Peace activists mobilize to oppose $27 million in county incentives for new Pratt & Whitney jet engine manufacturing plant in Asheville, NC

Photo By Veterans For Peace, Sunrise and Democratic Socialists of America

By Laurie Timmermann, Asheville for a World BEYOND War Chapter Coordinator, North Carolina, U.S., December 27, 2020

A group of activists with peace groups in Western NC became highly concerned upon learning of plans by Pratt & Whitney (P&W), a subsidiary of military contractor Raytheon Technologies, to manufacture jet engines parts on 100 acres of pristine land along the French Broad River given to them for $1 dollar by Biltmore Farms, LLC as part of a secret deal.

P&W produces civilian, commercial and military engines for jets, such as for the F-35. It was later learned that 20% of production of the proposed plant will be for military engine parts. Raytheon is the second-largest aerospace defense company in the world, profiting from nearly two decades of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and is one of the largest arms suppliers to Saudi Arabia, which is conducting years-long genocidal war against the Yemen people.

P&W had engaged in talks with county officials for over a year, however the venture was only announced to the public Oct 22, 2020. The Buncombe county commission was set to vote on $27 million in property tax waivers for the one million square foot $160 million P&W plant at its meeting on Nov. 17, 2020.

Local WBW advocate Laurie Timmermann presented a 3-minute verbal comment at the meeting, and submitted written comments to the Buncombe County Commission, below.

Photo By Veterans For Peace, Sunrise and Democratic Socialists of America

November 17, 2020

Dear Buncombe County Commissioners:

As a local volunteer with World BEYOND War, serving over 400 peace-interested citizens in WNC and thousands of active members across the US and the world, I am writing to join with NC Peace Action to affirm the values of ending war, prioritizing a peace culture, and a demilitarized security.

The residents of Asheville and Buncombe County and the area’s vacationers appreciate assured protections for environmental quality and promoting peace among nations.  Upon learning the full details, many would feel chagrined that the Buncombe County commission is proposing to offer $27 million in incentives for the planned massive Pratt & Whitney manufacturing plant for jet engine parts on 100 acres of pristine land next to the French Broad River in close vicinity to the Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina Arboretum, and Bent Creek River Park.

Buncombe County cannot afford to have a repeat of the CTS of Asheville electroplating plant superfund site at Mills Gap Road in South Asheville that emitted dangerous levels of TCE, plus up to 10 other carcinogens, for over 30 years and is still not fully remediated.

The Pratt & Whitney jet engine plant at North Haven, CT released 5.4 million pounds of toxic chemicals between 1987 and 2002, while its West Palm Beach, FL plant has 47 toxic waste sites that comprise one of EPA’s largest hazardous clean-up sites.

What are the required precautions to prevent toxic leaks and accidents, requirements for immediate public reporting of any spills or contamination, provisions for full remediation, and requirements for compensation to the county and to any people harmed?

Pratt & Whitney is a part of Raytheon Technologies, the third largest weapons manufacturer in the world.  Raytheon has a record of profiting in the billions from selling fighter jets to Saudi Arabia that in turn has terrorized Yemen for years by conducting well over 16,749 air raids, killing civilians, causing famine and a cholera outbreak. 

Why does a Citizen’s Times article about the planned local Pratt & Whitney plant feature a F135 engine for the F-35 Lightning II fighter jet? In all likelihood, Pratt & Whitney will be building parts for engines on F-35s and its line of military engines, that will end up being sold to countries like Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Israel that commit human rights abuses.

These claims are not far-fetched.  As of November 11, 2020, the Trump administration is seeking to fast track a massive last-minute sale of $23.37 billion in fighter jets, drones and bombs to the UAE that is carrying out atrocities in Yemen.

This deal between Biltmore Farms, LLC and Pratt and Whitney/Raytheon was kept a secret, the name of the firm was withheld even in public articles, and Biltmore Farms applied for the environmental permits in its own name in a lack of open transparency. An environmental hearing was scheduled but was cancelled in March due to the COVID lockdown.

The residents of Buncombe County deserve to be properly informed of these plans. The decision granting these County incentives should be postponed until citizens have adequate time to review and assess the serious implications of the risk of environmental contamination and the troubling moral consequences.

We all can benefit from an education in the Pratt and Whitney/Raytheon business model and history of making a killing (in profits), by making a killing (in war, bombings and death).

Yes, our region needs a more diversified economy, but does that mean giving state incentives and county waivers from property taxes to Raytheon Technologies partner Pratt & Whitney, which plans to make jet engines on 100 acres of pristine land, given to them along the French Broad River?

We ask for our County elected representatives to act with and to take all due precaution in the decision-making given the serious long-term ramifications at stake.

Sincerely,

Laurie Timmermann
World BEYOND War Advocate

Without responding to or addressing any concerns of the 20 commenters opposing the P&W incentives deal, the Buncombe County Commissioners unanimously voted to approve the $27 million in tax waivers. A coalition with Veterans For Peace, Sunrise and Democratic Socialists of America emerged and self-organized together under the banner of Reject Raytheon. The group organized their first protest Wed. Dec. 9, 2020 at 3:00pm to 5:00 pm which included a lineup of speakers and “die in” in memory of Yemen war victims.  Coalition members, including WBW, will be mounting an on-going opposition and watch effort against the P&W plant, with several members having their oppositional letters published in local papers.

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