November 9, 2016

Mountain fight reveals common denominator

     How could something be so different but yet be the same?  I already had the answer, but I found additional affirmation—up on 5,440-foot-high Big Yellow Mountain—outside Minneapolis, North Carolina.  After just reading the fly page of Jay Leutze’s Stand Up That Mountain, I knew that I would travel to Avery County to shake his hand and pick his brain.   His up-and-down-roller-coaster environmental saga was different from Wayne County’s fight against Republic’s toxic coal-ash dumping scheme.  But, actually, it is the same.
      Jay and his neighbors were in hand-to-hand legal combat—for three years—to save a mountain on the Appalachian Trail.  Down in Coastal Georgia, we are waging war to keep a mountain range of dangerous waste from rising above Republic’s near-sea-level Broadhurst Environmental Landfill.
     Belview Mountain, in the shadow of iconic Grandfather Mountain, was in the crosshairs of Clark Stone Company, which had a state-issued permit to crush Belview into gravel.  The bulldozers, back-up beepers, rumbling dump trucks, dust and dynamite blasting rattled awake sleepy Minneapolis (aka Dog Town, population 429).   
     On Halloween, standing atop the grassy bald of Big Yellow Mountain, non-practicing-attorney-turned-author Jay pointed to Belview which had galvanized him and his neighbors.  The legal fistfight wended its way through a maze of courtrooms where the Dog Town Bunch and its beloved mountain were declared winners.
     What’s the common denominator between them and us?  I think you know, but first: How did I track down Jay Leutze?  As always, I had help.  The world is huge.  But with the help of friends, the planet shrinks so you can connect the dots.
     During the Class of 1966’s 50th reunion, Patty Barr Sutker said, “My nephew, David Cashwell, went to high school and college with Jay in Chapel Hill.  I can give you his contact information.”  Within minutes of my first email, presto, I got Jay’s response: “Sure, I’d be glad to visit with you.”
     With deep pockets and powerful political cronies, Paul Brown, owner of Clark Stone, never imagined he would run into a buzz saw—not in Minneapolis, where mountain folks relied on gravel roads to get up to their houses.   Jay explained the “great equalizer”:  a razor-sharp teenager with a dial-up internet connection.  Through her fingertips on a keyboard, Ashley Cook educated herself and hoisted the battle flag.  Despite multiple health issues, Ashley never backed off her ruckus. 
     The frail but feisty 14-year-old rallied troops.  Someone suggested, “Let’s get Jay.  He’s a lawyer.  He lives so near that—in the morning—he can hear the back-up beepers from his bed.”  They didn’t know that their neighbor had never practiced law.  That didn’t matter.  They wanted more warriors with guts and loud voices.  As you can read in Stand Up That Mountain, Jay recruited a legal team, including two pit-bull attorneys—one a legendary retired judge dubbed the “Heel Hound”—and the Southern Environmental Law Center.  They did know their way around a courtroom.
      So, what is the common denominator connecting Jay and the Dog Town Bunch with us?  It’s a love of God’s irreplaceable gifts of natural resources and our passion to protect them.  There’s right, and there’s wrong.  Clark Stone’s greedy intent to destroy Belview Mountain was wrong, just as is Republic’s greedy risk to harm Coastal Georgia.
     North Carolina’s Court of Appeals upheld the Dog Town Bunch’s contention that the state’s Department of Environmental Quality improperly issued Clark Stone its mining permit.  We believe Republic, too, has been quietly tiptoeing—piecemeal—through loopholes to get what it wants from Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
     If you ever think we’ll stop fighting for what is right, I suggest you take a hike up the mountain with Jay.