Friday, June 15, 2007

More Quotes Than Answers

"[Contractors] stopped working on their pond on a Friday, and when they came back Monday this pond had been built." - official quoted in Sylva Herald, June 14, 2007

The problem with reporters asking too many probing questions is that it just raises more questions…and who’s got time for that? That began to dawn on me as I re-read this week’s news coverage of the dam break at the Balsam Mountain Preserve golf course.

One of the recurring themes of the article was that nobody could say why the dam broke. Now that may be the ONE thing that even an ignoramus like me could answer. THE DAM FAILED BECAUSE IT WAS NOT BUILT PROPERLY.

I suppose there are other possible explanations. An eco-terrorist might have crashed a plane into the dam. A gang of disgruntled beavers exiled from the Biltmore Lake development might have undermined the dam. A freak microburst might have descended from sky and struck the very spot where the dam was built. It might have been global warming.

From reading the article, I think I found yet another explanation. Here’s a clue:
"[Contractors] stopped working on their pond on a Friday, and when they came back Monday this pond had been built." I see an episode of "Unsolved Mysteries" emerging from this one. What a knee slapper. ROTFLMFAO! I guess Balsam Mountain Preserve REALLY IS a magical place. Shoemaker and the elves. GREMLINS built the dam. Slap a hefty fine on those pesky GREMLINS.

We read that Balsam Mountain Preserve had already been under investigation by the Division of Water Quality, but when a DWQ worker retired, the process started from the top again. Well, isn’t that an interesting way to handle things. Is that official policy for the Division of Water Quality? How fortunate or unfortunate, as the case may be, for anyone in a hurry to get a golf course finished. Did she tell anyone that she’d be retiring? Did she take all her files with her when she cleaned out her desk?

Just wondering.

I concede that assessing a FINE on GREMLINS will be difficult.

One thing I have learned from Balsam Mountain Preserve’s four-year long public relations campaign that I’ve been reading in the local papers almost every week is that nobody cares more about the environment than they do.

Heck, from reading the papers, I didn’t even know that Balsam Mountain Preserve WAS a housing development. I was under the impression that it was just a nature center where school kids went on field trips. ("Hey kids, don't stand too close to that dam, alright?") Why that’s what their name sounds like. And it is a non-profit operation, right?

But back to those fines. With a sterling track record, anyone's earned the right for a do-over, penalty free. Two or three do-overs, for that matter. Just for the record, though, wonder what the penalty would be for some average Joe that "kills a stream". And how long would it take to figure out how to penalize average Joe? And who would tell us if and when any fine would be imposed? Will that follow-up story appear in any newspaper. OLD news by then, you know. And it’s not like anyone got hurt.

Finally took a ride out toward the gated city today...tried to snoop around some. I managed to find this little creek with a thick layer of sediment and silt in the bottom of it. Didn’t see a single elktoe mussel. But that’s not surprising. Elktoe mussels would rather die than live in a thick layer of sediment and silt. Fickle creatures. They deserve whatever fate befalls them.

Actually, I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the Balsamanians "cleaning up the creek." I realize that "cleaning up the creek" could mean any number of things and busy reporters might not have time to pin down exactly what it means in this case.

Could it mean taking measures to make it look like the flood never happened? After all, visual aesthetics is important to the gated city. Dragging away the trees and bushes and limbs scattered along the creek, is that what they mean by cleaning up the creek? Having the fire department wash the sediment off the bridge and back into the storm sewer (I mean the stream) to make things look nicer? Is that what they mean by cleaning up?

Just wondering.

A long time ago, I remember using some sort of a submersible vacuum pump to clean out the crud that had settled into the gravel of a fish aquarium. Is there a large-scale thingamajiggy along those lines for cleaning up a creek that's been filled with silt? Dredging? And if so, how far downstream would the Balsam people actually do this cleanup work? And if some method does exist, what are the problems for any living things that might remain in the creek? We know how the silt gets into the creek. How do you get it back out of the creek?

Just what did the Fish and Wildlife guy mean when he mentioned effects from the dam break extending all the way to Fontana Reservoir? And what about that official’s planned meeting with Balsam Mountain Preserve folks to discuss restoration and remediation? Will that result in a written document available to the public? What will be the process for assuring compliance? Will the local papers provide us with any followup on this part of the story? Or have they decided that we’ve been given an adequate amount of information already?

Finally, are we in for more of the same old "he said-she said" reporting we’ve grown used to? Or will we actually get the answers to some of these questions, and I would hope, even tougher questions?

If Chaffin/Light and Balsam Mountain Preserve hate this blog, fine. Apparently, they can’t distinguish questions from "lies"... anymore than reporters can distinguish quotes from answers.
Ironically, "Gulahiyi" is Cherokee for "Gadfly" – or "one habitually engaged in provocative criticism of existing institutions, typically as an individual citizen."

And if Appalachian Gadflies, like Appalachian Elktoe Mussels, were to be swept into extinction by the next golf course dam break…well, it’s not like anybody got hurt.

Thank goodness for that.

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