Help Haiti any way you can

On Tuesday, January 12, 2010, the Caribbean nation of Haiti was hit by a devastating earthquake, causing a catastrophe of such proportions that it is beyond the imagination of most of those reading these words.
Beyond the disaster of so many lives lost, is the staggering amount of work and money needed to help the survivors simply survive.
Facing months and years of rebuilding, aid is desperately needed to facilitate their recovery. Their living conditions are horrendous with thousands sleeping in the streets. Emergency relief workers from Samaritan’s Purse have described Haiti as “chaotic and disorienting.”
Unfortunately there are always irreputable “charities” and individuals who would accept donations and then take advantage of generous people. And, understandably, you may be reluctant to donate for fear of having your contribution misdirected.
After researching several agencies, both international and local, we would offer you the following websites of organizations which have proven trustworthy in the past: Samaritanspurse.org; compassion.org; worldvision.org; redcross.org; and safewaternexus.org.
A local ministry, Agape Christian Mission out of Avoca Christian Church is also collecting supplies for Haiti survivors. The mission has been building churches and school houses in Haiti for over 20 years.
The most urgently needed supplies include water purification tablets; food such as rice, dried beans, barley, powdered milk, and canned meat; personal items such as soap, shampoo, lotion, deodorant, toothpaste and brushes; health items such as fever reducers, decongestants, cough suppressants, antidiarrheal, antacids, topical antibiotic cream, bandages. If you can help with shipping funds, they are also needed desperately.
Two local churches are acting as drop-off points for Agape: Highlands Church of Christ in Gray, and Embreeville Church of Christ in Jonesborough.
We are certain that there are many more churches and charities which are active in the relief efforts. We urge you to take some time to think about ways you can help. Whether our means are great or small, there is something all of us can do.
The Herald & Tribune also invites other organizations to submit their contact information to let readers know other ways to help with the devastation in Haiti.

EPA should regulate coal combustion waste

The Environmental Protection Agency knew for a long time the public health threats from current coal-ash disposal methods.
In 2002, it finalized a risk report on the ash impoundments used by coal power plants. Nearby residents, it deduced from the screening, have a 1 in 50 chance of developing cancer through arsenic, a common pollutant in fly-ash sludge, if wells were their source of household water.
They are at increased risk as well for non-cancer diseases affecting the liver, kidney, lungs and other organs through unsafe levels of toxic metals in their water.
Many substances in the ash, seeping into groundwater and thence into streams, also endanger aquatic creatures since being found at tens, or even hundreds or thousands of times the threshold safe for them.
The agency acknowledged these risks but did not publish the report. Following Freedom of Information Act requests for it, EPA released censured documents, the key sections on cancer and ecological risks blacked out, in March 2007. Making public the 2002 assessment later that year, it omitted discussion of the high cancer and other health risks to people living near coal-ash impoundments.
Three months after TVA’s containment pond disaster at the Kingston power plant, in which a “sludge tsunami” of ash slurry covered a 300-plus acre area, EPA finally published the full text of the 2002 screening report and announced its intent to issue national regulatory standards for safe coal-waste disposal, by the end of 2009.
This deadline has come and gone. But now, a group of scientists, in a letter to the Office of Management and Budget which oversees regulatory policies from the White House has urged issuance of federal standards for coal-ash disposal, too long delayed.
Citing a “combined 100-plus years of research experience on the environmental fate and toxic impacts of coal combustion wastes,” they state that this waste is “a deadly poison to fish and wildlife and a threat to human health when improperly managed.”
The majority of ash-slurry lagoons, many hundreds of them across the country, lack liners, leachate collection systems and even systematic monitoring.
For only 89 ash disposal sites, the EPA in 2007 found sufficient technical information available to judge containment effectiveness.
Eighty percent of these had either proven damage, meaning off-site ground- and surface water contamination or potential damage, with groundwater polluted on-site but off-site movement unexamined.
Coal industry officials are lobbying against regulation of coal ash as the hazardous waste it is, arguing this to be “too expensive.”
Surely the billions in clean-up cost which TVA ratepayers will be burdened with, for damages from one disposal pond, the treatment costs for cancer and other diseases which thousands of citizens have to bear, and the damage to waters and wildlife are much greater expenses, offloaded as of now on the public.
The White House, remembering the President’s promise to let science inform policy should issue — and let the public know and have input to — protective federal standards for coal-waste disposal, forthwith.

TDOT’s road solutions should have more balance

Replacement of the 1907 Clinchfield Railroad single-lane tunnel on Knob Creek Road in Washington County is critical to the needs of emergency vehicles attempting to serve residents of the area.
As reported by Herald & Tribune Staff Writer Saundra Kelley, the tunnel is “causing tempers to rise and traffic to bottleneck as increasing numbers of drivers find themselves waiting to pass through” from one side of the crossing to the other. Johnson City Interim Fire Chief Mark Finucane says that not all fire trucks can pass through the tunnel because of their size. He explains: “Most of them either come in through Market Street/ 11E to Claude Simmons, or through Knob Creek, but that makes the response time unacceptable.”
Finucane continues: “Our commitment is to get equipment to a burning building within 4 minutes. The tunnel has a negative impact on our ability to do that.”
The State of Tennessee has a proposed solution to the tunnel: Realign Knob Creek from west of Claude Simmons Road to east of Mountainview Road, and replace the underpass with an overpass to be built 575 feet northwest of the existing tunnel.
The project will straighten and connect the east and west portions of Knob Creek Road without the need of a tunnel. However, several parcels of land on a portion of Knob Creek Road being used as a connection to Claude Simmons Road and Mountain View are historic properties.
While the need for realignment is apparent, care should be taken to preserve what remains of cultural and historic significance along Knob Creek. Sadly, properties worthy of historic designation in the area have already been encroached to the point they no longer fit the description required to stay on the historic register, according to a 2005 Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) study preparatory to beginning construction on the overpass.
This situation has caused resident James Sell, owner of several parcels of the historic property, to suggest an alternative: “All they have to do is go under the existing tunnel and tracks like they did in Kingsport at Eastman. It would be the cheapest thing to do. If you go higher, it will be tremendously expensive no matter how they do it.” As a major employer and large corporation, Eastman has the ability to influence the thinking of those in authority at the Transportation Department. This may not be the case with residents in the Knob Creek community.
Kelley’s investigation revealed that many people are unaware of the State’s construction plans. Recently, Jonesborough residents have experienced TDOT proposals that have adversely affected Five Points Grocery. Such action gives little reassurance that the State will respect the scenic views and open spaces that are important to people living in rural areas. Why the State of Tennessee wants to build a viaduct over an already elevated railroad bed challenges our view of a common sense solution to this road construction project. The elevated structure will likely require a lot more land and cause another highway eyesore in an area that deserves to be preserved.
Further explanation of the project and consideration of tunneling appears warranted. The project is necessary and should be constructed. However, a balancing of the need for modern transportation roadways while preserving the past is called for in the reconstruction of the 1907 Clinchfield tunnel.
What do readers think? “Letters to the Editor” can be addressed to P. O. Box 277, Jonesborough, Tennessee 37659; fax us at 423-753-6528, come by the office at 702 W. Jackson Blvd., or e-mail the newspaper at [email protected]

Answer the 2010 Census

Once upon a midnight dreary,
while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
`’Tis some visitor,’ I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door –
Only this, and nothing more.’
The lines from Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven would indicate that the subject of his poem feared and dreaded hearing someone knocking at his door.
No worries…when someone taps at your door in April, it will probably just be a Census taker.
This year every household in the country will receive a census questionnaire, which will be mailed out in March. You will be asked to fill it out and return it as soon as possible.
But you know how it goes; not everyone will be on the same page. That’s when the Census takers or field workers, as they are called, will step in. They will visit every house that didn’t reply.
Why is getting this information so important?
The Census data directly affects how more than $400 billion per year in federal and state funding is allocated. Those statistics can directly affect you and your family. Depending on the collected information, you may or may not get a new school, neighborhood improvements, new roads and improvements for police and fire departments.
Those numbers also are used to decide the number of seats each state has in the U. S. House of Representatives and how to redistrict state legislatures.
In other words, the term, “knowledge is power” is an excellent way to describe the collected and compiled Census data.
Completing the form will be easier this time, with the Census form even more streamlined than in years before. This year’s slogan is “10 Questions, 10 minutes.”
There won’t be any personal questions about income or religion and they won’t ask you for your Social Security number. The questionnaire doesn’t even get into whether or not you are a legal citizen.
With over 300 million of us living in the United States, the 2010 Census has a lot of ground to cover.
So let’s make it easy on everyone. Save the field workers some steps by filling out the form and sending it back. That way, the Census Bureau will have the information it needs and then you won’t have someone “rapping, rapping” at your door.

U.S. Senate should scuttle Murkowski amendment

When the U.S. Forest Service, under its then Chief Dombeck, initiated a study on areas in the national forests that were still un-logged, and keep them so for posterity, the action aroused an outpouring of public support of unprecedented extent. When the Environmental Protection Agency, under order from the Supreme Court a decade later, announced a plan for regulation of the greenhouse gases that are harming the planet and human health, citizens again voiced their support in extraordinary numbers. The Agency, as readers of this column may recall, would require the largest industries to reduce these pollutant emissions to specified lower levels, from old facilities, within five years. For new facilities they might be planning they would need to use the best modern technology available, to keep these emissions low from the start.
As noted, the citizenry overwhelmingly said “Yes” to the plan. One knows, after all, that the Clean Air Act requires the Agency to protect the public from exposure to substances that place its health and the environment at risk. A massive body of scientific research has shown a range of harm from the heat-trapping gases and their clear threat to people and the biological world all around us. But special-interest lobbyists, one learns, are signaling an industry “No” to the plan and, with help from some in the Congress, are moving to derail it.
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, a U.S. Senator, Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) “has proposed an amendment to an unrelated, fast-moving bill” that would prevent the EPA from acting on global warming pollution under the clean-air law. For a member of Congress, one might object, to seek to have the law disobeyed (along with the High Court ruling ordering it to be upheld) is an egregious interference with the constitutional principle of separation of powers — the Congress being the body make the laws, the Executive branch to carry them out, “faithfully” and the Court to enforce their execution, if needed. The amendment strikes at the very heart of the Clean Air Act — its ability, through science and regulation, to protect the public from harmful pollution. This protection, among the blessings of democratic laws, can only be guaranteed if these are carried out “in resolute and fearless fashion,” as President Theodore Roosevelt used to say.
Addressing global warming pollution is the most critical need of our time. The President’s efforts to implement existing law in this regard, in the practical way proposed by the Agency and supported by the public, should not be waylaid in the Congress. As well, to do so would undermine our international credibility, as the President has helped secure, in Copenhagen, important emissions-reduction commitments from all the countries that are the major polluters now, including China and India. Here, too, how true the earlier president’s, Teddy Roosevelt’s words: How can we “ask equity when we do not do equity”?
Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker should be encouraged to vote against the Murkowski amendment, not suggest Tennessee citizens’ support for it.

The race is on for better educational opportunities

Gov. Phil Bredesen is exercising his constitutional authority to call for a special session of the Tennessee General Assembly focusing on education, including both K-12 and higher education.
That session, set to begin today, is sure to benefit education.
The special session coincides with the start of the regular legislative session, placing education first on lawmakers’ agendas as they return to the Capitol.
In making his decision, Bredesen acknowledged this year’s tight budget but noted, “Sometimes the stars line up to create an opportunity that no one expected. And when you’re in public office, you’re obligated to seize the moment when that happens.”
Bredesen went on to say there has been “a couple of unique, unexpected opportunities drop in our lap” this year that he believes will “allow us to focus on the entire education pipeline in one fell swoop and hopefully make some changes that will be felt for years to come.”
The federal government’s “Race to the Top” competition is one of those opportunities, as states will compete for a share for more than $4 billion in Recovery Act funds. “Race to the Top” applications are due Jan. 19. The U.S. Department of Education has said states that will be the most competitive will be those that already have policy changes in place at the time of application.
The second part of the Governor’s call for a special session will involve higher education.
“In 2010, it’s only natural that we focus on the entire education pipeline as we look to create a more skilled workforce,” Bredesen said. “As we all know, it’s not just about getting kids through high school anymore. It’s also about students completing their degrees or certificates so they can get high-quality jobs and have a decent quality of life.”
Among changes Bredesen will call on lawmakers to consider is modernizing the state’s funding formula for higher education to make it substantially based on performance, such as higher degree completion rates.
Bredesen is urging lawmakers to join with him to take advantage of these unique opportunities to accomplish good things for Tennessee schools and students.
“I’ve said often that in public life, it’s easy to say ‘I’m for education,’ but it’s much harder to step up and demonstrate that in a meaningful way,”
Bredesen has made education a top priority as the Legislature goes back into session.
Hopefully, Northeast Tennessee and Washington County representatives and senators will find much to their liking in Bredesen’s efforts to “get some things done.”
With federal dollars at stake, quick action is needed to meet the “Race to the Top” deadline.
It’s time for state legislators to lace up those sneakers, because this is one race Tennessee cannot afford to lose.
 

WCBA Provides Pro Bono Services

The Washington County Bar Association is to be complemented for its charitable work in 2009 benefiting area institutions and residents.
According to the WCBA, the association, composed of members of the legal community, performed the following pro bono activities (free services provided during the year “for the public good or welfare”):
• Participated in the state wide pro bono public service day known as “Justice 4-All” by volunteering legal services to low income individuals on April 4, 2009 at the offices of Legal Aid of East Tennessee. 
As a result, 43 people were assisted in more than 20 areas of law.  In addition to the lawyers who volunteered, the staff of LAET and several interpreters donated their time to this project.
• Held a Pro Bono Public Service day for a second time on Aug. 15, 2009, at the offices of Legal Aid of East Tennessee, during which 33 people were assisted in more than 10 areas of law and from which several attorneys agreed to accept pro bono matters for further assistance.
• Implemented a monthly legal clinic on the first Saturday of each month at The Good Samaritan Ministries to continue providing volunteer legal services to low income members of our community.
•  Formed the Committee to Develop Legal Assistance and through that committee created The Circuit and Chancery Court Pro-Se Clinic which is now functioning each month. 
Attorneys volunteer to appear in court on the scheduled dates of the program to meet with unrepresented individuals on the docket for assistance within certain parameters.   
In support of this program, the WCBA purchased a laptop with wireless capability, and a printer for use in drafting simple documents. 
• Participated in the Legal Aid of East Tennessee Phone-A-Thon in December 2009
• Created the C.A.R.E Campaign (Caring Attorneys Reaching Everyone). 
This charitable drive took place over a three month period. Each month was designated for gifts to be given to a recipient organization.  Over the course of the drive, the WCBA through donations from the members of the bar and their assistants:
* Donated the equivalent of more than 22,000 pounds of food to Second Harvest Food Bank;
*Donated more than 1,500 pieces of clothing for children to the Salvation Army; and
*Donated more than 350 wish-list items for use at Niswonger Children’s Hospital.
Lawyers and the legal system are often criticized. Because of the sometimes controversial nature of legal work, the public does not always understand that these professional also seek to improve the welfare of the communities in which they live and work.
The WCBA’s efforts in 2009 remind us of the positive contribution to society this segment of the community can have. Kudos to those individuals who took part in these activities. We hope to see similar reports for 2010.

Mountaintop mining: “The science is irrefutable”

In such bitter cold as has held sway in our region these weeks, two cyclists (with a support vehicle) rolled into Jonesborough a year ago, our Town their first stop on the pedaling trip to Washington, DC.
University of Tennessee law student Sam Evans and Conservation Fisheries biologist Missy Petty would brave the season’s cold, and slick and icy roads to bring their concerns about mountaintop removal (MTR) mining, and a petition to end its stream-burial practice, to the new administration. The mountain-blasting method of coal extraction, having denuded thousands of ridgetop acres in neighboring states and covered hundreds of streams under valley fills, was headed for the Cumberland Plateau’s green mountains, their streams rich in fish and mussel species and exceptionally diverse of aquatic life.
That mountaintop mining harms streams and wildlife, economic vitality in mountain communities and their residents’ health had long been known. Assessments of many facets of it, by scientists from earth-study as well as social- and economic-study domains, had been made public in Environmental Impact Statement findings, in 2004. They had revealed hydrology scientists’ concern that the headwater streams, “collection points for all surface and groundwater within a watershed” were lost in this mining and, in the rubble and “spoil disposal” from blown-up mountains, “all water bearing strata [were] lost.” They had shown as much as one-third of the stream-generating acreage being lost in watersheds in affected mountain ranges, both fish species and benthic-creature aquatic species reduced, sometimes by two-thirds.
They had made plain the near irreversibility of forest and wildlife loss, though mined sites be “reclaimed”: such degree of compaction was necessary to stabilize slopes and prevent rockslides from mined sites that “the rooting medium,” lacking adequate aeration, nutrients and water “severely reduces tree growth.” They had noted lack of standardized methods to evaluate, and address in permits for this mining, heightened flooding potential that down-slope communities would face after removal of the mountains’ forests and their rain-absorbing soils.
But the administration, then, had loosened and “streamlined” the permitting rules, making MTR mining more widespread. The regulations of pivotal national environmental laws had been changed through executive directive or rulemaking. Federal wildlife scientists would not need to be consulted in permit review, the Clean Water Act’s “fill” rule changed to legalize stream burial, and its buffer-zone rule made discretionary in MTR mining.
Present on the National Mall on inauguration day, Mr. Evans no doubt was hearted by President Obama’s pledge to “restore science to its rightful place.” In a Science article this January 8, a group of internationally respected, U.S. experts on hydrology, engineering and ecology confirm the “severe environmental and human impacts from mountaintop mining.”
They attest these to be pervasive and long lasting, mitigation ineffectual to reverse the damage from them, and the scientific evidence of its harm “strong and irrefutable.” The scientists’ urgent call for a moratorium on further MTR permits will be heard by the administration, one hopes, given its promise that science will inform policy, not policy bend the science.

Development plans for the wetlands meadow

A guest column in the Johnson City Press in November bore this headline: “Finding clean water could be a struggle in the future.”
Charles Moore, its author, pointed out the high rate of water violations across all states, through inadequate water-laws enforcement and “punishment” for dumping contaminants.
He pointed to the “uphill battle to reverse the damage to our water supply,” since ever more storm water runoff goes into the rivers through land development. This problem he characterized as one of “too much concrete and not enough grass.”
The Town of Jonesborough faces a stark example of this problem. A proposal before it would place a convenience mart and auto service establishment within a wetland meadow whose rainwater storage, and the streams emanating from it, are the lifeblood of the Persimmon Ridge Wetland.
They feed clean headwaters supply to Little Limestone creek, barely more than a mile downstream from the meadow. This inflow is badly needed in Little Limestone, which has suffered an overburden of pollution, unresolved by the Town, for many years.
We cannot create more water. We must preserve it and to maintain its life-giving purity. We must maintain the farmland, green landscape, forests and wetland meadows we still have, on which its origination and steady supply depend.
Yet every minute, per the Tennesseean in October, two acres of farmland are paved over in urban-sprawl development, Tennessee being in the top 10 states for such loss. The land-conversion trend in one county near Nashville, erasing fully one-fifth of its prime farmland within just five years this decade, could well mirror the losses in our own region if development-as-usual dominates over land-and-water conservation need.
Growing disruption of rainfall patterns through changing climate will also continue to put more stress on creeks, lakes, and water bearing strata, even as population growth heightens demands for water.
The loss of wells and springs in the Watauga Flats community, historically low water levels in the reservoirs, Gap Creek going dry for the first time in Elizabethton, Mountain City having to ration some water uses, all in this decade, should be heard as alarum bells. The last years’ severe drought was followed this year by excessive rains, often in downpours causing flooding disruption and damage in and around our town.
Even the small part of the meadow’s wetlands that would be destroyed through the development might be that tenth-acre flood barrier loss the Town could come to regret in the future.
Not least, as well, is the matter of esthetics and preservation of the view shed to Persimmon Ridge.
Said Robert Johnson, among the conservation movement leaders around President Roosevelt, in 1910: “The first thing a man does [when able to] is to invest his money in some form of beauty. He settles in a town mainly because it is beautiful, and he is all the happier if his home can command an attractive natural view.”
The Town should consider the nearby homeowners’ investment in this, and all Jonesborough citizens in regards this development proposal.

Two New Year’s resolutions for the Town of Jonesborough

Last week it was suggested that Washington County’s New Year’s Resolution should be the installation of clean utility water to all residents.
This week two New Year’s Resolutions for the Town of Jonesborough are suggested: (1) proceed with increasing the town’s sewage treatment capacity and (2) deal fairly and openly with town residents in solving the community’s traffic problems.
Good news concerning the sewer system was reported to readers of the Herald & Tribune in a front-page article on December 1, 2009. The news story written by Assistant Editor Kate Prahlad was titled: “WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES: Town sewer plant in compliance with state.”
To review, the Town faced fines up to $400,000 after Little Limestone Creek ran black with untreated sewage plant discharges. A Commissioner’s Order from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) reviewed the nearly 40 violations a month that were taking place.
The TDEC capped discharges into the creek at 500,000 gallons a day, a figure still in force. As of the date of this editorial, the number of violations has been cut to only a couple of month and State Agency spokesman Tisha Calabrese-Benton says Jonesborough is in complete compliance with the department’s enforcement order.
Town Administrator Bob Browning credits the following steps leading to compliance by Tennessee’s Oldest Town – facing problems with sewage settlement in the second stage of treatment, a new interceptor line was installed.
This dramatically cut the amount of water flowing into the treatment plant during storms by 100,000 to 200,000 gallons a day.
Steps permitting Jonesborough to maintain the proper amount of oxygen within its sewage system were also helped by retrofitting blowers that put air into settlement basins and plans were completed for a supplemental air system.
The Town has also invested in telemetry to allow it to know the operations of each of the 34 pump stations along the sewer line without having to physically inspect each station.
The steps mentioned in the preceding paragraph merely maintain a system that needs a major improvement.
The plant’s discharge needs to be moved from Little Limestone Creek to the Nolichucky River.
Prahlad reported: “As the town grows, it will have to deal with more sewage, but it can’t expand its connections until it has capacity to deal with more sewage, but it can’t expand its connections until it has the capacity to deal with more gallons per day. Unlike Little Limestone, the Nolichucky River can handle more than 500,000 gallons per day.” The story further stated “…last month the plant was averaging 710,000 gallons a day.”
In our opinion and in view of what is at least a positive Water/Sewer Reserve Fund balance, aggressive action should be taken now to move the discharge line to the Nolichucky River.
The BMA should also consider what additional steps need to be taken in improvements to the existing sewage treatment plant.
This newspaper has received more “Letters to the Editor” concerning treatment of the owner of Five Points Grocery than on any recent topic of interest to Jonesborough residents.
Without again reviewing the options available to the BMA, it is our opinion that the topic should again be addressed.
No construction is currently underway at the site, and an alternative in the form of the installation of traffic lights at this congested and dangerous intersection is available to planners and the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
Likewise, improvements to Jackson Boulevard in connection with access to the Mayor George P. Jaynes Justice Center of Washington County need to be explained to residents.
While meetings with property owners, public hearings, and change orders to accommodate the wishes of residents take time, in the long run these efforts usually result in positive changes and favorable community opinions.
A more sensitive approach to traffic concerns is suggested to Town officials in today’s comments without placing blame on any individual for oversights in the past.
These are two suggestions on Resolutions for the Town of Jonesborough during 2010. Hopefully, officials will take appropriate action on both of them.