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Western Carolina University Chancellor John Bardo in an interview with The Smoky Mountain News last week said that he is distancing himself from the budget cut process.

He said he is leaving it up to a “cadre of deans” and the provost to come up with areas that could be cut.

He also said, “My finance guy is going through and looking at everything.”

By having the deans and provost handle the budget cuts rather than himself, he said it is a step toward “decentralizing” the university, which he said needs to be done if WCU grows as much as he thinks it will in the next 15 to 20 years.

A lot of the decisions will be “done away from me,” Bardo said.

Bardo noted that some teachers could lose their jobs. “If we get a 5 to 7 percent cut, there will be layoffs,” Bardo said.

Minimizing the cost of athletic programs is a way the university can save money, Bardo said, adding that the band may not need to go on every sports trip.

To hold down costs, a new position to oversee development of Millennial Initiative projects has been eliminated because it is not considered “mission critical,” Bardo said.

Bardo said the university is trying to be judicious in deciding what is and is not critical. For instance, he said the position of chief diversity officer will remain.


Proposed budget cuts at Western Carolina University are beginning to affect students like Will Furse, who says he won’t graduate on time if summer classes are cut.

The senior construction management student knows he has little influence over the situation.

“There’s nothing that can be done,” he said. “That’s what sucks.”

If it were left up to Furse he said he would cut pay for executives, but doubts Chancellor John Bardo will see it that way.

Bardo has asked each department to come up with scenarios that trim their budgets by 3, 5 and 7 percent. Bardo is preparing the university for state budget cuts likely coming down the pipe, although no one knows yet exactly how much that could be. Bardo wants the scenarios back by March 1.

While Bardo has pledged to defer to the recommendations of deans, the cuts likely mean the loss of professors, which translates to fewer classes and larger class sizes for the courses that are left.

The scenarios will be presented to the university’s Strategic Planning Committee for feedback, said WCU Provost Dr. Kyle Carter in an interview with The Smoky Mountain News.

The university will remain in a holding pattern, however, until state budget cuts — and the federal stimulus package — shake out. Bardo said he will be making a trip to the legislature this week to learn more about the proposed budget cuts.

Until there is a firm number passed down from the state, the university is in “flux,” said Bardo. By coming up with different scenarios of what might happen, hopefully people won’t be surprised, Bardo said.

“We’re trying to be as straight as we can with folks,” he said.

Bardo in an interview with The Smoky Mountain News last week that “A campus is only as good as its faculty,” but layoffs will likely be unavoidable.

“Depending on the magnitude of the budget reduction we could see layoffs,” Carter said.

Some teachers on year-to-year contracts have already been told they might not have a job next year, Carter said.

“My English teacher told me last week she might lose her job,” said Vanessa Abney, a junior. “A lot of teachers are being let go. My friend told me his teacher in theater got fired.”

Losing teachers is hard on students, Abney said.

“Some of us get close to our professors,” she said.

The class schedule for fall 2009 has already been put together with the assumption that there would be fewer faculty and larger class sizes. The current plan calls for 7 to 10 percent fewer classes than this year, Carter said.

Some teachers on year-to-year contracts don’t have their names on the new schedule and they take that to mean they don’t have a job. But if the budget situation improves, WCU will go back and add classes and keep teachers on board, Carter said.

Student Pamela King said if teachers are laid off at the end of the year it will mean larger class sizes, which she would dislike. Even if class sizes increase, WCU will still have smaller classes than most other schools in the state, Carter said. Fifty percent of WCU’s classes are capped at 35 or less, he said.

Carter said the university is “doing all it can” to protect the quality of education. He said the cuts will not be across the board but targeted and that no final plans or decisions have been made, despite some professors being left off the fall class schedule.

There are 582 full-time faculty at WCU. Under a 7 percent budget cut, 31 of them could be laid off, Carter said. He would not identify specific departments that may be cut, saying he would prefer to tell the faculty before they read it in the newspaper.

WCU receives about $95.5 million from the state annually, Carter said. Carter said the stimulus bill may help the state with Medicaid costs, improving the state’s budget situation and lessening the blow of cuts. The hope is that there is a clear picture of the stimulus bill in about a month.

Among other unknowns: Carter wonders what effect the economy will have on students enrolling in college, saying some may hold back because they can’t afford the tuition of $4,400 for in state and about $13,600 for out of state.

The university has already enacted one round of cuts after the state pulled 6 percent of the budget, or $5.7 million. The university is dealing with that by cutting travel, postponing purchases and leaving vacancies open.

Nonetheless, a new dining hall and residence hall remain under construction on campus because those buildings are paid for by fees generated by housing and meals, not state money.


Citizens in the Oak Grove community of Macon County hope to save a bridge from demolition by the Department of Transportation.

Located off N.C 28, the one-lane McCoy bridge over the Little Tennessee River is not only a community icon but part of the cultural heritage of the area, says Doug Woodward of Oak Grove, who has joined his neighbors in a campaign to get the bridge refurbished rather than replaced.

DOT met with the community last week and agreed to look into the costs of repairing the bridge rather than tearing it down and replacing it, but the state maintains that the old bridge is rife with problems.


DOT finds fault with bridge

DOT officials say the structure needs to be replaced because it is dangerous and not up to state standards. Plans call for replacing it in 2013. But DOT has agreed to consider rehabilitating the bridge, and will report back to the community with a follow-up meeting in about a year.

“We’re going to go back and take a deeper look at rehabilitation to see if something is economically feasible,” said Chris Lee, DOT bridge maintenance engineer.

“It has been deteriorating for years,” said Charles McConnell, DOT transportation supervisor.

The bridge’s legal load limit is 40,000 pounds, when state standards say it should be 90,000 pounds. McConnell said a small loaded dump truck could not go over the bridge.

The bridge is also narrow at just 10 feet and 8 inches wide, making it difficult for school buses to cross.

“It has quite a few issues,” McConnell said.

Lee noted that the bridge is one lane, so motorists have to take turns with vehicles coming from the other direction.

The bridge also has “foundation issues” from the timber pilings, Lee said.

The bridge is a “fracture critical structure,” meaning that if one piece fell off the entire bridge could collapse, Lee said.

He said the bridge in Minneapolis that collapsed was also a fracture critical structure.

Ultrasonic testing has taken place on the bridge, indicating that “the bridge is about finished with its life,” Lee said.

The state doesn’t have a cost estimate on the rehab.

“It’s very easy for an overloaded vehicle to go over it tomorrow and the whole thing to fall in the river,” Lee said. “Then we’ve got big problems.”


Heritage at stake

McConnell sad the bridge isn’t historical since it was just built in 1960. Woodward said the community believes the bridge dates back to 1946.

The unique truss architecture of the bridge is rare these days, and it should be preserved, Woodward said.

“These bridges are disappearing,” Woodward said.

The bridge suits the beautiful rural setting, where whitetail deer are a common sight.

“It’s at an end of the county where there’s a lot of untouched history,” Woodward said.

The area has been spared of the development that has ransacked other areas in the mountains, making a trip to Cowee like stepping back in time, Woodward added.

The historic bridge belongs in the area rich with other historic sites including Cherokee mounds and the Cowee-West’s Mill Historic District, Woodward said.

The bridge is located near old Cherokee settlements, including Burningtown, said Cowee resident Lamar Marshall, who also wants the bridge to stay.

Replacing the bridge would cost an estimated $3.5 million to $4.5 million, Woodward said.

“We’re saying (DOT) is dismissing rehab too quickly,” Woodward said, adding he would like to see the cost estimate on refurbishing it.

Woodward, a retired engineer, says rehab is viable.

He added that no one’s ever been hurt as a result of the bridge’s age, and few vehicles drive on it.


The Franklin aldermen on Monday night (Feb. 2) unanimously voted to formalize a process for releasing the minutes from previously closed-door meetings.

The town attorney, John Henning Jr., has always had the authority to make closed meeting minutes public once it is determined that releasing them wouldn’t do harm. In fact, state law requires the minutes from closed meetings to be released once the reason for being private has passed — such as discussion of lawsuit strategy once that lawsuit has been settled, or negotiations over property after the purchase goes through.

In reality, however, few public boards in this region do this as a matter of course.

Alderman Bob Scott, who brought up the matter, wanted the board to adopt a formal policy for releasing closed meeting minutes, but he compromised with a process that leaves it up to the discretion of the town attorney if the minutes should be made public.

Scott preferred a system, however, where closed meeting minutes would become open after board members agreed in consultation with the town attorney.

Mayor Joe Collins disagreed, saying that would put more responsibility on the board members to determine when minutes should be made public when the town has always counted on the attorney to address that.

Collins said he thinks the attorney being in control makes for a smoother process.

However, under the Monday vote any board member or member of the public may ask the town attorney to review a particular set of minutes to determine if they should be unsealed.

Henning said the new process is not much different than the way it has been done before.

Collins agreed: “I don’t see it breaking any new ground, just formalizing (the process).”

If anything, the vote on Monday was an expression of the board’s intent of how to deal with closed session minutes, Henning said.

Henning said he periodically went through closed session minutes about once every three to four months to determine if they should be opened.

The town owes it to the public to open up the minutes of closed sessions once it is no longer necessary to keep the minutes secret, Scott said.

State laws says that, “The public body may seal the minutes of a closed session if public inspection of those minutes would frustrate the purpose of the closed session,” Scott said.


Why now?

Scott called for a formal policy as an advocate of open records in general, but he also wants a particular set of closed meeting minutes made public.

He said the minutes of a legal dispute that was discussed in closed session remain sealed, despite the fact that the case was settled for $5,000.

Scott said no one has refused to release the minutes, but there was no formal policy for releasing them.

“We exist to conduct the public’s business,” Scott said. “I just felt like we should have a policy.”

The dispute involved the town and a former resident, David Whitmire, now of Alaska, who allegedly took slate and doors from town property.

In the case, Mayor Collins said he authorized Whitmire to take a small amount of slate from town property as a memento because Whitmire grew up at the site now owned by the town. Collins asked former Town Administrator Mike Decker if it would be OK for Whitmire to take a couple of pieces of slate, and Decker said it would be all right.

However, Whitmire took a lot more than a couple of pieces, carting off slate valued at $19,000.

Scott and Alderman Verlin Curtis said the mayor and Decker acted beyond their authority when allowing Whitmire to take property. Curtis and Scott said that the mayor and Decker should have asked the rest of the town board if it was OK for Whitmire to take something from the property. Collins said he didn’t think it was necessary to get permission from the board to allow Whitmire to take a few pieces of slate.

Scott had called for an independent investigation into what actually transpired when the mayor and Decker authorized Whitmire to take slate. But the investigation never went forward because the case was settled by Whitmire paying the town $5,000.

Scott said he wanted to know who said what in the transaction. Asked if he thinks the mayor actually gave Whitmire permission to take more than a few pieces of slate, Scott has said, “It would be nothing but pure conjecture.”


As a task force continues to probe solutions to the drought-induced water shortage in Jackson County, one idea on the table is passing out low-flow showerheads and aerators for the public to install on their faucets.

Task Force Chairman Tom Massie said despite all the rain lately the region remains in a drought, which is threatening the water supply, particularly of wells. According to the Health Department, 25 percent of the new well permits issued last year were for people who had wells or springs run dry.

The logitics of passing out water-saving devices would still have to be worked out, said Massie. The devices only cost around $4, he said.

Massie said he does not know if the water-saving devices can be given to the public for free. They could possibly be distributed when someone obtains a building permit, he said.

Using cisterns and rain gardens to collect storm water to use for irrigation can also conserve water, he said.

Short-term solutions from the task force are expected to be ready in March and presented to the county commissioners and towns in the county in March, Massie said.

The task force was formed in the fall after several residents reported that their wells had run dry due to the drought. Some were forced to move out of their homes.

The task force is scheduled to meet again Feb. 19 at 6 p.m. in Jackson County Courthouse.

Task force members have learned about the scientific side of the water cycle in a presentation by task force member Dr. Mark Lord, who is the department head of the Hydrogeology, Geomorphology and Soils Department at Western Carolina University.

The average Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority residential customer uses an average of 216 gallons of water per day — far more than the national average of 70 gallons, TWASA Executive Director Joe Cline. That means a household of three is using about 20,000 gallons of water per month.

Cline said anyone with a well should be concerned about it running dry.

Massie stressed the importance of educating the public about the importance of saving water.

Cline said TWASA customers are “wasteful” with water.

Massie emphasized that TWASA customers represent a small number of the county’s overall population. But the large volume of water TWASA customers are using begs the question of how much those on wells are using.

It is unclear how public education could be achieved, but Massie said it could possibly be communicated through county public service announcements.

The task force is composed of a representative from the county and each town in Jackson County as well representatives from WCU, the Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority and Southwestern Community College


Sitting in the Job Link site in Sylva looking for jobs on a computer database, Kathleen Codon of Cullowhee hit on something promising — a posting for a construction project manager.

Jobs like those are rare these days with the recession driving construction down.

Cordon said she’ll apply for the job but she’s cautiously optimistic since she’s sent out 50 to 60 resumes to no avail during her two months without a job.

January unemployment rates for the area were released by the Employment Security Commission last week with almost every county in the double digits.

Cordon was working for a construction firm until she got laid off. She has been doggedly searching for a job since by e-mailing resumes and going to construction sites in person to ask for work.

“I’ll speak to whoever is willing to talk to me,” she said.

While visiting family in New York City and Miami she also searched for jobs but didn’t have any luck.

However, Cordon may have gotten a job by now if she weren’t too picky in wanting a supervisory position. She said she didn’t get a bachelor’s degree in construction management just so she could sit in an office and do secretarial work.

“I need something more than that,” she said. “I have too much energy to sit still.”

Fortunately she is in a position where she can hold out and look for the job she desires rather than settling for something that will pay the bills. With her husband employed as an administrator at Western Carolina University, they have the income to cover the necessities.

That doesn’t mean everything is OK with her being out of work. She can’t do many of the things she enjoys like traveling and buying nice clothes. She recently decided to apply for unemployment benefits after holding out for a while thinking she would land a job.

“I didn’t think I would be unemployed this long,” she said.

The construction sector has taken a big hit in Jackson County, said Ann Howell, branch manager of the Employment Security Commission office in Sylva. Macon County, which also relies heavily on the construction of second homes as a big industry, has also seen huge declines in that area.

T&S Hardwoods in Sylva has announced it will cease operation in May, taking with it 76 jobs. ConMet in Swain County has also had significant layoffs, Howell said. The Evergreen paper mill in Canton cut 40 positions this month.


No jobs available

The job search has become too depressing, said Tony Wykle of Macon County.

“What’s the point of looking for something that’s not there?” he asked. “It’s spring and jobs should be popping up everywhere, but they’re not.”

The fast food restaurants and housekeeping jobs aren’t even available now, said Janet Wykle, Tony’s wife.

John Short has worked at the Macon Employment Security Commission for 26 years and said now may be the worst he’s seen.

Many of the jobs available are nurse positions, which many aren’t qualified for, Short said. Other than that there’s not much available so all the ESC can do for people is set them up with unemployment benefits.

Stephanie Adams of Franklin was also at the Macon County ESC last week, with both herself and her fiancée unemployed. He was laid off in December from his construction job.

Stephanie said it is normally standing room only at the ESC. She and her fiancée are surviving with the help of family, church and CareNet — a non-profit agency that helps people who are struggling financially. To make matters even more stressful, Stephanie is seven months pregnant.

“We’re struggling,” she said. “Depending on other people is horrible.”

For her maternity clothes he had to go to CareNet and wait in long lines, she said.

The hope is that with spring arriving more construction work will become available, she said. But she is not optimistic that the recession will end soon, adding that she thinks the government is doing a poor job of trying to help the situation.

Bonnie Phillips, a secretary at the Macon County ESC, overheard Adams and said the economic problems go beyond the government, saying the world is in the “end times” and “Jesus is our only hope.”

Robert Souther sat at a table at the ESC filling out a job application for a new Bojangles fast food restaurant coming to town. He lost his job as a cook at the Motor City Grill in Franklin and has been out of work since December.

Since then he has filled out “hundreds” of job applications for everything from “fast food to factory work.” There has been slim pickings, however, so he decided to use his time wisely and enroll at Southwestern Community College with the financial help of his family to learn about computer engineering so he can have more job skills when the economy rebounds.

As competitive as the job market is, Souther has an even bigger challenge finding a job with a felony conviction for bank robbery on his record.

Being unemployed is tough on a man’s soul, Souther said.

“You feel useless,” Souther said. “It’s frustrating. You tighten your belt up and do what you’ve got to do.”

Luckily his wife has a job at Drake Software that keeps the family, which includes two children ages 16 and 18, above water.

People may just go back to growing their on food and using the barter system, said Souther.


Swain County residents are locking their doors and loading their guns after a suspect in a double homicide escaped from the county jail Saturday, thanks to help from a jailer who may still be with him.

Lelon Greene of Bryson City has been taking precautions in case the murder suspect, Jeffery Miles, 27, pays him a visit.

“I’ve got two pistols on each side of the bed,” Greene said. “One on my wife’s side and one on mine.”

Angela Winchester has also taken up arms. “I’ve got one gun at the house,” she said. “I’ve made it more easy to get to.”

Winchester fears for the jailer, Anita Vestal, 32, of Bryson City.

“He’s already killed two people,” she said. “He has nothing to lose. Now he might kill her.”

Detective Jason Gardner said the relationship between the jailer and murder suspect is unknown.

Miles, who is from Atlanta, is one of six people charged with killing David Scott Wiggins, 33, and Michael Heath Compton, 34, who were shot to death in their home in August.

When news of the escape broke in town Saturday afternoon residents called each other to warn of the danger.

Winchester first became aware of the situation Saturday afternoon when she went through two roadblocks where law enforcement officers were looking for the suspects. She promptly called her brother’s wife who told her what was going on.

Now there is a debate going on around town as to whose fault the escape is.

The fact that the sheriff has no previous law enforcement experience when elected two years ago has fueled speculation that his office is to blame while others say he had no control. Winchester and her mom, Violet, disagree on where the blame falls.

Winchester believes the ultimate responsibility lies with Sheriff Curtis Cochran. But Violet said the sheriff can’t help it if a jailer decides to let an inmate out.

“Yeah but she was hired by the sheriff’s office,” Winchester retorted.

Detective Gardner said there was “no way” the escape could have been prevented.

Misty Postell of Swain County was in jail recently and said Vestal was the jailer overseeing her.

“She was a nice girl,” Postell said.

Mack Sutton of Bryson City said she thinks Vestal let him out of jail because “that old girl got sweet on him.”

It isn’t the sheriff’s fault the two escaped, Sutton said.

Odis Hyatt said this incident proves that the new jail facility is doing a poor job for what it is costing the taxpayer.

Since he learned of he escape, Hyatt has been keeping his gun loaded. He has trouble accepting that a jailer would help an inmate escape.

“She wasn’t doing her damn job,” Hyatt said, adding that the county needs to monitor more closely who it hires to work at the jail.

Detective Gardner said he is unaware of any criminal history of Vestal other than a possible worthless check charge.

But he said she is not a felon. She had been employed at the jail about eight months.

Gardener said Miles left out a side door, and Vestal left as she normally would. He said it is unclear whether she unlocked the door for Miles electronically though the control room or if he opened the door with a key she had supplied him.

They left the jail in a van and went to her apartment at Bryson Creek Apartments and replaced the vehicle with a red 2001 Ford Ranger with a maroon camper cover and a North Carolina license plate.

The sheriff’s office has spoken with Vestal’s parents who have had no contact with her, Gardner said Monday. Vestal is the niece of Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Vice Chief Larry Blythe.


A lawsuit filed against the Haywood County Department of Social Services charging the agency could have prevented the death of a 22-month-old baby but failed to take her out of harm’s way continues to make its way through the courts.

The child, Adrianna Lynn Earley, died in November 2006 of “acute oxycodon toxicity” after she got into her mother’s pills in Waynesville, court documents state. The mother, Heather Lacey, admitted that she had prescriptions for Oxycontin and Percocet. She was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 2008.

Assistant District Attorney Jim Moore prosecuted the case and told The Smoky Mountain News last week that Lacey and the child were spending the night at a couple’s house in Waynesville. When Lacey and the child went to bed the pills were in Lacey’s purse. Lacey woke up to find the child dead and the pill bottle open, Moore said.

Moore said leaving the pills so the child could get to them was reckless and careless. District Attorney Mike Bonfoey compared it to “leaving a loaded gun in reach of a child.”

Now that the criminal proceedings are complete, the baby’s father, Joey Earley, has filed the civil lawsuit representing the child’s estate. The lawsuit charges that DSS could have prevented the death of the child but failed to heed warnings about Heather Lacey being a danger to the baby.

“They (DSS) had a report before them that this lady was dangerous to the child, and they didn’t take action to protect the child,” said the plaintiff’s attorney, Randy Seago of Sylva.

Superior Court Judge Laura Bridges in Jackson County has ordered the Haywood County Department of Social Services to turn over Lacey’s medical records after they were requested by Seago. Seago said the medical records deal with drugs Lacey was allegedly on when DSS was investigating her.

Haywood County and DSS hired Attorney Christopher Geis of Winston Salem to represent them in the suit. DSS’ position in the case is that it did the best it could for the child and could not have prevented the death, Geis said.

There is no trial date set, but Seago thinks the case could be heard this summer.

It took a court order from Superior Court Judge Bridges presiding in Jackson County to release the medical records because such documents are confidential.

Geis said Heather Lacey is now in the custody of the Women’s Prison in Raleigh but is scheduled to get out this month after a 13- to 16-month sentence.

Specific damages being sought in the case are unknown because in North Carolina civil suits heard in Superior Court only specify “over $10,000.”


The Sylva Town Board on Friday voted 3-2 to hire a new town manager with a background in planning.

The board hired Adrienne Isenhower to replace former Manager Jay Denton who was fired in September. Isenhower is currently a planner for the city of Lenoir, population 17,000. She has a master’s degree in public administration from Appalachian State University.

“I think she has great qualifications, and her background fits us perfectly,” said Commissioner Stacy Knotts.

Knotts noted that the board was looking for a manager with a planning background. Sylva currently does not have a town planner, after philosophical differences led to the departure of the former town planner last fall. The town board opted not to hire a new planner, but instead look for a town manager with planning expertise who could fill both roles.

Lenoir News-Topic Local Editor Paul Teague has covered Isenhower’s work with the planning department and said she is a “top flight person.”

“She will do an outstanding job for Sylva,” said Teague. “She knows her stuff.”

Teague said Isenhower pays attention to detail and “eats, sleeps and breathes municipal government.”

Teague said he knew it wouldn’t be long before Isenhower left for an advancement in her career. Isenhower has done much to improve Lenoir’s downtown, Teague added.


Vote not unanimous

Town Commissioners Harold Hensley and Ray Lewis voted against hiring Isenhower, saying she lacks the experience necessary for the job, particularly in managing a budget.

“I didn’t think she had the experience,” said Hensley.

Hensley noted that Isenhower just graduated from college in 2006 and has only been working as a planner for the past few years. Hensley said Isenhower has no experience in finances that he knows of.

“For the taxpayers’ money it seems like we should have gotten someone with more experience,” Hensley said. “The people on the losing end are the taxpayers of Jackson County.”

Since the position was advertised in the fall there were 98 applications received, according to the town clerk’s office.

Hensley also disagrees with the new manager making $60,678 a year when former manager Denton made $53,694. And Hensley said, “Jay had lots of experience.”

Commissioner Lewis has similar complaints as Hensley.

“I didn’t think she had the experience,” said Lewis, questioning her salary. “I think that’s a little high for as much experience as she has.”

Lewis said Isenhower has no experience with town finance or budgeting and that he doesn’t know how she can do the job without those skills.

Commissioner Sarah Graham admitted that Isenhower has no experience directly managing a town budget. But Graham said she thinks Isenhower will do an excellent job.

“She’s got the qualifications we are looking for,” said Graham.

Those qualifications include a master’s degree in public administration, and experience working as a planner. Planners from larger cities often advance their careers by moving on to be manager of a small town.

“This will be her first position as a city manager,” Graham stated.

Asked why Isenhower is making more than Denton, Graham said, “Because that’s what we’re offering the manager this time around.”

The reason she is getting paid more than Denton is that Isenhower is really filling two jobs — one as manager and one as planner, said Knotts.

Maurice Moody agreed that Isenhower was the best applicant.

But he admitted that she probably does lack experience in budgeting. “I don’t think budgeting is her strongpoint,” said Moody.

But Moody said there is already a well-qualified individual in the finance office handling most of those issues, whose official title is assistant finance officer and tax collector. While ultimately budget oversight lies with the town manager, Graham said Isenhower has “ample experience” to perform that role.

Isenhower could not be reached for comment. She is scheduled to begin in May.

Other than Isenhower’s current job, she also had an internship with the city of Lenoir in 2006, an internship with the town of Troy in 2004 and an internship with the town of Boone in 2003, according to her resume provided by the town.


The Macon County Planning Board is in the beginning stages of developing an ordinance that would regulate development on steep slopes.

Haywood and Jackson counties shared presentations on their steep slope ordinances with the Macon planning board last week. Marc Pruett, program director for Haywood County Erosion Control, presented a slide show with pictures of houses and roads that have collapsed as a result of being built on steep slopes.

He showed several pictures from Maggie Valley in which houses slid off the side of cliffs, like a recent slide there, and destroyed the home. One house he showed a picture of had not been built a year and was already beginning to slide off the side of the mountain.

The Macon County Planning Board wanted to hear presentations from Haywood and Jackson counties to get ideas about what it might want to put into its ordinance.

Before the planning board officially begins working on putting together an ordinance it must receive the go ahead from the county commissioners, which has not been granted.

Macon County Director of Planning, Permitting and Development Jack Morgan said a steep slope ordinance is something that may be a part of a future comprehensive plan for the county.

Developing a steep slope ordinance may not happen without some backlash from the Macon County Homebuilders Association and Realtors. Such organizations often fight against rules that restrict home development.

Haywood County’s slope ordinance was actually endorsed by the Homebuilders Association there, after a round of revisions that loosened the standards from what was originally proposed. Jackson County Planning Director Linda Cable said the ordinance in her county did not get that kind of support. Jackson’s ordinances are tougher and more comprehensive than Haywood’s.

The Macon County Homebuilders Association was not invited to the meeting, said President Reggie Holland. Holland said he is unfamiliar with any plan to develop an ordinance but thinks his organization would like to have some input on it.

“We would like to be included in the process,” Holland told The Smoky Mountain News.

Holland was unable to say whether his organization would oppose an ordinance if the county indeed decides to pursue one.

Planning Board member Susan Ervin advocates a steep slope ordinance for many reasons, including safety, environmental and aesthetic. Building homes on steep slopes can be dangerous for those who live in the home and below it, Ervin noted.

Such development can also cause environmental problems when land is stripped, resulting in erosion. When slopes are disturbed rain runs off faster and the groundwater is not recharged as well, Ervin noted.

Putting so many houses on the side of the mountains also damages the views, Ervin said.

As far as property rights go, Morgan said they stop at someone’s property line. Building on slopes presents an “inherent danger” and should be addressed, Morgan said.

Planning Commission Vice Chair Larry Stenger was not at the meeting but said he whole heartedly supports developing a steep slope ordinance.

Sedimentation can run off the side of mountains and get into creeks and damage marine habitat, said Stenger.

The key to responsible steep slope development is education, said Stenger. Realtors need to let their clients know about developing on steep slopes, he said.

Over the years several roads in Macon County have washed out because they were built improperly on steep slopes, Stenger noted.

Developers should not be allowed to get a permit to build a home until they go to a seminar about building in the mountains, said Stenger. Much of the problem comes from “shyster” developers trying to make a profit building roads and homes without concern for their future stability, said Stenger. And people from out of the state come in and buy the homes ignorant of the potential dangers, Stenger said.


It appears an $853,000 shortfall facing the Macon County airport runway extension may be covered with additional state and federal funds.

The shortfall arose in part after a $550,000 federal grant previously earmarked for the project was pulled after the airport authority failed to use it within a four-year timeframe, said Rick Barkes with the state Department of Transportation Aviation Division. While federal money, it is administered through the state and had been diverted to another project.

The Airport Authority hoped the money would be restored, and now seems to have confirmation that will be the case. Barkes said the Macon County airport will be reimbursed the $550,000 because the delay in using the money was beyond the Airport Authority’s control. The delay stems from a significant archaeological site that lies in the path of the runway extension. The Airport Authority was trying to negotiate an agreement with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and others over the archaeological excavation to save the artifacts from being destroyed.

Barkes said if the Airport Authority had just been sitting on the funds and doing nothing with them, it probably would not get reimbursed.

Even if the Airport Authority is reimbursed the $550,000 it will still be about $350,000 short, according to Airport Authority officials.

Barkes said the N.C. DOT Division of Aviation will likely provide the remaining funds necessary, whether they are federal or state dollars, to cover any remaining shortfall.

Barkes said the project has been in talks for about eight years and needs to be completed. There is a “very slim chance” the airport won’t get the funds it needs to cover the shortfall, said Barkes.

The remaining shortfall could possibly be covered with state Vision 100 money.


Priorities questioned

The total runway project, including archaeology and engineering, is expected to cost $3.5 million. Of that, almost $2 million is in state dollars, said Barkes.

Norma Ivey of Franklin, an opponent of the runway extension, questioned the budget priorities of the state to fund something like the runway extension while cutting education.

“I hate to see the money go to the airport instead of other things I see as more important. There are better investments for public money right now than a runway at the airport,” Ivey said. “Whether it is elementary school or community colleges, to not put the money in education is very short sighted.”

Same goes for county coffers. The county is contributing at least $187,000 in matching funds to make the runway extension possible, but has budget problems of its own.

“I do not see the airport as being a positive move for the county,” Ivey said.

The airport has been controversial because some, including the Eastern Band, believe there isn’t enough archaeological excavation taking place at the site. There are also Indian burials at the site, according to an archaeologist who did a survey of the property in 2000.

The Airport Authority has agreed to excavate 25 percent of the artifacts, but the Eastern Band wants all of the artifacts removed before they are erased by construction.

The burials are staying in place at the request of the Eastern Band.

— Becky Johnson contributed to this story.


Local, state and federal officials involved in the controversial Macon County Airport runway extension held a private meeting last week.

The Smoky Mountain News showed up at the meeting at the airport after being tipped off by an anonymous source.

When a reporter from the newspaper entered the boardroom, Airport Authority Chairman Milles Gregory said it was a “private meeting.”

As the newspaper reporter waited outside for the meeting to end, County Commissioner Bobby Kuppers showed up but wouldn’t comment. Kuppers went into the boardroom.

Airport Authority attorney Joe Collins, who is also the Franklin mayor, came out of the boardroom to speak with the newspaper. Collins said the purpose of the meeting was to update the signers of a Memorandum of Agreement on the progress of archaeological excavation at the site.

He said the goal was to keep everyone informed of the situation.

Asked why the public could not also be kept informed on the progress by sitting in on the meeting, Collins said it was not a meeting the public was entitled to attend.

Collins noted that part of the MOA states that any discussion regarding burials at the site will be done in private at the request of the Eastern Band of Cherokee.

Tribal Archaeologist Russell Townsend, who attended the meeting, also told the newspaper afterwards that burials were discussed and that the tribe prefers that it be kept private.

Townsend said the tribe is pleased with how archaeology is progressing but would still like more of the site excavated before the construction destroys it. He suggested that 60 percent excavation of the site may be a compromise the Tribe could agree to. The Airport Authority is doing 25 percent recovery.

Townsend also said another compromise is that the Tribe could assist Macon County in securing grants to recover 100 percent of the artifacts, but he said he has proposed that for eight years to no avail.

Others in attendance at the meeting were County Manager Jack Horton, State Archaeologist Steve Claggett, Parks Preston from the Federal Aviation Administration of Atlanta, Paul Webb with TRC Environmental — the company doing the artifact recovery, WK Dickson Project Engineer Eric Rysdon of Charlotte, FAA Environmentalist Lisa Favors, and Tyler Howe of the Cherokee Tribal Historic Preservation Office.

The officials participated in a conference call with the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, Collins said.


Duke Energy and Jackson County appeared in court Monday (March 16) to argue over permits related to the removal of the Dillsboro dam.

An attorney for Duke Energy said the court should order the county to issue the permits to Duke.

Superior Court Judge Laura J. Bridgers said she will make her decision after she has had time to review all the documents.

The permits are necessary to dredge sediment behind the dam. Before Duke can tear down the dam, it has to dredge the sediment.

Duke asserted that the county, which wants to save the dam, is simply denying the permits to delay the demolition.

Duke Energy sued Jackson County a few months ago, charging that the county refused to issue a Floodplain Development Permit and a Land Development Compliance Permit to dredge 70,000 cubic yards of sediment from behind the Dillsboro dam.

Duke says it has met every requirement for the permits, but the county still won’t issue them.

“You either meet the requirements or you don’t,” Duke attorney Kiran Mehta of Charlotte said. “You’re not in a position to refuse permits when you meet all the qualifications.”

Moreover, Duke said it has received the go-ahead from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to dredge the river and demolish the dam, and therefore doesn’t even need county permits.

Duke asked the court to declare that the Federal Power Act supersedes or “pre-empts” the county permits.

The county said it is not going to issue the permits until all its legal appeals regarding the Dillsboro dam are resolved. Depending on the outcome of the appeals, there could be a modification to how the dam is removed or it may not be removed at all, argued Jackson County’s attorney in the matter, Paul Nolan from the Washington, D.C., area.

Nolan said the permits can’t be granted before the litigation is resolved because the matters are “intrinsically intertwined.”

The county is appealing the FERC order that the dam be demolished to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington and is also appealing the state’s issuance of a water quality permit.

Duke wants to tear down the Dillsboro dam as a form of mitigation to keep operating its myriad other hydroelectric dams in the region. The Dillsboro dam is antiquated and no longer produces enough power, Duke says. Tearing it down will improve the environment by opening up the river, which will also benefit whitewater enthusiasts, Duke says.

Nolan told the court that the county wants the dam to stay because it is scenic, historic and a tourist attraction for Dillsboro. It could also be a source of green power if retrofitted.

FERC ruled that the sediment must be removed before the dam is demolished. Otherwise, the sediment could rush downstream and cause environmental problems.

Duke’s attorney, Mehta, noted that the FERC order states that the dam must be removed by July 19, 2010. By failing to issue the permits, Jackson County could prevent Duke from meeting the deadline, Mehta said.

For Duke to meet the deadline, dredging needs to begin by July 1 of this year, Mehta added.

Duke applied for the Land Development Compliance Permit in August 2008 and the Floodplain Development Permit in November 2008 and still hasn’t received either one. Such permits usually only take about a week to issue, Mehta said.

The county was giving Duke the “run around” over the permits, Mehta said.

For instance, after reviewing Duke’s Land Development Compliance permit application, the county planning office determined that a floodplain permit would also be needed but didn’t tell Duke, Mehta said.

Duke had to specifically inquire as to whether it would need another permit. It wasn’t until about three months later that the county informed Duke that it would also need the floodplain permit, which Duke then applied for, Mehta said.

But Planning Director Linda Cable notified Duke that the county would not issue the permits until the appeal regarding the water quality permit was resolved.

FERC does not require Duke to get local permits, but suggests that it should try to abide by local rules to be “good citizens.” But if the local laws cause interference the utility doesn’t have to follow them, FERC says.

Duke claims it tried to be a good citizen and get the local permits, but the county refused to issue them. Mehta said Jackson County refused to communicate with Duke and built walls around the permit process rather than facilitate it.

Mehta told the judge that the county has argued that the Superior Court does not have jurisdiction in the matter because of the other litigation taking place over the dam. But Mehta balked at that, saying, “You have subject matter jurisdiction on anything that walks through the door.”

It doesn’t make sense for the county to not issue the permits, because the county also wants the sediment dredged, Mehta said.

But Nolan, representing the county, said if Duke gets the permits for dredging it is a “slippery slope” toward dam demolition. For instance, if the dredging takes place, a court may be more inclined to go ahead and allow for the dam to be removed.

The holdup with the permits has caused six to nine months of delay, said Mehta, and to ensure there is no more delay, he wants the court to order that the county can’t require any future permits for the dredging.

By denying the permits, the county is attempting to “derail” the FERC order that the river be dredged and the dam removed, Duke asserts.

It’s “obvious that Duke is right and the county is wrong,” Mehta said, adding that it is in the judge’s power to tell the county “enough is enough.”

There was only one member of the public in the courtroom, Sam Fowlkes, who favors dam removal and said the county is spending too much in legal fees on the matter.

Fowlkes said he can’t understand the county’s wanting to save the dam.

‘“It’s an ugly hunk of concrete,” said Fowlkes, who said he is on the board of directors for the American Canoe Association.

Removing the dam would help his sport by opening up the river, he added.


Under a budget cut scenario announced last Friday (March 13), 31.75 employees will be laid off from Western Carolina University due to state budget cuts.

WCU is anticipating the state cutting the university’s appropriation by $7.64 million, or 8 percent, due to the national economic downturn.

State appropriations make up half of the university’s budget.

The university’s Board of Trustees met on Friday for its regular quarterly meeting and discussed the budget cuts.

Chancellor John Bardo said the university needs to come out of the budget crisis a more focused and stronger institution. The university also needs to maintain the quality of the student experience, he said.

Cutting employees is difficult, Bardo said.

“These are real people,” Bardo said. “They’re not just jobs.”

Many of his staff members are laying awake at night thinking about the people who are going to lose their jobs, Bardo said.

The chancellor said one of his goals was to not lay off any of the blue collar workers on campus. Those workers come from Swain, Macon, Jackson and Haywood counties and their entire families are associated with the institution, Bardo said.

Staff Senate Chair Jed Tate said an emergency assistance program to help laid off workers may be established. Tate said he thinks the administration did the best it could to make the cuts with as few layoffs as possible.

Tate added that those who will be laid off will be notified this week.

Overall, 92 jobs were eliminated campus-wide, but 53.75 of those were already vacant.

Another 6.5 positions currently funded by the state will be transferred to a category of employment supported by student fees or other sources of funding. The remaining positions are currently filled, and those employees will be laid off.

That number could change, however.

“This is a dynamic number that is changing constantly,” said Chuck Wooten, vice chancellor for administration and finance. “Consequently, these numbers could go up or down as we finalize the budget reduction.”

The university employs 1,550.

The college of arts and sciences is taking the largest cuts with 14.10 faculty positions being eliminated, followed by the business school with 13 jobs being cut. It is unclear how many of those jobs are currently vacant.

The education department will have eight jobs cut, fine and performing arts 4.6, health and human sciences seven and the Kimmel School of Engineering three. It is unclear how many of those jobs are currently vacant.

Programs are also being eliminated and suspended, including the Institute for the Economy and the Future; Clinical Lab Sciences Program; Summer Ventures Program; Legislator’s School; and the Reading Center.

In response to questions of why construction is continuing on campus while jobs are being cut, Bardo said he can’t take money out of the construction budget for operations under state rules. The construction projects are one-time expenditures approved by the university system, while staff expenses are recurring.

The cuts at the university are “targeted” rather than across-the-board, Bardo said.

Administration and Finance is cutting 17.6 positions. Of those 15.1 are currently vacant and 2.5 will be transferred to other areas, said Wooten.

Bardo said the next step is to meet with deans this week to begin implementing the cuts.


Applications increase

While Western Carolina University is having to layoff employees and cut programs to deal with budget cuts, applications to WCU have surged.

WCU applications are up 103 percent over the same time last year. So far this year more than 12,000 applications have been received.

Most of those are freshmen applications. The university can only handle about 1,600 freshmen due to requirements that they must live on campus.

The poor economy makes enrollment difficult to predict, Bardo said. It could cause more students to attend Western because it is more affordable than other schools, Bardo said. But at the same time fewer students may be able to afford school.

Bardo said he has been in higher education since 1973 and can’t recall another year like this one in which it was so difficult to predict enrollment.

Currently there are about 9,050 students enrolled at the university.

Increased enrollment won’t offset the budget cut likely to come down from the state, Bardo said. It would take an additional 10,500 students to cover a 7 percent budget cut, he said.


A Jackson County task force appointed last fall to develop solutions to water shortages caused by the drought presented its recommendations last week.

The Water Study Task Force came about after several Jackson County residents reported that their wells and springs had run dry. About 58 percent of county residents rely on groundwater through wells and springs for their supply.

It is estimated that 20 to 25 percent of new wells being drilled in the county are to replace existing wells and springs that have gone dry, according to Task Force Chairman and County Commissioner Tom Massie. Massie presented the task force’s findings to a joint meeting of Jackson County commissioners and town boards within the county.

Massie believes the groundwater that feeds wells and springs is being compromised. Only about 25 percent of the rainfall ends up soaking into the ground and recharging groundwater levels, Massie said. To maximize groundwater recharge, runoff must be minimized, Massie said. He said the county currently has no ordinances dealing with stormwater runoff.

Regarding water supply in Jackson County, there are three things to consider — population growth, percent of population that uses groundwater and frequency of droughts.

Water must be conserved, Massie said, noting that Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority users are wasteful with their water, using 216 gallons a day on average, compared to 171 gallons used by the average U.S. household.

Up to one-third of daily water usage could be reduced with water-saving features such as low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators, he said. Education is most important when it comes to conserving water, Massie said.

The task force, which sought short and long-term solutions, also recommends that the local governments collect data to get a better handle on the seriousness of the water shortage. Such data could be helpful during the next drought.

Though the task force does not advocate regulation, it could prove helpful. Potential regulations could include:

• Modifying the subdivision ordinance to require stormwater retention.

• Requiring water saving devices in building and plumbing codes.

• Reusing wastewater for irrigation.

The task force decided that the county and its municipalities would need about $20,000 to begin implementing the recommendations.

Massie recommended that the task force disband, saying its work is done. However, Massie said a Water Resources Advisory Board should be formed to meet regularly to oversee water issues in the future.


The Macon County Airport Authority is short about $853,000 of what it needs to pay for a controversial runway extension, according to airport officials.

The total runway project, including archaeology and engineering, is expected to cost $3.5 million, according to Airport Authority member Tommy Jenkins.

Airport Authority Clerk Teresa McDowell said about $777,000 has already been spent or committed for archaeology and engineering on the project.

According to McDowell, it will cost the Airport Authority about $1.87 to million finish the runway, which means the Airport Authority is about $853,000 short of what it needs, she said.

The airport runway extension is controversial because it is proposed to go over Cherokee artifacts and burial grounds. The Airport Authority is only funding 25 percent artifact excavation, which angers the Eastern Band of Cherokee and others who say 100 percent of the artifacts should be saved to prevent their destruction.

Airport Authority Chairman Milles Gregory said the project is being funded with 80 percent federal funds, 10 percent state and 10 percent county funds.

The N.C. DOT Division of Aviation took back $550,000 from a grant last year because the money wasn’t used by the Airport Authority in time, McDowell said.

It is unclear where the money went. N.C. DOT Grants Administrator Nancy Seigler was unable to answer questions before press time on Tuesday.

The grant, which was awarded in 2004, wasn’t used in time because the project was held up by negotiations between the Airport Authority, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Federal Aviation Administration, State Historic Preservation Office and the Division of Aviation. The negotiations concerned how much excavation of Cherokee artifacts would take place at the project site, McDowell said.

The Airport Authority hopes to get the $550,000 back.

Airport Authority Chairman Gregory said he was promised by Richard Barkes, manager of Aviation System Development for the N.C. DOT Division of Aviation, that the $550,000 would be reimbursed.

McDowell said the Airport Authority has been told over the phone by the Division of Aviation that it would be reimbursed the $550,000 in the form of a new grant. But McDowell said the Airport Authority hasn’t received the grant documents yet.

Even if the Airport Authority gets the $550,000 back it will still have a shortfall of about $303,000.

McDowell said the Airport Authority is “optimistic” that more funding will become available to cover the shortfall. Gregory said he thinks the remaining shortfall can be made up with $150,000 “Vision 100” grants that the Airport Authority receives annually from N.C. DOT Division of Aviation. It is unclear if the Vision 100 money is state money or federal funds that pass through the N.C. DOT Division of Aviation.

McDowell said the $550,000 that was taken back was supposed to be used for the environmental assessment for the project. Because that money was taken back, McDowell said the Airport Authority is now using money from its construction grant on the environmental assessment.


County funds in play

Some have urged the county commissioners not to commit county taxpayer dollars to the project. Withholding the county match for the project could sideline it.

According to County Finance Director Evelyn Southard there is $187,000 in county funds currently budgeted for the project.

Southard did not know what year the county appropriated the money.

County Commissioner Bob Simpson has proposed pulling the county dollars from the project unless a compromise between the Airport Authority and Eastern Band is reached.

However, Simpson seems to be alone in that the other commissioners appear to favor moving forward.

Commissioner Brian McClellan told The Smoky Mountain News he doesn’t “have an opinion at this time” but “it would appear” that county dollars are not going to be pulled from the project. McClellan said there is “always a chance” funding could be pulled.

Commission Chairman Ronnie Beale said he feels that the Airport Authority has “done due diligence” in the project.

Beale said there is no doubt that the runway extension is needed to keep insurance costs down for pilots who land there. No one has said the runway extension is not needed, Beale said.

However, several people have publicly said that they don’t think a runway extension is needed.

As far as taking the county dollars from the project, Beale said that money was “appropriated a good long time ago.”

He added that the grants are a good opportunity because they only require a 10 percent county match. Anytime the county can get something done for 10 cents on the dollars it’s good, said Beale.


When Neal Hoppe dies he wants his body cremated and his ashes spread over the Macon County Airport.

“When I die, my soul will depart my body,” said Hoppe, who manages the airport’s terminal. “I don’t want a hole dug for me.”

The Macon County Airport is the best place to scatter his ashes because, “It’s a beautiful place,” said Hoppe as he drove down the airport’s taxiway.

Once Hoppe’s ashes are spread at the airport, he will join Cherokee Indians who made the Iotla Valley their resting place hundreds of years ago.

The Cherokee bodies buried at the site are now a huge source of controversy because the airport’s runway is proposed to be extended over the gravesites. The project has upset many people who think the Macon County Airport Authority and state and federal agencies are desecrating the Cherokee heritage.

The Airport Authority, however, says archaeology recovery is taking place, burial sites will not be disturbed and state and federal laws are being followed.

The runway extension seemed like a sure thing just a week ago but is now facing opposition from all fronts. Necessary federal permits are still pending for the project, the environmental assessment hasn’t been finalized, legal action from both environmentalists and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has been threatened, one county commissioner wants to withdraw local funding for the project and the Airport Authority’s argument that the project is needed for safety has had a hole shot in it.


Solid legal footing?

Airport Authority Attorney Joe Collins said he thinks the Airport Authority is on solid legal grounds.

Cherokee Attorney General Annette Tarnowski said there has not been any decision made by the Cherokee in terms of what, if any, legal action to take. The Tribal Council is looking at all its legal options, but Tarnowski would not elaborate.

It is a matter of great concern to the Cherokee because of the number of gravesites, she said.

The controversy has been eight years in the making and is coming to a head as archaeologists are now working on excavating the artifacts at the site to prepare to extend the 4,400-foot runway by 600 feet.

The problem is that artifacts are only being removed from 25 percent of the five-acre area that will be impacted by the project. The remaining artifacts will be left in place.

Members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and a contingent of other concerned citizens are outraged that the Airport Authority, the Federal Aviation Administration and the state archaeologist would allow artifacts and human burials to be put at risk.

Those against the project, including Cherokee Principal Chief Michell Hicks, said 100 percent of the artifacts should be excavated before it is paved over. Failure to do so could erase the archaeological record. Hicks said there could be some protests coming to Franklin.

But Airport Authority Chairman Milles Gregory said it would cost $2 million to do total artifact recovery — money the Airport Authority doesn’t have. The Airport Authority has contracted with TRC Environmental of Chapel Hill for $535,000 to recover the 25 percent. Hicks said the tribe is unwilling to pay the difference to do a complete excavation, saying it is the responsibility of the county and Airport Authority to do the right thing.

The entire runway project is expected to cost around $3.5 million, according to Airport Authority member Tommy Jenkins. County officials say the project is being funded 90 percent with N.C. DOT Division of Aviation grants and a 10 percent match from the county.


State archaeologist endorses project

So far, four archaeologists have weighed in on the project. Two support the runway project moving forward, while the other two believe it is an abomination.

The one whose opinion matters most, however, is State Archaeologist Steve Claggett. Claggett decided how much of the site must be excavated before the runway project could move forward. He settled on 25 percent excavation, saying 100 percent is unnecessary because it wouldn’t result in learning anymore about the Cherokee. Moreover, Claggett said many of the artifacts at the site are damaged anyway from being plowed up when the land was farmed.

Claggett said the project is being done in accordance with all state and federal laws. However, some archaeologists disagree with Claggett and say 100 percent artifact recovery should occur.

An archaeological survey done on the site in 2000 indicated the presence of some 400 burials and numerous artifacts.

Claggett said the goal is to focus the artifact recovery on the areas that were identified as having the highest concentrations of materials. So even though artifact recovery is only occurring on 25 percent of the five acres, more than 25 percent of the artifacts may actually be recovered, Claggett said.

As far as the burials go, they are remaining in place at the request of the Cherokee. If remains are accidentally uncovered during work, “all work will cease within 50 feet of the remains,” according to a memorandum of agreement signed by the Airport Authority, Federal Aviation Administration, State Historic Preservation Officer Jeffrey Crow and the North Carolina Department of Transportation. The Cherokee refused to sign off on the agreement.


Archaeologist against project

Columbia S.C. archaeologist Michael Trinkley is appalled at the minimal artifact recovery taking place at the site. Too little work is being done considering the value and significance of the site, he said.

Trinkley is the archaeologist who performed the initial assessment in 2000 and said burials and artifacts will be destroyed. He said he thinks about 250 burials will be destroyed.

“I think it’s terribly disrespectful,” Trinkley said.

If it is not stopped, one of the more important archaeological sites in the state will be destroyed, he said. The burials will be destroyed when soil is removed, when equipment bogs down, when soil compacts and when fill is brought in, Trinkley said.

But Airport Authority Chairman Gregory said the earth will not be cut into during the project, meaning the burials will not be destroyed.

The burials could have been removed from harms way using appropriate techniques, such as hiring Cherokee elders and a shaman for reburials, said Trinkley.

But this did not occur because the Airport Authority never made any effort to reach a compromise with the Cherokee, he said. The Airport Authority denies this, saying it tried for eight years to work out an agreement with the Cherokee to no avail. Furthermore, the Cherokee specifically requested that the burials be left in place.

Trinkley said that the Airport Authority attempted to hide the project from the public rather than discuss it.

The manner in which the project has been handled is “corrupted,” he said.

As for other archaeologists in the mix, Russ Townsend, an archaeologist for the tribe, is opposed, while the archaeologist who landed the half million contract to do the partial excavation work is in support of it.


FAA has final say

The FAA is the ultimate authority on the project, said Claggett. The main law that had to be followed in regards to the archaeology at the site was Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.

According to Claggett, the law does not specify a “magic number” when it comes to how many artifacts have to be removed from a site.

Advisory Council on Historic Preservation spokesman Bill Milhans in Washington agreed that all the law requires is for the impact on archaeological sites to be considered. He said how much artifact recovery takes place depends on the significance of the site.

In this case, FAA consulted with the State Historic Preservation Office and decided 25 percent artifact recovery would be sufficient. Milhans said ACHP agreed that 25 percent artifact recovery is in accordance with Section 106.


Environmental Assessment questioned

An environmental assessment done by the project engineer WK Dickson of Charlotte states that the project will have “no significant impact” on the environment, artifacts or burials at the site.

The consultant’s findings were adopted as the official stance of the N.C. Division of Aviation, which holds the purse strings to the federal grant money paying for the runway expansion.

The state agency ruled that the project is in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act and will not “significantly affect the quality of the human or natural environment.” The public can make comments on the environmental assessment and dispute the finding of no significant impact to the State Environmental Review Clearinghouse until March 17.

Trinkley complained that there isn’t even a copy of the document to review locally, making it difficult for people to comment on something they don’t have access to. Trinkley wondered if that is illegal.

Further, Trinkley questioned the legality of the Airport Authority moving forward with artifact recovery prior to the environmental assessment going through the public comment period. Trinkley has submitted a letter to the State Environmental Review Clearing House disputing the finding of no significant impact.


Lawsuit threatened

Macon County resident Lamar Marshall said the environmental assessment is flawed and plans to sue on the grounds of violations of the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. He said the environmental assessment is flawed because it contains out-of-date information that does not take into account species that have been listed as endangered in the past 10 years.

The Airport Authority failed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in regards to endangered species, said Marshall.

“The current EA is a cheap and erroneous shortcut that failed to disclose the cumulative impacts of serious environmental issues...,” said Marshall.

The Airport Authority also needs a water quality permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to proceed. Lori Beckwith, a biologist with the Corps in Asheville, said the Airport Authority submitted an incomplete permit application. Once the Corps gets a complete permit it will be open for public comment for 30 days, she said.


What is the need?

Gregory and other Airport Authority members have stressed that the project is needed to make the runway safer. Gregory has repeatedly noted that a husband and wife died in an airplane crash at the airport in 1995 because the runway was too short. Gregory said a life is more important than artifacts.

But Macon County resident Michael Wyrick said the report from the National Transportation Safety Board indicates that the runway length had nothing to do with the crash.

The cause of the crash was determined to be a “the pilot’s failure to maintain flying speed resulting in an aerodynamic stall. A factor was sun glare,” the NTSB report states.

“From this we can see the aircraft never made contact with the runway and therefore the extra 600 feet of runway would not have helped,” Wyrick said.

And he said the plane that crashed was certified to operate on a 2,000-foot runway, so Macon’s 4,400-foot runway should have been ample.

When asked to comment on the crash report’s assertion that the accident was not a result of the runway being too short, Gregory said he had no comment.

Wyrick said he has been a licensed pilot of the past 28 years and was in management at the Asheville airport for 15 years, and he doesn’t think the runway extension is necessary.

He said if there were a lot of large companies wanting to fly in and out of the airport it might be necessary, but that is not the case. He added that the last accident that occurred at the airport was eight years ago.


Voicing opposition

About 10 residents vented their opposition to the project at the Macon County commissioners meeting on Monday (March 9).

The residents said it is disrespectful to the Cherokee to destroy artifacts and burial grounds.

The commissioners took no action on the comments.

Some residents said if it were a white graveyard it would be looked at differently.

The county’s real strength is in its cultural heritage and it should be protected, the residents said.

Resident Kathleen Walker questioned whether a runway extension is necessary. She said rushing to meet a grant deadline is no reason to extend the runway.

Other residents said an extended runway will decrease the quality of life for the area by bringing in more and larger airplane traffic.

The Airport Authority has stressed that the Macon County Airport will never be used for commercial flights. Gregory has said that once the runway is extended to 5,000 feet it won’t have to be extended again.

Resident Norma Ivey said there is a petition circulating with 84 signatures already against the project. And resident Susan Ervin said Macon County has always worked hard to protect its heritage and should do the same in this case.

Tribal Historic Preservation Office archaeologist Russell Townsend told the commissioners he wants to seek a compromise with the Airport Authority. Townsend said he did not have a specific compromise in mind.


‘No room for compromise’

Gregory told the commissioners there is no room for compromise. Gregory said he thinks his board has done everything it can to accommodate the Cherokee.

The project can’t be delayed because the grant money could be lost, said Gregory.

Commissioner Bob Simpson asked Gregory how long the Authority has before it loses the money, but Gregory didn’t know.

Simpson said he supports pulling the county’s 10 percent match from the project if 100 percent artifact recovery isn’t done. But he does not know if the money can be pulled because it was committed years ago.

However, Commissioner Jim Davis said he is “comfortable” with 25 percent artifact recovery.

Commissioner Bobby Kuppers said he thinks more information needs to be exchanged.

Townsend said it doesn’t appear to him that the county commissioners are going to step in and try to change anything.


Economic impact

The Macon County Airport brings in about $7.9 million annually, according to a N.C. DOT Division of Aviation study from 2006.

Airport Fixed Base Operator Neal Hoppe said if the runway were extended more businesses may come in. Macon EDC Chairman Mark West supports the project for its economic development potential.

A longer runway would make insurance on airplanes more affordable, said Hoppe.

Caterpillar does not fly into the Macon County Airport because the runway isn’t long enough, Hoppe said. Caterpillar said it was not taking a position on the issue of whether the runway should be lengthened and offered no further comment.

At 4,400 feet, Macon’s airport is longer than Jackson County’s, which is only 3,200 feet. But it is shorter than the Andrews/Murphy Airport has a 5,500-foot runway where some planes would rather fly into, said Hoppe.

There are about 30 planes registered at the Macon County Airport, said Hoppe.

Hoppe balks when people say that taxpayer money is being spent on a “rich man’s playground.”

The airport is an “economic stimulus” to the county, bringing in people who purchase things here, said Hoppe. Many who fly here have second homes in Highlands, he noted.

John Makinson has a two-seater Cessna at the airport and said the runway length is fine for a plane his size, but he said corporate jets and cargo planes need more runway.

Whether the runway extension is actually needed depends on the type of growth Macon County has, said Makinson.


A homeless shelter has opened in Sylva to provide an escape from the frigid nights.

The shelter, located at Lifeway Church in Sylva, is the only homeless shelter in Jackson County. It will remain open through March.

About a month ago several local organizations met to discuss the need for a homeless shelter amid fears the spiraling economy would leave people with nowhere to turn.

Local churches have committed to staff the homeless shelter in Sylva with volunteers.

The shelter is working in partnership with the Community Table to provide meals.

Lifeway Pastor Mike Abbott doesn’t know how many homeless people there are in the Sylva area, but said, “We definitely have homelessness.”

With the winter being so cold this year, there needs to be a place for them, he said. The shelter opened about two weeks ago, and as of Sunday (March 1) no one had stayed there.

He said the homeless may not realize it’s there or they may have gone south or to Buncombe County by now. The shelter is open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. seven days a week.

Abbott said the plan is for Lifeway to host the shelter again next year with it opening Nov. 1.

“I’m excited that in a relatively short period, community organizations and churches were able to come together and accomplish opening this up,” Abbott said. “This speaks well of the community. A lot of good people made this happen.”

The shelter can accommodate about 20 people and there is additional space for women with children and families, he said.

Mountain Projects Executive Director Patsy Dowling said the economy is causing people who normally wouldn’t need help to seek assistance.

“More people are losing their jobs and their healthcare,” she said. “The faces of people in need are changing.”

Many people who have lost their jobs and need food stamps can’t get them because they have assets that preclude them from qualifying, she said.

Laid off employees are having trouble paying their rent and can’t get help because the rental assistance program waiting list at Mountain Projects is “years long,” said Dowling.

Utility bills are becoming harder to pay for people affected by the economy.

Churches in Haywood County have banded together to open a homeless there, too. Space is being provided at Camp New Life.

Dowling spearheaded the community meetings to bring the homeless shelters to Jackson and Haywood counties. Her interest was sparked in December when there was a homeless couple in Waynesville that needed a place to stay.

There was nowhere in Waynesville and nothing available in Asheville. She felt bad that the only thing Haywood County could offer the couple was gas money to get to a shelter in Tennessee.

“We should have a place for people to get back on their feet,” she said.

Asked if she thinks it took too long to get shelters open in Jackson and Haywood counties, Dowling said she is not going to look back.

She said there is also a need for food and clothing, noting that the Community Table may expand its hours and her church in Tuckasegee may open a food pantry.

Dowling has a long list of heartbreaking stories, including a 61-year-old woman who can’t afford heating oil and groceries.

“I hear so many stories of people who were making $20 an hour last year and now are walking into my office with utility disconnect notices,” she said.


A member of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Franklin is prohibited from bringing his hunting knife to church after another member saw him with the blade at a Sunday service and got worried.

The knife carrier, Charles Rowe, said there is no reason to be alarmed by his utensil. He simply wants to wear his knife to church because, “It’s part of me and part of who I am.”

But even in Appalachia, where mountain men once thrived, Dr. Bill David, the complainant, said knives still shouldn’t be allowed in church.

“I’m opposed to bringing weapons to church,” David told The Smoky Mountain News from his home in Athens, Ga. “I didn’t confront him personally. He was sitting in front of me. I kept my mouth shut. I didn’t want him stabbing at me with that knife. He may get mad at someone. It should never be permitted.”

Knives aren’t allowed in the post office either, David noted.

The debate has resulted in the church adopting a no weapons policy and sparked a vigorous discussion over an individual’s rights.

David said he has no reason to believe that Rowe would do anything violent with the knife.

“I don’t know him personally,” said David, 84.

Rowe said he doesn’t even know who made the complaint.

Church President Virginia Wilson said she believes the knife scared David because his great grandchildren were threatened with a knife at a school in Athens.

David said he would have opposed the knife at church anyway.

Rowe said he thinks David overreacted to his knife. The knife is a tool, not a weapon, said Rowe.

“I think our society has become too paranoid,” Rowe told The Smoky Mountain News in an interview at his house on Saturday (Feb. 28). “I wear it everywhere.”


‘The knife is part of me’

Wearing a knife symbolizes a “lifestyle I try to aspire to — living off the land like our forefathers did,” said Rowe. “It’s the way I grew up.”

Carrying a knife also goes back to his Celtic heritage, he said.

David balked at Rowe’s saying the knife is part of his heritage: “I don’t care what he says he is.”

Rowe added that he values self-sufficiency and that he was part of the “back to the land movement” in the 1960s.

His knife is not a bowie knife or sword, but just a simple hunting knife. He doesn’t conceal it but carries it on his hip. There is no state law that says he can’t carry his knife, he said.

Rowe said he joined the Universalist church because of its “openness and willingness to celebrate diversity.” Not allowing him to carry his knife contradicts what the church stands for, he said.

The Unitarian Church welcomes people of all faiths — Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, agnostics, atheists and Jews.

Rowe is a pagan and has been attending the Franklin Unitarian church for about four years. Prior to that he attended the Unitarian church in Richmond, Va., since the early 1990s, he said.

He said he wore the knife to the Unitarian church in Franklin since he started attending. The religion’s principles include the inherent worth and dignity of every person and a free search for truth.


A letter to the congregation

Rowe said his main problem with the ordeal has been the way the church handled it. He said he wanted to express his views to the entire congregation, but he felt church officials censored him.

“I wasn’t given a chance to discuss it rationally,” he said.

Rowe also said he wasn’t give a chance to meet with the person who complained. Rowe sent an e-mail to a church official explaining his side and asked that it be forwarded to the entire congregation, but it wasn’t.

“This is just one example of why we need open conversation within this congregation,” said Rowe.

Eventually he did get some of the church members’ e-mail addresses through an e-mail sent to him. He composed a long letter stating his position and sent it out.

In the letter he wrote, “Our society was founded and nurtured on the ideals of rugged individualism and independence.”

It is wrong for the church to prohibit him from wearing his knife just because one person was scared by it, said Rowe.

“We all too often succumb to the tyranny of the least stable among us, giving up our precious freedoms to appease those who suffer from irrational fears and paranoia so as not to offend anyone,” he wrote.

“Unitarians try to be very politically correct and don’t want to offend anyone,” Rowe said.

He said it is wrong for the church to prejudge people who carry knives: “It is this sort of prejudice that I thought our church was supposed to be working against,” he wrote.

Rowe posted his letter on the bulletin board, but Wilson didn’t allow it to stay up. She wanted to handle the issue at the board level rather than it getting out to the congregation and “alarming” members.

Church board member Joan Hawthorne said Rowe could have asked to be put on the board’s agenda or spoken during a Sunday service.


No weapons policy adopted

A double homicide at a Universalist church in Knoxville in July was brought up when Rowe was told he couldn’t bring his knife to church anymore. But Rowe didn’t think that was fair.

“It doesn’t relate because the person (killer) wasn’t a member, and I didn’t have a gun,” said Rowe.

The shooting in Knoxville, which also injured six, is “an example” of why David says he’s opposed to Rowe bringing a knife to church. David said he is very much in favor of the weapons policy.

“That isn’t a place to hunt,” said David. “I’ve been a minister for 57 years and never been in a church with weapons in it before.”

Church board member Hawthorne said ever since the shooting that the church considered adopting a weapons policy, but Rowe’s knife was the “catalyst” to get the rule drafted. She noted that other places, such as airplanes, prohibit carrying knives.

Rowe is adamant about his right to wear his knife to church and will continue to argue the point “infinitum,” said Hawthorne.

The weapons policy now hangs in the entryway to the church and in the fellowship hall and states no weapons may be brought to the church. Wilson said Rowe is welcome back at church “without his knife.”

Hawthorne said she was also bothered by the knife.

“When he comes in with a knife it doesn’t feel like a safe place,” she said.

Rowe shouldn’t take it personally that he can’t wear his knife to church, said member Linda Winn.

“I don’t think you need a knife at church,” Winn said. “We’re a peaceful group of people.”

Even if it means he can’t wear his knife, he will probably go back to the church, Rowe said. He could simply wear an empty knife sheath at church, he said.

But he said he hates to give in. “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing,” he wrote in his letter.


No reason to fear him

Rowe’s wife, Debbie, said there is no reason church members should fear her husband, who she met online.

“I mean, half the kids who attend the church call him grandpa,” she stated as their granddaughter, Heaven, ran around the house.

It is “unfair and unjust” that he cannot wear his knife to church, Debbie said.

The first time she met him in person he was wearing it while visiting her at the Intensive Care Unit at Harris Regional Hospital in Sylva, she said. She was in the hospital for an appendectomy.

“I see it as an extension of him,” Debbie said. “I’m just as likely to reach for the knife as a tool as he is.”

When he went to the hospital wearing the knife, he walked past security guards and nurses and “no one flinched,” Debbie said.

Rowe added that when he attended a Macon County commissioners meeting wearing the knife all that Sheriff Robbie Holland said was “nice knife.”

Rowe is unemployed living on disability, he said. He said his disability is “fatigue.”

He said he has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, religion and social services from Virginia Commonwealth University.


Emotions are sizzling over a plan to extend the Macon County Airport runway over Cherokee burial grounds and artifacts.

At an Airport Authority meeting last week in Franklin resident Selma Sparks said it is disrespectful to the Cherokee.

Airport board member Harold Corbin balked at that statement, saying the Cherokee didn’t make a big deal about artifacts when the casino was being built. Corbin added that there are artifacts all over Macon County and that just as many can be found on his farm as at the airport site.

Resident Alex Hawkins, who said he lives “at the end of the runway,” also disagreed with the project, saying it is unnecessary to extend the runway for economic development because there is no industry coming here.

An archaeological assessment commissioned by the Airport Authority in preparation for the runway expansion called the site one of the more significant archaeological areas in the state.

But Airport Authority Attorney Joe Collins said that is an opinion, and the airport board doesn’t think the site is as significant as the archaeologist said it was. There are an estimated 300 to 400 Cherokee burials at the site, according to the assessment.

At the request of the Eastern Band, none of the burials will be removed. Cherokee Chief Michell Hicks said someone’s final resting place should not be tampered with. The question is what to do with the other artifacts littering the site.

The Airport Authority has agreed to excavate 25 percent of the artifacts from the project site, but the tribe wants 100 percent of the artifacts removed. Otherwise those artifacts could be destroyed, and with them clues to early life.

Airport Authority Chairman Milles Gregory said 100 percent of the artifacts cannot be removed because it would cost too much.

The Airport Authority has contracted with TRC Environmental of Chapel Hill to recover the artifacts for $535,000.

The 4,400-foot runway will be extended by 600 feet. The Macon County Airport Authority claims the extension is necessary to make the runway safer.

Gregory said a husband and wife died in an airplane crash at the airport about 10 years ago because the runway wasn’t long enough for them to land safely.

“Which is more valuable, an artifact or a life?” Gregory asked.

Economic development is not the driving factor behind the runway extension, but is a side benefit, said Gregory.

Hicks questions whether the runway extension is actually needed.

“I believe the case has not been made that the airport expansion is necessary or even feasible,” the chief said in a statement.

Project engineer Eric Rysdon with WK Dickson of Charlotte said he hopes construction on the extended runway can begin this summer.


Fight could move to county commissioners

While the Macon County Airport Authority isn’t budging for now, county commissioners may have some say in how the project moves forward. The runway expansion will be funded partially with county tax dollars.

The entire project cost with archaeology included is expected to be around $3.3 million — with 90 percent of the funding coming from the N.C DOT Division of Aviation, and 10 percent from a county match.

Gregory said the county committed the match money years ago.

Commissioner Bob Simpson agreed the match money has already been committed but said those funds could possibly be taken away from the project.

Gregory said he doesn’t know how it would affect the project to lose the county’s match.

Simpson doesn’t necessarily advocate taking away the funds but said he would like to see a compromise worked out with Cherokee.

Two ideas Simpson has are to have Cherokee fund 100 percent of the artifact recovery. But Hicks said he opposes that idea, saying it is up to the county to cover the archaeology costs.

“It’s not EBCI’s responsibility,” said Hicks. “They need to do the right thing. Whether it’s the county or the Airport Authority.”

Another idea Simpson has is for Cherokee to make an economic investment in Macon County by marking the significant archaeological sites and making them a tourist attraction. In exchange, the county would not proceed with the runway extension.

Simpson said it is important that something is decided quickly because the Airport Authority is in danger of losing the grants if it doesn’t use them soon.

Commission Chairman Ronnie Beale and Commissioner Brian McClellan said they could not comment on the project until they have all the facts.

The Airport Authority is presenting the project to county commissioners at the March 9 commission meeting.


A jailer and the murder suspect she allegedly freed from the Swain County Detention Center a month ago were apprehended in Vallejo, Calif., on Sunday (April 19).

The jailer, Anita Vestal, 32, was unharmed, much to the relief of her parents and law enforcement who thought her life was in danger from the murder suspect, Jeffery Miles, 27.

Swain County Sheriff Curtis Cochran had no comment on the capture.

Vestal’s father, Ronnie Blythe of Whittier, told The Smoky Mountain News a few weeks ago that he was unconvinced that his daughter willingly let Miles out of jail. Blythe said she might have been enticed or coerced to let him out.

Vestal’s parents released a statement following the capture of their daughter and Miles: “We are thankful that Anita has been found and is safe. We would like to thank those in the community who have offered us support through their prayers and kind words. We do not have any further information about the events which have transpired throughout this ordeal and therefore we cannot comment further on this situation.”

Miles is one of six people charged with killing David Scott Wiggins, 33, and Michael Heath Compton, 34, who were shot to death in their Bryson City home in August.

Vallejo Police Lt. Abel Tenorio said his department received information from Sheriff Cochran a couple of weeks ago that Vestal and Miles may be in the area.

Vallejo officers determined that the pair might have been at a hotel in the area on Sunday and set up surveillance. When Miles exited the hotel room SWAT team members approached him in unmarked vehicles and apprehended him after a short foot pursuit, Tenorio said.

Vestal was then apprehended in the hotel room, Tenorio said, adding that the pair was unarmed.

On Monday they were being held in the Solano County Jail, said Tenorio. It could take several days before they are extradited to Swain County to face the escape charges, Tenorio said.

Video surveillance of the jail shows that Miles unlocked his cell door and then unlocked an outside fence. He then hid in Vestal’s vehicle in the parking lot.

Vestal and Miles drove to her Bryson City apartment where they switched vehicles and then went on the lam for a month.

Sheriff Cochran and jail administrators have been criticized by former jailer, Steven Osborne, who was fired after the escape. Osborne told The Smoky Mountain News it was wrong Cochran fired him over the incident and said he and other jail employees had warned the sheriff and jail administrators several times that Vestal and Miles were getting too close personally. Osborne said they ignored the warnings.


An angry crowd stormed downtown Franklin on tax day last week, protesting the federal government’s bailouts, high taxes and pork barrel spending.

The Tea Party protest was one of hundreds that took place across the nation April 15, the first tax day since President Barack Obama has been in office. The demonstrations have been touted as non-partisan, but the Franklin protest had a Republican bent with speakers and sign- wavers denouncing Obama and government-funded bailouts.

Signs waved by the shouting throng stated, “Freedom Works, Bailouts Hurt,” “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Debt,” TEA — Taxes Enslaving Americans,” and one that was a direct attack on Obama’s presidential campaign said, “So How’s That Hope and Change Working Out For You.”

Another sign stated, “We Are Proud of America Mr. Obama, Why Aren’t You?” while another said, “Bailouts + Debt = Fiscal Child Abuse.”

The event featured patriotic singing, with members of the audience singing along and one audience member was waving a Bible in the air.

Approximately 400 attended the rally put on by Freedom Works, a local political organization. The organization’s leader, Don Swanson, urged the crowd to push for change by writing letters to the editor.

“Do not leave this place and do nothing,” Swanson pleaded. “We’ve done that long enough.”

Staunch conservative and Asheville City Councilman Carl Mumpower — who was the Republican nominee for Congress against Democrat Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville, in the 11th District race — quipped that he doesn’t need a teleprompter to speak like Obama.

However, Mumpower said the protest was not about political parties, but instead about freedom.

“Enough of Washington policies that make people smaller and government bigger,” Mumpower told the cheering crowd.

Mumpower denounced welfare programs that “rest on the backs of our children through borrowed dollars.”

There also should be no tolerance for people who are indifferent to the U.S. Constitution, said Mumpower.

“We’re here to fight for the lives and future of our children,” Mumpower said.

Duty is the essence of being a human being and the baby boomer generation is the first to leave its children with a smaller vision of the American Dream, he said.

He urged the crowd to believe in the Constitution, not live off the labor of others and to believe in the American Dream. Mumpower quoted Gandhi, saying when someone tries to affect change, the first thing people in power do is ignore, then they laugh, then they fight and finally they surrender.

It is not too late to bring the change to America that is needed Mumpower said. In fact, the fight has just begun, he said. The nation’s founding fathers should be the role models as they were thoughtful, courageous and persistent, he said.

He turned to the American flag on the stage and pointed to the bronze eagle.

“We have to fight for that eagle,” Mumpower said.

As the most conservative member of the Asheville City Council, Mumpower voted against hiring new police officers for the city because they wouldn’t be allowed to enforce immigration laws.

Franklin businessman Phil Drake, who owns Drake Software and is the second largest employer in the county with 500 employees, spoke against the government bailing out corporations and banks.

“There is a place for government,” Drake said. “The primary role of the government should be defense.”

Drake then applauded the Navy seals for their recent rescue in the pirate standoff.

The real tax rate imposed by the government is not what is taken but what is spent because eventually that money will have to be paid back, Drake said. The money will be paid back by either raising taxes or printing more money, which will make “your money less valuable,” Drake said.

The tax code has 74,000 pages and no one understands it, Drake said, adding that the federal deficit is $11 trillion.

The problem in this country is that the government is demanding things today that it is not willing to pay for. Also, the 30 million babies killed by abortion could be alive today and contributing to Social Security, he said.

The government’s No. 1 expense is the “redistribution of wealth,” he said, adding there is only one way out of the current situation: “Stop spending.”


Western Carolina University softball star Mollie Fowler painfully remembers the day her shin broke in half playing shortstop.

She dove for a ball and collided with the second baseman’s cleat.

Drama like this plays out on the athletic fields at WCU almost daily, and with the springs sports season in full gear there is plenty of action to see.

Attending sporting events at Western can be an inexpensive outing during these tough economic times. Spectators have lots of options to choose from including baseball, tennis, track and field and golf.

The Smoky Mountain News spoke with the top athletes in each of the spring sports to learn a little bit about them, and some of them aspire to go pro.


Men’s and Women’s Track and Field

WCU track star Manteo Mitchell started running competitively in high school after he broke his arm playing football the second game of the season of his senior year. Prior to breaking his arm he said he had scholarship offers to play football at some of the top colleges, but was out of the picture after his injury.

The track coach at the high school thought he had a chance to get a scholarship for running. The coach was right, as Mitchell landed a scholarship to run track at WCU.

His track career at Western has been impressive, netting him school records in the 200- and 400-meter dashes.

Now his career at Western is coming to an end this semester, and he says he wants to run professionally.

“A lot of people think you can’t make a lot of money on the track professional circuit, but you can if you play your cards right,” Manteo said.

Manteo said his cousin is a professional runner who trains in Atlanta, was signed by Adidas, and ran in the Olympics in Beijing last summer.

He said his cousin was a part of the relay team that dropped the baton in the Olympics. It was not his cousin that dropped the baton though.

Manteo said his ultimate goal is to run in the Olympics. The next one will be in 2012, and he said he will still be young enough to compete.

He is inspired by himself and God to perform the best he can on the track, he said.

If going pro doesn’t work out, Manteo will have his degree in sports management with a concentration in athletic administration to fall back on. Going back to his old high school in Shelby to run the athletic program there might be fun, he said. But eventually he would like to work as an athletics administrator on the college level.

Unlike Manteo, women’s track and field star Janét Carothers does not have ambitions to go pro.

“I’m ready to get into the real world and get a job,” she said, adding her major is recreational therapy and parks and recreation management.

That is not to say she couldn’t make it if she tried. She has set two school records, and the team won the conference title last year.


Men’s and Women’s Golf

Hailing from Sweden Desiree Karlsson is one of the top players on the WCU women’s golf team. She has made herself comfortable as a Catamount athlete having been on the golf team for three years. She is one of three Swedish players on the team.

Universities in Sweden don’t have athletic programs for students, she said. So she visited Cullowhee and liked the small size of the university and the natural beauty of the Smokies.

“I liked the southern hospitality,” she said. “I’m not used to that.”

Karlsson, like track and field star Manteo, wants to go pro in her sport after she graduates. Her plan is to get on the Futures Tour or European Tour and try to work her way up to the LPGA, she said.

Playing golf professionally pays well, she said.

“If you’re in the top 20, you’re living good,” she said.

Since she was 14 she has been playing golf, but she joked that her dad had plans for her since birth.

“I took my first step with a plastic golf club,” she said.

The greatest accomplishment of her golf career so far is being named freshman of the year at WCU, she said.

Golf has also afforded her the opportunity to travel to England, Portugal, Spain and Italy to play in tournaments, she said.

To continue her successful career she needs to improve on her biggest weakness — bunker shots, while the best part is putting.

Golf is a mental game, she said, adding that she doesn’t curse much on the course but does play head games with herself. For instance, she has told herself that if she does not play well she will deny herself food, and it works.

As a woman golfer she has no problem admitting that men are better at the sport because they are stronger. But she said, “The women are getting better and showing they can beat male players.”

WCU men’s golf star Dustin Furnari also aspires to play pro golf. Furnari came to WCU from St. Augustine, Fla. and plans to go to South Florida after graduating this semester to play professionally.

But he admits that it will be tough to make it on the pro tour and will get his master’s in business administration to fall back on.

Originally from Miami, where golf is king, Furnari grew up playing with his dad. Golf in the mountains is different compared to courses in Miami that have a lot of wind from the ocean, he said.

The golf courses in this area are nice, he said, noting that Tiger Woods was having a course built near Brevard and Phil Mickelson was having course named after him in Cashiers.

Furnari has hit two hole in ones in his career, and can drive it over 300 yards, but the key to being a strong golfer is having a strong short game, hitting wedges and making putts, he said.



Right fielder J.C. Lyons hopes to join two other WCU grads who are currently playing professional baseball.

Lyons, a senior from Marietta, Ga., is the team captain and spoke with The Smoky Mountain News on Sunday just after a 10-5 loss to Georgia Southern.

“Hopefully I’ll get to play pro ball,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll get a shot at the draft in June.”

Cincinnati Reds pitcher Jared Burton played for WCU from 2000-2002 and Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Mark DiFelice was a Catamount between 1995-98, according to Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations Daniel Hooker.

A faithful man, Lyons said if it doesn’t work out it wasn’t in God’s plan, and he will apply his sports management degree. And if he doesn’t go pro, it’s not like he doesn’t have his glory days to look back on. The proudest moment of his baseball career to this point is being named team captain.


Budget Cuts

WCU tennis star Amanda Massey said state budget cuts mean the team doesn’t get new uniforms and travel is limited.

WCU Athletic Director Chip Smith agreed that travel has been cut back and instead of staying over night in hotels, teams are leaving the day of their matches. As the economic decline continues, the goal is to not cut any staff or scholarships, said Smith.

The WCU athletic program has a budget of about $6 million, he said.


Last week’s announcement that 61 new jobs are coming to Sylva with the expansion of Jackson Paper is relief for a town hurting from the closing of the T&S Hardwoods sawmill that employed 75.

Stonewall Packaging LLC, a joint venture of Jackson Paper, is investing more than $17 million to build a second plant in Sylva.

Witness to the tough job climate, the Employment Security Commission Office in Sylva was filled Monday with people looking for work.

Jackson Papers, which currently employs 119, makes corrugated cardboard from recycled paper. The 61 jobs will come to Jackson Paper over a three-year period and pay an average of $39,344, better than the county’s average annual wage of $27,820.

Not only is this good news for Sylva but also for the manufacturing sector in general, which has had large declines in North Carolina and across the nation over the past decade.

According to a report from the N.C. Department of Commerce, manufacturing jobs in the state declined by 80,100 or 10.7 percent in 2001, partially due to the jobs going overseas.

During the seven year period beginning in 2001, manufacturing employment decreased by nearly 210,000, but the state added approximately 25,000 jobs in the finance sector, 85,000 jobs in the professional sector, and 130,000 jobs in health and education, reflecting the transition and diversification of the economy.

But don’t count manufacturing out yet.

A report on manufacturing from North Carolina State University states, “Manufacturing continues to be the leading contributor to North Carolina’s Gross Domestic Product at 18.6 percent, although that represents a decline of 5.7 percent from 1997 to 2007. Manufacturing continues to employ the most people at 16.7 percent of the total workforce, providing above-average wage jobs to more than 535,000 individuals.”

Of the 10,567 manufacturing companies in North Carolina, almost 80 percent have 50 or fewer employees.

A manufacturer in Waynesville, Haywood Vocational Opportunities, also recently announced that it would be expanding with the construction of a second plant and creating 50 new jobs. HVO currently employs 315.

The new jobs will be good for the area that is seeing double-digit unemployment. Jackson’s unemployment was at 10.3 percent in January, the latest figures available. That’s up 5.2 percent from the year before, accounting for 2,028 without a job.


Macon County commissioners voiced concern this week over a proposed sewer treatment plant that would discharge into the Little Tennessee River just across the state line in Georgia.

The river, considered an environmental treasure and a future source of drinking water, flows north through Franklin and on to Lake Fontana

“As the county adjacent to and directly downstream from the proposed Rabun County facility we have significant concerns about the impact of this project on the water quality in the Little Tennessee watershed on both sides of the state border,” Macon wrote in a letter to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division states.

Rabun County, Ga., needs a discharge permit to convert the closed-down Fruit of the Loom plant into a sewer treatment plant. While a written public comment period was held on the permit, Macon commissioners called for a formal public hearing in their letter.

The letter also states that the river is listed as polluted in Georgia and North Carolina and potential further degradation must be approached carefully.

The town of Franklin also has plans in the works to use the river as an alternative source of drinking water, the letter states.

“There are many questions we would like the opportunity to discuss,” the letter states.

The application process for a permit provides holding a public hearing if there is sufficient public interest. Commissioner Bobby Kuppers, who brought the issue forward, said he believes there is enough public interest to warrant a public hearing.

The Little Tennessee Watershed Association has been leading a public campaign over the past month encouraging the public to send comments on the permit. The environmental group previously spoke at a commissioners meeting about the issue.


A throng of about 150 angry members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians turned out to the Birdtown Community Center last week, protesting that the Tribal government is to blame for losing $57 million that was to go to Eastern Band children.

The mob called for the impeachment of Principal Chief Michell Hicks, saying the buck ultimately stops with him. Hicks was not at the meeting and could not be reached for comment.

The money in question is the minor’s fund. Enrolled members of the Eastern Band receive payments twice a year called “per-capita” checks. The money comes from a share of profits made off Harrah’s Cherokee Casino. In 2008, enrolled members of the tribe received $8,779 in per capita.

The per-capita payments to children are held in trust by the tribe until the minor turns 18. If they have a GED or high school diploma, they get a large check upon turning 18. Otherwise, they can’t collect the money until they turn 21 or upon completing a high school diploma. The tribe invests the children’s annual payments, so over the life of the fund it will theoretically grow.

Teresa McCoy, who led the proceeding last week, said the Tribal Council and a five-member investment committee, are responsible for properly investing the children’s money until it can be withdrawn.

It turns out that the money was apparently invested in funds that took a big a hit when the bottom fell out of the market last year.

In 2008, $57 million of the children’s money was lost, according to McCoy.

McCoy said many parents received their children’s balance statements recently and found that their child had lost about $20,000. McCoy said her grandchild lost $21,000. For instance, McCoy said a child turning 18 this year should be getting about $72,000 after taxes but is only going to be able to get about $52,000.

EBCI members are angry that the Tribal government didn’t protect their children’s money better. They are considering filing a class action lawsuit against the tribe, the investment committee, Chief Hicks and Vice Chief Larry Blythe.

No one from the Tribal Council, except Susan Toineeta, attended the meeting. The residents were disappointed that their elected representatives didn’t show up at the meeting to address concerns.

“It added fuel to the fire,” said McCoy.

Tribal members believe they may have grounds for a lawsuit, saying there are policies that state the children’s money should have been invested safely and in a prudent fashion. McCoy said the Tribal government could have prevented the big losses by moving the money to more secure investments when the market began to fail.

Since 2007, the market was showing weakness, but the Tribal government continued to invest the money in high risk investments, she said. The Tribal government had some of the money invested in real estate, she said.

This is not the first time the management of the children’s money has come up. In 2003 parents became concerned when their children lost money due to a decline in the market.

At the time Hicks, said, “ The question is how do we invest to first protect the principal and also earn reasonable interest.”

At the meeting last week, angry tribal members said the tribal government is obligated to return the money that was lost to the children.

A three-member committee made up of elders — Don Rose, Dan McCoy and Joyce Bradley — was formed at the meeting to begin determining what should be done.

The meeting consisted of members of the audience taking to the microphone and venting their frustration. The comments from the audience members were followed by an attorney discussing some possible legal remedies to the situation.

EBCI member Sharon Queen said the elected officials need to be held accountable for the losses, and she wanted to know where the money was invested.

One woman said she is not hopeful that the money is going to be returned.

“We lost $58 million, and we’re not going to get it back,” she said, comparing it to how many Americans lost their retirement savings.

Cynthia Grant told the crowd that her son lost $21,000. Grant also put some of the blame on herself.

“I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t know what was going on, and that’s my fault,” she said. “Now we need to find out what we can do for the children.”

Don Rose said the buck stops with the chief and the council who, he said, failed by not monitoring the investments. Rose urged the crowd to take the emotion out of the issue and bring pressure to the council to solve the problem.

One woman said her 10 grandchildren lost a total of $200,000 — “That’s a lot of money.”

A $100 bill with Hicks’ face on it was passed around the audience.

McCoy said that Hicks is a certified public accountant and that he should have known better about the investments.

The meeting also included several children telling the crowd that they lost $20,000 and want it back.

Per capita payments started around 1995, which means a child turning 18 years old today began receiving per capita contributions at age 4. Casino profits in early days were not nearly as large as they are now, however, or as large as they could be in the future. Children born today should have larger windfalls when they turn 18 than those turning 18 today.

Depending on the casino’s profits, children born today could have hundreds of thousands of dollars awaiting them when they turn 18. This shows the need for sound management of the children’s fund.


Opposition to the airport runway extension in Macon County continues to mount, with a standing-room-only crowd attending last week’s Airport Authority meeting and an environmental group threatening to sue and stop the project.

The controversial runway project would pave over Cherokee burial grounds and artifacts. The Airport Authority has agreed to have 25 percent of the artifacts at the site excavated, but the remaining will stay in place and be threatened by the construction.

There are approximately 400 burials at the site, according to an archaeological assessment done on the site in 2000. All of the burials will remain in place at the request of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

The Airport Authority has been very sensitive to the Eastern Band’s concerns about artifacts and burials at the site, Airport Authority Chairman Milles Gregory said. Excavating 25 percent of the artifacts at the site will cost $535,000. Gregory said 100 percent excavation cannot be done because it would cost around $2 million, which is more than the Airport Authority can afford.

However, Gregory announced at the meeting that the Airport Authority is now attempting to secure additional funding to do “stripping and mapping” of the entire site. He said the Eastern Band is very pleased with this.

Federal Aviation Administration Spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen confirmed that the FAA will provide additional funding for the stripping and mapping, but she didn’t know how much.

Archaeologist Mike Trinkley of South Carolina, who performed the archaeological assessment in 2000, said stripping and mapping does not remove the artifacts and burials from harm’s way. It simply involves taking off the top layer of soil and documenting what is there.

“Simply mapping the site does little in resolving the loss of information,” said Trinkley. “There will be a map showing where stuff was found, but by the time construction begins the stuff will be destroyed.”

Several project opponents at the meeting asked the Airport Authority how it could justify paving over gravesites.

The artifacts are not the only reason opponents are against the runway extension. Some just want to preserve the rural character and peaceful nature of the Iotla Valley.

Many at last week’s meeting were nearby residents of the Iotla Valley and wore buttons urging that the valley be saved.

Dolly Reed of Franklin said she has Cherokee lineage and urged the Airport Authority to “let my people rest in peace.”

Resident Olga Pader said those who live in the valley have been excluded from meetings. Airport Authority member Tommy Jenkins said every Airport Authority meeting has been publicly announced. But Pader noted that there was a private meeting a couple of weeks ago with state, local, federal and Eastern Band officials discussing the project.

County Commissioner Bobby Kuppers, who serves as the Airport Authority liaison, said that was not an official Airport Authority meeting, but was a special conference called by the Eastern Band. Kuppers said the public cannot continue to be suspicious of the county government.

“If this sort of suspicion grows we’re in trouble as a county,” said Kuppers.

A distrust of county officials will destroy the county, said Kuppers, adding that the county commissioners are more open now than they’ve ever been.

The runway extension appears to be getting personal for some, as tempers were flying at the meeting.

Lamar Marshall, with the environmental group Wild South of Asheville, said one of the Airport Authority members called him “crazy as hell” at a recent County commission meeting. Airport Authority member Harold Corbin admitted he was the one who called Marshall “crazy as hell.”

In response to the insult, Marshall wore his Crazy Horse T-shirt to the Airport Authority meeting last week. He said his group is planning a lawsuit against the Authority and others involved in the project.

Corbin became impatient with Franklin resident Selma Sparks, who was trying to speak:

“Sit down, because you’re through,” Corbin told Sparks.

However, not all those in attendance at the meeting last week were against the runway extension. Macon County resident Dwight Vinson said extending the runway 500 feet is good for the county’s economic development.

Franklin resident Norm Roberts agreed that the runway extension is needed for the county to thrive.

“This airport is essential to the economy of the area,” said Roberts.

Others also stated that the runway extension could help bring jobs to the area, but those in favor were heavily outnumbered by those against.

Airport Authority Chairman Milles Gregory said he agreed with some of the statements made by the public and disagreed with others.

Gregory then stated, as he has numerous times in public forums since the controversy erupted about a month ago, that the runway extension has been planned for eight years and that the public has been aware of the project for that long but is just now beginning to express concern.


Want to be on the board?

The five-member Macon County Airport Authority is appointed by the county commissioners for six-year terms.

Terms for members Tommy Jenkins and Harold Corbin are set to expire June 30 of this year, while terms for members Gary Schmitt and Pete Haithcock don’t expire until 2011. Chairman Milles Gregory’s term doesn’t expire until 2013.

The board meets the last Tuesday of the month at 4 p.m. at the Macon County Airport.


The Sylva Police Department may find a new home in the Jackson County Public Library on Main Street once the library moves to its new location.

The building would become available for the police department in December 2010 when the library moves into its new home on the hill behind the historic courthouse.

Police Chief Jeffrey Jamison said the library building would be ideal for the police department because it has good visibility on Main Street and is a good size.

“I think it would take care of the police department’s needs well into the future,” Jamison said.

The Sylva town commissioners directed Jamison to contact the county and ask about acquiring the library building. Jamison said he spoke with County Manger Ken Westmoreland who said that the county would be willing to sell or lease the building. But Jamison said Westmoreland did not quote any prices.

Jamison said the big question now is whether the building will be affordable. He said he proposed possibly trading a piece of town property for the library, but the county was only interested in a lease or a purchase of the building. Jamison said the police department has a lack of space in its current location next to town hall.

— Josh Mitchell


Despite losing yet another court battle over the Dillsboro dam, the majority of Jackson County commissioners have vowed to continue their fight to save the structure.

Superior Court Judge Laura Bridges on March 23 ordered that Jackson County issue permits to Duke to dredge sediment backlogged behind the dam. Dredging the sediment is required before Duke tears down the dam, but the county had been withholding the permits Duke needed until other litigation surrounding the dam was resolved.

But Bridges ruled that the county had no right to withhold the permits, namely a floodplain development permit and land development compliance permit.

Duke argued that the county was just delaying the permits in an effort to save the dam. The county argued that it was withholding the permits until other legal matters surrounding the dam were resolved.

At Monday’s county commissioners’ meeting, Commissioner Tom Massie urged his fellow commissioners to pull out of the fight, saying it can’t be won.

“Have you had enough yet?” Massie asked the other commissioners.

Massie said the county’s fight against Duke is like pushing a chain.

Massie said he and Commissioner William Shelton have made it clear they are ready to throw in the towel and other commissioners should think hard about doing the same.

“We have to face reality,” said Massie.

He urged his fellow commissioners to speak with their constituents about how they feel on the issue. Massie said most of his constituents have said they favor ending the fight against Duke in order to stop spending money on legal fees.

Commission Chairman Brian McMahan said he has spoken with constituents who want the county to continue the fight against Duke.

“In all due respect I talk to taxpayers as well, and they have a different opinion,” McMahan said.

County Manager Ken Westmoreland said County Planning Director Linda Cable was expected to issue the permits to Duke on April 7.

Duke spokesman Fred Alexander said he did not know when Duke would begin dredging the 70,000 cubic yards of sediment. The sediment must be dredged before the dam is torn down to prevent the silt from washing downstream and causing environmental problems.


Another legal matter remains unresolved

The county still has a federal appeal over the dam removal, which is headed for mediation.

Duke won approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to remove the dam as a form of mitigation for its other hydropower operations saddling rivers throughout the region, but the county appealed that ruling to the Court of Appeals in Washington. Jackson County believes Duke owes more in mitigation than removing the dam, such as a cut of Duke’s profits off the dams going into an environmental trust fund.

Alexander said it is normal for matters to go to mediation. If it isn’t resolved in the mediation, the court will make a decision, Alexander said. Alexander did not know when the mediation would be. Alexander also did not know if Duke could proceed with tearing down the dam before the appeal is resolved.


The town of Sylva continues to be plagued by a financial mistake made last year in which $2 million in town funds were invested in accounts not allowed by state statute.

At the town commission meeting last week, Mayor Brenda Oliver informed the board that the Local Government Commission is not going to process a loan application for the fire department expansion until the LGC is satisfied proper procedures are in place to prevent future mistakes.

Interim Town Manger Chris Crater said the LGC is supposed to approve a loan of $2.3 million for the fire department expansion that is scheduled to go to bid in May.

The LGC was also concerned that the town is not adequately documenting credit card expenses. Carter said he wrote back to the LGC last week stating that the town now has procedures in place for investing public finds and documenting credit card use. In regards to the investments, Carter stated in his letter that the town commissioners immediately addressed the issue once it was discovered by transferring the funds to allowable accounts. Carter added in his letter to LGC that the town has a comprehensive set of policies dealing with cash management. The policy states that the town may only invest public money into the North Carolina Capital Management Trust and fully insured FDIC accounts.

The town had invested the $2 million into mutual funds that were not allowed under state statute because they are considered too risky. Furthermore, Carter noted in his letter that former Town Manager Jay Denton, who was responsible for the investments, was terminated over the matter.

As for the credit card issue, Carter stated in his letter that the town commissioners addressed that issue by amending its policy in December. Carter said on Monday, April 6 that he had not heard a response from the LGC. Mayor Oliver said she thinks the LGC will see that the town has addressed the issues and approve the borrowing for the fire department expansion.


An environmental group out of Asheville plans to sue the Macon County Airport Authority and other parties involved in the proposed extension of the runway.

The group, Wild South, wants to stop the runway from being extended, saying the project is unnecessary, will harm the rural character of the Iotla Valley and endanger Cherokee artifacts and burial grounds, as well as other historic sites.

Lamar Marshall of Wild South said a 60-day notice to sue the Airport Authority will soon be filed. Afterwards, Wild South will seek an injunction to stop the project from moving forward, Wild South attorney Stephen Novak said.

Novak said he is unclear at the moment who will be named in the lawsuit.

The organization has also filed a federal Freedom of Information Act request and state public records request to obtain documents related to the proposed runway extension. The records request seeks documents from the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation in Washington, the Federal Aviation Administration, the N.C. Department of Transportation Division of Aviation, the state archaeologist, and the Macon County Airport Authority.

Novak said he hopes the public records will give Wild South a better idea of who should be named in the lawsuit.

The Airport Authority will comply with the records requests, said the board’s attorney Joe Collins.

“If it’s something they’re entitled to see, we’ll certainly give it to them,” Collins said.

Reviewing all the documents associated with the runway extension will give Wild South an understanding of “who said what to whom” in regards to the runway extension, Novak said.

Marshall with Wild South said the Airport Authority is “trying to brush us off,” but it won’t work.

“We’re taking them to court,” said Marshall. “We’re going to sue them.”

The hope is that “damning” information will be found through the public records requests, said Marshall.

The Airport Authority has “definitely not followed the letter of the law,” said Marshall.

Marshall asserts that the Airport Authority and other parties violated the National Historic Preservation Act by ignoring the archaeological significance of the airport site.

Marshall also charges that the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act were violated.

He claims that endangered species in Iotla Creek and the Little Tennessee River will be endangered by runoff from the airport.

An environmental assessment found that the runway extension would have “no significant impact” on the site. But Marshall said the environmental assessment was done without consulting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and based on out of date information.

Marshall said taxpayer money should be withdrawn from the proposed $3.5 million runway extension. The nation is facing an economic crisis, and there are better things to spend money on than extending an airport runway, said Marshall.

“Why dump money into this when it is only going to benefit rich people in Highlands?” Marshall asked.

Moreover, extending the airport runway is just laying the groundwork for more development to take place in the tranquil valley, said Marshall.


The Swain County sheriff and jail administrators were warned that a jailer who freed a double murder suspect March 21 was getting too close to the prisoner but didn’t do anything to intervene, a former jail employee who was fired over the escape last week said.

The fired employee, Steven Osborne, told The Smoky Mountain News that he and other jail employees informed Sheriff Curtis Cochran and jail administrators Martha Marr and Jenny Hyatt numerous times that the jailer, Anita Vestal, and suspect, Jeffery Miles, were getting too close personally.

“They should have fired her when they had the chance,” said Osborne. “We saw it coming. We told them (sheriff and administrators) they were getting too friendly several times. It was a big topic.”

Miles and Vestal still had not been located at press time March 31.

The sheriff and the jail administrators failed to take action to end the relationship, said Osborne.

“They knew she was getting friendly with him,” Osborne said. “They had a meeting with her about two weeks ago. They didn’t do anything but slap her on the hand and let her go back to what she was doing.”

Cochran said there was no reason to suspect Vestal would do anything like this.

“She was a good detention officer,” Cochran said. “I never had any problem with her.”

The consequences of doing nothing could prove fatal, literally, said Osborne.

“Now there’s a killer loose on the street,” Osborne said. “Who knows when he’ll kill again or if he already has. This could have been prevented if they would have gotten rid of her.”

Osborne’s job at the jail was to watch over the security cameras to make sure inmates were not fighting or, in the worst case, escaping.

Osborne, who was a control officer for seven months, was on break when Miles used a key that Vestal apparently provided him to unlock a door and let himself out of jail. Osborne wasn’t watching the cameras when Miles unlocked a gate on the outside of the jail and hid in a van until Vestal drove him to freedom.

Osborne said he spent his 15-minute break talking to deputies outside the jail. Vestal took over for him while he was on break, he said. This is when the escape happened, Osborne said.

Vestal didn’t cover for him the entire break. She said she had to go to the pharmacy to pick up medication for inmates, Osborne said.

When she left, another jail employee, Jamie Sneed, took over, Osborne said.

Osborne had been back watching the cameras for about 10 minutes before he noticed Miles was gone. Osborne said he then called the sheriff, and the search, which included a helicopter and numerous roadblocks, began.

The reason Osborne was given for his firing was that he was no longer needed and that he was being let go because he left his post.

Osborne contends he did nothing wrong and had a piece of paper taped to the side of his computer stating he was allowed to take breaks as long as someone covers for him while he’s gone.

Miles is one of six people charged with killing David Scott Wiggins, 33, and Michael Heath Compton, 34, who were shot to death in their Bryson City home in August.

Sheriff Cochran had no comment on Osborne’s statements, saying he doesn’t discuss personnel issues publicly.

“The sheriff is just trying to take heat off himself,” Osborne said. “The sheriff doesn’t talk about any of this. It’s a dirty deal.”

The relationship between Vestal and Miles included her doing extra things for him like getting him magazines and spending time talking to him, Osborne said.

Vestal would stand in Miles’ cell and talk with him for two to three hours, said Osborne.

The relationship had been going on at least since the Daytona 500, Osborne said, remembering that they watched the February NASCAR race together.

Vestal would also write notes to Miles, said Osborne.


Family, friends worry about Vestal

Prior to working at the jail, Vestal was employed at the Cherokee Lodge in Cherokee as a front desk clerk. She was fired in October because her training for the job at the jail was taking up too much time.

She often brought her four children to work with her, and they would hang around in the lobby. Her husband, Brad Vestal, would also hang around the hotel while she was at work.

Many people who knew Anita Vestal said she loved her children dearly, and that is what is so shocking about her leaving them behind to run off with an accused murderer.

Her sister, Lea Ledford, said she doesn’t know what would motivate her sister to do what she did.

“It’s blown the whole family back,” Ledford said.

Vestal’s nephew, Ace Ledford, theorizes that maybe she was promised some money if she helped him escape.

“I’ve never known her to run off without her kids or her husband,” said Ace.

Ace, 20, said he is angry at his aunt for letting a suspected murderer out of jail.


What motivated Vestal to set Miles free?

Western Carolina University professor of criminology Dr. Fred Hawley said criminals are often charismatic and able to persuade people to do things they normally wouldn’t.

Inmates have lots of time to think and plot and find out where people’s vulnerabilities are, said Hawley.

The escape shows the consequences of jail employees fraternizing with inmates, said Hawley. This is a “worst-case” scenario of a jailer and an inmate bonding, Hawley said.

“This is pretty unusual,” he said.

Often it is less severe, with jail employees bringing inmates drugs or snacks, he said.

Vestal may have let him out of jail because she was blackmailed, Hawley said. Threats by outsiders could have been made against her family if she didn’t let him out, Hawley said. Another possibility is that Miles swept her off her feet, said Hawley.

Vestal may have let Miles out of jail because he made her feel attractive or special, said Psychologist Lynne Barrett of Waynesville. She must have thought that he wouldn’t harm her, said Barrett.

As for why Vestal would trust someone charged with murder, Dr. Barrett compared it to how people believe in cult leaders.

And it could have been that she was smitten with him because he flattered her and made her feel like he could give her things she didn’t have in life.

“When we’re in love we do things out of character,” Barrett said.

It could have been she was bored in her home life and starved for some excitement.

No one, from Sheriff Cochran to Vestal’s parents to the man on the street, has a clue as to why she set Miles free.

Steve Fuller of Bryson City doesn’t know if Vestal is a bad person or if she was blackmailed.

Kerrie Taylor of Cherokee has grim thoughts about what could happen.

“I don’t know if he’s already killed her and moved on to try and hijack someone’s vehicle,” she said.

Sheriff Cochran is also perplexed as to why Vestal freed Miles.

“Why a mother would leave four small children and run off with a guy like this is beyond me,” Sheriff Cochran said. “He’s had to promise her something. What that is is beyond me.”

The incident should serve as a lesson for law enforcement, said Shirley Hagler of Cherokee.

“I think if you go into law enforcement they should do a background check on you,” she said.

Cochran said all proper procedures were followed when Vestal was hired. She has no criminal background, he said. He added that the jail facility is very secure and not the reason for the escape.

“The jail worked the way it should. You can’t account for the human element,” Cochran said.

As for having any worries about Vestal hanging out with Miles in the common areas, Cochran said: “Those common areas are where the jailers go in and have contact with the inmates. There is no way to avoid that.”

Cochran said Vestal is facing charges for helping Miles escape.

“Her life has changed forever,” Cochran said. “She is going to be facing serious charges when she is caught. She has put everyone’s life in Swain County at risk plus everyone he’s come into contact with since he escaped.”

Cochran said he has been working around the clock on the case with help from the State Bureau of Investigation, Highway Patrol, Bryson City Police Department and the Park Service.

Three of the other inmates charged in the murders have been relocated to Raleigh Central Prison as a result of the escape while the other two remain in the Swain County Jail.

Detective Jason Gardner said the other two were allowed to stay in the county jail because they are not considered a high risk of escaping.

The sheriff thinks the escape was well planned.

Vestal was reportedly text messaging in her apartment complex parking lot the night before the escape. Cochran said the text messages are being sought.

The search for Vestal and Miles was featured on the national TV show America’s Most Wanted over the weekend, but hadn’t resulted in any new leads.

Detective Gardner said there is a possibility they could be in Atlanta where Miles’ wife lives, in California, where he is originally from, or in Alabama or Illinois.


Parents had good relationship with Vestal

Vestal’s parents, Ronnie and Judy Blythe, said they had a good relationship with Vestal.

“It was very good, very close,” Ronnie Blythe said.

Vestal had been married about 10 years to Brad Vestal, who twice declined comment to The Smoky Mountain News when contacted at his apartment in Bryson City.

The Blythes, who live in Whittier, said they have many unanswered questions about the incident. For instance, they don’t know why Vestal and Miles would leave the jail to go to her apartment and exchange the van for a truck. Why wouldn’t she just go ahead and get out of town, rather than waste time switching vehicles?

Her dad said in an interview with The Smoky Mountain News that she had never been in trouble in her life. She enjoyed her job at the jail and was proud of herself for scoring so high on the physical and written tests to get the job, Judy Blythe said.

Ronnie Blythe said he is unconvinced that his daughter willingly let Miles out of jail.

“Whether he enticed or coerced her, I may be willing to accept that,” he said.

The sheriff’s office has done a great job handling the case, said Ronnie Blythe. But he is still amazed at how Miles and his daughter disappeared so quickly after the escape.

“If I could tell her anything right now, I would tell her to turn herself in and call home and let us know you’re all right,” Ronnie Blythe said.

The Blythes would also like their daughter to know that she is not in any trouble that can’t be taken care off and that she should return home and get on with her life.


Though some are complaining that the salary for the recently hired Sylva town manager is high for her level of experience, the compensation is below the state average for towns in that population range.

For towns with a population of 2,500-4,999, the average salary is $71,446, according to a N.C. League of Municipalities survey from last July. The new Sylva Town Manager Adrienne D. Isenhower will make $60,678 a year.

Sylva has a population of about 2,500, while Canton, which hired a new town manager last week and has a population of 4,200, is paying the position $77,002. The new Canton manager, however, had been assistant town manager for about eight years and is a past Maggie Valley town manager, said Canton Mayor Pat Smathers.

Also of concern is Isenhower’s amount of experience.

Sylva town board members Harold Hensley and Ray Lewis voted against hiring her because they think she lacks experience, especially in key areas of managing a budget.

Isenhower has three years of experience with the city of Lenoir as well as internships.

Smathers said he thinks that is ample experience to move up to being manager for a town the size of Sylva.

“To be a city planner in a city the size of Lenoir and then move on to a manager position in a town the size of Sylva is a natural progression,” said Smathers.

As the population of a town increases, so does the salary for the manager. For instance, the town manager in Waynesville, which has a population just under 10,000, makes $110,768 a year.

The salary for the town of Bryson City, population 1,492, is $51,958.

Hensley and Lewis questioned why the new manager would make more than former manager Jay Denton who was fired in September. Denton was making $53,000 a year.

Denton also questioned the thinking of commissioners Stacy Knotts, Sarah Graham and Maurice Moody on paying the new manager more than he was getting paid.

“If I was sitting on that board I would think that was high,” Denton told The Smoky Mountain News.

Denton said salaries should be based on experience.

“In my expert opinion that is a fair salary for an experienced manager. They fired me when I was doing a good job and providing services,” said Denton. “And they hired someone with no experience in management.”

Denton said he started out making $45,000 three years ago, and he has a master’s in public administration like Isenhower, but he also had almost three years of experience as the Jackson County manager.

“The board gave me pay raises based on what they thought I should make for the performance I was giving them,” said Denton.

Salaries are also based on the size of a town’s budget and the number of employees it has. Sylva has about 27 employees and a $2.26 million budget.

Ninety percent of a town manager’s job is managing a budget, said Denton. The budget he put together last year was very tight and the town will have to dip into its reserve fund to cover the new manager’s salary, according to Denton.

Hensley said he supported David Steinbicker of Sylva for the manager position because he is a lawyer, CPA, and oversaw a $37 million budget for the Jackson County Board of Education.

He can’t understand why Graham, Moody and Knotts would support Isenhower over Steinbicker.

“It’s beyond me,” Hensley said. “I’m dumbfounded.”

Knotts would not elaborate on why she didn’t support Steinbicker, saying it’s a personnel matter.

Mayor Brenda Oliver did not vote on the town manager but said she thinks Isenhower will do a great job. Oliver particularly liked Isenhower’s planning background and thinks the salary is “appropriate.”

Oliver also liked that Isenhower graduated from Appalachian State University. Oliver said ASU has one of the best public administration master’s programs in the country.

Denton, who graduated from Western Carolina University in Sylva with a master’s in public administration, said WCU’s program is just as good, if not better, than ASU’s.


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