Saunders: Why such vitriol over Dix vote?

barry.saunders@newsobserver.comDecember 9, 2012 

“Lord, we don’t need another mountain. There are mountains and hillsides enough to climb.”

Those words rang true when Jackie DeShannon first sang them in 1965, before strip malls and big-box stores and apartment complexes and megachurches began sprouting like toadstools after a summer rain.

Now, unfortunately, we can use all the mountains and hillsides we can get. That is why Gov. Bev Perdue deserves a big “right on” for snatching the former Dix Hospital property from the hands of myopic Babbitts who see only dollar signs.

The state still owns the 325 acres, but it will lease the land to the city for $500,000 a year. Supporters liken it to New York’s Central Park, which is a bucolic oasis in a cement desert.

Park makes some see red

N.C. Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler knocked the deal before the ink was even dry on the contract. He sounded like a descendant of Ronald Reagan who, as a gubernatorial candidate, sided with the logging industry in California and against the state’s majestic redwoods. Reagan famously said, “A tree is a tree. How many do you need to look at?” He never said, “If you’ve seen one tree, you’ve seen ‘em all,” although I wish he had, because it just sounds better.

Troxler, who should know better, said “I’m concerned that we as a state need to be looking for revenue sources as much as we can. I’m a big proponent of open spaces, but I just did not think the deal was as good as it could have been for the state.”

Wow. He’s ripping the governor for leaving money on the table, for not selling the rolling hillsides to a deep-pocketed developer who would defile the land and its history by building something we don’t need. Gov. Perdue could’ve undoubtedly gotten more money for the property, possibly even from the city, but where, oh, where is it written that you’ve got to get every penny you can?

Senate GOP leader Phil Berger was so livid that he released a statement last week vowing to seek legal options to deep-six the deal.

A seething, apoplectic Phil went on TV to denounce both the sale and Democrats who supported Perdue, sounding as though he needed precisely what he was railing against – a quiet, leafy park through which he could stroll and calm his nerves.

“I am disappointed, but not surprised,” he said in a written statement, “that a majority of the Council of State caved in to political pressure at the expense of good sense.”

Lessons from the Dust Bowl

Chill, Phil. And do explain what kind of political pressure a lame duck governor – the moving van is already at the front door fixing to transport the First Dude and her back to New Bern – can exert.

If you saw Ken Burns’ informative and heart-wrenching “Dust Bowl” documentary on PBS recently, you know that much of that decade-long calamity resulted from the greed of farmers and speculators who wanted to plow up every field in sight to plant wheat. In doing so, they destroyed natural barriers against the elements and protection against the invariable droughts.

The park is a 75-year gift – the length of the contract – that will keep on giving to the people of North Carolina. It may never become as iconic as Central Park in New York, but it can become our version – a Central Park with places to get grits and cracklin’ cornbread and a Biscuitville not far away.

Considering the rate at which development is razing so much of the natural habitat, in 75 years Reagan would probably amend his indelicate retort about the majestic redwoods to “If you’ve seen one tree – count yourself lucky.”

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or

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