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Duke Energy $75,000 gift supports WCU engineering program

Western Carolina University’s Kimmel School of Construction Management and Technology will expand hands-on learning experiences for engineering students and boost efforts to recruit and retain engineering students with a $75,000 gift from the Duke Energy Foundation.

The gift, announced at WCU on Monday, Nov. 17, will fund the purchase of new power systems laboratory equipment and provide student scholarships, faculty development and programming to encourage more students across Western North Carolina to explore engineering as a profession.

Jeffrey L. Ray, dean of the Kimmel School, said WCU is excited to collaborate with Duke Energy to help grow the number of engineering and technology professionals who can help meet the manufacturing and energy needs across Western North Carolina.

“As someone who has worked with multitudes of electric cooperatives around the South, I know firsthand how important and essential electric power is to the economic growth of this region of North Carolina, and we really appreciate Duke Energy’s support,” said Ray.

The Duke Energy Foundation provides philanthropic support to address needs vital to the health of the communities Duke Energy serves, and the gift to WCU fits with the foundation’s commitment to supporting economic and workforce development, said Lisa Leatherman, Duke Energy’s district manager for Jackson County.

“Engaging the future engineering students in hands-on learning experiences ignites excitement for the profession. Duke Energy is proud to partner with Western Carolina to help support and inspire students at Western Carolina,” said Leatherman.

WCU is dedicating $45,000 of the amount awarded to purchase power electronics lab stations and electric drives lab stations. Wes Stone, interim head of the school’s Department of Engineering and Technology, said the equipment for faculty and student research and hands-on lab experiences adds a new dimension to WCU’s engineering programs.

Jordan Chaires, a graduate student from Raleigh pursuing a master’s degree in technology, said he is excited to be able to use the new equipment to measure the efficiency of the solar power equipment and circuitry he will be working with for his thesis project. Chaires said the project fits in with his interest in working in a field in which he can help increase the efficiency and potential for using renewable energy and power sources.

“I know it sounds cliche, but I just want to help the world and the planet,” he said. “If we have the sun and the wind, why not use it?”

Another $15,000 from the gift will support new Duke Energy Scholars Program merit-based scholarships to be awarded in 2015-16 and 2016-17. The first five Duke Energy scholars, announced Nov. 17, are Milton Canupp, a junior from Minneapolis majoring in electrical engineering; Kaleb Frizzell, a junior from Sylva majoring in electrical and computer engineering technology; Adam Gropp, a junior from Enka majoring in electrical engineering; Dylan Shook, a junior from Claremont majoring in engineering technology; and Jacob Spurling, a junior from Boiling Springs majoring in electrical engineering.

The final $15,000 of the gift will support faculty development and initiatives designed to encourage more students from across the region to consider studying engineering.

WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher thanked Duke Energy for its generous support, which he said is helping to fuel the momentum of WCU’s Kimmel School in driving innovation and economic development in Western North Carolina. Kimmel School faculty and students, through a range of partnerships and collaborations, are helping sustain, maintain and grow businesses and industries across the region, Belcher said.

Enrollment in the school’s engineering programs soared after the University of North Carolina system Board of Governors approved a stand-alone engineering program for WCU in 2012, said Belcher. In addition, the university recently expanded general engineering program offerings to its Asheville location at Biltmore Park to meet demand among existing and prospective businesses along the Interstate-26 growth corridor. That program expansion was made possible with funding from the N.C. General Assembly through the leadership of N.C. Sen. Tom Apodaca (R-Henderson) in 2013. WCU was the only UNC institution in the state that year to receive program expansion funding, Belcher said.

“The General Assembly thought Western Carolina’s engineering program and what we need to do for this region was so important they found money to support it,” said Belcher. “The work our faculty, staff and students are doing to support businesses and industries in our area is incredible and strengthens the overall economic health of all of Western North Carolina.”

Tobacco: Kids Can’t Smoke It, But They Pick It in NC

ome children working with tobacco plants wear trash bags to protect themselves from absorbing nicotine from the wet leaves. Kids are especially vulnerable to what's known as green tobacco sickness, essentially the nicotine poisoning of a non-smoker with the blood nicotine level of a pack-a-day habit. Photo credit: Marcus Bleasdale for Human Rights Watch.

ome children working with tobacco plants wear trash bags to protect themselves from absorbing nicotine from the wet leaves. Kids are especially vulnerable to what’s known as green tobacco sickness, essentially the nicotine poisoning of a non-smoker with the blood nicotine level of a pack-a-day habit. Photo credit: Marcus Bleasdale for Human Rights Watch.

Children half the age that they could legally smoke are reportedly laboring in tobacco fields in North Carolina. It’s hard to tell how many or how old they are. But a study by Oxfam America and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee or “FLOC,” found one in ten working in North Carolina tobacco fields is younger than 18.

FLOC’s Baldemar Velasquez says children work to help their families get by typically start in their early teens – but sometimes much younger, “Seven, eight on up. We’ve seen kids this summer that were 13, 15 – and they’d tell us they’d worked in tobacco for seven years, five years.”

The major tobacco companies all have policies against child labor, but a federal loophole intended for farm families leaves the practice in a legal gray area. Most growers insist they obey the law, to the best of their ability.

Velasquez says he worked harvesting tobacco as a teen, and started with his family at age six. He says “it was either that or not eating.” He says families, often here illegally and paid low wages, are at the mercy of labor contractors. And economic pressures mean farm owners and cigarette companies look the other way when crew leaders break the law, “Doesn’t matter to the crew leader, the labor contractor, because he gets the money from the harvest. He doesn’t care how small the hands are that are putting the cut tobacco on the trailer, as long as the acres get done.”

According to a separate report from Human Rights Watch, half of tobacco workers make below minimum wage. It found 12-hour days are common, and 16-hour days not unusual. The reports say the kids are especially vulnerable to green tobacco sickness, a type of nicotine poisoning.

Velasquez remembers getting dizzy and nauseous, with high blood nicotine levels, “When you try to eat, nothing tastes right. Workers say they try to drink milk ’cause it’s the only thing that they can consume when you get really, really sick.”

Off the farms, the US eliminated most child labor decades ago. Velasquez says the fights that unions won in the mills of North Carolina still have to be fought in the tobacco fields.

“These are symptoms of a broader labor problem. We used to have children in the mines of America, textile mills of America. When unions were formed, they negotiated away those conditions.”

Local Fishing Chapter Supports National Park’s Brook Trout

Front Row: Acting Superintendent Clay Jordan, TU President Mike Bryant, Sheila Bolinger, and Fisheries Biologist Matt Kulp Back Row: Chuck James, Gary Verholek, Bill Bolinger, Davy Ezell, and retired Fisheries Biologist Steve Moore

Front Row: Acting Superintendent Clay Jordan, TU President Mike Bryant, Sheila Bolinger, and Fisheries Biologist Matt Kulp
Back Row: Chuck James, Gary Verholek, Bill Bolinger, Davy Ezell, and retired Fisheries Biologist Steve Moore

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Acting Superintendent Clay Jordan was presented with a $20,000 gift from the Little River Chapter of Trout Unlimited as part of their continuing efforts to support the park’s fisheries program. The donation includes $10,000 raised by the Little River Chapter at the 2014 Troutfest Banquet and $10,000 given by the Tennessee Council of Trout Unlimited through the conservation license plate fund.

The donated funds will support brook trout restoration efforts and brook trout genetic studies. Since 1987, the park has actively worked to restore native brook trout populations to their native range. Brook trout, the only trout species native to the Smokies, lost up to 75 percent of their historic range in the early 1900s due to destructive logging practices and competition from non-native rainbow and brown trout. Working with cooperators and volunteers, the park has restored over 14 miles of streams to brook trout habitat.

“Trout Unlimited continues to be a champion of brook trout restoration in the Smokies,” said Acting Superintendent Clay Jordan. “We are grateful not only for this generous donation, but also for the countless hours of hands-on volunteer labor served in the park.”

The Little River Chapter is also supporting an additional brook trout genetic study through a $5,000 ‘Embrace-a-Stream’ Trout’ program grant and a $5,000 youth education program through the Steve Moore Youth Education Fund. This education fund was established in 2014 to recognize retired National Park Service Fisheries Biologist Steve Moore for his efforts in creating future conservation leaders. The funds are being used this year to establish the Trout-in-the-Classroom program in three east Tennessee schools.

“The Little River Chapter of Trout Unlimited is pleased to make these donations in our continual efforts to support our national treasure – the Great Smoky Mountain National Park,” said Mike Bryant, President of the Little River Chapter of Trout Unlimited. “We believe these donations will make a difference protecting and preserving the park for generations to come. The Little River Chapter has had a special relationship with the Park Service for over twenty years. As a non-profit organization, our mission is to protect and restore cold water resources and watersheds in and around the GSMNP. We continue to do this through our monetary donations as well as with our volunteer efforts.”

Low Income Energy Assistance Program Now Taking Applications

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has announced that the state’s Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP) will be accepting applications beginning Dec. 1, 2014.

LIEAP is a federally-funded program that provides a one-time vendor payment to help eligible households pay their heating bills during the cold-weather months. Citizens interested in applying should review the application process and the eligibility requirements for the LIEAP benefit, which may be found at http://www.ncdhhs.gov/dss/energy/req.htm.

Eligible households containing a person aged 60 and above, or at least one disabled person (receiving SSI, SSA or VA disability) receiving services through the Division of Aging and Adult Services (DAAS) can apply Dec. 1.

If funds remain available after Dec. 31, any other eligible households may apply from January through March 2015, or until funds are exhausted.

For more information, please contact your local county Department of Social Services. A list of these offices and contact information is available at www.ncdhhs.gov/dss/local/.

Experts Predict Looming Budget Crisis in North Carolina Following Tax Cuts

North Carolina lawmakers are likely enjoying some downtime after the legislative session and a midterm election, but experts predict there is a tough job waiting on them in Raleigh. A report from the Office of the State Controller indicates tax revenues are down almost $400,000,000 dollars compared with the same time last year. That’s a 6% drop in revenue.

Alexandra Sirota with the NC Budget and Tax Center says it’s not a problem the State Assembly will be able to ignore in January, “This is a serious issue. It’s self imposed in that policymakers chose to reduce our revenue. Now they’re going to have to make choices about some pretty deep cuts.”

Sirota and others believe the decreased revenue is a result of personal and corporate income tax cuts. Additional tax cuts will take effect on January 1st, unless lawmakers call a special session to stop the cuts from taking place. State revenue is expected to get a boost in the form of sales tax revenue from holiday shopping.

Opponents of North Carolina’s recent tax cuts point to the problems experienced in Kansas, where large tax cuts have resulted in cuts to public education and have not resulted in a growth in the state’s economy as its governor predicted.

Gerrick Brenner with Progress NC Action believes North Carolina could share a parallel experience with the midwestern state if action isn’t taken,”There’s been a windfall for the wealthy and for corporations. Some people have actually had their taxes go up if you’re at the lower income brackets. And who is going to pay for this budget mess? It’s going to be our public schools, our universities, vital services that need state funding to happen.”

Brenner points out that Governor Pat McCrory promised in his 2013 State of the State Address that tax reform would not result in less revenue for the state.

Sirota says her analysis indicates the state will have to cut programs or raise taxes in order to balance the budget, as mandated by the state constitution, “What we’re seeing is that fewer dollars are coming in because the tax plan that was passed gave significant tax cuts to the wealthy and profitable corporations. As a result, we don’t have the money to make investments for a stronger North Carolina.”

School Delays On November 18th

The Blue Ridge School District is on a 2 1/2 hour delay

Haywood County Schools are on a three hour delay

Caring for Caregivers: Holidays Add Stress for Family of Sick and Aging

Lou Henderson spent 20 years caring for his wife and recently decided to place her in assisted care. Photo credit: Holly Pilson

Lou Henderson spent 20 years caring for his wife and recently decided to place her in assisted care. Photo credit: Holly Pilson

For every twinkle of a holiday light and crinkle of wrapping paper, there’s stress associated with this time of year, especially for the thousands of North Carolinians tasked with caring for a loved one. Adding to their concern are waiting lists for existing services across the state that help support family caregivers.

Lou Henderson of Maxton understands the stress of being a caregiver. After caring for his ailing wife for 20 years, he made the tough decision to place her in a nursing facility, “It got to the place where it was affecting me more than it was her, so I had to do something or I was going to be ended up somewhere. It’s not sad. It’s just something I knew I had to do.”

November is National Family Caregivers Month. According to AARP, there are an estimated 42,000,000 caregivers in the US. There are resources available to help people care for their loved ones. Many of them can be found at caregivers.org.

Bob Palombo is president of AARP North Carolina and is also a caregiver to his mother. He says the holidays are a particular time of stress for caregivers as they juggle holiday and family obligations and his organization is doing what it can to reach out to them, “Caregivers don’t always ask for help. They do it because it’s a service to their parent or relative and they don’t like to seek help in all cases, and we need to be able to provide the information and resources for them.”

Nationwide, it’s estimated family caregivers provide an estimated 450,000,000 dollars worth of unpaid care to aging relatives and friends.

Palombo says state lawmakers should recognize the financial value of the service caregivers provide,”Those caregivers save the state millions and millions of dollars by taking care of that as opposed to someone going into another facility. We need to help these seniors.”

Experts say it’s important for caregivers to recognize the signs of stress and burnout in taking care of their loved ones, find support from others and ask for help.

Agreement Reached in Red Wolf Lawsuit against Wildlife Commission

Agreement Reached in Red Wolf Lawsuit against Wildlife Commission RALEIGH,
N.C. (Nov. 14, 2014) – An agreement has been reached in a lawsuit against
the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, which will restore conditional
coyote hunting in the five-county red wolf reintroduction area of eastern
North Carolina.

The agreement will restore daytime coyote hunting on private lands in Dare,
Hyde, Beaufort, Tyrrell and Washington counties by licensed or otherwise
authorized hunters, with a special permit obtained from the Wildlife
Commission and subsequent reporting of kill. In the other 95 counties of the
state, coyote hunters may hunt during daytime or at night using artificial
lights, and no special permit or reporting of coyote harvests is required.

The agreement stems from a lawsuit brought by the Southern Environmental Law
Center on behalf of the Red Wolf Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife and the
Animal Welfare Institute. The suit alleged the N.C. Wildlife Resources
Commission violated the federal Endangered Species Act by allowing coyote
hunting in Dare, Hyde, Beaufort, Tyrrell and Washington counties where a
non-essential experimental re-introduction of the red wolf is occurring. A
court-ordered injunction issued in May halted coyote hunting in the five
counties, except under extremely limited circumstances.

This agreement restores opportunities for landowners and others to manage
coyotes on their properties through daytime hunting. Coyotes are found in
all 100 counties of the state and pose a predatory threat to pets, livestock
and native wildlife. Hunting and trapping are effective tools for landowners
to manage coyote populations on a localized basis.

Restoration of coyote hunting in the five-county red wolf reintroduction
area requires the Commission invoke rulemaking to implement these changes.
This process will be initiated as quickly as possible. Interested persons
will be able to follow the progress of rulemaking by visiting
www.ncwildlife.org.

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission requested a programmatic review of
the red wolf reintroduction in June. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will
evaluate the program in the areas of science, management and public
attitudes. The evaluation will be used to determine whether the red wolf
introduction program is meeting the goals and objectives established under
special rules of the Endangered Species Act. That determination is expected
to be finalized in early 2015.

Landowners are permitted to “take” or kill a red wolf or a coyote if it
attacks their livestock or pets, or if it endangers human life. A red wolf
that is killed incidentally by any type of legal activity, such as hunting
coyotes following state regulations, does not constitute a violation of
federal regulations, provided that the taking is not intentional or willful.
It also must be reported within 24 hours to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service at 1-855-496-5837 or N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission at
1-800-662-7137.

Forest Service proposes logging Pisgah-Nantahala National Forest

In what conservation groups flag as a dramatic shift, the U.S. Forest Service is proposing industrial-scale logging in the vast majority of the Pisgah-Nantahala National Forest in western North Carolina — about 700,000 acres, or an area bigger than the Great Smoky Mountain National Park — instead of protecting popular backcountry recreation destinations and conserving the Blue Ridge landscapes treasured by residents and tourists from across the United States.

“Under the law and for everyone who enjoys America’s forests, the Forest Service’s first priority should be fixing the mistakes of the past — restoring the parts of the forest already damaged by prior logging,” said DJ Gerken, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “But the misguided logging plan proposed by the agency will repeat those old mistakes, causing more damage and putting the healthiest forests we have left on the chopping block. The people who use and love these forests won’t stand for cutting them down.”

The Forest Service’s new proposal would inevitably increase logging over the levels of recent years, though the precise amount has not been disclosed.

“This increase would come from ramping up logging all over the forest, including backcountry areas like the South Mills River area, home to the popular Black Mountain Trail,” said Hugh Irwin, conservation planner for The Wilderness Society.

According to Forest Service documents, such areas would be managed for “timber production,” which it interprets as “the purposeful growing and harvesting of crops of trees to be cut into logs.”

This industrial-style logging would also require cutting new roads for trucks and equipment into sensitive, unspoiled backcountry areas.

“Not only is that destructive and disruptive, it’s also fiscally irresponsible,” said Irwin. “The agency shouldn’t be expanding its road system when it can’t even afford to maintain the roads it already has.”

Agency reports confirm that the Forest Service has less than 13 percent of the funds needed to maintain its existing roads, leading to safety and water quality problems. Several popular roads remain closed due to unrepaired washouts.

“This proposal is absolutely the wrong direction for the forest,” said Ben Prater, director of conservation for Wild South. “Times have changed, and our mountain economy doesn’t depend just on logging anymore. We should be capitalizing on our wonderful Blue Ridge forests, not cutting them down. Treating practically the entire Pisgah-Nantahala as a ‘crop’ is simply irresponsible.”

The Pisgah-Nantahala National Forest has become a tourism and recreation destination, and revenue generated by visitors is a major driver of the western North Carolina economy. The National Forests of North Carolina are the third most visited national forest in the country. Industrial logging not only damages scenery and natural features, which are the key draw for half of those visits, but also requires popular areas to be closed to the public for months at a time while trees are being cut.

“They’re our public lands,” said Prater. “Where is the balance?”
Public participation is important to the planning process underway, in which the U.S. Forest Service will decide how to manage the Pisgah-Nantahala National Forests for the next 15 years.

The public can comment by email at NCplanrevision@fs.fed.us.

Holiday Travel Tips to Prevent Bedbugs

bed-bug-on-hand_2592x1944One present that is not on anyone’s wish list this holiday season is bedbugs. The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Structural Pest Control and Pesticides Division encourages travelers to take extra steps to ensure they don’t pick up any hitchhiking pests this holiday season.
“Peak travel time is often when we see an increase in bedbug cases reported,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “Bedbugs are excellent hitchhikers. This holiday season I encourage you to be alert and be aware as you travel.”
Eradicating bedbugs from a home can be difficult and expensive. Keeping them out of your home is a better option. Travelers can take these steps to help prevent bedbugs from traveling home in their personal items.
When traveling:
• Inspect mattress and headboard with a flashlight. Bedbugs come out only at night to feed, so unless a room has a heavy infestation, you won’t see them without effort. Use an LED flashlight and look for tiny black spots that look like ink spots.
• Keep bags, luggage and backpacks off the bed. Many travelers set their luggage on the bed to unpack, but it is better to use the luggage rack to keep bedbugs from crawling into your suitcase. For added precaution, keep clothes in the suitcase, not in the provided dresser. Never place clothes or jackets on the bed or couch.
• If you are really nervous about bedbugs, store your suitcase in the bathtub.
If you suspect you have come into contact with bedbugs, or have bedbug bites, these steps should be taken when you return home:
• After travel, seal all items in plastic bags until time for washing or dry cleaning.
• Do not unpack in the bedroom. If you have picked up bedbugs, you do not want to transfer them to your bed at home. Unpack and leave luggage in a laundry area or garage.
• Unpack clothes that can withstand high dryer temperatures directly into the dryer. Dry on high for 30 minutes to kill eggs and other bedbug life stages. Seal all other clothing items in plastic bags and have dry cleaned.
• Inspect luggage closely with flashlight and magnifying glass for bedbugs upon returning home. Then place luggage in a black plastic trash bags, wrap tape around the closed end and store in an area away from sleeping quarters
Day-to-day prevention:
• Reduce clutter, change and wash bedding regularly, and vacuum regularly.
• Do not bring secondhand furniture into your home unless it is thoroughly inspected and cleaned.
• Use bedbug interceptors under all bed posts and check for pests regularly. These interceptors are available at most home improvement stores and online.
Bedbugs do not transmit diseases, but bites do need to be reported to the county health department. If you suspect bedbugs at your home, call a pest control company that is licensed by the NCDA&CS Structural Pest Control and Pesticides Division.

Board of Elections Holds Canvass

Boards of election in all 100 counties were slated to meet Friday morning for what’s called the canvass. Outstanding provisional ballots and mail-in absentee votes deemed lawfully cast are added to candidate totals, which are also checked for math errors.

After that’s completed, candidates in very close races have until late Monday afternoon or noon Tuesday — depending on the contest — to request recounts.

The State Board of Elections is supposed to meet Nov. 25 to certify most results, including the U.S. Senate race.

Armed Robbery on WCU Campus; Police Seek Help

Vehicle-of-interest_18498Western Carolina University Police are asking for the public’s help to find three suspects connected to an armed robbery on campus Wednesday night.

Campus police say the suspects — two white males and one black male — were armed with what appeared to be a semiautomatic handgun and a baseball bat.

It happened around 9:15 p.m. near the old Brown cafeteria. Police say their vehicle is possibly an older model Ford Escort, appears to be faded red in color.

Suspect 1 is described as a white male, mid 20’s, 5″8″, thin build, facial hair, white t-shirt, blue jeans, dark colored knit type hat, armed with a handgun.

Suspect 2 is a white male, mid 20’s, no further description.

Suspect 3 is a black male, mid 20’s 5’10”, thin build, dark t shirt.

Anyone with information is asked to call Western Carolina University Police Detective Jacob Deal at 828-227-7301.

Search for Missing Teen in Jackson County

unnamed[1] (4)The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office is seeking assistance in locating a teenager who walked away from a youth camp for high risk teens. The teen listed was with a group near Cashiers, NC and walked away from the group he was with. The teen was believed to have been seen walking by the Exxon gas station at the intersection of US64 and NC107 several hours after he left his group. He was last seen on November 10, 2014 at around 630pm. We are asking anyone who may have seen this teen to place contact the Jackson County Dispatch Center at 828-586-1911. The teen has been entered as missing.

Alec Sanford Lansing
DOB- 03/12/1997
Description- 5’11” 140 lbs., brown hair, brown eyes, slim build
Last seen wearing a red long sleeve fleece, black pants and grey boots with a backpack.
Has a GA Drivers License #058236282 (valid)

NC Breathes a Little Easier in 2014, Literally.

gr-42838-1-1It’s the time of year when North Carolinians are holding their breath for the next freeze warning, but the latest data on 2014 ozone levels in the state indicates people can take a small sigh of relief about the air they breathe. Ozone levels in the state were the lowest on record this year.

It’s the first time the state hasn’t exceeded the federal ozone standard since the 1970s, but June Blotnick with Clean Air Carolina says with ozone levels in metro areas such as Charlotte still hitting 75 parts per billion, there is more work to be done, “While we can celebrate the decreasing levels of ozone in the state, our work is far from over to improve air quality to where it’s healthy. ”

While ozone levels were at record low levels for the second time in the last two years, the EPA is expected to release updated federal ozone standards in December. Blotnick says their standard could be between 60 and 70 parts per billion, which would place levels in many metropolitan cities above federal standards.

The improved ozone levels are believed to be a result of cooler temperatures this summer and reduced emissions from power plants. Blotnick says there is support from groups such as hers, elected officials and citizens to expand clean energy in North Carolina, “North Carolina is really in a great position in the country to improve our air quality even more and create jobs by reducing carbon from the power sector. ”

A Division of Air Quality report shows that the state’s coal-fired power plants have cut their nitrogen oxide emissions by at least 80% since 2002.

National Park recorded the highest October visitation in 27 years

IMG_0591Great Smoky Mountains National Park recorded the highest October visitation in 27 years with 1,261,104 people visiting the park. October is traditionally the second busiest month of the year for the national park, driven by visitors coming to see the park’s fall foliage. This year, visitors continued to come to the park despite record rainfall at the beginning of the month, a strong wind event, and a major snow storm on the last day of the month.

Although visitation through the park’s major entrances at Gatlinburg, Townsend, and Cherokee was up, outlying areas led the way in making this month the fourth highest October on record. Visitation at the outlying areas of the park in October was 73% above the 20-year average. Outlying areas include places like Foothills Parkway, Cosby, Big Creek, Greenbrier, Deep Creek, Cataloochee, and Abrams Creek.

Visitation has been up nearly every month this year with over eight million people visiting the park so far. The highest annual visitation on record was set in 1999 when 10,283,598 people visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Iranian-born journalist to speak Nov. 20 at WCU

A native of Iran who is a former Rotary Peace Fellow and past editor of publications now banned or shut down by the Iranian government will present the keynote address for International Education Week at Western Carolina University on Thursday, Nov. 20.

Ali Eshraghi, Iran project manager for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, will deliver a talk tentatively titled “U.S.-Iran: Reconfiguring the Middle East” in the theater of A.K. Hinds University Center at 5 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

Eshraghi’s journalism career spans more than 15 years, and he has published hundreds of articles and op-ed pieces in Persian, Arabic and English media outlets, including CNN, the New York Times, the Atlantic, the Guardian, PBS Frontline, the New Republic and Al Jazeera.

The nonprofit institute for which Eshraghi works is committed to supporting citizen journalism and media institutions to help people in parts of the world faced with conflict and crisis have the information they need to drive positive changes in their lives.

In Iran, dozens of journalists have served time in prison or been sentenced to lashings after being charged with offenses such as “anti-government publicity” and “meeting and conspiring against the Islamic Republic,” according to information from the nonprofit organization Reporters Without Borders.

John Whitmire, associate professor and head of the Department of Philosophy and Religion, said Eshraghi’s experience has given him an invaluable expertise and perspective of peace, war and conflict resolution as well as U.S. and Iranian relations.

“He is someone whose life has been committed to speaking truth to power in the interests of reforming his own community and world,” said Whitmire. “In his various vocational lives, he’s been a real exemplar of journalistic and citizen advocacy directed towards changing his own society for the better, which you can’t do unless you really uncover the ways that it is currently falling short. In his case, this has entailed a lot of risk.”

Eshraghi also serves as the chair for the Civic Institute for Advocacy and Networking and a teaching fellow in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

He is an alumnus of the Duke-UNC Rotary Center for International Studies in Peace and Conflict Resolution and was a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Journalism and the Institute of International Studies. Eshraghi also was a research fellow at the Religion, Politics and Globalization Program at U.C. Berkeley. He studied political science and Islamic studies at Imam Sadiq University in Tehran.

In addition to delivering the keynote address for International Education Week at WCU, Eshraghi will speak to a philosophy and religion class about his experience of religion inside and outside of Iran; an English class that has read Persepolis about life in Iran; and to journalism students about his career and what it takes to succeed.

WCU’s Office of International Programs and Services partnered with the Department of Philosophy and Religion to make Eshraghi’s visit and address at WCU possible.

New Jobs Coming to Graham County

Governor Pat McCrory, N.C. Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker and the Economic Development Partnership of N.C. announced today that Oak Valley Hardwoods, Inc. is planning to expand operations into Graham County and create 114 new jobs. The company plans to invest more than $10.1 million over the next five years in Robbinsville.

“Oak Valley Hardwoods is another one of North Carolina’s great homegrown success stories,” said Governor McCrory. “Starting out 10 years ago, this business has steadily grown into one of the country’s major lumber suppliers to overseas markets.”

Headquartered in Charlotte, Oak Valley Hardwoods is a subsidiary of Tides and Times Group USA, Inc., and operates lumber, saw mill and dry kiln facilities and produces an assortment of wood products. It already has operations in locations across North Carolina including Rutherford, Haywood, Caldwell, McDowell and Polk counties employing more than 160 workers.

“Timber is one of North Carolina’s great renewable resources, so the expansion of Oak Valley Hardwoods is important to that industry,” said Secretary Decker. “I am looking forward to seeing even more expansion in the timber sector in the future.”

Salaries will vary by job function and will include accounting, log traders, sales, operators, foresters, and office/clerical positions. The annual payroll for the new jobs created by this expansion will be $3.4 million.

“We are excited about the opportunity to expand our operations into Graham County,” said Oak Valley Hardwoods CEO Jimmy Lee. “It has been a pleasure working with the Town of Robbinsville, Graham County, and the State of North Carolina, and we appreciate the support we have received. We plan on moving into the old Stanley Furniture Building quickly and look forward to a successful 2015.”

The project was made possible in part by a performance-based grant from the One North Carolina Fund of up to $156,000. The One NC Fund provides financial assistance, through local governments, to attract business projects that will stimulate economic activity and create new jobs in the state. Companies receive no money up front and must meet job creation and investment performance standards to qualify for grant funds. These grants also require and are contingent upon local matches.

“Oak Valley Hardwoods’ decision to expand in Graham County is a testament to the high caliber of the county’s people and its leadership,” said Senator Jim Davis. “This is great news for the hardworking citizens of Graham who will soon welcome new jobs and an energized economy.”

“These new jobs will be a welcome addition to Graham County,” said Representative Roger West. “I want to personally welcome Oak Valley Hardwoods to Robbinsville, and look forward to having this company in our community.”

In addition to the N.C. Department of Commerce and the Economic Development Partnership of N.C., other partners that helped with this project include: North Carolina Community College System, Tri-County Community College, Duke Energy, Town of Robbinsville, Graham County, and Graham County Economic Development.

Help In Finding Missing Woman

1110-Regenia-Hendrix_18454Asheville Police requested the public’s help in solving the case of a missing 51 year old woman named Regenia Hendrix. She disappeared 8 months ago and detectives say she hasn’t cashed multiple checks issued to her.
According to authorities, Hendrix was last seen in downtown Asheville in late March, just before she reportedly got a ride to Shelby from an acquaintance. Her family, who says Hendrix mainly stayed in area homeless shelters, has not heard from her since.

Asheville Police say she is 5’8″ tall, and weighs approximately 140 pounds, she may have dyed red hair.

Hendrix is a mother to one son, and a grandmother of four. Family says she is a happy, friendly person and she has never been out of touch with family for this long.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Asheville Police Department at (828) 252-1110 or Buncombe County Crime Stoppers at (828) 255-5050.

Dillsboro Lights and Luminaries

DillsboroLightsLuminariesPressReleasePhotoThe 31st annual Dillsboro Lights and Luminaries event is planned Friday and Saturday, Dec. 5-6 and Dec. 12-13.
There will be free refreshments and entertainment, horse-drawn carriage rides, unique holiday shopping and visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus.
College night will be held on Friday, Dec. 5, kicking off with the WCU Holiday Dancers at 5:30 p.m. There will also be a free paint-your-own ornaments program at Claymates (while supplies last.)
All four nights of the event, there will be a live Nativity scene at Jarrett Memorial Baptist Church. There will be free parking and shuttle transportation from Monteith Park.
Come experience the spirit and splendor as the historic village of Dillsboro is aglow with more than 2,500 candles.
For more information, go to www.visitdillsboro.org or visit them on Facebook at facebook.com/DillsboroNC.

NCDOT to Temporarily Close I-40 Ramp in Haywood County During Overnight Traffic Shift

On Monday, Nov. 10, at 7 p.m., the N.C. Department of Transportation will close the westbound on-ramp to Interstate 40 at Exit 37 (Wiggins Road/East Canton Exit). The ramp is expected to reopen Tuesday at 6 a.m.

Motorists trying to access I-40 Westbound at this exit can follow a posted detour using U.S. 19/23 South to N.C. 215 North through Canton, and then back to I-40 at Exit 31. The closure is necessary to move the traffic shift on I-40 back to the original pattern, which was changed this past summer.

The work is part of a $3.9 million project awarded to Harrison Construction Division of APAC Atlantic, Inc. for the construction of a new median wall and resurfacing between the Haywood/Buncombe county line and mile marker 34.

Westbound traffic is currently in a two-lane pattern and shifted onto the shoulder of the interstate. Traffic will be returning to the original three-lane pattern before the Thanksgiving holiday. Additional lane closures are possible until then, but at least two lanes will remain open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Any lane closures that reduce traffic to one lane will be done at night.

This work will not complete the project. The final layer of asphalt is currently scheduled to be placed in the spring of next year.