshadowed the difficulties facing the commissioners as they balance the slope committee’s recommendations and the concerns of developers.

“You can’t keep dodging a decision just because it’s hard,” Kuppers said.

Chairman Ronnie Beale said steep slopes need to be dealt with, but he didn’t commit to a timetable.

“I think that steep slopes are one of those things we’ll have to address,” Beale said. “Is this the right time? I don’t know. But I don’t know that there will ever be a good time.”

Macon County’s proposed steep slope rules

For any development on slopes over 30 percent grade:

• Cut slopes over 8 feet in vertical height cannot be steeper than 1.5:1 ratio.

• Fill slopes over 5 feet in vertical height cannot be steeper than 2:1.

• No cut-and-fill slope can exceed 30 vertical feet.

• Fill must be compacted and cannot contain stumps and logs.

• For development on slopes between 30 and 40 percent grade, an engineer is not required but a site plan, showing the areas to be graded, cut/fill heights, drainage plan, is required.

• On slopes greater than 40 percent, developer must hire an engineer or design professional to create a certified plan. Engineer also required on slopes greater than 30 percent if they lie in high or moderate landslide hazard areas.

• The ordinance applies only to the portion of a tract that exceeds the slope threshold, not the entire tract.


A landslide at the Waterdance development in the Tuckasegee area of Jackson County washed out a road and dumped a significant amount of mud and concrete into the Tuckasegee River in early February.

Robbie Shelton, erosion control officer for Jackson County, estimated the slide laid bare a 75-foot-wide swath about 100 yards long. A retaining wall holding back a cut-and-fill slope above a road broke, and the resulting slide covered an entire lot at the development.

“It was just retaining too much water and the hydrostatic pressure caused it to fail,” Shelton said.

Shelton said the cause of the slide had not yet been determined.

Shelton said cold weather froze the slide and limited the effects of runoff. He also said the near flood levels of the Tuck’s West Fork may have minimized the impact by diluting the sediment. Shelton said there were no visible soil deposits downstream of the slide when he examined the river days after the event.

Water Dance is located between Tuckasegee and Glenville and is owned by Legasus, a mega developer that once held more than 4,000 acres in Jackson County. The developer fell victim to the recession and has faced numerous foreclosures over the past year.

The slide damaged a lot owned by Patrick Kennedy, who bought large acreage from Legasus during the company’s financial problems. Shelton said Legasus is currently working on a mitigation plan for the soil and concrete that entered the river, and the company’s engineers are studying the roadway. Water Dance was started before Jackson County passed a new, more restrictive subdivision ordinance, but its roads met county standards, Shelton said.

Shelton has received numerous calls about slides around the county as heavy rains and snow hit the mountains hard in February.

“These slides are occurring countywide,” said Shelton. “None as visible as this one, but I’m vetting calls every time it rains.”

Another slide closed a lane of N.C. 281 near Little Canada, and Shelton received reports of a third heavy slide near Whittier.


In the wake of the controversy surrounding the company’s proposed substation, Duke Energy representatives claimed they were unaware of the project’s potential impact on the Cherokee’s most valued site.

But Russ Townsend, historic preservation officer for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, isn’t so sure. Townsend received an archeological report that Duke conducted on the site of the substation in 2008.

“It basically clarified that Duke did know all of these things they were saying they weren’t aware of,” Townsend said. “That was disappointing. They’re not required by law to consult with me, but they’ve always said they wanted to be a good neighbor.”

Archeologically, the substation project’s interference with Kituwah presents an interesting dilemma.

The EBCI bought 309 acres around the mound site in 1996, and an archeological survey the following year discovered a 65-acre village site that confirmed a long term of settlement. The mound site and the surrounding village are listed separately on the federal register of historic places.

The mound, 170 feet in diameter and five feet tall, formed the base for the council house where the Cherokee conducted some of their most sacred ceremonies.

The Duke substation project is taking place on a surrounding hillside that is not owned by the tribe. Duke considers the project an upgrade of an existing line, and therefore is not bound to a public vetting process that would involve consulting with state historic preservation officials. The substation site covers a 300 by 300 foot square, and its structures will be 40-feet high.

But the Cherokee have argued the project directly threatens the integrity of the Kituwah site.

Tom Belt, who teaches Cherokee language and culture at Western Carolina University, explained that the concept of the Kituwah mothertown for the Cherokee would encompass the entire area within a day’s walk of the council house. Belt said the actual valley and its mountains play crucial roles in spiritual ceremonies held on the solstices and in the cosmology that support the tribe’s clan structure.

“On those days if you stand at the mound where the council house was, the very place the light hits first is on the seven peaks on that mountain where the substation will be built,” Belt said.

Townsend said the archeological report filed by Duke confirmed there were 15 important sites within a mile of the substation project, and two nationally registered sites within a half mile. Townsend said there are likely no artifacts left in the ground in the area, but the report, conducted by a private firm, leaves little doubt about its archeological significance.

“It’s my professional opinion that this is really a true adverse impact to Kituwah,” Townsend said. “It’s not just a site on a hill we don’t want developed.”


After a day of discussions between the leadership of Duke Energy and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the dispute over the construction of a proposed power substation near the tribe’s most sacred site remains unresolved.

Last Wednesday (Feb. 17) Brett Carter, President of Duke Energy Carolinas, led a delegation to the EBCI Council House to meet with members of the tribal council and Principal Chief Michell Hicks. The meeting was billed as a closed-door discussion between leadership of the two entities, but before it began a group of demonstrators expressing support for the tribe’s leadership was invited inside.

What followed was, according to participants, a formal and orchestrated dialogue in which Carter expressed his regret that Duke Energy had not consulted with the tribe before beginning the site preparation for the substation. But while Duke has admitted to poor communication and expressed a willingness to pursue mitigation of the visual impact of their project, they have also continued to work on preparing the site for construction.

“The work that’s going on at the site is grading and prep work, and that work is going to continue,” said Duke spokesperson Jason Walls.

While the tribe wants to see the substation moved to another tract, Duke asserts the visual impacts can be mitigated.

After the discussion between Carter and the members of the Tribal Council had finished, the council allowed a series of questions from the audience. Some were probing and others impassioned, but all of the tribal members who showed up wanted to make it clear visual mitigation wasn’t enough; they wanted the substation and line upgrade project moved off the hill.

Natalie Smith, a tribal member and Cherokee business owner who helped organize the demonstration, said she was grateful to the council for inviting them into the dialogue.

“You can’t do this here,” Smith said. “That was the bigger message.”

Chief Hicks also invited members of the Swain County board to the table. Swain County Commissioner David Monteith was not impressed with Duke’s communication with the leadership of the county or the tribe.

“I think they treated Swain County like a left-handed stepchild,” Monteith said. “Professional courtesy from a company of the size of Duke with a project that large would at least tell you to talk to the commissioners.”

George Wickliffe, a chief of the Oklahoma Cherokee United Keetoowah Band, sat in on the meeting, too.

“Kituwah is well documented as our Mother Town and due to its history, not only through such documentation, but orally and as a part of our religious tradition, is like the Garden of Eden to the Christian,” said Wickliffe.

After the meeting, Hicks said the tribe had already identified areas that could be used as alternative sites for the substation, but he wouldn’t comment on whether any definite alternatives had already been discussed.

“We’re still working on what our options are,” Hicks said. “I think they were sincere about the failure to notify us of the project. As far as negotiating, we won’t know until we see what options they present.”

Hicks said over the next two weeks Duke would submit plans to minimize the visual impact of their project, and the EBCI would offer Duke options for moving the site off the hillside.

Walls called the meeting “productive” and said Duke “left with a commitment to work on additional mitigation to minimize the visual impact” of the project.


Last week a confused set of Jackson County commissioners learned their new library may cost more money than they thought, but County Manager Ken Westmoreland said the administrative mix-up won’t result in a higher price tag than the one originally agreed upon.

“I think I’ve got the situation unraveled now,” Westmoreland said Monday.

When the scope of work for the library changed midway through the project, McMillan Pazdan Smith Architecture wanted a higher fee. While the firm failed to secure a signed contract from the county, commissioners did grant verbal approval, but forgot they had done so.

The library was originally planned as a brand new building located near Jackson Plaza, but community advocates later convinced the county to build the library adjacent to the historic courthouse downtown, and renovate the historic courthouse in the process.

According to Westmoreland, the original contract between McMillan Smith and the county awarded the architects 7.5 percent of the total project cost. But in October 2007, after the project was shifted to the courthouse hill, the architects asked for 8 percent. Renovations generally involve more work for architects and demand a higher fee by percentage. Architects also faced new site constraints and the challenge of blending a new building with the old one.

The county board voted to adopt the new billing rate, and the project went forward. But the architects never submitted a new written contract for the county to sign. As a result, the county’s finance department never got confirmation of the new rate.

County Finance Director Darlene Fox continued to pay at the contractually agreed upon rate of 7.5 percent. When the architecture firm completed a merger with another company, its accountants notified Westmoreland of the error last October.

“I think when they merged their books, that may have been when they discovered they were paying the different rate,” Westmoreland said.

At last week’s commissioner meeting, Westmoreland knew of the error, but he couldn’t explain why the county never got the updated contract.

Commissioner Tom Massie said that if the error wasn’t the county’s, the county should discuss the possibility of “splitting the difference” with the architecture firm. The board directed Westmoreland to get to the bottom of the confusion.

That’s when Westmoreland uncovered records from an old meeting when the board voted to approve the new rate. Westmoreland said the county was bound to honor the agreement and pay the correct rate for work on the project.

“I didn’t have a contract saying 8 percent and finance didn’t have a contract for 8 percent, but the bottom line is the board approved 8 percent and that’s what we obligated ourselves to,” Westmoreland said.

Westmoreland said the board will not have to vote again on the contract, and the county will pay McMillan Pazdan Smith at 8 percent for the work. According to the finance department, the project’s total price tag is $6,667,169 and the half percent adjustment on the fee will amount to $30,335.85.


Armed with an e-newsletter and an indefatigable entrepreneurial spirit, Eric Hendrix is determined to bring the fruits of the ocean to the mountains of Western North Carolina.

“The goal is to consistently provide fresh fish in the mountains, because you just can’t get it,” Hendrix said, who runs the aptly named Eric’s Fresh Fish Market on Back Street in Sylva.

But the real magic of Hendrix’s business is the way he has grown the project from an idea into an icon on a shoestring budget.

“The idea came to me when I was walking one day, and it was a full year and a half before anything happened,” Hendrix said.

Hendrix started the fish market in 2008 as a side venture to complement his salary teaching composition at Western Carolina University. When his contract wasn’t renewed last year, he decided to go all in selling fish.

“Necessity is a great motivator,” Hendrix said, laughing.

These days, Eric’s Fresh Fish Market is open Wednesday through Saturday. Hendrix gets deliveries from Inland Seafood in Atlanta twice a week.

His mission may be simple, but the reward it provides is varied. On a Wednesday afternoon Hendrix may have Scottish Salmon, Rain Forest Tilapia, Dover Sole, Costa Rican Mahi Mahi, Gulf shrimp, Virginia select oysters, and Maine Mussels.

Hendrix constantly preaches a mantra of freshness, quality and variety.

“You can eat beef, pork, chicken. Or chicken, pork, and beef, and there’s only three possibilities,” Hendrix said. “When you go into the ocean there’s thousands of possibilities.”

Inland Seafood has been a key to his ability to supply restaurant quality fish in a variety you don’t get at the grocery store. Once he identified a niche market for fresh seafood in the mountains, Hendrix hounded Inland to let him serve as a local distributor. Inland is a gigantic wholesale distributor that covers 12 states by truck. It serves the region’s best restaurants and specialty markets 90,000 pounds of fresh fish each week.

Mike Hulsey, Inland Seafood’s retail division sales manager in Atlanta, is a huge fan of Eric’s.

“I can’t even remember how he found us,” Hulsey said. “But he’s an enterprising individual, and I love the guy. He’s just interested in doing a better job than what the grocery stores are doing in providing fresh seafood with the real information customers need.”

Hulsey, who describes himself as a fish lover, said Inland sells to Hendrix because they believe in what he’s doing.

“It’s a breath of fresh air,” Hulsey said. “If a consumer calls from that area –– and this happens all the time –– and says, ‘Where can I get fresh fish?,’ I like having someone I’m confident sending them where I know I would buy the fish.”

For Hendrix, the distribution model is simple. Get the freshest fish you can and get rid of it as soon as you can.

“The fish you get from me is delivered to Inland the day before it’s delivered to me,” Hendrix said. “There is no middle man, and without the middle man the freshness is guaranteed.”

But Hendrix didn’t have the luxury of buying a fancy new space and filling it chock full of fresh seafood on giant beds of ice. He has employed a pay-as-you-go business model and grown the business slowly.

His greatest tool in that regard has been his weekly e-newsletter, which contains information about what’s fresh as well as the community business news of other downtown Sylva merchants. Hendrix has harnessed his skills as a networker and communicator to become a reliable source of what’s happening about town, and he’s growing his business at the same time.

“Networking is really crucial in any economy and in today’s economy particularly,” Hendrix said. “One of the goals with the newsletter is to market downtown Sylva as a real destination.”

With over 1,000 registered subscribers, Hendrix’ e-mail has turned into a marketing tool that drives the business forward. Sure, Gmail made him upgrade to a bulk account, but that’s good news, right?

Customers read his “Catch of the Week” email and reply with their orders. Hendrix knows how much to order from Inland and what people really want to buy, so seafood doesn’t languish in his shop.

David Liberman, a regular customer who reserves fish via email, raves about the market.

“I lived in Miami for years and used to eat fish there all the time, but fish in the mountains is a problem,” Liberman said. “I think of him as a blessing to the community.”

Liberman says he now eats fish once a week and looks forward to his stops at the market. Having grown up in Brooklyn, he likens the experience at Eric’s to the experience of grocery shopping in his youth –– a meet-and-greet transaction with food.

When you visit Eric’s Fresh Fish Market, Hendrix’s energy is evident. He greets all the customers by name. In the space of 30 minutes, you’ll see him cut up a salmon, tap notes on his newsletter, and sell a handful of Dover sole filets all while carrying on a conversation.

Hendrix isn’t an easy person to categorize. Raised as a military brat, he later spent four years in the U.S. Army. In the mid-‘80s he moved to Franklin from Kansas City, Mo., and started the first Mexican restaurant west of Waynesville.

After a divorce, Hendrix used his GI Bill credit to go back to school at Western Carolina University. A writer and songwriter, Hendrix got a master’s degree in English and Creative Writing from WCU in 2006 and looked forward to a long run as an assistant professor until his life took yet another new turn.

Sue Lipton is a vegetarian but she visits the market every week to shop for her husband, who favors its sea scallops and Scottish salmon.

Lipton said her loyalty to Eric’s is based as much on the business’s vibe as its product.

“I really, really appreciate the way he interacts with everyone,” Lipton said. “He always has time for everyone. The community is so important to him.”


There’s no way to prevent landslides in the mountains, but there is a way to make their impact on humans more predictable.

That’s the message that N.C. Geologist Rick Wooten and the staff of the North Carolina Geological Survey have impressed on the counties in which they have compiled landslide hazard maps. But while the landslide maps offer a vast amount of useful information for county planning offices and elected leaders, they don’t come with any regulatory directives.

That’s why two nonprofits, the Little Tennessee Watershed Association and South Wings, organized a fly-over of Macon County’s most significant landslides last week.

“You forget there are people who live below who can be killed,” said Jenny Sanders, executive director of LTWA. “It’s easy to get caught up in the language of the law rather than what’s really at stake — which is public safety.”

Close on the heels of a headline-grabbing landslide in Maggie Valley, the timing for the trip couldn’t have been better.

Macon County is currently at a crucial point in the process of developing a steep slope ordinance that would set firm guidelines for where and how developers can build on mountainsides.

Macon Planning Board Chairman Lewis Penland –– a grating contractor and a developer by trade –– is worried that the fallout from landslides will result in a blanket state-level solution if counties don’t find their own answers.

“Everybody talks about property rights but when your mountain falls on me, that’s a problem,” Penland said. “If we don’t handle this issue then the state will, and I’d prefer we do it ourselves.”

Penland said he was disappointed that none of the county commissioners participated in the fly-over and he worries they won’t support a strong enough ordinance.

“I just hope that Macon County has wise enough commissioners to realize that they represent 35,000 people and not make the mistake Haywood County made,” Penland said. “The staff needs a little support. They’ve been great. It’s time to take the leash off and let the dogs hunt.”

A steep slope committee has spent the past year drafting proposed regulations and will submit its recommendations to the planning board on Thursday, Feb. 18. The ordinance requires developers and graders to hire a certified engineer when building on slopes that exceed a certain threshold. Determining that threshold has been a matter of debate for the committee, however.

Under the final recommendation, the full weight of the ordinance will apply on slopes exceeding a 40 percent grade, according to the committee’s chair, Al Slagle. But the ordinance also creates a middle ground on slopes between 30 and 40 percent. In those cases, the county would have discretion to make a developer comply with various aspects of the ordinance. The landslide hazard maps will weigh heavily in the decision by county planners on how to treat developers falling in that middle range.

Jackson and Haywood counties already have steep slope guidelines. Jackson County’s steep slope ordinance applies on any slope above 30 percent grade and Haywood’s on slopes above 35 percent. Swain County has no steep slope ordinance.

One of the issues that has arisen with respect to the Maggie Valley and Wildflower slides is the financial burden placed on counties when slides originate on private property with a bankrupt owner.

Because homeowner’s insurance doesn’t cover landslides, there is a real financial threat to downhill property owners. Only strong policy guidelines can offer protection in those instances, by imposing security bonds or penalties. That’s a part of the discussion Sanders wanted the stakeholders to understand by actually seeing the proximity of homes to the path of recent slides.

“People think we’re trying to over-regulate or step into people’s lives, but it’s really about protection,” Sanders said. “Those people will likely end up in financial ruin and there needs to be something in place to protect them.”


No one expected Franco Rossi.

The Italian, raised in Milan in the shadows of the mighty Dolomites, stepped off the lift, unzipped his snowsuit, and mounted the start platform in bright yellow racing tights.

He had driven just under three hours from his home in a north Atlanta suburb to make the Thursday night slalom race at Cataloochee Mountain.

“Why do I do it? I don’t know? Maybe I’m crazy,” Rossi said. “How do you explain passion?”

Eleven seconds later it was over. That’s the thrill of ski racing. Focus, strategy, preparation, and then speed. Sure, it wasn’t the Olympics. It wasn’t the Alps. It was only a local race league on a Southern ski hill, but tell that to the people involved.

Pat Keller, one of the world’s greatest whitewater paddlers, laid out the course that night, lovingly tamping down the starting block with the back of his snow shovel as the racers took their start positions.

“You gotta love it,” Keller said. “In whitewater you’re generally using the same features on a given run. With this, you can play with it. Tweak it to where it’s most fun.”

The course was fast on Thursday. Cold temperatures had created a slick surface on the hill and the gates were set up in a giant slalom pattern.

Most of the racers competing in the Cataloochee Challenger Cup Series are locals, focused on winning grudge battles with their friends.

Judy Sutton and Richard Coker have been racing each other in one form or another on the Cataloochee hill since they were kids. Their grandfather started the ski mountain, and Richard and Judy perfected their telemark turns on the surrounding backcountry terrain.

“I think I get faster as I got older,” Judy said after Thursday’s race.

“That’s cause your skis are more expensive,” Coker said.

School age athletes have been racing at Cataloochee Mountain for 20 years. The Tuesday night middle school races draw as many as 150 participants on a given night. But the adult races started in 2005-06 as a way to keep skiers involved in the sport.

“We’re trying to create lifelong skiers,” said Paul Yaeger, race director.

Shane Clampitt helped start the Tuscola High School ski team in 1993. Now, Clampitt’s son races at Cataloochee and is a regular in the adult races. For Clampitt, the races are a way to stay in touch with something he’s loved his whole life and to pass the competitive spirit on to his child.

Hank Millar has been skiing at Cataloochee for 40 years. He races in the Challenger series and takes particular pride in beating Judy Sutton.

“He used to beat me all the time, and now I beat him most of the time,” Judy said.

Millar said he races because he’s still trying to get better.

“Everybody who’s passionate about skiing has a passion for getting better,” Millar said.

Richard Coker, still a part owner of the ski hill, sees the races as a way of teaching people that to ski well, you have to constantly get better.

“It’s easy to go downhill and turn, but the gates force you to do it in specific places and that helps your skiing,” Coker said. “I don’t think the racing will ever make us any money. We do it to create lifelong skiers and instill that idea in the kids.”

But Coker, Millar and Judy will all tell you that part of the reason they race is because they like to win. That’s where Rossi comes in.

Three weeks ago, he showed up on the mountain for the first time, an unknown quantity. Rossi moved to the Atlanta area from Milan 10 years ago to run an Italian-owned carpet fiber company. He grew up racing competitively at Madonna di Campiglio in the Dolomites, beginning his career at the age of 6 and racing in all of the alpine disciplines.

“It became a big passion for me and I raced at some good levels,” Rossi said. “I’ve never been a champion, but I was decent at the regional level.”

When Rossi agreed to move to Atlanta with his family, he thought it was the end of his career as a ski racer. But the itch never went away. He found a listing for Cataloochee’s Challenger Cup Series online and decided it was worth the drive.

“I thought I had to forget about it and ski a few times a year going back to Italy,” Rossi said. “It’s like a half a miracle being here.”

Half a miracle, maybe, and half attention to detail. Part of the reason the racing series at Cataloochee Mountain is so successful is the crew of people who work it care deeply about how the race turns out.

Paul Yaeger is a transplant who fell in love with the mountain during a vacation and has been working on it ever since he moved to the area. Yaeger directs a team of younger folks, teaching them how to organize an event, set up a race course, and encourage friendly competition.

Then there’s Keller. A junior world champion kayaker, he grew up on skis at Cataloochee where both his parents taught skiing. In fact, the sport was his first love.

He’s best-known now for riding his kayak over 120-foot waterfalls, but he credits his success in that sport in part to a knee injury he sustained as a 9-year-old at the Cataloochee ski hill when he mislanded a jump and tore his anterior cruciate ligament.

“From that point on, I had to focus everything on paddling, and that’s gotten me to the point I’m at now,” Keller said.

Keller spends his years chasing whitewater from North Carolina, to Colorado, to Oregon to British Columbia. In the off-season he trains, but this year a shoulder injury has kept him from training hard. So he’s working on the mountain, sharing a little of his competitive edge with the local ski crowd.

Every time a racer steps to the starting gate, Keller offers advice and encouragement.

“Keep your hands forward,” and “Set up your turns early,” and “Think you can beat 15 seconds tonight?”

A handful of people skied fast on Thursday. But Rossi taught the group the difference between really good skiers racing and a real ski racer. The course was slick and fast, but the Italian was slicker and faster, driving through the turns with his skis shoulder-width apart, never edging, always powering the perfect line.

Rossi doesn’t care too much about the times anymore. He’s tapping into a lifetime of memories.

“I’ve done it for so many years and there are so many good feelings and emotions associated with skiing and racing that I want to come here and feel it again,” said Rossi.

After the race, he drives home, arriving between 1 and 2 a.m., a schedule his wife tolerates.

“She’s a very good woman,” Rossi said.

As the competitors gathered in the lodge to hear Yaeger read out the results with proper enthusiasm, the skiers were still thinking about racing –– about Team USA’s chances at Whistler Olympics.

“We’re kind of upset (Lindsey) Vonn has a bruised shin, but we know she’ll ski through it,” Millard said.

Ski through it. Never quit. If there’s one ski value the South can claim as its own, it is a deep commitment to ski at any costs, rain or shine, at night, with or without snow. That’s a value Rossi has become a part of.

“My friends in Atlanta think I’m crazy,” Rossi said. “Some people like to go to Vegas. I like to ski.”


Macon County was the first to be targeted under a statewide initiative launched in 2006 to map areas prone to landslide in the mountains.

Over a one-and-a-half-year period, a team of state geologists led by geologist Rick Wooten surveyed 770 locations in Macon County and found 165 landslides evident from photo records between 1951 and the present.

The bulk of the slides have occurred on public land, on the highest reaches of the mountains. Landslide risk increases critically at 22 degrees of slope or right around a 40 percent grade, according to the data collected during the mapping project.

Macon County was the first to be systematically mapped because of the Peeks Creek slide, which killed five people when it ripped down the mountain for 2.5 miles. Watauga County came next because it has the most landslides recorded, followed by Buncombe because it has the most people. Jackson County is slated to be surveyed this year, with Haywood County next in the queue.

The landslide hazard mapping program creates a comprehensive database of historic slides and potential slide pathways that can be integrated with a county’s GIS maps. They can help emergency management officials plan evacuation procedures, but they can also help shape policy.

While Wooten said he is not in the business of making policy recommendations, he did have a definite idea of what his research has taught him.

“One thing that comes through in all the work we’ve done is there has to be a wholesale approach to where and how people build on steep landscapes,” said Wooten.


Jackson County Sheriff Jimmy Ashe may not have done anything illegal, but he’s stepped into the middle of a controversy in the run-up to his re-election campaign.

Ashe used state and federal money from narcotics seizures to operate an informal fund for youth sports. Ashe funneled money from the narcotics fund to youth sports teams without county oversight and outside of the accepted financial procedures followed by local governments.

While state authorities deemed the sheriff’s use of the money on sports was not illegal, the lack of oversight when making the donations violated General Statute 159-25(b), according to the Local Government Commission.

Jackson County has changed the way it administers its narcotics fund, effective immediately, in response to a letter County Manager Ken Westmoreland received from the Local Government Commission on Feb. 9.

“We had a conference with the sheriff, and we addressed to him that it was somewhat out of the norm in how we provide fiscal control, and he agreed very quickly to conform,” Westmoreland said.

The issue was initially brought to light by the Asheville Citizen-Times, which reported that Ashe had used the money from a tax on narcotics seizures in an unorthodox manner, based on financial records obtained through a public records request. Ashe spent more than $12,000 from the narcotics fund on youth sports between July 2007 and January 2009.

In addition, the sheriff used $20,000 from the fund to pay for a carpet in the sheriff’s office and $400 to get himself listed on a national “who’s who” list.

The investigation also discovered that Ashe rode a Harley Davidson seized from a drug dealer while off duty.

The N.C. Department of Revenue assesses a tax on illegal drugs seized by law enforcement. Sheriff’s and police departments get 75 percent of what is collected from drug dealers on cases they investigate.

According to Westmoreland, state and federal statutes governing the narcotics fund dictate the money must be used for drug crime prevention and enforcement, but allow room for interpretation. In Buncombe, Haywood and Macon counties, the money is used strictly for law enforcement expenses, and each expenditure is approved by county commissioners.

For the past 8 years, that has not been the case in Jackson County. Sheriff Ashe has used the money mainly to fund youth sports activities to keep kids off drugs. The spending was included in the county’s audit each year, and auditors have never cited it as an issue for concern.

The controversy surrounding the use of the narcotics fund hinges more on the sheriff’s failure to adhere to accepted accounting procedures than on his use of the money for youth sports.

The fund was administered by Capt. Steve Lillard, who signed the checks. The county’s finance department only saw the expenditures after the fact. County Finance Director Darlene Fox said the practice made her uncomfortable.

“I was only seeing the transactions after they occurred and not prior to,” Fox said.

Westmoreland said he didn’t stop the practice sooner largely because it had never caused problems.

“I don’t know where it originated. The implication has always been that this is a fund that amounts to a gift from the state or federal government to the sheriff’s office that can be used at the sheriff’s discretion,” Westmoreland said. “It has never really been an issue.”

Sharon Edmundson, director of fiscal management for the Local Government Commission, expressed her department’s concern over the practice in a letter to Westmoreland.

The narcotic tax revenues amount to a public fund held in an official county depository, so the county should treat spending from the fund the same way it treats expenditures from any other department, the letter stated.

In essence, checks were being written from county coffers without prior budget approval and with only one signature — and that lone signature was a sheriff’s captain and not an authorized finance officer.

“We recommend that the checks used to disburse these funds be signed by two county employees or officials authorized to sign checks and duly appointed by the Board to serve in that capacity,” the letter stated.

Since receiving the letter the county has closed the separate account for the sheriff’s fund and changed the policies governing its use. Now any expenditure will have to appear in the budget for approval by the county board and all the checks will be signed by Westmoreland and Fox.

Mountain or mole hill?

Now that the county has changed its procedures, Westmoreland believes the issue is settled except in the case of Sheriff Ashe’s use of the motorcycle. County logs showed the sheriff had put 1,326 miles on the motorcycle since its seizure.

Westmoreland has asked the sheriff to submit an official letter stating how he used the vehicle. The sheriff would be required to pay taxes on the mileage he put on the vehicle for personal use.

“It is an issue but then again it’s not an issue of great importance because if every mile was personal use, we’re still looking at less than $50 of tax money,” Westmoreland said.

Westmoreland also said as a constitutional officer, Ashe is exempt from the county’s employee policies and is, technically, always working on the public’s behalf, making the separation between public and personal use difficult to determine.

Edmundson’s letter addressed the issue of the motorcycle separately from the accounting issues.

“We also recommend that the County consider the payroll implications of the Sheriff’s personal use of a seized motorcycle; personal use of anything other than a clearly marked public safety vehicle or the clearly authorized use of an unmarked vehicle is generally a taxable benefit,” the letter stated.

Ashe did not return multiple phone calls requesting comment on the issue, but he defended his practice of using the narcotics fund for youth sports to the Asheville Citizen Times. Ashe admitted that the expenditure on the “who’s who” list may have been a mistake, explaining that he made the decision to raise the county’s public profile.

Some of the county commissioners in Jackson County are standing by the sheriff. Commissioner Tom Massie has been particularly outspoken in that regard.

“I can’t say it loud enough. I think it’s making a mountain out of a molehill when you’re talking about a man in control of a $50 million budget,” Massie said.

Massie also spoke to the motorcycle issue.

“It struck me as peculiar, the motorcycle thing, and perhaps indelicate,” Massie said. “But quite frankly, I accept the sheriff’s explanation that he was evaluating it for patrol use.”

The questions raised by the investigation and the response from the LGC centers mainly on whether Ashe used the money appropriately as an effort to prevent youth drug use or inappropriately to build a personal following with public money. Ashe is one of the highest paid sheriffs in the region, making $105,571 after receiving a significant raise from the county board last year.

The sheriff is up for re-election this year will face at least one opponent, Robin Gunnels, a Sylva business owner with a background in law enforcement.


Cooking with wine is familiar. Cajun chef Justin Wilson, one of television’s first real food celebrities, liberally tipped Chablis into his etouffe (who-wee), and Julia Child introduced America to the French style of cooking, deglazing and saucing with wine in the late 1960s.

But if beer is the new wine in Western North Carolina, then Heinzelmannchen’s beer-focused cookbook is set to open up a new conversation about the way the region’s signature beverage pairs with food.

“One of the en vogue things in the craft brewing circuit is to brew a beer that goes along with the food you eat,” said Heinzelmannchen’s brewmeister Dieter Kuhn. “And that’s been the style of beer we’ve brewed all along. It goes back to early times in Germany when you didn’t drink the water, you made beer out of it. And it was always on the table.”

Dieter and Sheryl Rudd are married and they run Heinzelmannchen together as business partners. Naturally their beer found its way from the brewery into the kitchen. Sheryl explained the genesis of their cookbook.

“We found ourselves pouring a little beer in everything, and my mother saw it and said,‘You really ought to start writing this down,’” Sheryl said.

Sheryl’s mother, Elizabeth Rudd, may not have known what she was getting into when she offered a word of advice in her daughter’s kitchen, but the task of organizing and editing the Heinzelmannchen cookbook eventually fell to her.

An experienced editor, it was Elizabeth who took on the challenge of turning Dieter and Sheryl’s collective effort into a published product. Along the way, the three of them found out there is a lot more to making a cookbook than cooking with a pen and an index card on the counter.

“One of the things we wanted to do is to make it more than just a cookbook,” Elizabeth said.

The result of Dieter, Sheryl, and Elizabeth’s work is a book that incorporates cooking techniques, recipes, and anecdotes into a kind of beer and food field guide. For example, the qualities of beer are dealt with in a succinct section called “Cooking with beer.”

“Hops add bitterness and acidity. Malt adds a subtle sweetness. Yeast produces a light fluffy texture, especially in batters. Yeast can also help to tenderize tougher cuts of meat,” one part reads.

That type of matter of fact, practical information helps you think about the possibilities of cooking with beer. But the cookbook also includes recipes that are tried and true, and the book is spiral bound so it can lie flat next to your stove as you try them out.

I tried the simplest recipe first, one for Mexican Cheese Dip, and I ate it during the Super Bowl and thought about all the delicious beer-infused “queso” that runs like a river through Austin, Tex. The Heinzelmannchen recipe yielded the perfect consistency. I tipped in a little more hot sauce and used the Ancient Days Blonde ale to my taste.

The stories that punctuate the book are fun and disarming, like the one about Dieter using the myth of the Henizelmannchen (German house gnomes) to defraud his little sister of her allowance for two years when he was growing up in Heidelsheim.

But the focus of the book is the recipes, which were generated around a nexus of popular favorites that Dieter and Sheryl cooked for their friends and family over the years. Naturally bratwurst and sauerkraut are on the list, and Dieter’s favorite birthday cake, Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte — a mouthful that turns into Black Forest Cherry Torte in English.

This is comfort food, which is really what beer is great for, and much of it has a distinctly German flavor.

“It’s not that it’s a German cookbook. It’s just stuff that we like to eat, cooked with the beer that we like to drink,” Dieter said.

Not all of the food is German-inspired. For example Dieter’s favorite dish — and the last to go in the cookbook — is the paella. The story behind the recipe exemplifies what Dieter and Sheryl are all about. They are community-focused, small business owners who love what they do.

Eric Hendrix of Eric’s Fish Market, their neighbor on Back Street, had a pile of beautiful shellfish for Dieter’s birthday meal and recommended they turn it into paella. Ross Lorenz, chef/owner of 553 West Main restaurant, said he’d help put it together. So the whole lot of them crowded into Dieter and Sheryl’s kitchen and produced the best paella this side of Valencia.

“They kept saying this has got to go in the cookbook,” Elizabeth said. “And I said it won’t make the deadline. And they said well just write it down now.”

Needless to say, it made the book. Dieter and Sheryl were anxious that the book be produced responsibly, and it was. Using 100 percent recycled materials, Rich Kilby of the Barefoot Press in Raleigh worked hand-in-hand with Elizabeth to design and produce a locally made product that’s friendly to the environment and chefs both.

The cookbook is available at Heinzelmannchen Brewery and City Lights Books in Sylva and may be available at Osondu/Blue Ridge Books in Waynesville and Malaprops Books in Asheville in the near future.


A disagreement over Duke Energy’s placement of a power substation near Cherokee’s most significant cultural site has instigated a meeting between the top leaders of the tribe and the company.

Principal Chief Michell Hicks, the tribal council, and the attorney general of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are set to meet with Duke Energy Carolinas President James Rogers behind closed doors on Wednesday (Feb. 17) to discuss the issue.

Hicks said he wanted to wait until after the meeting to discuss whether negotiations would involve visual mitigation of the substation or moving the project entirely.

“We want the land protected, and we want the viewshed protected,” Hicks said. “I don’t know where they’re at. Until I sit down with the president and hear where they’re coming from, I don’t want to comment on that.”

The ECBI owns a 309-acre Kituwah mound site, which was historically the tribe’s spiritual and political center. But it does not own the surrounding hillsides where the substation is slated to go.

In November, Duke began bulldozing part of a mountainside tract near the Hyatt Creek/Ela exit off the Smoky Mountain Expressway between Cherokee and Bryson City to prepare for construction of the substation. The mountainside is considered by the Cherokee to be a part of the greater Kituwah mothertown. Should the project move forward, it would mar a viewshed integral to the tribe’s cultural identity.

The EBCI’s tribal council passed a resolution authorizing Principal Chief Michell Hicks to seek outside legal counsel to attempt to prevent Duke from moving forward with the substation and a transmission line expansion near the Swain County site during its meeting on Feb. 4.

Since then, work at the site has continued. Some 15 members of the tribe traveled to the Swain County commissioners meeting last week in order to ask the board to join with the tribe in opposing the Duke project. The commissioners took no formal action.

“We don’t have any ordinance or regulatory authority to cover that,” said Chairman Glenn Jones. “If the Cherokee want to bring a lawsuit or whatever, we told them we would probably be willing to put our name to it.”

Representatives from Duke have said the substation and line upgrade was intended to serve the expanding demand for energy created by the growth of Harrah’s Cherokee Casino.

Company spokesperson Paige Layne cited a lack of communication over the issue as the point of tension.

“This was not something we initiated to cause harm,” Layne said. “Our goal was to provide energy to our consumer base. I guess the next step is to make sure we’re doing that with the utmost respect to the tribe’s culture.”

Wednesday’s meeting could clear the air, but it could also solidify differences between the tribe and the utility company.

Duke has already expressed its intent to resolve the issue through a plan to mitigate the visual impact of the substation on the mountainside. But the tribal council’s resolution cleared the way for a legal battle that could play out in the form of hearings before the North Carolina Utility Commission.


A Sylva teen club that sparked controversy two months ago by disseminating a flyer inviting high school students to “come as wasted as you want” has closed its doors.

In December, concerned parents brought 500 signatures to a town board meeting demanding that it shut down Club Offspring –– a private club for teens that held dances on the weekends. The club’s owner, Nathan Lang, defended his operation as an alternative ministry aimed at attracting “at-risk” youth.

The town board determined that it had no cause to shut the club down in spite of the petitions, but Mayor Maurice Moody admonished Lang about the wording of his flyer.

Last week, Sylva town manager Adrienne Isenhower confirmed the club had closed of its own accord.

“It wasn’t because of anything initiated by the town,” Isenhower said. “I guess the business was failing, and they couldn’t pay the rent.”

Isenhower said she learned the club had closed because Sylva police had stopped noticing any activity during the club’s hours of operation.

The club’s owner, Nathan Lang, used high-minded language to defend the club in the face of criticism from concerned parents.

“We see ourselves in the community not as a nuisance but as a place where teenagers can be who they are,” Lang said. “If anything, it’s a new doctrine attempt aimed at teenagers.”

Now the club has shut its doors, and Lang cannot be reached for comment.


Betty Miner was standing in her kitchen getting ready to fix supper last Friday when the pictures on her walls fell to the ground.

“I heard a sound and ran to where I heard it and that’s when the mud came up and splattered the window,” said Miner. “I thought an airplane had crashed right next to us or on top of the house.”

A 30-foot-high wave of mud and rock screamed by at 30 miles per hour, picking up any debris that lay in its half-mile path down the mountainside. While only four homes were damaged and no one was injured, Miner and her neighbors in Maggie Valley’s Rich Cove area were forced to evacuate after dark.

Teenager Shane Bryan was in his house watching TV when the slide hit.

“We grabbed the first things we saw and then they came to get us in the four-wheelers,” Bryan said.

The slide occurred around 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 5. Emergency responders were on-hand in less than a half hour beginning the work of evacuating residents from the path of danger.

Tammy Jones was trapped on the second story of her house after her ground floor was buried by debris.

“I heard it coming and knew what it was, but I didn’t have time to do anything but stand still,” Jones said.

Jones and her four dogs were eventually freed by rescue workers who dug their way in to a door on the ground floor to get her out and take her and the dogs down the mountain.

Cam Sutton said the slide sounded like “thunder coming down the mountain” and Tammy Rich described walking through mud up to her waist to check on her family members.

It was a night that none of them will ever forget.


Lingering threat

In the hours after the slide, the Haywood County office of the American Red Cross set up an emergency shelter at the Maggie Valley Methodist Church where eight residents from the landslide area slept Friday night. Others stayed with family or at hotels.

Ultimately, the area endangered by the slide included 13 homes lived in year-round, and another 24 that are second-homes and were unoccupied.

According to residents, on Saturday emergency management staff and staff from the North Carolina Geological Survey told them a retaining wall at Ghost Town gave way higher up the mountain and was likely the cause, but that they would continue to flesh out the details.

Church volunteers and area businesses helped sustain the displaced residents by furnishing meals. By Sunday, the shelter had closed and everyone had found housing elsewhere, but emergency management officials informed residents that anyone past the 600 block of Rich Cove Road should not return to their houses because the land above them was still unstable, posing the risk of a second, possibly even larger slide yet to come.

Betty Miner explained what she felt after the event.

“I’m just shocked that this could have happened,” Miner said. “Last night I finally slept. It’s a shock to the system and kind of a feeling of loss.”

Residents were briefed again Sunday night by emergency management personnel who had conducted a fly-over of the area accompanied by Rick Wooten, geologist from the North Carolina Geological Survey.

After reviewing the site from the area, Wooten estimated that 12,000 to 16,000 tons of material was still unstable at the top of the slide. With the weather report predicting four inches of snow on Wednesday this week, the area still presented a threat.

Some residents below the 600 block of Rich Cove Rd. chose not to leave their homes. Tammy Rich, who lives at the Sutton family home, wanted to stay on the mountain.

Rich said she and her relatives were aware of the danger the slide presented because they’ve lived with it for years.

“They told us stuff we already knew,” said Rich. “We knew there were problems with the retaining walls, because it’s happened three times before.”


The Cause?

On Monday, officials gathered the residents one more time at the Methodist Church to brief them on the situation. The shock and relief they had felt in the days following the event had begun to give way to a pressing need for clarity.

“The information stream has really slowed down,” Jones said. “We don’t know any more now than we did on Saturday.”

Cam Sutton, whose house was cut off by the slide had a simple question for Wooten.

“The cause?” Sutton said. “Do we know the cause?”

Wooten said determining the exact cause of the slide would take time. There were many factors, he said. Missing from his presentation this time around was any direct reference to Ghost Town’s retaining wall, however.

“This is an area that’s failed before. Twice at least and probably more than that,” Wooten told the crowd.

Using contour maps of the area showing the path of the slide, he explained the risks presented by the material still hanging from the top of the mountain.

But the residents gathered wanted concrete answers to practical questions. When will we know for sure what happened? When can we go home?

For Tammy Jones and Kurt Biedler, there is no going home. The foundation of their house was breached and their water system went down the mountain.

“I have no patience left,” Biedler said. “We’re 72 hours into an emergency situation and our house is not livable. The lack of information is unacceptable.”

Jones and others wondered why the owner of Ghost Town in Sky Amusement Park hadn’t shared any information with residents about what had happened.

“If it was my retaining wall and it fell on my neighbor, my insurance adjuster would be down there immediately interviewing the neighbors,” Jones said.

Jones and Biedler bought their house in May after moving from Savannah.

Jones said she has given up on returning to her house in the near future.

“I’m not interested in living below that,” Jones said. “It’s like a ticking time bomb.”

Cam Sutton, a lifelong resident who had to walk through the woods carrying his children during the Friday evacuation, was furious that Ghost Town’s owners have not met with residents yet.

“Ghost Town hasn’t been to one meeting. The community helped each other and stuck together, but the cause of this hasn’t shown up yet,” Sutton said.

Ghost Town’s CEO and a hired engineer have been involved in meetings with the county and state geologists.

“First and foremost we are very thankful and grateful no one was hurt,” Ghost Town CEO Steve Shiver said in a phone interview.

Sutton said he wants Ghost Town to make right the situation he believes it has caused.

“I would expect them to clean up the whole mess,” Sutton said.

Kim Czaja, executive director of the Haywood County Red Cross, told residents gathered at the church her staff would begin case management with people displaced by the slide on Tuesday morning.

“This is a long-term effort but right now our priority is your immediate concerns,” Czaja.

Czaja said she her staff would focus on assessing what displaced residents need and then would work to identify what resources may be available to them.

Tammy Rich spoke for the rest of the Suttons on Rich Cove Road.

“We’re just gonna ride out the storm,” said Rich. “What can you do?”


The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians may pursue legal action against Duke Energy after learning about the utility company’s plans to put an electric substation near Kituwah mound, the tribe’s most sacred site.

On Friday the EBCI’s tribal council passed a resolution authorizing Principal Chief Michell Hicks to seek outside legal counsel to attempt to prevent Duke from moving forward with the substation and a transmission line expansion near the Swain County site.

“I’m very disappointed with the lack of contact with Duke on such a large facility being built near our most important site,” Hicks said.

Hicks said he learned about the estimated $79 million project –– which he termed a “desecration”–– in late December and voiced his concerns to Duke’s regional manager, Fred Alexander. The ensuing discussions were limited, Hicks said.

In November, Duke began bulldozing part of a mountainside tract near the Hyatt Creek/Ela exit off the Smoky Mountain Expressway between Cherokee and Bryson City to prepare for construction of the substation. The mountainside is considered by the Cherokee to be a part of the greater Kituwah mothertown, which was once the tribe’s spiritual and political center. Should the project move forward, it would mar a viewshed integral to the tribe’s cultural identity.

Duke Spokesperson Paige Layne said the company was surprised about the concerns over the substation, which she said is being constructed in part to service Harrah’s Cherokee Casino.

“This was not something we initiated to cause harm,” Layne said. “Our goal was to provide energy to our consumer base. I guess the next step is to make sure we’re doing that with the utmost respect to the tribe’s culture.”

Layne said Duke Energy’s president, James Rogers, has scheduled a meeting on Feb. 22 to visit the site and to discuss the matter with Hicks.


Poor communication

The controversy over the construction of the substation emerged when the tribe’s administrators became aware of the scope of the project in late December. Duke Energy purchased the mountainside site in 2008 and a report of the Edison Electric Institute issued in January of the same year identified the Hyatt Creek Substation project as part of a larger $79 million transmission line upgrade that would nearly triple the voltage capacity on 17.5 miles of transmission line from 66 kV to 161kV.

When bulldozing work began late last year as part of the site preparation work, some of the tribe’s employees inquired about the project. The tribe’s legal office contacted the North Carolina Utilities Commission to find out what was going on.

Thomas McLawhorn, spokesperson for public staff at the commission, explained that Duke determined they did not need to file an application for the project.

“Duke has not filed an application, and I don’t believe they intend to,” McLawhorn said.

McLawhorn explained that Duke’s staff had determined that the upgrade project did not require an application under general statute 62.101, which governs the construction of transmission lines.

According to Hannah Smith, an attorney for the tribe, utility companies are required by the statute to notify a number of state agencies and file an application whenever lines of 161kV or more are involved.

McLawhorn said Duke made the determination that, as an upgrade, the project did not require an application, and therefore did not have to specify why the project was necessary.

McLawhorn did say that the North Carolina Utility Commission could impose an injunction on the project in response to an official complaint on behalf of the tribe.

“The commissioners could instruct Duke to cease construction of the facility until the commission has had time to investigate the issue and form an opinion,” McLawhorn said.

McLawhorn said Duke staff members informed him that the upgrade was driven by the need to provide more power to the Harrah’s Cherokee Casino.

Layne confirmed providing power for the casino and hotel expansion is the intent of the project.

“The area up there is growing and when we look specifically at the expansion of the hotel and casino, we need to bring in more service to the area,” Layne said.

Layne said Duke was looking at how they could have communicated with the tribe better.

“We have to better understand where in our process we could have taken more steps,” Layne said. “To us it was routine, and when we learned about the visual impairment, it was not routine.”


Is mitigation enough?

Last week the tribal council met to consider a resolution authorizing the EBCI attorney general’s office to pursue a course to stop the project.

Tom Belt, a professor of Cherokee Language and Culture at Western Carolina University, said Duke’s construction of the substation near Kituwah was tantamount to putting a McDonald’s sign near the pulpit of a church. Belt urged the tribal council to do whatever it could to protect the site.

“The Kituwah site is one of the most sacred things we have and I would submit that it may have been part of the reason so many of your forbears stayed here in 1838,” Belt told the tribal council.

Tribal council member Teresa McCoy put the issue in perspective for her colleagues.

“I like power, but this is bigger than power,” McCoy said.

According to Layne, Duke has already offered to mitigate the impact of the substation on the viewshed by using non-reflective steel, replanting the area with native plants, and using stone-colored material for retaining walls.

Natalie Smith, a tribal member who owns Tribal Grounds Coffee Shop in Cherokee, asked the tribal council to stand up to Duke and get the project moved.

“I don’t think we should compromise at all with Duke,” Smith said. “I think they’re counting on us not to know the law and I think they’re counting on their Fortune 500 lawyers beating us.”

Hicks seemed to share that sentiment during the meeting.

“The bottom line is it’s a disrespect to our tribe and a disrespect to the people of Swain County,” Hicks said.

Russ Townsend, the tribe’s historic preservation officer, believes Duke should have done more to communicate its plans.

“We’re constantly gathering data that shows Duke has had more opportunities to share more information with us,” Townsend said.

Townsend urged the council to exhaust its resources in defending the site.

“This is our most important site. We’re only ever going to have one Kituwah,” Townsend said. “I don’t think there’s any resource we shouldn’t expend to make Duke realize the importance of the site.”

The meeting between Hicks and Rogers on Feb. 22 could determine whether the state’s largest power company and one of the country’s most wealthy tribes will face off in court over the issue.

The United Keetoowah Band of Oklahoma released a statement denouncing Duke’s failure to communicate with all of the Cherokee bands that hold a stake in the cultural legacy of Kituwah.

EBCI council member Perry Shell said all Cherokees should band together to protect their mothertown.

“United we stand a better chance of fighting this,” Shell said.



The Macon County board has four commissioners and one chairman. This year, the seats of two commissioners and the chairman are up for re-election. A party primary in May will narrow the field to one Democrat and one Republican for each of the three seats. Each commissioner represents a geographic district in the county, but the county chairman is elected at large.

With three seats on the Macon County board up for grabs this year, all three of the incumbents have said they will run again. Macon County Chairman Ronnie Beale, Franklin-based Commissioner Bob Simpson, and Highlands-based Brian McClellan will seek re-election.

Beale said he wants to finish work the current board has started.

“I’ve been a part of implementing a lot of things from the mental health task force to the completion of the new school, and there’s still some things I want to see through,” Beale said.

Beale said the economic development commission is working well in Macon County and taxes have remained among the lowest in the state. He is concerned about the impact of declining retail sales tax revenue on the county. Beale said has taken pride in the capital projects completed during his last term –– including the new early college building at Southwestern Community College, a series of school upgrades and the modification of the old library into a center for the elderly.

Commissioner Bob Simpson has also said he will seek re-election to a third term on the board.

“In this economy we’re going to have to have experience on the board to keep taxes low,” Simpson said.

Commissioner Brian McClellan was reached briefly just prior to press deadline and confirmed he intends to run again.


Leaders of the town of Dillsboro and members of Western Carolina University’s faculty unveiled the framework for an ongoing partnership that will help Dillsboro build a business identity.

Discussions between former mayor Jean Hartbarger and WCU Chancellor John Bardo last year led to interest in a partnership that would turn Dillsboro into a learning lab for WCU’s College of Business while providing the town with much-needed resources at a difficult moment in its history.

Reeling from the loss of the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, the force behind Dillsboro’s tourist-driven retail economy, and from the highly publicized and protracted struggle over its dam, the town is looking ahead at an uncertain future.

Last week, WCU public relations professor, Dr. Betty Farmer, and Dillsboro Mayor Mike Fitzgerald announced to members of the public at the Applegate Inn the outline for the partnership. Nearly 20 members of WCU’s teaching faculty were present at the event, and they took turns explaining how they would use their students to accomplish tasks that would benefit the town over the course of the next year.

Building from a consulting project the town undertook on its own, WCU’s business college plans to start by targeting “low-hanging fruit.” By increasing the town’s Web presence, creating a town newsletter, developing a schedule of common business hours, and strengthening the ties between the campus community and the town, the project would move towards creating a distinct marketing strategy for Dillsboro by the end of the year.

“We want you to know that this is the starting place and not the be all and end all,” Farmer said.

Farmer explained that the town has to have a strong voice in the partnership and that none of the solutions identified by classes would be imposed on merchants or the town leadership.

In keeping with that principle, one of the primary functions of the business college will be to conduct surveys of the town’s vendors and customers to develop a statistical framework for marketing decisions.

Brenda Anders, a town merchant who runs Dogwood Crafters, was pleased by what she saw.

“I was impressed by everyone’s excitement and I’m really surprised by WCU’s level of involvement,” Anders said. “It’s been like that at every meeting.”

Students in WCU’s public relations program, Garrett Richardson and Lauren Gray, showed their enthusiasm for the project by explaining how they could help create a vibrant e-newsletter linked to social networking sites.

“In two or three sentences, can you differentiate between Facebook and Twitter?” one resident asked.

The success of the partnership will likely rely more on the strength of the relationship forged between the community and the students and faculty at WCU than on their abililty to harness social media sites.


Sometimes you have to go away to come home again.

Way up Coweeta Gap in south Macon County is a place at the end of Shope Road called Sanders Knob. Paul and Lara Chew live there in a cabin that was built around 1850, and for Lara, the homestead represents an ironic intersection of her ancestral roots and her living present.

“I grew up hearing all the stories she told and I wanted to come back and see the place,” Lara said. “Once I saw it, I wanted to be here.”

Lara’s grandmother was a Jones from Jones Creek who married Monroe Sanders and moved to the gap. Monroe Sanders died, alongside Cicero Shope, after the two men quarreled over a hog around the time the fence laws changed. The old cabin that Paul and Lara live in now was Cicero Shope’s home.

After the killings, Lara’s grandmother moved the family to north Georgia to work in the mills there. They lived the simple life, raising hogs and chickens, tending gardens, and foraging for wild edibles to augment what they brought back in pay.

When Lara was growing up in Georgia, she learned how to live in the country, but like other young people her age, it wasn’t what she wanted for herself. She wanted modern things, a larger world. At least for a while.

After a career as a schoolteacher and raising children, Lara began to yearn for the old home place she had heard about throughout her life. Lara and her late husband, Jesse Jackson, moved to the Shope cabin in 1989 from Gainevsille, Ga.

The cabin was uninhabited, covered in honeysuckle, its windows blown out and the hearth turned into a copperhead den. Jesse and Lara bought the place and 50 surrounding acres. To stake their claim, they had to kill seven copperheads the first weekend.

“We just sort of camped out here until we could really live in it,” Lara said.

Back then, the cabin was off the grid in the old sense. Lara and Jesse lived there for 12 years without electricity. Lara worked in the Macon County school system and Jesse worked for a long time as a groundskeeper in Highlands. There were nights when the snow would filter though the walls and cover the bedspread.

When the couple was home, they took care of their goats and chickens and Lara taught herself to forage for wild edible and medicinal plants.

Jesse died and Lara stayed on the place, committed to the ground her ancestors had cultivated.

Inspired by Evell Gibbons’ book Stalking the Wild Asparagus Lara found ways to make use of the things that grew on her land.

“I realized there were so many things to eat that no one used anymore,” Lara said.

This year the Chews made a batch of pokahickory from 200 pounds of hickory nuts foraged on their land. After a crushing, a soaking, and a boiling, the nuts produce a rich drink that tastes a bit like hot chocolate.

Lara has also taught herself to make baskets from pine needles and sundry other skills. Using the land is important to the Chews.

They have raised hogs, chickens and goats, made their own butter, cheese and head cheese. They grow their own corn and grind it for meal. They operate their own sawmill for lumber. They bake their own bread in a clay oven they made out of the mud from their creek. They use a composting toilet.

Lara doesn’t like to waste anything, not even chicken feathers, so she’s learned how to tan chicken skins and turn them into hats.

“We’re not isolationists,” Lara said. “I think one of the things I like about the way we live is I can have my cake and eat it too. I can have the adventure my grandparents had, but I can also get in the car and go to town.”

Paul Chew’s path to the Shope’s cabin was also a windy one. Having grown up in Los Angeles in the ‘60s the child of an ecologist and a botanist, Paul moved to Athens, Ga., for high school. He was a hippie and had a yearning to connect to the land. But he eventually got a degree in metal work and settled into a life teaching high school metal shop in Oglethorpe County.

Still interested in the agrarian lifestyle, Chew started an organic farm. He threw himself into the lifestyle, but found he didn’t have time to enjoy what he was doing.

“It was very demanding. I was busy all the time,” Chew said. “I guess Lara kind of rescued me.”

Paul and Lara met at the John C. Campbell Folk School and he later followed her back to the homestead.

“It was pretty amazing,” Paul said. “The cabin and the solitude here.”

Lara and Paul’s careers as teachers haven’t stopped. They now welcome young people affiliated with the World Organization of Organic Farmers to their home throughout the year –– they had nearly 30 WOOFers last year –– to learn how to live with the land.

For Lara, teaching young people how to live off the land is about preserving knowledge.

“To me it’s ‘Don’t let the information die’,” Lara said. “I know there are books out there, but it’s not the same as learning the way it is.”

But Paul, who remembers a formative trip to the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona as a child, believes living off the land is also about finding internal confidence.

“The motivation for this kind of life is doing what you have to do to survive,” Paul said. “It’s really about the confidence that you’re not just depending on other people around you.”

Having grown up with professors, Paul says his own mission is intimately linked to the environmental movement.

“What we’re about here in part is learning how to live more lightly on the earth. We’re trying to evaluate what our impacts are on the land,” said Paul.

The energy behind the Chews homestead now comes from a sophisticated water-powered turbine system that produces 1,200 kilowatts per hour. Paul has worked alongside the Chews’ neighbor to divert a mountain stream through a filter into an 800-foot pipe that feeds the twin turbines.

The electricity is stored in a battery bank that connects to the hot-water heaters in the two cabins on the property and powers the lights and laptops.

The Chews also drive a converted electric car that boasts a pop-up solar panel on its roof for summer driving. Paul is constantly tinkering to gain a mechanical advantage on nature.

Meanwhile, Lara Chew has authored three children’s books, much of the material based on stories she heard from her grandmother. There is nothing simple about the Chews except the rules they live by.

“Whatever comes out of the land, we try to put back in,” Lara said. “Nothing is wasted.”


Lydia Aydlett first moved to the mountains of Western North Carolina during the height of the back-to-the-land movement, and it’s taken her all the time since to understand why living a sustainable life is so important to her.

Aydlett grew up in the eastern part of the state, near Elizabeth City, during the 1950s and ‘60s. She moved to the Piedmont region with her husband, a banker, and when the marriage failed, she decided to make a change.

“I was really interested, even then, in finding alternatives to the intense consumption that had been taking place all around me,” said Aydlett.

Aydlett bought a white farmhouse and 25 acres and moved her two young children to the area between Sylva and Cullowhee in 1978.

“We’d been through the ‘60s so there was a lot of ‘f—- the establishment.’ Feminism was a part of that for me and of moving myself to the mountains by myself with my kids,” Aydlett said.

What Aydlett found in the mountains of Western North Carolina was a sense of community.

“This was the back to the land time. Lots of returning Vietnam vets. There were people from around the country who had come to this area to live the homestead life,” Aydlett said.

Aydlett had friends who lived in teepees and broken down barns and there was still music in the air. She remembers chanting and spinning at Sufi dances held at Caney Fork Community Center, where the good ole boys would come to watch them and drink beer.

“It was a bunch of hippies who were thoughtful people and were trying to sort things out,” Aydlett said. “Some of them are still around.”

But while her experience in the early ‘70s gave Aydlett a taste for rural living, she didn’t necessarily get close to the environmental principles she espouses today. For instance, at that time, the thought of killing a chicken for food disgusted her.

“I was working full-time and raising kids and just kind of scrambling to keep life together,” Aydlett said.

Having gotten a master’s degree at Western Carolina University, Aydlett worked with young children with developmental disabilities and raised her family.

It was when she went back to school again at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill to pursue a doctoral degree in 1984 that Aydlett rediscovered her fervor to live life differently.

She spent her time in Chapel Hill in a co-housing community that espoused sustainable living in close quarters.

“That community boosted my consciousness and let me know that this could be done,” Aydlett said. “And when I say ‘this’ I mean living a sustainable lifestyle. One that’s more self-contained and has a shorter feedback loop.”

When Aydlett came back to teach at Western Carolina, she sold three acres and the white farmhouse and began work on building a sustainable homestead high on the ridge on Robertson Mountain.

Friends of hers from Chapel Hill helped her build a 16-by-16-foot cabin that ran off of solar power, had a composting toilet, and well-water driven by gravity.

Living in the cabin was an intermediate step, and it taught Aydlett a lesson about what she wanted. She didn’t want to live THAT simply.

Now her house runs off solar electricity and has a solar water heater which Aydlett augments with a propane generator and a propane stove. She has a dishwasher, a television, and a pro-audio system.

It’s not about living an austere life, Aydlett said, but about being connected to what you use.

“If I use too much electricity I know it. If a person in a conventional house does, they just have to pay a little bit bigger bill,” Aydlett said.

Aydlett has begun growing her own vegetables in a large terraced garden above her house, which she feeds with rainwater. After collecting water in rain barrels under her downspouts, she pumps it uphill to a holding tank so she can use gravity to water her beds.

Aydlett also maintains a small goat herd, 20 chickens, and one large Great Pyrenees to keep them safe from coyotes and wandering pit bulls.

Last week she killed a rooster for the first time with help from friends, and she’s getting used to the idea of doing it again. As Aydlett has matured, so has the environmental movement. She marvels at the political infrastructure in place now to advocate for sustainable living.

But she has come to believe that it’s the practical day-to-day connections to the earth that are most valuable to her.

“I’m really glad [the movement] is out there, but it’s not the same as being aware that because we’ve had three cloudy days the battery bank has gotten low,” Aydlett said.

Aydlett still works part-time as a counselor of children. She is by no means a hermit on her mountaintop. Her life has taken her on a journey, and now the ideologies that drove her decisions in her youth are taking root in new ways.

“I don’t hold to the ideologies with the same fervor as I did then but they certainly have fed my growth and helped create my path,” said Aydlett. “It’s more of a feeling thing than a thinking thing now.”


Macon County Chairman Ronnie Beale knew the county had a problem when two young working mothers contacted him directly following the closure of a daycare and unable to find openings elsewhere.

“They were saying ‘We don’t have anywhere to send our children, so what are we supposed to do?’” Beale said.

Beale chartered a committee in February of 2009 to explore the causes of Macon County’s suspected childcare shortage and last week the group released its findings.

The verdict? Macon County doesn’t have enough affordable, quality childcare, particularly for those under 2 years old.

Chuck Sutton –– executive director of Macon Program for Progress, a federally funded nonprofit that provides childcare for 315 children –– chaired the committee. Sutton said he and the other people with experience in childcare had a strong feeling about what they would find when they began the study.

“I think there were several of us that had the feeling there was an existing problem but we couldn’t put numbers to it,” Sutton said.

In rural areas, the low population density makes it difficult for daycare providers to turn a profit because the costs of hiring licensed personnel and paying for insurance are too high. Meanwhile, for working parents paying $125 a week per child for daycare, throw in a mortgage and car payment and they can barely afford groceries.

“You can’t really drive the price down because that’s what it costs to care for a child properly,” Sutton said. “So the providers and the parents are working against each other.”

The study, using 2008 population statistics, showed there were 1,147 children under 2 years old in Macon County. Working from the assumption that half were cared for by a stay-at-home parent or other family member, the study pegged demand in the county at 574 slots for infants and toddlers.

But the current capacity is well short — only 210 spaces, the majority of which are reserved only for low-income families. That means over 300 families are stuck on waiting lists or are sending their children to unlicensed providers.

The county enlisted the resources of a long list of state and regional agencies in the study –– including Department of Health and Human Services and the Southwestern Child Development Commission –– and amassed a thick volume of findings that pointed to the reality that good childcare is an important part of early development.

Macon Program for Progress, Sutton’s organization, supplies the bulk of the slots for children under the age of 2, but the federally funded programs are only available to families that meet federal poverty guidelines.

The result is that the families in the middle suffer.

“Our programs are income-based and what we find is the families who are just above those income guidelines are the ones who are most at a disadvantage in this system,” Sutton said.

Now Sutton and the other members of the committee are hoping the county can find a creative solution to fix what is essentially a broken childcare economy.

Sutton hopes they can follow the lead of Jackson County, where Harris Regional Medical Center has worked in conjunction with private businesses to provide a daycare facility.

“We want to see some business or industry-based employers take up the call and say they’re going to invest,” Sutton said.

Public-private partnerships are another model, like a childcare facility at Haywood Community College that serves as a teaching institution for students in early childhood development. Also in Haywood, the school system partnered with a childcare center where teachers are given first priority.

Beale said the county would be willing to work on providing a space for a private daycare provider and would continue to work with the state to see if there was any money available to drive a solution to the problem.

“We’ve done the report. We have the need. Now what?” Beale said.


“Barbecue is all about slow and low,” said Blackrock BBQ owner and pit master James Aust. “The secret’s in the rub, and I can’t share that.”

Barbecue, as a food, lends itself to mysterious discourse, in part, because it’s so simple. Pork shoulder butt (or whole pig) cooked in a smoker until it’s poised to fall apart. For purists, the nuance of flavoring with smokes and rubs is where the art is.

Sylva has a new repository for that art thanks to Aust and his partner in crime Chef Jay Horton. Aust recently purchased the building that used to be Lee’s Barbecue on NC 107, renovated it, and started a whole new kind of shop.

“It just kind of fell into my lap. Lee was looking to get down to one restaurant, so I talked to him about it and thought I’d give it a try,” Aust said.

Horton and Aust met in the kitchen at the Cedar Creek Racquet Club in Cashiers where they worked last summer. Horton, raised in Canton, has 21 years of experience in fine dining and got his start cooking at Ghost Town when he was 16.

“The only other thing I’ve found I’m good at is putting money into the cash registers at a convenience store,” Horton said.

Aust, an Army brat who’s spent the last 16 years of his life in Sylva, was going to school to become a teacher when he decided to take over Lee’s. Blackrock BBQ and Grill has been open for less than a month now, but it’s already packed during the lunch hour with a mix of Lee’s loyalists, WCU students and staff, professionals from the hospital complex and members of local law enforcement agencies.

The barbecue is Eastern North Carolina style pulled pork and they serve it with both vinegar and hot pepper sauce and sweet tomato-based sauce on the table.

Aust cooks the dry rubbed cuts of pork for 15 hours in a smoker, and the result is delicious. Barbecue in the mountains, unless you’re at someone’s house, is often a dicey proposition. The economies of scale that make for barbecue meccas in places like Lexington don’t exist, and the result is often meat that is rushed or over-sauced.

The pork at Blackrock is spot on. The dry rub adds a distinctive signature that isn’t distracting, and the smoke flavor doesn’t overpower the meat. One of the great things about whole pig barbecue is the crispy bits of skin on the outer layer and the strands of pork underneath coated in the rendered fat. When the meat is pulled, it yields a range of textures from crisp to succulent and fatty.

“Slow and low” sounds easy, but getting the right seal on the pork is crucial and you can tell Aust know his work, because the meat pulls right and arrives on your plate in a neat little mound of crispy-edged hunks.

Horton prepares all the sides and a la carte items, like collard greens and hand-cut potato wedges, from scratch and to order. The pulled pork platter comes with two sides and hush puppies for $7.50. The beans were the second star of the show, tangy and sweet with the same distinctive spice signature as the rub.

Another huge upgrade to the Lee’s experience is the total interior renovation that Aust’s father, Jim, contributed to the project. Jim has transformed the kitchen into a clean, efficient stainless steel commercial space and the front room into a rustic, hand-worked wood parlor with four spacious booths and five two-tops.

“We wanted to make it a rustic clean place to sit down for a good meal,” said Aust. “ Everything in here is hand-made, just like the food.”

Aust and Horton plan to add Memphis-style spare ribs and catering to the operation in the near future. They also cure their own bacon for their BLT’s and burgers. Mmmmm, bacon.

The two partners are happy to be out of the fine dining world and confident in their product.

“It’s the kind of food we love to fix,” Aust said. “Just good old Southern food.”

Find them on Facebook or call 828.586.3490.


When Daniel Allison III learned last May that General Motors wouldn’t renew his franchise agreement, he couldn’t believe it.

“Shock,” Allison said. “I think you go through being angry and then, once I got through all my feelings, I worried about how it would affect my customers.”

The letter stated that GM would discontinue Allison’s dealership franchise in October 2010. Ever since, Allison has been working hard to fight the decision and to find a backup plan.

He traveled to Washington, D.C., at the invitation of Congressman Heath Shuler to testify about the impact of the recession on small businesses in rural areas. He urged them to help small car dealers, particularly in light of the auto bailout for the big guys.

“It concerns me how this recession has affected small business,” Allison said. “A lot of the small rural dealers are just one group of casualties.”

When Congress ordered that GM grant arbitration hearings to its discontinued dealerships, Allison preserved hope and fought for a reprieve.

But in late March his last chance for survival as a GM dealer evaporated when Allison’s Chevy wasn’t selected by the automaker as one of 600 dealers nationwide to receive reinstatement letters.

“Prior to the arbitration, we’d been pursuing what our Plan Bs would be in order to keep as many employees as possible and keep the operation as similar as it could be,” Allison said. “We’re excited with what we’ve come up with.”

Last Monday, Allison opened a co-branded Meineke Service and EconoLube automotive garage to replace the GM service center once housed at the dealership. Meanwhile, he will sell a wide range of certified used vehicles on his lot, with a focus on offering varying price points.

“This has opened us up to a whole range of makes and models we haven’t serviced before,” Allison said.

The GM label may be gone, but the Allison name will remain a part of Sylva’s automotive landscape. Allison’s grandfather, Dan Allison, Sr., started the business in 1935 and since then, Allison’s has been selling GM cars in Sylva.

When the recession hit, Allison was confident he could weather the storm. But GM’s bankruptcy proceedings led to the auto giant announcing that it would close over 1,000 dealers. Allison’s fate as a GM dealer was out of his hands. In December, he began laying off staff.

“We basically held on as long as we could in case we could be reinstated,” Allison said.

In 2008, Allison’s Chevy had 17 employees. Today the number is down to eight, but Allison said he hopes to grow the business back as the economy strengthens. In the meantime, there’s the process of rebuilding a third-generation family business.

“It’s been a wild adventure trying to reinvent it,” Allison said. “I don’t think there’s any way you can realize ahead of time how many challenges there are.”


A fire at the business of a Jackson County sheriff candidate last week has cast a shadow over the race.

Robin Gunnels, owner of Custom Truck Covers in Sylva and a Democratic candidate for sheriff, believes the attack on his business was no coincidence.

“There’s things that led up to this that lead me to believe it was politically motivated,” Gunnels said.

The fire originated in a garage where Gunnels stored his campaign materials, which were destroyed in the blaze. With his signs gone and his business shut down, Gunnels is wondering how he will afford to run the rest of his campaign for sheriff. Gunnels insurance does not cover fire.

The Sylva Police Department confirmed last week that the fire is under investigation for arson.

“The fire is suspicious. There’s no doubt about that,” Sylva Fire Chief Mike Beck said.

The fire was discovered in the middle of the night on Sunday, March 21, when Sgt. George Lamphiear noticed water running out from under garage doors at Custom Truck Covers on East Main Street in Sylva. Lamphiear looked closer and saw heavy smoke inside the business. He called dispatch, and the Sylva, Cullowhee, and Savannah fire departments responded.

“The fire was about out by the time the fire departments got there, because it had taken out a water line or two,” said Beck. The fact that the fire had burned through the water line may have saved the building.

Gunnels said he got a call from Lamphiear notifying him his business was on fire. By the time he arrived at the scene, the damage was done.

Gunnels said he has no idea who started the fire, but after weeks of receiving harassing messages at his home and business, he is sure it is connected to the sheriff’s race.

Gunnels was once a lieutenant with the Jackson Sheriff’s Office but left the force soon after Ashe came into office eight years ago.

Gunnels estimates he lost $150,000 of property that include his election materials and parts he sells at his shop. Because many of the parts Custom Truck Covers sells were plastic, almost nothing was salvageable.

“I’ve lost a lot of equipment and I’m just trying to salvage what I can,” Gunnels said.

Gunnels said the fire would not deter him from pursuing the sheriff’s race, and he thanked the Sylva Police Department for their fast response.

“George was on top of his job. He saw something that wasn’t right, and he acted,” Gunnels said.

The Sylva Police Department has advertised a $2,500 reward for information.


“It’s the oldest constitutional office in the state,” said Eddie Caldwell, executive vice president of the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association. “We had sheriffs in North Carolina before we had counties.”

Just because something is old, doesn’t mean it’s good. Increasingly, critics of the sheriffs’ office have wondered whether it should still be an elected position and, if it must be, whether it should require law enforcement training.

But defenders of the sheriff’s office think it’s a crucial part of state democracy.

The word “sheriff” –– derived from “shire reeve” –– is a holdover from America’s colonial past and has its roots in medieval England. Shires, or local government units, were overseen by three officials: the earl, the sheriff, and the bishop.

In North Carolina, the sheriff is written into the state’s constitution as an elected office.

Across the nation, popular election is the almost uniform means of selection of the sheriff. Sheriffs are elected to four-year terms in 41 states, and the race is partisan in all but one.

According to Fred Wilson, director of the National Sheriffs’ Association, only 20 of the country’s 3,083 sheriffs are not elected. Wilson believes sheriffs should be elected to preserve the democratic process.

“We believe the people should have a choice in who provides for the public’s safety,” Wilson said.

Whether sheriffs should be elected or not, most agree there should be minimum requirements for who can run. In North Carolina, even a convicted felon can run for sheriff, and this year, six candidates around the state are doing just that.

In addition, sheriffs aren’t required to have any law enforcement training or experience, despite serving as the county’s top law enforcement official.

Robert Joyce, a lawyer and faculty member at UNC- Chapel Hill’s Institute of Government, said it’s up to the state constitution to spell out requirements for elected office.

“If you meet those qualifications, you are eligible to be elected,” Joyce said.

There is only one criteria currently imposed for elected officials: they must be eligible to vote for the office they seek to hold. In North Carolina felons who have served their full sentence regain their right to vote and, therefore, to serve as sheriffs.

To require additional credentials, the state would have to amend its constitution.

Eddie Caldwell likes the system the way it is, except for the part about felons.

“The Sheriffs’ Association believes the best arbiter, the best decision-maker of who ought to be sheriff are the residents of the county,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell said the office’s basic requirements are integrity and the ability to provide leadership. Because the separate skills associated with today’s sheriff’s departments are so varied, law enforcement experience can’t be the basis for election.

“There’s a variety of experience that is necessary to successfully serve as sheriff,” Caldwell said. “And we believe the people should decide who they think has the right combination of skills.”

That apparently didn’t work out so well in Buncombe County, however, where voters re-elected Sheriff Bobby Medford despite his underground dealings in an illegal video poker racket, which he was eventually sent to jail for.

As for felons on the ballot, Caldwell said the sheriffs’ association supported a bill it lost by a vote in the General Assembly last year that would put forward a constitutional amendment to ban them from the office. The association plans to lobby for it again this year.

John Midgette –– executive director of the North Carolina Police Benevolent Association, which represents 4,500 police officers around the state –– thinks the office needs more updating than that.

“It’s a system that’s archaic and dates back to when we were a colony of England,” Midgette said. “While many sheriffs are fine individuals, we have a system in this country that essentially defies the checks and balances system.”

Midgette believes the first step in reforming the office is to ban felons, but he also believes the office should require some level of law enforcement training or give up the power of arrest.

“If you’re going to give someone the powers of arrest, the citizens should be assured that the person has the appropriate training to exercise that power,” Midgette said.

Midgette believes the job description of sheriffs has evolved dramatically while the definition of the office has remained frozen in time. Sheriffs’ deputies traditionally functioned as jailers and court bailiffs and performed limited law enforcement functions. These days, though, sheriff’s departments do everything from enforcing traffic laws to operating drug interdiction programs to child abuse investigations.

The office has expanded and so has the need for training.

“The bottom line is, with all due respect to sheriffs, in the early 1950s when the office was codified, I don’t think anyone expected the sheriffs’ departments to be full service law enforcement entities,” Midgette said.

Bob Scott, who reached the rank of captain in the Macon County Sheriff’s Department, also believes that if the sheriff’s office is to remain an elected position, it should lose its law enforcement responsibilities.

“In Western North Carolina, the most expensive political race for county office is always the sheriff,” Scott said. “Should a sheriff be accepting contributions from someone he may some day have to arrest? If it’s a big contributor, do you think that might affect the way they enforce the law?”


Voters in the Democratic Primary in Jackson County must choose which of the four candidates profiled below should advance to the November election. Two other candidates, Mary Rock and Tim O’Brien, plan to run in November as unaffiliated candidates, but won’t be on the ballot for the primary.


Jimmy Ashe, 50 • Sylva resident, Jackson County Sheriff

Jimmy Ashe has been the sheriff of Jackson County for eight years, but has worked in the office since 1981 when he started his career as a jailer. Ashe served in a range of positions and worked his way up to Chief Deputy in 1997. He was elected to the office of Sheriff in 2002 and re-elected in 2006.

Ashe said his goals for the coming term include opening a new south central district substation to better serve the Caney Fork, Little Canada and Tuckasegee communities. He also wants to create a sheriff’s advisory committee with representation from each community in the county.

“Being from here and educated here, I know the community,” Ashe said. “This is my home. I know the needs then, now, and in the future.”

Ashe said he chose to run again because he is young and has more to offer the county.

“To settle for anything less than experience, education, background, and commitment would be going back in time in an ever-advancing society,” said Ashe.

For more information:


Robin Gunnels, 45 • Cullowhee resident, business owner/WCU police officer

Robin Gunnels is a small business owner with 15 years of law enforcement experience. Gunnels worked in the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office for seven years, rising to the rank of lieutenant. He left after Ashe made him a jailer and reduced his pay.

For the past eight years, he has run his own business, Custom Truck Covers in Sylva, and worked part-time as a police officer at Western Carolina University.

Gunnels said he is running for sheriff because he wants to incorporate his experience as a businessman with his experience as a law enforcement officer to provide better service to the citizens of Jackson County.

“The experience I’ve gotten in retail sales and service has given me a different view of the public,” Gunnels said. “That combined with what I learned in law enforcement gives me a good foundation for the work as sheriff.”

Gunnels said he would like to re-focus the existing personnel at the sheriff’s office in areas of special expertise –– like elder abuse, cyber crime, and drug enforcement –– to optimize service. He also said he was committed to changing the impression that the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office is unfriendly.

“None of the officers look happy,” Gunnels said. “When you’re out dealing with the public, you have to go out there with that attitude that you’re helping people.”

For more information:


Marty Rhinehart, 49 • Sylva resident, excavator/floor tech

Marty Rhinehart is the owner of an excavating business and also works as a floor technician for Westcare at Harris Regional Hospital. Rhinehart has worked for both the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office and the Madison County Sheriff’s Office.

Rhinehart said he is running for sheriff because he wants to establish closer ties with the community.

“I believe if you dig deep into your community and serve the people of your county, the people will help you any way they can,” Rhinehart said.

Rhinehart likened Jackson County’s problem with drug dealers to a berry patch attracting bears.

“Drug dealers are like an old bear. They will hang around a berry patch, but if you take away that berry patch, that bear will leave,” Rhinehart said. “Jackson County has been a hub for drug dealers for years.”

Rhinehart said he intends to lead the sheriff’s office by example if he is elected.


Radford Franks, 55 • Savannah resident, bail bondsman

Radford Franks has spent the last 10 years working as a bail bondsman and bounty hunter in Jackson County. Prior to that he spent 20 years working as a builder in the southern part of the county.

Franks said he is running for sheriff to make the office more accessible to the people of the county. He intends to implement a system that will redistribute sheriff’s deputies more equitably throughout the county, particularly to the Cashiers/Glenville area. Franks also said he intends to meet regularly with community groups throughout the county.

“I am not saying I can solve all your problems. I can’t,” Franks said. “But I am saying I will meet with the residents of each community, in their respective community centers, to discuss the problems or concerns they have for their community.”

Franks also said he would not tolerate preferential treatment in his administration.

“I believe everyone deserves fair and equal treatment regardless of race, political views, or social level in the county. I will strictly enforce this policy and hold my deputies accountable for their actions.”


Mary Rock 42 • Sylva resident, bail bondsman

Born in Macon County to parents from Jackson County, Rock has spent her professional career between the two counties. After serving with the Military Police from 1986 to 1988, Rock attended Western Carolina University and received her basic law enforcement certification. The 42-year-old Sylva native has worked as a bail bondsman in Jackson County for the past 12 years.

Rock said she wants to bring professionalism and equity to the sheriff’s office.

“Since I was a child I’ve seen a lot of things I didn’t think was the best way to run that office and I waited a long time to see if anyone would change that,” Rock said. “I decided this year that I wanted to do it myself.”

Rock said running unaffiliated was a way of de-emphasizing the political nature of the sheriff’s office. She said her experience has shown her that political influence can affect prosecution in Jackson County.

“It seems to be a highly political position and it should be a service position,” Rock said.


Tim O’Brien 40 • Cashiers resident, private investigator

O’Brien has worked as a private investigator for the past two years. After growing up in Franklin, O’Brien got a degree in criminal justice administration from Western Carolina University and then spent eight years as platoon leader of a military police unit. He was honorably discharged in 1999 with the rank of 1st Lieutenant. O’Brien later served as a patrol officer in the Highlands Police Department, a detective with the Macon County Sheriff’s Department, and a special agent with the State Bureau of Investigation assigned to Western North Carolina. He has 17 years of law enforcement experience.

O’Brien said he wants to bring a new level of professionalism to the sheriff’s office that will take politics out of it.

“I have no political ambitions beyond being the Sheriff of Jackson County. I do not intend to serve on numerous political boards; my intention is to spend my time serving and protecting the citizens of Jackson County,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien said his experience as a business owner and law enforcement officer make him particularly qualified for the office of sheriff.

“I feel my seventeen years of law enforcement experience in patrol, investigation, and administration, combined with my business experience, makes me uniquely qualified for the office of Sheriff.


For years, Appalachian Trail thru-hikers have been stopping in Franklin for supplies, rest, and Internet access, but last week the town solidified its place as a trail destination. Mayor Joe Collins signed a proclamation accepting the town’s designation as an Appalachian Trail Community at the invitation of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy at a celebration event in the town hall.

“It’s such a natural fit. We’ve always appreciated the hikers and hopefully this will allow us to broaden our relationship with them. Hikers are great people,” Collins said.

The Appalachian Trail passes 11 miles from Franklin at its closest point near Winding Stair Gap. Franklin’s position 100 miles from the trail’s southern starting point makes it a natural stop for hikers making the 2,170-mile trip from Georgia to Maine.

Appalachian Trail Conservancy Board Chairman Robert Almand described the magic feeling of discovering the AT as he welcomed Franklin into the greater community of the trail at the ceremony last week (April 23). Almand told the story of his first encounter with the trail in the ‘80s while picking up trash near Moody Gap on Earth Day.

“I noticed the AT ran through there, and I went down the trail a little ways to explore and kept seeing those white blazes,” Almand said. “I realized I could walk all the way to Maine if I kept going.”

The Appalachian Trail is one of America’s true pilgrimage routes, stretching nearly the length of the East Coast and attracting some 2,000 thru-hikers each year.

Franklin became the first location in the South to receive the ATC’s designation as an official trail community. The effort was driven by the Nantahala Hiking Club — whose volunteers maintain the 80 miles of the AT between Bly Gap and the Nantahala Outdoor Center — the Franklin Main Street program, and by local businessman Ronnie Haven.

The trail has been both a passion and a resource for Haven, who owns and operates a group of motels between Franklin and Georgia.

“At age 16, I thought I could walk to Maine and back before school started, but I didn’t make it but to Pearisburg, Virginia,” Haven said.

Haven was one of the first Franklin-based business people to embrace the trail hikers as customers. His hotels are known as a stopping point, and Franklin’s trail celebration “April Fools Trail Days” owes its genesis to the hiker bash Haven has hosted at the Sapphire Inn for the past six years.

Haven’s bash includes trail advice from legends, music, and demonstrations of mountain cultural activities, like five-string banjo picking and clogging. Haven said the new ATC designation would allow the town to take on the role as cultural ambassadors of the Western North Carolina high country.

“There’s people who come here from all over the world, and some of them never heard tell of some of the things like we do,” Haven said.

The Appalachian Trail Community designation is a new program designed to promote the economic benefits of the trail to nearby communities and to foster local stewardship of the trail. In order to qualify, communities must meet two of four requirements. Franklin met all four by creating a trail advisory committee, hosting an annual trail event, initiating an AT-focused education program through the school and library systems, and getting the county planning department to commit to consider the trail in its land use plans.

Nantahala Hiking Club President Bill Van Horn hailed the effort as confirmation of Franklin’s commitment to the AT motto “Join the Journey.”

“Today Franklin has truly joined the journey,” Van Horn said.

Van Horn spearheaded the trail advisory committee, which spent the past year meeting to plan local efforts around education and trail stewardship. Along the way, the committee conducted an informal survey of thru-hikers. The survey found that, on average, thru-hikers stay 1.4 nights in Franklin and spend $124 during their stay.

Both the town of Franklin and Macon County have shown strong support over the past year for becoming an official trail community, but it’s the Nantahala Hiking Club and its volunteers that have undertaken the hard work of maintaining the AT over the years.

Don O’Neil, the NHC trail manager, is one of the many volunteers who maintain the 47 miles of trail that run through Macon County. For O’Neill, who hiked the AT in sections between 1981 and 1991, the motivation to maintain the trail is a sign of gratitude for the experience it provided him.

“I’m just giving back what I got out of the trail,” he said.

As the newest Appalachian Trail Community, Franklin is doing the same.


The Jackson County Courthouse, Sylva’s most distinctive building, was built in a rush.

C.J. Harris, a prominent industrialist and wealthy Sylva businessman, bankrolled the $50,000 project in 1914 in return for the county seat being moved from Webster to Sylva. Harris had it modeled after the Madison County Courthouse and got it built in a year.

Transforming the historic building into a community space and anchor for a new county library has taken considerably longer. After a decade of debate, a year of planning and another year of building, the Friends of the Jackson County Main Library hosted a tour of the construction site last week to showcase the progress.

“We’re combining something that’s very historic with something that’s brand new,” said Betty Screven, a volunteer with Friends of the Library. “While it’s going to be modern in its technique, it will be historic in feel.”

Construction Manager David Cates of Canton-based Brantley Construction said the project will likely miss its December target for an opening date as a result of poor weather and complications with restoring the courthouse cupola.

“Our first 90 days of the project, we had 62 days of measurable rainfall,” Cates said. “We’ve worked around our elbow to get to our foot to get construction completed.”

Cates said the project will finish in the early part of 2011, but the tour showed that all the elements of what will be a regional showpiece are in place.

“This isn’t just going to be great for the people of Jackson County. It’s going to be great for Western North Carolina,” Screven said.

Architect Donnie Moore and interior designer Lynne Wilson of Macmillan, Pazdan & Smith have pored over historic records to revive the feel of the Jackson County Courthouse in its original state. The building was gutted during a renovation in the ‘70s and almost no original features remain. Love and Wilson used the Madison County Courthouse, which has kept its original character, as their model.

The new complex will feature three separate architectural spaces unified by recurring design elements. The old courthouse will be converted into a community space that will house the county’s historical and genealogical societies, the arts’ council, and catering kitchen. The historic courtroom itself will be renovated as an auditorium complete with vintage theater seats that will double as a community meeting room.

A giant addition will be built to the rear to house the new library. A glass atrium will connect the two and serve as the entrance to the complex. The atrium is to carry the name of the State Employees Credit Union Foundation in gratitude for their $250,000 grant.

The two-story rectangular library addition will be open to the ceiling in the center, showing off stunning stained glass skylights.

To offer some sense of the upgrade the new building represents, its children’s section will be larger than the entire current library. While the current library is drab-colored and lit by fluorescent light, the teen reading area on the second floor of the new library will feature a funky purple and orange design scheme, coffee shop booths, and a view of the Plott Balsams.

Jackson County Librarian Dottie Brunette, was inspired to become a librarian by her mother, Ada Moody Brunette, and by long-time county librarian Sadie Luck. Brunette said touring the construction site left her awe-struck.

“My mother, who’s the reason I’m a librarian, is hugging herself somewhere,” Brunette said.


Fundraising nears home stretch

The Friends of the Library is 90 percent of the way to its fundraising goal of $1.6 million to furnish and outfit the library.

As of last week, donations and pledges totaled over $1,440,535.

“It’s been a very grassroots effort, and the community has responded,” said Mary Otto Selzer, co-chair of the committee that led the effort.

Donations to the capital campaign fund may be made at the Jackson County Public Library in downtown Sylva, Friends of the Library Bookstore at 536 West Main Street, through the Friends website, or mailed to Friends of the Jackson County Main Library, P. O. Box 825, Sylva, 28779-0825.


The best of USA Canoe/Kayak’s whitewater team will descend on the Nantahala River this weekend intent on making a clear impression about their Olympic aspirations.

The Bank of America Whitewater U.S. Open (March 27-28) is the first measuring stick in the paddling season that will intensify at the U.S. National Trials in Wausau, Wisc., and culminate in a trip to September’s World Championships in Tace, Slovenia.

Twenty-year-old Asheville native Austin Kieffer, who’s spent his whole paddling career with the Nantahala Racing Club Rhinos, relishes the chance to make that impression in the slalom competion in his own backyard.

“It’s always exciting when the season starts up. It’s exciting to be racing again and it being on home turf is just really fun. I hope it gives me an edge,” Kieffer said.

Kieffer races K1 or single kayak, and as he’s moved from Asheville’s Carolina Day School to Davidson College, he’s kept his eye on one prize –– a shot at the 2012 Olympics in London.

“I want to be on the team this year,” Kieffer said. “I hope it’s kind of a transition year for me.”

Kieffer, currently on the national developmental team, is one of the only local racers challenging for a K1 spot with Team USA this year. Western Carolina University grad and two-time national champion, Scott Mann, should also feel right at home on the Nantahala Outdoor Center course, and Vermont native Brett Heyl will be eager to re-establish his place as the country’s best slalom racer.

Kieffer thinks this year is his chance to step up his career by beating the big boys, and he believes the U.S. Open and the Charlotte Open at the National Whitewater Center the following weekend (April 2-3) will help him gauge how much ground he’s made on the rest of the field in the off season.

The back-to-back races pose different challenges to what will in all likelihood be a near identical group of competitors.

“Nantahala is a sprint, and there’s not much variability,” Kieffer said. “Charlotte is big and powerful, and it’s more explosive. There are more areas where people can really make time or lose time.”

The U.S. Open is a classic whitewater slalom race and Nantahala Racing Club coach Rafal Smolen, who raced for Poland before coming to the U.S. to coach, has a reputation for setting courses that test the competitors. But Smolen said the Nantahala’s natural features won’t create a lot of separation between the top contenders this weekend.

“Usually it’s a really close race even if the course is set up right,” Smolen said.

In contrast, Smolen said the man-made course in Charlotte is one of the world’s most demanding, capable of punishing technical mistakes heavily and testing the conditioning of the athletes.

Austin Kieffer hopes a good result on familiar water at the U.S. Open will set the stage for him to showcase his power on the concrete river in Charlotte.

“I’m a little bit bigger athlete compared to some of the other paddlers, so I think that can make it a bit more forgiving on the bigger course,” Kieffer said. “But it all depends on that day of racing. Who’s on their game and who’s off.”

No matter how you look at it, the U.S. Open is one of the classic showcases in the sport of whitewater racing, and the event will bring some of the world’s best racers in both slalom and wildwater classifications to Western North Carolina to show off their skills.

In whitewater slalom, the paddlers will negotiate 14 downstream gates and six upstream gates — in under two minutes. If they touch a gate, they incur a two-second penalty.

In wildwater racing, the competitors paddle down river as fast as possible.

After a winter in the gym, all of the paddlers will be happy to be back on the water, and for spectators, a day at the races is the perfect way to ring in spring.

“There’s no slalom race in the region as big as this race,” Smolen said. “If you want to see the best competitors in the sport, this is the place to come.”

For race schedules go to or for info on USA Canoe/Kayak go to


A couple of weeks ago I wrote a news story about how animal rescue organizations are being inundated with unwanted pets in the down economy. I didn’t, however, get a chance to say why I care. So here’s a happy story about how we found our wondermutt and how she found her forever home...

I resisted getting my own dog for a long time. Bethany started suggesting that we adopt one after moving to North Carolina in November. But really, we both thought, how could we get a dog? You can’t vacation with a dog. You have to walk them a million times a day. They take time and money and long-term commitment. What if we move again? What if it hates the cats?

Some of our questions were excuses and some were valid concerns, but, looking back, I realize we were goners at that point.

We followed for a few weeks and eventually found our way to the Sarge’s Animal Rescue Web site. It’s fun looking at dogs online. How much is that doggy in the window? Free, well practically, with a small donation to a rescue organization.

Maybe I want four huskies so they can pull me through the streets on skis in winter. Maybe I want a German shepherd I can train to start my car for me or pin down marauders. Maybe I want a golden retriever to fetch my slippers... I’m sure Bethany had her own fantasies as we grew up around different breeds. We both knew that we wanted a big dog.

There is something abstract about online shopping, even for objects, so, on a chilly gray weekend in January, we went to one of Sarge’s Saturday adoption events. Lena was standing in a cage in the back. Her name was Buttercup then, and we had already identified her as a potential candidate for our family from her headshots.

There were other cool dogs at the adoption. A pair of black German shepherds. A tall redbone hound. An adorable Plott mix. But Lena stood out, a leggy blonde on her hindlegs with her big paws resting on the edge of her cage.

Come see me, she was saying, wagging her tail and smiling. I know that all dog owners claim their dogs can express emotions, but trust me, Lena can smile.

I went to her, and she put her paws on my chest and started to speak.

Aaaaar aaaar aaaar. Lena speaks Malamute.

That was it for me. I was hooked. Lena rubbed her head against Bethany’s chest, and I could see she was hooked too.

We couldn’t take Lena home right away, but Bethany and I talked it over and decided that we wanted her. We had to figure out some logistical stuff, gather dog supplies, and figure out what to do with the cats. The application process was thorough. We emailed back and forth with Diana Ritter, a Sarge’s volunteer, and talked to her at length about Lena.

Diana told us what she knew of Lena’s story. They found her at the Haywood County Animal Shelter. She was later adopted twice from Sarge’s and returned. Diana’s theory was Lena had scared her first owner’s other dog, because she was so dominant. The second couple to adopt her had a hard time keeping up with her exercise requirements.

The wonderful thing about Sarge’s is that they don’t give up on the animals they rescue. If something doesn’t work out, you are free and encouraged to return the animal at any time. So Lena was safe from being turned in to the pound again, but her failed adoption trend was worrying.

We went to visit Lena once more at a local kennel where she was being boarded. She wasn’t the same dog we met the first time. In fact, she freaked out. She wouldn’t come near us, no paws on our chest, no talking, and no smiling. I didn’t know if it was a smell or the surroundings or what, but that instantaneous recognition I had felt the first time I saw her was gone.

Still, she was so beautiful. And now she was intriguing too. Mysterious. A long, lean mutt who smiles and talks... when she feels like it.

After spending some time with her at the kennel we were able to get a few face licks, and she showed a willingness to be scratched. And so, seeing as how no one wanted her and we still did, we took her home.

Lena is now a full member of our family and a best friend to us both. She and the cats are getting along... almost. She sleeps in our bed. She comes with me to work some days. She wakes Bethany up with kisses. She requests belly rubs on a regular basis. She speaks Malamute to us and smiles. We have our very own Wondermutt, and we have Sarge’s and their dedicated volunteers to thank for it.


The Macon County Planning Board voted unanimously March 18 to forward the recommendations of its steep slope committee to the county commissioners.

“What I would like to ask is that the planning board take this document before the commissioners and say, ‘This is the basic idea, let’s develop an ordinance,’” said slope committee chair Al Slagle.

Slagle and the other members of the steep slope committee spent the better part of a year hammering out the underlying principles of the proposed regulations.

The county commissioners will have a chance to review the committee’s findings at their meeting on April 12 and decide whether to send it back to the planning board with directions to draft an ordinance.


There are two voices inside Sylva storyteller and playwright Gary Carden. One belongs to the mountain man of letters whom author Lee Smith coined “the Appalachian Garrison Keillor.” The other belongs to an orphaned child who clung to a pink transistor radio to make it through the lonely nights on Rhodes Cove.

“I was a damned lonely little kid, and I’d turn that radio on and it was like a bright night light,” Carden said, his voice turned sweet on the memories of his favorite ‘50s radio shows.

Carden is one of the most recognized literary voices in Western North Carolina largely because of his ability to communicate the authentic experiences and cadences of a mountain culture that is nearly vanished.

As an artist, the tension in Carden’s work is grounded in the double-consciousness of a man who knows firsthand the feeling of being “found wanting” and who still expresses pride in his heritage.

“I kind of turned into a missionary of some kind because I felt it was my job to communicate my culture,” Carden said. “Can you tell people about mountain dialect and the way my granddaddy lived without communicating ignorance?”

For Carden, the question is personal and not abstract. His father drove an oil truck and played in a mountain band until he was shot dead in his own garage by a loafer drunk on wood alcohol.

“It was an accident that didn’t make sense. That’s the kind that bothers you forever,” Carden said.

His mother, only 18 at the time of the killing, left him with his grandparents and went to Tennessee.

While his story is the type of Appalachian biography that reeks of authenticity, Carden reckons what makes him real isn’t his personal tragedy so much as the shared pain of growing up ashamed of his own voice.

“My granny warned me –– and most mountain people know this –– when I got out of college,” Carden said. “’Garneal,’ she said. ‘When you get out of here, you’ll be weighed and you’ll be found wanting.’ And she was right.”

Last weekend, Carden staged his play “Nance Dude” at Western Carolina University’s Coulter Auditorium to benefit the Friends of the Jackson County Main Library. It was the second performance of the two-part library benefit featuring actor Elizabeth Westall in two one-act plays that draw a line between history and folklore.

“It’s a special category. It’s history becoming folklore,” Carden said of “Nance Dude.” “There comes a time when people start decorating the facts and at some point the history becomes folklore.”

The play showcases two of Carden’s innate gifts: his ear for Appalachian dialect and his ability to normalize the brutality of dark mountain history with humor and humanity. “Nance Dude” re-tells the true story of a Haywood County woman convicted for the murder of her granddaughter.

Carden rem-embers his own grandmother explaining to him why his grandfather “didn’t laugh much.” She told the story of Kirk’s Raiders shooting down his great-grandfather in cold blood and leaving the body on the front porch.

“When my grandmother told me that story, she’d pull me right to her face and say ‘Don’t you forget what they did to Bryant,’” said Carden. “And of course I think that’s one of our greatest flaws as a culture ... the way we carry grudges.”

But “Nance Dude” also gets at the root of why Carden, now in his 70s, still burns hot in quest of his defining work. Carden has won awards as a writer and a storyteller, and honorary degrees as a folklorist, but he has never gotten the one acclaim that would put to rest the prophetic fear his grandmother instilled in him.

“My work has never been considered significant enough to be published,” Carden said.

Carden wonders whether his identity as a storyteller hasn’t limited him.

“Playwrights have a hard time. Poets have it harder. And storytellers have it the worst,” Carden said. “What do you do with a literate Appalachian storyteller? A mountain storyteller is supposed to be a hick with a wooly beard who’s never read a book.”

But Carden’s not making excuses. Instead, he’s still searching for his defining moment as an artist. He recently finished a play called “Signs and Wonders” that casts a light on the damage Pentecostal preachers from Bob Jones University did during their student auditions in mountain towns in the ‘50s. But he thinks there’s something bigger brewing in him.

“I’m kind of in stasis,” Carden said. “I need to do something significant. I’m bored and I’m not content with what I’ve done. I’ve got about 10 plays that need to get done and I know they won’t be.”

Some of Carden’s best written works are published in a collection called Mason Jars in the Flood & other stories. The autobiographical “Harley stories” are his version of Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories, autobiographical tales about growing up that carry both the personal and cultural angst of a moment in time.

Carden grew up in the mountains when the world was turning modern, and the mountain folk were being shut out of their own home. He became a man of letters, earning two degrees from Western Carolina University. When he writes about his childhood, he does it in clear and beautiful prose that hints at a fundamental conflict.

“You have to live in two worlds,” Carden said. “Culture demands it of you.”

Gary Carden, the artist, is still looking for the perfect way to call the world to account for the wrongs visited on Appalachian people since the Civil War and on his heart since his childhood. Like many writers, his thirst for success is fueled by a drive to hold life accountable for the pain it dispenses.

“My strength is the same as my grandparents’ inability to forgive,” Carden said. “I can’t forget things that are wrong. I want to see justice done.”


Over the past month a slow-moving landslide behind the Craftsmen Village development in Macon County has worsened, leaving one property owner facing life without a home.

Michael Boggan’s house was condemned by the county last week, a decision arrived at jointly by the planning, soil and erosion, and building inspection departments. County staff deemed the house unsafe after determining the foundation was compromised. The earth around the home site has shifted, twisting the footings and cracking the foundation.

It’s the first time since the devastating Peeks Creek slide that destroyed 15 homes and killed five people in 2004 that the county has used GS 153.366 to condemn a property that wasn’t damaged by fire.

The county’s soil and erosion control director, Matt Mason, explained Boggan’s predicament to the planning board at its meeting last week.

“I think he honestly was afraid for his safety. He knows now he has to pay a mortgage on a parcel that’s essentially useless,” said Mason.

The implications of condemning the property are far-reaching, but the decision wasn’t taken without careful examination.

The story began in early February when Boggan noticed a crack in his driveway that appeared following a nearby landslide. The landslide originated from the back of a large, terraced retail development called Craftsmen Village that lies adjacent to Ruby Cinemas on U.S. 441.

In the wake of that slide, a noticeable scarp had emerged on the face of the hillside above Boggan’s house.

Boggan called the county on Feb. 11 and asked them to come look at it. Mason went out to examine the trouble. While the landslide had indeed opened up part of the hillside, Mason found that a scarp in some form or fashion already existed on Boggan’s property, but it was unclear whether the slide had exacerbated its movement.

So Mason asked State Geologist Rick Wooten to come take a look the next day along with other staff from the N.C. Geological Survey’s Asheville office.

After examining the hillside, Wooten determined the scarp on Boggan’s property had been growing for several years and said it should be monitored closely.

Fast forward a month to March 11. Boggan called Mason back, because the crack had grown into a 10-inch shelf that made his driveway impassable. Mason and Wooten returned to the site to find out how things could have worsened that quickly.

“Over the course of the month, the scarp had gotten bigger and extended, connecting to the other slide area,” Wooten said. “They’re becoming part of the same slide.”

Wooten estimated that a 13-acre tract of land, 30 to 40 feet in depth, had shifted.

When the county’s inspectors came to the Boggan property March 15, they found a house with a cracked foundation sitting on footings that were twisted and out of true. Meanwhile the hillside was still moving, providing the real threat of an even worse secondary slide.

Those factors left the county’s chief building inspector, Bobby Bishop, with a serious decision. He posted a notice of condemnation, leaving Boggan and his wife homeless.

Wooten hasn’t finished his site assessment on the February landslide yet, but certain details are clear.

It occurred on top of an older slide, and the scarp on the Boggan property had likely been widening since 2006. Meanwhile, the bedrock being excavated at the foot of the hill to make way for the Craftsmen Village development was badly weathered, creating ideal conditions for a slow-moving slide. Add to that the large-scale excavation undermining the base of the slope, and it was almost a perfect storm.

“One thing that can de-stabilize a slope is when you excavate into a hillside and over-steepen the toe of the slope,” Wooten said.

Barbara Kiers, a spokesperson for Joseph G. Moretti Inc., said Mr. Moretti was aware of the damage on Boggan’s land but has not seen any information that links the damage to the slide at Craftsmen Village.

Wooten is a geologist, and it’s not his job to determine if anyone is to blame for Boggan’s loss, but in the wake of the Maggie Valley slide, it’s becoming more and more clear that civil suits are poised to be a new part of the landscape where landslides are involved.

“These are local jurisdiction issues. We try to provide the factual information and our best understanding of the causes of events to any interested parties,” Wooten said.

Mason took the case to the Macon County Planning Board as an example of the need for a steep slope ordinance.

“The question is would the new ordinance have helped him?” Mason said.

The answer isn’t entirely clear, but the slope standards proposed by the Steep Slope Committee last month would have put three measures in place that may have helped Boggan’s cause.

The condemned house lies on property that has 30 to 35 percent slope in some places, which would fall within the threshold for county oversight. Under the proposed ordinance, county planners would have had discretion to require engineering.

In addition, another proposed standard could require geotechnical engineering for properties that lie in the certain landslide hazard areas.

Also the cut-and-fill guidelines proposed in the ordinance would likely have forced Craftsmen Village developer Joseph Moretti to seek geotechnical engineering expertise when excavating the property at the foot of the hill.

Planning Board Chairman Lewis Penland thanked his colleagues for their foresight and greeted the event as a sign the county needs the steep slope ordinance in place as soon as possible.

“When we started this whole process, it wasn’t near the issue it’s become,” Penland said.


Every so often a dissatisfied electorate injects a third current into the country’s two-party dialogue.

It’s happening this year with the Tea Party movement, and it’s also happening spontaneously in Jackson County.

Four Jackson County residents who want to be on the ballot in November are gathering signatures to qualify as unaffiliated candidates. Two who are running for commissioner are indeed unaffiliated, according to state voter registration records.

The other two are running for sheriff, but voter registration shows them listed as a Democrat and a Republican, so the unaffiliated route may simply be a strategy to earn a spot on the November ballot.

People who don’t want to run under the banner of a particular party have to beat the bushes with a petition drive in order to get a spot on the ballot in North Carolina. Unaffiliated candidates must collect the signatures of 4 percent of the voting public by June 25. The number comes out to 1,051 signatures out of Jackson County’s total 26,295 registered voters.

Jack Debnam, a Cullowhee-based realtor, intends to challenge County Commissioner Chairman Brian McMahan. Ron Poor, a faculty member at Southwestern Community College, will vie for the seat of sitting Commissioner Tom Massie. And both Mary Rock of Sylva and Tim O’Brien of Cashiers want to run against Jimmy Ashe for sheriff.

The aspiring candidates are choosing an unorthodox route to the general election but have the advantage of bypassing the party primaries in May.

None of the candidates said the Tea Party movement or the national election climate prompted them to run as unaffiliated, but Poor cited some of the key principles of the country’s independent temperament –– fiscal conservatism and defense of the Constitution –– as he explained why he wants to run.

“I have not yet found a party which I can believe in,” Poor said. “I am a fiscal conservative, government at all levels is larger and more expensive and intrusive than it should be and has nearly become choked off from the everyday citizen. My goal is to see it cut back, to see it opened up, to see it operate more efficiently and at lower cost.”

Rock and O’Brien, as sheriff’s candidates, enter a race with a crowded Democratic primary that includes an entrenched incumbent in Jimmy Ashe and three others.

Rock, who is technically registered as a Democrat, said her bid as an unaffiliated candidate was partly strategic. “There’s an advantage to doing the petitions that I saw,” Rock said.

The May primary narrows down the field to just one Democrat and one Republican who then advance to the November election. But in a county where Democrats reign, Republicans often don’t have a chance come November.

“In Jackson County, we always have a Democrat as sheriff, so the primary has always decided it,” Rock said. “Only one person comes out of the May primary with a nomination.”

But Rock could beat the system by advancing straight to the November ballot.

Another advantage of circumventing the party primary is that there is no limit to the number of unaffiliated candidates on the ballot, so anyone who succeeds in gathering the proper amount of petitions makes it.

O’Brien said he is registered unaffiliated but state records show he has been registered Republican. He called himself a “fiscal conservative” who intends to de-politicize the sheriff’s office.

Debnam also said he was registered unaffiliated, so he had no choice other than to go through the petition process.

“I’m not a Tea Party person. I’m a small business owner in Jackson County, and I’m really frustrated,” Debnam said.


Jack Debnam, Cullowhee, county chairman

Debnam is the owner of Western Carolina Properties, a real estate firm with offices in Dillsboro and Cullowhee. He has never run for political office and said he was inspired to run because the Jackson County board has not represented small business well.

Ron Poor, Sylva, running against sitting Commissioner Tom Massie

Poor is a registered real estate broker who also teaches electronics and computer engineering at SCC. Poor cited his opposition to tax increases and development regulations as reasons for running.

Poor accused the current board of a “draconian knee jerk reaction” when it passed a moratorium on new subdivisions and considers the current steep slope regulations too stringent.


Mary Rock, Sylva, sheriff

The 42-year-old Sylva native has worked as a bail bondsman in Jackson County for the past 12 years. She served with the Military Police and got her basic law enforcement certification from WCU.

“Since I was a child I’ve seen a lot of things I didn’t think was the best way to run that office and I waited a long time to see if anyone would change that,” Rock said. “I decided this year that I wanted to do it myself.”


Tim O’Brien, Cashiers, sheriff

O’Brien has worked as a private investigator for the past two years. He has a degree in criminal justice administration from WCU. He served in the military police, as Highlands Police officer, a detective with the Macon County Sheriff’s Department, and an SBI agent.

“I will serve as a sheriff who will dedicate himself to the issues important to our county and not to political ambitions or re-election. I will be fiscally responsible, remembering at all times that we are spending the peoples’ money. All crimes will be properly investigated, phone calls will be returned, and funding will be used appropriately on those things for which it is intended,” O’Brien said.


Four years ago, Principal Chief Michell Hicks issued a proclamation intended to move the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians towards environmental sustainability.

Last week, leaders from the tribe gathered to discuss the impact of Generations Qualla, a grant program created by the Cherokee Preservation Foundation to kick-start the effort.

“Going back to the environmental proclamation, it didn’t give us all the pieces or all the solutions,” Hicks said. “But if you look at the parts, the big picture is there.”

The tribe is moving towards long-term goals like developing a wind power system, a truck fleet that runs completely on locally produced biodiesel, and constructing an $8 million eco-business park in Jackson County. But the first steps toward sustainability have been much closer to home.

With the help of grants from the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, the EBCI has created a systemwide recycling program, moved towards energy-efficient building standards and enhanced its mass transit program. While the impacts may feel small now, the foundation’s executive director, Susan Jenkins, said the work of taking on sustainable projects one at a time will bear fruit in the future.

“We as a community –– and that includes the surrounding region –– are looking at what we want the Qualla Boundary to look like for the next seven generations,” said Jenkins.

Jenkins used the tribe’s recycling program as an example. The initiative began with a $70,000 grant to the Cherokee Youth Council to purchase recycling bins and create an education program.

Over the past year, the youth council has traveled to every tribal department to teach employees about what they can and can’t recycle and to stress the importance of recycling.

Jenkins said what began as a simple initiative turned into a learning process.

“We thought it would be simple,” Jenkins said. “The youth council would do the education, and recycling [staff] would do the recycling.”

Along the way, it became clear that a crucial piece of the equation was missing.

“We hadn’t even thought about housekeeping,” Jenkins said.

The youth council was educating tribal employees across departments, but it wasn’t communicating with the janitors who cleaned the buildings and emptied the trash cans.

The recycling staff, meanwhile, was duplicating janitorial efforts by walking all the same buildings and emptying the recycling bins. It may sound crazy, but the tribe hadn’t dealt with a comprehensive recycling system before.

Jenkins said the hang-ups created a network of problem solvers.

“It’s not always just money the groups need. It’s often about the connections, so you can begin to build the capacity,” said Jenkins.

Now the janitorial staff empties all the recycling bins into steel hoppers outside buildings at specified locations, and the recycling staff takes them away when they’re full. The tribe used to only get money for its cardboard and bottles, but these days, it’s also collecting enough plastic to ship to a processing plant.

The success of the recycling program has created a new issue.

“It’s very clear. We’re overloading recycling,” Jenkins said. “How can we bring this to scale and work together to find a solution?”

Jenkins thinks the solution is in uniting the recycling efforts between the hospital, the schools and the casino to create an economy of scale.

“We’ve got the tribe involved. Now can we get the businesses on board, too?” Jenkins said.

None of it would have been possible without the youth council’s effort to educate and push for a solution that made sense.

Jenkins said the intent of Generations Qualla funding is to create a snowball effect that leverages money and connections to create change.

For example, a $50,000 Generations Qualla grant in 2009 funded energy audits on 20 tribal buildings. With the results of the audits in hand, the EBCI Office of Planning and Development pooled another $70,000 grant from Generations Qualla with $130,000 of its own money to match a $200,000 U.S. Department of Energy Grant.

The $400,000 will go towards achieving a 30 percent reduction in energy expenditures at seven tribal buildings.

Preliminary monitoring efforts of the targeted buildings raised concerns about the air quality in the buildings. Now the buildings will also undergo an air quality assessment as part of the energy efficiency upgrade.

Jenkins said the meeting last week was a chance to check in on the progress of Generations Qualla’s initiatives, but it was also a call to action. The Cherokee Preservation Foundation will launch a new round of grant funding in June, and Jenkins hopes to see proposals that will move sustainability agendas past their fledgling stages by creating new partnerships both inside and outside the Qualla Boundary.

Grants are not limited to tribal programs and members. Generations Qualla funding has helped drive the Mountain Landscapes Initiative, a sustainable development toolkit organized by the Southwestern Planning Commission, Haywood Community College’s new low impact development degree, and the U.S. 441 Corridor Plan, among other projects.

For more information go to


A Sylva sewer line that overflowed on a residential property last month has sparked a difference of opinion between the sewer authority and the town that may have larger implications for Jackson County.

According to Sylva officials, the owner of a Thomas Street property called the Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority –– which operates water and sewer utilities for Sylva, Dillsboro, and Jackson County –– when a town line backed up and spilled raw sewage into his house. The owners were told that TWASA needed a letter from the town of Sylva stipulating the clogged line was part of its system before they could respond to the problem.

When the town furnished the letter, TWASA Executive Director Joe Cline responded with another letter, saying the authority’s policies don’t authorize fixing or maintaining sewer lines that aren’t on its sewer system maps.

The Sylva resident’s problem got fixed right away, but not by TWASA. Sylva Mayor Maurice Moody said he considered the overflow a health risk and directed town employees to clean up the mess and send an invoice to TWASA.

But the dispute gets at the heart of TWASA’s relationship with the municipalities it serves. The authority was formed in 1992 as a private enterprise that would take over the management of water and sewer over from Jackson County and its municipalities.

TWASA’s refusal to respond to a problem on a four-inch lateral line that did not appear on its system maps may indicate that the authority will show resistance in the future to maintaining antiquated and undocumented segments of its system. Moody acknowledged that some portions of the town’s system are nearly 70 years old and not all of the lateral lines appear on system maps, but he rejected the conclusion that those facts exempt TWASA from maintaining them.

“From my perspective, when TWASA was formed in 1992, they accepted the entire sewer system in existence at the time,” Moody said. “Therefore, I feel they have the responsibility to maintain it.”

The sewer line clog on Thomas Street was a relatively easy fix. The town got Roto-Rooter to pump it clear for $350, but Moody felt strongly that TWASA’s refusal to respond set a dangerous precedent for the municipalities in its system.

“The amount of money was insignificant, but we have invoiced TWASA for that because it’s a matter of responsibility,” Moody said. “TWASA was formed to get the county and the municipalities out of the sewer business.”

Cline said he was merely following through with the authority’s policy not to spend money on sewer lines they regard as “private.”

“If it wasn’t a line recognized as part of the system at the time of the handover, then it was considered a private line,” Cline said.

Cline said he has not refused to pay for the cleanup of the overflow, but he wants to wait for the TWASA board to appoint a special committee to determine who is responsible.

“I’ve not refused to pay it at this point,” Cline said. “I want to see what the committee has worked out before I submit payment or not.”

Last week, Moody attended a TWASA board meeting to make his case that the authority was responsible for the maintenance of all of the town’s sewer lines as a result of its charter agreement. In response to his arguments, TWASA board chairman Randall Turpin said the board would appoint a committee to look into the matter and determine who is responsible for maintaining the lines. The committee will consist of two representatives from each municipality, two from the county, and two from the TWASA board.

“I just felt like we needed to bring all the entities together to discuss what they believed the intent of the original agreement was,” Turpin said.

Jackson County Commissioner Tom Massie, who was TWASA’s planner when the authority was first formed, said resolving the issue might not be as simple as reading the transfer agreement inked in 1992.

“I think the language is pretty clear,” Massie said. “The problem is what the implications are. Apart from an initial cash contribution from Sylva, nobody has given TWASA any money to fix the problems they gave to TWASA when it was formed.”

Turpin said one of the main problems facing the authority is how to deal with “orphan” lines, like the one that overflowed in Sylva. The transfer agreement clearly states that TWASA is responsible for the entire water and sewer systems in the municipalities, but it also gives the authority broad discretion to determine how and when to maintain and improve its lines in conjunction with its capital improvement plan.

Turpin said he wants the committee members to come to the table representing the vested interests of the communities that elected them, so they can hash out a plan to move forward.

“Is there a way they can help identify projects that require expenditures, and then can we talk about where those funds will come from?” Turpin said.

Turpin’s plan to form a committee to examine TWASA’s charter agreement may not work. On Monday, the Jackson County board refused to appoint any members to the committee. Both Massie and Commissioner Joe Cowan said they wanted to know why TWASA’s board, which already includes representatives from the municipalities and the county, can’t resolve the issue on its own. Turpin said TWASA needs help from municipalities to determine what parts of the system should be prioritized in the capital improvement plan, because it cannot undertake a wholesale update of the system it inherited without raising rates unreasonably.

“TWASA’s primary revenue source comes from the rate payers, and the question is how much can the rate payers afford to pay to update an antiquated system?” Turpin said.

In the meantime, Cline said he would wait to pay Sylva back the $350 it paid to unclog the Thomas Street sewer.


The construction of the new Jackson County Main Library has been a community-driven project all along, and last week the community got its first glimpse of what the interior will look like.

Friends of the Jackson County Main Library held an open house at the old library to showcase the work of Lynne Wilson, the interior designer from Macmillan, Pazdan & Smith in charge of decorating both the historic courthouse and the attached library building.

Betty Screven of Friends of the Library said the event was a chance to share almost two years of work planning the library’s interior.

“We’re already picking out individual elements, and we wanted the public to be able to touch the carpet, to feel the fabrics, and really get excited about his new library,” Screven said. “This whole process has been finding out what the people of Jackson County want in their library, and this is the culmination of that.”

The Friends have raised $1,425,000 to outfit the interior of the building, and they’ve also worked hand in hand with Wilson to come up with a plan for the interior design.

“Lynne has come up with ideas and passed them by groups of people, and there’s been real discussion,” Screven said.

Wilson won a South Carolina historic preservation award for her work restoring an old firehouse in Newburg, and she has teamed with architect Donnie Love on a series of historic renovation projects. Those experiences, she said, have prepared her for the challenge of integrating the old Jackson County Courthouse with the newly constructed library building.

“The main thing was we wanted to keep the integrity of the existing courthouse, and we’re using a lot of those design motifs in the new part of the building,” Wilson said.

For example, the fretwork around the dome of the 1914 courthouse will be repeated in the patterns in the artisan metalwork railings on the second floor of the new building.

“The most fun part for me has been getting the input from the Friends of the Library and the community,” Wilson said. “It makes it easier to get the concepts right from the beginning when you have so many people who are so committed.”

The two spaces, old and new, are to be bridged by a glass atrium lobby that will incorporate the terraza floors and historic reproduction lighting fixtures that characterized the original courthouse.

The library will have a color scheme based in green that incorporates historic colors like the gold-hued Hubbard squash tone that is a favorite of Wilson and Love’s. The architectural showpieces of the new building are without question the stained-glass skylights that will adorn the ceiling of the new building, but the interior design showpieces will be the ornately decorated service desks that will incorporate the work of local artists.

“We were trying to think of ways to incorporate the local talent we have, but we didn’t want to fill the building with a permanent collection,” Screven said. “We thought the service desks would be perfect.”

Artists like Smoky Mountain High School’s Dylan Llassiah and local muralist Doreyl Ammons Cain submitted work for consideration by Wilson and her staff. Llassiah’s tiles representing the seven clans of the Cherokee and Ammons’ 16-by-8-foot heritage mural were two of the projects selected for posterity.

The 26,000-square-foot renovation and construction project has been a massive undertaking, but with the design team already picking out furniture for the building, Jackson County residents can be sure their new library is nearly a reality.

To learn more about the project, visit


Scot Ward isn’t a missionary, but he does have a burning message. An experienced thru-hiker who carries a copy of Peter Jenkins Walk Across America in the retrofitted box-truck he calls home, Ward wants people to hike the Mountains to Sea Trail for exactly the reason they aren’t doing it now.

“It shows you everything the state has to offer. On the Appalachian Trail, you see the woods no matter where you are,” Ward said.

The nearly 1,000-mile Mountains to Sea Trail runs across North Carolina from the Tennessee border to the Outer Banks, but only about 500 miles of footpaths, mostly in the mountains of Western North Carolina, already exist. The rest of the walk involves road hiking, which has prevented the trail from attracting the number of pilgrims it needs to earn a reputation.

Ward believes the Mountains to Sea Trail lays the soul of North Carolina bare to the people that hike it, and he wants to open up that experience to a wider range of people. He recently produced a comprehensive trail guide for the Mountains to Sea Trail on a shoestring budget, and last week he visited Osondu/Blue Ridge Books in Waynesville and City Lights Books in Sylva to push his product.

While there are other trail guides out there, Ward’s 100-page version is accurate to the 1/100 of a mile and obsessively lists information like water resources, fire locations, campsites, and food options. None of the other trail guides have dealt with the actual details of thru-hiking the Mountains to Sea Trail in this kind of detail.

The 35-year-old self-described nomad was living in Hawaii when he heard about the Mountains to Sea Trail and decided he had to see it for himself. Having hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2003, the Long Trail in 2004, and the Colorado Trail in 2005, he was looking for another challenge.

“I’m trying to answer the question that every thru-hiker on the AT asks when they peak Mt. Katahdin,” Ward said. “What now?”

Ward hiked the Mountains to Sea Trail for the first time in 2007. Last year he became the first person known to have “yo-yo’d” the trail. He walked it eastbound from Clingman’s Dome to Jockey’s Ridge State Park, then turned around and walked the 965 miles back.

The purpose of the trip was two-fold. For a hiker who goes by the trail name “T.A.B.A” (short for There and Back Again), the mission held a special kind of satisfaction. But more importantly, Ward’s first experience as an out-of-state hiker on the Mountains to Sea Trail showed him clearly why more people weren’t thru-king it.

“If you want to bring people to the trail to hike it, then you have to have places for them to sleep,” said Ward.

Ward set out to fix that problem by figuring out a way to hike the trail and sleep on it. Along the way he convinced 20 churches and eight businesses along the road portion of the trail through the Piedmont to agree to allow hikers to camp on their property.

Still, overnight camping is prohibited on much of the public land on the trail –– including the portions that follow the Blue Ridge Parkway and some of the state parks.

Ward drew the ire of some Mountains to Sea Trail advocates when he posted the best ways to camp illegally on his Web site last year.

“I’m not trying to start trouble,” Ward said. “I’m trying to fix a problem.”

Ward understands his methods can be misunderstood, but he doesn’t have time for hand-holding.

“I’m the kind of guy that goes the opposite way in a mosh pit,” Ward said.

Scot Ward’s singular spirit can in part be traced to his genes. His grandfather Eddie Ward, a member of the Flying Ward family, performed all of the vine-swinging stunts for the original Tarzan movies starring Johnny Weismuller. In short, he comes from one of America’s most celebrated circus families.

But he owes his traveling bug just as much to his own life experience. His Miami area neighborhood was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. A recent high school grad, Ward hopped on his bike and road to New York City. Since then he’s ridden over 40,000 miles of America’s roadways on a bicycle. He’s also been a professional in-line skater, a skydiver, and a limousine driver in Beverly Hills.

Scotty’s World, as he sometimes calls it, isn’t like your world. But he insists anyone can experience what it feels like if they have the courage to get out of their cars and take to the trail.

“Walking and riding a bicycle across America, you’re putting yourself in people’s environment,” Ward said. “You stop at a store and you hang out there, and people start to look at you and then they ask questions. They want to know why you’re there. When you’re in your car, you’re still in your own environment.”

This month, Ward will receive recognition from Friends of the Mountains to Sea Trail for his there-and-back-again hike. He’ll also travel from bookstore to bookstore along the route with his new trail guide.

“Now we’ve just got to get the park service on board to let us camp in the woods,” Ward said.

To learn more about Scot Ward or to find his trail guide go to Or to learn more about the Mountains to Sea Trail visit


The setting may have been humble –– a nondescript meeting room in a county administration building –– but the Swain County commissioners’ vote to pass a moratorium on communications and utility projects may prove monumental. The vote could force utility giant Duke Energy to the negotiating table, and it was a bona fide act of solidarity with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians on the part of the county.

Last week, four Swain County commissioners –– Genevieve Lindsay, Steve Moon, Phil Carson, and David Monteith –– voted unanimously to pass a 90-day moratorium on all telecommunications and utility projects that require a county building permit.

The moratorium could prevent Duke Energy from moving forward with a controversial electrical substation project near the sacred Cherokee site Kituwah.

After the vote, a small but energetic crowd of Swain County residents –– some enrolled EBCI members –– applauded loudly.

“We don’t often get applauded,” said a smiling Commissioner Genevieve Lindsay, who chaired the meeting in the absence of County Chairman Glenn Jones.

Judging by the crowd, Lindsay should not have been surprised by the applause.

Nate Darnell, whose family operates Darnell Farms, an agri-tourism business in the same valley as the Kituwah mothertown site, expressed his support for the moratorium.

“I want people to come to our farm and say, ‘Wow, this place is unscathed by development,’” Darnell said. “We have to take a stand and say some things are more valuable than power.”

Darnell’s family has leased the farmstead since 1984 and is the most recognizable business in the valley below the proposed Duke Energy substation project at Hyatt Creek, between Ela and Bryson City.

“I’m not a conservationist. I’m a preservationist,” Darnell said. “I don’t want the land locked up, I want it used wisely.”

Natalie Smith, a Swain resident and Cherokee business owner who has led a citizens’ group that opposes the substation project, also spoke in support of the moratorium.

“I am so relieved to see Swain County take the reins. It is overdue. This could be an historical event,” Smith said. “I feel as if Swain County has taken many punches over the decades from big conglomerates and continues to suffer from them. Finally, we are standing up for ourselves and acknowledging our assets.”

Smith’s citizen action group has announced its intent to bring suit against Duke over the project.

“The coalition is organizing and we are going legal, but we can’t discuss any details until the case is in court,” Smith said.

But it was the Swain County commissioners themselves who had the final say on the moratorium, which will be in effect for 90 days. During that time the county will develop an ordinance regulating the construction of telecommunications and utility facilities. New ordinances can’t be adopted until a public hearing is held, meaning Swain citizens will get the opportunity to address the proposal before it becomes law.

“You can’t stop progress, and we don’t want to,” said Commissioner Steve Moon. “But it would be a shame if they were allowed to continue to desecrate that site. Let’s see if the project can be located in a place that would be less visible and less detrimental.”

Moon said he felt the need to stand up for the Cherokee residents of Swain County, in part, because his wife Faye is an enrolled EBCI member who feels strongly about the issue.

“They’re our friends, our relatives and our neighbors,” Moon said.

Commissioner Phil Carson said his vote was prompted by his experience at a meeting last month between Duke Energy’ and the EBCI to which the Swain commissioners were invited.

“I felt like it was a real eye-opener,” Carson said. “We were really just observers and weren’t considered as part of the solution to the problem. Working together for all our people is the common goal.”

While it’s not entirely clear whether the moratorium will stop Duke’s progress on the 300-by-300-foot substation on a hill overlooking the Kituwah site, Fred Alexander, Duke’s regional director, was clearly concerned by the vote.

“Quite frankly what Duke is trying to do is find an alternative that will meet the needs of our customers in Swain and Jackson counties that gets us off of that mountain,” Alexander said.

Renissa Walker, another enrolled member of the EBCI who resides in Swain County, confronted Alexander after the meeting, asking him to consider the issue from the perspective of a tribal member.

“Stand on top of the mound under a full moon and do a 360-degree turn making a full circle, and you’ll see that Kituwah is protected by all of those mountains and you’ll see the genius of why our ancestors put it there,” Walker said.

The EBCI Tribal Council passed a resolution last month clearing the way for the tribe to take legal action against Duke. So far, the tribe has not filed any suits in court or with the state utilities commission, preferring instead to hold ongoing negotiations focused on locating alternative site locations and considering options for mitigating the visual impact of the project.

The Swain moratorium poses the first legal hurdle to the project, but much depends on what kind of ordinance the county produces during the moratorium period. Duke needs a county building permit for the project and does not have one.

Alexander, while communicating Duke’s desire to resolve the conflict with the tribe and the county, was careful to reiterate the company’s stance so far on the issue.

“On the other hand, we’re not in a position to say, ‘No, we can’t be where we are today,’ because we have a responsibility to serve our customers,” Alexander said.

Both Swain County and the EBCI have offered alternative locations, and Alexander said Duke would continue to evaluate its options before making a decision on whether to relocate its substation.


Smoky Mountain Center has begun the process of transferring its mental health services to private companies in a move that signals the advent of the latest overhaul to the state’s mental health provider network.

Last week, Smoky Mountain Center closed its request for proposals to assume responsibility for the Adult Recovery Unit at Balsam Center, the psychiatric walk-in and outpatient services at Haywood Regional Medical Center, and mobile crisis services in the seven counties of Western North Carolina.

Two local mental health providers — Meridian Behavioral Health and Appalachian Community Services — submitted bids to take over the services, which are supported by approximately $4.5 million of state funding each year. Smoky Mountain Center will award the services to one of the two applicants on March 26.

The transfer of the bundle of psychiatric services generally called Smoky Operated Services will bring the center back in line with the state’s guidelines for local management entities like Smoky Mountain Center that act as payers in the Medicaid system. Under its 2003 reform of mental health care, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services asked regional management entities like Smoky Mountain Center to stop providing services in order to create a clear split between service providers and Medicaid payers.

However, the absence of providers for critical psychological services in Western North Carolina led the state to exempt Smoky Mountain Center.

By ridding itself of its remaining services, Smoky Mountain Center can focus on its primary job.

“Our sole responsibility is as a system manager and payer, and this makes the relationship a lot cleaner,” said Smoky Mountain Center CEO Brian Ingraham.

The transfer, though, is just as much a part of the state’s newest reform effort as its last one. The push to privatize mental healthcare had the unintended side effect of factionalizing the provider network. So the state launched a second reform to consolidate service providers.

As part of a new initiative to consolidate its network of mental health providers, the state announced the Critical Access to Behavioral Health Agency program last year.

CABHA is designed to create a new set of standards and requirements by July 1 of this year for behavioral health providers that use state and federal mental health funding. The range of services from providers include substance abuse counseling, crisis intervention, psychological assessments, and treatment for mental health issues like depression.

Under the new rules, mental health service providers must have a full-time psychiatrist on staff, national accreditation, and take on additional administrative duties in order to bill through Medicaid. So far about 40 mental health providers around the state have begun the CABHA application process.

Ingraham said CABHA created a new impetus for Smoky Mountain Center to divest its services, because the local providers had to hire full-time psychiatrists anyway.

“Had it not been for CABHA, this would have been a tough sell,” Ingraham said. “It would have been difficult to attract people to these services. So we’re really trying to use the timing to our advantage.”

Ingraham said his driving aim has been to negotiate the transfer of services without hurting the people who rely on them.

“This is really organized around minimizing disruption. There’s not going to be any loss of service or care,” Ingraham said. “We want this to be seamless.”

For the providers bidding on the services, the transfer offers an opportunity to consolidate a market share in a shifting landscape. Both Meridian Behavioral Health and Appalachian Community Services have begun the process of applying for CABHA status, and both now have full-time psychiatrists on staff.

Meridian currently provides crisis and counseling services to people with addiction and mental health issues, primarily in Haywood County. The company’s CEO, Joe Ferrara, said assuming the Smoky Operated Services will allow Meridian to offer a fully-integrated system of care that meets the intent of the CABHA program.

“It fits very nicely with the state’s vision of the CABHA. What the state is interested in is creating comprehensive provider organizations rather than an array of individual agencies,” Ferrara said.

Ferrara said the short timetable for obtaining CABHA status and the assumption of new services would be a challenge for whoever gets the contract.

“Whoever receives the award is going to have to get on the fast track,” Ferrara said.

Appalachian Community Services, which provides a range of behavioral health services to the rural areas in the small WNC counties, will partner with Jackson County Psychological Services — another main player in the region’s mental health landscape — in its bid to take over Smoky Operated Services.

Duncan Sumpter, CEO of Appalachian Community Services, submitted its proposal because they were worried they would see a disruption of services, particularly in far western counties.

“The main reason we wanted to assume the services is that we want to ensure continuity of care for our rural customers,” Sumpter said.

Both Sumpter and Ferrara said winning the award would guarantee their institutions access to a client base in the seven western counties, but they did not believe it was a make or break competition.

“I’m pretty confident that we’re both safe in the CABHA game and this is really just a decision about who’s going to provide these services,” Sumpter said.

Both also said they intended to keep the experienced staff currently providing Smoky Operated Services intact.

Ingraham said a committee comprised of Smoky Mountain Center staff and community advisors will evaluate the applications and make recommendations to the board, but that he would make the final decision. Ingraham said the decision will be based on which organization’s plan provides the best access to services across the region, the best mechanism for staffing the services, and the best plan to manage the risks and financial challenges posed by presenting the services.


With the euthanasia rate at area shelters fluctuating between 50 and 70 percent, animal rescue advocates are literally going the extra mile to save pets that haven’t been adopted.

Each month, local volunteers load crates of cats and dogs into a white van and drive through the night to deliver the animals to freedom in New Jersey, where no-kill shelters are starved for adoptable companion pets.

Last week, Ellen Kilgannon of PAWS Animal Shelter in Swain County and Annie Harlowe of the Jackson County Humane Society took their turn at the wheel. Together they drove 30 animals 700 miles from Sarge’s in Waynesville to Common Sense for Animals, an animal shelter and nonprofit adoption service in Stewartsville, N.J.

Kilgannon helped develop the Dixie Dog Transport program through a relationship she had with the Connecticut Humane Society in 2005.

“In the Northeast, it’s a cultural thing where spay/neuter is the norm. People just do it, and because it’s such a high population area, there’s actually a deficit of companion pets up there,” Kilgannon said. “With the opposite situation here in the South, we’re able to create a win-win situation. It’s been a saving grace for us.”

Once in New Jersey, dogs like Dakota, a tiny pit bull mix found in the snow in Haywood County, and Lily, a one-eyed hound that had spent the last two months in foster care, are shoe-ins for adoption.

Common Sense for Animals holds adoption open houses each Saturday, and the pets don’t hang around for long.

“When we do the transports, all of the dogs –– including the hounds –– are being adopted within a week,” Kilgannon said.

So far this year, Sarge’s has transported 123 animals to Common Sense, and ARF has sent 109.

Last year Sarge’s transported more than 500 animals north. The transport program has made a huge impact on the euthanasia rate in Haywood, Jackson, and Swain counties. In 2004, less than one-third of the animals that came to the Haywood County Animal Shelter made it out alive. Now, almost half survive.

Driving the animals north saves them from languishing in foster care or being euthanized. But the arrangement is also a reminder that the culture of pet-owning in Western North Carolina needs to change to include the spaying and neutering of family pets and hunting dogs.

Steve Hewitt, president of Sarge’s Animal Rescue in Waynesville, stressed that the number of unwanted animals in local shelters is the result of a complex of issues.

“It’s not a North/South thing,” Hewitt said. “It’s easy to point the finger, but it’s not a simple issue.”

In the meantime though, more than 500 hundred dogs and cats will get a new lease on life thanks to a hardened set of volunteers determined to deliver them to freedom.

“It’s well worth the sleep deprivation, and we’ll keep doing it for the animals as long as there is a place to take them to,” Kilgannon said.


Community Table, Sylva’s nonprofit community kitchen, has outgrown its existing facility and is targeting a move to the town’s now-vacant senior center.

The county built a new senior center, freeing up space in the old one, which is owned by the town. The building is located downtown adjacent to the town pool and playground.

Last month the Community Table’s executive director, Amy Grimes, asked the Sylva town board if it would support the move so the organization could move forward with concrete fundraising goals for the building switch.

The board voted unanimously to “bless” the project.

Grimes said the Community Table served an average of 120 meals per night in January for a monthly total of 2,076 meals, triple last January’s number.

“We’ve got a lot of new faces every week,” Grimes said.

Community Table –– which serves meals four nights per week and operates a food pantry by appointment –– turned 10 years old last August. The Sylva Church of Christ has donated the current space to operate the kitchen, but Grimes said the Community Table needs more room to accommodate a surge in demand for services.

“We’re busting at the seams,” Grimes said.

Grimes said the Sylva board’s vote cleared the way for Community Table to get cost estimates for the move and undertake a fundraising drive. Grimes expects to get a building inspector’s estimate on the necessary renovations to the building next month.

“We are hoping the town, the county and the community will come together to help us, and we’ve always had tremendous support,” Grimes said.

Community Table serves warm, home-cooked meals to anyone who wants them from Monday through Friday every week.

Sylva Mayor Maurice Moody said the senior center had always been a building devoted to community service. If the Community Table could raise the money to make the move a success, the town would support it.

“What the board did was basically bless the idea if they want to move forward with it,” Moody said.


The Town of Sylva finalized an agreement with the N.C. Department of Transportation last week that clears the way for a continuous sidewalk to Dillsboro.

The town will pitch in $83,000 to build the missing link and maintain the sidewalk, and N.C. DOT will cover the remaining costs.

The sidewalk extension has been a goal for the town board since 2008 and pre-dated Sylva’s pedestrian planning process. But it’s a success story that motivates Town Commissioner Sarah Graham to create similar partnerships in the future.

“You’ll be able to walk from Dillsboro to Webster on the sidewalk, and it just shows how easy it is to partner on projects like this,” Graham said.

When the 4,000-foot extension is completed this summer, it will connect Sylva’s sidewalks to Dillsboro’s by filling in a gap along West Main Street between Mark Watson Park and Jackson Village. The pedestrian planning process initiated in November was intended to lay a blueprint for similar pedestrian improvement projects in the future and to provide a platform for partnering with Jackson County and the DOT.

“I think everyone understands that the money to buy a bunch of sidewalks is not there right now,” Graham said. “But we wanted to hear from the community whether they shared the town board’s ideas about making the town more friendly to pedestrians.”

The town used a $20,000 N.C. DOT grant to hire Donald Kostelec, a consultant from the Asheville office of The Louis Berger Group, to oversee the process and provide technical input. The steering committee –– which includes Graham, Emily Elders, the county’s greenways coordinator, and Ryan Sherby of the Southwestern Commission –– began meeting in early November to develop a vision for the plan.

Last month, residents from a range of Sylva communities gathered for focus groups and offered input that would ultimately shape the plan’s direction.

The focus groups confirmed that the pedestrian plan would zero in on solutions for three primary areas –– Skyland Drive, Mill Street in the downtown district and the N.C. 107 commercial corridor.

Graham said the meetings helped create a consensus about how to focus the planning effort by bringing together residents from distinct neighborhoods.

Both Mill Street and N.C. 107 are commercial corridors that are currently dangerous for pedestrians because of their high-volume traffic and noticeable lack of safe crosswalks.

Kostelec said his intent with the focus groups was to zero in on the physical challenges presented by the areas that need improvement.

“We wanted to get down to identifying on the map where exactly people walk then figure out where those patterns will move in the future,” Kostelec said.

The town used a pedestrian survey to get input from residents. The survey asks people where they walk, how often, and where they would like to be able to walk in the future.

Kostelec said each of the three areas pegged for improvement comes with its own set of challenges. Skyland Drive is an area in need of new sidewalks, which are costly. The goal is to connect Sylva’s downtown with the Harris Regional Hospital campus and Skyland’s commercial district.

“Doing that type of project in one chunk is not going to be possible for a town of Sylva’s size,” Kostelec said.

Kostelec said he is still working on pinning down the right of way restrictions on Skyland, an old state highway route, to see if there is room for a separated sidewalk between the road and train tracks.

N.C. 107 is a heavily trafficked part of town that is cursed by a narrow right of way. Kostelec said any plan to improve the sidewalks would involve getting easements from neighboring property owners.

Mill Street is an area that could see marked improvement at a relatively modest price point because it’s not a terribly long stretch to tackle. But because the road is maintained by the DOT, any work there is contingent on good cooperation between the town and the department, Graham said.

“The implementation will have a lot to do with cooperation from DOT, because Mill Street is a DOT road,” Graham said. “I’m hoping if we have a plan in hand and we’ve been through the process and we know what we want, that those negotiations will be a lot easier.”

The Pedestrian Plan will be showcased at an open house during the Greening Up the Mountains Festival on April 24. Sylva’s Pedestrian Plan Survey is available at


Thousands of animals end up in the shelters of Western North Carolina each year, and a small group of volunteers, mostly retired, tries to save them.

The absence of strict enforcement of spay/neuter laws is the root of the problem. In a poor economy, cats and dogs are producing unwanted litters that their owners can’t afford to keep. Penny Wallace, board chair for Haywood Animal Welfare Association, has seen an existing problem worsen.

“What we’ve experienced is that the economy is putting a tough burden on people,” Wallace said. “They’ve got their pets, and then they lose their job, and they don’t have the money for pet food or medical bills.”

In Haywood County in 2009, the animal shelter took in just under 4,000 animals, and 64 percent of them were euthanized.

Wallace’s organization, HAWA, works hand in hand with Sarge’s Animal Rescue Foundation, to confront the problem. HAWA provides low-cost spay/neuter services and low cost pet food and supplies, so people can afford to keep their pets and the homeless population doesn’t spiral out of control.

In 2009, HAWA processed 1,921 low-cost spay/neuters, over 35 percent of them free. These days they’re doling out 1,600 pounds of free food per week.

Sarge’s confronts the problem from the other side, acting as a full-service foster and adoption network that matches people with pets that need a home. Sarge’s mission is to try to keep up with the rate of animals ending up at the shelter, and last year they helped 900 dogs and cats make it into adopted homes or no-kill animal shelters.

“What we’re doing is triage,” said Sarge’s board president, Steve Hewitt. “We’re worrying about the animals that are already on the earth.”


A regional dilemma

Similar animal rescue efforts are underway in Jackson and Swain counties, but the resources are even tighter for the organizations confronting the problem. The Jackson County Human Society shoulders the load of providing both low-cost spay/neuter services and a foster-for-adoption model.

In Swain County, PAWS Animal Shelter has to cope with the fact that the county doesn’t have an animal control ordinance or a shelter of its own. The organization serves as a no-kill shelter in addition to trying to provide spay/neuter, adoption and transfer services.

“We are truly stressed to the max,” said Ellen Kilgannon. “We are seeing a lot more animals wandering the streets. Last week, someone found a purebred Rottweiler tied to a guardrail on U.S. 74.”

Kilgannon’s little shelter is inundated. In 2009, PAWS received more than 900 requests to take in animals, and they were only able to take 106.

“In the past two years, the numbers have steadily gone up,” Kilgannon said. “We don’t discriminate between animals. It’s really just how much room we have.”

At any given time, the PAWS shelter can hold about 15 dogs and 15 cats.

“It’s gotten to the point where we’re pulling out hair out with what to do with these animals,” Kilgannon said. “Between the three organizations (in three counties), there’s thousands of animals that need homes.”

Meanwhile, getting money for programs has also gotten more difficult.

“With the economy the way it is, it’s hard to find grants for animal-focused programs because it’s going to people or disasters,” Kilgannon said.

Mary Adams has worked with ARF in Jackson County for 13 years. In spite of ARF’s efforts to spay/neuter over 500 animals per year for the past two years and transport another 200 to no-kill shelters, the number of animals coming into the Jackson County Animal Shelter is still high.

“The numbers haven’t gone down fast enough, but adoptions have gone down, and that’s something that goes back to the economy,” Adams said.

In 2009, the Jackson County Animal Shelter euthanized just over 600 pets, about half the number of animals they received. The county saw an increase of nearly 50 percent over the previous year.

Melissa Hawkins, who processes the intakes at the Jackson County Animal Shelter, has been amazed at the volume.

“Last year, we saw more animals than I’ve ever seen before,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins said a collateral effect of the economy has been that people are moving in search of work, and they can’t take their pets with them.

Hawkins sees the full brunt of the rescue crisis. Stray dogs and cats get three days in the shelter before they are euthanized to make room for more animals. Animals turned in by owners can be killed the next business day.

According to Hawkins, hounds, pit bulls, and black dogs are least likely to make it out of the shelter.

“We see a lot of hunting dogs and unfortunately most of them get put to sleep, because people don’t see them as pets,” Hawkins said. “I’m sort of biased to hounds. I’ll get one myself once our herd thins out, but I’ve got five right now.”

Small dogs do well, particularly through online pet search Web sites like

For Adams and the volunteers at ARF, the trends are upsetting.

“A lot of the progress we’ve seen has been offset by people’s misfortune and that’s forcing them to give up their pets,” Adams said.

ARF has changed its emphasis in order to save its volunteer network from total burnout.

“More and more our efforts have been going towards spay/neuter, because adoption numbers are down and volunteers get burnt out,” Adams said.

ARF relies on a core group of five foster volunteers and another six who work on the spay/neuter program. Fosters are notoriously hard to keep, because the volunteers get attached to their animals, decide to keep them, and drop out of the rotation.

“I would say most of the fosters we attract do the same thing,” Adams said. “They’re afraid to come back because they don’t want to get too attached.”


A system that works

In Haywood County the partnership between the Haywood County Animal Shelter, HAWA and Sarge’s has made significant progress in reducing the number of animals killed each year.

Sarge’s grew out of HAWA’s small adoption program when Rosa Allomong saw the need to expand the work of saving animals from the shelter. Allomong and a core group of 15 volunteers started Sarge’s as a way to foster animals and to promote their adoption.

“When I got here and saw the predicament the animals were in, I just jumped in,” Allomong said. “Some people aren’t even aware that there are animals being euthanized in this county.”

Today Sarge’s draws on a pool of nearly 50 volunteers who represent the equivalent of 15 full-time employees. Many, like Allomong and Hewitt, are retirees from other parts of the country. Sandy and John Delappa, two of the organization’s newest members, learned about Sarge’s through its annual dog walk event. Having spent the last few years splitting time between Western North Carolina and a sailboat in the Caribbean, the Delappas recently became year-round residents. They’ve thrown themselves into the Sarge’s family.

“One of the things I really love about the organization is the people,” sand Sandy. “It’s such a great group of volunteers.”

When a person comes to the Haywood County Animal Shelter, they are likely to be greeted by a Sarge’s volunteer who has spent time with the animal and knows what it’s like.

Every day the volunteers make crucial decisions to pull adoptable dogs from the shelter and foster them with a volunteer until they can be placed or transported.

Fostering is volunteer-intensive, but it makes a huge difference for successfully placing animals.

“In the foster care the animals are socialized, potty-trained, and taught directions,” Allomong said. “We know they’re healthy. You feel 95 percent sure it will be a good fit when they leave, and if it isn’t, they can come back.”

In addition to fostering, Sarge’s volunteers photograph every animal at the shelter and post them to the Web where online pet locator sites can market them to a larger audience. According to Hewitt, two-thirds of Sarge’s contacts for dogs come via the Internet.

When an animal is fingered for adoption at the shelter, HAWA gets them spay/neutered. Then, Sarge’s takes them and gets them ready to be a pet again.

“We’re life, full-service adoption counselors,” Allomong said.

HAWA has kept pace with the increased demand for its services by stepping up its fundraising efforts. With grant money drying up around the country, a full-time three-person volunteer staff has managed to keep enough coming in for HAWA to double its allocation of free pet food from 2008 and increase its low-cost spay/neuters by 50 percent.

An average spay/neuter costs about $135 on the open market. HAWA pays $53 at the Humane Alliance of Asheville and charges its customers $30 or gives them away free.

The organization also won a grant to fund a program to trap feral cats, perform a spay/neuter, and then release the animals back to their colonies.

“We have really re-doubled our efforts,” Wallace said. “I don’t really know how people have been able to support us, but for animal lovers, it’s just really important.”

HAWA and Sarge’s are working together towards a five-year goal of dropping the county’s euthanasia rate to 10 percent.

Jean Hazzard, Haywood County’s director of animal control, has thrown her doors open to the two partner organizations in the hopes of having fewer tough calls to make in the future.

“Jean has to make a decision often whether to euthanize pets after the requisite number of days that are perfectly adoptable,” Wallace said.

As Sarge’s desperately tries to increase its foster network to help save animals, HAWA continues to spay and neuter them, so unwanted animals aren’t being born. Together they’ve reduced the euthanasia rate by 25 percent, but there is still work to be done. The Haywood County shelter is still receiving close to 4,000 animals per year. For Allomong, the way past the problem is to change the culture of pet-owning into one in which animals are spayed and neutered.

“We’re trying to get the intake down,” Allomong said. “And that means spaying and neutering animals.”


Sylva resident Susannah Patty thought her trip to Chile would be an adventure, but she didn’t count on living through the fifth biggest earthquake of the century.

In her late 20s now and no stranger to travel, Patty says she has a knack for going places the moment “things go bizarre.”

She was in Paris when large-scale riots between police and teenagers broke out on the north side of the city. She was in Cameroon during a political upheaval that paralyzed the country. Then she was in Chile, in a club in the wee hours of the morning celebrating with friends, and the world was shaking.

“There were no screams, only a few who ran outside, and no massively loud noises where I was. I was instructed to hold on, but there was no time to think about where one should go or what one should do,” Patty wrote in a travel log she kept in the days after the quake.

Fortunately, Patty’s host in Chile, Maqui Ortiz, lives in the northern port town of Valparaiso, far from the earthquake’s epicenter near Concepcion. Ortiz was previously living in Chapel Hill when the two met through mutual friends in Asheville.

When Ortiz decided to go back to Chile to explore her roots, Patty jumped at the chance to visit. The quake registered 8.8 on the Richter scale near its epicenter and 7.8 in Valparaiso.

“It was really over before I realized what was happening, but if I could equate the feeling to anything, it would be the strongest turbulence I’ve felt on an airplane,” Patty said after she arrived safely in Sylva on Monday.

Patty speaks French, not Spanish, so she relied on Ortiz and her network of friends to help her get around in Chile. When the quake struck, she’d already been in Valparaiso for six days.

In her journal, she described the town in a way that makes it easier to feel what the quake must have been like there.

“During the day, the vista looks impossible — multi-story houses of all styles and colors built at the turn of the century are perched on cliffs, within a block there are at least ten rooflines, and the labyrinthine roads approach 45 degree angles. At night, which is when the 7.8 earthquake hit, the hills are cloaked with an enigmatic net of yellow lights that cradle the bay.”

The disorientation of being a stranger in a strange land turned on its head for Patty that night. While the terremoto didn’t level Valparaiso, it did damage nearly every building and knocked out its electricity.

“Chileans are used to earthquakes, so when I was with new friends on the second story of a large building and the shocks began, I looked toward faces that were for the most part calm, albeit a bit stunned. Afterwards, I found out that if you look at glasses on the table, you know you will be fine if they rock and sway, indicating a side-to-side motion that is better absorbed by structures. If they rattle up and down, apparently, you know you are dead.”

After the quake, the town’s residents emptied into the darkened streets, and Patty followed the crowd to safety.

“After a minute and a half, the building slowed its rocking; singing and cheering collided, and the lights flickered, going out completely within a few minutes. Once out on the street, following the tambourines of friends, the city no longer existed in a recognizable state. It was not unrecognizable because of destruction — there was minimal damage comparatively — but because the lights had been extinguished.”

Patty described how in the darkness she was led by the hand of a relative stranger to a safe place away from the buildings then to another apartment to sleep. Her host, who had lived through a massive earthquake in 1985, could not sleep.

In the days after the quake, Patty said the people exhibited a combination of joyful gratitude, relief and fear.

“Relief was so entwined with apprehension, about what was to be found, or not, elsewhere, about gas explosions, about tsunamis, about another quake and temblores that there was no way to compartmentalize the emotions or the sensation which was expressed through a remarkable efficiency of action. Tones of angst only came out in retrospective discussions focused on piecing together fragments of information: where individuals were, what it was like, what kind of damage their houses sustained, if and when they had heard from family members in the south and in Santiago,” she wrote.

The plaster walls in the apartment Patty was staying in were damaged, and the shelves emptied by the quake. She and Ortiz didn’t want to stay indoors the day after, so they went to the beach. There wasn’t a soul there except a group of itinerant clowns. All of the boats in the port were stowed away. The emptiness, she said, was terrifying.

She was originally scheduled to return from Chile a week ago, but Chile’s main airport terminal was destroyed by the quake, and the roads connecting Valparaiso to the capital, Santiago, were closed.

Patty stayed with Ortiz and her friends and watched Chile try to get back to normal. She raised $300 online to donate groceries for people who needed food. She watched her friends throw together an impromptu performance of larger than life marionettes to raise spirits. She noticed how the graffiti on the walls turned positive: “Chile ayuda a Chile.” “Chile help Chile.”

In the end, Patty’s journey to Chile opened up a new realm of experience for her. It wasn’t that she was disconnected from the horror Americans saw on the news, it was that she was connected to it in a way that made it harder to compartmentalize.

That message is clear in one of the searching passages of her journal.

“When there is a sudden transformation of the world or our part of it, there also exists a crucial time-space before anyone can gauge the shift or build up a framework of memories and images that situate the extent of the change; in this space, people intuit what is necessary,” she wrote.

But the quake certainly left its mark on Susannah Patty, and her experience of the moment it hit evokes the fates of the people in Concepcion who were not as lucky as she was.

“You instinctively know that for moments, and possibly forever, your situation chooses you, you do not choose it,” she wrote.


When the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians took over the Cherokee Indian Hospital from the Indian Health Service in 2002, the hospital’s administrators faced a challenge.

They wanted the hospital to feel like it belonged to the community, but they inherited a building that was far from welcoming.

“People wanted to be surrounded by Cherokee things,” said Jody Adams, the hospital’s director of community relations.

The hospital’s motto “Ni-hi tsa-tse-li” means “It belongs to you,” but there was nothing Cherokee about the white walls and clinical feel inside the hospital.

Adams formed a culture committee comprised of hospital staff and community elders and turned to the Cherokee Preservation Foundation for grant funding. Susan Jenkins, executive director of the Foundation, said the hospital’s makeover mission was exactly the kind of project the organization wants to fund.

“When they came to us, we thought it was a great fit, because they would have to work with the elders and the community and reach out to the local artists,” Jenkins said.

The Foundation has contributed $20,000 per year to the hospital’s cultural makeover. Adams has overseen the projects, which partner with local artists to transform the interior spaces of the building into venues for displaying Cherokee art and culture.

When you walk in the main entrance, you can see the impact right away. A large mural in the waiting area combines Cherokee words written in the syllabary and their English translations. The television monitors in the waiting rooms show cultural documentaries instead of Fox News or CNN.

Look deeper in the hospital and you’ll see walls filled with the portraits of elders, or hand-painted with animal tracks.

Jenkins has been impressed with the hospital’s transformation. An enrolled member of the Choctaw tribe of Oklahoma, she has seen enough of IHS hospitals to know the difference.

“Now when you go in there you get a sense that ‘Oh gee, this is my place,’” Jenkins said.

Room by room, Adams’ committee has targeted rooms for overhauls. They started with the hospice room, a place where patients come to live their last days in comfort surrounded by family. Then they found an artist to design a traditional Road to Soco Mountain pattern, and they filled a hallway with it.

The waiting area to the dental clinic has a wall-sized mural of a mountain stream. Another room shows the process of making river cane baskets.

“One of the things we wanted to do with every room is teach something,” Adams said.

Adams said the latest project is to transform the hospital’s inpatient rooms.

“Most of the inpatient rooms still have that IHS feel,” Adams said. “The research shows the rooms are a factor in the healing process.”

Adams wanted new ideas for the rooms, so she turned to Western Carolina University’s interior design program for a partnership.

“I wanted new ideas. I wanted to show the nurses and the providers that there are a lot of options. We don’t have to be a facility full of white rooms,” Adams said.

Candace Roberts, a WCU interior design professor, along with her students created a portfolio of potential design schemes for the inpatient rooms and along the way they met with elders to learn about the Cherokee culture. The first transformed inpatient room was finished last week, but Adams said the transformation of the hospital will continue.


Promoting culture

Filling the otherwise institutional walls of the Cherokee hospital with cultural themes is just one of many projects funded by the Cherokee Preservation Foundation. The Foundation was formed in 2000 with a mission to preserve Cherokee culture, enhance economic development and improve the environment using casino revenue. Since 2002, the Foundation has given out more than $47 million in grants throughout the region, which in turn have generated more than $100 million when combined with matching money.


Macon County Airport Authority members are confident their application with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is moving forward, but the project may still face significant procedural hurdles.

The airport is planning a 600-foot extension of its runway. In order to re-route a creek in its path, it needs approval from the Army Corp to impact five acres of wetlands and 800 linear feet of stream. The airport authority applied for a permit last fall, but in early January, Army Corp regulatory specialist Lori Beckwith put the project on hold.

At an airport authority meeting last week (Feb. 23), the project’s engineer, Eric Rysdon of W.K. Dickson, said he had addressed the concerns posed by the Army Corps.

Beckwith’s letter informed the authority that its permit application could not be reviewed because it failed to address a number of concerns raised by everyone from federal agencies to private citizens concerned about its impact. The letter also said the Environmental Assessment included in the application was out of date and that the information provided was “inadequate for us to evaluate the proposed project” and assess its impacts.

The authority was given 30 days to respond. In the letter, Beckwith emphasized the volume of public comment that had poured in — 37 letters and emails, most of them against the runway extension. She also stressed the importance of responding specifically to concerns raised by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

While the authority said last week that it had responded to Beckwith’s concerns with a report prepared by Rysdon, the report itself was not been made available for public review.

The authority’s attorney, Franklin Mayor Joe Collins, released a statement saying the report would remain private until Beckwith returns from personal leave on March 9.

“The Authority feels it inappropriate to make public the report until such time as Ms. Beckwith has had the opportunity to review it. The report is very positive and favorable to the project, and the Authority is anxious for its public release at the earliest appropriate time,” Collins’ letter read.

The future of the runway extension project hinges on the Army Corp allowing the airport to re-route the stream.

Under the Clean Water Act, a project must show that it is choosing the “least environmentally damaging practicable alternative.”

Beckwith’s letter asked the Macon County Airport Authority to address all the concerns expressed by entities opposed to the project, but she also asked for a clarification of the project’s purpose.

“In addition to responding to the comments detailed in this letter, please describe any off-site alternatives you considered and explain why these are or are not practicable and clarify the applicant’s main purpose for the project (safety or economic development) and any secondary purpose,” the letter stated.

The airport authority has received heavy criticism for the way it has shared information about the runway expansion project with the public.

Olga Pader, a member of the Save Iotla Valley group, has been an outspoken critic of the project and sees Beckwith’s concerns as a justification of the criticism expressed by the Iotla community.

“What’s interesting to me is the questions the Army Corps of Engineers were asking are similar to the questions we as citizens have been asking all along,” Pader said.

Pader believes the underlying motivation for the runway extension is a misguided economic development program that would adversely affect the Iotla Valley.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s expressed concerns that “multiple federally threatened and endangered species and federally designated critical habitats” downstream of the project could be affected. Meanwhile, the Cherokee voiced concern that the impacts to the ancestral graves and the presence of a historic Cherokee trading path were not properly evaluated.

Should the permit get rejected, the runway project may need to pursue an Environmental Impact Study, a much longer procedural process that could involve more federal oversight and public hearing requirements as it moves forward.


The conviction of former Jackson County employee Marc Hawk on elder abuse charges last month closed the book on a painful family struggle.

Now, the relatives of the victim, Earla Mae Cowan, are hoping the case also changes the way elder abuse is prosecuted in the future.

“I hope it does,” said Ann Buchanan, Cowan’s niece. “But people just have to know there will be doors slammed in their faces, and they have to keep on knocking loud and be ready to go through.”

Last month, Hawk pleaded guilty to one felony count of elder abuse and four counts of embezzlement. Hawk used a power of attorney to drain his aunt’s bank account of over $60,000. The case is the first ever conviction on an elder abuse charge in the seven western counties that comprise the 30th judicial district.

Hawk received five days in jail and a five-year suspended sentence that includes $53,438.87 of restitution to Mrs. Cowan. Buchanan said the sentence wasn’t as heavy as the family wanted.

“We didn’t get exactly what we set out to get in the beginning,” Buchanan said. “But the case was not dismissed, and there were times it looked like it might be.”

For Buchanan and her brother and sister, Bruce Buchanan and Kay Clemmons, the conviction was a vindication of a two-year struggle for justice.

“We had evidence in our hands that nobody wanted to look at,” Buchanan said. “It was hell.”

When the siblings first learned their aunt only had $18 left in her bank account, they had two concerns. The first was to care for Earla Mae, and the second was to see justice done.

According to Buchanan, both the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department and the District Attorney were reluctant to investigate the case. Buchanan said more than one person told the family the case was a civil matter, but she and her siblings refused to be put off.

“We told them we don’t want to gain financially,” Buchanan said. “We want justice. He did wrong, and we want someone to know.”

The case exposed the difficulties of prosecuting elder abuse cases in general. Michael Rich, Elder SAFE project coordinator for the 30th District Alliance, found out about Cowan’s case and has been a resource to the family in its quest to bring Hawk to justice.

Rich said a long history of failed prosecutions left both victims and law enforcement officers demoralized.

“When they’ve been charged, the cases have often been dismissed. There’s been no teeth in the law,” said Rich. “Once it’s known in the community that the law has some teeth, then it’s easy to get people to come forward.”

The state statutes on elder abuse require victims to be both elderly and disabled, and often times, law enforcement officers find it more expedient to prosecute cases without triggering the specific elder abuse statutes.

“Law enforcement and I are in agreement that however we can get someone, that’s how we’ll get them,” Rich said. “But we do know that in certain cases the elder abuse statute is a more serious felony.”

In Hawk’s case, the elder abuse statute upgraded the felony from Class H to Class G. Rich has used a federal grant to train law enforcement in the seven western counties to recognize and prosecute elder abuse using the statutes.

The overwhelming majority of elder abuse crimes are perpetrated by family members, a fact that makes them even more difficult to prosecute. Rich hopes Hawk’s conviction will send a strong message that elder abuse is a crime that will be prosecuted on its own merits.

“Law enforcement will be much more likely to charge in the future because this one was successful,” Rich said.


Swain County has entered the fight over Duke Energy’s proposed electrical substation that would mar views in a rural farming valley near a highly sacred Cherokee site.

Swain commissioners are considering a moratorium that would halt any electrical and telecommunications substations that require either a county building permit or soil and erosion permit. The county has scheduled a public hearing on the moratorium for Tuesday, March 9, at 1 p.m. at the county administration building.

According to County Manager Kevin King, the moratorium is intended to give the county time to develop an ordinance regulating substations.

County Chairman Glenn Jones said the moratorium was not aimed at the Duke Energy substation project directly, but it was an outgrowth of talks between the commissioners, Duke leadership and Cherokee tribal leaders over the issue.

“We’re not going to pass anything that’s just going to be detrimental, but we wanted to pass something so people can’t start scratching around without talking to us,” Jones said.

Site preparation for the substation pad began last November on a mountainside tract in the Ela community between Bryson City and Cherokee. Duke never received any county permits for the work and did not file an application with the North Carolina Utilities Commission.

Swain County commissioners learned of the extent of the substation and line upgrade projects only after members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians came to a board meeting to complain. Cherokee is upset that the substation and associated transmission lines will impact the character of Kituwah, which historically served as the spiritual and political center of the Cherokee.

Jones said the commissioners plan to pass the moratorium at the special public hearing next week and have an ordinance in place within 60 days.

“Within 60 days, we’ll have some kind of ordinance in place so we can move forward,” Jones said.

King said county commissioners came away from the meeting last month in Cherokee realizing they needed their own regulations. At that meeting, Duke Energy Carolinas President Brett Carter made it clear the reason his company had consulted with Jackson County over the substation and transmission line project was that their ordinances required it.

“He made it clear that if you have a local ordinance, you’d have a seat at the table, and if you don’t have an ordinance, you don’t have a seat at the table,” King said.

Swain Commissioner David Monteith said the moratorium was a way to bring Duke to the table now and in the future.

“I think the moratorium is a way to get them to sit down and talk with us, not only now but even more so in the future,” Monteith said. “I feel that Duke owes the people of Swain County and Western North Carolina more respect than what they’ve given us ... which is nothing.”


Immediate remedy or long-term goal?

It’s not clear whether Duke’s current substation project will be directly affected by the moratorium or the ordinance the county puts in place.

King said Duke’s regional manager Fred Alexander was concerned enough to call and ask him if the moratorium would affect the substation.

“He was basically asking whether this would impeded the project, and I said he’d probably need to consult their attorneys on that,” King said.

Duke spokesman Jason Walls said it was too early to tell how the moratorium would affect the project, but the company’s attorneys would review the documents as they were made available.

“We’re engaged with the county to better understand what the moratorium would entail and until we see the actual document, we won’t know how it might affect the company’s plans,” Walls said.

David Owens –– a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Institute of Government who specializes in land-use law –– believes Duke would have to make the case that they had a vested right in the project to claim exemption from the moratorium. Under vested rights claims, developers who are already underway with a project can be exempt from regulations that come along later.

“They would have to show that they’d sunk some cost in this particular location and those costs would be lost if the structure were moved to a different site,” Owens said.

Owens said the announcement of a public hearing on a moratorium by Swain commissioners sets the stage for whatever legal arguments are to come.

“Once a county sends a notice of a moratorium, that freezes the status quo,” Owens said. “The question is what is Duke’s position at that point.”

In 2006, state legislators tightened the laws governing moratoria imposed by local governments. The statute mandates that counties state the problems that necessitate a moratorium, list the development projects that could be affected, name a date for the end of the moratorium, and develop a list of actions designed to remedy the problem.


Us and them

Duke is currently in negotiations with the Eastern Band over whether to mitigate the visual impact of the substation or move the project altogether. Swain County’s actions have added pressure to the energy giant.

King said the fact that many tribal members are Swain County residents motivated the commissioners to act.

“Every tribal member that lives in Swain County votes in our election, so as far as the board is concerned there is no ‘us’ and ‘them.’ It’s all ‘us,’” King said.

Both the county and the tribe have offered Duke alternative sites for the substation. King said he offered a site in the county’s industrial park.

“That’s an area that’s visually polluted already,” King said. “We’re trying to deliver alternatives. The tribe is trying to deliver alternatives, and hopefully we can all get this resolved.”

Swain County officials have stressed, as has the tribe, that they prefer an amicable resolution to the issue rather than a legal battle.

“If coming out of this we could get an open dialogue with Duke, this can be a positive thing for Swain County in the future,” Monteith said.


The Sylva Town Board opposes the construction of a 195-foot-high cellular communications tower on the main commercial drag of N.C. 107, but a state law passed in August may allow the tower to go up anyway.

The cell tower, planned by Pegasus Tower Company of Cedar Bluff, Va., would dominate the ridgeline next to the unfinished Comfort Inn adjacent to Andy Shaw Ford.

Pegasus originally received a building permit for the tower in June 2008, but because construction did not begin within six months, the permit expired.

Sylva amended its cell tower ordinance in November 2008 to conform to Jackson County’s ordinance. The ordinance stipulates a maximum height of 120 feet, which would rule out the tower Pegasus plans to build.

The Sylva board met in closed session last month to discuss legal matters concerning the issue and determined they had grounds to deny Pegasus a new permit.

“We think we’re on firm legal ground to deny it,” Sylva Mayor Maurice Moody said.

Moody said the board considered the tower a safety issue because a “fall zone” had not been included in its design plans.

But Pegasus believes the North Carolina Permit Extension Act of 2009, a state law intended to offset onerous permitting requirements during the down economy, applies to cell tower construction. The company plans to build the tower without a new permit from the town of Sylva.

David Owens, professor at UNC Chapel Hill’s Institute of Government, said Pegasus’ permit is likely still valid.

“If that permit was valid at any time during that last three years, then it’s still valid,” Owens said.

Companies forced to put construction projects on hold during the recession would typically see their permits lapse. The state bill was intended to save developers from having to go through the permit process over again when they were finally ready to proceed.

Owens said the Permit Extension Act defines development so broadly that the construction of cell towers is included. The statute essentially delays the mandatory start period for development projects initiated between January 2008 and December 2010.

Following the logic of the bill, Pegasus would have six months from December 2010 to start work on the tower under the terms of its current permit.

Sylva board member Chris Matheson said she and her fellow board members felt strongly that the tower shouldn’t be constructed in the proposed location.

“I don’t know how much there is to say other than that the town is vehemently opposed to it,” Matheson said.

Matheson also said the town is working with Pegasus to see if both parties can agree on an alternative site for the tower.

“We’re working with Pegasus to see if we could provide a location that would be attractive to them but more in line with that the community needs,” Matheson said.

Sylva Town Manager Adrienne Isenhower confirmed that the town’s attorney, Eric Ridenour, has engaged in discussions with lawyers from Pegasus to resolve the issue.

If Pegasus and the town cannot come to an amicable resolution on the issue, Owens believes Sylva must have grounds other than an expired permit to prevent the project from going forward.


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