Here’s a look at what’s been in the news this week:
Dead-end discussion: Discussions to determine how Swain County will handle $52 million in taxpayers’ money kicked off in March but have come to an abrupt end, the Smoky Mountain News reports. The county will get the cash for a road near land the federal government flooded in 1943, a road the government promised to build but never did. The road would have provided access to the North Shore of Fontana Lake.
In December 2007, Rep. Heath Shuler announced that he had secured a $6 million down payment for Swain County, but for the county to qualify for the rest of the cash, all four parties involved in the original road agreement have to be in agreement. Representatives of the National Park Service, the state of North Carolina, Swain County and the Tennessee Valley Authority met in March, April and May, but a July meeting was cancelled and no other meetings are scheduled. The meetings aren’t public because elected officials aren’t present.
Archeological find: The discovery that construction crews working on a sewer plant in Whittier in Jackson County were driving heavy equipment over property containing 2,000-year-old Native American artifacts has halted the project.
Fletcher police chief’s pay-out: The Hendersonville Times-News reports the details of former Fletcher Police Chief Langdon Raymond’s severance pay following his resignation in July.
Raymond will receive $37,104 spread over eight months, $2,454 for accrued vacation leave and town-provided health-insurance premiums for up to a year or until he finds full-time employment, according to the newspaper. Raymond’s tenure was marked with controversial police-officer firings, lawsuits and countersuits. The town recently hired two former Henderson County sheriffs and a consultant to reform the troubled department.
To drink or not to drink: The controversial question of alcohol sales at the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ Harrah’s Cherokee Casino has been answered, at least for now: Principal Chief Michel Hicks has vetoed the Tribal Council’s decision to offer a referendum for on-premise alcohol sales at the casino.
“It is my belief that an affirmative decision to open the door for alcohol would shame our forefathers for their efforts on this issue over the history of the tribe,” the Sylva Herald reported Hicks as saying. Tribal Council can override the veto if two-thirds of council members can agree.
What price, development? Plans for the development of 3,500 acres of land in Jackson County, which include five non-contiguous gated communities and two golf courses (one designed by pro Phil Mickelson) will be the subject of a community meeting on Sept. 9 at Tuckasegee Baptist Church, the Sylva Herald reports.
The entire development is known as River Rock and the developer is Asheville-based Legasus Properties. The newspaper reports that “two factors seem to be generating the most community concern: planned residential development on the highly visible spine of Cullowhee Mountain; and the fact that Legasus received vested rights from Jackson County for its entire River Rock project, which was announced only days before a county moratorium on subdivision development went into effect. Both subdivision and steep-slope development ordinances, aimed in part at regulating mountaintop development, were passed some five months later, in August 2007.”
Crowded courthouse: The Cherokee Scout reports that the Cherokee County Courthouse is so stuffed with files and personnel that some court records are being stored in a women’s restroom.
Call center jobs coming to Rutherford County: Sky America Service Center Inc. plans to bring a high-tech communications center to a former Spindale textile mill and hire 50 to 100 people by the end of the year. Sky America Service Center Inc. is a partnership between Rutherfordton-based communications networking company Sky Catcher Communications and Orbis Global Solutions, a call center operator based in Sunrise, Fla. The company plans to provide marketing services, polling and consulting, as well as a host of other services. The company plans to add another 1,200 jobs over the next five years.
Land-transfer tax defeated: The Friday before Labor Day, voters in Clay County turned out to defeat a proposed land-transfer tax, the Clay County Progress reports. “The land-transfer tax would have allowed the county to assess 4/10th percent on the sale of real estate in the county,” the newspaper reports. “This money would go into the general fund, although commissioners previously said that the funds generated will help offset the cost to build a new school. For a $200,000 home, that tax would have cost the seller $1,200.”
Dedicated librarian retires:The McDowell News honors the work of Christine Burgin Ledbetter, who is retiring: “For 46 years she kept the historical and genealogical records straight at the Marion branch of the McDowell Public Library, and guided many a bewildered seeker through the stacks to get the facts. … ‘Here we have the North Carolina Historical Reviews,’ she said, ‘and our Colonial records. The Sons of Confederate Veterans use this section.’”
Down the hatch: “Brenn Wagoner poured a shot of history Friday, mixing the first cocktail served in the town of Boone since voters passed a liquor-by-the-drink referendum Aug. 1,” the Watauga Democrat reports. The drink: a gin-and-tonic.
Mountain State Fair returns: The N.C. Mountain State Fair returns to the WNC Agricultural Center for its 10-day run. This year marks the fair’s 15th year. The fair, the state’s third-largest behind the state fair in Raleigh and the Dixie Classic in Winston-Salem, is aiming for 200,000 visitors. The attractions include everything from a roller coaster and video games such as Guitar Hero to giant pumpkins, to lots of livestock and those cute little racing pigs.
Clyde, reborn: The town of Clyde recently celebrated the completion of nearly $1 million in renovations to its downtown following severe flooding caused by the remnants of two hurricanes in September 2004.
“The renovations included streetscaping with decorative street lights and landscaping, restrooms, a picnic shelter and playground equipment in an open space at the corner of Broad and Main streets,” the Mountaineer newspaper reports. “A pedestrian plaza between Main and Mulberry streets has been added and the town’s landmark, the Big Gun, has a new permanent home, as well as a new coat of paint, courtesy of the town’s ‘Old Grouch’ Buddy Glance. In addition to the improvements, there was some work done behind the scenes. Storm drainage was added, power lines were moved underground and the town’s water pipes were upgraded and moved out of the flood plain.”
The day the earth shook: A columnist for the Mountaineer recalls one of Western North Carolina’s most serious earthquakes, a 5.2 shaker on the Richter scale that was recorded at 6:39 p.m. on Feb. 21, 1916. “In this case, according to the USGS, tops of chimneys were thrown to the ground; windowpanes were broken in many houses; and people rushed into the streets of Waynesville.”
Judge sentences church robbers: Mitchell County Superior Court Judge James Baker threw the proverbial book at three men found guilty of entering Ridgeview Presbyterian Church in Bakersville during a worship service in April and robbing them at gunpoint. Baker sentenced each man to a minimum of 53 years in prison, according to the Mitchell News. “Baker has never judged a case where a church congregation was robbed at gun point during a worship service. He was thoroughly disgusted,” the newspaper reported. “‘I felt like the offenses were an absolute outrage,’ Baker said. ‘Not only to the victims, but to society in general.’”
Bobcat sighting: The Smoky Mountain Times published a reader-submitted photo of a wild bobcat. The woman who sent the photo “said she noticed the wild cat when her chickens started squawking.”
NOT a scenic by-way: The Graham County Board of Commissioners voted recently to remove U.S. 129 from the state’s scenic-byway designation to thwart the state’s intentions of forcing 30 property owners to remove signs along the stretch of highway from Topton to Deals Gap, reports the Graham Star.
AIDS Memorial Quilt coming to Asheville: This December marks the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day, and the nonprofit WNC AIDS project plans to mark the occasion with a week-long exhibit of several panels of the quilt at Pack Place.
— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor