EPA takes aim at Canton paper mill

A water pollution permit for the Canton paper mill has come under fire by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The pollution permit is up for a periodic review by the state. The EPA isn’t pleased with the standards the state has proposed and is calling for tougher limits.

If the state doesn’t ratchet up the controls, the EPA has threatened to step in and handle the permit itself. The EPA gave the state 90 days to respond with a rewritten permit. Such intervention is rare.

The state environmental engineer who wrote the draft permit was barred from speaking to the press after making controversial comments to other newspapers last week. Sergei Chernikov told media outlets that the standards suggested by EPA would come with astronomical costs that are financially out of reach for Evergreen Packaging. He also defended the mill and spoke out against the tougher requirements being sought by EPA. After the comments appeared in print, the Division of Water Quality press office took over media inquiries related to the EPA intervention.

“The information Sergei expressed was the information he had when he designed the draft permits. But we have other information being evaluated,” said Susan Massengale, public information officer for the Division of Water Quality. “It is a much bigger picture.”

Three hearing officers will ultimately decide on how stringent the state permit is, not the engineer who wrote the draft permit. The suggested limits in the draft permit are only part of what the hearing officers will consider when making a final decision, Massengale said.

They will take into account numerous comments from the public input period, from environmental groups to mill supporters. The EPA falls in that category as well, Massengale said.

“It has submitted its comments for this process the same as any other commenter,” Massengale said.

But unlike the other commenters, the EPA carries regulatory weight and can mandate pollution limits by taking over the permit.

Massengale would not comment on what limits the EPA wants tightened up.

“I am not going to parse the language. That is up to the hearing officers,” Massengale said.

To Hope Taylor, executive director of Clean Water for NC, the EPA recommendations don’t go far enough.

“If you were going to bother objecting to the permit, why not do so in a way that could accomplish a lot more?” Taylor said

For example, the color limit recommended by the EPA of 36,000 pounds a day is only 1,000 pounds less than what the mill is discharging now. And while the EPA is taking a tougher stance on temperature, it would only look at monthly averages, which does nothing to rein in spikes of hot discharges that can lead to fish kills, Taylor said.

During the 1990s, the mill embarked on a $330 million environmental overhaul, spurred partly by expensive lawsuits. Environmentalists and downstream communities want the mill to make further improvements. But instead, it seems progress has plateaued.

As for Evergreen Packaging, they released a written statement about the news saying that the EPA comments were part of the permit process, which is designed to consider all voices and viewpoints.

“We look forward to continuing to work with regulators on finalizing a permit to continue the progress that has been made,” the statement read.


What the EPA wants

Evergreen paper mill in Canton sucks roughly 29 million gallons a day out of the river and uses it in myriad aspects of the paper making process — from cooling coal-fired boilers to flushing chemicals through wood pulp — and then dumps it back in the river again.

The EPA wants the mill to reduce the dark color of its discharges slightly beyond what the state is calling for and wants to see a study of color going into the Pigeon River. The state was willing to reclassify the mill as being in compliance with the state’s color standards and no longer in need of a color pollution variance, but the EPA maintains that the mill should not come out from under the oversight of a color variance.

The water the mill puts back in the river is much hotter than the river’s natural temperature. The EPA also wants tougher limits on the temperature than the state asked for.

The state also was willing to drop testing of fish tissue for dioxins, since there is no longer a warning against eating any of the fish species from the Pigeon. But the EPA still wants to see testing every other year. The state proposed monitoring dioxin discharges based on a monthly average, but the EPA wants a maximum daily limit imposed as well. The EPA also called for more monitoring in several areas the state was willing to overlook.

Quick facts

• The mill is operating within state pollution limits on most counts. The current permit allows a variance in two areas: temperature and water color. In the new permit, the mill is again seeking a variance for temperature, but not for color.

• The mill proposes to reduce color over the next four years from 42,000 pounds a day allowed under the current permit to 37,000 pounds a day within four years. The state doesn’t have a hard and fast limit on color but uses a subjective measurement, and has deemed that 37,000 pounds is acceptable.

• The improvement is small in comparison to the major reductions made since the late 1980s, when the mill discharged 380,000 pounds of color a day.

• Under the temperature variance, the mill can raise the water temperature by 25 degrees when measured half a mile downstream from the mill compared to upstream temps.

• Water would be sampled and monitored less frequently under the new permit. Evergreen does the monitoring itself and submits the stats to state regulators.

Emotions run high at hearing on paper mill pollution

Two contrasting images of the Pigeon River emerged at a public hearing on a controversial new water pollution permit for Evergreen Packaging, a paper mill in Canton.

The mill needs to renew its state permit to continue drawing roughly 29 million gallons a day from the river, using it in the papermaking process, then dumping it back into the river.

On one side of the divide were mostly raft guides, environmentalists, and Cocke County, Tenn., residents, who insisted the river was filthy and dangerously in need of stricter pollution requirements. They characterized the draft state permit as too weak and demanded a revision.

Meanwhile, the opposing party praised the Pigeon as a success story of past decades, a complete turnaround from its — literally — darker days. This pro-water permit faction, however, focused less on the river than the vast economic impact of the mill in the region and the efforts it has already made to clean up it’s operation.

They stressed that imposing rigid pollution requirements on the mill would be too expensive and could lead to job cuts.

“Everyone knows the advantages and strides that this mill has made over the years and the hundreds of millions of dollars they have invested in environmental issues,” said Haywood County Commissioner Skeeter Curtis. “I ask you, issue the permit. Don’t have restrictions that are not economically affordable to the mill.”

With about 1,400 employees, the mill is a major taxpayer, and supports related business and community organizations.

Mike Clayton, president of Champion Credit Union in Canton, referred to the mill as the “heart and soul” of Canton.

“The ripple effect of the Canton mill pays our mortgages and sends our kids to college,” said Clayton.

Luke Goddard, who serves as a town board member in Newport, Tenn., suspected an economic motive was driving most North Carolinians’ support for the water permit as written.

“What they have done is they’ve sold out the community, and they’ve sold out the river downstream, and they have bought your admiration,” said Goddard. “Sure you think, they’re great people. They’re paying you...What you’ve given us downstream is death, dioxin, chemicals, and you haven’t cleaned any of it up until somebody made you clean it up.”

“It looks a lot to me like money really talking around here,” said Frances Miller of the Cocke County Health Council. “I don’t think money is going to help us all that much once we don’t have any clean water or any clean air. I’d hate to leave that as a legacy to my grandchildren.”

Since 1990, the mill reportedly spent $526 million on an overall environmental overhaul, including about $300 million on the Pigeon River alone. While the river downstream is vastly cleaner now, progress has plateaued in recent years.

“We know the mill has made progress, but we haven’t seen progress in the last ten years,” said Hope Taylor of Clean Water for North Carolina. “North Carolina, I have very little faith in you. I’d like you to prove us wrong.”

Most Tennessee speakers said they did not come to the hearing to take jobs away, but to find a common solution that would benefit all who rely on the Pigeon River.

“We’re not here to demand food from your table,” said Raven Carswell. “Only a seat at the table you’ve been feasting at for years. We’re tired of scraps.”

Others pointed to health dangers posed by the Pigeon River because of the mill.

Michelle Cueller said she has contracted a skin irritation known as chemically-induced eczema for life after serving as a raft guide on the Pigeon River for 10 years.

“I can only hope that this is the only health infliction I will face,” said Cueller. “The stinging in your face, eyes burning from the water when you’re getting splashed [are] our facts.”

Joseph Hanks, vice-president of Evergreen Packaging, emphasized that the current owners and leaders of the mill had nothing to do with the “pain of the past.”

“There’s no mill in the world that is more compliant than this mill, so how much is enough?” asked Hanks. “The money is there when the technology is available to reduce the color...At some point, it’s just not fair to keep us from operating just because of the past.”


Stacking the deck

Both sides called in reinforcements while espousing their perspective on the pollution permit. Canton Mayor Pat Smathers called four aldermen from the town to stand behind him as he called for the permit to be granted as written.

“We’re all united in the Town of Canton behind Champion International,” said Smathers, despite the fact that Champion International abandoned the mill in 1997, and the mill is now on its second name change since then.

Smathers asked the other aldermen to speak after him — even though the moderator had not called out their names — then returned to the podium with more remarks, garnering criticism later that night for using up more than his share of time and for going out of turn.

Soon after, a raft guide called up about 20 fellow raft guides to demonstrate how the local economy in eastern Tennessee relies heavily on a healthy Pigeon River.

To that, Haywood County Commissioner Chairman Kirk Kirkpatrick had a quick retort.

“I suppose I could ask everyone impacted by the mill to step in here and they would fill this room,” said Kirkpatrick, adding that the families impacted could fill up the entire gymnasium across the hall.

N.C. Representative Ray Rapp, D-Mars Hill, pointed out that there has been a vast increase in rafters — from 21,000 in 1995 to 150,000 in 2007 — because of the mill’s expansive cleanup project.

“You’ve got a job because something was done about that river,” said Rapp, raising his voice. “I think you need to pay attention to that.”

Rapp said he agreed there must still be more progress but that the state should also recognize and support the mill’s willingness to use the latest technology to lessen pollution.

Audience members from both sides piped up later as Tennessee resident Peter Morrison blasted Smathers for coming up with his “panoply of alderman.”

“That is not fair,” said Peter Morrison. “They should have come up one at a time, not marching up here like the gangbusters.”

While Morrison spoke, a few attendants yelled out that the many more rafters than aldermen had walked up to the podium, prompting shouts from the other side that Smathers had spoken twice without signing up for two slots.

Morrison sat back down after the moderator told him he was out of order, but not before sneaking in another complaint about having to wait for speakers to walk down the aisle to get to the microphone.

The strangest moment in the night was undoubtedly when Clark Bauer went up to speak. Bauer took off his rafting T-shirt as he announced he was done with the rafting industry and would no longer take anyone to the Pigeon River.

Bauer said the millions spent by the mill on cleaning up the river could never make up for it causing cancer in his family.

“$525 million, where’s my family? I could’ve had more family,” said Bauer, adding that he and many others have received infections from the Pigeon River. Bauer even threatened to pull down his pants to show everyone “the sore on [his] butt.”

The moderator’s only response was, “We don’t want you to do that.”

Struggling cattle farmers await new auction house

If all goes according to plan, a new regional livestock market will open in Canton by late May to more than 3,000 happy cattle farmers from Western North Carolina.

The venue will again provide a stable market to help livestock from WNC find their way into the global marketplace.

“It’s going to be a great opportunity for our district,” said John Queen, a Haywood County cattleman who will operate the new market. “It’ll once again bring this great agricultural county back to life.”

Cattle farmers have struggled to cope after the primary auction house serving the region shut its doors six years ago in Asheville. Traveling to markets in Tennessee, northern Georgia and eastern North Carolina has taken a big bite out of producers’ profits.

Queen recalled the days when there were not one, but five cattle markets in Western North Carolina.

“We’ve lost all that,” said Queen. “All of our farmers have to travel out of state.”

Some small cattlemen, already stretching to make ends meet, decided to leave the business.

Western North Carolina Communities, which is leading the effort, has landed $2.1 million of its $3 million target.

The $2.1 million already secured is enough to build an operable market, but nonessential components, like a compost area for manure, landscaping and a portion of parking, will be delayed until more money can be raised.

WNC Communities hopes to break ground on the project some time in February.

According to L.T. Ward, vice-president of WNC Communities, the recession is actually working in the livestock market’s favor.

“We are on a low budget,” said Ward. “We’ve been asking for the contractors to provide more than they normally would for the dollars.”

As part of the project, cattle farmers will not only secure a local livestock market, but they will also receive training from the state Beef Quality Assurance program to create a higher-quality product — which will help them fetch better prices.

With the state quality assurance program and lower freight costs, WNC cattle farmers would score $25 to $45 more per head by fall, which is peak selling season.

The proposed auction house will be located near exit 33 off Interstate 40 near Canton. It will eventually accommodate 1,100 head. Initially, it will accommodate around 700.

Producers will have a 44,500-square-foot covered area, where they can parade their cattle in an 8,000-square-foot heated sales arena, office and meeting room and queue them up in a 36,500-square-feet open space “barn” equipped with holding pens. While cattle will be the primary commodity, pigs, goats and sheep will be auctioned as well.

WNC Communities is fairly confident it’ll receive more grant money to complete the last phase. They hope to start construction in July and present a complete livestock market by this September.

Jerry Roberts, a cattle farmer leading the project, said the geographic location off I-40 in Haywood, yet close to the Buncombe county line, will have a positive regional impact.

Haywood County leads the region in the number of cattle farmers, with 500 farmers that raise nearly a quarter of the region’s cattle.

“I appreciate the fact that we’ve got it here,” said Gavin Brown, chair of the Haywood Economic Development Commission and mayor of Waynesville.

The Southeast Livestock Exchange, which owns a large cattle lot in Waynesville, will operate the new market. After being in the cattle marketing business for 30 years, Queen has gained plenty of experience. He said there’s always been good demand for cattle from Western North Carolina.

“We hope to rebuild the demand that we had at one point in time,” said Queen. “And we know that can happen.”

Ed Johnson, who runs a small-scale livestock market in Canton, was invited to apply to become the new market’s operator. Johnson chose not to bid due to the proposed market’s large size.

“He felt the expectations were greater,” said Ward, adding that WNC Communities maintains an open dialogue with Johnson and considers his market “friendly competition.”

Johnson has criticized efforts to create a new market instead of building on his small-scale operation. Johnson started up his auction house in 2008 to fill the void faced by cattle farmers. But according to Ward, the feasibility study for the larger market was already underway when Johnson made his move.

WNC Communities is waiting on a re-use permit from N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources for the site, a former landfill owned by International Paper.

The landfill will also be used by the Town of Canton for a youth athletic field.

While Ward maintains the entire project is farmer-driven, WNC Communities have had their work cut out for them, applying for funding from five different organizations, each with their own guidelines.


Paying for a new livestock market

The lawsuit against Big Tobacco in the 1990s resulted in a financial settlement with states. North Carolina dedicated 25 percent of its $4.6 billion piece of the pie to the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund to help former tobacco farmers find another economically viable way to make a living. Another 50 percent of the settlement money goes to the Golden Leaf Foundation, which funds economic development initiatives in tobacco-dependent regions.

Both entities supported a new regional livestock market for the mountains, with a $875,000 grant from the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund and $500,000 from the Golden LEAF Foundation. Other funding included a $400,000 grant from the North Carolina Rural Center and $75,000 from various county governments, local businesses and individual farmers.

Canton leaders hope to unlock potential for commercial development around interstate

Canton aldermen are embarking on an ambitious quest to identify long-term goals and strategies that will shape the town in years to come.

“You’ve got to have a plan, and this is the plan for the future of Canton,” said Alderman Ed Underwood.

Each alderman came up with their own list of priorities for the town. They brought those lists to the table at a meeting on Tuesday (Jan.12).

At the outset, it seems all five town leaders meet eye-to-eye on most of their priorities. The top priority appears to be upgrading the sewer line to accommodate commercial development around the I-40 interchange at exit 31 and along Champion Drive. For now, the heavily used sewer line is hitting maximum capacity.

According to a 2008 estimate, the extensive sewer expansion project would cost about $1.2 million. The town has attempted landing grants but has yet to secure any.

Town leaders plan on meeting every Tuesday to discuss the nitty-gritty of each item now that they have a master list in tow. Other common threads between their lists include:

• Repairing the town swimming pool.

• Annexing West Canton and other areas if feasible.

• Eliminating potholes and pave streets/sidewalks.

• Economic development/promote downtown.

• Seeking grants where possible.

Mayor Pat Smathers already published his 17-point vision in a local newspaper prior to last year’s election, encouraging voters to choose candidates who would cooperate with him to implement his goals.

The unilateral move drew criticism from some candidates, who insisted that residents and other aldermen also have input in a long-term vision.

Shortly after the election, Smathers succumbed, asking aldermen to come up with their own wishlists.

A few of the aldermen came up with original ideas not found on any other list.

Flynn said he wanted the town to begin back tax collections and start tearing down condemned houses littered across town.

Currently, the Town of Canton partners with Haywood County to collect taxes. According to Flynn, those who have paid their county taxes, but fail to pay the town, fall off the radar.

Flynn suggests breaking off the county partnership to start collecting its own taxes.

“I know there are some that are perfectly capable of paying but don’t,” said Flynn. “Tax collections would take very little resources.”

Flynn also wants to develop a plan of attack for dealing with condemned houses, which downgrade the neighborhood’s property values.

“It’s just unsightly,” said Flynn. “It’s open to vermins [sic] and rats.”

Underwood came up with the idea of using prison crews for projects then discovered that the state program that loans inmates to municipalities has fallen by the wayside due to the statewide budget crunch.

Canton joins trend of imposing steep fees on video sweepstakes outlets

The Town of Canton has begun clamping down on video sweepstakes machines with a new ordinance last week, but some business owners seemed more relieved than disappointed.

That’s because the ordinance ends the 90-day moratorium passed in November and clears the path for even more sweepstakes machines in town.

Cyber sweepstakes use an obscure loophole in the video poker ban to subsist. The video gambling industry claims winnings are predetermined — even though customers appear to play games of chance, similar to those on video poker machines.

Canton’s new policy calls for a steep $2,500 annual tax on the first four machines, with $700 per machine thereafter.

It requires each business to pull in no more than 15 percent of its income from cyber sweepstakes and demands minors be prohibited from playing or even viewing the screens.

While no one spoke at Canton’s public hearing on the ordinance last Tuesday (Jan.12), a few video sweepstakes representatives were present. One was so eager to get the machines up and running, he wanted to pay the fee on the spot that night. Town Manager Al Matthews instructed him to be patient and come in the next morning.

So far, two businesses have signed up for the privilege license. Lankford’s Grocery registered 19 sweepstakes machines, while Crosby Wireless registered six.

Annually, these two businesses alone will hand over $16,900 to the town. For now, Canton is only charging half the annual fee to cover the remainder of the fiscal year through June. Come July, a full year’s worth will be due.

Canton Alderman Eric Dills was noticeably displeased even though he voted for the measure, which passed unanimously.

“I don’t really like this business,” said Dills. “It is gambling and everybody knows it’s gambling.”

Dills pointed out there’d be no concrete way to determine if a business was raking in more than 15 percent of its profits from sweepstakes.

Mayor Pat Smathers said the town would have to use a common sense approach.

“If you have 15 of those machines and a hot dog stand, chances are you don’t sell that many hot dogs,” said Smathers.

The towns of Hendersonville and Franklin have already set a $2,600 annual tax on sweepstakes machines. Franklin collected fees from eight businesses within days of passing its ordinance, a testament to the lucrative nature of the industry.

Canton Mill pursues new pollution permit

Evergreen Packaging, a large paper mill in Canton, is seeking a new water pollution permit for the Pigeon River.

The paper mill sucks roughly 29 million gallons a day out of the river and uses it in myriad aspects of the paper making process — from cooling coal-fired boilers to flushing chemicals through wood pulp — and then dumps it back in the river again.

The river downstream from the mill is far cleaner today than anytime in the mill’s 100-year history. The Pigeon River was once so polluted few fish species could survive and it was unsafe for people to swim in.

During the 1990s, the mill embarked on a $300 million environmental overhaul, spurred partly by expensive lawsuits.

Environmentalists and downstream communities want the mill to make further improvements. But instead, it seems progress has plateaued.

“While the river has gotten cleaner since the 1980s, we can’t allow North Carolina to end the river cleanup until it’s clean and free of odor, foam and significant toxic discharges,” said Chris Carswell, who lives downstream of the mill in Cocke County, Tenn.

But Derric Brown, the director of sustainability for Evergreen, said progress going forward will be measured in much smaller steps than the progress of the past, mostly because of the giant steps already made.

“Incremental improvement is becoming increasingly difficult,” Brown said.

Sergei Chernikov, an environmental engineer in charge of the state permit, said it will take exponentially more effort to make less noticeable improvements as time goes on.

“The law of diminishing returns is in full force,” Chernikov said. “What they are working on now is the remaining 10 percent. It is definitely getting harder with each step. But they are making progress.”

The biggest environmental victory of the 1990s was getting the mill to drastically reduce dioxin, the most toxic chemical discharged into the river. The final health advisory against eating fish caught downstream of the mill was lifted in 2005. Fish once wiped out by the mill’s pollution are being reintroduced in a joint effort between the mill and state wildlife and environmental agencies.

Chernikov called Evergreen the cleanest paper mill in the state and among the cleanest in the world.

“If you look at other facilities throughout the nation and Canada, (Evergreen is) doing much better,” Chernikov said.

Hope Taylor, executive director of Clean Water for NC, disputes that claim, however.

“There is no way this can be called the cleanest paper mill in the world,” Taylor said.

Taylor said the pollution from the mill is all relative to the size of the Pigeon.

“You put an enormous paper mill on a tiny river, it is still a huge amount of pollution being released into a tiny river,” Taylor said.

The mill has faced repeated lawsuits, including class action claims, from downstream landowners in Tennessee over the past two decades. A federal lawsuit by three local landowners from Haywood County was filed this fall, claiming the pollution deprives them of the right to enjoy their property along the river.

The mill’s current pollution permit, dating back to 2001, sets limits on the pollution and mandates water testing on a daily and weekly basis to ensure compliance. The permit expired in 2006. The mill has been operating under an extension while drafting a new permit, which is now up for review.

The mill is operating within state pollution limits on most counts. The current permit allows a variance in two areas: temperature and water color. In the new permit, the mill is again seeking a variance for temperature, but feels a variance for color is no longer necessary.



A major source of contention is steaming water released by the mill into the river, which raises the overall water temperature.

In September 2008, for example, the water taken out the river was 66 degrees on average, but was a piping 93.5 degrees when put back in the river. Even half a mile downstream of the mill, the river was still 11 degrees hotter than it should have been — with a temperature of 66 degrees upstream of the mill compared to 77 degrees downstream.

In the winter, the temperature variance is even more acute, with the discharge twice as hot as the river’s natural state.

“You can actually see the river steaming in the winter,” Taylor said.

The discharges exceed federal and state temperature standards by a long shot, which cap the overall temperature increase at 5 degrees. The mill is allowed to raise the river’s temperature by 25 degrees under the variance in the pollution permit.

Chernikov said the river is hotter for only a short section, however, since side streams are constantly flowing into the river and cooling it back down.

“There will be some impact but whether it is significant or measurable is the question,” Chernikov said.

Brown said the temperature is not hurting water quality.

“There have been studies of the river showing that temperatures is not inhibiting the balance in indigenous populations of fish,” Brown said.

Evergreen uses a massive amount of water to cool its equipment and coal-fired boilers, which make electricity for the mill’s operations. It’s cheaper for the mill to make its own power from coal than to buy it.

Chernikov said the variance for Evergreen is similar to that of power plants in the state. In order to cool the water down before returning it to the river, it would require the costly construction of cooling towers. Cooling towers have a downside as well. They lead to lots of evaporation and less water is returned to the river, decreasing its natural flow, he said.



The upgrades of the ‘90s also reduced the discharge of color, which darkens the river. While marked improvements were made to reduce color, the mill has still required a pollution variance for the color of its emissions.

The new permit would make small improvements in color, eliminating the need for a variance, according to the mill and state environmental officials.

Typically, the lack of a variance is a good sign, indicating the mill is meeting state standards. But that’s not necessarily the case with color, Taylor.

Regulating color discharge is a tricky proposition for the state under its current protocol. The state doesn’t have a hard and fast limit, but instead limits color to an “acceptable” level.

“The color is psychological. For some people it may look fine, for some people it may not,” Chernikov said. “The color is really a very subjective parameter.”

Taylor said the mill agreed to make what she considers undetectable changes to its color discharge and in exchange the state suddenly deeming it within the “acceptable” range — thus no longer requiring a variance.

“They are trying to PR their way out of this variance,” Taylor said. “They are cooking the books to make it sound like they have improved in the past decade but they have not.”

Taylor wants the state to adopt a numerical standard for color.

“Without a numerical color standard, there is no way to tell whether they have met an acceptable color standard,” Taylor said.

But Brown said the subjective measure is appropriate.

“Color is aesthetic,” Brown said. “Different people perceive color differently.”

What’s acceptable in the mountains, where rivers are much clearer, could be much different than what’s acceptable along the coast, where rivers are sometimes black and briny by nature. Taylor said the state could still set numerical standards, however, by using a sliding scale based on the natural color of the river compared to the discharge.

Brown said the color discharged by the mill has no environmental impacts but is purely an aesthetic issue.

Taylor disagrees.

“We say color is an indicator of an adverse chemical soup that includes some toxins,” Taylor said. The less color, the less the overall discharge, and the better off the river is in general, she said.

Water gets tainted with color when flushed over wood fibers. Color leaches out of the pulp and ends up in the discharge that goes back into the river.

The mill proposes to reduce color over the next four years from 42,000 pounds a day allowed under the current permit to 39,000 pounds a day, a step the mill has already achieved. The mill’s goal is to reduce color to 37,000 pounds a day within four years. The improvement is small in comparison to the major reductions made since the late 1980s, when the mill discharged 380,000 pounds of color a day.

Taylor is also dismayed that water would be sampled and monitored less frequently under the new permit. Evergreen does the monitoring itself and submits the stats to state regulators. But Taylor wants testing by an independent third party to spot check the mill’s data.

“This mill has been so controversial for so long it is time for there to be independent testing,” Taylor said, calling for “full transparency.”


Dirty water

An environmental advocacy group Environment North Carolina has just issued a report that analyzes industrial pollution of waterways based on monitoring data from the Environmental Protection Agency in 2007. The report is titled Wasting our Waterways: Industrial Toxic Pollution and the Unfulfilled Promise of the Clean Water Act.

Major findings of the report include:

Blue Ridge Paper Products released 123,856 pounds of toxic chemical waste into the Pigeon River and was the 10th largest reported polluter of toxic chemicals in North Carolina in 2007.

The Pigeon River is ranked 7th in North Carolina for most cancer-causing chemicals, with 10,740 pounds of chemicals linked to cancer discharged by the Blue Ridge Paper Products plant in 2007.


Want to weigh in?

A public hearing on a water pollution permit for the Pigeon River by Evergreen Packaging will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 26, at Tuscola High School in Waynesville.

For more information on how to comment or about the draft permit, go to h2o.enr.state.nc.us/NPDES/documents/BRPPPublicHearing.pdf.

Canton leaders to compare and contrast lists

As everyone else compiles wish lists for the holiday season, Canton’s four aldermen will put together a list of their own on behalf of the town.

Soon after they were sworn into office last Tuesday (Nov. 24), Mayor Pat Smathers asked the aldermen to come up with a list of goals for the town, involving them in a process he began before the election.

In mid-October, Smathers published his 17-item wish list for Canton in an op-ed piece in The Mountaineer. In the editorial, Smathers wrote that he hoped to begin implementing the plan along with the newly elected aldermen soon after the election.

Smathers was prepared for the reality that the new aldermen would produce their own lists for what the town needs to prioritize. After his list was published, those running for office made it clear they would come up with their own agenda rather than just following Smathers’.

It remains to be seen how the new board will work with each other. Three of the four aldermen are serving their first terms after winning election in November. Two of the former aldermen chose not to run, and a third was unseated.

This makes the second election in a row that voters in Canton have swept in a new slate of candidates, having voted in three new aldermen in 2007.

Canton’s town manager will collate the aldermen’s individual lists and present a master list to the board at an orientation meeting in mid-December.

Some of the items on Smathers’ long list of goals included installing lights on town sports fields, creating a craft and farmer’s market, hiring a town recreation coordinator, and extending the town’s greenway.

Furthermore, Smathers called for an upgrade of town water and sewer lines around Interstate 40, where the capacity has been maxed out preventing new businesses from hooking on. Smathers wrote he’d like to annex new territory into the town limits as well.

Alderman Eric Dills dubs Smathers’ 17-point vision an “ice cream list” with broad goals that everyone in town could agree on.

“Everybody likes ice cream,” said Dills. “It’s not a real controversial list. It’s just whether or not it can be done, and how and who’s going to pay for it.”

Alderman Ed Underwood, who was elected mayor pro-tem at the meeting, agreed. Underwood stated that many of the board members’ ideas would likely coincide with the items on Smathers’ list.

“The main issue is going to be in how you fund them,” said Underwood.

Dills said some of his own goals for the town may not be as “flashy” but are still worthy of implementation.

For example, Dills said he’d like to see the town repaint parking stripes downtown and start washing streets regularly.

“It’s not an expensive proposition,” said Dills. “It’s a very pleasing thing to see for what it costs, which is almost nothing.”

Dills said he views the list as important in building a consensus among the board members on the direction Canton needs to go.

For Dills, that means stepping away from a push toward tourism.

“We cannot bet our future on trying to draw visitors off I-40,” said Dills. “We can be a wonderful residential town, a place where people want to come and live and raise families and retire.”

Underwood said his main goal was to make Canton a vibrant place to live, shop and play, meaning his list will include a variety of directions.

“From economic development to recreation to fixing potholes,” said Underwood.

While Alderman Jimmy Flynn supports the goals on Smathers’ list, he said that it was “obvious” that the aldermen needed to write up lists of their own.

Flynn said he needed more time to compile his list but that he would work with a particular vision in mind.

“Slow, steady growth that does not overburden the taxpayer or the town employee,” said Flynn.

Though Dills will dream up a wish list for Canton along with the other aldermen, he expressed hesitation about signing up for a plethora of expensive projects, citing a strong concern about keeping taxes low.

“We need to be like every other business, and conserve and tighten our belts,” said Dills.

Hope of paper mill job attracts hundreds to ESC

More than 300 people waited in line at the N.C. Employment Security Commission in Waynesville on Monday to submit job applications with Evergreen Packaging, the paper mill in Canton.

Evergreen employs 1,200 workers in Haywood County. The company is not adding new jobs at this time but is merely building up its applicant pool.

“This is actually a routine practice we do once or twice every year to make sure we have a pool of qualified applicants as jobs become available, primarily because of retirements,” said Mike Cohen, spokesperson for Evergreen.

Mark Clasby, Haywood County Economic Development Director, said Evergreen has an older workforce that is retiring.

“So there is a continued need for replacements,” Clasby said.

Evergreen’s last call for applications was in January 2009.

The line seemed longer than usual this time, according to Virginia Gribble, the director of the Employment Security Commission. ESC accepts and processes the applications. Gribble cited the high unemployment in Haywood County, which was 8.5 percent in September.

The long line is likely a sign of the economic times, said Gribble, but it was also a testimony to the quality of employment offered by the paper mill.

“It has been a very good response from the community,” Gribble said. “A lot of people are interested in working there because they are such a good employer.”

Clasby agreed.

“They have been a mainstay here in our community for 100 years and have provided really good jobs over that period of time,” said Clasby.

Entry-level jobs were advertised at $37,500 per year plus health insurance and other benefits.

Many who applied cited a long lineage of family members who have worked at the paper mill.

The Canton factory makes paperboard used in milk and juice cartons and envelope-grade paper. Evergreen also operates a smaller plant in Waynesville where coating is applied to the cardboard.

Fresh faces will lead Canton

As with the election two years ago, Canton will once again see three new faces on the board.

Voters had a deep bench of candidates to chose from: 10 running for four seats on the board. The only two returning board members are Alderman Eric Dills and Mayor Pat Smathers.

Town politics in Canton have been marked by division the past two years, and the vast majority of candidates running this time claimed they would rise above the fray and bring an end to opposing camps.

The two town leaders most at odds — Smathers and Dills — are the only two returning to the board, leaving it up to the three new board members to forge a new direction.

“I think we will sit around that table and come up with some good ideas and discuss them and come to a consensus hopefully a lot quicker than what was done in the past,” said Ed Underwood, one of the new candidates winning election to the board.

Candidate Jimmy Flynn agreed.

“I just feel like the three new people need to concentrate on bringing everybody together,” Flynn said.

Flynn said personality conflicts need to be put aside to do what’s best for the town.

“They have to concentrate on listening to each other more than talking,” Flynn said.

Two years ago, voters ousted three long-time board members and ushered in a slate of new faces for the first time in years. A power struggle between Smathers and Dills rooted in philosophical differences bogged down progress, according to both candidates and voters.

One voter interviewed for an exit poll, Paul Moore, said he went for a “complete change” when casting his ballot. Moore had supported a change on the board two years ago but was disappointed in what they had accomplished.

“Nothing,” he said.

Luckily for Moore, all the seats on the Canton board are up for election every two years, so he didn’t have to wait long to vote for another clean sweep.

Dills has been among the first to admit that the change promised by candidates two years ago hasn’t come to fruition but says progress was stymied by hold-overs in the town leadership who resisted the change.

“People haven’t been satisfied with the progress that has been made, but I know I will continue to stand in there with their best interest,” Dills said.


Coming to consensus

A hot topic in the race was forging a new place for the historic, blue-collar mill town in the 21st century economy.

“I think everybody in Canton wants Canton to be a vibrant community again,” said Randy Burrell, a voter interviewed on his way out of the polls. “I think all the candidates have that in mind. It is the main issue. Canton has a little niche somewhere and once we find it, we’ll be back.”

Indeed, most candidates made revitalization a central issue — but they differ on how to best target the town’s efforts. Some want the top focus to be on the core downtown. Others want to upgrade water and sewer around the Interstate 40 interchange to lay the groundwork for commercial development. Yet others believe Canton’s strength lies in its neighborhoods and want to clean them up.

Underwood said it is crucial they agree on some priorities, or they won’t be any better than the last board, which was chastised for getting nothing done.

“You hear presidential elections with a mandate. The mandate here was get down there and work together,” Underwood said. “I think if you didn’t hear that message, you got a problem.”

Mayor Pat Smathers published an op-ed piece in a local paper listing 17 priorities he wants to see the town tackle and challenged voters to elect candidates who would follow his lead on them.

Dills said he is going to come up with his own list to put before the board. He said the board should commit to priorities on paper rather than a piecemeal approach that is hard to track.

“We have to come to some concensus and figure out what we want to accomplish the next two years, put it on paper and let’s go do it,” Dills said.

Troy Mann, a current board member who lost re-election, wished the new board good luck.

“If they can fulfill Mayor Smathers’ list of 17 projects, they have their work cut out for them,” Mann said.

Smathers was running unopposed, and nearly a third of the voters chose not to vote at all in the mayor’s race and instead marked no name at all. Another 88 voters wrote in a candidate for mayor, but the names were not available as of press time.

Barry Mull, a worker at the mill, was among those who chose not to vote at all, rather than vote for Smathers.

“I think it’s time for him to slide out of there,” said Mull.

Most voters wouldn’t say who they voted for to avoid hurt feelings in a small community. For Cassie Erwin, 22, members of her own family were split over who to vote for and therefore she wouldn’t share her picks.

Flynn, a safety manager for Buckeye Construction, was the top vote-getter. He chalks it up to his experience working for the town for 30 years in a variety of jobs from the police department to recreation department to streets. He also served as town clerk and assistant manager.

“I think people were looking for experience,” Flynn said.



Pat Smathers (I)    448


Town board

Seats up for election:    4

Total seats on board:    4

Jimmy Flynn    364

Ed Underwood    337

Eric Dills (I)    288

Kenneth Holland    257

Carole Edwards    246

Patrick Willis    229

Charlie Crawford    216

Troy Mann (I)    214

Angela Jenkins    195

Gene Monson    171

Registered voters:    2,880

Voter turn-out: 648 (24%)

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