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Wednesday, 10 May 2006 00:00

Gas prices, HCC’s needs and Sylva’s liquor dilemma

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Around the region and throughout the world, there’s a lot going on right now. My “column ideas” folder runneth over, so here’s a little house cleaning, a few random thoughts as the news keep churning:

Gas prices

There is only so much politicians can do about the high price of gas, but that has never stopped them from trying.

And so it seems appropriate that George Bush, with his Texas background and close ties to the oil industry, would temporarily suspend some of the environmental regulations that are aimed at keeping the air cleaner. Doing so will speed the process of moving from unrefined oil to ready-to-use gasoline. By putting more in the pipeline, prices should drop, according to the president’s people.

Few issues leave us so clearly divided as oil and energy. Republicans, for the most part, favor more oil capacity, more drilling, and fewer regulations — at least that’s the line from the party leaders in the White House. Democrats want higher taxes (usually) that will curb consumption, more regulations to protect the environment, and policies that encourage conservation.

As prices soar and oil company profits rise, perhaps the importance of having a coherent national energy policy will emerge. At this time we import 60 percent or our oil, which leaves us at the mercy of countries like Iran, Iraq and Venezuela. At the same time, huge consumers like China and India are making deals to get all their own economies need. I’m no economist, but it seems obvious this situation is too volatile, and the Bush administration’s foreign policy has done little to help.

More oil in the pipeline can’t be the answer, even in the short term. We must cut consumption, conserve and change the attitude that bigger and more are always better. That malaise is at the root of many of this country’s problems.

HCC’s taxing problem

A recent article in The Mountaineer noted how the proposal to hold a referendum on a local option sales tax for building projects at Haywood Community College is likely to become a political hot potato come November’s election. We wish that weren’t so. The school is in dire need of these projects.

The proposal would include a sunset clause that would automatically end the tax once the college got the $14.5 million it needs to complete the projects. Sen. John Snow, D-Murphy, told the newspaper it’s hard to imagine the bill moving out of committee during the short legislative session that started this week. From a political standpoint, he believes Republicans will oppose the measure as a “tax increase,” even though it would only allow Haywood County voters to decide the issue for themselves. State GOP leaders may use this issue to run negative ads against those who support HCC’s request.

Local bills like this, of course, must have the unanimous support of the local legislative delegation. According to the article, Sen. Keith Presnell, R-Yancey, who represents all but three Haywood County precincts, apparently does not support the bill. He says it might not solve the college’s needs, and that there is money locally to do what needs to be done.

That is simply not true. The college needs this money, and Presnell’s opposition shows how out of touch he is with Haywood County’s needs in this terribly gerrymandered district.

Joe Sam’s seat

Presnell’s lack of knowledge about this issue that is so important to Haywood County is a good reason to support Joe Sam Queen of Waynesville in November. The primary election season is over, the race is on, and Queen needs the overwhelming support of Haywood County’s voters if he’s to win in November. This is just one of many reasons to vote for Queen.

HCC’s future

While we’re talking about HCC, it was a refreshing morning last week when new HCC President Rose Johnson gave a short talk to Haywood County Chamber of Commerce members. She spoke of using the college’s highly successful Natural Resources Department as a model for ways the college can take advantage of this region’s very important environmental resources and concerns.

Johnson said the college’s construction students could learn the latest green building techniques, suggested horticulture students could develop a focus on organics, and said the landscaping curriculum could focus on the use of native plants.

HCC has proven adept over the years at linking its successful programs to products and resources important to this region. Its wood products division, during its heyday, was a great example, as is the production crafts and natural resource curriculums. Johnson, perhaps, has put her finger on a few other ways the community college can take advantage of this community’s needs and interests.

Sylva bellies up

Liquor drinks will soon be served up in Sylva, thanks to a referendum that passed during the May 2 primary.

Aside from Asheville, none of the other communities in this region with liquor by the drink have the demographics of Sylva, particularly the thousands of students and hundreds of well-paid professors and staff. Many of these people were raised in urban areas where Red Lobsters and Applebees and other chain restaurants dominated the marketplace. Even though these students can’t legally drink, they still are familiar with dining at these types of establishments.

This means that those chains may find N.C. 107 between Cullowhee and Sylva a great place to locate. If that happens, it would almost certainly hurt the small, privately owned, unique restaurants that offer their own brand of atmosphere and food. Instead, we’ll get pre-packaged ambiance and mediocre food.

It’s hard to say if that is indeed what will happen, but it’s sad to imagine. Just as our addiction to the cheap convenience of Wal-Marts has put tens of thousands of small businesses under, so might this have some negative repercussions. So support the small guy, the locally owned pubs, restaurants and grills. If the worst happens, they’ll be the beacons in a wasteland of homogenization.

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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