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Tower of power

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I've been scooped by an excellent cartoonist [Feb. 9]! When news broke that Carolina Power & Light plans a new office tower in downtown Raleigh, which they expect the Raleigh City Council to approve faster than you can say "Nuclear Regulatory Commission," I was going to make a modest proposal. CP&L could kill two birds with one stone by using nuclear waste fuel rods as reinforcing bars in their new office building. Then the folks who claim nuclear waste is no problem could literally put their money (and bodies) where their mouths are. Of course, V.C. Rogers may have intended his cartoon cooling tower to be venting part of the hot air from CP&L public relations.

Some of that PR may have leaked into a recent Independent article [Jan. 5]. It suggested environmentalists might agree with CP&L on shoving the waste into the proposed dump at Yucca Mountain, Nev. In fact, the state of Nevada and more than 200 environmental and citizens organizations have called on the Secretary of Energy to decertify that site because it has conditions, including leaks, that by law preclude its use. The Yucca Mountain dump was selected for political purposes in a site that can never be made safe due to porous rock--very similar to the problems with the recently abandoned Southeast Compact nuclear waste dump CP&L wanted to locate near the Harris nuclear plant.

The guys who retired Paul Bunyan moved in across the street for a couple of weeks last summer. Measured against the extremes of your story ["Where did the trees go?" Feb. 2], it wasn't much--a 10-acre clear-cut, selective cutting from another 20. You don't even see much of it from the road unless you pause to look back along the access track they cut farther up the road.

After a week of hearing the roar of logging machinery, I wandered down the road to check out the operation and ask what the plan was. It seems three of the neighbors had collaborated to sell timber off adjoining properties, and the loggers were mowing methodically through the pines.

I'll never forget the days the loggers were here. I got a visceral understanding of what bzzzt meant. Every 30 to 60 seconds that loud bzzzt announced that another 40- to 70-year-old tree was being liberated from its slowly crafted mooring in the earth. I stood out in front of my studio hypnotized, all concentration on sculpture diverted by the waltzing pines. The workers left a fringe by the road untouched, so I couldn't see the marauding machine at all. I watched the treetops for the telltale shudder of the machine's jaws locking around a trunk. Bzzzt--and another huge tree suddenly danced stage right. Just as suddenly, it would trip, and the ripping crash as it was heaved down would sound like the antithesis of grace. Seemingly before it had hit the ground I'd see the shudder of the next dance partner.

After they left, the ground was so cluttered with random strewn limbs and broken saplings that, as far as I could see, the only environment it offered for deer was in obstacle-course training. I'm sure, come spring, something green will rise to camouflage the devastation. Mother Nature will clean it up somehow; she's awfully clever that way.

"Where Did the Trees Go?" is accurate enough about the nature of whole-tree chipping operations, but in the end, it fails to see the forest for the trees. The chipping operations will be a short-lived presence whose marks are as soon forgotten as the much more devastating marks of past land uses.

The greatest damage ever done to Chatham land (and Southern lands in general) was by family farmers. The erosion ditches from 50 and 100 years ago are still clearly visible throughout the Piedmont clay soils. Few logging operations ever turned so much mud into local streams as some dairy and beef operations and 100 years of cropping hillside soils. Today's farmers treat the soils better, but still cause much more soil loss to water and wind than logging.

Some 75 years ago, more than 80 percent of Chatham County had been clear-cut and never allowed to regrow. Most of the land was devoted to farms. Today the remaining farms are simply permanent clear-cuts. The rest of the farms grew back in pine, poplar and gum, then oak and hickory.

Those of us who came to Chatham County 20 or 30 years ago to live in the woods don't like either clear-cutting or suburbanization. I may well decide to realize the fine prices development has brought to Chatham County and move to a wilder place, but that's my taste--not a condemnation of what Chatham is becoming. It is not becoming a clear-cut wasteland. It is becoming a suburban area with great natural diversity. Chatham never was the Eden that nostalgia has firmly rooted in otherwise rational minds, but it will be the most stable, green and clean environment that Chatham has offered in two centuries.

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