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Applications taken for Greening Up the Mountains

Greening Up the Mountains Festival, which brought between 10,000 to 12,000 people to the mountain town of Sylva last year, is now inviting fine artists, mountain crafters and food vendors to apply for a booth in it’s18th year as the premiere spring festival for Western North Carolina. On April 25, 2015, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., the festival sponsored by the Town of Sylva, will once again take place in downtown Sylva, where demonstrating visual artists and traditional crafters will be joined by a mountain community who honors their artisans & natural environment.
Daylong events will be held on Main Street and in the Bridge Park, beginning with a 5K race sponsored by the Jackson County Recreation/Parks Department. Children’s activities, demonstrations, a youth talent contest and live performances by a wide variety of Jackson County musicians will be featured throughout the day.
Applications can be downloaded from the website, www.greeningupthemountains.com, and will be accepted through April 15, 2015. For more information, call 828.631.4587.

Arrests Made in Car Chase in Haywood County

A car chase that ended in a single-car wreck on the Old Asheville Highway Friday afternoon led to several felony charges for the vehicle’s occupants.

Detectives with the multi-agency Unified Narcotics Investigative Team, or UNIT, were observing a location near Jones Cove Road after receiving information that a suspect they were seeking was in the area.

As the subject got into a vehicle to leave, detectives attempted to affect a traffic stop. Instead of stopping, investigators say the 1999 primer black Honda Civic instead increased speed and drove at high rates of speed on Carolina Boulevard in Clyde, through Main Street in Canton, and continuing down the Old Asheville Highway until crashing down an embankment. The car was listed as stolen from Buncombe County.

One occupant in the vehicle was transported to Mission Hospital for treatment after the wreck. Officers on-scene discovered and took into evidence a loaded pistol located between the driver’s and front passenger’s seats.

Officers arrested Roger Martin “Marty” Capps Jr., 31, of Canton, charged him with felonious possession of a stolen vehicle. He was also charged with felonious possession of methamphetamine and misdemeanor resist/obstruct/delay stemming from incidents earlier this week. He was also served with outstanding warrants for two felony probation violations, a parole violation, and a criminal summons for assault on a female.

Capps was jailed on no bond for the parole violations and $240,000 on the remaining charges. His court date for the latest charges is set for January 28, while the probation violations are scheduled to be heard in Superior Court February 2

Also arrested in Friday’s incident was Gregory Dee Devane, age 25, of Mars Hill, charged with felonious possession of a stolen vehicle and felony fleeing to elude arrest. He was jailed at Haywood County detention in lieu of $10,000 bond.

Warrants were also drawn on Shannon Michelle White, 25, also of Mars Hill, for felonious possession of methamphetamine and possession of drug paraphernalia.

The case remains under investigation.

Jackson County Passes Fracking Resolution

The Jackson County Commissioners voted unanimously to pass a Resolution opposing hydraulic fracturing (also known as fracking) after a long debate on the subject. Newly elected Chairman Brian McMahan told WRGC after the mid-term elections that the resolution would be his first action in office. Previous Commissioners felt a 2002 heavy industry ordinance in addition to a resolution protecting natural resources was enough to keep Jackson County safe from fracking.

Heating Assistance Still Available

The Jackson County Department of Social Services has announced that Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP) funds are still available.

Randal Moss, Supervisor of Emergency Assistance Programs, stated that applications were taken during the month of December for citizens who were either disabled or age 60 or older. However, beginning January 1, all other Jackson County households meeting the income guidelines are eligible for this assistance.

“Only 18% of the available funds have been spent so far,” Moss said. “We feel there are many more people out there who are struggling and who could benefit from this assistance.”

“One-time payments are made to electric companies, fuel oil or LP gas suppliers, firewood providers, and any other source that households use for heat,” Moss said.

Eligibility guidelines for the LIEAP program include the following:
· The household must be responsible for its heating bills.
· The household cannot have financial resources such as checking and savings accounts that are over $2,250.
· The household must include a U.S. citizen or an eligible alien.

Income guidelines are as follows:

No. Eligible In Household
Maximum Countable Income
No. Eligible In Household
Maximum Countable Income
1
$1,265
4
$2,584
2
$1,705
5
$3,024
3
$2,144
6
$3,464

Applications for the LIEAP program will be taken at Social Services through March 31st. For more information, citizens may call 586-5546.

Public Meetings in North Carolina Over Controversial Pipeline

Public meetings are underway this week in North Carolina on a proposed project that is already spurring a legal battle in Virginia. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would be 550 miles long, and carry one-and-a-half billion cubic feet of natural gas a day through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina.

Professor Peter Swartz studies energy policy and environmental issues at UNC Charlotte and says despite environmental concerns, in North Carolina, the benefits of the pipeline seem to outweigh the costs, “Resistance is coming from those who are bearing the costs but aren’t getting much in the way of the benefits – western Virginia, the area near the Shenandoah Valley. That is obviously a beautiful area and it’s not going to be enhanced by having a pipeline through it.”

Dominion is suing dozens of the hundreds of Virginia landowners who are refusing to allow the company to survey for the pipeline. Landowners in North Carolina have been less resistant, with only a few refusals. Dominion is leading public meetings about the project Wednesday in Smithfield, and Thursday in Jackson.

Swartz says the natural gas the pipeline would carry could stabilize electricity costs, provide an alternative to coal plants, and improve the economy in the eastern part of North Carolina. But its fate may come down to the outcome of the legal battle in Virginia, where Swartz says landowners are putting up a good fight, “They have every reason to fight it. Even if they don’t think they’re going to ultimately prevail, landowners will then get greater compensation for allowing the pipeline, and they’ll probably also get greater expense put on trying to make sure that the chance of damage is as small as possible.”

According to Dominion, laws in North Carolina, West Virginia, and Virginia allow the company to access private land to survey.

Radon Testing in North Carolina

As the turning of the seasons brings colder weather and North Carolinians snuggle in their households keeping doors and windows closed to stay warm, it is an excellent time to make plans for home radon testing.

Radon is the odorless, colorless gas that is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. Each year up to 22,000 deaths in the U.S. are attributed to radon-induced lung cancer. Roughly 54 percent of those diagnosed with early-stage lung cancer are expected to live no more than five years after diagnosis.

The Radon Program, part of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, provides information to families and homeowners about radon gas. Information includes how to test for radon gas and how to lower the radon levels within a home. Lowering the radon levels in a home lowers the risk of lung cancer.

Eighty-three agencies and organizations across North Carolina are partnering with the Radon Program during January – National Radon Action Month – to provide free short-term radon test kits. Limited supplies of test kits are being made available locally at each of the sites, listed on the Radon Program website: www.ncradon.org. Nearly 7,000 kits are being distributed statewide. Only one kit is needed per home to determine if your home radon level requires action.

The Radon Program also offers the free kits via its website. Once the supply of free kits has been exhausted, the Radon Program website will provide radon test kits at a reduced cost of $5.34 while supplies last. Kits cost about $15 at retail outlets.

The program’s website includes a new radon map application. The application provides information about the number of tests that have been conducted within a zip code as well as the highest radon level recorded in that zip code. The app also links to a list of certified professionals who can assist in testing or fixing the radon issue in tested homes that return readings above a safe level.

Costs for lowering home radon levels average about $1,500. The N.C. Radon Protection Section provides information on its web page for families who may qualify for financial assistance to meet that expense. For more information visit www.ncradon.org and select Financial Assistance from the navigation aid in the left margin.

Park changes firewood regulations to protect forests

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced regulation changes on Tuesday, Jan. 6 that will help protect park forests by limiting the type of firewood brought into the Park. Beginning in March 2015, only heat-treated firewood that is bundled and displays a certification stamp by the USDA or a state department of agriculture will be allowed for use in Park campgrounds.

Heat-treated firewood will be available to purchase from concessioners in many of the campgrounds as well as from private businesses in the communities around the park. Certified heat-treated firewood is packaged in 0.75 cu-ft. bundles clearly displaying a certification stamp. The wood is a high-quality hardwood product that has been heated for 60 minutes at 140 degrees Fahrenheit. The wood lights easily, burns well for campfires, is safe to cook over, and is already available at over 85 locations near the Park that can be viewed on an interactive map by visiting www.nature.org/firewoodmap. In addition, visitors may still collect dead and down wood in the park for campfires.

“The threat of these new pests coming into our forests, both in the park and regionally, compels us to do all we can to reduce the risk to our forests,” said Acting Superintendent Clayton Jordan. “While a ban on the importation of non-treated firewood will not entirely halt the spread of destructive forest pests and diseases, it will greatly slow it down. This allows time to develop and implement new treatment strategies to help control the impacts from these non-native pests and diseases.”

Non-native, tree-killing insects and diseases can unknowingly be introduced through firewood transported from infested areas. A variety of destructive pests lay eggs or stowaway in firewood. These insects from Asia and Europe have the potential to devastate over 30 species of hardwood trees native to the Park. New infestations threaten our forests with widespread tree mortality that could devastate wildlife habitat, biodiversity, and scenic views. The use of firewood that has been heat treated eliminates the threat posed by these pests through the movement and use of wood in campfires.

National Parks throughout the Appalachian region have taken action to limit the spread of insect pests in firewood including, in many cases, the banning of imported firewood. For the past three years, the Smokies has prohibited the importation of firewood from areas quarantined by the USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service. Park rangers have been working over the past year with numerous partners representing federal and state agencies, conservation organizations, and universities to mitigate the risks associated with movement of firewood including a public education campaign with campground programs and regionally placed billboards. The Park also hosted public meetings and developed an informational handout that was provided to all Smokies campers throughout the summer inviting public comments.

Do New Solar Rules for NC Allow for Slow-Walking Contracts?

 Rules for solar power in North Carolina remain intact under an order the state Utilities Commission recently released. Photo courtesy of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Rules for solar power in North Carolina remain intact under an order the state Utilities Commission recently released. Photo courtesy of the Environmental Protection Agency.

As North Carolinians rang in the New Year, state regulators released long-anticipated rules for solar power in the state. Solar developers wanted expanded eligibility for contracts, and utilities proposed measures that would limit access. The state Utilities Commission rejected both proposals and kept the basic framework for solar the same.

egal counsel with NC WARN, John Runkle, says the issue at hand is that the real value of solar is not being recognized, and the rules allow Duke Energy to slow-walk contract and interconnection negotiations, “A contract might take six months, eight months, nine months. Rather than, I mean it’s a pretty well understood technology. As much money as you want to spend on solar, there’s someone willing to put up a good solid solar system for you.”

Runkle says the price of solar has gone down considerably, and there is great potential to expand it around the state. But he adds that without timely contracts and consistent rates, investors can become discouraged and turn away from profitable solar projects.

Duke has been cited as saying it does support solar development, and a spokesman recently pointed to the 278 megawatts of solar capacity the utility has contracted to build or buy power from this year. But Runkle says just four percent of Duke’s projected total sales are solar, and he adds that much more solar power would be available if the company would offer standard contracts in a timely fashion, “Last year NC WARN and some other organizations put solar panels on 250 rooftops. If there were a way to do that more efficiently we could easily double that, triple that, and the big companies could put on a considerable more amount of solar.”

According to a recent report from Environment North Carolina, solar grew 127% between 2010 and 2013. It also found that the state has the potential to produce more than 30 times as much electricity from solar power as the state consumes each year.

Lakes James named NC State Park of the Year

Lake James State Park in Burke and McDowell counties has been named the North Carolina 2014 State Park of the Year by the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation.

The park was chosen for its “exemplary contribution to the North Carolina state parks mission of stewardship, public service and education,” and specifically recognized for initiatives in natural resource management, volunteerism and expanded recreation opportunities.

“Lake James State Park is fulfilling the promise it has held since 2004 when it was expanded with 2,900 acres of property acquired from Crescent Resources Inc. Its staff has been adept at balancing exciting new recreation opportunities with careful protection of natural resources on that property,” said Mike Murphy, state parks director. “This exemplary performance led to its selection as Park of the Year.”

During the year, Lake James State Park opened a 15-mile network of mountain biking trails, began offering kayak and canoe rentals and staged multiple special events including an ultra-marathon and the popular Catawba Riverfest. The park’s rangers reached more than 4,000 visitors with special interpretive programs, and guided volunteers for more than 1,100 hours, a 400 percent increase over the previous year. The maintenance staff continued trail construction and launched a project to build canoe-in campsites. The division’s natural resource staff and park rangers initiated a prescribed burn program and a kudzu management program, and staged a 24-hour “bioblitz” to inventory hundreds of plant and animal species in the park.

The state parks system began choosing a Park of the Year in 2010 with nominations from each of four districts. Each of 40 state parks and recreation areas submits an annual report that is objectively scored on progress in recreation, natural resource protection, sustainability, public safety and environmental education. Final judging is by senior and peer administrators. To honor the Park of the Year, a medallion is attached to a hiking staff that is passed to the current award recipient each year. Crowders Mountain State Park in Gaston County was honored in 2013.

Lake James State Park was authorized in 1987 and is under the direction of Superintendent Nora Coffey. The park encompasses 3,515 acres and reported 398,148 visitors in 2013

Beware of Flu Symptoms

Along with New Year celebrations, January brings a warning from local doctors that this is one of the most active months for the flu. With the CDC announcing that the flu has reached empidemic levels, AFC/Doctors Epxress physicians want to raise awareness about the difference between the flu and a “stomach bug” so people know when it’s time to see the doctor and when they can take care of their sympoms at home.

One of the biggest myths about the flu is that is causes vomitting. But the flu is actually a highly contagious respiratory disease and vomiting is not on the list of flu symptoms. Our doctors have been seeing several different stomach bugs (gastroenteritis) go around which are contagious infections of the stomach and intestines.

Symptoms of the flu:

fever
headache
muscle aches
sore throat
cough
chills
runny nose
fatigue
*The biggest danger of the flu is that it wears your body’s ability to fight other infections that you may get while you have the flu, such as pneumonia. Sometimes these infections can cause death.

Symptoms of the “stomach bug:” (gastroenteritis)

nausea
vomiting and/or diarrhea
possible fever
*Most people recover completely. Stomach bugs can be serious for infants and the elderly who are unable to drink enough fluids to replace what they lose through vomiting and/or diarrhea.

According to the CDC, flu activity is “high” in nearly half the country. And, the past 32 flu seasons have shown that February is the most active month for the flu, followed by December and then January.

Smoke-free Law Continues to Return Benefits After Five Years

Friday, Jan. 2, marks the fifth anniversary of North Carolina’s smoke-free restaurants and bars law. The smoke-free law prohibits smoking in enclosed areas of most restaurants and bars, with limited exceptions for private clubs and some cigar bars.

The health outcome results for this law are significant and impressive, especially in such a short period of time, according to Ruth Petersen, M.D., M.P.H., chief of the Chronic Disease and Injury Section of the N.C. Division of Public Health.

“During the first year of the law, North Carolina saw a 21 percent drop in average weekly emergency department visits for heart attacks. Further studies demonstrate the law has improved air quality in North Carolina restaurants and bars and reduced emergency department visits for asthma attacks.”

An additional benefit of the smoke-free law is the reduced exposure to secondhand smoke, a known risk factor for cancer, heart disease, stroke and asthma. In 2006, a report issued by the United States Surgeon General stated that scientific evidence indicates that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.

“The smoke-free law was an important milestone for North Carolina,” said Cumberland County Health Director Buck Wilson, incoming president of the N.C. Association of Local Health Directors. “The law changed the way we look at smoking and secondhand smoke. It’s hard to imagine going backwards; people in North Carolina really enjoy their smoke-free restaurants and bars.”

The North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association (NCRLA) worked to help pass the statewide law, which not only prohibits smoking indoors in virtually all restaurants and bars, but also specifies that no more than 20 percent of a lodging establishment’s guest rooms may be designated for smoking.

“NCRLA is proud to support this initiative, which improves the health and well-being of North Carolina hospitality patrons and employees,” said NCLRA President and CEO Lynn Minges. “The smoke-free law has helped create a safer, more pleasant atmosphere in our state’s bars and restaurants without harming our industry’s bottom line.”

Make a Plan: Tips to Stay Safe at New Year’s Parties

Nationwide, as many as 800 people die in car crashes involving a drunk driver every December. It’s why this month is one of the most dangerous times on the nation’s roads and why organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving are working hard to make sure people take precautions so they don’t hurt themselves or someone else.

Jan Withers is the national president of MADD, “We know too much now. We all know about designated drivers. We all know the dangers, but the key is not to decide after you’ve had some alcohol in your system. We really need to make a sober decision – before we ever start drinking – how we’re going to get home safely.”

Last year, 366 people died in drunk-driving accidents in North Carolina, costing the state more than two-billion dollars. Withers says in addition to planning for your own safe ride home, it’s important to evaluate the alcohol intake of your friends before letting them leave a holiday party, and don’t be afraid to prevent them from getting behind the wheel.

Withers knows first-hand the devastation drunk driving can cause, having lost her daughter to a drunk driver 23 years ago, “Some days it seems like yesterday because the pain is so intense, and sometimes, of course, it seems like a lifetime ago – but, indeed, the hole in my heart never goes away.”

This month, local police departments and the state Highway Patrol are planning additional patrols for drunk drivers. If you witness a suspected drunk driver, you can call *FHP from your cell phone. Drivers caught while driving impaired face an automatic suspension of their driving privileges for 30 days while they await trial and the possibility of losing their license for at least a year after their first conviction.

Register now for Appalachian Farm School

Registration is now open for the 2015 Appalachian Farm School, a pilot program to centralize agricultural business training in a single program for farmers in the seven western counties of North Carolina. The course begins Jan. 29 and ends April 9, 2015, and takes place from 6 to 8:30 p.m. on alternating Thursday evenings.

The AFS is a program of the Western North Carolina Food Policy Council (WNCFPC) with support from the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina. The program’s goal is to build a “one-stop” program in which farmers are able to access low-cost agribusiness resources from around the region.

Courses and workshops will be taught by professionals from the region and by state agency representatives, and will cover topics such as GAP certification and food safety regulations; basic agribusiness planning; marketing; production and pricing for market demand; soil and pest management; agribusiness financing, and legal and insurance issues.

The AFS relies on expert teachers from partners such as Cooperative Extension, the North Carolina Departments of Agriculture and Revenue, North Carolina Rural Entrepreneurship through Action Learning (NCREAL), Southwestern Community College’s Small Business Center, and Western Carolina University’s Public Policy Institute.

The cost for the full three-month program is $75, which includes dinner during each class and all materials. Registration is available online at www.wncfpc.org/appalachian-farm-school. Paper copies can be accessed by calling 399-0297 or at the Small Business Center or Extension office.

WNCFPC, founded in 2011, brings together agriculture and food security representatives in Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Jackson, Macon, Swain and Haywood counties to address regional needs around agricultural and food security issues. A similar program offering training for food banks, soup kitchens, and shelters will be offered later in 2015.

For more information about the Appalachian Farm School, please visit www.wncfpc.org or contact Emily Edmonds at wncfpc@gmail.com.

WNC Meth Ring Defendants Sentenced

The last of 18 members of a methamphetamine trafficking ring that operated in Western North Carolina has been sentenced to federal prison.
Angela Leigh Wike, 39, of Bryson City, was sentenced to 46 months in prison and was also ordered to serve three years under court supervision after her release, Anne M. Tompkins, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, announced Wednesday.

In May of 2013, 18 members of the drug ring were arrested as the result of a joint law enforcement investigation by local, state and federal agencies.

According to filed court documents and court proceedings, from May 2012 to April 2013, the drug ring operated primarily in Jackson, Haywood, Macon, Swain and Buncombe counties

Wike will be transferred to the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons upon designation of a federal facility. All federal sentences are served without the possibility of parole. Other sentences in the case ranged from 27 months to more than 12 years in prison.

The investigation was handled by the DEA and ATF, assisted by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, Macon County Sheriff’s Office, Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, Swain County Sheriff’s Office, Franklin Police Department, and Cherokee Indian Police Department.
The prosecution is being handled for the government by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Kent of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Asheville.

North Carolina surpasses Michigan to become the nation’s ninth-most populous state

North Carolina grew by 95,047 people during a 12-month period ending in 2014 and surpassed Michigan to become the ninth-most populous state in the nation, according to estimates released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.

“People want to live in a place where they can fulfill their potential,” Governor McCrory said, “And for an increasing number of Americans and people throughout the world, that place is North Carolina.”

The governor cited job creation, lower taxes and the state’s quality of life as some of the reasons for North Carolina’s growth.

The Census Bureau pegged the state’s population at 9,943,964. The population increase of 95,047 was the sixth-largest in the nation from July 1, 2013 until July 1, 2014. In 2010, North Carolina’s population was 9,535,483 and 8,049,313 in 2000.

The Census Bureau produces population estimates each year, allowing the public to gauge the growth and demographic composition of the nation, states and communities.

Planning for Pets: Keep Four-Legged Friends Safe This Holiday

With all the food and festivities, keeping Fluffy or Fido safe during the holidays can be a challenge. But furry family members will be just fine with some simple precautions from their owners.

Director of pet care issues at the Humane Society of the United States, KC Theisen says bowls of candy or snacks that are left sitting out can cause health issues for pets, “Chocolate is a well-known toxin to dogs and to cats. Some nuts are also not healthy for pets to eat, especially if they get a large number of them. It’s best to keep all of those dishes, all those snack trays, kind of above ‘nose level.'”

She says plants also need to be kept out of reach because, if consumed, poinsettias, mistletoe and holly all can be poisonous to pets, or at least cause stomach upset. Pets also can be curious about decorations, so Theisen recommends securely anchoring the Christmas tree and keeping all breakable ornaments, tinsel and garland out of reach.

A houseful of guests not only can cause anxiety for the host but also for some pets. Theisen advises owners to consider their pet’s individual personality when deciding whether or how long to allow them to mingle with guests, “If they’re a social butterfly and they love to see people, and they can stay calm around a large crowd – excellent, they might enjoy the festivities. But a lot of pets feel more confident if they have a safe place to retreat to.”

And before putting your pet outside for an extended period of time, Theisen says keep the weather and temperature in mind. Although cats and dogs do have fur coats, she says leaving them outdoors when it’s freezing can put them at risk of hypothermia or frostbite, “It’s really important to remember that their noses are naked, their ears are mostly naked, and the bottom of their feet that touches the pavement – are naked! So, we have to be extremely careful.”

For those who are taking their cat or dog along for holiday travel, Theisen says it’s a good idea to double up on tags and collars so if a mishap occurs, their pet can be located as quickly as possible.

Hospitals Limit Visitation

Due to the rising number of flu cases in our surrounding communities and facilities, Harris Regional Hospital and Swain Community Hospital have begun limiting visitors to the hospitals in order to reduce the risk of transmitting the flu to our patients, visitors, and staff. Restrictions will apply to visitors 12 years old and under and any visitor with symptoms of respiratory illness (fever, cough, sore throat, etc.).

According to the North Carolina Division of Public Health, the geographic spread of flu is now considered to be widespread, with four flu-related deaths having already occurred in North Carolina.

Exceptions to the restrictions, such as end-of-life circumstances, will be looked at on a case-by-case basis. Respiratory and hand hygiene stations are located at all entrances and on nursing units for visitors. Restrictions will continue from now until there is a significant decline in cases or flu season is considered over.

Visitors that are not feeling well and those under age 12 are encouraged to call patients rather than visit.

Highway Patrol Seeks Motorist’s Help in Bringing a Safe End to 2014

With the upcoming Christmas and New Year’s Holiday, the Highway Patrol is asking motorists to help bring a safe end to 2014 by not driving impaired, buckling-up and keeping their focus on the road. Last year in North Carolina, 27 people died in motor vehicle related crashes between Christmas and New Year’s.

During last year’s two-day Christmas Holiday reporting period of 12:00 a.m. December 24 through 11:59 p.m. on December 25, seven people were killed in traffic-related crashes.

Year-to-date troopers have investigated 5,222 collisions that were attributed to alcohol impairment. That number is lower from last year’s total of 5,414. The decrease of collisions is in part due to the 19,611 DWI arrest troopers have made thus far this year.

“Troopers will be vigilant in detecting and removing impaired drivers off North Carolina’s highways as we approach the new year,” said Colonel Bill Grey, commander of the State Highway Patrol. “Our goal this holiday season is to provide the motoring public safe and efficient travel as they visit their families.”

To prevent needless injuries and deaths due to alcohol impairment this holiday season, the Highway Patrol suggests these simple tips:

Be responsible
Designate a sober driver
Call a cab, friend or family member if you find yourself in a situation where you have consumed too much of an alcoholic beverage
Spend the night where you are if possible

Citizens can contribute to highway safety by reporting impaired and erratic drivers by simply dialing *Hp or *47 on a cellular phone. Callers should give the description of the vehicle, location, direction of travel and license plate number if at all possible.

“We all need to do our part to stay safe as we travel on our highways this holiday season. Be responsible, call a friend or family member, but please don’t drink and drive. The choice you make can be the difference between life and death.” said Sergeant Michael Baker, Public Information Officer.

FALLING GAS PRICES HELP BOOST NORTH CAROLINA YEAR-END HOLIDAY TRAVEL TO RECORD NUMBERS

Nearly three million North Carolinians will travel 50 miles or more for the Christmas/New Year’s holiday, according to AAA Carolinas.

The record number – 2,939,500 – represents an increase of 113,000 compared to last year. An estimated 2,675,000, or 91% of total travelers, plan to drive to their destination.

“Falling gas prices and an improving economy has led to more North Carolinians traveling to celebrate the holidays and ring in the New Year with family and friends,” said David E. Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas. “With most people hitting the roads during this time, we want to stress the importance of buckling up, avoiding drinking and driving, texting behind the wheel and speeding.”

The 13-day Christmas/New Year’s travel holiday is defined as Tuesday, Dec. 23, through Sunday, Jan. 4, which is one day longer than the travel period last year.

As the longest holiday travel period of the year, it is also one of the deadliest. Last year, 42 people died on North Carolina roads during the year-end holiday travel period – that’s 5 more fatalities than in 2012.

Those driving to their destinations will encounter the lowest gas prices since 2009. North Carolinians are currently paying 74 cents less for a gallon of gas than they were a year ago. Gas prices in North Carolina are 24 cents lower than they were on Thanksgiving Day. The statewide average is currently $3.48 and prices are expected to continue their decline through the start of 2015, due to an abundant supply domestically and less people driving in the winter months.

North Carolina motorists will find the cheapest gas in Charlotte at $2.43 and the most expensive gas in Boone at $2.67. For those traveling through South Carolina, the average price per gallon is 21 cents lower than North Carolina’s.

An estimated 156,700 North Carolinians will fly to their destinations, a slight increase from last year.

Driven by low-cost carriers, airfares are down 7% from a year ago, averaging $186 for the top 40 U.S routes. However, car rental rates are up 4% from a year ago to $66 per day.

Hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond hotels have increased by 4% from a year ago, averaging $143 per night. AAA Two Diamond hotels average $108 per night, a 5% increase from last year.

With holiday parties frequently held between Christmas and New Year’s, drunk driving is always a major problem during this travel period. AAA advises drivers to assign a designated driver or call a cab if they are planning to consume alcohol.

North Carolina’s “Booze It & Lose It” campaign which started Dec.12 and runs through Jan. 4, includes checkpoints and stepped-up patrols to remove impaired drivers from North Carolina roads.

During the holiday period, unexpected weather or vehicle problems may leave motorists stranded. AAA Carolinas recommends keeping an emergency kit in your car that includes:
Cell phone and car charger
Blankets and flashlight with extra batteries
First aid kit
Drinking water and non-perishable snacks
Small shovel and a sack of sand or cat litter for traction
Windshield scraper
Battery booster cables
Emergency triangle reflectors
Change of clothes, including socks and shoes

North Carolina suspends most construction projects during the holiday travel period, with these exceptions:
U.S. 158 (Elizabeth Street) in Elizabeth City is reduced to one lane in each direction from Road Street to the Pasquotank River Bridge for resurfacing and construction of a new bridge.
U.S. 158 in Currituck and Dare counties will have traffic in a two way and a two lane pattern on the U.S. 158 Bridge over the Currituck Sound due to the ongoing deck rehabilitation.
U.S. 264 in Dare County will be reduced to one of two lanes controlled by temporary traffic signals in three locations for the replacement of three bridges. Lane closures are located between Stumpy Point and the Hyde County line.
U.S. 158 in Hertford County between Murfreesboro and Winton may be reduced to one of two lanes in the eastbound lanes for paving operations.
N.C. 12 in Dare County South of Bonner Bridge may be reduced to one of two lanes to continue clearing sand adjacent to the road from the recent nor’easter storm. Impacts should be minor.
I-440 in Raleigh is in a two-lane pattern in both directions between I-40 and U.S. 64/264. Also there may be lane closures the nights of Dec. 29 and 30.
I-73 in Guilford County is reduced to two lanes in each direction between I-40 and I-85 for a new interchange with High Point Road.

For the latest on construction delays, up-to-date traffic information related to closed travel lanes, accidents or expected congestion due to special events, go to the North Carolina Department of Transportation website, www.ncdot.org, and click on Travel & Maps and then on the Traveler Information Management System.

Survey data is taken from AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, AAA/HIS Global Insight holiday travel forecast and AAA Carolinas data.

To estimate fuel costs, travelers can go to www.fuelcostcalculator.com to input starting city, destination, and the make and model of their car.

The free AAA Mobile app for iPhone and Android devices uses GPS navigation to help travelers map a route, find updated gas prices, view nearby member discounts and access AAA Roadside Assistance.

AAA Carolinas, an affiliate of the American Automobile Association, is a not-for-profit organization that serves more than 1.9 million members and the public with travel, automobile and insurance services while being an advocate for the safety and security of all travelers.

Connect with AAA Carolinas on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AAAcarolinas and follow us on Twitter at @AAAcarolinas.

Report: A Growing Number of Unaffiliated Voters in NC

Voter turnout increased in North Carolina’s recent midterms, and several key voter sub-groups had a large part in influencing its outcome. New data released from Democracy North Carolina found that Democrats, older Americans, and African Americans all participated in greater numbers, compared to the 2010 midterm.

The biggest share of new voters came from independents – explains Bob Hall, with Democracy NC, “They tend to kind of split their tickets between this and that. It turned out that at the top of the ticket, the Republican Thom Tillis won, but all three of the Democrats running for the State Supreme Court won their seats, those are nonpartisan races.”

In spite of higher turnout for Democrats and African Americans, who tend to favor the Democratic party, Hall says Republican men still turned out in higher numbers, and Thom Tillis had greater appeal for independent voters and conservative Democrats. Alleghany, Yancey and Chatham Counties had the highest turnouts – reaching as high as 60%.

While voters age 18 to 25 increased their participation this year by three percentage points over the 2010 midterm, the youth vote still lags behind other voting blocks at just shy of 18% participation.

Bryan Perlmutter with Ignite NC says that’s why it’s imperative the state makes voting more accessible to young voters, “Young people are so important to the political process and it’s so important that they have their voices heard that the state of North Carolina needs to be making an intentional effort to make it easier for young people to vote.”

Hall says Democracy N-C’s analysis finds that the new voting rules and the subsequent voter confusion reduced overall participation by 30,000 people – which could have impacted several key races, “We want to have trained precinct officials so that people’s experience is good when they go to the polls, and if they’re slightly confused they don’t get more confused by what the precinct officials tell them.”

Hall says Hoke, Robeson and Onslow Counties had the lowest turnout.