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Staff Editorials

Keep the night skies dark

Submitted by Keep Pickens Beautiful

    "Once a source of wonder -- and one half of the entire planet’s natural environment—the star-filled nights of just a few years ago are vanishing in a yellow haze.
    Human-produced light pollution not only mars our view of the stars; poor lighting threatens astronomy, disrupts ecosystems, affects human circadian rhythms, and wastes energy to the tune of $2.2 billion per year in the U.S. alone." (International Dark-Sky Association, http://www.darksky.org)
    Light pollution is any adverse effect of artificial light, including sky glow, glare, light trespass, decreased visibility at night, energy waste, and more(http://mcdonaldobservatory.org). 
    As our community grows and additional structures and businesses are built, the need for lighting is inevitable. But we have options, and it’s up to us to make choices that will help preserve our amazing night skies.
    Now is the time to establish some guidelines that will help preserve our dark skies. Many communities throughout the United States have adopted ordinances, including Cherokee County (Cherokee County Zoning Ordinance Article 25 – Outdoor Lighting and Road Glare).
    Once obtrusive lighting is installed, it’s difficult to remove. Let’s use lighting that will provide adequate (actually superior) security while also focusing the light where its needed….downwards - illuminating an intruder, not the guard or observer.
    While its important to install county guidelines, there are many things we can do at home to help reduce light pollution and road glare.        You can start with your own yard by adopting good lighting practices.
    You have many options to adequately illuminate your property without negatively affecting your neighbors.
    Blinding, glaring lights are not always the most effective security measure; focused lighting is a much better deterrent to unwanted visitors.
    The solution to light pollution is 90 percent  education and public awareness, and 10 percent technology.
    Show examples of good lighting to your friends and neighbors. Once people see it in action, and understand its implications for cost savings and enhanced visibility, they are far more likely to adopt good lighting practices on their own.| (http://mcdonaldobservatory.org/darkskies)
    Please let our local officials know that you believe preserving our dark skies is important. While reducing our light pollution at home is a step in the right direction, controlling lighting at retail centers is much more significant.
    Let’s follow the lead of communities like Flagstaff, Arizona, Homer Glen, Illinois, and the other International Dark Sky Communities, as well as Cherokee County and their new Outdoor Lighting and Road Glare ordinance.
     Let’s keep Pickens County’s skies dark so we can preserve our nighttime environment.

 

A completely reactionary opinion on climate change

    Critics often dismiss ideas as “reactionary”  -- meaning something is not valid because it is a reaction to an emotional event.
    Well, this is a completely reactionary opinion on climate change inspired by last Wednesday’s weather.
    Wednesday we had what might be described as a bad spring storm. Kids in local schools spent a portion of their day in hallways following tornado drill protocol; activities were canceled.
    A couple of roads were closed, minor flooding occurred. Even though damage here didn’t get beyond a few downed trees and wet basements, nerves were on edge most of the morning and into the afternoon.
    Pickens came out pretty well compared to the nearby areas. Fannin, Gordon and Bartow counties saw tornado damage.
    The Jan. 30 storms caused an estimated $75 million in insured losses, Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner Ralph Hudgens announced. This was an early estimate according to the insurance office spokesperson and more reports were expected to be filed later.
    The troubling thing about this spring storm is that it’s January. It’s ridiculous that we had to fret over a thunderstorm this time of year when we should be worrying about ice storms instead.    
    We don’t like thunderstorms and strong winds any time in Pickens County. We’ve had enough storms that tore down houses and killed people here that you don’t blame anyone for getting nervous when the winds pick up.
    The last thing we want is more dramatic weather to come every year.
    You can argue that this tornado in January was a pure fluke, an odd occurrence and not indicative of anything. After all, it was just one storm that occurred out-of season –it’s not like frogs fell from the sky.
    But around the globe, there’s been so much abnormal weather that the unusual is now the norm.
    As Bill Gausman, a senior vice president at the Potomac Electric Power Company told the New York Times, “We’ve got the ‘storm of the century’ every year now.”
    Here are just a few of the current flukes:
    • Coldest winter in China in 30 years. In Mongolia 180,000 livestock froze to death.
     • It’s been so cold in Russia that street lights stopped working.
    • 8 inches of snow fell in Jerusalem this year – if you don’t remember Jesus and his disciples dealing with icy conditions, weather experts said the recent snow was “truly unusual.”
    • Drought and heat conditions in America’s farm belt caused all types of food-related issues last year.
    • New Jersey and New York got hit so hard by a hurricane that it caused New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a popular conservative, to take up the climate change banner with zeal.    
    • Texas A & M researchers have theorized the above average temperatures of the past summers in their region are outside the limits of what highways are designed to withstand.
    People who believe that climate change is occurring and it is caused by gases that human activity releases into the atmosphere will cite these weather aberrations as proof.
    People who argue against human created climate change will say those are reactionary arguments as there have always been storms.
    Even if those who deny climate change turn out to be right, when we have tornado sirens going off in January, it bears serious consideration that if anything we are doing is causing it, then we need to stop.
    Yes, we are reactionary; we don’t like tornadoes or droughts or hurricanes and we sure don’t want any more of them than necessary.
    As the old saying goes “better safe than sorry.”

Zombies versus snooty English people

    It’s true America is a nation divided; a country split into two parties with fundamentally different beliefs and outlooks on life – some of us like zombie shows and others prefer British dramas.
    A large number of us want to watch marauding brain-eating zombies while others insist, for inexplicable reasons, on watching British gentry prattle on about some mischief the servants are up to.
    Boiling points are reached every Sunday at 9 p.m., thanks to diabolical television schedulers. That is when everyone is forced to choose sides. You either choose zombies or you choose snooty English people. For it is at that precise time that The Walking Dead airs on AMC while Downton Abbey shows on PBS – throwing every household in this nation into chaos, splitting families down the middle.
    If men are from Mars and women from Venus, everyone could go back to their home planet on Sunday nights and happily watch zombie killing on the red planet, while the fairer sex would get together and discuss the intricacies of what Maggie Smith said at a tea, as opposed to what she said at dinner.
    Not to be sexist, but facts are facts - this division most often comes down to gender. Dudes like zombie killing, about a thousand to one more than Masterpiece Classic shows featuring people polishing silverware. Women, on the other hand, may enjoy a good zombie-braining from time to time, but are more apt to miss it when confronted with a show from an elegant British manor house on another channel.
    This essential difference has bedeviled household harmony since the cave days. Even with technology that allows easy show recording, the one who controls the remote, drives the household.
    The two shows represent the two faces of our culture. The Walking Dead features oodles and oodles of zombie killing action. Zombies are dispatched at a high rate with crossbows, shovels, pipes, samurai swords and occasionally plain ol’ guns – when the writers run out of other ideas.
    The Walking Dead, which provides a compelling plot as well as useful post-apocalyptic survival tips, is both entertaining and educational for many of us – Never trust people with eye-patches when civilization breaks down.
    Unfortunately, the forces of Venus have seen fit to put a show on Georgia Public Broadcasting that spends many, many minutes of nothing but a bunch of snooty English people wielding their wit and manners against each other and the hordes of the non-aristocrats who surround them. However, this show, which features all the excitement of watching someone mow grass, apparently casts a hypnotic spell over a certain percentage of the public.
    It was bad enough two weeks ago when Downton Abbey came up against the SuperBowl and some households missed part of the biggest football game of the year. In some cases “the ladyships” simply banished their husbands to the servant quarters (kids’ rooms) to watch one of the best NFL grand finales in American history alone, not on their recliners and far from their tankards of ale.
    This Valentine's Day what we propose is a compromise of sorts. Maybe every once in a while a half-rotted zombie can run amuck through the halls of the manor house and eat a butler or some incidental cousin to the dowager, conversely the rugged band of survivalists in the Walking Dead could once every show drone on endlessly about proper etiquette while fleeing a horde of ravenous zombies.
    In the spirit of Valentine’s Day we’d like to suggest a new series, The Walking Dead of Downton Abbey.

 

Cove Road unsuitable for key thoroughfare

    Any one driving from northeast Pickens to Jasper for a Valentine evening outing  may have found themselves at a standstill on the long uphill leading from the bridge at Long Swamp Creek into town.
    And anyone trying to get home to places like Still Hollow, Hickory Cove, as well as the large gated communities of Bent Tree and Big Canoe found themselves similarly brought to a halt as they made the turn on to Cove Road last Thursday.
    The traffic snarl resulted from a two-car wreck at the intersection of Cove Road and Old Cove/Old Grandview roads. The intersection sits at the end of a sloping curve that can take drivers coming from town unawares if cars are stopped waiting to take a left.
    Speed can always be a problem, but the larger problem is that Cove Road is unsuited as the major east-west county thoroughfare it has become. Especially in the first four miles out of Jasper, Cove Road is steep and curvy. Wrecks are common in this stretch, especially in the narrow S-turns on the east side of Long Swamp Creek (commonly called the Cove).
    Having this road closed while emergency crews deal with auto-accidents is not uncommon. Christmas Eve also saw motorists waiting. Fortunately, there have been very few fatalities here. None are recalled in recent years.
    Cove Road with the creek, and old marble mines is a scenic drive. It was never planned to handle heavy traffic volumes.
    Based on recent population estimates, it’s fairly safe to say that a quarter of the roughly 30,000 people in Pickens live in the northeast quadrant of the county. And for a majority of these homes, Cove Road represents their best route to reach Jasper or Highway 515 for further commutes.
    Big Canoe and Bent Tree, with more than 3,000 combined households in Pickens County, including weekend getaway rentals are both accessed from Jasper via Cove Road.
    Highway 53 offers an alternative at some points. But once you get past a certain point coming to Jasper, you have to know your county backroads fairly well to detour off Cove. It can be done but not quickly and you can end up on even narrower routes.
    At one point the powers-that-be sought a reservoir in the Cove area to supply Pickens County and Jasper water needs. An added benefit touted was the construction of a dam offered the chance to re-build the most troublesome portion of this road – the section around Long Swamp Creek.
    But reservoir plans all drowned in state regulations and this is no longer mentioned as a likely plan, though it remains an idea we would like to see pursued.
    For now, we’d strongly urge the county to put a very generic item “find traffic alternatives to Cove Road” near the top of their long range plans.
    This might take the form of expanding that road; adding another route that parallels it; re-building portions of that road or something not even thought of yet.    
    NOTED: none of the options come easily, cheaply or without years of planning, lobbying and work. The topography created by the Long Swamp Creek Gorge, running all the way to Marble Hill from the Grandview area, presents a formidable natural obstacle. It’s not the Grand Canyon – not even the Grand Canyon of Georgia, but any road crossing will strain planners, road builders and budgeters.
    None of the options mentioned here (aside from the reservoir) appear very good. We know that another route through the area is difficult to envision. We know that it will be a monumental task to widen/straighten a road that has sheer cliffs alongside it.
    But we recognize, (looking at regular wrecks on a windy route that is the key east-west connector in the most populated area of the county) that the choice of doing nothing is the only option that shouldn’t be considered.

 

Legal drugs can still produce deadly outcomes

    When host Seth MacFarlane quipped during Sunday night’s Oscar celebration in Los Angeles that some of the night’s older guests remembered when the town was “cocaine trees as far as the eyes could see,” he got a lot of laughs.
    What the comic didn’t mention is that drug users have turned from illegal substances like cocaine and heroin to legal prescriptions and the results are just as deadly.
    Overdoses from prescription painkillers, usually involving alcohol, recently overtook car crashes as the No. 1 cause of accidental death in the United States, according to a recent CNN article.
    The Centers for Disease Control now considers prescription drug abuse an epidemic. While illegal drugs have seen a marked decrease in use, studies show that nearly one-third of people age 12 and over who use drugs for the first time begin with illicit use of prescription drugs.
    Adults - who should know better - and children need to be educated about the dangers of prescription drugs.                    These drugs are still drugs, regardless of their legal status. Teens and adults who misuse prescription drugs often believe they are safer than street drugs because they are prescribed by a medical professional and dispensed by a pharmacist.
    In the United States, we now prescribe enough pain pills to give every man, woman and child one every four hours, around the clock, for three weeks.
    Drug overdose death rates in the United States, according to the CDC, have more than tripled since 1990.
    And although many types of prescription drugs are abused, there is a growing epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse, with nearly three out of four prescription drug overdoses caused by painkillers.
    The misuse and abuse of prescription painkillers was responsible for 60 percent of all drug overdose deaths in 2010. Opioid drugs such as OxyContin and Vicodin contribute to three out of four of these deaths, according to the CDC. People clearly don’t realize that opioids are the same class of drugs as heroin, only in prescription form.
    It’s a big problem that is getting worse fast and education is a crucial first step in tackling the problem. In addition, old prescription drugs need to be taken out of circulation. When he took office, Sheriff Donnie Craig began a program allowing people to dispose of their old prescription drugs in drop boxes at the jail as a way to decrease the supply of available unused prescription drugs. It’s a great  step because the majority of people who abuse prescription painkillers get drugs from friends and relatives. Often stolen from a elderly relative’s medicine cabinet a few at the time.
    The latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that over 70 percent of people who abused prescription pain relievers got them from friends or relatives, while five percent got them from a drug dealer or over the internet. 
    Let’s make the dangers of prescription drug abuse a community conversation. Let’s talk to our kids and their friends and our friends about the topic.
    Let’s spread the word about  the sheriff’s take-back program and encourage people to take advantage of it.
    We’ll ask our readers to take a quick look at what’s sitting in their medicine cabinet to see if there are any leftover painkillers from a minor procedure done many months ago and since forgotten. If so, please remove these and take them to the sheriff’s office or dispose  of them in some safe manner.