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Monday, February 25, 2013

Carrboro aldermen to hear CVS plans Tuesday

Posted by on Mon, Feb 25, 2013 at 5:18 PM

Much-discussed plans for a two-story CVS in downtown Carrboro will be back before town leaders Tuesday night.

The pharmacy bigbox's latest plans for a 24,590 square-foot store at the intersection of Greensboro and Weaver streets are likely to draw the usual share of ire from some Carrboro protesters, who argue the store will clog the town's center with traffic congestion, destroy historic homes and otherwise disrupt town life.

CVS officials say their current location near Carr Mill Mall is too small to support demand in the Orange County town.

Pharmacy plans have been through various phases, although the slight modifications in the newest CVS plan, which include a small partially enclosed park and a reduction in parking spaces from 65 to 61, don't seem likely to satiate the store's chief critics.

Tuesday's meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. at Carrboro Town Hall. View the meeting agenda here.

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Number of Durham homeless increases

Posted by on Mon, Feb 25, 2013 at 10:54 AM

On a late January evening, despite heavy rains and fierce winds, at least 759 people in Durham had no place to call home.

The figure was announced last week as a result of the Point-In-Time Count, an annual one-night tally of the homeless.

On Jan. 30, 2013, Durham County officials collaborated with 13 local shelters and organizations and about 50 community volunteers to count the unsheltered population—those in cars, on the streets or in the woods—as well as those staying in transitional housing and emergency shelters.

Of the 759 homeless counted that evening, 118 were children. Fifty-three were unsheltered—7 percent of the overall count, lower than the national average of 38 percent. Nearly 300 have chronic substance abuse issues, 126 struggle with severe mental illness and 100 were victims of domestic violence, according to the report by Durham’s Community Development Department.

It was challenging to locate people who weren’t staying in shelters because of the thunderstorm that night. “It's a difficult undertaking since you don't know where they'll be staying,” Minnie Forte-Brown, vice chairwoman of the Durham Board of Education and member of Durham's Homeless Services Advisory Committee, said at the press conference. “They did the absolute best they could, but it doesn’t mean we got everybody.”

Bo Glenn, chairman of the Homeless Services Advisory Committee, suspects that many of Durham’s poor are still unaccounted for. “It doesn't count those sleeping on someone's couch, those staying with family or friends, in an unheated garage, or in the woods so deep we can't find them. It doesn't count the people who are in jail, or those who have to decide between rent, heat, medicine, food.”

Though most of this year's numbers rose slightly from last year’s total of 698 homeless, the number of “chronically homeless” dropped from 134 to 87. The number of veterans also fell from 116 to 93.

The U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires communities to participate in the count in order to receive federal stimulus dollars. Durham has participated since 1999, dispatching volunteers one night per year to canvass the streets. They report the numbers to HUD, which analyzes the results and provides feedback on which programs are working and which need adjustment.

“For most people it takes just a little bit of help. A little bit can stop the downward spiral,” said Glenn.

Continue reading…

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    Durham officials project homeless numbers could rise further because of cuts to social safety net

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Friday, February 22, 2013

Womack and the case of the vanishing blog entries

Posted by on Fri, Feb 22, 2013 at 12:43 PM

Some of the most inflammatory entries on N.C. Mining and Energy Commission Chairman Jim Womack's blog—in which right-wingers posing as long-dead founding fathers take shots at their political enemies—are, as of this writing, down. The posts were among those cited in this week's story, in which Womack was outed as an author.

Those posts included sharp attacks on former Lee County blogger Keith Clark, a Womack enemy, that labeled him a "psychopathic liar," a "pitiful and desperate person," "fat," and a "freak." One post, apparently written by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Jay, includes unproven allegations that Clark faked a mental illness in order to receive disability checks.

Don't worry, you can't see them there, but you can still see them below.

In the meantime, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, the lawmaker who appointed Womack to the pivotal Mining and Energy Commission, has yet to comment.

Click this screenshot to view the full story as a larger JPG.
  • Click this screenshot to view the full story as a larger JPG.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Commerce committee hears destructive fracking bill

Posted by on Wed, Feb 20, 2013 at 10:50 AM

"This is simple," began state Sen. E.S. "Buck" Newton at a commerce committee meeting yesterday. "This country needs the energy and this state needs the jobs."

Newton, who represents Johnston, Nash and Wilson counties, is a primary sponsor of Senate Bill 76, which would allow hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to begin in North Carolina in early 2015. Despite substantial opposition from environmental groups and landowners concerned about impacts on their properties, the bill is moving quickly through the legislature under the cheery alias, the Domestic Energy Jobs Act.

The new bill revamps last year's fracking measure, SB 820, by deleting a number of important regulatory safeguards. In other states, such as Pennsylvania, contamination in drinking water wells, in rivers and at wastewater treatment plants have been linked to nearby fracking operations.

For bill supporters, fracking represents an opportunity for economic growth. They anticipate the creation of thousands of jobs, both directly and indirectly related to the energy industry, taking cues from boom towns in North Dakota and Texas.

Newton, who asserted estimates of 15 trillion to 30 trillion cubic feet of natural gas underfoot, treats the bill as a message to energy companies. "North Carolina is ready to do business. We want their investment— we're ready to create jobs."

However, as INDY Week has reported, the number of jobs and amount of accessible natural gas is unknown—and highly speculative.

Opponents question whether the state's shale resources are really as "abundant" as Newton claims, which fuels skepticism on job prospects. Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham Democrat who opposes the bill, noted after the meeting that some estimates show fracking would produce a relatively measly 500 jobs. And it is unknown how many of those jobs would go to North Carolinians.

The regulatory changes are the most troubling aspects of the bill.

Among the changes, the bill removes the requirement for a state geologist on the Mining and Energy Commission. "N.C.'s unique geologic features are at the heart of devising a safe regulatory framework," wrote Molly Diggins, state director of the Sierra Club, in an email.

It also removes requirements for representatives from the Environmental Management Commission and the Commission for Public Health. McKissick questioned the wisdom of eliminating representatives with expertise in air and water pollution and waste management.

Newton said the requirements presented a "conflict of interest" and are "too restrictive and too difficult" to achieve.

It’s ironic that Newton is concerned with conflicts of interest because the Mining and Energy Commission, tasked with preparing regulations for fracking, is packed with energy and fracking interests.

The bill also incorporates changes that will affect:

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    Bill strips state of power to adequately regulate fracking

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

McCrory eyes revenue from oil and gas drilling, counts chickens before they hatch

Posted by on Tue, Feb 19, 2013 at 8:25 AM

Has Gov. Pat McCrory been hypnotized by The Beverly Hillbillies?

Specifically, the opening sequence in which Jed Clampett Is "shootin' at some food" when, as the ballad goes, "up through the ground came a bubblin' crude."

Oil, that is, black gold, "Texas Tea."

You might think McCrory has drunk the Texas Tea if you heard him crow about the financial benefits of tracking offshore drilling in his State of the State address last night: "Think what we can do with future revenue."

Yes, let's think about it: Besides the obvious environmental hazards (have we forgotten the BP disaster already?), it is unknown how much "economically recoverable" deposits—those that can be accessed cheaply enough for energy companies to turn a profit— lie in federal waters in the mid-Atlantic. (Federal waters extend from three to 200 miles from shore, yet fall under a state's administrative areas.)

Even if sizable deposits were discovered, it would require a change in federal law for North Carolina or any mid-Atlantic state to receive royalties. Currently, only the Gulf states and Alaska share in revenue from drilling operations in federal waters; lawmakers from those states are lobbying for more money from the feds.

And as the INDY reported in 2010 in a story about the prospects of off-shore drilling, those discoveries would only briefly sate Americans' appetite for oil and gas. Overall, Americans use about 840 million gallons of oil per day, according to the Energy Information Agency, meaning even on the high end, the amount of oil in the mid-Atlantic would feed our habit for roughly seven weeks. As for natural gas, the deposits would provide about six months' worth.

McCrory's push to put rigs in the Atlantic is in part a response to last year's Senate Bill 709, which Gov. Beverly Perdue vetoed. That bill would have requested Perdue to join a compact with other states, including Virginia and South Carolina to develop and implement a strategy to increase exploration and production of offshore oil and gas.” In his State of the State address, McCrory said he would enter into such an agreement.

Inland, where fracking could begin as early as next year, preliminary estimates of North Carolina's gas potential are "wildly optimistic," according to Ken Taylor, assistant state geologist with the N.C. geological survey.

(Senate Bill 76, the Domestic Jobs Act, will be heard in the Commerce Committee today at 11 a.m. in Room 1027 of the Legislative Building.)

And as INDY Week reported last spring, an N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources study showed that drilling activities in the 59,000-acre Sanford sub-basin would sustain an annual average of 387 jobs over seven years, peaking with 858 jobs in year six. These jobs would be temporary and it would be unlikely that highest-paying positions for experienced drillers would go to North Carolinians, who have not been trained for that work.

So, governor, set a spell. Take your shoes off. Y'all come back now, y'hear?

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    Gov. McCrory may be overestimating potential drilling revenue

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Raleigh universities urge Wake commissioners to stop delaying transit

Posted by on Thu, Feb 14, 2013 at 5:00 PM

Wake county commissioners are being called out on public transit—again.

This time it's Raleigh colleges and universities insisting commissioners stop blocking a half-cent sales tax referendum that would bring light rail and expanded bus service to the Triangle.

In a letter obtained by INDY Week, and mailed to county commissioners today, William Peace University president Debra Townsley writes, "Our fast-growing region simply cannot afford to wait any longer in laying the critical infrastructure for a dynamic future. We believe this is the year to let voters decide on transit."

The letter was written on behalf of Cooperating Raleigh Colleges, a group which includes North Carolina State University, Meredith College, Shaw University, St. Augustine's College and WPU.

The Republican-led Wake county commission is the only government body in the Triangle that continues to block the transit tax. Last year, Durham County and Orange County citizens passed half-cent sales tax referendums to expand public transit. The Raleigh City Council has also shown support for the transit tax.

Wake county commissioners refused to even debate the transit tax last year or take up a measure that would allow the referendum.

It has been more than a year since Triangle Transit Authority presented it's expanded transit plan to the Wake Commissioners

The light rail portion of the plan would create three corridors. One would run from Durham to Chapel Hill. Another would extend from Durham to Cary, Raleigh and Garner. The third would connect Apex and Wake Forest.

In her letter, Townsley says that expanding transit will be beneficial to students and unemployed people, as well as entice graduates to stay in the area.

Many progressives also argue that development will boom along the rail corridors once the transit plan is in place. However, commissioner Paul Coble has called the transit plan a "boondoggle."

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N.C. DOT—finally—agrees to issue driver's licenses to qualified undocumented immigrants

Posted by on Thu, Feb 14, 2013 at 4:51 PM

Certain undocumented immigrants will be eligible for driver's licenses and ID cards, according to a press release issued today by the N.C. Department of Transportation. The department will also reinstate driving privileges to 13 immigrants whose licenses were suspending pending the N.C. Attorney General's opinion and the N.C. DOT review.

The decision affects immigrants who have been accepted into the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which grants work permits to some immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.

In June 2012, Homeland Security established DACA, a program allowing undocumented immigrants who as children had been brought to the U.S. by their parents, to legally stay in the U.S. for two years without being deported.

On Jan. 17, N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper issued an opinion authorizing the Division of Motor Vehicles to grant the licenses but the N.C. DOT delayed its decision to do so for nearly a month.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, a Republican, disagreed with Cooper's opinion, telling The News & Observer that the attorney general's office "was wrong."

Immigrants and their advocates protested the delay, and asked newly appointed DOT Secretary Tony Tata to proceed with issuing the licenses.

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    N.C. DOT to issue driver's licenses to certain undocumented immigrants

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Climate change is so real even the feds are afraid

Posted by on Thu, Feb 14, 2013 at 10:22 AM

Coastal military bases, federal crop insurance and federal disaster aid: These government programs are vulnerable to the effects of climate change—enough that the Government Accountability Office has placed the fed's financial vulnerability to climate change-related weather events on a "high risk" list.

A report released today cites observations by the United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) that the "impacts and costliness of weather disasters—resulting from floods, drought, and other events such as tropical cyclones—will increase in significance as what are considered 'rare' events become more common and intense due to climate change. In addition, less acute changes in the climate, such as sea level rise, could also result in significant long-term impacts."

The government could have to raise river and coastal dikes and build higher bridges to protect infrastructure from sea level rise.

That will cost money, as will federal disaster aid. Disaster declarations have increased in recent decades, the report says, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has obligated over $80 billion in federal assistance for disasters declared during fiscal years 2004 through 2011. More than $60 billion in federal funding was requested for relief efforts after Hurricane Sandy.

How can the government reduce the nation's vulnerability to climate change? Limit greenhouse gas emissions, the report concludes.

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    Federal government's vulnerability to climate change is "high risk"

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Saturday, February 9, 2013

At Durham City Council work session, advocates of homeless
talk to the hand

Posted by on Sat, Feb 9, 2013 at 4:00 AM

In defeat, protest, or a bit of both, a group of advocates walked out of a Durham City Council work session Thursday after the Council dismissed their concerns about the restrictive new panhandling ordinance.

Just minutes earlier, the Rev. Carolyn Schuldt had arrived at City Hall enthused to represent Durham’s homeless, joined by 10 others from the faith community. She hoped to convince council members to repeal the ordinance, which prohibits panhandlers from posting at the city’s most profitable spots.

The law, Schuldt told council members, “directly impacts the survival of a very vulnerable population by making them more dependent on government support as it is no longer possible for them to support themselves.”

Before Schuldt could reach the crux of her argument, the Council cut her off. Flustered, she distributed copies of a petition for repeal (signed by 437 local people) to council members, and then took her seat in the audience.

In his response, Councilman Eugene Brown expressed offense, saying that he resented the group’s “insinuation” that the city doesn’t care about the homeless. He addressed the advocates regarding their silent protest at the City Council meeting earlier this week.

“The implication by holding up the signs is that Durham is a city that has turned its back on the homeless population,” Brown said. “And that is simply not true. We are working to do what we can to meet this challenge.”

At that City Council meeting, Mayor Bell cited several programs and initiatives that are working to help Durham’s poor, as several homeless people sat in the audience.

Are the homeless failing to take advantage of these services, or are they not meeting the criteria? Schuldt’s point is that many homeless suffer from physical and mental illness, alcoholism and drug addiction, so are considered too “at-risk” to be eligible for such programs.

Panhandling is their last resort. “It is very humiliating, frustrating, demeaning work, done out of necessity by those with no available alternative,” Schuldt said.

For now, the ordinance appears to be in place. Councilman Brown reiterated that the ordinance was prompted by safety concerns, as well as citizens’ complaints. He said the Council’s position is actually a compromise, and less restrictive compared to rules in Chapel Hill, where begging is disallowed on public streets entirely.

As the Mayor concurred with Brown’s response, the advocates filed out of the room. They gathered in the hallway, murmuring with disappointment. “I was supposed to have five minutes,” said Schuldt, momentarily downcast.

She plans to attend next week’s work session to respond to Brown. “This is not the end. God is in our midst.”

Her nonprofit, Open Table Ministry, will hold a Winter Walk on behalf of Durham’s homeless population on Feb. 16 at 1 p.m. The four-mile walk on the American Tobacco Trail will begin at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

Pastor Rich Goodier of Mt. Hermon Baptist Church in Durham was among those in favor of repeal at the work session. “I hope that they will reconsider,” said Goodier. “They need to think about how to fight poverty, not fight the poor.”

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    Durham's panhandling ordinance stays, over objections of religious groups

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Thursday, February 7, 2013

McCrory: To be or not to be moderate

Posted by on Thu, Feb 7, 2013 at 4:07 PM

Those troubled by Gov. Pat McCrory's far-right appointments and statements in recent weeks will find more to wail about in at least one of the governor's prospective appointments to the N.C. State Board of Education.

McCrory's nominations include former U.S. Congressman Bill Cobey, a Chapel Hill resident who currently sits as vice chairman for the Jesse Helms Center's operating board in Wingate. Yes, that Jesse Helms.

From its website, the Union County center, which acts as something of a museum in Helms' native county, is pledged to promoting "traditional American values and the principles upon which our nation was founded and that Senator Helms advanced throughout his career."

Cobey, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives in the mid-1980s, is a former chairman of the state Republican Party. His experience also includes time in former Gov. Jim Martin's administration, serving as deputy secretary of the N.C. Department of Transportation, and then as secretary of the state Department of Environment, Health and Natural Resources.

Cobey also acted as state campaign chief for presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee in North Carolina. Huckabee is, you know, not a moderate.

The appointment, which must be confirmed by the N.C. General Assembly, would last through March 2019.

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They need to lock that pig cop up!!!!!!!!!!!!

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