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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Judge rules against Southern Durham Development, county, in 751 case

Posted by on Wed, Aug 10, 2011 at 9:10 PM

Late this afternoon, Superior Court Judge G. Wayne Abernathy ruled against a request by Durham County, Durham County Commissioners and Southern Durham Development for summary judgment in the 751 South case.

Both the county and SDD's lawyers said during last week's hearing that Abernathy should find that the Durham County commissioners acted appropriately last August when they voted to rezone more than 160 acres near Jordan Lake. SDD needed the rezoning to move forward with plans to build 751 South, a community that could include 1,300 homes, apartments and condos, plus retail and offices. The defendants had hoped that such a ruling would have settled the case.

The plaintiffs, Chancellor’s Ridge HOA, who sued the county last fall, say Durham County commissioners didn't properly account for the HOA’s protest petition against the rezoning when they voted 3 to 2 to approve the zoning change. Their lawsuit argues that the petition met all requirements and was valid, and that the county didn't follow its own ordinance, which requires at least four commissioners to vote to approve a rezoning if there's a valid protest petition. In light of today's decision, the lawsuit could go to trial in November.

According to the judge's ruling, the sticking point was the developer’s dedication of an easement to the N.C. Department of Transportation in July 2010.

More than a year ago, Southern Durham Development gave the N.C. DOT enough property to increase the right of way of N.C. 751 by to more than 100 feet. The effect of this easement, unknown to N.C. DOT at the time, was to invalidate a protest petition by citizens who were challenging the 751 South Development by placing them too far from the proposed development’s property line.

The N.C. DOT later realized it had become embroiled in a local issue and revoked the easement.

Abernathy ruled that there is no “genuine issue of fact and, as a matter of law" that the deed was sufficient to dedicate a valid easement to the N.C. DOT, provided it was accepted by an authorized person. He added that the court "reserves ruling on the validity" of the N.C. DOT's revocation of the easement.

Read the order here: 751.pdf

Check back tomorrow for an update and analysis of what the ruling means for the city's possible future annexation or extension of water and sewer service to the proposed development. The Council has scheduled a meeting about 751 South for Aug. 18.

Read the Indy's coverage of last week's hearing that lead to the ruling.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Striped bass dying in record numbers at Jordan Lake

Posted by on Tue, Aug 9, 2011 at 5:59 PM

Visitors to Jordan Lake are finding the beaches littered with dead fish after the largest die-off of striped bass in the history of the reservoir.

More than 5,000 striped bass have died in Jordan Lake since Aug. 1; state wildlife officials counted 1,800 on Aug. 9 alone.

The affected area includes the Haw River near Robeson Creek to the main basin of the lake near the U.S. 64 bridge.

The fish kill is due to what biologists call a “dissolved oxygen/ temperature squeeze,” according to Brian McRae, Piedmont Region fishery supervisor with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. In the deeper portions of the lake, the water is cooler, but there is less oxygen; meanwhile in the upper part of the water, the oxygen supply is more plentiful, but the water is hot.

“They get squeezed from both sides,” McRae says. “The record summer temperatures finally put them over the edge.”

The water temperature in Jordan Lake has hovered around 84 degrees since early July, chronically stressing the striped bass, which, more so than other fish in the reservoir, are susceptible to temperature extremes. They prefer water in the 80—81-degree range.

“The hot water increases their metabolism, which means they need to eat more, but they don’t want to eat,” McRae explains.

State wildlife officials have excluded other causes for the fish kill, such as excessive algae blooms, which can also deplete the water of oxygen, because so far only striped bass have been affected. Larger bass, those 18—30 inches, and a favorite of anglers, are dying in greater numbers than smaller fish, whose metabolisms are lower.

Although wildlife officials restock the lake every spring with about 70,000 striped bass, anglers could catch fewer of them this winter until the next crop of fish moves in.

Jordan Lake is a “pretty severe environment” for striped bass, McRae says, adding, “We never thought striped bass would do well in the system.” However, under normal conditions, the bass have thrived, likely because the food supply is adequate and the fish have enough reserves to endure the stress.

However, this year’s heat wave has stressed them beyond what they could withstand. More than 6,000 striped bass in the lake could die before temperatures return to normal.

And this summer has broken all semblance of normal.

Raleigh has hit 100 degrees or higher nine days since July 1, including five consecutive days from July 20—24, according to data from the National Weather Service.

The average temperature for July was 83.7 degrees, the warmest on record.

Seven days in July had record highs.

Record high minimums—meaning day’s low temperature—happened on seven occasions that month, including July 24 when the low “dipped” to only 79 degrees.

“The only thing that will turn it around is colder weather,” McRae says.

Eagles and other birds are gathering on the beaches to eat the dead birds fish, McRae says. "They're having a field day."

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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Rep. LaRoque's handling of funds questioned

Posted by on Wed, Aug 3, 2011 at 12:34 PM

A two-month investigation by N.C. Policy Watch calls into question the management of two non-profits by a firm headed by Rep. Stephen LaRoque, a Kinston Republican who is in the House leadership. (Report main page)

In a post this morning, Policy Watch's Sara Ovaska writes:

. . . LaRoque, who returned in January to the N.C. General Assembly after a four-year hiatus, takes aim at government waste while quietly accepting generous six-figure paychecks for running two public charities funded with $8 million in federal dollars since 1997.

He’s earned up to $195,000 a year heading the two small economic development organizations—the East Carolina Development Company and Piedmont Development Company—and used the non-profits to loan some of the public funds to his close associates and political allies. Past board members say they were kept in the dark about his pay.

The investigation also revealed that two of the loans handed out by a LaRoque run non-profit went to companies run by fellow GOP legislators.

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The end of the Chatham County Bookmobile

Posted by on Wed, Aug 3, 2011 at 4:00 AM

After 53 years, the Chatham County Bookmobile is dead.

As part of departmental budget cuts, Chatham County commissioners have eliminated funding for the traveling library. For residents of northeast Chatham, the bookmobile was the easiest way to access library books. In 2001, a consultant hired by the county found that northeast Chatham, the fastest-growing part of the county, had the greatest need for a library.

However, the county's main library wound up in Pittsboro after Central Carolina Community College donated land for it. With no library in the northeastern part of the county, the bookmobile and its driver/ librarian, Edna Johnson, spent four days a week traveling to 19 stops in that area—some bimonthly, some weekly. In addition to the bookmobile's 5,000 volumes, patrons could request delivery of books from the three other Chatham County libraries.

Commissioners considered a 5 percent cut to the library budget last January. At the time, Chatham County Public Library Director Linda Clarke recommended the bookmobile be eliminated, in addition to temporary jobs from branch libraries. Clarke said it "was a tough decision," but the greatest financial motive was the savings in reassigning Johnson to other branch libraries.

Clarke says she's aware that the loss of the bookmobile could translate to a loss in readership. But, she says statistics showed that "a lot of people that used the bookmobile also used the other branches." Last year, the Sanford Herald cited a study showing that, 222 of the 536 people who used the bookmobile in the past 12 months had also visited a branch library. "In their case it was a duplication," says Clarke. "When you're cutting back, that's going to be the first thing to go."

The commissioners deferred the final decision until a June 6 budget meeting, when the recommended cuts were officially incorporated into the county manager's yearly budget.

"Nobody likes to see any services reduced," says Board of Commissioners Chairman Brian Bock. "The bigger question is, Is the county supporting the library system? You don't have unlimited funds, so you have to prioritize."

The bookmobile served about 600 people every month. Stops included day cares, schools, retirement communities, and several neighborhoods throughout northeast Chatham. Its patrons often had limited access to the other libraries for financial, logistical or personal reasons.

Continue reading…

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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Herald-Sun cuts a third of its newsroom

Posted by on Tue, Aug 2, 2011 at 4:51 PM


Editor's Note: This story has been updated since it was first published to correct the spelling of Kentuckians and replace the word "readership" with "circulation" in reference to figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

In the coming weeks, the snappy headlines in The Herald-Sun newspaper about Durham’s city council race, the UNC football scandal and the shoplifting incident at the local Food Lion will be brought to you by a team of Kentuckians. According to sources at The Herald-Sun, seven jobs in the company’s newsroom were cut July 28, leaving fewer than 20 people in the editorial department.

The Herald-Sun managers told employees that production duties—page design and copy editing—will be shuffled to the staff of the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer, also owned by The Herald-Sun’s parent company, Paxton Media Group. Six of the employees have until the middle of August to leave, sources said, and one employee has been reassigned. The workers are eligible for severance.

The Herald-Sun Publisher Rick Bean didn’t return phone messages seeking comment; nor did executives at Paxton, a privately held company based in Paducah, Ky.

As newspapers have struggled to keep readers and compensate for advertising dollars lost to the Internet, The Herald-Sun’s circulation has been halved. Around the time of the Paxton purchase, the daily newspaper averaged a circulation of about 50,000. According to the most recent figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the paper recently reported a circulation of about 24,000 from October 2010 to March 2011.

Every department has faced cuts, and the recent climate at the paper could only be described as “ghastly,” said one employee. All employees for The Herald-Sun interviewed for this story withheld their names for fear of retribution.

“It’s a blow to the community,” said one staffer who was laid off. “The copy editors safeguard the information going out. Having some group of people two states over designing your newspaper seems twisted to me.”

Continue reading…

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Monday, August 1, 2011

Durham Dems, commissioners look for Heron's successor; Jacobs, Dellinger among early applicants

Posted by on Mon, Aug 1, 2011 at 5:02 PM

Becky Heron
  • Becky Heron

With Monday the official resignation date for Durham County Commissioner Becky Heron, her former colleagues started the process to appoint someone to take over her term.

In a work session Monday morning, the board agreed to send a letter to the Durham County Democratic Party to ask for its nomination to replace Heron, who announced in late June she would resign in light of medical problems and to spend more time with her family. Heron is 83 and was in her 13th term at the time of the announcement. Her term expires next year.

In addition to receiving a nomination from the Durham County Democratic Party, the Commissioners decided to hold their own vetting process. They'll put the word out in the next few days, they said Monday, and applications will be due to the board clerk by August 15. The commissioners will meet at 4:30 p.m. on August 22 for a first look at the applications and decide how to interview candidates and what to ask.

At Monday's work session, board Chairman Michael Page said he felt strongly that all applicants should get an interview. The board agreed to hold interviews beginning at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 6, and tentatively set a date to vote on the matter on Monday, Sept. 12. The board has a regularly scheduled meeting that night.

The Durham County Democratic Party should receive an official request from the Board of Commissioners in the next couple of days to start their own nomination process. Once that letter arrives, said Chairwoman Tracey Burns-Vann, the party will also begin accepting applications.

The party has tentatively scheduled a candidate forum for Saturday, Aug. 13. The more than 100 members of the PAC's executive committee tentatively are scheduled to vote just a few days later on Aug. 16, Burns-Vann said.

According to state statute, the commissioners are not required to accept the nomination of the Durham County Democratic Party, and may appoint a candidate of their own choosing, so long as he or she is a member of the same party as the departing commissioner. Heron is a registered Democrat.

In their discussion Monday, county commissioners agreed that they wanted to do background checks on candidates similar to those used for county job applicants, making sure candidates are up-to-date on any property taxes and haven't been convicted of crimes. The commissioners also agreed that they would strongly recommend that anyone who applies directly to the board also go through the county Democratic Party.

A few eager candidates have already sent letters to county commissioners and the Democratic Party. Among them: Anita Daniels, a former county employee, former Planning Commissioner Wendy Jacobs and 2008 candidate for N.C. Lieutenant Governor, attorney Hampton Dellinger.

Neither Daniels nor Dellinger were able to be reached Tuesday night for comment. Jacobs did confirm she had sent a letter to both the Board of Commissioners and the Democratic Party describing her desire to serve the remainder of Heron's term. Jacobs, who just concluded her second term on the city/county planning commission, said that Heron called her prior to resigning and asked whether Jacobs would be willing to finish her term if she had to step down.

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Preliminary report offers four recommendations to compensate eugenics victims

Posted by on Mon, Aug 1, 2011 at 1:01 PM

The Governor’s Eugenics Compensation Task Force released today a preliminary recommendation to Gov. Bev Perdue stating clearly that “I’m sorry” is not nearly enough to compensate 7,600 North Carolinians who were sterilized without their consent.

Elaine Riddick, a victim of forced sterilization, offers testimony at the task forces June 24 meeting.
The procedures occurred between 1929 and 1974 when the N.C. Eugenics Board was in the business of deciding who was and who wasn’t fit to reproduce.

“The state of North Carolina must move beyond just an apology,” the report states.

That includes, according to the report: lump sum financial damages and mental health services to the estimated 2,944 living victims, funding for a traveling N.C. Eugenics exhibit and the continuation and expansion of the N.C. Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation.

Continue reading…

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