Cory Vaillancourt

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Things are changing in Haywood County’s smallest incorporated municipality. Although there are only 754 registered voters in Clyde, the town plays a central geographic and economic role in how the county itself will, or will not, thrive and grow in the 21st century. 

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For the first time in nearly 55 years, a Waynesville native and Air Force captain who didn’t return from his mission over Quàng Nam Province in South Vietnam is finally back among his family, friends and loved ones. 

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Days before the remains of Capt. Fred Hall are to be returned to Waynesville for burial after he went missing in Vietnam more than 54 years ago, Waynesville’s Town Council has bestowed a special honor on him.

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A substantial grant from the U.S. Department of Labor has already provided help for more than 50 dislocated workers in Western North Carolina, but Southwestern Commission Workforce Development Director David Garrett wants to get the word out that they’re looking to help a whole lot more. 

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It’s been more than a year since residency challenges were filed against six Democrats who registered to vote at a Graham County home that had burned down and then avoided the challenges by changing their registrations to Buncombe County; the North Carolina State Board of Elections still hasn’t announced the results of an investigation into the matter, even after three of the six re-registered in Graham County, just in time for the 2023 municipal election. 

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After years of delay, the tiny half-acre park off Pigeon Street in the heart of Waynesville’s Black community should soon see the long talked-about bathrooms the park so desperately needs. 

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A candidate for Maggie Valley alderman who dropped out and resigned her seat on the town’s zoning board when opponents filed a residency challenge is drawing further scrutiny after an investigation by The Smoky Mountain News revealed that she was not a resident of the town during most or all of her service on the zoning board of adjustment. 

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This year’s state budget process may have been one of the most discordant in recent memory, but Western North Carolina’s legislative delegation was able to secure record-setting funding for critical needs in a relatively poor region that sometimes feels overlooked when Raleigh gets to dishing out the dough. 

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America reckons with its legacy in Vietnam, one soldier at a time

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The field of candidates for the two Maggie Valley alderman seats up for election this November just got a little smaller, after one candidate dropped out just two days before a preliminary hearing into her alleged residency issues.

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Luke Klein’s life in North Carolina hasn’t been much different than that of any other pre-teen boy.

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UPDATE: Barrett dropped out of the race on Sept. 13, one day after this story was updated for print. Read about that here.

An election protest filed at the Haywood County Board of Elections has initiated proceedings by which a candidate would be removed from the November ballot if the allegations are substantiated.

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With less than two months until Haywood County municipal elections are held, two candidates who filed to run back in July have decided to drop out of their races.

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The replica of a decorative arch that once spanned Main Street in Waynesville but was removed in the early 1970s is closer than ever to being reinstalled, after more than two years of efforts by town officials and local civic groups to resurrect it. 

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A film about one of Western North Carolina’s most revered literary figures will make its world premiere in a free event at 2 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 9 at the Jackson County library in Sylva. 

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A controversial law enforcement association that holds a fringe interpretation of the Constitution and has ties to white nationalism, the sovereign citizen movement, election denial and COVID-19 conspiracy theories will host a meeting in Cherokee County this weekend, but Western North Carolina sheriffs have been largely reluctant to say whether they’ll attend. 

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When old Jack Welch sold his Waynesville dairy farm to Jim Long in the early 1920s, he probably couldn’t have envisioned that it would one day become a top-notch golf club with stunning views of the Great Smoky Mountains and clubhouse amenities renowned throughout the southeast as some of the most luxurious. 

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North Carolina Republican Senator Thom Tillis has taken a particular interest in Canton over the past few years, making multiple appearances in town after flooding in August 2021 and acting as a federal liaison during the ongoing paper mill shutdown saga. 

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She’s only been on the job for a few months, but the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority’s new executive director is already taking steps to streamline and refine the authority into an organization that’s proactive and premeditated, rather than reactive and organic. 

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Two defendants who pleaded guilty in federal court for their roles in communicating threats to dozens if not hundreds of elected officials, judges and public figures across the nation and across Western North Carolina have finally learned their fates, as U.S. District Judge Martin Reidinger handed down sentences in Asheville on Aug. 24. 

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The effect of short-term rental properties on the availability and affordability of workforce housing has been well-documented in Haywood County. 

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A construction project on the five-lane road in Maggie Valley is aimed at improving pedestrian safety, but some are also pointing out its potential to cause a whole lot of trouble for drivers. 

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Elisabeth Biser, secretary of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality, made her second visit to Canton last week, touring Pactiv Evergreen’s shuttered paper mill and vowing to hold the company accountable for environmental issues that could poison future development of the parcel. 

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Over the past two years, Rep. Mark Pless (R-Haywood) has made multiple attempts to bring partisan municipal elections to the two counties he represents, Haywood and Madison.

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Six months ago, the eight men gathered on the auditorium stage at Haywood Community College’s Regional High Technology Center were working at Pactiv Evergreen’s century-old paper mill in Canton, looking forward to long and financially rewarding careers there. 

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The appearance of a bright yellow construction crane towering over Pactiv Evergreen’s shuttered Canton paper mill prompted questions from citizens late last week — and more speculation that the site has been or will be sold, but that’s not exactly the case. Canton Mayor Zeb Smathers confirmed Aug. 21 that the crane, which had arrived on Aug. 17, was there to lower the height of the smokestacks, so that Pactiv no longer has to comply with Federal Aviation Administration regulations. Generally, any structure more than 200 feet  above the ground must be marked and/or lighted.

— Cory Vaillancourt, Politics Editor

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Just two hours after Senators failed to concur on a bill that would have forced Haywood and Madison counties to hold partisan municipal elections, a conference committee worked out a slightly different version of the bill, which passed shortly after 8 p.m.

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After months of pushing for partisan municipal elections in the counties he represents, Rep. Mark Pless (R-Haywood) has again come up short — for now.

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The Town of Waynesville will no longer require speakers at its public comment sessions to reveal their addresses, after a raucous July 25 meeting where some speakers voiced concern over identifying their residences due to violent threats made against the LGBTQ+ community that resulted from a man’s unfounded allegations of indecent behavior at the Waynesville Recreation Center on July 12. 

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Long a leader among Western North Carolina’s local governments in the field of environmental sustainability, the Town of Waynesville has taken recent steps to ensure it becomes carbon neutral before 2050 by establishing an oversight board to research, adopt and implement responsible management strategies. 

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More than three months after a rezoning request revealed plans by Haywood County Schools to consolidate several facilities on a new piece of property in Waynesville, Superintendent Trevor Putnam was given access to the funding that will make acquisition of the parcel possible. 

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With former President Donald Trump’s most recent indictment — his fourth in five months — comes a slew of familiar names like Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, but there’s at least one more name included in the list of Trump’s co-defendants that’s well known to Western North Carolina voters.  

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It’s only been open for about a year, but Canton’s Chestnut Mountain Park has already proven a popular, unique regional outdoor recreational attraction — even though it’s still growing.

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The presence of multiple vehicles and a decontamination tent in downtown Canton today prompted tips to The Smoky Mountain News about a possible hazmat incident at Pactiv Evergreen’s shuttered paper mill — however, that’s not the case.

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Tow people assigned female at birth who visited the Waynesville Recreation Center and followed the letter of the law but were subsequently the subject of a social media firestorm that included threats of violence are speaking out for the first time about their experience. 

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The upcoming race for two alderman seats in Maggie Valley is sure to be exciting, but one Republican candidate is already drawing attention after allegations by a neighbor of voter registration fraud. 

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The field got just a little bit smaller in the race for Waynesville Town Council last week, as one of the nine candidates seeking four available seats withdrew.

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Hardister seeks important labor post 

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Claims of indecent behavior involving a transgender person at the Waynesville Recreation Center roiled this tight-knight rural community last week, even after a town investigation found no evidence that any crimes were committed and that one of the allegations was completely unsubstantiated.

But if those allegations were meant to divide, deride or dishearten the people of Haywood County, they’ve proven to be a spectacular failure after a recent meeting of the Waynesville Town Council that will be remembered as a watershed moment for LGBTQ+ rights in a small Appalachian town nestled right in the heart of MAGA country.

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Employees at Pactiv Evergreen’s Canton paper mill knew a health care coverage crisis  was coming, and many of them did exactly what the company told them to do to ward off a coverage gap, but some are only just now getting the coverage they’re entitled to — and paid for — and they’re pointing the finger at Pactiv for the expensive and potentially life-threatening delays. 

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The slates are now set for November’s municipal elections in Western North Carolina, and although a number of surprise candidates ended up filing — making some races very competitive — participation is lacking in several others, indicating a general lack of interest. 

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Social media posts alleging multiple instances of improper activity by a transgender person at the Waynesville Recreation Center last week prompted outrage, violent threats and dehumanizing rhetoric from a number of people — including political candidates — who accepted the unsourced post as unimpeachable fact, but after an investigation including video evidence, it was clear that all they did was enjoy the pool and the sauna.

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Students in rural America already face many of the challenges experienced by their urban cousins — albeit with fewer resources to overcome them — but a group of Swain County teenagers want to change that by asking commissioners for a youth center. 

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Waynesville native, retired DEA agent and unsuccessful 2019 Waynesville aldermanic candidate Joey Reece will run for mayor of Waynesville, Reece told The Smoky Mountain News on the afternoon of July 17.

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After closing its paper mill in Canton early last month, Pactiv Evergreen is reportedly now engaged in discussions with potential purchasers or developers about the future of the site.

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The Haywood County Town of Maggie Valley has lost significant authority to exercise development powers after a bill promoted by its Republican representative passed on the afternoon of July 12 — despite a last-ditch effort for compromise. 

A week ago,  Pless held a press conference  decrying Maggie Valley’s Mayor, Mike Eveland, and two aldermen — John Hinton and Jim Owens — calling them “depraved” in a written statement.

At issue was a 2021 moratorium enacted on new campgrounds, shortly after four RV parks were approved within town limits. The moratorium extended not only to RV parks but also to RV Planned Unit Developments and RV storage facilities.

Pless opposed the moratorium and last week went so far as to offer any property owners who feel that they’ve been unjustly affected by the town’s development decisions a nuclear option: de-annexation from the town.

If enough people took Pless up on his offer, it would impact the town’s bottom line to disastrous effect. Currently, Maggie Valley’s tax rate is 40 cents per $100 in assessed value, but the town has less than 1,700 residents. 

De-annexed parcels with existing sewer and water connections could continue to use them by paying slightly higher rates as out-of-town customers, but property owners would no longer pay both county and town property taxes — only county.

That philosophy carries over into another aspect of Pless’  HB 184 , which not only disallows Maggie Valley from adopting, extending or renewing any temporary moratoria on development approvals but also prohibits the town from enforcing its rights to its extra-territorial jurisdiction.

Extra-territorial jurisdiction refers to parcels of land outside of municipal boundaries where cities and towns can exercise certain powers like zoning. Residents of ETJs don’t get to vote in municipal elections, thus having no say in how they’re governed by those municipalities, but they’re not on the hook for municipal taxes, either.

Eveland, Hinton and Owens have vehemently opposed Pless’ effort to tie the town’s hands, but two other aldermen, Phillip Wight and his wife, Tammy, have allied themselves with Pless on the issue.

Together, the Wights own the Clarketon Motel, the site of Pless’ earlier press conference, and say the moratorium affects their business.

“I can rent a room to who I want for the rest of my life, but I can’t create a PUD and have a nice high-end RV park that sells timeshares,” Phillip Wight told The Smoky Mountain News at the press conference.   

The bill, however, didn’t exactly sail through its final test.

Pless made a motion for the House to concur with the Senate version of the bill; however, a Buncombe County Democrat, Rep. Eric Ager, rose to ask Pless a question but Pless declined to yield.

When Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) pressed Ager on what he wanted, Ager asked for a compromise.

“It seems like there’s an option here to have the community come together and figure out a solution as opposed to just pushing one way or the other,” Ager said. “It seems like we have a small-town dispute. There’s people on both sides, and I think we could do a much better job of mitigating that dispute.”

Ager also asked for a recorded vote, rather than a voice vote. Pless didn’t respond to any of it, but Moore postponed action on the bill for about 15 minutes until it was again brought for a vote. It passed by a margin of 61-40.

Eveland told The Smoky Mountain News shortly after the vote that he’d sent emails to legislators in Raleigh opposing the bill, and that Ager was one of several who responded favorably.

Now, Maggie Valley will move forward under the restrictions for at least the next four years, unless something changes.

“I guess tomorrow we’ll start to see exactly what this means for us and get with our lawyer to see what we can do,” Eveland said. “I think it’s a blow to the Town of Maggie Valley — the folks that work there and the taxpayers of Maggie Valley. We got voted into office based on what voters wanted done. Pless has made clear we’re being punished for something we did 18 months ago.”

Eveland said the town recently hired a lobbying firm to advocate for its interests in Raleigh.

“Now we have to spend taxpayer money to protect ourselves,” he said. “We’ll just continue to roll on.”

The bill sunsets on Jan. 1, 2028.

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The issue of requiring voters to present identification at the polls before casting a ballot has been contentious in North Carolina — with competing claims that it would disproportionately affect minorities and crack down on nearly non-existent voter fraud in the state — but like it or not, it’s now the law of the land, and now voters of all political persuasions need to do their homework to ensure they’re not left without a voice. 

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The candidate filing period for November’s municipal elections that opened on July 7 ends this coming Friday, July 21, at noon, and although things are starting to solidify in some races, there have been and may continue to be some surprises. 

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Waynesville’s consideration of a social district in its downtown core took an interesting turn on June 27, when members of the Town Council voted 4-1 to halt discussion of the issue — in effect, killing it. 

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What does a Senate bill giving the Apex Town Council the power to hire the town’s clerk have to do with partisan elections in Haywood and Madison counties? Everything, if you’re Rep. Mark Pless.

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