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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.

Coal Ash Clean Up Debate Continues

North Carolina regulators have ordered Duke Energy to resubmit its proposal for assessing theextent of groundwater contamination leaking from 33 coal ash dumps across the state after deeming the company’s current plans “inadequate.”

The N.C. Division of Water Resources has given Duke 30 days to resubmit the plans with a list of proposed changes. Duke is required to perform the assessments by a new state law passed in response to the massive Feb. 2 spill at a plant in Eden that coated 70 miles of the Dan River with gray sludge.

Coal ash contains numerous toxic heavy metals, including lead, arsenic and mercury. State regulators have said all of Duke’s unlined waste pits are contaminating groundwater. Duke had submitted its required monitoring plans to the state in September.

SBA Backs Almost Half a Billion Dollars to North Carolina Small Businesses in 2014

U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) loan programs placed almost half a billion dollars into the hands of North Carolina small businesses during fiscal year ended September 30, 2014, guarantying 845 loans for almost $449 million.

During the year, 746 loans were approved through its flagship 7(a) program for almost $383 million. Through SBA’s 504 fixed-asset financing program, Certified Development Companies approved 99 loans for about $66.1 million. That’s down 3.5% in dollars over 2013, when SBA approved 917 loans for over $465 million.

“Almost half a billion dollars in SBA funding enabled small businesses to create jobs and support our state’s economy,” said SBA District Director Lynn Douthett. “Thanks to all of our lending partners who provide the access to capital that help our small businesses grow and succeed.

Wells Fargo was North Carolina’s top 7(a) lender ranked by number of loans, with 160 for almost $48 million. Yadkin Bank landed the number two spot with 69 loans for over $78 million.

Business Expansion Funding Corporation (BEFCOR) was the state’s top certified development company in 504 loans. BEFCOR approved 46 loans for $25.7 million. Self-Help Ventures Fund followed with 32 loans for $19.4 million.

12 Planning Tips for Social Security Benefits

Helping clients plan for Social Security benefits may involve a lot of information gathering and research, but doing so could save them a heap of headaches and a lot of money. Here are 12 planning tips that stand out to me as potential opportunities. These can provide great relief and keep your clients out of the danger zone.

If a person is past their full retirement age (age 66) and is submitting the initial application for Social Security retirement benefits, be sure to claim the allowed six months of retroactive benefits. One important question to consider is if your clients should start full retirement age at age 66 or wait until age 70. Life expectancy data shows that a person who retires at age 66 will live until 86.2, and a person who retires at age 70 will live until he or she is 87. With this in mind, I suggest waiting until age 70 to begin receiving benefits. Keep in mind there is an exception; the break-even point is age 81, so if your family history shows that most members do not live beyond their early 80s, it may not be beneficial to wait.
If you suspended Social Security benefits at or after full retirement age and are on Medicare Part B, pay the premium out of your own pocket. The government will pay your Medicare Part B premium if you have suspended benefits, but then you will not get the eight percent per year delayed retirement credits. Medicare Part B premium increases are limited to the increase in Social Security benefits if you are collecting benefits, but not if you have suspended benefits. You will be subjecting yourself to potentially higher increases in the Medicare Part B premium by suspending benefits between full retirement age and age 70. This applies to singles with less than $85,000 of income and joint filers with less than $170,000 of income. People with incomes greater than those amounts are currently subject to much higher premiums for Medicare Part B.
For single individuals who do not need the income, consider a file-and-suspend strategy that allows one to lock in the larger monthly benefits later and hedge their bets with the ability to reinstate at any point with retroactive benefits. An important risk consideration for any delay in receiving Social Security benefit payments is that after death, Social Security benefits aren’t retroactive. A sudden and untimely death during the delay in receiving Social Security retirement benefits leaves a surviving spouse or estate with no value in hand for the years Social Security was not taken. If this risk of loss of value is a concern, one solution might be to verify life insurance coverage for this amount through age 70.
Be sure you are aware of the benefits related to certain spousal age differences. With the 2014 full retirement age, the file-and-suspend provision is only beneficial with a spousal benefit if the lower earner is older than the high wage earner is or is less than eight years younger than the high wage earner is. The smaller the difference in ages, the bigger the benefit. Assuming the Social Security retirement benefit is not needed, the file-and-suspend option should be used in most situations with a wage earner and a nonworking spouse. It should also often be used when the lower-earning spouse’s lifetime earnings are significantly less than the higher-earning spouse’s.
When working with two high-earning spouses of equal ages who both want to delay benefits to age 70 in order to earn delayed retirement credits, your best bet is to help them decide which spouse should claim the spousal benefit at full retirement age. Because no couple will be the exact same age and have the exact same primary insurance amount, the answer will be different for each couple.
Applying for Social Security benefits relating to marital status (retirement, survivor and disability) for same-sex married couples is important, regardless of meeting the current requirements. If you have clients who are ultimately found to be eligible, they can possibly get benefits retroactive to the filing date.
Members of same-sex marriages should carefully consider the effect their choice of state of domicile (residence) will have on their Social Security benefits. This refers to the residence they lived in at the time of application or while the claim is pending a final determination. After the claim is approved, the state of residence does not matter.
For the self-employed husband and wife who work together, who are beginning to collect Social Security: this would be the time to shift income to the younger spouse and have the initial enrollee lower their wages to the maximum allowable at age 62 to avoid a payback. That allows the household to enjoy the highest possible benefit for the first four years in which either spouse is eligible.
Remind your clients and their parents who are widow(er)s to evaluate whether they should begin to collect Social Security at age 60 as a survivors benefit. The Social Security Administration will not notify them of their eligibility for survivors benefits.
Be aware: There may be some confusion on the repay and reapply option. Prior to Dec. 8, 2010, there was no 12-month or once-in-a-lifetime restriction, and many media articles promoted this option as an interest-free loan. Although it is still a valuable tool, it is important to be aware of the limitations in advance so clients who would benefit from it can do so within the time limits.
Verify the type of Social Security benefit your client is planning on receiving. For example, the government pension offset only applies to the government employee who receives survivor or widow(er) benefits, not the worker’s benefit.
If the government worker had a previous earnings record that qualified them for Social Security, their Social Security benefit would not be subject to the government pension offset.
If the government worker dies and the spouse receives a survivors benefit from the government pension, then the government pension offset does not apply.
When speaking with clients, clarify the federal plan from which they will receive benefits. The government pension offset only applies to federal government employees under the Civil Service Retirement System because they are not a part of the Social Security system. In 1984, the current plan, known as the Federal Employee Retirement System, was created. Employees covered under this plan do contribute to Social Security and Medicare and are not subject to the government pension offset; they would receive both their full pension and full Social Security benefit.
Bonus Tips for Clients Who Have Gone or Are Going Through a Divorce:

Remember that the marriage must have lasted at least 10 years for an ex-spouse to collect benefits. If you are advising a soon-to-be-divorced lower earner whose marriage is in its ninth year, you might advise him or her to wait a bit longer with this timeline in mind.
In order to maintain as many Social Security options as possible, a 50-something client who has been in a long marriage may want to wait until after age 60 to remarry.
For more tips, commonly asked client questions and advisor solutions and in-depth information on advising your clients in this area, reference The CPA’s Guide to Social Security Planning from the AICPA Personal Financial Planning Section. Download a free excerpt on the AICPA PFP Section’s retirement resources page. The agenda for the 2015 AICPA Advanced PFP Conference in January includes sessions on Social Security planning and other advanced retirement and personal financial planning topics.

Theodore J. Sarenski, CPA/PFS, CFP®, AEP, CEP, President, Blue Ocean Strategic Capital, Inc. Ted’s firm delivers customized service for individuals, retirement plans, non-profit organizations, endowments and foundations. He is the author of The CPA’s Guide to Social Security Planning and will be speaking on the “Nuances of Social Security” at the 2015 AICPA Advanced PFP Conference.

– See more at: http://blog.aicpa.org/2014/11/12-planning-tips-for-social-security-benefits.html#sthash.X4QkWxj9.78zRyk56.dpuf

Governor McCrory Advocates for Oil and Gas Development in Mid-Atlantic

Governor Pat McCrory, chairman of the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition, reiterated his support for Outer Continental Shelf energy development today at a workshop in downtown Raleigh’s Nature Research Center.

“Exploring the potential oil and gas reserves located in the Outer Continental Shelf will solidify North Carolina’s position as an energy leader and drive us to energy independence,” Governor McCrory said. “Our power generation is becoming more dependent on natural gas as a fuel source. Increasing availability of natural gas will strengthen our economy and contribute to economic prosperity for decades to come.”

The governor took part in a Q&A session, which was open to the media, on the topic with Dr. Donald van der Vaart, energy policy adviser and deputy secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Department Secretary John Skvarla also took part in the program.

During the Q&A, Governor McCrory stressed that both environmental protections and revenue sharing are necessary for production to take place.

“The largest employment impact of Atlantic OCS oil and natural gas activity is projected in the Mid-Atlantic States of North and South Carolina and Virginia,” the governor continued.

Governor McCrory cited information from the Quest Offshore Resources that points toward dramatic economic benefits from OCS gas and oil development for the state. The impact to North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia combined by 2035 would be 116,000 jobs, $56 billion in cumulative spending, $9 billion annually and $9.5 billion from revenue sharing. The numbers are based off of previous estimates of offshore resources. BOEM recently increased estimates for the Mid-Atlantic.

Van der Vaart and Governor McCrory discussed revenue sharing in depth, mentioning the need to split revenue between the federal government, the state and coastal communities.

Addressing the need for environmental precautions, the governor noted that responsible resource development is in everyone’s best interest. He acknowledged there are risks associated with any type of economic and energy development and that a significant amount of investment would be needed to provide the support facilities and processing capacity required for development and production.

The Q&A session also covered the governor’s role as chairman of the Offshore Continental Shelf Governors Coalition; continued efforts to pass equitable revenue sharing legislation in Congress; and the development of a responsible “Five Year Program” that includes lease sales in all unleased areas that have state support, including the mid-Atlantic planning area, the Beaufort and Chukchi Sea planning areas (Alaska) and the Eastern Gulf of Mexico.

Winter Safety for Wood Burning Stoves and Fireplaces

With the arrival of cold weather, many North Carolinians are beginning to use their wood-burning stoves and fireplaces. The N.C. Forest Service reminds stove users to never dump hot ashes or coals into a wooded area. If you do, you’re risking not only your home, but your neighbor’s as well.
In Mitchell County recently, an eight-acre fire on Humpback Mountain damaged two homes. The suspected cause of the blaze was stove or fireplace ashes that had been dumped outside a residence.
The simple solution to preventing this type of fire is to properly dispose of stove ashes. Soak them in water in a metal bucket, stir them about, or only put them in an area where the wind won’t cause them to spread to combustible fuel such as leaves, pine needles, or other forest litter.

Two Jackson County Employees on Administrative Leave

Two Jackson County employees are on paid administrative leave after reports of a Halloween party surfaced. Dispatcher Maria, employed by emergency services, and her husband Deputy James Henry, were alleged to have been in attendance at the party at Dillard’s Excavating where according to a warrant, a 14-year-old student from Smoky Mountain High School told state agents she was raped at a nearby house after attending the party. Allegations of underage drinking were also in the warrant.

Keith Dillard is the proprietor of Dillard Excavating, and his wife, Michelle, is a former jail nurse. The county terminated her contract Oct. 30th.

The investigation has been turned over to state investigators with the department of alcohol law enforcement, so far no charges have been filed.

North Carolina Leading Country in Reduction of Uninsured Children

North Carolina ranks second in the country when it comes to the reduction of uninsured children. That’s according to a report released today by the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families. As of 2013, the number of uninsured children in the state stands at a little more than 144,000- about 30,000 fewer than 2011.

Michelle Hughes with NC Child says having insurance improves the overall well-being of a child, “We know that healthy children perform better in school. What is really good news for North Carolina is that we are insuring more children in our state, and so that means we have healthier children who are going to do better as adults.”

The report does indicate that families living on the “brink” of poverty have the highest rate of uninsurance, and nationwide, 5.2 million children lack insurance. Although some states like North Carolina are making progress, in many states, progress appears to have stalled. Hughes says one reason may be that states have been focused instead on getting more adults covered through the Affordable Care Act.

In the last five years, nationwide, the number of uninsured children declined by one-point-seven million – thanks in part to Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Next year, Congress will be voting on funding for CHIP and Joan Alker with the Georgetown Center for Children and Families says a lot is riding on the outcome of that debate, “Right now, we have just over 5,000,000 children who are uninsured in the United States. If Congress doesn’t fund that program, that number could swell to over seven-million. So, that’s a very critical decision.”

Hughes points out that research indicates healthier parents improve the lives of their children, which is why – she says – it’s important North Carolina lawmakers choose to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, “Governor McCrory and North Carolina state lawmakers really should expand Medicaid coverage to low-income parents, which will result in healthier families and healthier children.”

According to the NC Institute of Medicine, 500,000 North Carolinians would be covered if lawmakers chose to expand Medicaid.

Jackson County Election Sees Democrats Sweeping

Tuesday midterm voter participation in North Carolina set a record. 2, 717, 920 voters cast ballots. In Jackson County, voters replaced two incumbent commissioners giving Democrats control of four seats.

Charles Elders maintained his seat as the sole Republican. Brian McMahan replaced Jack Debnam as Chairman while Boyce Deitz won seat formerly occupied by Doug Cody.

Democrats also won the Sheriff’s election placing Chip Hall in the position vacated by Jimmy Ashe who is retiring.

WCU band selected to lead Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

JDP_9067When the 505 members of the Western Carolina University Pride of the Mountains Marching Band pound the pavement of New York City for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, they won’t be just taking part in the beloved holiday tradition. They will be the very first parade participants to hit the streets that morning.

That’s because the WCU unit has been selected as the lead band for the parade by organizers of the event, to be held Thursday, Nov. 27.

Wesley Whatley, creative director of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, broke the news to members of the Pride of the Mountains during a recent band tournament held on campus.

“We are so excited that the Pride of the Mountains Marching Band has been chosen to lead the parade through the streets of New York City,” said David Starnes, WCU director of athletic bands. “What this means is that we will be leading the parade from Central Park West along the parade route.”

The parade will be broadcast live by NBC beginning at 9 a.m. Thanksgiving Day. The television broadcast includes other acts that perform for the cameras as the parade moves through the city to the stage area at 34th Street, Starnes said. “We will be the first parade participant to be seen on TV,” he said.

During its time in front of the cameras – and an international TV audience – the band will perform “I’ve Seen the Lights Go out on Broadway” by Billy Joel. During the parade, the band will perform other selections from its 2014 halftime production, “Street Beatz,” a musical travelogue of “The Big Apple.”

The Pride of the Mountains is one of only 10 marching bands selected from across the nation to perform in the 2014 Macy’s parade. The invitation to perform at the event, which came in a surprise on-campus announcement by parade officials in April 2013, is the latest in a long line of accolades bestowed upon the WCU marching band.

The Pride of the Mountains was recipient of the 2009 Sudler Trophy, awarded by the John Phillip Sousa Foundation and considered the nation’s highest and most-coveted award for college and university marching bands.

The band followed that up with an invitation to march in the 2011 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California, where it won “favorite band” in a poll conducted by KTLA-TV, earning 40 percent of all votes cast in the poll and more than any of the parade’s other musical groups.

Next stop, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Founded in 1924, the world-famous Macy’s parade attracts more than 3.5 million spectators lining the streets of New York, and 50 million at-home viewers.

Number of People with Diabetes in North Carolina has Doubled

The arrival of November means it’s American Diabetes Month. It comes as the prevalence of the disease continues to rise across North Carolina and the nation.

David Becker with the American Diabetes Association says the latest numbers show 29,000,000 Americans with diabetes, and the toll on health can be great, including kidney failure, blindness, amputations and more, “There are a lot of co-morbid diseases as far as diabetes and cancer and heart disease. It all kind of is interrelating.”

Becker says about 95% of those people who have diabetes have Type 2, which healthier lifestyle choices with nutrition and physical activity can help prevent. According to the National Institutes of Health, the rate of diagnosed diabetes cases in North Carolina has nearly doubled to more than 650,000. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the state.

Becker notes that even some simple, small changes with healthy eating and regular exercise can yield big results, “If you lose just seven-percent of your body weight, you can decrease your chances of getting diabetes by 58%.”

If the current trends don’t change, it’s estimated that by 2050, 30% of all Americans will have diabetes.

WCU Student Charged with Off Campus Rape

Robert “Bobby” William McRainey is being held under a $100,000 secured bond.

Robert “Bobby” William McRainey is being held under a $100,000 secured bond.

In the early morning hours Saturday the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office began an investigation into a reported sexual assault. The offense was reported to have occurred at Citadel Drive in Cullowhee. During the investigation it was determined this residence was an apartment shared by two persons who are friends with the suspect and victim. The victim is a white female, 20 years of age and is a student at Appalachian State University.

Robert “Bobby” William McRainey, from Shallotte, NC but has a local on campus address at Western Carolina University and was an enrolled student at the time of this offense.

He is charged with Second Degree Rape, arrested on November 2, 2014, and held in the Jackson County Detention Center under a $100,000 secured bond.

Sheriff’s Office Ask For Help In Anonymous Letter

Monday morning, October 27, 2014, Smoky Mountain High School Resource Officer, Sergeant Avery Brown was notified of a potential sexual assault which had occurred over the weekend at a private residence. Sergeant Brown immediately notified the investigators with the Sheriff’s Office who quickly began the investigation into the assault. Sergeant Brown also notified Sheriff’s Office administration about a party which had occurred that may have involved a contracted Sheriff’s Office employee and reported underage drinking of alcohol. Due to the conflict of interest involved with the report about the party, the Sheriff’s Office contacted the North Carolina Alcohol Law Enforcement to conduct an unbiased independent investigation. The investigations into both incidents have been ongoing since the initial report on Monday. Numerous persons have been interviewed and many more are anticipated. Sheriff’s Office investigators have been in contact with the District Attorney’s Office in regards to this matter as well. The investigation is ongoing.

A letter was circulated from an anonymous and concerned parent regarding these cases. This letter indicates some information not otherwise provided to the Sheriff’s Office which indicates further criminal activity. The Sheriff’s Office would like to speak with this person and anybody else that has information regarding sexual assaults. Provided is the contact information for the Sheriff’s Office investigator who handles sexual assaults. Additionally, provided below is information on contacting the NCALE. We encourage anyone with information regarding underage drinking to contact them as it relates to this case or any other underage drinking cases.

Jackson County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Andi Clayton, 586-1392.
North Carolina Alcohol Law Enforcement, Asheville District, 670-5055

Sexual Assault and Party Investigation at Area High School

Monday morning, October 27, Smoky Mountain High School Resource Officer, Sergeant Avery Brown was notified of a potential sexual assault which had occurred over the weekend at a private residence. Sergeant Brown immediately notified the investigators with the Sheriff’s Office who quickly began the investigation into the assault. Sergeant Brown also notified Sheriff’s Office administration about a party which had occurred that may have involved a contracted Sheriff’s Office employee and reported underage drinking of alcohol.

Due to the conflict of interest involved with the report about the party, the Sheriff’s Office contacted the North Carolina Alcohol Law Enforcement to conduct an unbiased independent investigation. The investigations into both incidents have been ongoing since the initial report on Monday.

Numerous persons have been interviewed and many more are anticipated. Sheriff’s Office investigators have been in contact with the District Attorney’s Office in regards to this matter as well. The investigation is ongoing.

Education Superhighway? NC Approves Virtual Charter Schools

Starting next year, North Carolina’s charter schools will expand beyond the four walls of a classroom. State lawmakers approved a pilot program in this year’s budget that requires the state Board of Education to approve two statewide virtual charter schools – making the companies eligible for millions in public education dollars.

Yevonne Brannon with Public Schools First NC is concerned about the quality of education that state tax dollars will fund, “It’s something to really be concerned about because we’re taking tax dollars earmarked for public schools, and we’re putting them into a charter. It’s totally online. We have no way to judge its quality or judge the impact on the actual student learning.”

K-12 Incorporated and Connections Academy – the nation’s two largest online education companies – have applied for online charter school status. The schools would receive approximately nine-thousand dollars per student. Supporters of the charter programs say it will offer the state’s students more choices. The program is separate from the North Carolina Virtual Public School – currently run by the state, that offers online classes to students.

Neighboring Tennessee opened a K-12 Incorporated school four years ago but may shut the school down at the end of this year, citing three years of low test scores. Brannon says “We’re going to be pouring more students, more money away from the public schools.”

If approved, as many as three-thousand students could be enrolled in the two schools combined by the end of next year.

Parkway closes at Milepost 422 for tunnel repair

Blue Ridge Parkway officials announce the closure of a small section of motor road between existing gates at Milepost 420.3 near US Forest Service Road 816 (Black Balsam Road) and Milepost 423.3 at NC Highway 215. Both lanes of the motor road in that section will be closed to all visitors beginning Nov. 3, 2014 through May 2015.

During this closure, Devil’s Courthouse Overlook at Milepost 422.4 will be accessible from the south by foot, bicycle or skis at NC Highway 215. The Art Loeb Trail crossing at Milepost 421.2 will be accessible from the north at Black Balsam Road. Visitors inside the closure are encouraged to use extreme caution and watch for construction related traffic also in the area.

Devil’s Courthouse Tunnel was originally constructed in 1941. This project will make repairs to the aging drainage system and concrete lining inside the tunnel. The work requires that portions of the overhead concrete lining be removed, creating potentially hazardous conditions for visitors that require a full road closure. The tunnel will be sealed and inaccessible to any traffic during this project.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is recognized internationally as an example of landscape design achievement and Parkway tunnels are a significant design feature along the historic route.

Twenty-five of the twenty-six tunnels along the Parkway are in North Carolina, with all Parkway tunnels representing 36 percent of the entire National Park Service tunnel inventory. Tunnels along the Parkway were often constructed to reduce excessive scarring that open cuts would entail, enabling the Parkway to cross through ridges in the interest of maintaining the most desirable route location.

The distinctive stone masonry portals on most Parkway tunnels were generally not part of the original construction, added later in the 1950s and 1960s.

For regular Parkway updates on this and other projects follow the Blue Ridge Parkway on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BlueRidgeNPS; or for real-time road closure information visit maps.nps.gov/blri/road-closures/.

Voter Suppression? There’s an App for That

Early voting in North Carolina is well underway. On Election Day thousands will wait until the last minute, and there will be trained election monitors at polling stations to make sure people are given every legal opportunity to vote. This year many will be armed with a mobile application – or app – to record in real time any voting irregularities across the state.

“Election Collection” is the brain child of Sarah Moncelle with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, “Here at the office on Election Day, as the volunteers are inputting the reports, they get updated in real time to the database and also to the map so we can sort of see spatially where the patterns are. ”

Tag: Data collected from the app will be used to determine if additional staff or volunteers should be sent to particular polling locations, and also shared with groups who are monitoring the effects of North Carolina’s new voting law. More information on the midterm election can be found at NCVOTERGUIDE.ORG

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice worked with several partner groups to train volunteers on using the app. It will enable them to collect personalized accounts of issues at the polls, as well as any examples of voter suppression. Moncelle says it’s another tool for voters, in addition to the voting hotlines that are available, “The hotlines are a way for people to report what’s happening, find out their rights, find out their polling location. This app is more for like specifically documenting so that we have a more detailed documentation we can use to show the negative effects.”

On Election Day, because of North Carolina’s new voting law, there is no same-day registration and you must vote at your assigned precinct since no provisional ballots will be offered for out-of-precinct voting. You are not required to have a state issued photo ID.

Prescribed Burns in Jackson County

The U.S. Forest Service plans to conduct a series of prescribed burns in the Nantahala Ranger District, Nantahala National Forest, this fall. Weather will dictate the dates of the prescribed burns. All four sites are located in southern Jackson County.

The Moses Creek area burn units are:
Coward Bald (684 acres)
Moses Creek (158 acres)
The Panthertown area burn unit is:
Big Green (497 acres)
The Bonas Defeat area burn unit is:
Awl Knob (240 acres)
The Forest Service will conduct these understory burns to reduce hazardous fuel and restore conditions in the forest. Prescribed burning also promotes forest health and wildlife habitat. Public safety is the highest priority during a prescribed burn. The dates for each burn will be announced as they are decided and weather permitting.

Numbers Show Solid Turn Out in Early Voting

Early voting is off to a good start in North Carolina. Close to 300,000 people have taken advantage of early voting since the polls opened on Thursday. It’s closing in on the ten day total of early voters in the 2010 midterm. The voting period is shorter this year, but more one stop voting sites are available with extended hours.

The total number of ballots cast so far including absentee and military ballot pushes the number of votes so far to almost 400,000. This year more than 360 early voting sites are offered across the state, the most sites ever offered. Early voting ends on Nov. 1.