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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.

Waynesville Woman Sentenced to Prison on 29 felony counts

71456_10201081841596141_1793747546_nThe wife of a prominent Waynesville business owner was sentenced on Friday to at least 10 months in prison for breaking and entering.

Jennifer Elliot was convicted in November on 29 felony counts for stealing jewelry from the homes of her friends. She stole more than $90,000 worth of items from her victim’s homes to pay for her $200-400 a day pain pill addiction.

Elliot will also have to pay $78,000 in restitution for the stolen jewelry and will be on probation for five years.

Another Year Without Executions for NC

 Henry McCollum spent 30 years on death row before being exonerated of his crime and released. Photo courtesy of Jenny Warburg.

Henry McCollum spent 30 years on death row before being exonerated of his crime and released. Photo courtesy of Jenny Warburg.

The close of 2014 marks eight years since North Carolina has executed a person on death row. That’s also the national trend, according to a new report by the Death Penalty Information Center. This year, three inmates were sentenced to death in North Carolina, far less than at a peak in the 1990s when as many as 30 new death sentences were handed down each year.

Gretchen Engel, who heads the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, says people are questioning the need for the death penalty with a declining crime rate, “Ironically in this period where North Carolina has had eight years of no executions, our crime rate has steadily been declining, and violent crime included. Part of it is this idea of why do we need the death penalty?”

Nationwide, executions were carried out in seven states, down from nine in 2013. Seven death row inmates were exonerated this year in the US, including two in North Carolina who were proven innocent based on DNA evidence and released.

State lawmakers vowed to re-start executions last year, but Engel says that declaration may not be practical, as more cases of botched executions prompt people to question the humanity of the punishment, “That really amounts to putting the state in the position of advocating human experimentation with drugs – and that’s just unacceptable in a civilized society. ”

North Carolina’s execution protocol calls for the use of pentobarbital, the same drug that other states have been unable to obtain for use in executions. As of now, legal challenges to the state’s protocol have suspended executions indefinitely.

2014 State of the County Health Report

The Jackson County Department of Public Health recently completed the 2014 State of the County Health Report (SOTCH). The SOTCH report is an interim update to the Community Health Assessment (CHA) and is completed each year the CHA is not done. The last CHA was completed in 2011 and the next one will be done in 2015.

From the information presented in the 2011 Community Health Assessment, the assessment team and Healthy Carolinians of Jackson County selected the following health priorities: increase healthy eating (fruit and vegetable consumption), increase physical activity among adults (with a subcomponent of fall prevention with the senior population), and decrease substance abuse in adolescents (with a new focus on prescription drug abuse prevention). Action Teams of the Healthy Carolinians of Jackson County Partnership are currently working on each of these priority areas through their community action plans.

The SOTCH report compares the most recent health trends of Jackson County to Western North Carolina and North Carolina as a whole. Jackson County’s top three leading causes of death—cancer, diseases of the heart, and chronic lower respiratory diseases (CLRD)—are identical to the top three leading causes of death in North Carolina.

Interestingly, other recent trend data shows that the unintentional injury mortality rate (excluding motor vehicles) in Jackson County increased by 23.2% from the 2002-2006 to the 2008-2012 aggregate period. Further alcohol-related traffic accidents in Jackson County increased by 5.6% from 2011 to 2012. More crashes are alcohol-related in Jackson County than in Western North Carolina or North Carolina as a whole.

On a more positive note, Jackson County diabetes mortality rate is lower than both Western North Carolina’s and North Carolina’s as a whole. Jackson County saw an 8.2% decrease in diabetes mortality from the 2007-2011 aggregate period. Another health highlight is that Jackson County’s heart disease mortality rate decreased by 7.2% from the 2007-2011 to the 2008-2012 aggregate period. Males in Jackson County have had a higher heart disease mortality rate than females for the past decade.

Interviews with key leaders and health stakeholders indicated the following new or emerging issues affecting Jackson County’s health status: access to facilities and programs where youth can be physically active, lack of connection to locally grown foods, overweight children, cost of healthy food, violence, heroin use and the increased risk of Hepatitis and HIV from needle use, and alcohol-related traffic accidents. It is important to keep an eye on each of these issues as programs and projects are being planned in the community.

The full 2014 State of the County Health report can be viewed on the health department’s webpage http://health.jacksonnc.org, under the “Community Health Data” section. For any additional information please call Melissa McKnight at 587-8288. Hard copies are also available at the Health Department upon request.

Watch Your Wallet: How to Avoid Holiday Scams

While the holidays are a time of giving, experts say con artists are ready to take whatever they can from unsuspecting North Carolinians. Whether you are shopping in person or online, Amy Nofziger with the AARP Fraud Watch Network says scammers are getting smarter, and some of their biggest cons involve fake charities, gift-card fraud and online shopping.

A newer trick, she says, is fake websites offering the hottest holiday item, “If you click on one of those links, you might think you’re getting a great price on a tablet, let’s say. But what you’re doing is going to the scammer’s fake website, entering your personal and credit card information, and that is where they victimize you.”

She recommends shoppers go to a retailer’s direct website for online shopping. North Carolianians of all ages can learn more about the red flags of fraud through the AARP Fraud Watch Network (fraudwatchnetwork.org.) It tracks trending scams, provides fraud alerts and allows registered users to share stories of fraud they’ve witnessed with others.You can check out a company or report a scam in North Carolina by calling the State Attorney General at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM.

Gift cards are popular presents, and Nofziger says scammers will try cashing in on them by taking pictures of the numbers on front and back of the cards inside stores, before they are purchased, “They will wait for someone to load funds onto that gift card and then, they will drain them. So if you’re buying a gift card, make sure to inspect the gift card – look at the front, look at the back, make sure it has not been tampered with.”

Nofziger says signs that you may have become a fraud victim include suspicious activity on a credit card statement, receiving suspicious mail or unsolicited telemarketing calls. She says North Carolinians can protect themselves best by being informed, “It’s really important for people to be proactive – learn the red flags of fraud and certainly, share them with your family and friends.”

When shopping online, experts say it’s a good idea to use a credit card instead of a debit card that’s directly linked to your bank account, or pay with a pre-paid credit card.

Jackson County rockers Porch 40 to tour with Marshall Tucker Band in NC

t600-Porch 40Cullowhee-based “up and comers” Porch 40 announced that they will be taking part in The Marshall Tucker Band’s Winter Tour for three dates as they travel through North Carolina. Porch 40 will open for the renowned southern rockers at The Ritz (Raleigh Jan. 21), Cone Denim Entertainment Complex (Greensboro Jan. 23) and The Fillmore (Charlotte Jan. 24).

Touring with a group like The Marshall Tucker Band, who originated in Spartanburg, South Carolina with hits like “Can’t You See” and “Heard It in a Love Song,” is an experience that hits home to members of Porch 40.

“It’s a testament to how hard we’ve worked the past two years and very humbling at the same time,” said lead singer and rhythm guitarist Drew Duncan. “The guys have spent a lot of long nights writing original music, and we’ve practiced until our hands bled more times than I can count. I couldn’t ask for a better, more dedicated group of guys to chase my dreams with.”

While only playing together for a little over two years, Porch 40 has trail blazed their way into the area scene, growing into a regionally touring band. Formed while studying at Western Carolina University, the band has developed a bond and a sense of unity that comes once in a lifetime.

“Porch 40 is more like a family than a band,” said electric violinist Mitchell Metz. “Having our home base in a small town, we’ve established a sense of community and togetherness that has shaped the way we handle ourselves in every walk of life. Creating original music that makes people dance and feel good about themselves is what we’re all about.”

While having influences from genres across the board including funk, metal, jazz, folk, hip-hop and many more, southern rock holds a special place in the hearts of multiple members of the band.

While Duncan and drummer Spencer Bradley hail from Sylva and Cullowhee, bassist Carter McDevitt and saxophonist Scott Burr are originally from the Charlotte area.

“We couldn’t ask for a better band to rock with, and we appreciate The Marshall Tucker Band for having the faith in us to perform at a high level and make this the best experience for everyone involved,” Burr said. “Being away from home and going to school at Western Carolina University, I don’t get the chance to head back to Charlotte very often with our busy schedule. It seems like we’re always on the road, and that’s where I want to be.”

Porch 40’s debut album “Spread It Heavy” was released in September and is available on all major digital outlets, including but not limited to, iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, Spotify and more.

The members of Porch 40 are all between the young ages of 21-24 years old. Two of them are still attending Western Carolina University and will graduate this May. The band plans to hit the road for a full tour this summer/fall. In the meantime, they will continue to play area Western North Carolina venues on a regular basis while steadily branching out on a regional and national level this winter and spring.

“We’d like to thank all of the fans, venues, owners, booking agents, promoters, writers, DJ’s and everyone else who continues to support our movement. It’s because of their belief that we’re able keep this train rolling,” Duncan said.

For more information on the group’s album “Spread It Heavy,” visit

https://porch40.bandcamp.com/album/spread-it-heavy.

Hazards of Holiday: Too Much Turkey-and Family?

Holiday family gatherings can be fun for some, but for others they can be stressful and unpleasant. Mental health experts say it's okay to pace yourself and even say "no" to some situations you know will be sources of conflict. Photo credit: Steel Wool/Flickr.

Holiday family gatherings can be fun for some, but for others they can be stressful and unpleasant. Mental health experts say it’s okay to pace yourself and even say “no” to some situations you know will be sources of conflict. Photo credit: Steel Wool/Flickr.

Holiday family gatherings can be fun for some, but for others they can be stressful and unpleasant. Mental health experts say it’s okay to pace yourself and even say “no” to some situations you know will be sources of conflict. Photo credit: Steel Wool/Flickr.[/caption]While the holidays are a happy time for many, the stress associated with family obligations and dynamics can be the “lump of coal” in some people’s Christmas stockings. According to the American Psychological Association, fatigue and stress are the top sources of negative feelings during this time of year.

Clinical social worker and psychotherapist Lisa Ferentz says sometimes the best thing to do is simply not participate in a potentially stressful situation, “Sometimes you have to give yourself permission to avoid family interactions that you know are going to be too painful, or that will set you up to be ‘triggered’ in some way.”

Ferentz says if you do feel compelled to see family or friends who can be a source of conflict, limit time you spend, bring a friend to act as a buffer, and use your cell phone as an excuse for a break.

Ferentz says sometimes, the best relief is to break away from habits from the past by beginning a new tradition, or doing something for others, “I encourage people to volunteer during this time of year. I think when you do things that kind of help you step outside of yourself and your own emotional upset, it gives you perspective about life. It also helps you to kind of reclaim a feeling of gratitude.”

Ferentz says it’s also important to avoid self-destructive behaviors such as over-eating or drinking too much – and replace them with exercise or meditation.

Meeting Upcoming for Cullowhee Community Planning Advisory Committee

As a result of comments received at the community meetings held in October and subsequent meetings and conversations with Cullowhee property owners, the Cullowhee Community Planning Advisory Committee has recommended changes to the proposed Cullowhee development standards and map.

The proposed designations of some properties have changed and the following properties have been removed from the proposed planning area:
• The NCCAT property and adjacent properties located on the west side of NC 107;
• The property occupied by the WCU staff apartments located behind Catamount Travel Center off Little Savannah Road;
• The Rogers family property and the adjacent WCU-owned property located on Monteith Gap Road.

Significant changes to the development standards include:
• A threshold has been established for requiring single family residential development to provide sidewalks. The threshold is 12 homes or lots; smaller developments will not have to provide sidewalks. In addition, trails may be provided in lieu of sidewalks with the approval of the Planning Council.
• Single wide manufactured homes are permitted on individual lots in the single family residential areas. Previously they were permitted only in manufactured home parks.

Cullowhee community will be Tuesday, January 13, 2015 at 6:00 PM in the Hospitality Room at the Ramsey Center on the WCU campus.

Enough is Enough: NC Chicken Farmer Fights Perdue Farms

It’s a real life case of David versus Goliath. A North Carolina chicken farmer is speaking out against the practices of one of the country’s largest poultry producers – Perdue Farms.

Earlier this month a video was released by farmer Craig Watts of Fairmont, shot with the help of the group Compassion in World Farming. The video shows chickens living in cramped, dark quarters, many of them with raw bellies – unable to walk. Watts says the animal suffering comes as a result of the guidelines he’s asked to follow by Perdue, “What I was seeing was all I knew. What we started seeing was chicks coming in just in awful conditions. Bacteria, weak chicks, you name it. I don’t care who you are it gets to you after a while. ”

In a statement on Watts’ allegations, Perdue says the “conditions shown in this farmer’s poultry house do not reflect Perdue’s standards for how our chickens are raised.” On December 5th, the same day Watts’ video was released, Perdue conducted an inspection of his farm – the first one in more than 20 years.

Leah Garces with Compassion in World Farming says Watts is simply taking a stand against a system that needs to be changed, “There’s something not right with this system. There is something not right when you cram 30,000 birds into a warehouse that’s dimly lit. There is no fresh air and no natural light. ”

Perdue is now conducting an audit of Watts’ farm. The farmer says he’d like to continue on as a contractor for the company – which has annual sales of $6,000,000 dollars – because it will be easier to instigate change within the system, “If I don’t get axed, then we’re going to do things like they ought to be done. I know what grandma’s chicken coop looks like. Well, that’s that these guys are selling. Well, what the reality is is that basically I’ve got a ammunition shed down there for the chickens.”

North Carolina has a so-called “Ag-Gag” law in place, which offers protection to farm owners from whistleblower activists. Since Watts owns his farm, how the law impacts his case is unclear. In October Perdue announced it would remove stickers from packaging on some of its meat saying it was “humanely raised.”

F.E.M.A. Document Reveals 130 Million Americans Could Suffer Extended Blackouts Due to Intense Solar Storm

In the latest official confirmation about the acute vulnerability of the U.S. electric grid, the Washington Free Beacon has revealed that a Freedom of Information Act request produced a fact sheet describing a 2012 Federal Emergency Management Agency interagency plan for severe space weather. The FEMA document refers to a 2010 study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that “an extreme solar storm could leave 130 million people without power for years, and destroy or damage more than 300 hard-to-replace electrical grid transformers.”

According to Dr. William Graham, President Reagan’s Science Advisor and chairman of the congressionally mandated Electromagnetic Pulse Threat Commission, in the wake of widespread and prolonged blackouts, nine out of ten Americans could perish.

Importantly, the level of damage described by FEMA and NOAA could be caused by what is known as a G5 class storm, the last of which hit the earth in 1921. That geomagnetic disturbance (GMD) is estimated to have been roughly one-tenth the power of an 1859 solar storm known as a Carrington Event. Congressional testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee earlier this year established that the likelihood of another Carrington-class solar storm, to say nothing of less powerful ones, striking our planet in the foreseeable future is one-hundred percent.

In fact, on December 5, Robert Rutledge, who directs NOAA’s Space Weather Forecast Office, advised the DuPont Summit – a conference in Washington, D.C. on grid vulnerability and steps needed to mitigate it – that such storms are as certain as earthquakes and hurricanes, and should be planned for accordingly.

NOAA’s 2010 Strategic Plan was performed for the National Research Council and drew upon a study by well-known experts in the field of geo-magnetically induced currents (GIC) and their impact on the grid, Drs. William Radasky and John Kappenman.

FEMA’s fact-sheet notes, however, that unnamed engineers from the electrical industry downplay the severity of predictions in the NOAA Strategic Plan. Unfortunately, the industry has long withheld data on geo-magnetically induced current flows that could shed light on the magnitude of the impact of even normal solar weather on the nation’s bulk power distribution system.

Dr. Kappenman, who is a member of the Secure the Grid Coalition, responded to the Free Beacon report:

The industry itself continues not to make publicly available important information on observations of geo-magnetically-induced current (GIC) and power grid impacts and failures that have occurred for smaller, more frequent storm events that can be used to validate models to examine impacts for rare larger storm events. This is somewhat like airlines withholding critical black box recorder data from the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration.

The Secure the Grid Coalition is concerned that such a lack of transparency is a product of the U.S. electrical industry’s reluctance to harden its infrastructure against such threats. The practical effect of industry non-disclosure and opposition to providing robust protection to its own assets is to cause important planning scenarios to be watered down. That, in turn, has impeded consideration and adoption of standards meant to mitigate such dangers, as regulators rely on assumptions that do not meet modern scientific standards or independent and widely accepted threat assessments.

The Center for Security Policy sponsors the Secure the Grid and its President, Frank J. Gaffney, Jr., noted:

The evidence continues to accumulate that our most critical of critical infrastructures – the nation’s electric grid – is exceedingly vulnerable not only to certain naturally occurring phenomena, but to a variety of possible enemy actions. The federal government knows we face, accordingly, potentially nation-ending threats.

The House of Representatives recently unanimously approved the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act (H.R. 3410) that would require the Department of Homeland Security to develop a plan for protecting the grid against, among other things, the sorts of devastation a massive solar storm could inflict. In light of the latest revelations from FEMA and NOAA, there is simply no excuse for the Senate failing to assign top priority to approve H.R. 3410, ideally in the remaining days of the lame duck session.

Secure the Grid Coalition members are available for comment on the electric grid’s susceptibility to severe solar weather events and other threats and what needs to be done to protect it against all hazards. More information can be found at www.securethegrid.com.

Firefighters Limit Damage From Forest Fire

The fire from a burning debris pile got out of control Friday afternoon causing a fire to burn over about ten acres of mountain land  in the Kitchens Branch area of Jackson County. Fighting the fire in a rugged area also know as Queen Caves was strenuous to the volunteer firefighters and North Carolina Forest Service personnel.  Both eyewitnesses and firefighters confirmed that fire lines were  created along the crest of the mountain which allowed the controlled backfire to safely cause the fire to safely burn itself out with.  Several houses in the area were not in immediate danger but could have been threatened had the wind changed. The weather conditions were favorable for the fire to burn but because the winds were basically calm it was easier to keep the fire under control.  Those planning to burn during this season are reminded of the importance of obtaining a burning permit and following the printed regulations. Permits can be obtained either on line or at several area businesses and at the NC  Forest Service headquarters in the Savannah/Greens Creek area on Highway 441 South.

NC Abortion Debate Looms: Public Asked to Comment on DHHS Rules

Another skirmish in the abortion battle? Some in North Carolina are concerned that the public comment period on new DHHS rules for clinics that perform abortions will fuel the longtime debate on the topic. Photo credit: Larryography/FeaturePics.com

Another skirmish in the abortion battle? Some in North Carolina are concerned that the public comment period on new DHHS rules for clinics that perform abortions will fuel the longtime debate on the topic. Photo credit: Larryography/FeaturePics.com

The future of reproductive health in North Carolina is in the hands of the general public. This month, the NC Department of Health and Human Services proposed new regulations for abortion clinics and now the public has an opportunity to comment. If 10 or more people object to the rules, the General Assembly will have to make the final determination.

Dr. David Grimes – professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at UNC fears a possible abortion debate at the state level could be counterproductive to women’s health, “We need to hope that this does not become a political football now in the General Assembly, where politicians with no medical background try to tinker with the very fine product that’s been developed.”

Grimes says the rules proposed by DHHS are reasonable guidelines to ensure that women who want to terminate a pregnancy can do so as safely as possible. The rules require more post-operative care, a 24 hour number to call if complications arise, and a defibrillator on-site in case of cardiac arrest.

The state was required to draft new rules by a bill signed into law last year. As a result, several clinics that had provided abortion services closed, saying they were unable to meet the new law’s requirement that abortion clinics meet some of the same standards as outpatient surgery centers.

Grimes says the current policy is prompting some women to make tough decisions, “It’s getting more and more difficult, and it’s important to know that if women don’t have access to safe, legal abortion, they’ll do what they did before Roe v. Wade. They’ll do dangerous self-abortion attempts, or resort to the back alley.”

Supporters of the changes say it was necessary for the state to update its 20-year-old regulations regarding abortion.

Waynesville Road Improvements

Haywood County officials announced this week a more than $17.7 million plan to improve a section of Russ Avenue in Waynesville.

Paul Benson, director of planning for the town of Waynesville, said in a press release that a 1.1 mile section of Russ Avenue will be improved under adoption of the 2010 Russ Avenue Corridor Plan.

The improvements will include intersection improvements, construction of new access roads, addition of bicycle lanes and landscaped medians in a section beginning at the U.S. 23/74 Bypass going to U.S. 23/ Main Street.

Construction is scheduled to begin in 2022 and is part of the State Transportation Improvement Program that was released on Dec. 4. The Board of Transportation is expected to approve the final budget for the program in June 2015.

Russ Avenue has seen an increasing number of accidents in recent years.

State Unemployment Rates Released For October

According to newly released data tracking October’s unemployment rates across the state’s 100 counties, Western North Carolina has a mixed bag.

Jackson County has 4.4% unemployment rate down from 5.9% in 2013.

Graham County the state’s highest unemployment rate for the month — 11.2 percent. It was one of three counties in North Carolina with an unemployment rate above 10 percent, where one out of every 10 workers is jobless.

But in an area located a few counties over in WNC, the Asheville Metropolitan Statistical Area — made up of Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson and Madison counties — showed a much different story for the month of October. The Asheville metro area recorded the lowest unemployment in the state, at 4.1 percent.

Overall, the statewide unemployment rate for the month was 5.5 percent, just below the national rate of 5.8 percent for the month.

Winging It: North Carolina Students Learn About Conservation Through Butterflies

A group of students in one North Carolina community are aflutter about land conservation thanks to a tiny winged species. For the past five years, fifth and sixth graders in Macon County have collected data on butterflies at the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee’s Tessentee Bottomland Preserve.

The children recently completed this year’s study and Jason Love – one of the program coordinators – explains why kids and butterflies make perfect partners, “Butterflies make really great insects to study, particularly for school children because, one, they’re deaf, so kids can be as loud as they want to be and to really get a hands-on look at butterflies. Put an aerial net in a student’s hand and tell them ‘go catch stuff’ and students really respond to that. ”

Over the last five years, students have caught and released almost 700 butterflies, representing 33 species. They’ve also tagged 23 Monarchs as they travel from Canada to Mexico. Organizers of the program say participants gain a greater understanding about migration patterns and the importance of conserving lands to preserve the habitat of butterflies and other species.

Sixth grader Carter Payne participated in the program this year and says she was surprised to learn what butterflies go through to survive, “It changes how I think about them because they have to go through so much more work than I actually thought was being put into what they have to do every year.”

Love says the lessons taught through the program are valuable as land trusts in North Carolina raise the next generation to care for the environment, “So trying to instill that sense of wonder and connect children to the land is one of the goals of the land trust. Because who is going to be the future stewards? Who is going to be the future conservationists, if you don’t have that connection to the land?”

The Land Trust for the Little Tennessee helps conserve the water, forests, farms and heritage of the seven far western counties of North Carolina and northern Rabun County, Georgia.

Illegal Video Gaming Operation Busted Up in Haywood County

Thirty-five gaming machines were seized and two people were arrested Thursday in Haywood County as the result of a cooperative investigative effort between local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.
Officers served search warrants simultaneously on three separate sites shortly after 1 p.m. last Thursday. They discovered and seized video gaming machines involving video poker and video keno games.
Among the evidence seized were seven machines from a building located at 889 Asheville Highway, 12 machines from a building at 1190 Asheville Highway, and 16 machines from a building at 1696 Asheville Highway. In addition to the machines, officers also seized more than $8,000 from two of the locations.
Officers arrested Scott Lee Crosby, 43, of Hendersonville, and Elizabeth Rebecca Moses, 59, of Canton in connection with the video gaming. Each was charged with five felony counts of placing five or more video gaming machines into operation in violation of North Carolina General Statute 14-306.1A (A).
The investigation began in February as a result of several citizen complaints and other reports that illegal video gaming was occurring at the Asheville Highway locations. The investigation was a cooperative effort between the county’s multi-agency Unified Narcotics Investigative Team, Alcohol Law Enforcement, N.C. State Bureau of Investigation, and Homeland Security.
The case remains under investigation.