WNC News Roundup

Here’s a look at what’s been happening around the mountains:

Pain at the pumps: The was no shortage of stories about long lines at the pumps this week. The news coverage generally stuck to capturing people’s frustrations and announcements of various event cancellations. Few stories tackled the deeper problems with the gas supply infrastructure in the United States.

The Winston-Salem Journal offered the basic roundup: “Several stations in such cities as Boone, Morganton, Asheville and Charlotte ran out of gas. In Charlotte, some drivers waited up to five hours in lines to get gas, and fights were reported as people accused other customers of cutting in line. Marcus Gupton, an employee at Phil’s Citgo on Hardin Street in Boone, said that his station ran out of gas about 6:30 p.m. yesterday. ‘It has been chaos,’ Gupton said.”

The Blue Banner, the UNC-Asheville college newspaper, reported that tempers flared: “At the Merrimon Avenue Shell station, manager Marsha Messer helped direct more than 35 cars with an employee and two police officers assisting. ‘There were three wrecks this morning, three fights over the last two days and we had to call the cops three times to help direct traffic,’ Messer said. ‘This is chaos.’”

The Transylvania Times did offer a bit of perspective: “On Tuesday, Transylvania County witnessed long lines at the gas pump, reminiscent of scenes created by the gas shortage in the 1970s. ‘Last Monday we received gas and ran out in five hours, so I expect the same to happen again,’ said owner Carl Eldridge, who watched a line of cars extend past the library wait for gas.”

The Mountaineer in Waynesville cut through the hype and got the best quotes of the week: “Charles Bowling, manager of the Mountain Energy Shell station near Allens Creek, said he attributes recent gas outages to foolishness. If not for drivers going into panic-mode, Bowling believes there would be no outages. ‘People are just not using common sense,’ he said. ‘People are going to get their gas, but it’s all panic right now. They would probably do the same thing with beer if someone said Budweiser was going to run out. The problem is that people aren’t buying $5 and $10 at a time, they are scared and everybody is filling up their tanks, causing us to run out.’”

Hispanic students harrassed? La Voz, Asheville’s Hispanic newspaper, offers a report that raises questions about how Hispanic students at Erwin High School are being treated after a school resource officer investigated a fight. The newspaper says the officer asked “an Hispanic student whether he was in the country illegally while lodging criminal charges against him and other students for a fight that broke out in the school’s cafeteria,” adding that the exchange happened after the officer asked for the student’s Social Security number. A Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office spokesman said the officer included the information in a report. The newspaper quoted a Catholic priest who works with an Hispanic ministry as saying the question “is racial profiling” and that it could discourage students from coming to school.

The 18-year-old student also said the officer asked if a rosary was a gang symbol, which triggered rumors around the school and a brief walkout by students. The newspaper didn’t explain what the school policy is on rosaries, but it did quote a school official who said that “students are prohibited from speaking Spanish during instructional time and added that school officials increasingly view rosaries as potential signals of gang membership among students.” The newspaper adds: “Erwin High School has the highest percentage of Spanish-speaking students in Buncombe County but none of the administrators, none of whom are Hispanic, nor any of the all Anglo school resource officers, posted at the school by the Sheriff’s Department speak Spanish.”

High mercury levels found in fish: Graham County commissioners and the county’s health-department director want public hearings to get more information about high mercury levels found in fish caught in Santeetlah and Fontana lakes, according to the Graham Star. “The state’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) issued a warning two weeks ago about the high mercury levels found in walleye in both lakes. In the warning, officials advised pregnant women, those who may become pregnant and children under 15 not to eat walleye from the two lakes. All others were advised to limit consumption to once a week.”

Mental-health official resigns: “The board of Sylva-based Smoky Mountain Center for Mental Health accepted the resignation of agency director Tom McDevitt last week (Sept. 16) following a six-hour, closed-door interrogation into allegations that McDevitt had abused his power and taken advantage of his position for financial gain,” reports the Smoky Mountain News, which has been doggedly reporting the story. The 30-member board began questioning some of McDevitt’s action in July, and the newspaper investigated the allegations and published a story on Aug. 20. At the board’s next meeting on Aug. 28, it demanded that McDevitt address some of the questions raised by the story.

“The board compiled a list of questions that McDevitt responded to at the Sept. 16 meeting. Board members expressed varying levels of satisfaction with McDevitt’s answers, but agreed unanimously that it was best for McDevitt and the Smoky Mountain Center to part ways.”

Job Corps site to re-open: The Oconaluftee Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center will reopen on Oct. 1, according to the Smoky Mountain Times. The center was shut down suddenly in February 2007 for repairs. It was first opened in 1965 and helps train at-risk young people, who can learn a trade and earn a high-school diploma or GED, then move on to a job or more school.

Jellyfish found in pond: Katherine “Katie” McSwain, an Appalachian State University senior, recently discovered a freshwater jellyfish swimming in ASU’s Duck Pond, according to The Appalachian, the college newspaper. She scooped it up and took the paper-thin organism, about a half-inch in diameter, to a biology-department professor. How could the creature have gotten so far afield? The newspaper answered the question: “Shea R. Tuberty, an Appalachian biology professor who specializes in freshwater marine biology said there has been a jellyfish in Duck Pond before, but it has probably been around 10 years since one was found. ‘A lot of fish eggs can be carried on the feet and feathers of foul,’ Tuberty said in regards to how he thinks the jellyfish made its way to Duck Pond.”

Still fighting the Civil War: The fifth annual Blue-Gray Heritage Weekend will be held this weekend in Mills River, reports the Pisgah Mountain News. “Battle re-enactments begin at 2 p.m. both days at the intersection of N.C. 191 and McDowell Road. The event also includes musical guest and storyteller Stan Clardy, cavalry demonstrations, artillery demonstrations and live mortar firing. Vendors will have period flags, Confederate memorabilia and period attire for men and women. Hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults, $2 for children ages 6-12 and free for children 6 and younger. For information, visit www.scvcamp70.org.

Official Fall Color Guy: The Watauga Democrat reports that Appalachian State University Professor Howard S. Neufeld, a professor of plant physiology, has been selected as “N.C. Fall Color Guy” by state tourism officials. “‘If it stays like this for the next couple of weeks, we’re going to have good color,’ he said. ‘If we get an extended rainy period over the next three weeks, it will mute the colors, and sometimes the rain knocks the leaves off the trees.’ Neufeld’s preliminary projection is for a ‘peak week’ in the middle of October.” Go here to see his reports. 

Big rigs still blocked on some mountain roads: More than 1,800 miles of previously restricted roads are now open to trucks with trailers up to 53 feet long, but the restrictions still remain in place for 10.73 miles of Highway 64 between Highlands and Franklin, according to the Highlander. “Bucky Galloway, a regional traffic engineer for the North Carolina Department of Transportation, said all primary routes were reviewed. He said the DOT began making recommendations even before the law went into effect, and Hwy. 64 from Franklin to Highlands was identified as a section needing additional restrictions. As such, the new restriction prohibits trucks with more than four axles between Walnut Creek Road and First Street in Highlands, meaning any truck traveling that part of the road must be smaller than the previously allowed 48 feet. ‘The Cullasaja Gorge section has been our nemesis for many years,’ Galloway said.”

Revolutionary War leader honored: “The home of Joseph McDowell, one of the leaders of the Overmountain Men, will officially become a part of the Overmountain Victory Historic Trail at a Sunday ceremony,” reports the McDowell News. “Congress authorized the trail in 1980 and since that time communities and other organizations have partnered with the National Park Service to preserve and tell the story of the 1780 Overmountain Men,” the newspaper reports. “The original patriot route taken by local militia includes four states and 330 miles of trail.

In the fall of 1780, the Overmountain Men left their homes in the Southern Appalachians to fight the forces that were loyal to King George III. They defeated the Loyalists at the Battle of Kings Mountain. Thomas Jefferson and others considered the patriot victory at Kings Mountain to be a turning point in the American Revolution. Joseph McDowell, for whom the county was named, was one of the leaders of the Overmountain Men. His home still stands along U.S. 70 although it is almost surrounded by modern development.”

Energy drinks scrutinized in Clay County schools: The Clay County Board of Education has asked Superintendent Scott Penland to draft a policy that would ban energy drinks from school campuses, according to the Clay County Progress. “Clay County would be the first school system in western North Carolina to ban these drinks. Many schools nationwide are considering similar policies.”

— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor

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