Judge Rules in Favor of NC Wildlife Sanctuary

gr-41979-1-1After a five year fight, a North Carolina wildlife sanctuary has won the right to return to its home and also recover more than 200-thousand dollars in damages from the town it calls home. For more than 11 years, Genesis Wildlife Sanctuary rescued and rehabilitated wild animals in Beech Mountain. The center also became a tourist attraction, until the Town Council voted to change some town rules, a move that placed Genesis in violation of its 30 year lease.

Susan Halliburton, a spokesperson for Genesis, says despite the court victory, the sanctuary continues to be in a tough spot,  “We can go back on the land, we still have the lease. How it’s going to play out with working? Obviously, they don’t want us there. They want the property back, is what they want.”

Calls to attorneys representing Beech Mountain were not returned. Though challenged by town leadership, the lease was ruled valid by a judge last year. Beech Mountain is expected to appeal the jury’s unanimous decision in Watauga County Superior Court.

Halliburton says rebuilding isn’t as simple as one might assume, and adds that it includes rebuilding their staff and volunteer base,  “We were forced to tear down the habitats – and we’re not just talking cages here. We’re talking foundations; double-wiring that bears can’t get in to animals or the birds.”

Genesis leased a little less than an acre on Buckeye Lake in 1999 for a dollar, with the agreement of the Town Council.

Operation Medicine Drop Collected over 7 million doses

The State Bureau of Investigation reported that nearly 7.4 million doses of expired or unused medicine pills were collected across the state during Operation Medicine Drop Sept. 27.

The pills and medications are being destroyed at an Environmental Protection Agency-approved incinerator.

The State Bureau of Investigation co-sponsored the pill take-back event along with Safe Kids North Carolina, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and state and local law enforcement agencies.

In addition to providing drop-off locations at its eight troop locations, the State Highway Patrol provided vehicles to transport the medication.  The DEA paid to have the medications destroyed.

This year, Cary Police Department lead the state with approximately 947,000 dosage units collected, topping Durham’s collection last year of 773,500 dosage units.

Medications are the leading cause of child poisoning, according to Safe Kids, a non-profit organization that helps parents and caregivers prevent childhood injuries. Environmental experts say that flushing medicines down the toilet contaminates water supplies and hurts aquatic life.

According to DEA, medicines that languish in home cabinets are highly susceptible to misuse and abuse, and a majority of abused prescription drugs are obtained from family and friends, including from the home medicine cabinet.

Conservative Group Faces Felony Probe for Mailers

The State Board of Elections is investigating the national conservative group Americans for Prosperity to determine whether it committed a felony after the North Carolina Democratic Party filed a formal complaint on Monday. This comes after American for Prosperity sent thousands of mailers to citizens across the state including incorrect voting and registration information.

Josh Lawson with the Board of Elections says they met with an AFP representative early Monday morning, and discovered in some cases the mailer went out multiple times to the same person,”We know it went everywhere, and unfortunately we have people complaining of third and fourth warnings. People are still going to be getting these through this week.”

It is against the law in North Carolina to intentionally mislead people about voter registration and discourage them from voting. Americans for Prosperity has sent out incorrect and some would say “suspicious” mailers in other states. So far, the organization, which receives funding from the Koch brothers, says the incorrect information is a mistake.


Bob Phillips with Common Cause North Carolina joins others in questioning the intent behind the mailer, “That’s very sloppy and lazy, and one wonders about the intent behind it, particularly with whom the mailers are going to.”

Americans for Prosperity says the intent behind the mailers was to educate voters. Earlier this year AFP sent mailers with incorrect information to voters in West Virginia, and last year the organization sent letters to Virginia voters claiming the recipients hadn’t registered to vote and that they would “tell their neighbors.”

Lawson says the state has asked AFP to take immediate action to correct the misinformation, “We met with the deputy general counsel of Americans for Prosperity and requested of him that they explore options on trying to ensure that the folks that received wrong information receive correct information, so he said that he would carry that message back, and we’re hoping that we’ll get a good answer.”

October 10th is the deadline to register to vote in North Carolina, because of last year’s voting law. Unlike in prior years, out-of-precinct voting is not permitted, and there is limited acceptance of provisional ballots. Voters are not required to come to the polls in this election with a photo ID.

Study Says NC Law Enforcement Support Changing Syringe Laws

A new study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence reports on North Carolina law enforcement attitudes toward syringe decriminalization, or removing syringes from the list of prohibited drug paraphernalia. The study analyzed the responses of 350 North Carolina law enforcement officers to a confidential, anonymous survey regarding their experience with needle-stick injury, perceived risk of HIV and hepatitis C risk, and opinions on whether the state should consider syringe decriminalization as a tool to reduce needle-related injury among law enforcement.

 82% of respondents reported that they were very concerned about contracting HIV on the job and 3.8% reported ever receiving a job-related needle-stick injury. These injuries typically occur when an officer conducts a search and is accidentally pierced by a syringe, which may be contaminated with HIV or viral hepatitis. A study of law enforcement officers in Connecticut revealed that decriminalizing syringes can lower needle-stick injury to officers by 66% because it removes a suspect’s fear of syringe possession and increases the likelihood that they will tell officers they have syringes before being searched.

 The majority of officers in the North Carolina study reported positive views regarding syringe decriminalization, with approximately 63% agreeing that it would be “good for the community” and 60% agreeing that it would be “good for law enforcement.”

 The study’s lead author, Corey Davis, JD, MSPH, an attorney with the Network for Public Health Law says, “Syringe decriminalization is good policy. Since law enforcement opinion carries a lot of weight in the legislature, this study suggests that it’s good politics as well.”

 The study emerges after the passage of a new law in North Carolina that partially decriminalized syringes. The law, which went into effect in December 2013, states that a person cannot be charged with the possession of a syringe or other sharp object if he or she declares the object to law enforcement prior to a search.

“I would rather every addict come out and admit to having a needle than for one person not to tell the truth and have one of our officers get stuck,” says Sgt David Rose of the Winston Salem Police Department.

Take a Hike: 23 North Carolina Conservation Projects Funded in 2014

If you don’t own a piece of beautiful real estate in North Carolina, sometimes the only way to enjoy the state’s natural beauty is by hiking in one of the state parks or in conservation lands. This year, through the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, 23 land conservation projects will be funded, including land on Snake Mountain in Watauga County.

Eric Heigl with the Blue Ridge Conservancy says his organization counts on the state funding, “The Clean Water Management Act Trust Fund grants are one of the bigger grant opportunities to acquire lands that we have here in North Carolina and they will make or break certain projects.”

Projects receiving funding this year include the French Broad River, Chimney Rock State Park, Bentonville Battlefield Historic site and others. The grants are funded by the state, and the fund’s budget is set annually by the General Assembly. In its most recent budget, lawmakers increased funding to $14.1 million dollars, but during this last grant cycle, the state’s Clean Water Management Trust Fund received requests totaling $56 million dollars.

Bryan Gossage, director of the fund, says his job is about making the most of the resources allocated, and recognizing the hard work of state’s 24 land conservation groups, “There are always limited resources, and so there are always tough decisions to make. I just appreciate so much the hard work the trustees do, they’re volunteers.”

Will Morgan of The Nature Conservancy applied for funding, but he was not successful this year, “There was a lot of really great projects that didn’t receive funding because there just wasn’t enough money to go around.”

The grant money also funds projects that improve water quality. This year that includes more than $3 million dollars for stream restoration and for storm-water projects.

New Data Names North Carolina the Worst State for Teachers

medium International World Teachers Day  is coming up on Oct. 5 and the personal finance website WalletHub analyzed data along with 18 categories to conclude that among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, North Carolina ranks as the worst state for teachers.

The metrics it looked at included looks at states’ median starting salaries, unemployment rates and teacher job openings, among other factors.




Here is where North Carolina ranked in several categories:

Average starting salary, 41,

Median annual salary, 47,

Unemployment rate, 38,

Ten-year change in teacher salary, 51,

Pupil-to-teacher ratio, 32,

Public school spending per student, 48,

Teachers’ wage disparity, 43, and

Safest schools, 40.

North Carolina teachers are finally getting a raise, but not necessarily under the terms they wanted.

Under a budget deal signed into law Aug. 7 by Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, the raises will average 7 percent. But they are concurrent with a radical revamping of the state salary schedule and the specter of new differentiated-pay plans.

Among other provisions, the deal wraps “longevity pay” stipends for veterans into teachers’ base salaries, and directs districts to offer more to teachers working in certain subjects and schools. In all, the raises are worth some $282 million.

It comes amid tense political battles in the Tar Heel State over per-pupil funding and teacher tenure. North Carolina was once viewed as a leader for supporting programs like National Board certification, but enrollments in the state’s teacher-preparation programs have fallen, and some out-of-state districts—including Houston’s—have even been recruiting North Carolina teachers.

Teachers’ salaries, which have been essentially frozen since 2008, have been a particular concern.

Expect to Pay Less at Pumps

Good news for drivers. The cost of a gallon of gasoline could fall below $3 in a majority of states across the U.S. soon. Right now, the average price for regular gasoline is at a seven-month low across the country, and in many states costs are at a yearly low, according to AAA.  Gas prices tend to drop in the fall, but this year prices are being pulled lower than usual due to falling global oil prices.

Prices in nearly 30 states are projected to be less than $3 a gallon. The national average of $3.35 a gallon is a dime cheaper than a year ago today. In Sylva, prices this week are averaging $3.45 according to Gasbuddy.com

NC’s Voting Law Goes to Court Today

With less than two months to go before the November elections, North Carolina’s controversial voting law is being fast-tracked to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Charlotte on Thursday.  The ACLU and Southern Coalition for Social Justice are challenging provisions in the law that they say place a burden on citizens as they exercise their right to vote.

Jeremy Collins with the SCSJ  says they consider it a good sign the court wants to take up the law before November, “We’re clearly optimistic. We are enthusiastically preparing for the oral argument, and we’re excited to place our arguments back before the Fourth Circuit.”

Provisions in the law that eliminate one week of early voting, end same-day registration, and restrict out-of-precinct voting are being challenged on constitutional grounds. Both parties are asking the court to place the law on hold until next summer, until further legal analysis can be done. Collins says if the Fourth Circuit agrees, voting laws would be restored to what they were in the 2012 election.

Supporters of North Carolina’s new voting law argue that it’s needed to combat voter fraud, but Collins and the other plaintiffs aren’t buying it, “It seems as though it’s a deliberate attempt to confuse folks and to disenfranchise a considerable population of North Carolinians.”

Collins says requirements in the new law are believed to have a disproportionate impact on minorities, low-income voters and college students. A recent analysis by Democracy North Carolina found that 400 provisional ballots cast in the May primary were not counted, but would have been counted under the 2012 laws.

NC Coal Ash Cleanup Begins: More Work to Be Done

It is the first full week that, by law, North Carolina will clean up four coal ash sites in the state – in Asheville, Eden, Gastonia and Wilmington. While the cleanup is welcome news for those communities, others living near the 10 coal-ash sites not included want the state to do more. Kimberly Brewer of Rowan County is the mother of four, two of whom have birth defects she believes were caused by the coal-ash ponds adjacent to their front yard, from the Buck Steam Power Plant, “It saddens me that our politics don’t really take the health of others seriously. I sit back and wonder how many other families are going to have to go through what I go through?” Brewer has since moved away from the pond and says as a result, her children require fewer doctor visits, went from taking 15 medications to none, and are in better health overall. The Coal Ash Management Act of 2014 took affect after Governor McCrory announced he would take no action on the legislation after it passed, which allowed it to become law. This month, the group Environment North Carolina delivered comments from 40,000 citizens asking the state to do more to clean up all of the coal-ash ponds in the state. David Rogers with the organization says he hopes the governor takes their message to heart, “You know, Governor McCrory has a huge opportunity right now to really lead, and deliver when it comes to protecting North Carolina’s rivers and lakes.” Caroline Armijo grew up near the Belews Creek plant in Stokes County. She says she became concerned in recent years after several family members and friends who also live in the area were diagnosed with cancer. Since then, Armijo says she has been working hard to educate her neighbors, “And people just don’t even know about it. I mean, they’re just sleeping right next to this huge pond – they don’t even know it could flood.” The pond associated with the plant has been designated as “high hazard” for dam failure by the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Fracking is also proposed near the Belews Creek plant. Armijo and others say that adds extra risk of disturbing the ground and the coal-ash dam.

Dillsboro Artist Frank Brannon Named Regan Residency Grant Recipient

Brannon 1Frank Brannon, a book artist from Dillsboro, has been selected for the first Mary B. Regan Residency Grant for a project to revitalize the Cherokee language through his artistry as a letterpress printer.

Brannon’s one-year project is based on his work with a program he supports at Southwestern Community College in Swain County, near Cherokee, where students are learning the art of printmaking by printing materials using the Cherokee syllabary. The 85-character syllabary was developed in 1821 by Sequoyah – a silversmith, blacksmith and artist – making it possible to read and write the spoken language of the Cherokee.

Working with translations from the Cherokee Studies Program at Western Carolina University, Brannon uses manual printing techniques to preserve the language and its original Cherokee syllables. In a series of public workshops, members of the surrounding communities will produce prints that will culminate in an edition of handmade books. The workshops will be held at the Southwestern Community College printing studio as well as Brannon’s own studio in Dillsboro.

“Like many languages around the world, the Cherokee spoken language is struggling to continue as there are fewer and fewer speakers,” Brannon said. “As a book artist I thought about how we might print in Cherokee in this way to support Cherokee language revitalization.”  His M.F.A. thesis was Cherokee Phoenix: Advent of a Newspaper, which focused on the historical 19th-century newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix, which was printed in both English and Cherokee.

The Mary B. Regan Residency is a one-year community artist grant named in honor of former N. C. Arts Council Executive Director Mary B. Regan’s 39 years of service to the arts and artists of North Carolina. The $15,000 grant, supported by donations, will allow Brannon to focus on revitalizing the Cherokee language in partnership with students and the wider community in Swain and Jackson counties.

“When I think of myself as a community artist, I think about the ability of a person to use art to support or transform a community, and combined with visual arts, I expect my artwork to be a catalyst for change using a visual approach,” he said.

Brannon focuses his work on three areas: hand papermaking, hand bookbinding and letterpress printing. Working with book artist Steve Miller, Brannon produced the paper for a limited edition print of Voyage by former U.S. Poet Laureate, Billy Collins. He was commissioned to make 200 copies of Absalom, Absalom! celebrating William Faulkner’s birthday. The commission, for Square Books, featured letterpress printing on handmade cotton rag paper.

He has also explored expanding the concept of the book form to include installations featuring imagery and text on handmade paper filling a gallery space and is experimenting with outdoor installations where the paper will interact with the environment.

Brannon has an M.F.A. from the Book Arts Program at the University of Alabama. His work is in almost 50 library collections and he has been in four solo exhibitions and an exhibition that traveled to six venues in the Southeast.

He is a member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild, Southeastern College Art Conference and a past board member of Hand Papermaking, Inc.

For more information about Frank Brannon visit www.speakeasypress.com. The blog,www.speakeasypress.com/news, will feature postings about the project.

For more information on the arts in North Carolina visit www.ncarts.org.



NC DHHS Confirms Enterovirus D68 Has Reached North Carolina

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services today confirmed the presence of enterovirus D68, or EV-D68, in six patients from North Carolina.  The specimens that tested positive for EV-D68 were obtained from children ages 10 and under with respiratory illnesses. Testing was conducted at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on specimens submitted from hospitals across the state.

Specific information about the children, including county of residence or hospital location, is not being released in order to protect patient confidentiality.

“DHHS’ Division of Public Health has been monitoring this situation very closely,” said Dr. Zack Moore, a pediatrician and epidemiologist with the Division of Public Health. “The confirmed cases were located in different parts of the state, so it is important for everyone to take necessary actions to protect yourself from EV-D68 and other respiratory viruses. There are no vaccines and no specific treatments for EV-D68, so prevention is the best option.”

There are more than 100 types of enteroviruses and 10-15 million infections across the US each year. Enteroviruses are common viruses that can cause a range of symptoms, include runny nose, coughing, mouth sores, fever and body aches. Some patients will also develop wheezing and difficulty breathing.

“EV-D68 is one of many enteroviruses that can cause illness,” said Dr. Moore. “Enterovirus infections are not generally life-threatening but can sometimes be severe, especially for children with asthma or other underlying respiratory conditions. If you or your child experience cold-like symptoms and difficulty breathing, contact your health care provider right away.”

Enteroviruses are transmitted through close contact with an infected person, or by touching objects or surfaces that are contaminated with the virus and then touching the mouth, nose or eyes. Health officials are recommending that people take the following actions to protect themselves from infection with EV-D68 and other respiratory illnesses:

1. Wash hands vigorously and often with soap and water for 20 seconds, especially after changing diapers. 
2. Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
3. Avoid kissing, hugging and sharing cups or eating utensils with people who are sick.
4. Frequently disinfect touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs, especially if someone is sick.

Since people with asthma are higher risk for respiratory illnesses, health officials are reminding everyone with asthma to take their medications as prescribed and make sure their asthma is under good control. Health officials are also recommending getting a flu vaccine as soon as possible to help prevent another important cause of respiratory illness that could be going around at the same time.

Since mid-August, EV-D68 has been linked to clusters of respiratory illness in 27 other states, including some illnesses that have been severe.

For more information, visit the CDC website on Enterovirus D68: http://www.cdc.gov/non-polio-enterovirus/about/ev-d68.html.

New Data Shows Staggering Rates of Poverty in North Carolina

Poverty remained high in North Carolina last year, according to new Census Bureau data released last week. The new data highlight that many people have not benefited from the state’s weak economic recovery and that North Carolina must do more to help struggling people afford basics like decent housing, nutritious food, and reliable child care, and transportation.

One in five North Carolinians lived in poverty in 2013, which translates to an income of less than $24,000 per year for a family of four. The median annual income in North Carolina adjusted for inflation did not rise between 2012 and 2013 and is lower now compared to 2009 when the economic recovery from the Great Recession officially began. Yet other sources show that incomes at the top have grown and the gaps between the top and bottom and top and middle have widened. (As an important an aside, it should also be pointed out that hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians whose incomes place them above the official poverty line still do not, as a practical matter, bring home a “living income.”)

Many feel Lawmakers have also dismantled services that help people get back on their feet when they are struggling, including unemployment benefits, job training programs, and the Earned Income Tax Credit that makes work pay and helps parents avoid raising their children in poverty.

The new Census data show that progress towards eliminating poverty in the state is stuck: North Carolina’s poverty rate is 2.1 percentage points higher than the U.S. poverty rate, and is the 11th highest rate in the nation. The state’s poverty rate (17.9 percent) and median income ($45,906) remained statistically unchanged, meaning there has been no progress in fighting poverty or raising middle class living standards for the average North Carolinian since 2009.

New Hope for Rural Areas Short on Doctors

A new plan to allow multi-state licensing for physicians could help fill the gap in areas without enough health-care services. If at least seven state legislatures agree to what’s known as a multi-state compact, a licensed doctor could easily get permission to practice medicine in any of the compact states.

Kevin Bohnenblust with the Wyoming State Board of Medicine says the compact would be especially useful for bringing specialists from a big city to a rural area with a small number of patients, “They might only have three or four patients, but their services would be critical. What we’re hoping is that, where there are under-served areas, it will give added flexibility.”

The details of the compact were unveiled this month, and Bohnenblust says it’s already receiving interest from across the country. In a report released this month by the website BetterDoctor.com, Raleigh and Greensboro are among the top cities in the country facing a physician shortage, in part because of the growth of population and business in the region.

Under the compact, a doctor could pay a fee and go through a fairly simple process to get an additional license. Bohnenblust says that’s much simpler than getting separate licenses to practice in multiple states, although he says doctors would still have that option. He adds if a license under the compact was suspended in one state, it would be suspended in all of them.

Bohnenblust says the compact is designed to make services such as telemedicine easier to do, “We’re all getting more comfortable with doing things like Skyping and FaceTime. As patients become more comfortable with it, and as physicians and other health-care professionals become more comfortable, you’ll see more and more care driven that way.”

He says the compact should be especially useful for doctors who want to operate a practice on both sides of a state line, “Being able to make it so a physician can move between those two states and be able to provide care on kind of a seamless basis for a patient.”

Because of the anticipated shortage in North Carolina, the N.C. Institute of Medicine has asked medical schools to increase enrollment by 30%.

Department of Public Safety to pitch in during statewide litter sweep

The Department of Public Safety will deploy hundreds of inmates this month to help the Department of Transportation carry out its annual fall sweep to rid the state roadsides of litter.

During the 2014 Fall Litter Sweep Sept. 20 – Oct. 4, state prisons will send minimum-custody litter crews, medium-custody road squads and Adopt-A-Highway participants out to remove trash and debris from along the state’s highways and roads.

“Everyone knows that litter creates an eyesore and an image problem. But littering is not only ugly, it can be dangerous,” said Public Safety Secretary Frank L. Perry. “Motorists who swerve to avoid debris in the road risk losing control of their vehicle.  Litter and debris blowing from unsecured loads on trucks can strike other vehicles, obscure a driver’s vision, damage vehicles and even injure drivers.”

The state spends millions of dollars each year cleaning up roadside trash that fills hundreds of thousands of garbage bags, said W. David Guice, commissioner of the Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice.

“During last year’s Litter Sweeps, inmates picked up more than 425 tons of trash,” Guice said. “In the spring sweep earlier this year, inmates cleared more than 2,300 miles of highway and filled more than 27,500 trash bags.”

“North Carolina is a beautiful state, and Commissioner Guice and I are committed to contributing resources to this worthy initiative,” Perry said.

Sun Shines on NC Power Bills with $500 Million Investment

North Carolina could come closer to living up to its solar power potential with a $500 million dollar investment from Duke Energy. The corporation said this week it will construct three solar farms to generate 128 megawatts of electricity – in Elm City, Fayetteville and Warsaw.

John Wilson with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy says greater availability of solar could ultimately stabilize consumer electric bills,”The price for these projects doesn’t go up. There’s no fuel cost increase with the sun shining, then if prices of other fuels go up, the customers will be insulated from price hikes.”

Duke Energy also announced it would purchase 150 megawatts of solar power from independent developers. Last year, 335 megawatts of solar capacity was installed in North Carolina, ranking it third in the nation and generating enough electricity for more than 31-thousand homes.

Stephen Smith, executive director of “SACE,” agrees with Wilson’s assertion that solar growth could impact the bottom line for utility customers, “They will serve as a stabilizing effect on fuel prices for North Carolina. So, the benefits will come more and more into the future, as we see these solar facilities run just any time the sun shines.”

State law dictates that North Carolina’s electric power suppliers meet an increasing amount of their customers’ energy needs with a combination of renewable energy resources. The law was passed in 2008, and Wilson says Duke’s announcement is a testament to its success,”This action by Duke is also the culmination of many years of implementation of North Carolina’s energy law, which was a far-sighted effort by the North Carolina Legislature.”

Today, North Carolina has a total of 627 megawatts of solar energy installed, powering the equivalent of more than 68,000 homes. Last year, a total of 787 million public and private dollars was invested in solar power for home and business use.

Nearly 2,800 DWI Arrests Made during Labor Day “Booze It & Lose It” Campaign

The Labor Day holiday ushers in the start of school and football season, and signals the end of summer – marking a time many people decide to celebrate with alcohol. The N.C. Department of Transportation and the Governor’s Highway Safety Program worked closely with law enforcement officers statewide to keep drunk drivers off the road during the Labor Day “Booze It & Lose It” campaign. Today, they announced that 2,757 people were arrested across North Carolina from Aug. 15 to Sept. 1 for making the life-threatening decision to drive after drinking.

“Law enforcement continues to work hard day and night to make our roads safer,” said Don Nail, GHSP director. “Arresting an average of 153 drunk drivers a day is no small feat. However, our goal is zero; zero drunk drivers and zero drunk driving arrests.”

The top five counties for DWI arrests during the Labor Day “Booze It & Lose It” campaign include:
• Wake County with 316 DWI arrests;
• Guilford County with 192 DWI arrests;
• Mecklenburg County with 150 DWI arrests;
• Robeson County with 113 DWI arrests; and
• Forsyth County with 112 DWI arrests.

In addition to DWI arrests, local and state law enforcement officers issued 102,209 traffic and criminal citations statewide at 9,642 checking stations and patrols. They also issued citations for 6,722 safety belt and 1,083 child passenger safety violations; 27,820 speeding violations; 604 work zone violations and 3,137 drug charges. In addition, they apprehended 2,874 fugitives from justice and recovered 217 stolen vehicles.

Farmers should have corn tested for aflatoxin

Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler is encouraging farmers to have their corn tested for aflatoxin to prevent contamination of feeds and food.

Aflatoxin is a byproduct of the mold Aspergillus flavus, and can be harmful to both humans and livestock.

“We have six drop-off locations at research stations across the state to make it easy for farmers to submit samples,” Troxler said. “I encourage farmers to take advantage of our testing service to protect feed and food against this mold.”

Some farmers may need to have corn samples tested for crop insurance or quality assurance purposes. These samples must be submitted to a grain marketing location certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The tests cost $22.20 per sample.

For insurance or quality assurance purposes, farmers must submit a 5-pound sample of shelled corn by mail, UPS or FedEx to a USDA-certified grain marketing location. The following locations can conduct USDA-certified testing, and they will accept samples between 6:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. weekdays:

Cargill Soybean Plant
Attn: Ben Honeycutt
1400 S. Blount St.
Raleigh, NC 27603

Grain Grading Office
Attn: Judy Grimes
407-G South Griffin St.
Elizabeth City, NC 27909

Farmers who grow or buy bulk corn to feed to their own animals can have it tested for free by the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Constable Laboratory, 4000 Reedy Creek Road in Raleigh. This Laboratory is not on the Risk Management Agency’s approved testing facility list; therefore, results from this location will not be accepted for insurance claims.

Farmers may drop off 5-pound samples of shelled corn at the Constable Laboratory or at one of six agricultural research stations. Forms for submitting samples will be available at the Laboratory and the following collection sites:

Samples also may be mailed directly to the lab at the following address:

N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Food and Drug Protection Division
Attn: Forage Testing
1070 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-1070

For additional information about the aflatoxin testing program, contact Jennifer Godwin or Michelle Powell at 919-733-7366.


SBI Announces Prescription Take-Back Day Sept. 27

The State Bureau of Investigation, along with Safe Kids North Carolina and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, is co-sponsoring a national effort to safely dispose of unused prescription medicines in locations across the state from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 27.


“Taking expired, unwanted or unused medicines to one of the pill take-back locations is the best disposal method,” SBI Director B.W. Collier said.  “This coordinated effort keeps harmful drugs out of the reach of children and prevents chemicals from ending up in the water supply.”


Medications are the leading cause of child poisoning, according to Safe Kids, a non-profit organization that helps parents and caregivers prevent childhood injuries.  Environmental experts say that flushing medicines down the toilet contaminates water supplies and hurts aquatic life.


From Aberdeen to Pilot Mountain, law enforcement agencies are participating in U.S. DEA’s National Take-Back Initiative.  The State Highway Patrol is offering drop-off sites at its eight troop offices.  (http://bit.ly/XvPxiF).  For those who do take old medications to drop-off locations, the service is free and anonymous, no questions asked.


State and local law enforcement officials oversee the collection of the drugs, the State Highway Patrol provides vehicles to transport the medication and personnel, and the DEA pays to have the medications destroyed at an Environmental Protection Agency-approved incinerator.


North Carolinians have safely disposed of approximately 61 million total doses at pill take-back events since 2009.


“Through these partnerships we are able to remove potentially deadly drugs from households so that they cannot fall into the hands of unsuspecting young people or drug abusers,” said SBI Special Agent in Charge Donnie Varnell of the Diversion and Environmental Crime Unit.  “This effort provides the safest way to dispose of old medications.”


According to DEA, medicines that languish in home cabinets are highly susceptible to misuse and abuse, and a majority of abused prescription drugs are obtained from family and friends, including from the home medicine cabinet.

To find a collection site in North Carolina, go to www.dea.gov. Click on Drug Disposal in the right-hand column, then National Take-Back Initiative / Locate a Collection Site Near You.

NC Rail Projects Get Big Boost Thanks to Federal Grant Awards

Rail in North Carolina is getting a big boost thanks to two federal TIGER grants recently awarded to the N.C. Department of Transportation to improve both freight and passenger service across the state. NCDOT learned last week that it received the grants, following Transportation Secretary Tony Tata’s application submittal in April.

The largest grant, for $5.8 million, will fund a major freight improvement project in northeastern North Carolina to upgrade the North Carolina & Virginia Railroad Company in Bertie, Hertford and Northampton counties currently operated by Genesee and Wyoming. The 52-mile rail line serves Nucor Steel, one of the largest employers in the region. 

“This project will improve the railroad track and allow shippers such as Nucor to utilize modern, heavyweight cars that are more efficient in today’s railroad operations,” said Tata. “The overall improvements will increase mobility and safety while promoting economic development in the northeast region of North Carolina.”

“This grant was possible only through the very strong support of NCDOT, Congressman G.K. Butterfield, and the communities and customers our railroad serves,” said Jim Irvin, president of the North Carolina & Virginia Railroad.  “It will allow for the modernization of the railroad, helping support existing customers and attract new ones to the communities along our line.”

Additionally, NCDOT will invest $2 million in the project through its Freight Rail and Rail Crossing Safety Initiative, funded through dividends from the North Carolina Railroad Company, as well as $800,000 from the North Carolina Mobility Fund. The total cost of the project is $11.6 million, with more than $3 million in private investment coming from the North Carolina & Virginia Railroad Company.  

The second grant for $200,000 will be used to develop transit options along the Piedmont corridor, including terminal projects such as the Gateway Station project in Charlotte. This money will allow NCDOT to continue moving this project forward with its partners on community-based connections along the route. 

TIGER grants – which stand for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery – provide a unique opportunity for the USDOT to invest in road, rail, transit and port projects that promise to achieve critical national objectives.

SCC to host political debate series

0915_DebateThe mere mention of words like “political debate” may cause some college students’ eyes to glaze over.

That’s not the case with members of Dr. Bucky Dann’s “Social Problems” class at Southwestern Community College.

Since the start of the fall semester, they’ve been studying up on regional and statewide issues in preparation for a series of debates that will be hosted in the Burrell Building conference center at SCC’s Jackson Campus over the next few weeks. Dr. Dann’s students will select and ask all questions of candidates at each event.

“A lot of times, debates are for older people,” said Gabrielle Beam, a 19-year-old Bryson City resident who’s pursuing an Associate of Arts degree at SCC. “I don’t think many people expect a teenager to care, much less know about these kinds of issues. So it’s cool to have this opportunity.”

The first debate, set for 7 p.m. on Sept. 25, will feature the six candidates (Independent Jack Debnam; Republicans Doug Cody and Charles Elders; and Democrats Boyce Deitz, Brian McMahan and Joe Ward) who are vying for three seats on the Jackson County Board of Commissioners. On Oct. 9, Democratic N.C. Representative Joe Sam Queen (D) will debate Republican challenger Mike Clampitt (R). And on Oct. 30, N.C. Senator Jim Davis (R) will face challenger Jane Hipps (D).

The public is invited to attend all three, and WRGC radio (540 AM) of Sylva plans to broadcast each one live.

“It’s really important to be unbiased,” Beam said. “The great thing is that our classmates are really diverse. We all come from different backgrounds, and we’re all going to have input into which questions are asked. I think it’ll be fun.

Another of Dr. Dann’s students, 16-year-old Early College student Kendra Graham, said she and her classmates are taking seriously the responsibility of being granted such significant roles at the debates.

“I’m a little nervous to be honest,” said Graham, who lives in Cullowhee. “But it’ll be nice to surprise people who may not think 16- or 17-year-olds are engaged in the political process.”

“We want to style our questions so that each candidate can answer from a neutral zone and know that they’re not being picked on,” Graham added.

To prepare students for the commissioners’ debate, Dr. Dann has invited Jackson County media to attend a class session and provide insight on some of the critical issues facing Jackson County.

Dr. Dann said he’s been impressed by how his students have embraced this challenge.

“Preparing for this debate has involved a lot of research,” Dr. Dann said. “Having our students ask questions that they’ve prepared and selected for these events is a key element of the learning process, and I’m very proud of their approach to this event. I am confident that everyone who attends will be impressed with our students, and more importantly, we’ll all learn a lot more about the candidates and where they stand.”