September 13, 2016

We can learn from the Dog Town Bunch’s persistence

     If you know your presidents, you’ll remember Calvin Coolidge was the 30th commander-in-chief to occupy the Oval Office.  To my knowledge, Jay Erskine Leutze has no aspirations to be president of the United States.  However, Leutze is a modern-day example of one of President Coolidge’s more famous quotations:
     “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.  Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.  Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.  Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.  Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.  The slogan ‘Press On,’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”
     Jay Leutze is a well-educated, non-practicing attorney in North Carolina whose “genius” might have gone unnoticed if he had not been persistent in his fight to save Belview Mountain, which is in panoramic view of his family’s cabin.  And I wouldn’t have known about Leutze if someone hadn’t sent me his book: Stand Up That Mountain.
     If you are one of the original doubters in Wayne County’s fight against toxic coal ash, you need to read all 387 pages of Leutze’s “battle to save one small community in the wilderness along the Appalachian Trail.”  The odds were stacked against Leutze and his band of rural neighbors.  A rich mining-company owner cared little what the locals thought.  After all, he had a state-issued mining permit and a public-be-damned attitude.
     But wait a minute.
     Neither the North Carolina environmental agency nor the deep-pocketed miner had counted on the public awareness or the 36-months-long stink brought about by a determined group.  “The Dog Town Bunch,” as they were labeled, knew the value of Calvin Coolidge’s “Press On” slogan.  With little initial money, but plenty of mountain-bred moxie, the Dog Town Bunch began a hellhounds-on-the-heels fight for environmental justice.What happened in Avery County, N.C., is different, but it is the same as what we have in Coastal Georgia. You can see the David-and-Goliath parallels in Wayne County. A powerful company maneuvers, in the shadows, to get needed permits.  Clark Stone Company had a 99-year lease to allow its destruction of a piece of the environment which had been millions of years in the making. 
     Beginning to sound familiar?
     Even though toxic coal ash wasn’t threatening the community’s air and water, there was plenty of dust and noise pollution.  Clark Stone could operate its monstrous rock-crushing machinery 24 hours a day, 365 days per year for almost a century.  Over time, a scenic mountain would become a mammoth crater.  While corporate pockets would be stuffed, the pristine Appalachian Trail—a national treasure—would gain nothing but an ugly eyesore and a monument to greed.
     The rape of Belview Mountain was already under way when Leutze and his neighbors started gnawing at the heels of those responsible.  Public hearings, negotiations, courtroom skirmishes and tedious bureaucratic delays stretched over three years.  The winning, then losing and ultimately winning made for an emotional roller-coaster ride.  When the North Carolina Supreme Court declined to review the Court of Appeals’ verdict in favor of the Dog Town Bunch, the persistent group could go to the top of their beloved Belview Mountain and joyously howl. 
     I am not interested in gloating or howling, but maybe someone will write a book about how Coastal Georgia found inspiration from its North Carolina environmental soulmates. Leutze and the Dog Town Bunch proved the value of Calvin Coolidge’s admonition. That’s why we must press on against toxic coal ash.