The conflict zone
(I cannot be more specific, otherwise, I will get in trouble...)
This is my first large scale report. The editor-in-chief in person called me in to entrust this "investigation piece" to me. A great classic of the contemporary country life: a sewage purification plant. I drive to a secluded hollow in the woods, where the opponents await me. In fact, the "action group" they just set up is made up of just one family, theirs. The one and only that will soon see a sewers purification plant emerge in their frontyard. I don't want to sound biased, but truly, they have every right to be furious.
The X... family are dye-hard ecologists. Three years ago, they bought this pièce of land because it was isolated, in full nature, bordered by a mountain brook. He works as a martial arts instructor, she as a Chinese medicine therapist. With their two children, they practically built with their hands an "organic" house . They take me for a tour. Everything is environment-friendly and organic. The walls are made of adobe and compressed straw. It is insulated with hemp. Wood reigns king inside. The frontwall, on the south side, is very special: the outer part is made of glass, the inner part of compressed earth. In winterr, it stores warmth from the sun and keeps the temperature above 10° centigrade indoors. During summer, a leafy hood shades the wall from the sun - and the family does not cook inside. They are perfectionists. The lady of the house meditates in an authentic Indian tepee, at the edge of the brook. Everything, absolutely everything, from colors to the orientation of the windows of the house was conceived according to nature and the art of Feng Shui. A fortune went into this perfect house.
What they were unaware of (and what everyone carefully hid from them): the town council intends to build a sewage purification plant in the adjacent field, to sell lots of land located upstream, behind a curtain of trees,to a building development. For the past two years, the town council discussed the sewage plant. Nobody uttered a word in front of the X family. One must say that they asked for it. Living isolated, being "strange folks from the big city", is an unforgivable sin in the country. A fortnight ago, their daughter's school teacher spilled the beans.
Obviously, they are desperate. The house and land has lost its value.Their ecologic life goes will really go down the drain, if I may put it this way. They want to fight the project, stir the population, call the press. But I quickly understand that their stiff attitude is not a good omen. The world is polluted, people are malicious, politics are rotten, so is the press.
I set an appointment with the mayor. She (it's a she) is not happy to see me. "We did everything among us, as usual ", she tells me ingenuously, but very seriously. Quite revealing of her commune, and on many others in this county. They are so fond of this cozy political intimacy that posting the reports of the town council meetings on the information board costs them. Relenting, she shows me the files, budgets, blue-prints, official red tape. There is no way out. At this stage. they just have to pick the contractor.Why have they not at least informed the X... family, verbally, when they bought the land? Or during the public survey for the new investment? "They could have come to the town hall. It was posted on the wall ". True enough.
She softens a little. Her very small village (200 inhabitants) has to grow, that is to build houses, to keep the village school running, budgets and subsidies flowing. However, nowadays, one cannot build a housing development without proper sewage collection and purification. But why choose this field, in direct view of the ecological house ? It's a long and sinuous story: conflicts between heirs and local families, personal interest, slope angle for the pipes. I understand that the X... family, isolated, without protections, of no electoral importance, and, to top it all, "foreigners", strangers from the city, was quickly selected as the ideal "Le dindon de la farce" (the joke turkey).
Afterwards, it is all routine. Call the local sewage authorities, the DDE, the DDA. I'm ushered to a "communication delegate" who can't locate the village on a map. But if his office gave its green light, obviously, the project must be wonderful. I call the project superintendent in charge of the preliminary studies. He is never to be found in his office. Always visiting a sewage plant or another. His company is the largest supplier of sewage purification in the county. The technology he picked is the cheapest, because, you understand, this village does not have much money to spend. I fear the worst for the X...family. Will there be nuisances, foul smells, overflows in the brook? No! of course not.
The article has been published The mayor had to set up a public-information meeting . Mr. and Mrs X... left in a bitter frame of mind. According to them, the selected technology causes pollution, and does not age well at all. They did not take the time or pain to thank me for links and tips I gave them to try a last-minute, last-ditch, struggle. The press is rotted, just like the world at large.
The editor-in-chief did not have to change one word in my "investigative" piece. Everyone was properly quoted, with plenty of "if" and "maybe" and conditional verbs. Nothing transpired from my personal opinions. This guy is a pro of country riots, opponents, petitions: All year round, he juggles all kinds of protesters. Against the future "rubbish sorting center", against an underground stocking site for nuclear waste, various sewage plants, a new highway, a new roundabout. He has survived the opposition to the mediterranean TGV line. But I discovered through one of his remarks that the rural local press does not live in terror of a gross mistake, with assorted "Letters to the editor" from the local authorities. Quite the contrary. To publish a prefet's letter (highest ranking local authority in the department) gives the story weight, and stirs readership. And that is good.