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coverIt’s August, freshman move-in day, and Western Carolina University is welcoming a new class of freshmen to campus. It’s what WCU Chancellor David Belcher calls a “huge day.”

“We’ve got students coming in right and left,” says Belcher. 

One of those students is Kailey Spencer. She plans to study forensics and is looking forward to the lab work. 

In a last-minute turnaround, North Carolina lawmakers on Wednesday approved a bill granting Evergreen paper mill $12 million to be used for natural gas upgrades.  The economic incentive money had been denied just a day before, with House members complaining that the bill had been loaded down with measures many were finding unpalatable. 

“[The bill] was lost yesterday and today it’s been found,” Rep. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, said Wednesday. “The mill is safe and the plant will be served with natural gas. I hope we have a long and secure future for the Evergreen Packaging and the jobs and workers of Haywood County." 

The bill that was finally passed was an earlier version hailing from the Senate. That version did not contain contentious aspects, such as $20 million in economic incentive money. 

The House bill that originally failed on Tuesday was sponsored by Rep. Michelle Presnell, R-Burnsville. She defended her bill Wednesday — “I’ll tell you the truth, 1224 should have been passed yesterday” — but also conceded that it was too loaded to gain the necessary votes.

“They had put all these other amendments in,” she said. “It just weighed it down.”

Presnell did say that lawmakers who killed the original bill did so because they failed to grasp the importance of economic incentives in keeping and luring business to the state. 

“They’re just not for jobs and economic development, and I was,” Presnell said after the end of short session Wednesday. “They just don’t understand that states all around us — Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia — they all have incentives, therefore we have to.”

The $12 million headed to the paper mill in Canton will be doled out over six years. Evergreen has painted the money as necessary for the company to accomplish natural gas upgrades, mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, by 2016. The upgrades are estimated to cost around $50 million. 

The bill now awaits the signature of Gov. Pat McCrory.

— By Jeremy Morrison and Garret K. Woodward

Wednesday, 20 August 2014 15:40

WCU: A timeline

fr wcujug1889 — Cullowhee Academy opens with 18 students and 1 teacher

fr wcubeaniesJackson County Manager Chuck Wooten arrived at Western Carolina University as a freshman in 1969. He remembers his college days fondly.

“My classmates and fraternity brothers all had such a great time in Cullowhee,” Wooten said. “I remember as a freshman, wearing beanies — we got to burn’em at Homecoming.”

fr davieshallBy Randall Holcombe • WCU 

The little school that was the forerunner of Western Carolina University was called Cullowhee Academy. Its location is marked by a stone memorial, erected in 1934, that sits in a garden area between the university’s steam plant and Breese Gymnasium. The memorial honors Robert Lee Madison, who was 22 when he taught his first class of 18 students at the academy on Aug. 5, 1889. 

fr schoolfacilitiesYouth sports teams will no longer be able to trade bags of fertilizer, free coffee for teachers or a fresh coat of paint on the dugout for use of the practice fields, stadiums and gyms of Haywood County Schools.

There are dozens of youth sports teams and clubs — from cheerleading teams to Bible clubs to soccer leagues — that aren’t affiliated with public schools. Yet they rely on the schools’ fields, classrooms, stadiums and gyms to meet, practice and host games.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014 15:15

Jackson TDA explores executive director option

fr jaxtdaThe Jackson County Tourism Development Authority is pretty sure it needs to start searching for an executive director to help head up the organization. 

“We believe we’re at the point where someone wakes up in the morning and this is what they do,” said Clifford Meads, chair of the TDA’s marketing committee.

Mission Health plans to expand its presence in Haywood County with a large medical complex housing doctors’ offices and a line of healthcare services.

The move is unwelcome competition for Haywood Regional Medical Center. But to Mission, it’s a reflection of “the strong preference that many Haywood County residents” have already shown by traveling to Asheville.

fr petacowsSwarming flies. Cows trudging through knee-deep manure. Lame legs, an overgrown hoof, blood oozing from a nose. Bones protruding from emaciated bodies. There’s no denying that the picture painted in a recently released video from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals was a grim one.  

Wednesday, 20 August 2014 15:08

Cell tower proposals denied in Macon

A pair of proposed 180-foot cell phone towers met some adamant opposition at the Aug. 20 Macon County Commissioners meeting. The applications, proposed by two separate companies for two separate locations, were both denied, but for technical reasons that make it likely they’ll resurface. 

Wednesday, 20 August 2014 15:06

Macon residents take sides on fracking

Fracking flooded the public comments section of the Macon County commissioners’ most recent meeting. As the meeting opened, people unable to find a seat lined the back of the room and spilled out the doorway. 

“I love it when it’s filled up,” said Commissioner Paul Higdon. “I think it’s good for the public to be involved.”

Wednesday, 20 August 2014 15:04

Fire hits downtown Sylva

fr sylvafire

View the embedded image gallery online at:
http://www.smokymountainnews.com/news#sigFreeId7d774089e3
The downtown Sylva businesses housed in the Main Street buildings impacted by a weekend fire stand with blackened bricks and blistered innards. It’s not a pretty sight. 

“It doesn’t look salvageable to me,” Sylva Mayor Maurice Moody told a full house crowd during an emergency meeting following the fire.