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NCDVA

DVA-logoThe North Carolina Division of Veterans Affairs, is collaborating with the NC Division of Motor Vehicles and the Motor Vehicle Network to build awareness for veterans’ services. This interagency partnership is an example of how the NCDVA is reaching veterans across North Carolina. The MVN is a closed circuit television network located at 124 Driver’s License Offices statewide that broadcasts messages to DMV patrons. The pilot project of the new NCDVA veteran outreach effort has the potential to reach many veterans and their supporters. Current messaging provides veterans with information about the NC Women Veterans Summit and Expo to be held on April 17, 2014 at the North Carolina National Guard Joint Force Headquarters in Raleigh. There, women veterans will have direct access to information and services offered by NCDVA and many others. For more information visit www.ncdot.gov/dmv.

Allergy Season in Full Swing

allergiesGrass pollen starts to bloom in April around Western North Carolina and continues into May and June, followed by ragweed and other weed pollen in late summer and early fall, leaving allergy sufferers facing a warm season filled with pesky allergy symptoms. Some 40 million Americans have indoor/outdoor allergies. The most common triggers are tree, grass and weed pollen. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America reports allergies account for more than 17 million outpatient office visits each year – primarily in spring and fall. You can develop allergies at any age. You’re most likely to develop allergies if there is a history of allergies in your family. Studies show the average wait time to see a specialist is 20 days. Experts recommend a few tips for reducing allergies. Limit outdoor activity to late afternoon – pollen counts are highest in the morning. Keep car and home windows closed and opt for air condition at night to keep pollen out. Change your bedding and pillow covers often and use a vacuum with a HEPA filter. Spring and fall are the busiest times for Allergy Specialists in Western North Carolina.

12th Annual Green Thumb Day

Nelumno_nucifera_open_flower_-_botanic_garden_adelaide2Whittier community will hold its 12th annual Green Thumb Day Festival on Saturday, April 12, from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. along Main and Church streets. The event will include local artists and crafters, live plants and yard sales. Free tree seedlings and information on plants and planting will be available from County Extension Director Rob Hawk. A historical exhibit on early Whittier will be on display at Stuff-n-Such, located across from the post office. Live bluegrass music will be provided by Keep on Pickin’; mountain songs by fretless banjo maker Joshua Grant; and gospel favorites and old-time favorites by the Mountain Strings Dulcimer Club of Bryson City.

 

Deadline “Reasonably Achieved”

food-stampShawn Rogers is one of the thousands of needy North Carolinians caught up in what was a massive backlog of food stamps cases. He, his wife and four-year-old son have been waiting since December for help, when their food stamps were up for renewal and the family moved to Alamance County from neighboring Guilford County. The family’s months-long wait comes despite a deadline Monday that the U.S. Department of Agriculture set for all backlogged cases to be processed. N.C. Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos announced Tuesday afternoon that the deadline had been “reasonably achieved” with only 375 pending cases left in the state. As of Tuesday, Rogers, who is on disability because of psychological issues, said his food stamps benefits card was still showing a $0 balance. He has turned to area food banks for donated canned goods and family members who buy him meat to help supplement the family’s diet.

ACLU Pushes Mandate

ACLUThe American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of North Carolina sent letters yesterday to 23 sheriff’s departments across the state who to date have failed to produce documents that show they are complying with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act . Among the mandates for jails and detention centers is a requirement that inmates under the age of 18 be housed separately from adults – a chief concern in North Carolina, where 16 and 17 year olds are treated as adults by the criminal justice system. The ACLU-NC sent letters to North Carolina sheriffs on January 16, 2014, asking for policies and documents related to their compliance and offering assistance in preparing proper guidelines for the treatment of youthful offenders in custody. Of those offices that responded by April 1, 23 said they had no documentation about the compliance, prompting yesterday’s follow-up letter. Among the 23 counties in North Carolina who received a follow-up letter were Haywood and Swain county.

WCU Publishes Study

Western_Carolina_University_sealWestern Carolina University researchers have completed a comprehensive study of major demographic, economic, social and political issues and trends facing Western North Carolina, releasing their findings in a 2014 Regional Outlook Report designed to equip residents and policymakers with the information needed to make informed decisions about WNC’s future. The report is based on in-depth analysis of existing economic and demographic data and on responses to a telephone survey last summer, with nearly 900 randomly selected respondents contacted via both wireless and landline numbers. The 2014 report represents the third installment in a series of reports compiled by a multidisciplinary team of researchers – Kathleen M. Brennan, associate professor of sociology; Christopher A. Cooper, associate professor of political science and political affairs; and Inhyuck “Steve” Ha, associate professor of economics. Among their findings: Although the population of WNC continues to grow, the rate of growth has slowed, with much of the increase in population the result of migration to the region from other parts of the nation. Since 1990, racial minority populations have increased, with the Hispanic/Latino population now the largest racial minority in WNC, followed by African-Americans. Compared to five years ago, fewer respondents report that they own their own place of residence, and more respondents say they are living with family or friends without contributing to rent or mortgage payments. Most Western North Carolinians are satisfied with health care in the region; however, more than half of respondents disagree with the statement that health care is affordable. The majority of respondents say they are “fairly satisfied” with education in the region, expressing the highest level of support for higher education. Only about one-third, however, say higher education in the region is affordable. The majority of respondents support land-use planning, and more than half of respondents support policies restricting ridge-top and steep-slope development. Most respondents do not have a high level of trust in government, with the federal government receiving the lowest marks. Many issues show stark contrasts between the opinions of native Western North Carolinians and those who are newcomers to the region. Buncombe County residents often demonstrate unique patterns from residents of other counties of WNC. In 2012, the top three industries in WNC were manufacturing (28 percent), finance/insurance/real estate (16 percent) and services (15 percent). Manufacturing accounted for more than one-quarter of total economic production in 2012. Between 2000 and 2010, approximately 50.6 percent of jobs in the region’s manufacturing industry were lost. During that same time span, most new job creation occurred in the education sector (with a 66.6 percent increase in new jobs) and real estate (a 58.8 percent increase). Counties included in the survey are Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Buncombe, Burke, Caldwell, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Swain, Transylvania, Watauga, Wilkes and Yancey. The complete report is available online at regionalreport2014.wcu.edu. A follow-up report examining the economic impact of Western Carolina University on the region is expected to be delivered at a major conference on economic development to be held in October on the WCU campus.

Blue Ridge Bike Plan

cyclingA state Department of Transportation blueprint called the Blue Ridge Bike Plan this month cleared a hurdle required for projects to move from conceptualization to reality. The Rural Planning Organization, made up of local leaders who help the state prioritize road projects, approved the plan; through the addition of lanes, shoulders and bicycle traffic signs, mountain roads could be improved for cycling. In Jackson County, the hope is to make six improvements:

• Open seven miles of U.S. 74, from exits 81 to 74 (Dillsboro to Gateway), to bicyclists (it’s restricted right now) and modify rumble strips where needed. Cost: $4.69 million.

• Add shoulders for biking and signs to five miles of North and South River roads, from U.S. 441 to N.C. 107. Cost: $1.5 million.

• Add shoulders and signs, plus modify the rumble strips, along a 10-mile section of U.S. 23/74 from Balsam to Sylva. Cost: $4.7 million.

• Add a bicycle lane to two miles of N.C. 107, extending what’s there now toward Sylva. Cost: $560,000.

• Work on the shoulders and add signs on the 14.5 miles of N.C. 107 from Cullowhee to Cashiers. Cost: $4.4 million.

• Do the same on a 12-mile stretch between Sylva and Balsam along Skyland Drive and Dark Ridge Road. Cost: $3.7 million.

New state law prohibits DOT from using state dollars as a match for federal funding on most bicycle and pedestrian projects, said Reuben Moore, state division planning engineer. Local matches of 20 percent are now required from counties, cities or universities.

 

Jackson County is Healthier

stethescope_blueJackson is the 22nd healthiest of North Carolina’s 100 counties, according to findings released last week by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The County Health Rankings list the overall health of counties nationwide, using a formula to measure people’s health and how long they live. Jackson County moved up four places this year; it was No. 26 the past two years. Researchers examined physical environment, social and economic factors, clinical care and health behaviors. They looked at high school graduation rates, access to healthy foods, smoking, obesity and teen births. North Carolina’s healthiest counties are Wake, Watauga, Orange, Union and Camden, according to researchers. Counties with the poorest health were Columbus, Halifax, Scotland, Roberson and Vance. In Western North Carolina, Watauga, No. 2; Transylvania, No. 12; Henderson, No. 15; Buncombe, No. 18 and Macon, No. 19; ranked above Jackson County. The data, which includes a large error margin, shows 22 percent of Jackson County adults smoke; 33 percent are obese; 25 percent are physically inactive; and 15 percent drink too much. There were fewer alcohol-related deaths in the county, 21 percent, than the state, which had 33 percent. The teen birth rate was lower here, at 27 per 1,000, than the state rate of 44 per 1,000. Jackson County ranked 61st in the state for access to clinical care, with 26 percent of residents who are uninsured. There is a ratio of one primary care doctor per 1,033 residents; one dentist per 2,748 residents and one mental health provider per 254 residents.

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Haywood Co. Man Pleads Guilty

James Daniel Sawyer

James Daniel Sawyer

A Canton man faces nearly 30 years behind bars after pleading guilty to sexual assaults that left a 3-year-old boy with a sexually transmitted disease. James Daniel Sawyer, 33, was arrested in October of last year after Sgt. Shawn Gaddis with the Canton Police Department received a report from the Haywood County Department of Social Services involving the little boy. The boy and his then 7-year-old sister were examined and interviewed at Mission Hospital. Though the girl did not have any physical illness, she did speak of Sawyer’s sexual behavior. Authorities believe the crimes occurred on and off between January 2012 and September 2013, based on statements by the mother, children and Sawyer himself. Sawyer has never even had so much as a traffic ticket, comes from a well-respected family, is a lifelong local resident and has a stable employment history.  Sawyer’s father and pastor were present in the courtroom as well. His father teared up as he stood to speak. Judge William Coward did not recognize any mitigating factors and sentenced him to 240 months to 348 months in prison and fined him $10,000 to go to the state. He also granted the defense’s request to allow Sawyer work release so he can help support his 5-year-old daughter, despite adamant disagreement from prosecutors. Upon his release, Sawyer will be a registered sex offender and required to wear satellite based monitoring for life.

Drexel Plant Community Meeting

Old Drexel Plant

Old Drexel Plant

A Public Meeting will be held on April 29th at the Smoky Mountain Elementary School from 6:00 – 8:00 PM in the school cafeteria.  The site is presently being called the “Smoky Mountain Agricultural Development Station.” The purpose of these community outreach meeting is to get the public’s input on the development of the Drexel site, so to meet real community needs for placed based agricultural economic development.  The meeting will listen to individual needs to make the effort site specific in respect to agriculture. Please come to this open community meeting to help Jackson County identify specific agriculture development at the old Drexel Site for the surrounding counties and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian. For more information, please contact Robert J. Hawk, County Extension Director at the Jackson County Cooperative Extension Center at 586-4009 or email “robert_hawk@ncsu.edu.” Refreshments will be served.

Voter Suppression Law

voteA federal court has ordered North Carolina state lawmakers to release some e-mails and other documents related to the passage of the state’s sweeping voter suppression law. It also rejected North Carolina’s argument that legislators have absolute immunity to keep their documents from the public.  The American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice filed a motion to compel the release of that information after lawmakers refused to do so citing “legislative immunity.” “North Carolinians have a right to know what motivated their lawmakers to make it harder for them to vote,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “Legislators should not be shrouding their intentions in secrecy. The people deserve better.” Immediately after Gov. Pat McCrory signed the voter suppression bill into law last August, the ACLU, the ACLU of North Carolina, and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice filed their legal challenge. The suit targets provisions that eliminate a week of early voting, end same-day registration, and prohibit “out-of-precinct” voting. The groups charge that enacting these provisions would unduly burden the right to vote and discriminate against African-American voters, in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. “Today’s ruling is good news for every North Carolinian who values integrity and transparency in our elections,” said Chris Brook, legal director for the ACLU of North Carolina. “The public has a right to know how and why officials drafted legislation making it harder for North Carolinians to vote, and with today’s ruling, we can hopefully get to the bottom of those questions.” The case, League of Women Voters of North Carolina et al. v. North Carolina, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. It was brought on behalf of several North Carolinians who will face substantial hardship under the law, and on behalf of the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, the North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute, North Carolina Common Cause, and Unifour Onestop Collaborative, whose efforts to promote voter participation in future elections will be severely hampered. “Defendants have resisted at every turn disclosing information about their reasons for enacting this discriminatory law.  Today’s ruling will help ensure the court has a fuller picture of why the voting changes at stake are so bad for North Carolina voters,” said Southern Coalition for Social Justice attorney Allison Riggs. The court will hold another hearing to determine whether other categories of documents will be released. The court’s order is available at acluofnc.org.

Haywood Bridge Replacement

NCDOT LogoTheN.C. Department of Transportation will temporarily close part of Hemphill Road in Haywood County beginning next week for a bridge replacement project. During construction, crews will be replacing a bridge over a branch of Jonathan Creek with a culvert. The $331,162 project also includes grading, drainage, paving and installing signage around the new structure. The existing bridge was built in 1955 and is considered functionally obsolete, which means that although the bridge is safe, it was built to design standards no longer in use. The project contractor, NHM Constructors, LLC, will begin installing the detour during the first week of April. The detour will remain in place until mid-July. Motorists will take Hemphill Road to N.C. 276, and then take Grindstone Road back to Hemphill Road. For real-time travel information any time, call 511, visit www.ncdot.gov/travel or follow NCDOT on Twitter at www.ncdot.gov/travel/twitter. Another option is NCDOT Mobile, a phone-friendly version of the NCDOT website. To access it, type “m.ncdot.gov” into the browser of your smartphone. Then, bookmark it to save for future reference.

WCU Rescheduled Open House

Western Carolina University

Western Carolina University

Western Carolina University will throw open its doors to prospective students and their families and friends as the university holds Open House on Saturday, April 5. Hosted by the Office of Undergraduate Admission, Open House gives visitors a chance to learn about the university’s wide array of academic programs, find out the important details of topics such as financial aid, and tour the campus. The April 5 event was added to the university’s spring schedule after an Open House scheduled for February was canceled due to inclement weather. Because of the many events occurring on campus on April 5, the Open House that day will begin at noon. The schedule starts with an academic and student services information fair from noon to 1:30 p.m. around the concourse of WCU’s Ramsey Regional Activity Center. Following a welcome session in the Ramsey Center main arena from 1:30 to 2 p.m., prospective students will have a chance to engage in academic sessions led by WCU faculty members from 2:15 to 3 p.m. Visitors can choose among several options for the 3 to 5 p.m. period, including tours of campus and residence halls, information sessions on admissions and financial aid, and participation in campus events. For interested students who cannot attend Open House on April 5, campus tours also are available year-round by appointment for students and their families. Preregistration for Open House and more information are available by going to the website openhouse.wcu.edu or by calling the Office of Undergraduate Admission at 828-227-7317 or toll-free 877-928-4968.

Ledbetter Road Incident

crime-sceneA student ended up in the emergency room early Friday Morning, March 28th after allegedly being hit by a vehicle on Ledbetter Road in Cullowhee. The incident happened around 12:30 a.m. Joshua Thomas, 21, of Cullowhee, had been drinking before he was struck by a vehicle, according to N.C. Highway Patrol. Thomas left Tuck’s Tap & Grille on foot and claims he was hit by a car on Ledbetter Road.  There was no evidence of a vehicle and a very vague description of a suspect vehicle from the victim. He had some damage to his left ankle. The N.C. SHP was notified by the hospital’s emergency room around 2:30 a.m. Anyone with information about the incident, is asked to contact the N.C. SHP at 828-627-2851 and ask for Bowers.

Stocking The Trout Waters

NC Trout Waters

NC Trout Waters

Four Swain County waterways will be stocked with trout for the hatchery-supported season that opens 7 a.m. Saturday, April 5. Through July, a total of 5,440 brook trout will be stocked in Swain, 6,990 rainbow trout and 4,270 brown trout for a total of 16,700. Waterways stocked include: Alarka Creek, Nantahala River, and Deep Creek.The season will run through Feb. 28. Many of these waters are stocked monthly, although some heavily fished waters are stocked more frequently. Commission personnel will stock nearly 907,000 trout, with 96 percent of the stocked fish averaging 10 inches in length and the other fish exceeding 14 inches. Stocked trout are produced primarily in two mountain region fish hatcheries operated by the commission. For more information on fishing in public, inland waters, visit www.ncwildlife.org or call the Division of Inland Fisheries, 919-707-0220.

Troxler Announces Hemlock Restoration

NCDACSSeal_4colorAgriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler today announced the allocation of seed funding for a new effort to restore North Carolina’s hemlock trees to long-term health. Hemlocks across Western North Carolina are being decimated by the hemlock woolly adelgid, an insect that sucks the sap of young twigs, which leads to tree death. Dead hemlocks can negatively affect nesting songbirds, trout populations, plant nurseries and landscapers, homeowners and tourism. The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services will use $100,000 from the state’s legal settlement with the Tennessee Valley Authority to start the Hemlock Restoration Initiative. Troxler made the announcement at a meeting of the General Assembly’s Agriculture and Forestry Awareness Study Commission at DuPont State Recreational Forest. “We can and must do more to restore hemlocks on public and private lands as soon as possible,” Troxler said. “Our goal is to ensure that, by 2025, Eastern and Carolina hemlocks in North Carolina can resist the adelgid and survive to maturity.” Troxler said many people, groups and agencies already are working on promising approaches to return hemlocks to long-term health. These include the search for naturally resistant trees, testing of predator beetles that eat adelgids, and efforts to bring in resistance from similar tree species. “We are focused on speeding up the most promising ideas, not reinventing the wheel,” he said. The department has selected WNC Communities as its primary partner to implement the project. The Asheville-based nonprofit organization has experience in grants management, project development and using partnerships to achieve goals that benefit the region. “WNC Communities can bring together the right mix of researchers, funding organizations and others to make sure we use the best efforts to return hemlocks to long-term health,” Troxler said. The program will include efforts to convene researchers to share solutions, provide funding to advance the most promising approaches, and attract additional resources to expand these efforts in the future. As past president of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, Troxler also will be working with his colleagues in other states to bring more resources to the table. “Hemlocks can be found in 25 states, and state boundaries are meaningless to the adelgid,” he said. “We need to work across state lines to bring together the best people and resources to solve this problem.”

Play On Branding Campaign

SCC-JessicaWaldronThe Jackson County Tourism Development Authority (TDA) is excited to announce the launch of the “Play On” branding campaign.  Designed to attract target markets to the county’s unique attractions and amenities and to inspire the loyalty of existing residents and future visitors, the campaign includes advertising, marketing, public relations, social media, a redesigned logo, and a rebranded Website (www.mountainloversnc.com) to position Jackson County as a premiere tourist destination among outdoor enthusiasts.  New social media channels include Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Jackson County offers pristine hiking and biking trails, cascading waterfalls, a fly fishing trail, nationally acclaimed culinary talent, an antique trail, and more.  Located between the Great Smoky Mountains to the north and the Blue Ridge Mountains to the south, the idyllic mountain towns of Cashiers, Cherokee, Dillsboro, Sylva, Balsam, Cullowhee, Glenville and Sapphire make up Jackson County. “The new branding strategy was developed to encourage travelers to make Jackson County the destination of their next outdoor adventure or vacation instead of a ‘stop over’ on the way to a different destination,” said Robert Jumper, chairman of the Jackson County TDA.  “The ‘Play On’ campaign highlights the area’s stunning natural resources and other exciting entertainment options for families, outdoor enthusiasts, and mountain lovers.” The “Play On” campaign is part of a comprehensive initiative by the Jackson County Tourism Development Authority with the professional guidance of internet marketing firm, Innsights; advertising firm, The Brandon Agency, and public relations agency, Pineapple Public Relations.  The Jackson County Tourism Development Authority was developed in January 2013 by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners in an effort to create a strategic marketing plan to enhance the tourism industry in JacksonCounty.

No Cause Determined In Fire

Wolf Ridge Ski Resort Fire

Wolf Ridge Ski Resort Fire

Fire investigators with the SBI say they can not determine the cause of Wednesday’s fire at Wolf Ridge Ski Resort. They say too much of the building was destroyed, which made it extremely difficult to find the source of the massive blaze. The fire started around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday. They say there is not much left to sift through and says the wind blew away much of the evidence. On top of the intensity of the fire, crews had to battle ice-covered roads and frigid conditions to try to put out the flames.

Food Stamp Deadline

NorthCarolinaSealNorth Carolina may have new troubles meeting a deadline from federal regulators demanding that backlogged food stamp applications be cleared. Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Aldona Wos told a General Assembly oversight committee Wednesday social service offices had appeared on track to resolve the roughly 500 applications by next Monday. But now she’s worried news of additional pending applications in Guilford County could put a damper that goal. Wos says the Guilford applications hadn’t been entered into the state’s computer system for determining eligibility for government services. She didn’t immediately have a number on the additional household applications. The state met a deadline last month from the U.S. Agriculture Department to handle most pending applications or potentially lose funds to administer the program. Now USDA wants the remaining applications resolved.

Morris Broadband Contract

zeropoint_logoIf you flip on your Cable TV this Monday and your favorite channel isn’t working, there could be a good reason why. Morris Broadband, Jackson Counties primary Cable TV provider is currently in the middle of a Viacom contract renewal process. Viacom owns MTV, VH1, Comedy Central, Spike TV, Nickelodeon and Nick Jr,CMT, along with others. The contract ends March 31st. the channels can (and probably will) go dark on April 1st for an unspecified time due to contract negotiations. It seems this is the strategy of Viacom as Direct TV had the same issue last year with them as the channels went dark for 9 days.To get the latest info Morris Broadband visit www.morrisbroadband.com under customer updates. or go to www.tvonmyside.com for the latest information.