31 MAY 07: NO SMOKING?
At first, the idea which reached us by e-mail seemed absurd:
Maybe we should sue those S GA counties for letting their smoke excape.
But then I found out Columbus Mayor Jim Wetherington had called a Wednesday afternoon news conference about the smoky air - so I thought maybe the "Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Georgia" had changed its focus.
A wind from the southeast blew a lot of smoke from the South Georgia wildfires across Columbus Wednesday morning. It seemed like the worst day of all so far. In fact, it was SO SMOKY....
+ A few people who went to college at Tennessee started singing "Rocky Top."
+ Old-time politicians became confused, and tried to broker deals on the sidewalk.
+ Smokey Bones Bar-B-Q employees went outside with "to-go" boxes, trying to seal up as much as they could.
+ Transplants and tourists from Los Angeles said, "Wow, this feels just like home."
+ People who had kicked the cigarette habit went outside one more time, knowing they had cover.
And it was SO SMOKY that Mayor Jim Wetherington actually issued a "smoke alert." He assembled city leaders for a news conference, to give residents advice on what to do. For some reason, they did NOT suggest everyone gather in a park with fans, to blow the smoke in a different direction.
Columbus Health Director Dr. Zsolt Koppanyi advised people NOT to jog outside when it's so smoky. I'm not sure why he's saying this. It's not like the smoke smells like grilled hamburgers or something....
City Planning Director Rick Jones expressed hope the smoky condition does NOT count against Columbus's "air quality index," in terms of pollution violations. Add the smoke days to the recent pollen days, and state officials might order everyone to start riding bicycles.
Columbus Fire Chief Jeff Meyer admitted emergency calls for "difficulty breathing" have increased in recent days. This problem probably occurs in waves during the week - with the highest number coming on Tuesday and Friday nights, as the Mega Millions numbers are announced.
The Fire Chief went beyond the smoke, to the overall drought conditions. Jeff Meyer warned drivers NOT to park on grass, because a hot catalytic converter or tailpipe might spark a fire. All you beer can throwing fans at East Alabama Motor Speedway should note that, too....
Wednesday brought news about the drought as well, as Harris County banned all outdoor watering. There's no better time to have a "sun room" or porch - and if your foundation is loose enough, there might be cracks to plant a garden.
Harris County will have to buy extra water from Columbus Water Works for the time being. I guess that's what Phenix City is doing as well, because I haven't heard of any water restrictions at all there. With Georgia's tough rules on outdoor watering, the grass truly is greener on the other side of the Chattahoochee.
We mentioned the other day that one local church pastor is blaming the regional drought on Atlanta not repenting of its sins. This pastor actually went farther, and said the Orlando area needed to do away with some parades. He didn't say which ones - but officials might want to ban next year's Mardi Gras right now.
I'm trying to find an optimistic side in all the smoke and dryness. For instance, have you considered....
+ Smoke in the air is keeping the temperature down. I haven't turned on my home air conditioner so far this year. And if Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines erupts again, I might not need it at all.
+ Brown lawns mean fewer lawn mowers are running - and greenhouse gases from the engines are going down, to balance out the smoke.
+ Dying grass should mean no "rough" on the golf course, helping players shoot record low scores.
E-MAIL UPDATE: The last push is on, in the fight over what should be around the Columbus Public Library. It includes this e-mail:
I am a longtime reader of your blog and find it is part of a resource that is becoming rarer all the time in our community, an outlet for truly local news.
I am writing in response to your 30 May 2007 blog entry that discusses in part the ongoing controversy surrounding the Library.
I wanted to try to get a few facts out there to your readership which will hopefully better explain the current controversy, that seems to have many folks confused.
The group I am affiliated with, the Education Park Coalition, which was formed almost one year ago, has stood since its inception for development of the 23 acres behind the Columbus Public Library into a park. The Muscogee County School District originally agreed with this view, as evidenced by their adoption in 2001 of the Robert A.M. Stern plan to develop a 15 acre park with a parking lot on the 23 acres behind the Library.
Somewhere along the way Midtown, Inc. got involved and wanted to develop portions of the 23 acres as residential development. The Coalition strongly opposes residential development on land paid for by the public for a public purpose and because a park was promised to the citizens of Columbus in the runup to the November 1999 SPLOST election.
Now the Library Board has submitted a list of expenditures totaling around $6 million. None of that money, not one dime, not one penny has been earmarked to be spent to develop the 23 acres as a park. That is exactly the same as the original $5.4 million list. That is why the Coalition remains opposed to the list.
You have no doubt heard talk of Midtown's "Blue" Plan and our "Stern" plan and other plans. The effect of adopting the list now before Council would be to have a "Black Top" plan, that is the broken construction fencing and cracked asphalt on the 23 acres will remain exactly as they are, until the School Board sells off the property to an out of town developer.
Many have said that adoption of this list is in no way tied to Midtown, Inc. However I can report to you that Midtown, Inc. representatives are calling the four Councilors who said "no" to the List yesterday and pressuring them to change their votes. Also, I have attached an e-mail sent out by Midtown, Inc. on Friday of last week urging support of the List. Why else would Midtown, Inc. support the List other than it brings them one step closer to their goal: residential development by private developers on public property paid for by the citizens of Columbus?
Not to overwhelm you with information, but I am including below some additional information that you may find useful as this story continues to develop, including the e-mail from Midtown, Inc. I mentioned above:
FAST FACTS ABOUT THE LIST BEFORE COUNCIL:
Fast Fact 1: The Library List does not guarantee that $1 of the $6 million being spent will be used to tear up the asphalt behind the Library and replace it with greenspace and a park. $500,000 will be spent improving the existing landscaping in front of the Library. $1.3 million will be spent on a Children's area immediately behind the Library. And $600,000 has been earmarked to be spent "around the Library". But this does nothing to insure that the asphalt will be torn up and replaced with greenspace and a park on the other 23 acres.
Fast Fact 2: A compromise proposal was prepared for submission to the Library Board. It would have reduced the total spent on books from $2.5 million to $1 million, as was originally agreed to by the Library Board Facilities Committee in its February List (see attached February 2007 Library List), and it would have reduced the total on the Children's area from $1.3 million to $500,000 as originally agreed to by the Library Board Facilities Committee in its February List (see attached February 2007 Library List) and added the new $600,000 line item to a new $2.9 million + interest income line item which would read, "Monies to be spent developing the remaining 23 acres of the Library Site in accordance with the plan submitted by the Robert A.M. Stern architectural firm and adopted by the Muscogee County School Board on August 20, 2001."
Fast Fact 3: The Library Board did not even allow discussion of this compromise proposal, stating that the $5.4 million list had already been transmitted to City Council.
Fast Fact 4: This compromise would fully fund all critical needs of the Library outlined in their original List and fund $1 million for books that was never promised and fund $500,000 for a Children's area that was never promised while keeping the promise of tearing up the asphalt and placing alongside the Library greenspace and a park.
Fast Fact 5: If you vote "no" on this Budget Amendment, we will have the opportunity to present this compromise that represents a win-win solution for all involved. If you pass the Budget Amendment, we will have missed the opportunity to develop the 23 acres and it will most likely be sold off by the School District as "surplus" property....
Thanks for your time and attention regarding these matters.
Before we get to Mr. McKoon's points, I didn't realize outlets for "local news" were becoming scarce around here. The Ledger-Enquirer has more local news on its front page now than ever before - well, unless something important like Hogzilla II comes along.
So the proposed park around the central library wouldn't completely be a park?! Using the numbers Josh McKoon cites from the 2001 plan, one-third of the land in question would become a parking lot. It may not be a "black top" plan - but it would be as black and green as a Philadelphia Eagle uniform, so maybe we should name it after Rod Hood.
I think Midtown Inc. became involved in this issue when the Muscogee County School Board asked Teresa Tomlinson to hold community forums about the library land. She reported more people preferred a "hybrid" approach to the land than any other option, while the park idea had the most negative comments [25 Jul 06]. So should the city live up to a promise most people don't like -- like sales taxes in general?
If Josh McKoon thinks Teresa Tomlinson and Midtown Inc. somehow "packed the meetings" on the library land last year, he'll have to prove it. Tomlinson told reporters last summer she was surprised by the negative reaction to a proposed park. And that was back when we had plenty of rain, to make the land green.
And if the Library Board's proposal for the 23 acres leaves the land as little more than "cracked asphalt," why did Columbus Council approve about $600,000 on Tuesday for landscaping on the property? I can't imagine that much money would be needed to paint new white stripes....
Josh McKoon's letter clearly reflects suspicion and distrust -- with Midtown Inc. primarily, and the Muscogee County School Board after that. For instance, he wants a written guarantee that asphalt will be torn up. This man has a great future working for the Better Business Bureau, investigating contractors.
This letter does not address one point a Library Board member mentioned on TV the other day. She said the Library Board's mission is to operate libraries, not maintain parks around them. Perhaps the park maintenance could be contracted out - but then this would probably turn into an immigration debate as well.
Josh McKoon's official title in all this is director of the Education Park Coalition. But this long and impassioned debate leaves me asking one unspoken question. Given McKoon's other local title -- is Teresa Tomlinson a Democrat?
BLOGGER'S NOTE: We don't have the space to post Josh McKoon's attached letter from Midtown Inc. If you'd like to review it, e-mail us and we'll pass it on.)
We have blog readers at Midtown Inc., so I somehow doubt we've seen the last e-mail on this topic. While we wait for more, let's check other midweek headlines:
+ The Sin City Inquisition and Bar-B-Q blog in East Alabama posted an admitted "rumor" of a settlement between WTVM and Cable TV of East Alabama. I hope that blog didn't hear from the same person who claimed a Kroger store was heading for Ladonia [7 Feb] - because I'm still waiting on that one.
+ Winn-Dixie announced it will rebuild its tornado-ravaged Americus store. The company tried to make the decision a mystery. But when you call a news conference with two corporate officials AND the mayor present, either you plan to rebuild - or your company is being run by the producers of Punk'd.
+ Columbus State canned Cal State-Los Angeles 9-4, to advance to the Division II World Series championship game. C.S.U. will take on Tampa for the title Friday night - and if Tampa's players have been watching videos of the Devil Rays, the Cougars should have no problem.
+ Instant Message to WRBL: Don't laugh too much at that other station's problems. I heard a church pastor advise people in a sermon NOT to watch your new show "Pirate Master" tonight. Take the lying and the stealing scenes out, and maybe he'll change his mind.
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