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May 28, 2008


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Column
By Mark Beardsley

The Cynics Were Right — LP Permit Was A Done Deal
The cynics were right.
The granting of a new air quality permit to Louisiana Pacific was a done deal before the hearing held May 16.
Technically, had any citizen been able to prove that granting LP’s permit would violate the Clean Air Act, the EPD might deny its request.
But citizen concerns about having to live with LP’s emissions, their worries that LP is causing cancer or other diseases, that the emissions are destroying their quality of life, were beside the point.
LP was going to get that permit to nearly quadruple its formaldehyde emissions no matter how much citizens opposed it.
It was a done deal.
The hearing was just a legal requirement.
A lot of accusations filled the air. LP’s emissions caused cancer, sinus infections, the reduction in wildlife and an inability of cattle to breed, folks suggested.
I don’t believe that LP is the cause of all ills. But I don’t disbelieve individual assertions either. We know from experience that seemingly benign substances in the air, water or food may one day be found to damage our health. The surge in autoimmune diseases suggests environmental degradation, with myriad contributors. Kenneth Bridges can’t prove his kidney cancer is a result of breathing emissions from the J.M. Huber and LP plants — but his doctor apparently suggested that possibility, and we shouldn’t scoff at Bridges’ claim.
State and federal limits on pollution are based on science, but scientific knowledge changes as technology and research uncover new information. Today, we know that lead in paint is dangerous to children. At one time, science considered it safe. It is unwise to assume that what we don’t know can’t hurt us; today’s “safe” exposure to formaldehyde may be tomorrow’s unsafe level.
We were all ignorant of the downside of OSB plants back when Huber and LP came to Jackson County, but I daresay if another OSB plant proposed to locate here we’d be nearly unanimous in our opposition.
Madison County Commissioner Stanley Thomas made a good point. How can a county protect its citizens when an industry arrives promising one level of emissions, only to be given increases later on?
All the citizens can do is vent at the public hearing where they’re promised that all comments will be taken into consideration when, in fact, granting the permit is virtually a certainty.
Maybe the people who think LP will damage or is damaging their health are wrong. A lot of them are getting along in years, after all. Maybe they’re right and science will prove their fears are valid in five years or 40 years.
Don’t expect people who live near LP to be content with the EPD’s justification just because they can’t prove their suspicions that LP’s emissions cause health problems. They know from the dust and the smell, that they’re constantly inhaling the residue of an industrial process.
I’d be alarmed to the point of paranoia. Wouldn’t you?
Mark Beardsley is the editor of The Commerce News. Contact him at mark@mainstreetnews.com.

Local Control Best, But Caution Also Warranted

It was a year ago that local officials began sensing a drought was imminent. The Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority, which operates the Bear Creek Reservoir, looked at its data and concluded it was time to enter level one of its drought contingency plan. Through the summer and fall, the situation worsened until there were weekly predictions about when the regional reservoir would run dry.
In the fall, the state’s climatologist, David Stooksbury, predicted at an emergency management meeting in Jefferson, that winter rains would recharge the Jefferson and Bear Creek reservoirs — but not Lake Lanier — and warned that summer and fall of 2008 would be critical times.
Summer is almost here. The stream flows, soil moisture content and reservoir levels locally are just about where they were last year at this time. Stooksbury has been on target so far. If he’s right about the rest of the year, the worst is yet to come.
May through October are dry months. They are also months of heavy water usage and high evaporation. For those cities and counties relying on Lake Lanier, the situation bears close scrutiny, because Lanier is at a record low level for this time of year and the flows of the streams entering it are also at record lows. The situation could be far worse this year than last.
On the other hand, we’ve learned something from a year-long drought. Water consumption is down, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has corrected problems at Lake Lanier and the EPD has been more generous about removing water from the Middle Oconee River to fill the Bear Creek Reservoir. The four counties that own the Bear Creek Reservoir are taking a little more than half as much water out of the reservoir as they did at this time last year, which means we’re better able to stretch the available water in time of an emergency.
Local reservoirs are full, and the EPD is telling water providers that the water restrictions will be lifted on a case-by-case basis according to the individual situations. That is as it should be, as local officials are in a better position to determine both the drought situation and remedies that might be offered. Those entities — Bear Creek, Commerce and Jefferson in particular since they have reservoirs — should err on the side of caution if they get the EPD to remove them from the level four list. Better safe than sorry, and best to keep all reservoirs at the “full” mark as long as possible, regardless of what kind of usage the local drought plan may suggest.
Water in a reservoir is like money in the bank. It’s there to be used in our time of need, but there is never a guarantee that the supply will suffice in an emergency. Prudent citizens and water managers will want to keep their reservoirs topped off because no one knows how long this drought will last. The fact that reservoirs are full is encouraging, but since our streams and rivers are flowing at less than half the normal level for this time of year as we enter the dry season, this might not be the ideal time to ease up significantly on the use of water.
Those decisions are best made locally by water managers who know the situation on the ground and how best to respond. They’re apt to be cautious, but their decisions will be based on local conditions, not on the amount of water in Lake Lanier. Citizens will be better off and water systems better able to endure the continued drought if officials have the flexibility to respond to local needs.
We can hope that Stooksbury’s predictions will end up wrong, that tropical storms will push moisture into the Southeast and bring relief, not just locally, but to all of the afflicted region.


Column
By Susan Harper

What To Tell The Bees?
The beliefs about bees being sentient and intelligent creatures go all the way back to ancient Greece, and an old custom or superstition persists down to this day: If you’re a beekeeper, and there’s a death in your family, someone must go right away and tell the bees.
In many cultures there are detailed instructions. The messenger must be a child or, failing that, the youngest person in the household. The news must be given in the form of a song. A piece of black cloth must be tied to each hive, or draped over it. Sweets prepared for those who will attend the funeral must be brought to the hives for the bees to feast upon. According on one source I consulted, the bees are then invited to the funeral, “and have on a number of recorded occasions seen fit to attend.”
I had never heard of any of this until a writer friend of mine won a major award for an evocative and understated short story called “Telling the Bees,” in which the impact of all that a family has lost in the passing of a loved one is finally felt only when someone goes to tell the bees.
For some reason, the idea of telling the bees has been haunting me this Memorial Day. Could it be because the bees themselves are dying? The Associated Press announced two weeks ago that more than one-third of our country’s commercially managed hives died during 2007 — most of them from something called Colony Collapse Disorder, “a mysterious condition in which bees abandon their hives” — exactly what they are believed to do if no one tells them of an important loss.
I remember the Memorial Days of my childhood as solemn occasions. As a member of the school band, I had to march through town in a parade each year from the time I was 8. Steeling myself against fainting in the sometimes-formidable heat at noon, when the whole community gathered at the school flagpole to honor its fallen veterans, I also had to make sure not to wince or clap my hands over my ears during the rifle salute at the end of the ceremony. Everything had to be done with a dignity befitting the sacrifices that had been made for us by the members of our armed forces.
The notion that this day of remembrance could ever be turned into an occasion for barbecues, garden parties, major department-store sales, and posters with pictures of fireworks was unimaginable. It seems to me, suddenly, that we’ve lost a great deal: not only the people who have given their lives for their country, but the will to dedicate a day in which we remember what they did.
Perhaps if we start telling the bees (and ourselves, and each other) about all that we’ve lost, we’ll at least stop losing the bees.
Susan Harper is director of the Commerce Public Library.



 

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