At least we’re not stinky town, NC

By Stephen Harris - For The Tribune
Stephen Harris Back In The Hometown -

The next time you start throwing off on the hometown, when you find yourself criticizing something or maybe bemoaning that there is nothing to do here, think of this: at least we’re not Wilmington.

The coastal paradise on the banks of the Cape Fear River smells like cat pee. Folks there have been smelling it for years, they say, and nobody knows what to do about it.

Finally, around Thanksgiving more than a dozen Wilmington residents complained to the state. So the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality launched an investigation.

A December investigation found a “faint cat odor” downtown, according to a memo from the N.C. Division of Air Quality.

I think all of the fuss over Wilmington stinks. We all know that North Carolina’s stinky town is Canton, up in the mountains west of Asheville. If you’ve inadvertently left the car windows down in summer you’ve likely smelled Canton while zipping by on I-40 on the way to or from the Great Smoky Mountains.

A 100-year-old paper plant there — the largest factory in the North Carolina mountains with 1,000 mill hands — produces a pungent odor that reminds me of the old dye house at the old Chatham mill here minus the salt.

Eons ago a guy in the college dorm Down East was from Canton. His father worked at the plant that makes products like copy paper and paper for milk cartons. Someone would make a wisecrack about Mickey’s odiferous hometown, and he’d look back blankly. What odor? he’d say. Mickey grew up with it and did not notice.

Yes, the state similarly did check out Canton as well one time, following complaints by residents. A 104-page report plus appendices in 2006 concluded, after a 21-day study, that while the plant’s sulfur can produce “an unpleasant olfactory response,” and it tends to linger down in the Pigeon River valley, the stuff will not hurt you.

Morganton, where I once plied a newspaperman’s trade, has a chicken processing plant sitting next to a main thoroughfare, and that plant in summer would emit an odor that reminded me of rotting chicken droppings and would make Canton seem like Chanel.

A plant supervisor hosting a group of visitors one time was asked about the smell. The supervisor took a deep breath, loudly exhaled and pronounced, “All I smell is money.”

In Wilmington, the state has ruled out as a cause of cat odor a plant that produces a chemical for car fuel and water pumps and transmissions. Investigators now suspect “a combination of sources” there that may include swamp gas and decaying vegetation. They’re asking the public for help by calling in tips.

“Sometimes it smells like pure cat urine to me, and sometimes it smells similar but different,” investigator Brad Newland told the big Wilmington newspaper.

As I see it, there is only one thing left to do. Clear Wilmington of cats. Get rid of every last one of the beasts. See if that does it.

I’m a dog-person and my rottweiler, who for some reason that eludes me does not like cats, stands ready to ride to the coast and do his part.

The state can ship every one of Wilmington’s felines to North Korea. Little Rocket Man strikes me as a cat-person. How can you shoot off a nuke when you have a tabby curled and purring in your lap?

Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.

Stephen Harris Back In The Hometown Harris Back In The Hometown

By Stephen Harris

For The Tribune