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Archive for August, 2011

$140,000 Environmental Study for Snapshot Tool of How We Are Doing

The Mountain Resources Commission is developing a status report that will be called the WNC Sustainability and Vitality Index. The report has something to do with a near-comprehensive compilation of data about the region’s ecosystem, and lots of those nebulous words and phrases that make one feel green. The US Forest Service appropriated $140,000 for the study.

The seventeen-member advisory commission was formed, at least in terms of ephemerides, after the midnight hour of the 2009 legislative session.

“They are bound by law not to go past midnight unless they climb up on a ladder and literally stop the clock. That bill passed with the clock physically stopped, and it was a miracle it got through. Mountain legislators are the key to it passing,” [MRC member Jay] Leutze said.

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Too Poor for Politics

Maggie Valley Alderman Scott Pauley and his wife, Dorene, a member of the planning board, are calling it quits. They say the move is not political, but several years of thin business for the Lowe’s Motel, which they own, have made it economically infeasible for the family to remain in the valley.

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The FCC is likely to award the Canary Coalition a high-powered radio station, at 95.3 FM, with the ability to broadcast into three states. Western Carolina University would like the frequency instead of its weak signal currently broadcast from 90.5 FM. WCQS, the Cherokee Boys & Girls Club, and a Georgia nonprofit also applied for the frequency. WCU is planning to sue for the rights to operate on the frequency (business as usual in FCC issues).

Avram Friedman of the Canary Coalition thinks suing is an irresponsible use of stretched taxpayer dolars appropriated for education. Old radio hands wonder if the Canary Coalition will be able to sustain the large enterprise solely with nonprofit donations. If successful, Friedman would keep the public up-to-date on the latest in climate change, keep activists in touch, and even play green music.

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Cherokee County will start issuing revaluation notices in January, but the new assessments, won’t go into effect until December 31. They must first be finalized. Property values in general have been dropped. Unlike other counties, Cherokee didn’t wait for more prosperous times for the reval.

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Notable Headline

A headline in the Mountain Xpress reads: Latest Victim of the Killer Economy. The Old North State Clothing Company is closing after an ambitious expansion in 2007 and a 75% drop in sales the next year.

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The Only Way to Protect You from Tortoises in Your Drawers

Is this the best TSA can do to justify its naked body scans?

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Foraging Parklands Not Equal Opportunity

The National Park Service is considering allowing Native Americans to harvest wild ceremonial plants from protected parklands. The benefit does not extend to other ethnicities. Animals and cultural artifacts will have to stay. Ginseng may be sold for $500-$800/lb, but the harvests are not to be for commercial purposes.

Last year, Smoky Mountain police issued fifteen warnings and eleven citations for cultural resource violations. The number of these that pertained to plant poaching was not recorded.

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What Constitutes a Weapon of Little Destruction?

A search of a teenager revealed a mason jar containing pot and money and a sawed-off shotgun with live shells. The search was instigated as the teen had an unserved warrant. Among other things, the lad was charged with possession of a weapon of mass destruction.

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Percentages Challenge Health & Safety Minima

Every member of the Tryon Town Council objected to some updates recommended for the state’s water shortage response plan. It calls for customers to reduce usage by certain percentages when the town experiences a drought assigned a numeric level or stage. Councilman Austin Chapman thought it would be difficult for residential customers to gauge percentage reductions in their use. Councilman Wim Woody asked how conscientious people using minimum amounts of water already are supposed to cut back. The use of the previous bill as a baseline was contested, as somebody would be in dry straits for going out of town and not leaving the faucet running. Another concern was that utilities were empowered to increase rates as much as five times in high-number drought stages.

“[The state’s recommended guidelines just encourage] people to drill wells,” said Councilman Doug Arbogast regarding the state’s suggested plan. “At some point it becomes cheaper to drill a well.”

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We’re All Busted, but It’s Part of Life

During the tomato harvest last year, 100% of farm operations investigated by the US Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division were found in violation of the law. Consequently, a follow-up investigation is underway this year.

The violations that were discovered in the district included failures to pay the minimum wage for all hours worked, disclosing written employment conditions and wage statements to workers, ensuring that workers had safe housing, obtaining proper vehicle insurance and ensuring that drivers possessed valid licenses.

As for concerns over hiring illegal immigrants for labor, [District Director Rick] Blaylock said his department is not involved in monitoring immigration status of workers. “Regardless of the reason an individual is in this country, they are still required to be paid according to the laws governing this country,” he said. “We are purely focused on the wage and safety issues. If a worker thought we were concerned about (immigration status), we would not get the cooperation out of them that we do.”

Bill Holbrook, who owns a small farm that employs five or fewer seasonal workers, explained the fines were a cost of doing business. He grants that Labor Department workers are doing a good job of educating farmers, but the law is so extensive, everybody is going to be out of compliance with a few things. According to the report in the Mountaineer, but as always not in so many words, Holbrook loves farming too much to go Galt.

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August 2011
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