by Pete Orthmann
Having had to scratch around for survival all my life, I confess total ignorance about living life as a mega-millionaire. From this distance, it all seems so….. phony, and actually down-right disgusting. Phony because, they apparently judge themselves and everyone else on the basis of stuff as opposed to personal qualities. Disgusting because most are so totally self absorbed they fail to even notice the people around them who are literally clinging to the very edge of life. Disgusting also, because they are oblivious to the devastation caused by their excesses. Sure, there are obvious exceptions like Bono, Oprah, Paul Newman and a handful of others. But for the most part, the super rich seem compelled to proudly demonstrate complete self-indulgence.
Until recently, these people and their obscene indulgences were kind of like bees, where if you don't disturb them they won't bother you. Sadly, that is no longer true. One of the latest, greatest, "gotta have" super expensive goody is a vacation home in the mountains of western North Carolina. These multi-million dollar get-a-ways are definitely out of the way, so part of the attractiveness is the runway being gouged out of a mountain. Then, our pristine mountains will become covered with sprawling private houses, golf courses and exclusive shopping areas.
Seldom, if ever, does anyone even pretend to consider the environment, for the wildlife, or for the existing human population. So while the surface is carved up like a turkey, underground is home to miles of pipes. To the super rich a septic system would not be acceptable for waste disposal. The answer was obvious and simple. Construct a sewage treatment plant capable of processing 300,000 gallons a day, and build it far from the mega-houses. In fact, construct and operate it where the current (not wealthy) residents live and then dump the discharge into a lovely little creek that meanders through people's yards. Quite literally, the super rich will be pooping on the poor.
Instantly, when these disasters pop up both logic and civil due process vanish. With a wink and a nod from all who should be protecting both the existing social and environmental welfare, developers devastate large tracks with the speed and thoroughness once reserved for bombs. The new "golden rule" becomes a law of the day. You know, 'He who has the gold shall make the rules.'
Abandoned by all government agencies at all levels, local citizens frequently band together in an effort to insure some degree of fair and reasonable limits are enforced. In western North Carolina a small group of intrepid spirits organized the Laurel Valley Watch. The first effort was to appeal to the county commissioners. By attending the meetings they learned that approximately half of the business of the county was conducted behind closed doors in secret executive sessions. The nature of these meetings, or the decisions made, were never made public. Recognizing the absence of help there, they moved to the only alternative available, the hiring of an environmental lawyer.
Probably like many before them, they pooled scant funds in an effort to protect their homes and "nature" by waging valid legal battles. The results have been totally disappointing. At one case, the judge nearly fell asleep (some say, he did) during the proceeding, he went to lunch with the defense attorney during the trial and tossed a jury's decision in the trash can. We PAID for our day in court, hired good and competent lawyers, spent two days presenting compelling evidence that the jury recognized as fact. We lost. The reality was that the decision was made before the first juror was chosen. They didn't so much as pretend to go through the motions of an honest proceeding.
At a Board of Appeals hearing the sewage plant was approved following this incredible statement from a board member: "Because the plant will be made by man, it will probably fail sooner or later. At that time they will have to clean up the mess. But that is no reason to not allow this to be built."
Sadly, Democracy does not exist where the mega rich want to play. And that is the worst and most deeply troubling reality from a long list of terrible realities. It is failing us exactly as it did those in Vail, Colorado, Jackson Hole, Wyoming and a long list of other, now private, beautiful locations. The scars on the top of our once beautiful mountain will be visible until the very end of time. The unnecessary displacement of natural habitat for animals and flora and fauna is tragic. The quasi forced removal of local residents, either through harassment or unbearable new taxes, is outrageous. But the loss of Democratic process should concern all Americans no-matter where they live or what their income.