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Volunteers donate more than 200,000 hours to maintain AT

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) is pleased to announce that for fiscal year 2014, 5,617 volunteers reported 241,936 hours to maintaining and protecting the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) for hikers to use. Since the ATC began collecting reports in 1983, individuals have contributed more than 5 million hours to the A.T., resulting in a volunteer network that is recognized worldwide.

The number of hours reported, which is the second highest since 1983, reveals a loyal commitment to the trail despite a government shutdown in October 2013 that resulted in volunteers being unable to work on National Park Service or U.S. Forest Service lands. Despite this sequestration, volunteers donated time equivalent to what is completed by 116 full-time workers and contributed to a wide variety of projects, including maintaining the A.T. corridor, monitoring and removing invasive species, supporting teachers in the Trail to Every Classroom (TTEC) program and assisting A.T. Communities near the Trail.

ATC volunteers represent 31 A.T. Maintaining Clubs and Trail Crews; Visitor Center and regional office volunteers; and participants in additional ATC programs, such as TTEC and the Appalachian Trail Community program. Though trail maintainers are perhaps the most visible, volunteers also participate in many other activities, from community outreach to local, regional and trail-wide management efforts.

“The Appalachian Trail Conservancy exists because of the generosity, talents and support of our volunteers – they are the very soul of the Appalachian Trail,” said Ron Tipton, executive director of the ATC. “The impressive number of volunteer hours reported for fiscal year 2014 illustrates a continued dedication to the preservation and management of the trail.”

For more information about volunteer opportunities, visit www.appalachiantrail.org/volunteer.

Texas Hearing Has Implications for North Carolina’s Immigrants

North Carolina is among states involved in the national battle over immigration reform, with a court hearing today in Texas on a lawsuit filed over President Obama’s executive action. About two dozen states, including North Carolina, are seeking an injunction against the plan, claiming it’s unconstitutional.

But Hector Vaca with Action NC says removing the threat of deportation for certain undocumented workers, students and their parents – which is what the president’s order does – is vital for future financial stability, “This would also mean more people would be able to come out of the shadows and contribute to the local economy by purchasing. And it would also means stronger workers rights for immigrants and for everybody else. The governor and the 25 states that are suing, it sounds to us like they just don’t understand it.”

An estimated 120,000 people in North Carolina would qualify for the president’s executive action, which Vaca says would generate about $170,000,000 in tax revenue in five years.

Vaca says this battle playing out in the courts again points to the need for Congress to act on comprehensive, just and realistic immigration reform. He says another benefit, beyond the economic impact and the impact on these families, is that North Carolina’s roads would be safer, “If these people could get this executive action, they would be able to qualify for driver’s licenses, which means more people would be buying car insurance, therefore more people would be insured on the road.”

Under Obama’s executive order, up to 5,000,000 immigrants would be eligible to stay in the country under the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programs.

Petco pulls China-made food, treats from shelves

Petco has begun the New Year by quickly fulfilling one of its main resolutions — Removing all dog and cat treats made in China from its store shelves and website.

The past few years have brought headlines of tens of thousands of American pets becoming ill after eating Chinese-produced pet food; and over 1,000 pets have actually died after consuming these contaminated treats.

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration continues to investigate the link between pet sickness and treats made in China, Petco has made good on its promise to remove these treats from its 1,300 stores across the nation as well as its website. Vets from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) have faced this issue before and speak to the history of problems with pet treats produced in China as well as the ongoing efforts to provide American pets with safe food. Here are some answers to questions that may surface from these new headlines:

Is Petco the only retailer to pull Chinese-produced pet foods?

While Petco is the first to pull Chinese-produced pet treats, it has been reported that PetSmart, Inc is going to follow in its footsteps and pull these treats later in 2015.

How can pet owners make sure the food they are giving their pets is safe?

While further investigation is underway about China-made chow, the safest bet is to purchase domestically produced pet food and treats. A vet will be able to give pet owners safe and appropriate recommendations for their pet’s diet.

What are some of the symptoms to lookout for in case pets have eaten these treats in the past?

While the investigation into these treats is still underway, the FDA has advised pet owners that symptoms can include: vomiting, decreased appetite and movement, increased urination, and water consumption. Some of the more severe symptoms have led to the diagnoses of kidney failure, gastrointestinal bleeding and pancreatitis.

For more information about pet food safety, visit www.AVMA.org

Jackson County Landowners Work with LTLT to Preserve Parkway Viewshed and Create Conserved Land Corridor

(Franklin, NC)—104 acres of forested land in the viewshed of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Jackson County are now conserved thanks to two local landowners and The Land Trust for the Little Tennessee. LTLT worked with landowners Joan Byrd and George Rector to conserve the tract of land in the Bo Cove area of Speedwell, near Cullowhee. The owners donated a conservation easement on their property, which LTLT holds in trust.

This is the second conservation easement that Byrd and Rector have donated to LTLT. The first was a 40-acre tract in the same area, donated in 2006. The new 104-acre easement connects the Nantahala National Forest to the original 40-acre easement, creating a corridor of conserved lands. The newly conserved tract includes miles of forested streams, including a portion of Bryson Branch. The conservation easement permits forest management, small-scale agriculture and the construction of one home, but ensures that the land will not be subdivided or used for a high-density residential or commercial development.

Byrd, a retired professor from Western Carolina University, and Rector, a potter, reside in Cullowhee and are passionate supporters of conservation in western North Carolina. “We both wanted in some way to help preserve the historical, rural character of Jackson County,” said Rector, who himself grew up on 30 acres of farmland in Andrews. “This is one of the fastest growing counties in the region, and as the population increases, it is essential to protect the resources that people will demand in the future: farmland, clean water and healthy forests.”

John Culclasure, LTLT’s Land Protection Manager, was particularly pleased to work on this project. “This project conserves over a mile and a half of forested streams, whose cool waters are important for fish and other aquatic life. The diversity of forest community types is important for wildlife, and the adjacency to the national forest ensures critters have room to roam. George and Joan have made a tremendous contribution to conservation in Jackson County. ”

This project was made possible thanks to funding support from the Conservation Trust for North Carolina.

LTLT is a regional non-profit dedicated to conserving the land and waters in the six far-western North Carolina counties and northern Rabun County, Georgia. LTLT employs 12 staff members who work to sustain quality of life and economic vitality in the mountains

Gov. McCrory’s Financial Ties Questioned in Ethics Complaint

As he enters the second half of his term this week, Governor Pat McCrory is facing allegations of ethics violations. Progress North Carolina Action filed an ethics complaint against the governor, accusing him of failing to disclose ownership of stock in Duke Energy, failing to report income from Tree.com, and failing to report he was on the board of Tree.com.

Progress North Carolina Action executive director Gerrick Brenner says it shows a pattern of omission and incomplete answers that covers up conflicts of interest, “This is not some mid-level bureaucrat in state government who failed to report rental income. This is the chief executive of the ninth largest state in the country who campaigned on transparency and open and clean government, and his ethics forms are a mess.”

McCrory has previously denied any wrongdoing, and when questioned about the complaint at a news conference Monday, the governor said it would be inappropriate to respond to what he called ‘a left-wing, very closed-eyed group.’

The complaint also alleges discrepancies in how the governor describes his relationship with the firm McCrory and Company. Brenner says public documents and the firm’s own website describe the governor as a “partner,” while McCrory has only described himself as a “consultant.” “Calling himself only a consultant, he doesn’t have to answer key questions on the Statement of Economic Interest which would reveal and acknowledge that McCrory and Co. has business dealings with the state, which raises concerns about other conflicts of interest.”

Brenner says it’s a felony to intentionally fail to disclose financial interests on Statements of Economic Interest, and adds that he hopes the State Ethics Commission launches an investigation.

World’s best young Elvis’ performs Jan. 31 at WCU

Travis LeDoyt, acclaimed by critics as “the world’s best young Elvis,” will bring his tribute to the king of rock ‘n’ roll to Western Carolina University Saturday, Jan. 31, in honor of what would have been Presley’s 80th birthday.

LeDoyt will hit the stage at 7:30 p.m. at WCU’s John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center, as part of the 2014-15 Galaxy of Stars Series. Presley was born Jan. 8, 1935.

Paul Lormand, director of the Bardo Arts Center, says there are five reasons why LeDoyt wins accolades as the top young Elvis.

“He looks like Elvis, he sings like Elvis, he moves like Elvis, his personality and mannerisms both on and off stage are strikingly similar to Elvis, and he sells out nearly every show,” Lormand said. “To those people who think they have seen it all when it comes to Elvis tribute acts, this is the one that makes them do a double take. There is simply no way to describe Travis and his performance except ‘unbelievable.’”

LeDoyt captures the essence of Elvis in his prime, and restricts his shows to the hits and ambience of 1954 through 1962, Lormand said. Utilizing a three-piece band featuring guitar, bass and drums, LeDoyt takes his audience back to the fun and excitement of a 1950s Elvis concert, he said.

“For those who missed seeing an Elvis concert during those years, it is a chance to relive the excitement and aura of an Elvis show and the fun and energy experienced by the audiences,” Lormand said.

LeDoyt has been selling out shows and receiving accolades from audiences from around the world. He has been on four tours in the United Kingdom and has performed in Hong Kong, China, Chile and Canada.

Tickets for the WCU show are $21 for adults ($15 in groups of 20 or more), $16 for WCU faculty and staff members, and $7 for students/children of any age. Contact the box office at 227-2479 or at bardoartscenter.wcu.edu.

Turn that gift card into a gift, soon

Gift cards you got over the holidays should be considered cash that needs to be spent, and sooner rather than later.

If you set a gift card aside planning to use it in the future, you could be out of luck. The store could go out of business, or close the location near you making it more difficult to shop. You could misplace the card, or forget that you have it.

Gift cards can also lose their value over time. By law, gift cards are good for 5 years from the date of purchase. But merchants can begin charging a monthly inactivity fee if the card hasn’t been used within a year after it was bought.

Don’t let that happen. Instead, turn that little plastic card into a little something for yourself, as soon as you can.

Get more information about gift cards, and if you feel that you’ve been treated unfairly by a merchant, file a consumer complaint with our office at www.ncdoj.gov or call us toll-free within North Carolina at 1-877-NO-SCAM.

AMBER Alerts on Facebook

The North Carolina Center for Missing Persons, which issues AMBER Alerts in this state, welcomes a new partnership with Facebook to help find missing children.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children joined with Facebook to send AMBER Alerts to the social network’s community to help find missing children. Facebook’s distribution system will send AMBER Alerts to user’s News Feeds.

“Getting detailed information to the public quickly improves dramatically the ability to find an abducted child,” said Lt. Jeff Gordon, director of the N.C. Center for Missing Persons. “When the community is able to report sightings of the child, the suspect or the vehicle, especially in the first few hours, law enforcement are better able to find and recover the child safely.

Facebook authorities say that for most people, the alerts will be rare because they will only go to people within the designated search area. If a Facebook user does get an alert, it means there is an active search for an abducted child going on in that area. The alert will provide the critical information needed to potentially help reunite a child with his or her family.

Last year, an 11-year-old girl was safely recovered after a South Carolina motel employee recognized a photo of the girl in an AMBER alert she saw on Facebook. The woman called the police, and the child was found unharmed. Similar word-of-mouth efforts inspired Facebook to develop a more systematic way to help find missing children.

The AMBER Alert system issues media alerts when a law enforcement agency determines that a child was abducted and is in imminent danger.

Here’s how Facebook will complement existing AMBER Alert distribution systems:

1) Reach – Facebook’s distribution system will get the AMBER Alert to everyone who is logged into Facebook (on both mobile and desktop) during the alert if they are within the designated search area as specified by law enforcement.
2) Comprehensive Information – the alert will include important details about the child such as a photo, description, location of the abduction, and any other available information that can be provided to the public to aid in the search for the missing child.
3) Community Involvement – the Facebook system enables people to share the alert with friends and link to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children for the most up-to-date information about the case.

AMBER Alerts are a child abduction alert system that started in the United States in 1996. AMBER stands for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response and was named for Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old abducted and murdered in Arlington, Texas.

The decision to declare an AMBER Alert in North Carolina is made by the N.C. Center for Missing Persons. Information in an AMBER Alert usually includes the name and description of the abductee, a description of the suspected abductor, and a description and license plate number of the abductor’s vehicle.

Off Duty State Trooper Saves Three from Freezing Water

untitled-34Choosing to be a law enforcement officer, on occasion, can require those making that choice to place their own life in danger so that others may be saved. On Friday, January 09, 2015, Trooper Christopher J. Matos demonstrated this by placing his own life in harm’s way.

Trooper Matos, while off duty in his personal vehicle, was traveling west on John Green Smith Road in Lenoir County. Trooper Matos observed a passenger vehicle traveling east on John Green Smith Road, start to slide uncontrollably on the icy roadway. The passenger vehicle traveled off the roadway onto the right shoulder, overturned within a creek, and came to rest upright. Trooper Matos turned his vehicle around after observing the vehicle leave the roadway and proceeded to the collision scene. Upon arrival, Trooper Matos observed the passenger vehicle partially submerged within the creek, filling with water.

Without hesitation, Trooper Matos entered the frigid water to render aid. While in the water, Trooper Matos noticed the vehicle’s front passenger window had been partially rolled down. After swimming around to the passenger side of the vehicle, Trooper Matos assisted a 14 year old child out of the vehicle’s front passenger window. Trooper Matos then climbed partially within the vehicle and assisted the female driver in unbuckling her infant child from a child seat. Trooper Matos then removed the infant out of the vehicle and placed the child into the care of another motorist who had stopped to render assistance. The female driver was also removed from the vehicle by Trooper Matos and assisted to the bank.

Trooper Matos accompanied the mother and her two small children to a nearby home where they were treated by emergency medical personnel for mild hypothermia. The selfless actions of Trooper Matos and those who assisted assured the safety of the mother and her small children.

Park Sees 10 Million Visitors

More than 10 million people visited The Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2014. It’s the fourth time in the park’s 80 year history.

According to the park, visitation in 2014 was just over 10,099,000. That’s an increase of 8 percent over the previous year. Also, camping at the park’s developed campgrounds increased by 14 percent over 2013 and backcountry camping increased by 11 percent.

Overall visitation in 2014 was higher than 2013 for nearly every month, but July and August were especially strong and October had its highest visitation in 27 years.

The record for highest visitation ever in a year was in 1999, when 10,284,000 people visited the park.

EPA to discuss Benfield cleanup plan Tuesday

On Tuesday, Jan. 13, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will hold a public meeting about plans to clean up residual soil contamination at the Benfield Industries, Inc. Superfund Site in Waynesville, N.C. The meeting will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Haywood Vocational Opportunities Building located at 172 Riverbend Street in Waynesville.

Residual soil contamination associated with the Benfield Site has continued to adversely impact groundwater since the original site cleanup activities were completed in 2001. The contaminants that have continued to be detected in the groundwater are associated with creosote, and their concentrations are above EPA’s Maximum Contaminant Levels for drinking water. EPA has determined that these pose an unacceptable risk to the community due to the potential future use of the groundwater under the site as a potable source. No adverse impact on the ecosystem was identified.

EPA is proposing a two-step plan to clean up this residual contamination. First, hydrogen peroxide will be introduced into the groundwater to oxidize the contaminants into less harmful chemicals. Next, EPA will use microorganisms characteristic of the area to metabolize contaminants found in the soil, converting them into harmless end products. EPA estimates it will take three months to complete construction at a cost of $968,000. It is anticipated that the cleanup goal will be achieved within one to two years following construction.

EPA is soliciting public comments on the plan for 30 days beginning Jan. 13. A copy of the proposed cleanup plan and associated documents will be available as of Jan. 13 in the Administrative Record, housed at Town of Waynesville City Hall at 16 South Main Street.

Written comments should be submitted by Feb.12, 2015, to bornholm.jon@epa.gov or:

Jon Bornholm, EPA Remedial Project Manager

US EPA Region 4, Superfund Division

61 Forsyth Street SW

Atlanta, Ga. 30303

Community members interested in obtaining additional information about the Site are encouraged to contact Kerisa Coleman, EPA Community Involvement Coordinator, toll-free at 1-877-718-3752 or directly at 404-562-8831 or coleman.kerisa@epa.gov.

The Benfield site occupies approximately 3.5 acres of a six-acre parcel along Riverbend Street, and was used for industrial purposes from 1904 until a fire destroyed they facility in 1982. Benfield Industries, Inc. began mixing and packaging bulk chemicals for resale at the property in 1976. Ten above-ground storage tanks of varying capacity (1,000 to 10,000 gallons) were located on the property, including two 10,000-gallon capacity creosote storage tanks and an 8,000-gallon methanol storage tank. Spills were reported to have occurred in the vicinity of these tanks. Other chemicals reported to have been stored on-site include: lacquer, paint thinner, de-natured alcohol, acetone, xylenes, toluene, and unused oil.

The Benfield site was proposed for the National Priorities List (NPL) in June 1988 and was finalized in October 1989. Site cleanup activities began in 1997 with the on-site treatment of approximately 23,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil. Following the soil cleanup effort, a groundwater extraction system was installed. All construction activities at the site were completed in 2001. Between 2001-2007, the extraction system pumped out over 22 million gallons of groundwater which was treated through the town’s sewer system.

More information about the Benfield Industries Superfund Site: http://www.epa.gov/region4/superfund/sites/npl/northcarolina/benflnc.html

Applications taken for Greening Up the Mountains

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

Arrests Made in Car Chase in Haywood County

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The case remains under investigation.

Jackson County Passes Fracking Resolution

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

Heating Assistance Still Available

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

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

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

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

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

Income guidelines are as follows:

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

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

Public Meetings in North Carolina Over Controversial Pipeline

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

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

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

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

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

Radon Testing in North Carolina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Park changes firewood regulations to protect forests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lakes James named NC State Park of the Year

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

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

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

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

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

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