Here’s what’s been making headlines around Western North Carolina:
• Reid Center update: The Urban News reports that Asheville city officials have decided to move ahead with a plan to spend $2 million to build a new community center to replace the aging W.C. Reid Community Center. The Reid center, an 80-year-old building that was once the Livingston Street School, will remain standing until construction is complete. Meetings will be held to determine the fate of the Reid Center.
• Hospital search: Haywood Regional Medical Center in Clyde and WestCare in Sylva continue to search for business partners. Mission Hospital in Asheville and the Carolinas HealthCare System in Charlotte are in the running, according to the Smoky Mountain News. WestCare and HRMC have appointed committees to steer the process, and those committees will hold a joint meeting Monday to start the review.
• Airport on archeological site: Macon County officials plan to move ahead with a long-planned project to widen and extend the Macon County Airport’s runway, despite the fact that archaeologists say the work will ruin one of the state’s most historically significant sites, reports the Macon News. The airport’s Iotla Valley site in Macon County contains evidence of a Cherokee site, including the graves of Connestee peoples circa A.D. 200-800 and Qualla peoples circa A.D. 1450-1838, according to archaeologists.
• Livestock auction planned: Haywood County farmers want the state to help fund a new livestock market, which is still a strong industry in the region with more than 3,000 farmers in 19 counties keeping cattle, reports the Smoky Mountain News. A 1960’s-era livestock auction opened in Canton a year ago, but the facility is small and can’t replace the bigger Asheville facility that closed a couple of years ago. The new facility would cost about $3 million and be located along Interstate 40 at the Buncombe-Haywood county line, the newspaper reports.
• McDowell County cuts spending: WNC county officials are struggling to find ways to cut spending as the recession continues. McDowell County commissioners recently agreed to $1.1 million in cuts in various departments, according to the McDowell News. The county has suspended travel and purchases except for critical needs and it decided on a six-month suspension of benefits for any new employees hired effective March 1.
• Jackson County decides to spend: Lots of counties are hurting financially due to the recession, but the Smoky Mountain News reports that Jackson County commissioners recently agreed to move ahead with three multi-million dollar projects. The county plans: $3.9 million in improvements to a garbage transfer station; a $2.3 million expansion of the Sylva Volunteer Fire Department; and a $7.9 million project to build a new library and renovate the county’s historic courthouse.
• Lay-offs: ArvinMeritor is laying off 47 workers starting Monday, according to to the Hendersonville Times-News. The lay-off is the first since the company was founded in 1982, according to the newspaper.
• Land transfer a “no”: Avery County voters defeated a proposed land transfer tax, according to the High County Press.
• Landslide maps: An environmental group has combined landslide maps with county deed records to highlight areas that have landslide potential in Watauga County, according to the Watauga Democrat. The Southern Environmental Law Center has maps online for Watauga, Macon and Jackson counties.
• New Haywood County sheriff: Bobby Suttles, the chief deputy of the Haywood County Sheriff’s Department, has been picked as the county’s new sheriff, according to the Haywood County News. He replaces retiring Sheriff Tom Alexander.
• Pool repairs: Work is continuing on repairs to the Zeugner Center’s indoor pool, reports the Pisgah Mountain News. The pool was shut down because it wasn’t in compliance with federal regulations regarding pool drains. Buncombe County operates the 45-year-old pool, which is used by area high school swim teams.
• Hops for brewers: Farmers interested in a new crop can learn all about growing hops for regional brewers at a Feb. 18 workshop by the Madison County Cooperative Extension Service and Jewel of the Blue Ridge Marketing, according to the News-Record & Sentinel. Note: beer samples will be provided.
• Transylvania County lawsuit: Three former and one current employee of the Transylvania County Department of Social Services have filed a civil lawsuit against the county, the department and department director Carson Griffin, reports the Transylvania Times. The employees allege that they were berated, assigned heavy caseloads and worked in a constant fear of being verbally attacked.
• Mitchell prison population: Mitchell County’s judicial system has the largest prison population among counties in its judicial district, reports the Mitchell News-Journal. “Of the 39,500 total prison inmate count, the Department of Correction shows 95 were convicted in Mitchell County. The remaining district totals are 88 from Watauga, 73 from Madison, 61 from Avery, and 53 from Yancey.”
— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor