The Rural Blog Archive Oct. 2005

Issues, trends, events, ideas and journalism from the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

Monday, Oct. 31, 2005

High price pumps up interest in Appalachian oil; tiny refinery revving up

Appalachian journalists should take a heads up from a story over the weekend by Roger Alford of The Associated Press, reporting that "New wells are going in every day throughout the region thanks to an oil rush powered by record high prices. With crude selling for $60 a barrel, even the traditionally slow-producing oil fields in the[foothills] of Kentucky and Tennessee, where most wells churn out one to two barrels a day, have become lucrative."

Frank Lynch, president of Somerset Oil, told Alford, "With the high-dollar crude, all of a sudden we were thrown into the big game." Somerset Oil was almost unnoticed for decades. Then last year crude jumped beyond $20 a barrel and kept on rising. Now Lynch expects the local supply to his refinery to increase from 2,800 barrels to 5,500 barrels within the next month and to 7,500 by the end of March. Its capacity is 10,000 barrels, making it one of the nation's smallest refineries. (Read more)

This is an example of an AP story that should spawn lots of local stories -- about on-the-ground activities that directly affect people, such as reopening of old wells, drilling of new ones and leasing of mineral rights for drilling. Oil leases typically last just a few years, unlike most mineral leases. Leases must be filed as public record, so they are available in courthouses. Also, the Kentucky Division of Oil and Gas recently began posting lease-by-lease production data, based on pickups of crude by trucks from Somerset and other regional refineries such as the Indiana Farm Bureau. To access this data, click here.

Small-school experiment shows excellence trumps size, structure

A hopeful endeavor to turn a small Washington-state school system into a model for similar schools nationwide has produced results counter to what was expected -- indicating that regardless of how schools are structured, excellence is still the key to higher academic achievement.

"Mountlake Terrace High School was supposed to lead the way in the national movement to remake large high schools into smaller ones that graduated more students and better prepared them for college. But the school that reorganized itself into five small academies with one of the first Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Small Schools Grants in 2001 is also serving as a cautionary tale about the difficulty of change," writes Lynn Thompson of The Seattle Times.

The foundation is moving away from converting large high schools into smaller ones and is instead giving grants to specially selected school districts that have proven academic improvement and effective leadership. Foundation experts have concluded "improving classroom instruction and mobilizing the resources of an entire district were more important first steps to improving high schools than breaking down the size," writes Thompson.

The Washington school system hasn't given up on the idea of independent small schools organized around themes such as technology and the performing arts, but is rethinking how to organize its three other large high schools. Ken Limón, the district's assistant superintendent for secondary education, told Thompson. "I think we're finding that it's not necessarily about the structure of the school as much as it's about the quality of instruction. It's the relationship between teacher and student that's critical."

The district described in Thompson's story is in the urban area of Snohomish County, just north of Seattle, but the small-schools experiment could have implications for rural schools. (Read more)

County considers rule to make growth planners consider impact on schools

The newest elementary school in Shelby County, Kentucky, opened in August and is bulging at the seams -- perhaps evidence of the need for local planners to consider impacts on schools.

"The county's population rose about 11.6 percent, or 3,880 residents, between 2000 and 2004 as it became a bedroom community of Louisville. Now Shelby County residents and elected officials are debating a proposed ordinance that would help ensure that population growth doesn't outstrip the capacity of the county's schools," writes Michael A. Lindenberger of The Courier-Journal.

The ordinance would allow zoning officials to consider a project's impact on schools as grounds for rejection. It also permits developers to offer school districts incentives such as including land for a new school as part of the proposal -- to ease the impact, reports the Louisville newspaper.

Chuck Kavanaugh, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Louisville, said builders oppose such a measure. By focusing on new homes, officials ignore other growth, including growth caused by families with children who move into a county and rent or buy existing homes, Kavanaugh told Lindenberger. (Read more)

Impact statement on mountaintop-removal mines pleases industry, not enviros

A programmatic environmental impact statement released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service attempts to coordinate reviews of mountaintop-removal mining permit applications and ease concerns over the controversial practice.

The statement follows several years of study by the Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Office of Surface Mining, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection into mountaintop removal in West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee. In essence, this statement approves a proposal to combine the mining permit reviews required by state and federal agencies into a single, joint evaluation, writes Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston Gazette.

The $5.5 million study was promised in December 1998 to settle parts of a federal court lawsuit filed against mountaintop removal. "The draft study, published in May 2003, confirmed that mountaintop removal is destroying forests and streams in West Virginia and other coal states in the region. Among other things, the draft reported that coal operators had buried more than 720 miles of Appalachian streams between 1985 and 2001," writes Ward. (Read more)

"Coal industry officials welcomed the final study’s release, while environmentalists harshly criticized the lack of any concrete rule changes to more strictly police large-scale strip mining," Ward writes, quoting Carol Raulston, spokesman for the National Mining Association: “We think this will be helpful both for people filing permits, knowing what they need to file, and for the public, to review permits and get a more complete picture rather than something piecemeal.”

Joe Lovett of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and Environment told Brian Farkas of The Associated Press,"It's laughable to call it anything except a way to ease permitting for the coal industry. In my view, it's a complete abdication of the federal government under the Clean Water Act to protect this region's water. There is nothing protective about the EIS." (Click here for AP story)

If Katrina turns focus to poor, W. Post has a nominee: Central Appalachia

Tennessee Ernie Ford sang, "Sixteen tons and what'll you get, another day older and deeper in debt." But what happens when the coal is gone and poverty is pervasive and palpable? In the old coal-mining community of Kermit, W.Va., “junkin'” keeps a body alive, but barely. Evelyn Nieves of The
Washington Post
captured the karma of Kermit this way over the weekend:

"Work is hard to find in Kermit (population 201), not to mention in all the other coal towns of southern West Virginia. So Greg Hannah, a 38-year-old single father, relies on the refuse ... to put some money in his pocket and help support his 8-year-old boy. Hannah is 'a junker' ... sifting through trash for metal and other junk and [he] sells it to a plant that buys aluminum for 50 cents a pound. If he works 'really hard, every day,' he says, he could make as much as $200 in one week."

Nieves writes, "After New Orleans's destruction, politicians and commentators predicted that Hurricane Katrina would force the nation to focus on the plight of poor people. If that were to happen, this swath of lush, green central Appalachia, where President Lyndon B. Johnson launched his 'War on Poverty' more than 40 years ago, would once again be a prime candidate for attention. ... Appalachia leads the nation in disabilities, deaths by preventable diseases, dental problems and prescription drug abuse, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Mingo County, where Kermit is located, the poverty rate is 29.7 percent, slightly higher than pre-Katrina New Orleans. Coal is the big industry, but mining jobs are as rare as luck." (Read more)

Meth candy? Chinese meth? Officials fear new forms from various sources

Methamphetamine, once a mainly rural drug, is making its way across American communities and now a new version of the killer may be on its way from China.

Hasan Davis is vice president of the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice, and he is talking about dealing with that development at various tour stops throughout the United States. While the Chinese meth looms on the horizon, Davis said the current meth problem must be dealt with first, writes Katie Brown of the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota. "We really need to address the problems we have now so if and when we are faced with this we can do what we need to in order to keep it from becoming a catastrophic event," Davis said.

While Davis' committee continues to seek information about the Chinese meth, news is spreading that meth manufacturers have started creating candy-coated pill versions of the drug, reports Brown. "It probably isn't in the United States already, but with the global economy and global market, who knows how long we have before it makes it over here," Davis said. (Read more)

Cumulus Broadcasting to buy Susquehanna Media radio stations

In the largest radio-industry deal in several years, "Susquehanna Media Co., the nation's largest closely held radio operator by revenue, has agreed to sell its radio assets to a group led by Cumulus Media Inc. for $1.2 billion," reports Sarah McBride of The Wall Street Journal.

Cumulus Media Partners consists of Cumulus Media and three investment firms -- Bain Capital LLC, Blackstone Group LP and Thomas H. Lee Partners LP. All hold one-fourth interest, but Cumulus said it could raise its stake if it meets performance targets.

"Cumulus, which owns more than 300 stations mostly in smaller and medium markets, would have stakes in stations in several big cities like San Francisco and Dallas when the transaction is completed," the Journal reports. Cumulus and other companies have their eyes on the radio stations of the Walt Disney Co., including the ABC Radio Network.

"Acquiring the Disney stations, which had net revenue last year of about $450 million, would help any of the half-dozen or so second-tier radio groups around the country better challenge the dominance of industry giants Clear Channel Communications Inc. ... and Viacom Inc.'s Infinity Broadcasting," McBride writes. "Susquehanna is a unit of Susquehanna Pfaltzgraff Co., which recently sold its dinnerware business." (Click here to read more; subscription may be required)

United Nations envoy to examine Eastern Kentucky's poverty today, tomorrow

"A United Nations official who is studying 'extreme poverty' in the United States is scheduled to travel to Eastern Kentucky early next week to learn about Appalachia's economic and environmental problems," writes Frank E. Lockwood of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Arjun Sengupta, with the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, will visit a homeless shelter in Hazard and a low-cost medical clinic in Paint Lick. Rev. John Rausch, director of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia, arranged the visit. Sengupta, a former Indian ambassador to the European Union, "is looking at numerous places in the United States where poverty has been overlooked or exists and is not dealt with," Rausch told Lockwood.

Sengupta has visited New Orleans and will soon see inner-city Philadelphia. In Kentucky, Rausch is encouraging people to give the official a realistic view of poverty. "I don't want to hear any glossy nonsense. I want to know where the cracks and fissures are," Rausch said, noted Lockwood.

The Appalachian Regional Commission reports that 32 of the 77 most economically "distressed counties" in its 13 states are in Kentucky. Sengupta is studying "income poverty, human development poverty and social exclusion" during his U.S. tour, reports Lockwood. (Read more)

Rural roots may help make Jerry Kilgore governor of Virginia next week

Jerry Kilgore could become the first Virginia governor from Scott County, an Appalachian community closer to seven other state capitals (even Columbus, Ohio) than to Richmond. Small-town life in his hometown of Gate City involves plenty of hunting, church gatherings and of course, football. "This is the place that defines who I am," Kilgore told Bob Lewis of The Associated Press.

Kilgore, 44, completely embraces his roots in Virginia's southwestern hills, "where life is tied closely to church and family, where pretense is a social blunder and where people feel forgotten and unappreciated by their leaders in Richmond, 348 miles away," writes Lewis. Now Kilgore, a Republican, wants Gate City's residents to have a leader that they know appreciates them. He started by becoming attorney general in 2001, and now faces Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, for the state's top post. (Read more)

"Kaine has taken a narrow lead [of 47 percent to 44 percent] buoyed by newfound strength in Northern Virginia's outer suburbs and an electorate turned off by what it considers the negative tone of his Republican opponent, according to a new Washington Post poll," write Michael D. Shear and Claudia Deane of The Washington Post. However, Virginia's recent electoral history suggests that Kaine may need an even wider lead in polls to win on Election Day, since Democrats' figures are usually inflated. Kaine is leading among women, older voters, and suburban voters, Kilgore is leading among whites, men and those who say they live in rural areas, reports The Post. (Read more)

Minister who opposed gay-marriage ban sues Ky. Farm Bureau over firing

A Unitarian minister has filed a lawsuit claiming that the Kentucky Farm Bureau wrongfully fired him in January, after he spoke out against a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

Rev. Todd Eklof, a minister at Clifton Unitarian Church in Louisville, announced during a November service that he would no longer perform marriages until gay marriage was legalized. "In the lawsuit, filed in Jefferson Circuit Court, Eklof claims he was fired about two months after a television interview regarding his stance. Eklof was a corporate video producer for the Farm Bureau," says The Courier-Journal.

"What happened to freedom of speech?" Eklof asked about 50 supporters during a weekend rally. "We will not remain silent. We will not keep our opinions to ourselves." A Jan. 18 letter from David Beck, the Farm Bureau's executive vice president, said Eklof's public statements violated a company policy against such opinionated displays and that Eklof had performed poorly at work, reports Jason Riley for the Louisville newspaper. "Kentucky was one of 11 states last fall that changed their constitutions to outlaw same-sex marriages," he notes. (Read more)

Halloween weekend hayride in South Carolina ends with four people dead

Journalists who serve rural areas might want to report this item as a reminder to readers, listeners and viewers that hayrides can be dangerous.

"Four people were killed and at least 14 were injured during a hay ride Sunday in Florence, S.C., when an 18-wheeler slammed into a farm tractor pulling a trailer on which the people were riding, officials said," reports the Charlotte Observer. The trailer had no rear lights, and there were as many as 20 people participating in the hay ride through rural Marion County. When the truck hit the tractor and the wagon, the latter broke away and spun around, and passengers were flung from the wagon. (Read more)

Rural Calendar:

Nov. 5: Hotel reservation deadline this Saturday for Farm Journal Forum

The deadline for making hotel reservations for the 10th Farm Journal Forum, presented by Monsanto and ADM, is this coming Saturday. The forum is designed for participants to learn about what's new in consumer demands for food, farm policy, renewable energy and rural development.

The forum will be held Dec. 5-6 at the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill. Sign up for the forum by calling (703) 683-6334, e-mailing FarmJournal@PearsonPlanners.com, or faxing the registration form to (540) 373-8893. This year's theme is "Promoting Farmer-Consumer Connections." Invited speakers include Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns. The conference registration fee is $295. To make hotel reservations for $199 single and double occupancy, call (202) 737-1234 or (800) 233-1234 and mention the Farm Journal Forum. (Read more)

Nov. 1-18: Online Ecotourism Emerging Industry Forum starts tomorrow

Planeta.com and EplerWood International invite you to take part in the Ecotourism Emerging Industry Forum Nov. 1-18.

The Ecotourism Emerging Industry Forum will be conducted on-line. It will bring together key business, finance, and market players worldwide to discuss the needs of their industry. Moderators will be selected with experience and understanding of business goals and objectives.

Nearly 100 people have registered for this innovative online forum, designed to provide professionally moderated, up-to-date results on small and medium enterprise (SME) priorities for funding and investment decisions for sustainable tourism in developing countries. The organizers will prepare final results with a small editorial board to be announced. The results will be delivered to all of the development agencies via personal correspondence and meetings with the key individuals involved in donor policy development. (Read more)

Friday, Oct. 28, 2005

'Covering Coal' conference for Central Appalachian journalists Nov. 18

Coal has made news in Central Appalachia for more than a century, and it is particularly newsworthy right now. Prices are high and mines are hiring, but citizens are complaining about the impacts of the industry. Journalists, the major players may not live in your area, but the impacts – good and bad – are local, and your readers, listeners or viewers are interested in them.

But covering those impacts is often difficult, because coal is a complex industry – in its technology, its regulation and its economics, for example – and the decision-makers are often not readily at hand. If you’re a small daily paper or station, it’s easy to leave it to The Associated Press; if you’re a weekly and don’t have AP, reliable information is often hard to find. Even larger papers often need better access to experts and decision-makers.

To help Appalachian journalists cover this business that is so important to the region, the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and its partners at other schools are presenting "Covering Coal," an intensive seminar on Friday Nov. 18 at the Graduate College of Marshall University in South Charleston, W.Va. Attendees will hear from people in the coal business, the bureaucrats who regulate them, environmentalists and other citizens who point out the others’ shortcomings, and veteran journalists who will offer useful advice. You will leave with a better understanding of the industry and its issues, and with story ideas, sources and the right questions.

The fee is $25 (after Nov. 10, $35). Because space is limited, attendance will be limited to the first 25 paid registrations. Details appear on this page of our Web site. To download a .pdf copy of the conference schedule and registration form, click here.

Alliance Coal to reopen long-dormant mine in West Virginia panhandle

The Old Valley Camp coal mine near Wheeling, W.Va., is being revived after laying dormant for 30 years. "This will be the first time coal is mined in Ohio County in 30 years," State Sen. Andy McKenzie told Juliet A. Terry of The State Journal in Charleston. "It's going to be one of the largest openings of a coal mine in a long time." (Read more)

The Old Valley Camp mine, now the Tunnel Ridge reserve area, covers 50,000-plus acres in Ohio County and adjoining Pennsylvania. Alliance Resource Partners is in the permitting process to open the mine, Terry writes.

Alliance said the mine could produce up to 6 million tons of coal annually, also predicting about 300 new jobs will be created when it opens, with salaries averaging $50,000 to $55,000. It's expected to be a $200 million investment over the next five years, Terry writes. The company estimated Tunnel Ridge could generate $179 million in state severance taxes and $9 million in county severance taxes over its lifetime.

FCC chairman wants to shore up funding for rural telecom services

Declining costs of pohone service, telephoning over the Internet and a blurring definition of telecom company have hurt the Universal Services Fund that hels rural areas. The Federal Communications Commission chairman, Kevin Martin, says the government should help.

On Wednesday, Martin told Telecom '05 conference attendees in Las Vegas he hopes the government will improve funding for advanced telecom services for rural and isolated businesses, schools and consumers, reports Nicholas Hoover of Information Week.

"The commission needs to revise the way in which it collects universal service funds," said Martin, who grew up in rural North Carolina. He noted the FCC is charged with assuring that rural America doesn't get left behind in services. The Universal Services Fund requires interstate telecom carriers to pay taxes into the fund based on their revenue, notes Hoover. Broadband and other high-tech telecommunications services are costly in rural areas, so the fund subsidizes small rural carriers.

Martin has proposed that companies pay taxes based on the number of lines they service, not on their total revenues. Martin noted not everyone is happy with the proposal, and is open to any proposal that would make the system more technology-neutral, Hoover writes. (Read more)

Congress delays country-of-origin meat labeling, possibly to 2008

Under a joint recommendation from congressional appropriations committees, meat processors probably won't have to label where products come from until 2008.

Both chambers of Congress will vote on the recommendations, which include delaying mandatory country-of-origin labeling until Sept. 30, 2008, writes Shea Van Hoy of The Morning News of Springdale, Ark., home of Tyson Foods Inc. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports the cost of mandatory labeling for beef and pork packers would be more than $2.4 billion in the first year, writes Van Hoy.

Tyson spokesman Gary Michelson told Van Hoy, "While we're pleased it has been delayed again, we still believe this measure should either be repealed or made permanently voluntary." Tyson opposes mandatory labeling, citing high costs, lack of consumer demand and difficulty in tracking products' origins.

Consumer groups and cattlemen organizations, such as the Montana-based Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund/United Stockgrowers of America, back country-of-origin labeling. Danni Beer of the cattlemen's group told Van Hoy the joint committee "caved in to Tyson's pressure" when it adopted the country-of-origin delay. The consumer group, Americans for Country of Origin Labeling, contends costs for a mandatory program are overestimated, and it says U.S. trading partners require labeling to allow consumers to make better choices. (Read more)

New owners shake up Eagle-Tribune; Ketter named 'educator, trainer'

Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. has replaced Lawrence (Mass.) Eagle-Tribune Publisher Irving ''Chip" Rogers II with Richard Franks, who had been chief executive officer, and made the company's vice president of news, William Ketter, an "educator and trainer" who will no longer oversee the day-to-day editorial content. That role goes to executive editor Karen Andreas, 39, who worked at North Shore newspapers for 17 years, including three as Salem News editor, reports the Boston Globe.

The Eagle-Tribune, which CNHI bought recently, is the Alabama-based chain's largest daily. Mike Reed, president and chief executive officer of CNHI, told Crane that Ketter, 65, will work with editorial personnel company-wide. Under Ketter's leadership the Eagle-Tribune won one of its two Pulitzer Prizes. "Why not expose (Ketter) editorially to the whole company?" Reed asked. "He can ... see how they conduct newsroom proceedings. Do they have a good grasp on what should be on page one versus page three? Maybe he can make future editors by passing on his experience."

Ketter's experience includes work for The Patriot Ledger of Quincy, service on the Pulitzer Prize board, and teaching journalism at Boston University. (Read more)

Wal-Mart chief wants higher minimum wage to help workers, customers

Wal-Mart's top official asked Congress to consider raising the minimum wage this week, saying he wanted to help his employees and the customers who shop at the retail behemoth.

Wal-Mart Chief Executive H. Lee Scott said he wants to improve worker wages, which at his company average less than $10 an hour. "Even slight overall adjustments to wages eliminate our thin profit margin," Scott said, but said the wage should be raised to also help Wal-Mart's cash-strapped customers.

Carl Pope, the executive director of the Sierra Club and a board member of Wal-Mart Watch, a group critical of the company, said the firm still needs to address some environmental issues, such as how new stores impact rural areas. The massive buildings cover fields or wetlands and prompt customers to consume extra gasoline, Pope told Barbaro and Barringer. (Read more)

On the prowl: Wal-Mart's critics to take fight inside churches, synagogues

Wal-Mart's critics will be preaching their gospel from pulpits, figuratively speaking, across the nation.

"Producers of a new documentary, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, will show it in about 1,000 churches, synagogues and religious sites nationwide on Nov. 13 in a bid to force changes in Wal-Mart's employment and other practices," writes Jim Hopkins of USA Today.

"The movie is part of a broader campaign by a disparate group of critics who now include ministers asserting Wal-Mart's tactics are a moral as well as economic issue," Hopkins writes, adding that the film comes on the heels of Wal-Mart's public relations effort "to polish its battered image." (Read more)

The Wal-Mart film features interviews with company employees, small-business owners, teachers and others who sharply criticize it with charges of low wages, skimpy health benefits and a poor environmental record. The film's producer Robert Greenwald told Hopkins, "Those are moral questions."

Wilma's aftermath: Florida's farmers hurt when sugar cane tangled, twisted

Sugar cane stalks normally rise upward toward the sun's rays, but hurricane winds have left Florida's rich crop bent downward and even flattened in some areas.

"Sugar cane is one of the most important crops in the state, and agriculture vies with tourism as the main engine in Florida's economy, which is valued at $50 billion annually. The losses in the region are going to run into the tens of millions if not billions of dollars, government officials and business people said," write Joseph B. Treaster and Abby Goodnough of The New York Times.

The damaged Everglades region, densely populated with migrant workers, is already economically challenged. Now, most field workers are out a week's pay. Rick Henderson, who runs a company that provide portable toilets for field workers, said, "The farmers lost probably 80 percent of their crop." Henderson told the Times, "I imagine this is going to kill our business. When the farmers get hit, it has a domino effect on the whole area." (Read more)

Colorado governor changes mind on spending tobacco settlement funds

States around the nation are still managing a multi-million dollar windfall blowing into their coffers from the 1998 national tobacco settlement. Colorado Gov. Bill Owens has changed directions.

Owens "shifted his stance on how the state should use tobacco settlement money, saying that he would opt for deeper budget cuts over one-time funds to fill the gaps in next year's state budget if voters reject" ballot proposals to suspend spending limits for five years, writes Mark Couch of the Denver Post. "Owens said he would be reluctant to use money the state could raise by selling bonds backed by money the state expects to collect from tobacco companies," as many states have done. (Read more)

"I'm not sure we'll securitize, because the cliff you walk off in the future is a lot steeper," Owens said recently about proposals to sell bonds. "Tobacco securitization" is one of the governor's top priorities, which he sees as a way to put money into a rainy-day fund to cope with future emergencies. As debate over the referenda heats up, it is being touted by many Republicans as a solution to budget woes.

Massachusetts Senate president proposes statute to shield reporters' sources

In the ongoing debate over reporters using confidential sources, Massachusetts state Senate President Robert E. Travaglini added his input by filing a bill Thursday to create a shield law for his state.

"The law proposed by Travaglini would bar any branch of government from using subpoenas or other methods to force reporters to name sources, except in extreme cases of overriding public interest, such as when the information is deemed necessary to prevent a terrorist attack," according to The Boston Globe.

"For the most part, I believe that journalists use these resources in a responsible way. Unless there are some extraordinary circumstances, they shouldn't be forced to reveal their sources," he said. (Read more)

The Missouri Photojournalism Hall of Fame announces first inductees

The Missouri Photojournalism Hall of Fame, which opened Oct. 20, has announced the names of its first eight photojournalists inductees. The University of Missouri opened the hall of fame to promote photography in journalism, as noted in The Rural Blog Oct. 14.

The initial inductees are: Cliff and Vi Edom, who worked as a team at the university to promote photography in journalism; Angus "Mac" McDougall, who directed the school's photojournalism sequence from 1972-1982; Arthur Witman, a St. Louis Post-Dispatch photographer; Jack Zehrt, a St. Louis Globe-Democrat and freelance photographer; Bob Briggs of the Globe-Democrat, who also worked for Life and Time magazines; Charles Stacey, whose 28-year career at The Salem News documented the lives of rural people; and Betty Love, who pioneered the use of color photography at the Springfield Daily News and Leader-Press. (Read more)

Three Kentucky college students charged with destroying newspapers

Three Morehead State University students have pleaded not guilty to third-degree criminal mischief, after allegedly confessing to burning 7,000-plus copies of the student-ran Trail Blazer newspaper.

Danielle Brown, Andrea Sharp and Jennie Williams pleaded not guilty in Rowan County, Kentucky, and the case will go to a pretrial hearing Dec. 14. MSU police said the three students signed a written confession to confiscating and burning the Sept. 23 newspapers because of a rape story included in that edition, writes Tonia Sexton of The Morehead News. Her story is not online; here is an earlier story.

Keeping trick or treaters safe: Harvard offers tips on treats, costumes

Halloween has become not only an annual feast for youngsters but a major concern for their parents, with reports each year of injuries and deaths caused by tainted treats to fire-prone costumes. Harvard Health Publications, the publishing group at Harvard Medical School, has some tips on holiday candy, costumes, Jack-o'-lanterns, and home safety.

For candy, the publication advises, "Kids will be less likely to overload on candy if they eat something before they go out," reports Newswise.com "Costumes are an essential part of Halloween fun, but hazardous situations can arise if a costume is made from the wrong materials or does not fit properly," advises the health publication.

As for carving Jack-o’-lanterns, it advises, "Under parents' supervision, children ages 5 to 10 can carve with pumpkin cutters that have safety bars." And, for home safety, the medical publication writes, "Keep your own home safe for visiting trick-or-treaters by removing anything that a child could trip over and by replacing any burned-out outdoor light bulbs," Newswise reports. (Read more)

Nov. 5 Louisville SPJ workshop to feature Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter

The Louisville chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists will present reporting tips from Tom Hallman Jr., a Pulitzer Prize winner and long-time writer for The Oregonian, from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 5 in the WFPL-FM studio at 619 S. Fourth St.

For directions, go to this site. Registration and continental breakfast will begin at 8:30. The cost is $15 for students, $20 for SPJ members and $25 for non-members. Reservations are due Nov. 2. Checks, made payable to Louisville SPJ, may be sent to Kathy Francis, 3313 Broeck Pointe Circle, Louisville KY 40241. You may also pay at the door. To register or for more information, call (502) 379-7918 or e-mail Mklfrancis0457@aol.com.

Thursday, Oct. 27, 2005

Iowa, Kentucky join to study air quality at livestock production facilities

Engineers at Iowa State University and the University of Kentucky have teamed up in a new $1 million monitoring program to collect air emissions data from poultry and other livestock production facilities in Kentucky, a project that could help the industry reduce pollution levels.

"A new air compliance agreement between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and industry groups led to the development of a monitoring project that will gather emissions data from swine farms and manure storage facilities, poultry houses and free-stall dairy facilities across the country, write Susan Thompson and Laura Skillman of the UK College of Agriculture.

Robert Burns, the project leader and associate professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering at Iowa State, told Thompson and Skillman, “We’re setting the stage for future poultry and other livestock production facility air emissions monitoring under this program.”

The project, funded by Tyson Foods, monitors ammonia, carbon dioxide, three types of particulate matter, hydrogen sulfide and non-methane hydrocarbons. Data will be collected for one year, analyzed and reported to the EPA. The idea is to evaluate differences in emissions due to geographical region, season of the year, time of day, building design, growth cycle of the animals and building management for new air emissions guidelines, note Thompson and Skillman. (Read more)

Newspapers should not degrade editorial content, ad-buyer tells publishers

In the midst of growing competition, diminishing circulation and increased shame from industry screw-ups, newspaper publishers should not back down on their role as community watchdogs and advocates, says an executive with a major media-planning firm.

"Bottom-line-oriented publishers who chop away at their paper's news content are undermining their business," said the executive with Newspaper Services of America at a recent meeting of the Inland Press Association. Dave Gusse told the group, "Don't let your CFOs run your companies. Don't cheap out on editorial."

Gusse directs the Safeway and Mervyn's Department Stores accounts for NSA. He had advice for newspapers on how to land more advertising including allowing clients to buy into total market coverage, but he repeated his admonition on editorial content and quality as a driver of advertising business, writes Mark Fitzgerald, editor-at-large for Editor & Publisher.

Gusse told the Chicago meeting he was speaking as a reader, as well as a media planner and buyer. "For many of our advertisers, what separates you from the shared-mail products is your editorial content," and added newspapers must offer a quality news product that makes people want to subscribe. "I hate seeing editorial be run down," he said. (Read more)

'Ice' has a price: Meth's human, economic toll enormous, reports Ga. paper

The methamphetamine epidemic has prompted a Columbus, Ga., newspaper to take an in-depth look at the toll in human suffering caused by the powerful drug, and it reports growing devastation.

The city's Metro Narcotics Task Force recently arrested two residents and confiscated 10 ounces of "ice," a form of meth. It was the second-largest seizure in Columbus. The largest was more than a pound earlier this year with a street value of $27,000, report Melanie Bennett and Chuck Williams of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.

"Methamphetamine, once a rural problem, has spread to cities like Columbus. And the costs are enormous for environmental cleanup, for medical bills, for legal and rehabilitative services, for the law enforcement officials needed to combat the drug. And that doesn't include the human costs; children with meth-addicted parents, parents with meth-addicted children, and lots of broken homes," write Bennett and Williams.

Dr. Drew Williams, at the local medical center, told Bennett and Williams he sees chronic users daily with heart problems, infected sores, rotten teeth and blistered feet. The drug stimulates the brain and users do not sleep for several days at a time. Williams told them, " If you stayed up for two, three, four days, you'd get real paranoid, start doing things you wouldn't normally do. It becomes rational to steal and fight or do sexual favors for drugs."

Jesse Hambrick, an investigator in the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, told Bennett and Williams the drug is next to impossible to quit because, "When you are using meth it is like having the best sex, a fantastic meal and winning the lottery all rolled up in one package. Why quit if it makes you feel that good? Because eventually it is going to kill you." (Read more)

Windmills, new generator help TVA meet growing demand for 'green power'

The Southeast's largest homegrown green-power program is operating with a surplus for the first time since 2003 with additional an additional generator and new wind turbines on-line and growing demand.

Until last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had rated the Tennessee Valley Authority's renewable energy program "one of the top 10 renewable energy programs in the country. But delays in adding 15 wind turbines to the three already on TVA's Buffalo Mountain wind farm near Oliver Springs, about 30 miles west of Knoxville, stalled the program and demand outstripped capacity," writes Duncan Mansfield of The Associated Press. (Read more)

Jerry Cargile, manager of TVA's Green Power Switch program, told Mansfield, "It is the best year so far. That has made us optimistic that we can get back on track." The new windmills came on line earlier this year and as of 45 days ago the company's new 33 megawatt capacity erased its deficit. In August, TVA sold 77 percent of its generation.

TVA officials say the company is now in a position to renew its efforts to expand the program, which reaches about 8,300 households. Eighty-nine of TVA's 158 distributors currently offer Green Power Switch, sold in 150-kilowatt-hour blocks for an extra $4 a month, writes Mansfield.

Key senator calls for Indian gaming review; cites possible corruption concerns

U. S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told at a meeting at Portland State University that Congress needs to review gambling regulations for American Indian casinos, saying that a $20 billion industry based on mostly cash transactions is vulnerable to corruption.

The meeting at the Native American Student and Community Center at Portland State was a bipartisan effort to address issues facing the tribes, U. S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., told William McCall of The Associated Press. Several tribal leaders told McCain, who is chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, that they have concerns over changing any of the gambling regulations, which they feel are adequate. "We have a difference of opinion," McCain said. "This is an industry with a long history of corruption, so we'll just have to respectfully disagree." (Read more)

Rural landfill turns waste gas into fuel; rising energy prices spur development

Does decay pay? A growing interest and industry where rot is really hot says it pays and it pays big.

"Landfill gas, a combination of methane and carbon dioxide generated by tons of rotting garbage, is the hot darling in the world of alternative energy. The Chester County [Pennsylvania] Solid Waste Authority officially [has] joined the trend. Working in partnership with Michigan-based Granger Energy, the pair [have] unveiled a state-of-the-art gas processing plant at the Lanchester Landfill. Estimated project costs are $12 million," writes Nancy Petersen of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Authority Chairman Robert J. Schoenberger, an expert in solid waste management and former Drexel University professor told Petersen, "The project is a win for everybody." The landfill, spread over 160 acres on the border of Chester and Lancaster Counties, produces enough gas to save about 122,800 barrels of oil a year or heat 33,900 homes.

Previously, the gas was burned off in flares, but skyrocketing costs for natural gas, coal, and other more traditional fuels are ending that practice. Granger Energy president Joel Zylstra told Petersen, "We set it up so it's always a better deal for them." Since the authority and Granger shared the construction costs of the wells, the processing facility and the pipeline, Schoenberger said that he expects the authority to break even on its investment in about six years, Petersen writes. (Read more)

Rural Texas community goes wet despite minister's protestations

The Decatur, Tex., City Council approved the limited sale of alcohol in its zoning district, despite the protests of a local Baptist minister, reports the Wise County Messenger in Decatur.

The council voted to allow private clubs with a special-use permit in the Decatur Square zoning district to sell alcohol. Rev. David Isbell of Eagle Drive Baptist Church told the council that alcohol is harmful to society and that “leaders of our community are elected to reduce the harmful effects (of alcohol) rather than assist its increase," reports Don Munsch of the Messenger.

Isbell also cited statistics that showed increased city costs associated with alcohol sales, and said any increase in revenue would "not really increase the bottom line." Rev. Isbell added, “social problems growing out of alcohol are very expensive. The revenues generated by the sale of alcohol do not cover the cost of the trouble created by the use and abuse of alcohol.” Isbell used an array of studies to support his opinion, Munsch noted. (Read more)

Rains in N.H. bring a deluge of road and waterway barriers, beaver-built

New Hampshire has a problem, and it's not solely the monsoon-like rains this past month, but road and waterway constrictions created by an inspired critter that thrives in ponds, lakes and marshy wetlands that wreak havoc on forests, block culverts, and flood country roads.

"Days and days of rain, streams overflowing, meadows flooded -- bad stuff for farmers, but great for New Hampshire's most industrious wildlife species, the beaver," writes New Hampshire Commissioner of Agriculture, Markets & Food Stephen H. Taylor in his Weekly Market Bulletin on his Web site.

Taylor says landowners and road agents statewide are having to deal with flooded roads and blocked waterways compliments of the toothy, wood-chomping rodent with the beefy, paddle-like tail. Taylor reports an increasing number of dams, ponding highways and plugged culverts produced by the prodigious, pudgy cousin of the groundhog.

Biologist Marsha Barden of the animal damage control unit of the state's Fish and Game Department tells Taylor that landowners suffering damages from the over-zealous rodent engineers, are allowed to "trap or shoot the animals regardless of whether it's the legal season for taking the critters," Taylor writes.

Barden's agency has a list of trappers for hire, who have had to resort to pest control in recent years, since beaver pelts no longer fetch a fancy price. But, Taylor warns, inspired by the beaver's industrious reputation, "Take a backhoe and breach a beaver dam or unclog a culvert ... [and it will likely be] restored in just a day or two." Click here to read more, in .pdf.

Rural Calendar:

Nov. 1-18, on line: Ecotourism Emerging Industry Forum

Planeta.com and EplerWood International invite you to take part in the Ecotourism Emerging Industry Forum Nov. 1-18, 2005.

The Ecotourism Emerging Industry Forum will be conducted on-line bringing together key business, finance, and market players worldwide to discuss the needs of their industry, say organizers. Moderators are being selected with experience and understanding of business goals and objectives.

Forum officials say nearly 100 people have registered for the online forum, which is "designed to provide professionally moderated, up-to-date results on small and medium enterprise (SME) priorities for funding and investment decisions for sustainable tourism in developing countries," they write.

Planeta.com and EplerWood International will prepare final results with a small editorial board to be announced later. The results will be delivered to all of the development agencies via personal correspondence and meetings with the key individuals involved in donor policy development, they report.

Nov. 7-8: Home-based business workshop on heritage skills

A two-day home-based business seminar is planned at Natural Bridge State Park in Slade for those wishing to start or to expand their business. The event will focus on home-based craft, basketry, tourism and heritage skills businesses.

The University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service and the Southern and Eastern Kentucky Tourism Development Association along with the Barnhart Fund for Excellence will present a "Home-Based Business Workshop." Registration begins at 9 a.m. on Nov. 7, and the workshop
will conclude at 12:30 p.m.

For more information or to register by Oct. 24, contact your local Extension Service office. The cost is $15 per person. Discounted room rates are available by contacting Natural Bridge State Resort Park at (800) 325-1710. Organizers say to be sure to mention you are attending the workshop.

Nov. 11: Kentucky Conservation Committee's 'Kentucky Voices'

The Kentucky Conservation Committee invites you to "Kentucky Voices," its annual evening of poetry and prose. This year's event features Kentucky authors Gwyn Hyman Rubio, Ron Ellis and Steven Cope, with music by Billy Hower.

This year the event will be on November 11, at 7 p.m. in the Parish Hall of the Church of the Ascension at 311 Washington St. in Frankfort. The suggested donation is $10 for adults, $5 for students.

Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2005

PTAs try to shed image as moms-only group; 'not just about baking cookies'

National and local Parent-Teacher Associations are making a big push for men this month.

PTA officials say men are a minority and women involved in the group want to "dispel the image of the PTA as a middle-class women’s organization," writes Marita Dempsey Lowman of The Times-Tribune in Scranton, Pa. "The PTA is not just about baking cookies any more," said Christine Munchak, president of the Pennsylvania Parent-Teacher Association. (Read more)

About 500,000 men are among the nation's 6 million PTA members nationally, writes Chris Reinolds of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. PTA leaders say research shows that students perform better academically when their fathers get involved. "We found out the No. 1 reason we didn't have more men involved is they were never asked," said Rick Mendiondo, a national PTA board member. Lack of time was the second reason they cited. PTAs lobby for education issues, support arts and character education curriculum and keep parents informed. (Read more)

The Natchez Democrat reports that PTAs in Mississippi and Louisiana could use both more moms and dads. "The teachers at every school in the Miss-Lou are only second string. They are great backups in the educational ballgame, but they are really only just that, backups. It’s the first string, moms and dads, that can win or lose the game, principals and teachers say," writes Julie Finley. (Read more).

States growing more concerned with security threat posed by bird flu

Although a viral mutation is needed before avian or bird flu can affect humans, fear is prompting states to draft contingency plans for an outbreak, or for the use of the flu as a terrorist weapon.

"Health officials in California and New Mexico are pressing their states to stockpile anti-viral medication. Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is urging residents to fill their pantries in case everyone is forced inside for an extended period. And Los Angeles airport officials are drawing up plans to quarantine passengers," writes Mark K Matthews of Stateline.org.

Patrick McConnon, executive director of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, told Matthews, “I think that people are uncomfortable that they don’t have the right answers to all these things.” McConnon suggests building on research compiled during past health scares involving anthrax and severe acute respiratory syndrome. New Mexico state epidemiologist C. Mack Sewell said efforts are aimed at bolstering the state’s response in case federal defenses fail. New Mexicomay buy its own supply of Tamiflu, an anti-viral medication. The federal government has dosages for a few million Americans.

California is stockpiling Tamiflu after testing for avian flue in 25 potential human cases in the past 18 months. All came back negative. For another report on similar concerns and efforts in Orange County, Calif., from NBC4 - TV, click here.

Rural N.M. residents concerned over lack of high-speed Internet access

A major communications company has, as promised, deployed high-speed Internet access to parts of New Mexico, but there is some concern that not enough people in the state's rural areas have access.

"Qwest and the state's Public Regulation Commission agreed in 2001 the company would invest $788 million in New Mexico over five years. The agreement also stated that Qwest would make DSL, broadband high-speed access, available in areas of Alamogordo, Farmington, Gallup, Roswell and Taos," reports The Associated Press.

But, PRC Commissioner David King told reporters that rural residents are concerned about the current state of Internet access. "In today's world, we have the responsibility to do a better job and not hide behind the bureaucracy,'' he said.

Qwest officials base their decisions about where to deploy DSL based on what makes sense for the business, said Nita Taylor, public policy director for Qwest New Mexico. New Mexico is part of a 14-state region, and DSL is available in 73 percent of that area, said Qwest spokesman Vince Hancock. DSL figures are not released on a state-by-state basis. (Read more)

Once mainly rural, Michigan law agencies say 'no place safe from meth'

A meth epidemic that originated on the West Coast now exists throughout the nation, from small towns to big cities, according to Michigan law enforcement agencies.

"In counties including Kalamazoo and Macomb, police have busted 207 labs as of September. The trend has caused law enforcement to ratchet up efforts to combat the highly addictive, potentially deadly stimulant and the people who cook it," writes Christy Abboscello of the Detroit Free Press.

Raids this year are just two shy of the 2004 figure and more than five times the number from five years ago, notes Abboscello. One of those labs was near the home of 64-year-old Janet Redmond. "No matter where you live, it's not safe because of these drugs," Redmond said.

Michigan State Police Detective Lt. Tony Saucedo heads a statewide meth team. He told Abboscello, "I could probably be safe to say meth has touched about every community in the state of Michigan. Even though the labs tend to be in the rural areas, we know the use is pretty much everywhere." (Read more)

Communities consider moss harvesting restrictions to protect ecosystems

Moss is the all-purpose sponge of the forest, storing water, releasing nutrients and housing tiny critters. Now, there are concerns about what might happen to the ecosystem if it is harvested to extinction.

Across Appalachia and in the Pacific Northwest, moss helps make ends meet when jobs are scarce. Moss is not commercially grown, so buyers depend on the wilderness. Some state and national forests have already banned harvesting, reports Vicki Smith of The Associated Press.

"Biologists, businessmen and pickers themselves say the good stuff is getting harder to find -- and the money harder to make. Moss is not commercially grown, so buyers depend on the wilderness. Some state and national forests, though, have already banned harvesting, worried about what they are losing when moss leaves the ecosystem," writes Smith.

North Carolina's Pisgah and Nantahala national forests expect to ban moss collection Jan. 1 after studies there indicated a growback cycle "on the order of 15 to 20 years," says botanical specialist Gary Kauffman of the U.S. Forest Service. That's twice as long as some veteran pickers and moss buyers speculated. Though Kauffman agrees the science is still lacking, Pisgah and Nantahala will likely err on the side of caution. Between 100 and 200 pickers a year typically get permits for collecting moss, notes Smith.

Nationwide, it's hard to tell how many people make a living from moss. Most search out private land, where they go unnoticed and untracked, reports AP. (Read more)

Rural for the sake of rural: Native inhabitants request official designation

Residents in Ketchikan, Alaska, and the city council are backing an official government-sanctioned rural subsistence designation requested by natives.

"Ketchikan officials are in favor of efforts to change the city's subsistence status to rural. The Ketchikan City Council also is urging the Federal Subsistence Board to hold a public hearing on the issue," reports KTVA-TV in Anchorage, in a combined staff and Associated Press story.

The council unanimously approved a resolution that said the city has "significant characteristics of a rural nature" and should be officially recognized as such. The resolution was requested by the Ketchikan Indian Community and the Alaska Native Brotherhood/Alaska Native Sisterhood. Local groups would like to see the entire island be designated as rural. (Read more)

Iowa to get $144 million tobacco settlement windfall, use for infrastructure

State officials have announced that Iowa will receive $144 million next month when officials refinance bonds being paid off with tobacco settlement money.

Matt Paul, a spokesman for Gov. Tom Vilsack, told reporters, "At this time of the year, when we’re putting the budget together, it gives us some really strong options." Top state managers have been working on refinancing the settlement, and a profit was expected, reports The Associated Press. States got settlement money as part of a lawsuit seeking to collect damages for the cost of treating smoking-related illnesses. Some sold bonds to get their money up front and are now refinancing in a stronger market.

Department of Management head Michael Tramontina said $50 million is free of any restrictions, while $94 million will have restrictions. "Those proceeds will have to be spent on infrastructure, on capital projects," he said. Gov. Vilsack has proposed splitting the windfall between water quality improvement programs, economic development and capital construction, reports AP. (Read more)

California judge awards $3 million in libel suit against weekly group

A San Bernadino, Calif., judge has awarded $3 million to a sheriff's department counselor who claimed a weekly newspaper group libeled her in articles about her relationship with the sheriff.

The judge ruled in favor of independent contractor Nancy Bohl in her case against Ray Pryke, publisher of Victorville-based Valley Wide Newspapers. Warner found that testimony from an Oct. 6 default hearing showed published stories caused Bohl "severe emotional distress, mortification and humiliation." Pryke said he intends to appeal the verdict, reports The Associated Press.

Valley Wide printed a series of stories in 2000 about Bohl's business, The Counseling Team, and her relationship with Sheriff Gary Penrod, who was dating Bohl at the time. They have since married. One article alleged that Bohl got her counseling contract because of the relationship. Another story said confidential information given to Bohl by deputies made its way to members of the department's command staff. Bohl denied the allegations in stories.

The articles in question ran in the Hesperia Resorter, Apple Valley News and Adelanto Bulletin, all published by Valley Wide. The weekly papers have a combined circulation of 20,000. (Read more)

Ohio newspaper wins release of 911 call logs, tapes from a triple homicide

A court has ruled 911 call logs and tapes related to a Jan. 21 triple homicide in a small Ohio town are public record and must be given to the Akron Beacon Journal.

"The newspaper requested information shortly after the murder of two women and a boy in Brimfield Township, about 10 miles east of Akron. The murders were big news in the small town and the newspaper wanted to thoroughly cover them," said Stephen Dyer, the Beacon Journal reporter who covered the story. The newspaper received some records immediately, but others were withheld, writes Corinna Zarek of The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

After police and prosecutors refused to release requested records, the newspaper filed the case with the 11th District Court of Appeals in Warren, Ohio. Karen Lefton, the in-house counsel for the Beacon Journal said, "[the defendant] was trying to carve out a new exception saying if records are used in an investigation, they are confidential and should be private. We said the records documented the events and were pre-investigation. The court agreed with us." (Read more)

Industry News, from AP

Mahan named managing editor in Hilton Head, S.C.

Sally Mahan, former assistant metro editor of the Detroit Free Press, has been named managing editor of The Island Packet in Hilton Head, S.C.

Mahan, 47, replaces Janet Smith, who has been named editorial page editor. Smith, 49, replaces David Lauderdale, 51. Before joining the Free Press, Mahan was an editor at the Savannah (Ga.) Morning News, where she supervised coverage of crime, courts, education, health and social services. A graduate of Eastern Michigan University, Mahan also was executive editor of The Key West (Fla.) Citizen.

Smith will be in charge of producing the newspaper's daily opinion page and will continue serving on the editorial board. She previously worked at the Packet as business writer and city editor.

Overton to retire as publisher in Carrollton, Ga.

After 25 years in journalism, Times-Georgian Publisher Tom Overton will retire at the end of the year.

Overton, publisher since 1998, spent the past 10 years with Paxton Media Group newspapers, which is headquartered in Paducah, Ky. He came to the Times-Georgian from the Griffin Daily News, where he was publisher and Georgia Group president for Paxton Media Group. The search for Overton's replacement is ongoing.

Smith named editor in Steamboat Springs, Colo.

Michael Smith, associate editor of The Galveston County (Texas) Daily News, has been named editor of the Steamboat Pilot & Today.

Smith will succeed Scott Stanford, who has taken a job as assistant news editor of the Victoria (Texas) Advocate. Smith will oversee a 14-member staff in Steamboat Springs, a mountain community about 150 miles northwest of Denver. Smith's wife, Laura Elder, a veteran reporter, has accepted the position as editor of the Craig Daily Press. The Daily Press and Pilot & Today are sister newspapers owned by WorldWest Limited Liability Co. of Lawrence, Kan.

Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2005

Journalism society, fired journalist cry shame on Sinclair for lawsuit

The Society of Professional Journalists has chastised Sinclair Broadcasting Co., charging the major broadcasting group has "hit a new low when it filed a $17,000 lawsuit against Jon Leiberman, a journalist it fired last year."

SPJ President David Carlson said, "It would appear to be an effort to punish someone who exposed the company's plan to air a biased documentary and call it news." Carlson opined that the motive cannot be financial because the company will likely spend much more than $17,000 on the lawsuit.

The suit alleges Leiberman, who was Sinclair's Washington bureau chief, broke company rules by commenting on his bosses after Sinclair ordered its stations "to pass off as news a documentary critical of presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry," the Baltimore Sun reported, SPJ writes.

Sinclair fired Leiberman after he told The Sun, "Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal," was "biased political propaganda." Sinclair's plan to air the document on its 60 stations, which reach some 24 percent of the U.S. television audience in predominantly rural markets, two weeks before the 2004 election caused a furor. The company eventually aired only excerpts of the film, writes SPJ.

The lawsuit alleges Leiberman "divulged confidential and proprietary information ... to individuals outside of the organization," and claims he owes Sinclair $17,000 as "liquidated damages." Leiberman said, "This lawsuit is ludicrous. Sinclair should be ashamed of itself." (Read more)

D.C. area developers beef-up campaign bucks to growth-favorable candidates

Virginia's developers, home builders and real estate agents have more than doubled their campaign contributions from four years ago, backing candidates more favorable to their interests.

"The real estate and construction industries have become the most generous group of campaign donors for Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry W. Kilgore, Democrat Timothy M. Kaine and independent H. Russell Potts Jr," writes Michael D. Shear of The Washington Post. The Virginia Public Access Project reports real estate developers had given this year's statewide candidates $3.4 million. Home builders have donated more than $573,000 to the candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. Real estate agents have given about $848,000.

Home Builders Association of Virginia Executive Director Michael L. Toalson told Shear his member companies are "ever vigilant" against legislation or regulations "that would hamper the construction of new homes in such rapidly growing areas as Northern Virginia," and he told Shear, "We work hard to keep a favorable housing climate." The industry has successfully resisted efforts to grant localities more power to regulate development. Development interests encourage state spending on services, such as roads and transit, that support new communities, Shear explains.

Kilgore, the former attorney general, promises to oppose slow-growth measures and has proposed regional tax referenda to raise money for roads. Kilgore spokesman Tim Murtaugh told Shear, "He understands that government should not be in the business of telling people where to live." Kaine said he would push for a law giving local governments the authority to stop construction if nearby roads are not sufficient. Prince William County land-use lawyer John Foote called it a "death knell for economic development in Northern Virginia," writes Shear. (Read more)

Missouri finds penalties tougher for rural criminals; seeking more consistency

In rural Clay County, Missouri judges sentence criminals to prison 42 percent of the time — the second-highest rate in the state. In more urban Jackson County, judges imprison criminals just 18 percent of the time.

"Such disparities are common among Missouri’s 45 court circuits, with rural judges often issuing harsher penalties than big-city judges. Legal experts have long discussed this inconsistency, and a recent state study confirms it, writes Joe Lambe of the Kansas City Star. (Read more) Sentences are more predictable in Kansas, where judges use mandatory guidelines, notes Lambe.

The study is part of an effort to bring uniformity to sentencing across Missouri and to fight prison crowding, writes Lambe. The Missouri Sentencing Advisory Commission hopes the study will persuade judges not to lock away nonviolent offenders, especially for first offenders. Beginning Nov. 1, a new routine probation and parole report on criminals will go to judges before sentencing. It will include a sentencing recommendation, possible alternatives to prison and other information. Lambe writes that some suggest a system of mandatory guidelines would be the best way to end disparities.

Johnson County District Attorney Paul Morrison, who is vice chairman of the Kansas Sentencing Commission told Lambe that due to changes nonviolent property offenders made up 24 percent of the prison population in 1993, while currently they make up less than 7 percent. The Missouri commission reported nonviolent offenders represented 46 percent of the 15,409 prison population in 1993 while currently they make up 55 percent of a population of more than 30,000 inmates. Missouri’s incarceration rate, 18th nationwide in 1994, is now up to eighth, Lambe writes.

'Cranktown, U.S.A.' - newspaper finds eight out of ten meth-affected

A seemingly tranquil rural Alabama community has garnered a not-so-pastoral name. Beulah, Ala. has been dubbed by some, "Cranktown U.S.A." - referring to a nickname for the powerfully addictive and destructive narcotic methamphetamine and the community's high incidence of use and arrests.

"You wouldn't know that nearly 50,000 people live within 10 miles of the high school. The average working person makes slightly less than $20,000. The average household income is slightly less than $40,000. Nearly 29 percent of the people 25 years old and older do not have a high school diploma. But beneath the placid surface of this rural community lies a dark secret," writes Chuck Williams of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer of Columbus, Ga.

For the past seven years, a growing drug problem has made Beulah the unofficial methamphetamine capital of the Chattahoochee Valley. The drug has been the target of numerous investigation by a number of law enforcement agencies, including the Lee County Sheriff's Office and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, writes Williams. Williams reports that nearly 60 residents from the area have gone to prison on methamphetamine charges. There have been arrests in 104 methamphetamine cases. About 40 percent of those cases were in Beulah.

The Ledger-Enquirer interviewed more than a dozen people and found meth has touched eight out of 10 people living here. It has destroyed users, wrecked families and sapped the spirit of this community, Williams writes. Bridge Assembly of God pastor Bill Bryan told Williams that meth is "a weapon in the enemy's hand." (Read more)

Analysis shows poverty ridden, low education Kentucky losing millions to casinos

With one of the nation's highest poverty levels and lowest education achievement, Kentucky residents are gambled in southern Indiana to the tune of $600 million dollars last year, according to an analysis by a New York research firm.

"Kentuckians lost [the] estimated $600 million at five of Indiana's riverboat casinos - including three near the Northern Kentucky market - between July 2004 and June, according to a new analysis by Christiansen Capital Advisors," writes Patrick Crowley of the Cincinnati Enquirer.

The analysis also found that Kentucky residents generated nearly $200 million in state taxes for Indiana. Casino gambling is also legal in Illinois and West Virginia. And, according to the analysis, "Kentucky personal income ... funds gaming in Indiana, Illinois and West Virginia."

Gaming advocates Kentucky Lt. Gov. Steve Pence told the newspaper the tax money generated by Kentucky residents pay for vital services in other states. "I would like to see it ... help pay for [Kentucky] schools, roads, health care and other things." he told the Enquirer. Pence and others point to the state's need to generate millions of dollars in the face of a billion-dollar deficit in the state budget.

State Sen. David Boswell, D-Owensboro, has filed legislation to allow nine casinos, five of which would be at horse tracks and four free-standing locations. The horse industry is also backing a bill to permit casinos at just the state's eight race tracks. Both bills will be considered when the Legislature begins in January for the 2006, notes Crowley. The analysis estimates Kentucky casinos could generate nearly $1.5 billion a year and more than $500 million annually in new tax dollars. Gambling opponents say the social costs of gambling would outweigh benefits and they doubt Kentucky lawmakers will approve gambling in 2006, Crowley writes. (Read more)

Japanese mad cow disease panel delays decision on lifting U.S. beef ban

A Japanese panel on mad cow disease has delayed a decision on whether to ease a two-year-old ban on U.S. beef imports, according to a panel member, reports The Canadian Press.

The ruling body was expected to recommend easing the ban to the Food Safety Commission, but postponed a decision until the next meeting, stated a Dow Jones Newswires report, quoting a panel member.

Japan imposed a ban on North American beef in 2003, after the first case of Mad-cow disease, known scientifically as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, was discovered in the United States, in Washington state. The United States has been pushing Japan to lift the ban, reports The Canadian Press.(Read more)

That's no gas: methane digesters new energy source in rural areas

Journalist Peter Millard probably never thought he'd be writing about cow manure as part of an innovation in alternative energy. Just like Dan Eastman, who helped create Microgy Cogeneration Systems Inc., never thought he'd be the one at the forefront of such a smelly innovation.

"Microgy sells and operates anaerobic methane digesters and electricity generation equipment that an increasing number of farmers and rural electric cooperatives are finding to be good investments," Millards writes. The digesters operate on manure, and the methane produced fires generators.

"The high cost of natural gas and electricity is making our alternative energy option economically feasible," Eastman told Millard. Eastman's company is banking on its digesters becoming more common than wind-power farms, which have been becoming more popular in rural areas. In addition to reducing high energy costs, environmental regulators are pushing for the digesters as the demand for dairy farmers to increase herd sizes continues to grow.

"State departments of natural resources and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are mandating that large farms with hundreds or thousands of cattle or hogs take steps to prevent animal waste from seeping into groundwater," Millard writes. The digester is a good way to treat manure while producing low-cost energy and protecting the environment. The U.S. Department of Energy and Wisconsin Department of Agriculture are providing financial incentives to invest in the digesters and generators, Millard writes. Eastman told Millard that Microgy's methane gas plants could produce between 350 and 400 megawatts of electricity. "Potentially, we could replace one coal plant," he said. (Read more)

For a press release from Pennsylvania Governor Edward G. Rendell's office on proposed regulations for large-scale farming operations and new manure management requirements to protect waterways, click here. For a complete copy of the regulations, click here - Keyword "CAFOs"

After accepting, Goody‘s says better buyout deal offered; stocks jump with news

The bidding war for Goody‘s Family Clothing Inc. has escalated with its directors saying the buyout proposal of two New York investment firms looks better than one the company has tentatively accepted.

"The bid would exceed an $8-a-share offer made by Boca Raton, Fla.-based Sun Capital Partners that Goody‘s tentatively accepted Oct. 7, and it would match a competing proposal received a week ago from an unnamed third party," , writes Duncan Mansfield of The Associated Press.

Shares of Goody‘s, operates 371 stores mostly in the South and Midwest. Reacting to the latest news, shares of the company's stock rose 14 cents, or 1.6 percent, to $8.96 in midday trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market yesterday.

Prentice Capital and GMM Capital have raised their bid three times for Goody‘s. Goody‘s said Prentice Capital and GMM Capital agreed to hold open their offer until midnight Thursday or until the Sun Capital deal is terminated, Mansfield writes. (Read more) For a more detailed report by Cynthia Yeldell of the Knoxville News Sentinel , click here.

Rural Calendar

Oct. 29-30: Wool, Walnut, and Weeds Field Days

Kentucky Wool Society is having the Wool, Walnut, and Weeds Field Days Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 29 - 30, from 10:00 a.m. to – 5:00 p.m., at the Lan Mark Farm located at 121 Sharpsburg Road (state highway # 1198) Bourbon County.

For more information or to learn more about the Kentucky Wool Society call 859 383-4560 or visit the Kentucky Wool Society web-site .

Nov. 2-4: Kentucky Women in Agriculture Conference in Owensboro

The sixth statewide Kentucky Women in Agriculture conference will take place in Owensboro November 2 through 4 at the Executive Inn Rivermont. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to empowering women in agriculture through education, involvement and action.

The main conference begins November 3 at 9 a.m. with a KWIA business session, followed by an opening session with keynote speaker Hilda Legg. Legg is a former administrator with Rural Utilities Service in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She also served as the executive director and CEO for The Center for Rural Development in Somerset for seven years.

Conference registration is limited and costs $60 for KWIA members and $70 for nonmembers. Included meals are lunch and dinner on November 3 and breakfast and lunch on November 4. Send registration and checks payable to Kentucky Women in Agriculture Inc., to Kim Henken, University of Kentucky, 206 Scovell Hall, Lexington, Ky., 40546-0064. For a conference program, registration forms or further information, visit the KWIA Web site.

Papers due Nov. 3 for Mountain Tourism - Diversity, Complexity and Change

A special session on Mountain Tourism will be held at an annual meeting in Chicago next year co-sponsored by the Recreation and Tourism Specialty Group (RTSG) and the Mountain Geography Specialty Group in (MGSG), but interested speakers need to send outlines of their presentations by next Thursday. The groups are inviting papers on this years' topic on "Mountain Tourism - Diversity, Complexity and Change" at the Annual Meeting of the AAG in Chicago, Il (March 7-11, 2006).

The session is to cover geographic applications of tourism in the exploration of issues of diversity, complexity, and change in mountainous environments. Speakers should send abstracts by noon of Nov. 3, 2005 by e-mail to sknepal@tamu.edu Online Registration: Directions are on the AAG Web site . Inquiries should be mailed to Sanjay K. Nepal, PhD, Assistant Professor Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences Texas A&M University College Station, TX-77845-2261, or by telephone: 979-862-4080. Fax: send to 979 845 0446 or visit the Texas A&M Recreation, Park & Tourism Web site.

Monday, Oct. 24, 2005

Poverty doesn't always mean low school performance, study finds

An new study by an educational watchdog group connects poverty with poor performance in public schools, but it also says low-income students do not have to be destined for making bad grades.

"With the exception of a few schools, high poverty public schools are also the lowest performing schools in America. A new publication highlights best practices in eight Kentucky schools overcoming the barriers of poverty with high performance," reports the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.

Researchers Patricia J. Kannapel and Stephen K. Clements discovered several characteristics among the eight schools studied, states the committee in a preface to the report on its Web site. "The study found that high expectations for all students with a strong emphasis on quality instruction, routine internal student assessment tools to supplement state exams and a collaborative decision making process that engages all teachers," can boost performance at poorer schools. (For a pdf copy of the report, click here.)

"Nearly all the worst-performing schools in Kentucky and across the nation are high-poverty schools. But there are also striking exceptions to the pattern of low income - low performance. There are enough schools that defy the trend to prove that the background of the student body does not have to determine achievement results," write Kannapel and Clements.

Virginia county finds rural location, housing hinders attracting new teachers

Rural communities in Virginia's Hampton Roads area, like many others around the nation, are finding it difficult to attract new teacher for its growing schools because of location and inadequate housing.

Isle of Wight County, "doesn’t have many apartments or rental homes, which may contribute to the lack of teachers. And school enrollment is growing every year," writes Michelle Shaw of The Virginian-Pilot.

Human Resources Director Judy Lee said the division had 13 vacancies and is screening and interviewing potential teachers daily. She also said that while Web sites and school recruitment literature "talk about that county’s proximity to Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Hampton, that does not always help prospective teachers place the county," Shaw writes. Lee added, "They just don’t know where we are sometimes, so they go with places that are known to them.”

Division Superintendent Michael W. McPherson told Shaw the lack of available housing also hurts teacher recruitment. "We find that some of our teachers are driving from areas that are farther away. And, with gas prices the way they are, that’s not too appealing right now, either," McPherson said. Area Chamber of Commerce President Constance Rhodes said they may start using incentives such as gift certificates from local retailers, discounts and help with closing costs on a home. Isle of Wight County has more than 37,700 residents, according to 2004 U.S. Census Bureau estimates. (Read more)

Michigan's broadband agency called failure by market-oriented Republicans

"A theee-year-old state agency created with the promise of opening Michigan to high-speed Internet and economic opportunity has been labeled a failure by business groups and Republican leaders, who say they will move soon to eliminate it," write Mark Hornbeck and Charlie Cain of The Detroit News.

Critics say the Broadband Development Authority has exorbitant staff salaries and a lack of a plan to become self-sufficient. The authority -- a brainchild of former Gov. John Engler, a Republican -- is mainly being targeted by GOP legislators, who say broadband expansion should be driven by the market instead of government, report Hornbeck and Cain.

Robert Filka, chief operating officer of the authority, said the agency has brought high-speed Internet access to some areas, and it has created competition and reduced costs in areas already covered. "One of the charges to us was to encourage and promote competition and affordability," Filka told the Michigan newspaper. "We have had an impact in those areas where we have made loans."

The authority has loaned about $20 million to a dozen mostly small start-up companies. The Michigan State Housing Development Authority has given the broadband agency a $50 million line of credit. "The projects have benefited more than 300 cities, villages and townships across Michigan, or about 2.4 million people and over 900,000 households," Filka told reporters. (Read more)

For a story by WOOD-TV (Grand Rapids, Mich.), Michigan Broadband Development Authority comes under scrutiny, click here.

Lost treasures: Poachers are looting national parks, selling artifacts

Poachers are stealing ginseng plants, black bears and other natural treasures from America's national parks, where officials say they just don't have enough guards to catch the looters.

The National Park Service does not keep comprehensive statistics on how much poaching occurs in its nearly 400 parks, but its 2006 budget request said thefts have reduced at least 29 wildlife species. "The poaching of wildlife from national parks has been steadily increasing each year for the past several years," the document said, reports Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post.

Hunting is prohibited, and activities such as mining and logging are restricted, which means these parks house rare plants and animals. In Virginia's Shenandoah National Park, poachers are mostly attracted to the ginseng and the black bears that live near the Blue Ridge Mountains. Wild ginseng nets $400 a pound on the open market, 10 times what the cultivated version would fetch. "A black bear's dried gallbladder sells for $1,000 in Asia, making it worth more per ounce than cocaine," writes Eilperin.

Park officials worry that poaching hurts nonrenewable resources, including ancient-civilization artifacts and very rare species. Thieves steal at least one artifact from a park every day, and a 1988 survey reported poachers had taken 105 wildlife species from 153 parks in 1987. "The national parks are the best sanctuaries for these plants and animals," Peter Dratch, who runs the park service's endangered species program, told Eilperin. "That's why we get concerned when these genetic resources get hammered."

Park officials cited a lack of money for enforcement. The Interior Department has 51 special agents for 388 national parks, with each agent patrolling 1.5 million-plus acres, writes Eilperin. (Read more)

A Canadian first: Woman survives meth overdose, then sues drug dealer

A methamphetamine overdose almost killed Sandy Bergen, and now the 21-year-old Canadian and her parents have filed a negligence lawsuit against her alleged dealer.

"It's not so much for the monetary gains,'' Bergen says from her home in Biggar, Sask. "It's just to kind of take control. I think it's a good way to get the victim to have a voice in all of this." Although several states in the U.S. have passed laws making drug dealers financially liable, this could be a first-of-its-kind lawsuit in Canada, writes Tim Cook of the Canadian Press.

Bergen started doing meth at age 18 and was hooked instantly. She quit using it for a while until a relapse in May 2004. She alleges that it was her dealer who forced that relapse because he did the drug in front of her just days before Bergen had to testify in a sexual-assault trial. Bergen says stress made it impossible to resist. "It felt like someone stuck a pencil in my brain," she told Cook.

Bergen ended up having a heart attack, her heart, liver, kidneys and lungs all failed and she became comatose. Bergen recovered after only 14 days in the hospital, but there is permanent damage to her heart and she has trouble holding down regular jobs, reports Cook. (Read more)

North Carolina groups want young folks waiting in the wings for aging farmers

As farms and their owners age, concerns grow that younger generations might not flock to agriculture, but several North Carolina groups are working to make sure young farmers emerge.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports the average age of farmers is increasing, while the number of young farmers is decreasing. "As older farmers approach retirement and have no one to pass their farms to, officials worry that farming could become a dying occupation," writes Amanda Lingerfelt of the Rocky Mount Telegram. (Read more)

Andrew Branan, executive director of the North Carolina Farm Transition Network, told Lingerfelt, "There's a need for a stable number of farm operators to produce our nation's food and fiber. Rural, state and national economies depend on farmers. If you don't have enough people producing, we will go more and more toward depending on offshore resources for food, which I'm sure scares a lot of people."

Branan said the network is a state organization dedicated to helping older farmers transition their land to younger farmers in order to keep valuable land from becoming residential property. "Farmland that passes out of operator ownership is more likely to be converted, usually for residential use, The more farms we lose, the more jobs we lose in rural North Carolina. All of these things lead to a long-term reduction in our state's agricultural economy," said Branan.

Lingerfelt reports that 3 percent of farmers in the newspaper's home county of Nash are under the age of 35 and that more than one-fourth are 65 or older. That latter group constitutes 3 percent of U.S. laborers.

Farmers turning to 'high cotton' in West Ky. as soybean prices decline

Cotton appears to be coming back in West Kentucky, where it hasn't been grown in three decades. "The crop, associated with the Deep South, recently blanketed the area," reports The Associated Press from a story originating in the Paducah Sun.

While the Hickman area in Western Kentucky has had little or no cotton for many years, nearby Lake County in Tennessee has about 14,000 acres of the crop. Cotton farmer John Lindamood told the Sun, "Cotton is a significant crop in Tennessee, with about 500,000 acres [statewide]. The crop is more plentiful in the South because cotton needs heat to thrive."

Cotton farmer David Weatherly told the newspaper that in the area, "Soybeans became more profitable to grow than cotton." Weatherly is hoping the 315 acres of cotton harvested off his farm area are a sign of things to come. "I wish I had twice as many acres of cotton," he told the Sun."Now that we've had a good cotton year, we have other farmers interested."

Cotton once was a big cash crop for Hickman, but several gins there shut down, requiring farmers to haul loads to Tennessee. They opted for grain farming because it was more cost-efficient. Now, with soybean prices tumbling, some farmers have sought alternatives. Weatherly told the Sun he expects his cotton crop to gross about $1,000 an acre, compared with $275 for soybeans. (Read more)

Wal-Mart to offer health insurance with low premiums, high deductibles

"Wal-Mart, long criticized for the benefits it offers to its workers, is introducing a cheaper health insurance plan, with monthly premiums as low as $11," reports The Wall Street Journal, citing a story in today's New York Times.

Health-insurance gurus said the premiums were likely to attract more of Wal-Mart's 1.2 million employees. "They also noted, however, that the plan's $1,000 deductible would be high for Wal-Mart workers, particularly older employees who are likely to visit doctors more often, and might not cover expensive treatments, particularly in its first year," writes the Times' Michael Barbaro.

Currently, fewer than half of Wal-Mart's workers are covered by company health insurance, compared with more than 80 percent at Costco, its leading competitor. Analysts said the new plan would prove a better fit for workers who are young and healthy than those who are older and more vulnerable to illness. A 60-year-old Wal-Mart employee, they noted, might visit a doctor three times in a one month and then need to pay $1,000 before the company would share the cost of care. Many Wal-Mart employees are paid less than $19,000 a year, reports Barbaro.

Tracy Sefl, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart Watch, a coalition of community groups, said health savings accounts, which allow workers to make tax-deductible payments to a fund, was impractical for many Wal-Mart workers. "The majority of their work force will not be well positioned to contribute," she told Barbaro. (Read more)

Rural Calendar

Home-based business workshop Nov. 7-8; pre-register today

A two-day workshop on home-based business is planned at Natural Bridge State Park in Slade, Ky., Nov. 7 and 8. The event will focus on home-based craft, basketry, tourism and heritage skills businesses.

The University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service and the Southern and Eastern Kentucky Tourism Development Association along with the Barnhart Fund for Excellence will present a "Home-Based Business Workshop." Registration begins at 9 a.m. on Nov. 7, and the workshop will conclude at 12:30 p.m. Nov. 8. (Read more)

For more information or to meet today's pre-registration deadline, contact your local extension office. The cost is $15 per person. Discounted room rates are available by contacting Natural Bridge State Resort Park at (800) 325-1710. Be sure to mention that you are attending the workshop.

Pennsylvania Rural Summit set for tomorrow and Wednesday

Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff has announced the commonwealth's inaugural Rural Summit Oct. 25-26, at the Seven Springs Conference Center in Champion.

The summit is a joint effort by Gov. Edward G. Rendell, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Pennsylvania Rural Development Council. Speakers include: Wolff; Mark Drabenstott, vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City and director of the bank's Center for the Study of Rural America; state Secretary of Legislative Affairs Steve Crawford; and Deputy Secretary of Community and Economic Development Mickey Rowley.

To register, call 717-705-0431. The fee is $95. For more information, contact Bill Sturges, executive director, Pennsylvania Rural Development Council, at 717-772-9028 or contact Kristina L. Watson, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, at 1-717-787-5085. The fee to register for the workshop is $30 and includes lunch. Walk-ins are welcome, but participants should call ahead. Anyone interested should contact Michelle Hall, N.C. Rural Center, at (919) 250-4314, or e-mail here at mhall@ncruralcenter.org .

Rural entrepreneurship workshop Friday, Oct. 28 near Raleigh

The North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center and its partners have announced the first in a series of regional entrepreneurship workshops to be held on Oct. 28 at the Stecoah Valley Center on Schoolhouse Road in Robbinsville, N.C.

"The workshop will help Graham and surrounding southwestern, North Carolina counties learn to build a system for growing, nurturing and sustaining entrepreneurs who create jobs in the region. The half-day event is also an opportunity for participants to hear from successful entrepreneurs in the region," according to a CarolinaNewsWire press release. (Read more)

Friday, Oct. 21, 2005

Expert challenges rural communities to engage local entrepreneurs

A senior associate of the Rural Policy Institute Center for Rural Entrepreneurship in Nebraska says the entrepreneurial spirit is catching on, again, in rural America, where its roots remain.

Craig Schroeder, a keynote speaker at a recent entrepreneurship workshop in Grand Rapids, Minn., told a gathering, "There are people all over rural America who are breaking out and doing things in a very creative way," writes Willow Loney of the Grand Rapids, Neb., Herald-Review.

The workshop was one of four held statewide and co-hosted by the Minnesota Rural Partners, the Independent Community Bankers and the Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines as a way to promote strategies and tools useful for community economic development, writes Loney.

Schroeder grew up on a farm in Nebraska and returned to his small town of 200 people in 1989. “So I have experienced what it is like to be from a small town and come back to a rural community,” Schroeder said, adding, "What we are talking about today is not new. Creating entrepreneurial communities goes back to the founding of our country.” (Read more)

Schroeder told the workshop that small entrepreneurial businesses create two-thirds of all jobs, account for two-thirds of business growth and half of the business innovation in the United States. The challenge Schroeder noted, is to engage and encourage entrepreneurs within rural communities, to engage young people to become entrepreneurs and create a pathway for them to return to their rural roots, Loney writes

Broadband on ballot in 31 Iowa cities; supporters say progress too slow

Voters in 31 Iowa cities will consider proposals next month to allow local governments to provide broadband Internet access. "The measures allow the creation of utilities that could add high speed service to local networks," reports WHO-TV in Des Moines.

The station reports that supporters point to Iowa cities that don't get broadband service from traditional providers, which they say is holding those cities back across an economic spectrum. "Critics of the proposals, including New York-based Mediacom, say local governments shouldn't dive into an expensive, high-risk project." they report. (Read more)

For a recent article on the slow progress of broadband in Iowa suburbs from the Des Moines Register, Smaller providers fill a void left by Mediacom, Qwest by business writer Frank Vinluan, click here.

Broadband vital for rural areas' economies, health, schools, congressman says

A Colorado congressman, from a storied political lineage, is calling for broadband expansion in the nation's rural areas, hailing it as a vital link to overcoming economic, healthcare and educational disadvantages.

Rep. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), writes in The Hill, "the newspaper for and about the U.S. Congress," "As Congress begins the process of overhauling the 1996 telecommunications law, we must address the need for the United States to embark on a similarly large-scale effort to bring new technologies to rural America. Today, with high-speed Internet readily available in urban areas, many rural communities still lack service or must pay extremely high rates."

His father, Morris “Mo” Udall, served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 30 years and ran for the Democratic nomination for President in 1976. His uncle, Stewart, served as Secretary of the Interior under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.

"Broadband services play a key role in rural businesses, hospitals and schools. Many rurally based industries depend on rapid access to information. Being able to utilize broadband technologies would increase their productivity, efficiency and, in turn, profits," Mark Udall emphasizes in his article.

Udall notes, "Students leave these schools to study at universities or to compete in the work force, they start at a disadvantage as compared to other students who have been educated from kindergarten with constant access to online information." And, he concludes, "High-speed broadband Internet can bring rural America into the 21st century by allowing rural businesses to connect with the rest of the world, allowing schools to utilize information and resources, and hospitals to simply serve patients better. (Read more)

Rural exchange: Writer trades city transit for higher gas prices, finds drawbacks

Rural Policy Research Institute fellow Thomas D. Rowley has found that living the rural life can have its painful drawbacks when you trade the convenience of city provided transportation for wide open spaces and higher gasoline prices.

"Living in the city all those years-taking the subway, walking, and biking -- I'd forgotten just how much time is spent in the car in rural America. Moving back home has reconnected me not only to my roots but also to the steering wheel. And the miles add up in a hurry," writes Rowley. (Read more of this and previous columns.)

"For the many who must drive long distances to jobs, health care, childcare or college, the rising price of gas isn't merely a pain; it's a serious malady," writes Rowley. He notes a recent Consumer Federation of America report indicating rural households will spend on average some $2,100 on gas this year, compared to $1,700 for an urban household. And, he writes, "Because rural income is about 25 percent lower than urban, that difference is magnified: Rural households will spend nearly 5 percent of their income on gasoline, compared to about 3 percent for urban households."

Rowley notes that "rural folks see gas prices as a greater concern than urban folks, by a margin of 82 percent to 71 percent." Rowley writes, "[Princeton economics professor Alan Krueger] pointed out in The New York Times that when inflation-adjusted gasoline prices rose 53 percent from 1998 to 2004, consumption actually rose 10 percent." Rowley cites Krueger's opinion, "In the short run, some people drive less when gas prices rise or they buy a more fuel-efficient car, but most do not change their lifestyle."

Federal spending bill seeks to blunt Supreme Court's property-seizure ruling

Reacting to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the U. S. Senate has moved to bar some federal funds from projects where people's homes are seized for private development.

A transportation, treasury and housing spending bill amendment "would prevent any money in the bill from being spent on projects that seek to use the power of eminent domain to build shopping malls or other commercial developments," writes Sam Hananel of The Associated Press. Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., who offered the amendment, said, "People should not be forced out their homes at the will of any private development." Separately, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, is pushing to ban the use of any federal funds in construction projects that rely on the Supreme Court decision to seize property.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in June that local governments could take homes for private development projects that generate jobs and tax revenue. Eminent domain is typically used for public works projects that benefit entire communities. The senate measure would continue to allow federal funds to be used for such projects. Bond's amendment also requires the Government Accountability Office to study the use of eminent domain. (Read more)

'Wellness' embraced by some in West Virginia, a state with poor health

A three-part series by Juliet Terry of The State Journal has shown that West Virginia's health care system needs serious work. But, things aren't all bad, Terry writes in her final installment.

"The Mountain State does a lot of things right," Terry reports. "Hospitals are improving their technological applications to improve care; clinics are adding healthy living programs for rural residents; health insurance companies are providing wellness education and incentives; state government is helping more West Virginians get health insurance; and many West Virginians are taking advantage of these opportunities and trying to lead healthier lives." The State Journal is a weekly based in Charleston.

The Wellness Council of West Virginia, with about 150 companies participating, is one example of how the state is trying to change. Executive Director Sharon Covert said the "well workplace" initiative is improving overall health status and expenses. A lot of the state's wellness education is aimed at children, hoping to produce a healthier generation. That education includes improving school nutrition and encouraging more activity, along with operating clinics in some schools. (Read more)

"Many hospitals and clinics are converting to electronic medical records, an expensive change but one that should improve communication between facilities and lead to better patient care," Terry adds. "Technology also is being phased in at the pharmaceutical and laboratory level to reduce the likelihood of human errors."

"The final installment of The State Journal's health care series looks at the good things happening in health care," the series concludes. "Government, business and health care communities indeed are working to improve the health of West Virginians and the kind of care they are getting while living within the state's challenging economic environment. This investigation has shown that health care is one area in West Virginia where the status quo is not acceptable, and the state is making a concerted effort to change it."

Warrantless search of meth lab ruled necessary by Indiana appeals court

The Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled police had just cause to search an apartment without a warrant because it smelled like a meth lab and posed a potential danger to a child inside.

A lower court had thrown out evidence seized in a search of a man's apartment, saying it violated Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure. However, "state attorneys successfully argued on appeal that police had too little time to obtain a search warrant because the presence of ether - a volatile chemical used in making - posed an immediate threat to those inside (Michael) Crabb's apartment," writes Charles Wilson of The Associated Press.

The higher court also recognized meth labs "poses new challenges to police and new threats to public safety," writes Wilson. More than 1,500 meth labs were raided by law officers in Indiana last year. The chemicals used to make meth pose dangers including poisoning, chemical burns, fires and explosions.

Clark County Prosecutor Steve Stewart, who prosecuted the case, told Wilson, "The volatility causes a serious danger to everyone in proximity, including the neighbors. In this case, it was an apartment complex." (Read more)

Hospital group backs cigarette tax; critics cry conflict, say self-serving

The Missouri Hospital Association is supporting a proposed tax increase on cigarettes that, if passed, would benefit the hospital industry.

"Campaign finance reports released this week show the Committee for a Healthy Future took in about $200,000 from July 1 through Sept. 30, all from the hospital group. The money is expected to help with typical campaign expenses," writes Kelly Wiese of The Associated Press. (Read more)

The proposal would raise the tax on a pack of cigarettes to 97 cents from the current 17 cents, and increase taxes on other tobacco products. More than half the revenue would go to paying doctors, hospitals and clinics to treat Medicaid and uninsured patients. Hospitals could gain $43 million to $61 million a year, writes Wiese. The hospital group said it supports the proposal because it should get people to quit smoking and is a way to generate money from the product responsible for many health problems.

Mary Becker, the hospital association's senior vice president, said, "The revenue from this tax would go to support the very things the product causes." Critics note that 17.5 percent of the money generated would go to stop-smoking programs. Ron Leone, executive director of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, told Wiese, "It shows that their ultimate motivation is greed."

As mating and hunting seasons collide, so do deer and cars -- and donations

If you want a deceased deer removed quickly and mercifully from a highway area in Pennsylvania, call for burial donations, reports Al Tompkins, in one of his latest Al's Morning Meeting PoynterOnLine columns.

"I got this priceless e-mail from Jeff Domenick, Editor, Valley News Dispatch in Tarentum, Pa. (20 miles northeast of Pittsburgh)," writes Tompkins. Domenick wrote, "We had a deer hit just outside of town here a few months back. Someone dragged it into the wide median. A month or so later, someone placed a tarp over it. A week or so ago, some wag placed a box next to the deer with a sign that said 'Burial Donations.' Monday, there was actually change inside. We called PennDOT for comment Tuesday afternoon and the deer ... was gone Wednesday a.m." (Read more the Dispatch's story)

"It's ... mating season for Pennsylvania's white-tail deer population, which numbers in the millions. That means these animals -- some weighing 200 pounds or more -- are on the move. A lot of deer are going to meet their fate, not their mate," Tompkins notes in his column. "This is especially true in a lot of Pittsburgh's suburbs, where ... the population per square mile is 40 deer. A lot of these deer end up as hood ornaments ... and the vehicles wind up with thousands in damage."

"How efficiently does the state remove dead deer?" asks Tompkins. In Pennsylvania, he reports, "The state Department of Transportation contracts out carcass disposal.... [and] ... removal depends on how much these folks want to work or how many calls the state gets on its toll-free dead deer hotline." (Read more of Tompkins' column.)

Suburb's council approves first D.C.-area Wal-Mart, says big grocery needed

The Prince George's County Council in Mryland has approved legislation that allows Wal-Mart to build its first store inside the Capital Beltway.

The bill was designed to restrict big-box retailers, meaning stores that are 125,000 square feet and over, to from selling groceries in their Prince George's County, Maryland locations but excludes two of Wal-Mart's already planned stores; one already under construction and another where plans have already been submitted, writes Melissa J. Brachfield of Montgomery County's The Sentinel in Rockville.

The bill was initially proposed to help protect unionized local grocers, such as Giant Food and Safeway, from Wal-Mart, whose workers are not unionized. But, Wal-Mart featured full-page advertisements in local newspapers urging residents to denounce the proposed legislation because, it said, the bill "prevents large retailers from providing the best possible services and products to community shoppers."

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Rhoda Washington, said the early legislation sought "to limit what's needed most in this area, which is grocery services." Council member Thomas R. Hendershot (D-New Carrollton) said, "Wal-Mart has a way of coming in and running roughshod over communities." (Read more)

For a story by The Associated Press on Wal-Mart heiress Elizabeth Paige Laurie, who is returning her University of Southern California degree after being accused of paying a fellow college student $20,000 to do her homework, click here.

Three states' quilts-clothesline effort to draw tourists to Appalachian culture

A joint Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee effort is seeking to draw tourists off the interstates and into rural Appalachia to experience the region's unique culture; the art of quilting.

"Called 'Clothesline of Quilts,' the project based in Sandy Hook involves painting quilt squares and murals of rural life on barns and other structures along roadways throughout the Appalachian region in each state,
including in nine eastern Kentucky counties," writes Aimee Nielson of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture News and Information.

The project began in Ohio when Ohio Arts Council member Donna Sue Groves painted a quilt square on a barn in honor of her mother, a lifelong quilter. She wrote grants and raised funds to paint 20 squares in her home county of Monroe, Ohio.

Kentucky and Tennessee joined the project to create a "Clothesline of Quilts" driving trail. Gwenda Adkins, a U.K. Cooperative Extension agent for family and consumer sciences in Elliott County, told Nielson, "Groves says that people come from all over the country to see their quilt squares because it's tying together the home and the farm life. This [the clothesline project] is kind of tying that together and saying look at us and look at our culture."

The Extension has partnered with Gateway Resource Conservation and Development and several other agencies to make sure the project is successful in eastern Kentucky, Nielson writes. (Read more on this and other stories) Also, The Associated Press has picked up a Paducah Sun report, Handmade quilts donated to hurricane evacuees. For more on that, click here.

Wait and see: Oregon grape growers find right balance of quantity, quality

After watching a mixture of sunshine and overcast clouds the last couple weeks, winegrowers in Yamhill Valley, Ore., have almost transferred all their grapes from the vines into the wineries.

"Although unpredictable weather was a concern throughout, rainy periods weren't severe and temperatures remained mild. Those who took their chances and waited to pick were rewarded with well-balanced grapes. Quantity is down for the second year in a row, which could lead to an upcoming shortage in the marketplace. But from a quality standpoint, 2005 has all the earmarks of a true winemaker's vintage," writes Karl Klooster of the weekly News-Register (McMinnville, Ore.).

Amity Vineyards has brought in only two-thirds of the pinot noir grapes from its land, with a well below normal yield of less than a ton an acre. "I've been at this for 31 years, and 95 percent of the time, it's paid off to wait for full ripening, even through rainy periods right in the midst of the harvest. That proved out again this year," Amity owner Myron Redford told Klooster. (Read more)

Viva Las Vegas: Rural areas OK'ed; 3,500 properties protected from developers

Las Vegas Valley homeowners have been fighting for three years to protect their rural lifestyles from developers, and now the residents are emerging from battle victorious.

"On Wednesday, Clark County commissioners put an end to the feud between those defending their Old West life and those whose idea of a new frontier is a hotel-casino, strip casino or master-planned community. Commissioners rezoned nearly 3,500 pieces of property to a Rural Neighborhood Preservation designation, which allows a maximum of one home per half-acre," writes Adrienne Packer of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Commissioner Bruce Woodbury, a rural homeowner in Boulder City, said he enjoys the rural lifestyle that co-exists alongside the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas. "I believe in trying to preserve rural areas as long as that's what the residents want," Woodbury told Packer. "This zoning is to try to provide additional protection against incompatible developments that are destroying the rural lifestyle." (Read more)

UNLV professor garners lifetime journalism history achievement award

A professor emeritus in The University of Nevada-Las Vegas Hank Greenspun School of Journalism and Media Studies, Barbara Cloud, has received the "prestigious" Sidney Kobre Award from the American Journalism Historians Association (AJHA).

The award in the field of journalism history was presented to Cloud at the association’s annual meeting in San Antonio. Cloud has been active in the AJHA for more than 20 years, during which she served as the association’s first woman president. She has also edited the publication “Journalism History,” which is considered to be the preeminent journal in the field, reports UNLV.

David Sloan, AJHA Founder and professor of journalism at the University of Alabama, said, “Barbara has had a major impact on the field of media history. Her service as one of the early presidents of the AJHA ... contributed greatly to its long term vitality,” UNLV reports. (Read more)

Thursday, Oct. 20, 2005

Congress considers food stamp cuts; rural poor depend on assistance

A rural policy center study found that rural Americans are more dependent on food stamps than urbanites.

The study by the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire said 31 percent of food stamp recipients live in rural areas, and 22 percent of the country's population lives in those rural areas. The figures are based on 2001 data. The analysis, "Rural America Depends on the Food Stamp Program to Make Ends Meet," comes right before Congress will consider cuts in the federal food stamp program.

The analysis discovered that in 2001, 4.6 million rural residents received food stamps, comprising 7.5 percent of rural residents, while only 4.8 percent of urban residents received food stamps. The figures also show that fewer than half of the 10.6 million Americans living in poverty in 2001 received food stamps.

"Many of America’s rural families struggle to make a living," said Cynthia Mildred "Mil" Duncan, director of the Carsey Institute. "In these rural communities, as in many of our cities and suburbs, food stamps provide crucial supplements to low income families’ budgets."

The old and young in rural America are especially dependent on food stamps. Ninety-one percent of the rural elderly population on food stamps had a household income less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level. Recipients under the age of 18 make up 43 percent of rural food stamp recipients, and
approximately three-fifths of rural residents on food stamps live in the South. (Read more - pdf)

FCC 'poorly managed' Internet connect program; schools, libraries suffer

A congressional investigation charges that federal regulators have wasted millions of dollars because of lax oversight of a government program designed to connect schools and libraries to the Internet.

"The E-Rate program, which is overseen by the Federal Communications Commission, provides discounted Internet access and connection equipment to help expand Internet availability, especially in rural and low-income areas," writes Jennifer C. Kerr of The Associated Press.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee oversight subcommittee said the $2.25 billion program "is extremely vulnerable to waste, fraud, and abuse, is poorly managed by the FCC, and completely lacks tangible measures of either effectiveness or impact." The report said the agency failed to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the E-Rate program.

The commission is working on developing performance standards, writes Kerr. FCC spokesman Mark Wigfield told Kerr that Chairman Kevin Martin "was aware of concerns with the program and one of his first initiatives was to open a proceeding considering fundamental, structural reform to try to address those issues." Subcommittee chairman Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., told Kerr, "Many E-Rate program weaknesses must be addressed legislatively to avoid waste and misuse."

The subcommittee's two-year investigation cited problems with the E-Rate program in Puerto Rico, San Francisco, Chicago and Atlanta. The E-Rate program is financed by charges paid by telephone companies and typically passed along to consumers in the form of a universal service charge on consumers' phone bills, Kerr writes. (Read more)

Farm programs targeted; Senate panel cuts $3 billion, restores dairy subsidy

A Senate committee has voted to strip $3 billion from farm payments and conservation programs but has revived a disputed $1 billion dairy subsidy program.

"Lawmakers from Western states with huge dairy operations tried to kill the subsidy program, arguing it hurts big producers by flooding the market with milk. Senators from the Northeast, where dairy herds are smaller, said the program keeps small family farms afloat," writes Libby Quaid of The Associated Press.

Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., told Quaid, "This is a simple program to help the little guy." Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., noted that President Bush has pledged to renew the program. Congress ordered $3 billion in agriculture cuts earlier this year. Cutting farmers payments by 2.5 percent across the board would save nearly $1.3 billion while spending on conservation would fall by more than $1 billion.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, told Quaid lawmakers will vote separately on farmers' aid for recovery from hurricanes, drought, flooding and other disasters. The cuts are part of a Senate effort to shave $35 billion from federal spending over the next five years, and the House Agriculture Committee is expected to seek more severe cuts. (Read more)

North Carolina judge rules tobacco companies must make '04 farmers' payments

A North Carolina judge has ruled tobacco companies must pay farmers and quota holders $106 million in payments and interest that were due for the fourth quarter of 2004.

The ruling affects people in North Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

"The companies - including Winston-Salem-based Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Richmond, Va.-based Philip Morris USA Inc. - had sought further court proceedings and legal costs related to the payment," writes Steve Hartsoe of The Associated Press.

The tobacco companies had argued that compensation due to farmers was overridden by last year's passage of a $10 billion federal buyout of tobacco quotas. The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled the companies must make payments of $318 million for 2004 because during that time they had not started paying for the quota buyout. The companies argued that the ruling wasn't clear.

North Carolina Business Court Judge Ben Tennille issued the ruling yesterday denying the companies' request for more hearings and legal costs. A spokesman for Reynolds Tobacco Co. said the company was considering its options regarding any appeals. (Read more)

Michigan Senate approves selling tobacco settlement to improve economy

The Michigan Senate has approved selling part of the state's tobacco settlement to gain $1 billion to invest in up-and-coming industries that could provide much needed jobs for the state.

"The Senate voted to sell about one-third of the state's future tobacco settlement, money that tobacco companies are paying to end a string of lawsuits involving health care costs for sick smokers," reports The Associated Press. The $1 billion would help broaden Michigan's economy beyond traditional manufacturing. A portion would be invested in life sciences, advanced automotive manufacturing, homeland security, defense technology and alternative energy. At least $240 million over five years would go to grants and loans for life sciences.

The legislation now heads back to the House for consideration on changes made. The House proposed the plan and approved it last month. Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema, R-Wyoming, told reporters, "We're taking a major step forward in recognizing that Michigan's economic and jobs future is going to look very different from our economic past." Sen. Mark Schauer, D-Battle Creek, said, "Michigan's recent economic struggles demonstrate the danger of putting all our eggs in one basket."

The state could get about 56 cents for every $1 sold from the tobacco settlement. The legislative package would create a jobs trust fund. Two boards would award grants and loans to so-called "competitive-edge" businesses and make venture capital and private equity investments, AP reports. (Read more)

Charlotte area sees drastic rise in meth labs; 5 found in 3 months

Meth labs, long prevalent in rural areas, are moving into urban areas in greater numbers, with Charlotte, N.C., law enforcement reporting more busts in recent months than in previous years.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police, North Carolina Bureau of Investigation (NCBI) agents, hazmat crews and health department experts have busted five meth labs in three months. This comes despite legislative efforts to restrict needed ingredients, reports Kytja Weir of The Charlotte Observer.

Methamphetamine, a stimulant commonly called crank, glass or ice, used to be a problem relegated to the West Coast. It spread east into rural nooks of the Appalachian mountains over the past few years. In 1999, North Carolina officials recorded nine busts of clandestine meth labs. By the beginning of this month, the NCBI had recorded 270, notes Weir.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Capt. Bruce Bellamy told Weir the five recent lab busts surpasses the previous four years combined. The statewide boom prompted lawmakers this year to crack down on the sale of cold tablets containing pseudoephedrine, a key meth ingredient. (Read more)

Delta to stop Hickory, N.C. trips 7 months after liftoff; leaves city high and dry

Delta Air Lines is leaving a regional airport in Hickory, N.C., ending daily flights to and from Atlanta on Nov. 30 just seven months after starting them. Hickory will again be without commercial air service.

“The customer demand between Hickory and Atlanta did not meet expectations for that market," Delta spokeswoman Benet Wilson told Andrew Mackie of the Hickory Daily Record. The decision came as a slight surprise to some city officials. An airline executive said in August that Hickory needed to significantly increase passengers on its flights.

Passenger rates had been 40 percent through the summer, but had risen to around 60 percent, giving some reason for optimism, writes Mackie. City Manager Mick Berry told him, “As the numbers were coming up, we felt that would bode well for us, but obviously, it wasn’t to the point that Delta wanted.” The city spent about $330, 000 to attract and market the service, Mackie reports.

Scott Millar, president of the Catawba County Economic Development Corp., told Mackie, “Obviously, we want air service in Hickory for many reasons. We need to see what our business fliers need and go after who can provide that.” (Read more) For the Charlotte Observer version, click here.

'ATV Safety Camp' aimed at young riders; Kentucky one of ten deadliest states

Kentucky is listed among the top 10 states in all-terrain vehicle-related deaths, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. But, the Muhlenberg County 4-H wants to change that.

A committee of youths and adults received a $7,000 national 4-H grant for an "ATV safety program for fourth- through seventh-grade 4-Hers. They also hope to interest other 4-H programs across the state in pursuing the grant and teaching young people how to safely ride these vehicles," writes Laura Skillman of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture News and Information Service.

Linda Travis, who along with her husband Roger volunteered to partner with the youth and traveled to Washington, D.C., to undergo the necessary training, told Skillman that a number of youngsters in the community have been killed and injured and, she added, "If we can just save one life it will be worth it all."

Roger Travis told Skillman originally he and his wife wanted to help their grandchildren but decided to help the entire county and state as well. "We also want to tell other county agents how we got the grant, and maybe they will want to work with us to help get the death rate down in the state of Kentucky," he said.

The 2004 CPSC annual report on ATV-related deaths and injuries, released in September, reported Kentucky had 106 deaths from 2002 through 2004. Data from 1982 through 2001 ranks Kentucky ninth with 182 ATV-related deaths. (Read more, and other stories)

Worsty Award created for open meetings, freedom of information offenders

The Illinois Press Association has created an annual “award” to identify the 10 worst violators of both the Open Meetings Act and the Freedom of Information Act.

IPA Board member Larry Green, who is chairman of IPA’s government relations committee, said the award was created to underscore the importance of compliance with the two laws, said an IPA news release. “Despite increased vigilance by our organization, the Attorney General’s office, and other watchdog groups, the abuses of these two access laws continue to escalate. These new 'awards' will identify the worst offenders each year. We hope that this will help to curtail future abuses,” said Green.

Nicknamed the “Worsty,” the awards will be divided into two categories, starting with the top 10 worst OMA violators "that represent the most egregious examples of 'closed door' behavior; and 2) the top 10 worst FOIA violators representing flagrant practices of denying the public access to public records," described the release. Chris Doyle, an IPA board member, has coordinated the project. Doyle announced the initial award recipients Oct. 14, at IPA’s annual convention in Springfield.

Doyle said, “We will announce only the top 10 violators in each category, but there are hundreds of examples from which to choose throughout the state that could be considered. The fact is that despite all of the work this organization (IPA) does to combat abuses of both OMA and FOIA, the problem continues to spiral out of control,” reports the IPA. (Read more)

Coshocton and Zanesville, Ohio newspapers get new managing editor

Len LaCara, most recently managing editor for West Virginia Media in Huntington, W.Va., has been named managing editor of the Times Recorder and the Coshocton Tribune in Ohio.

He succeeds Jason Maddux, who led the Zanesville paper for nearly two years, reports The Associated Press. In West Virginia, LaCara, 45, coordinated statewide story coverage and special projects for four TV stations, five Web sites and a weekly newspaper.

The Times Recorder has a daily circulation of about 21,300 and the Tribune has a circulation of about 6,300. Gannett Co. owns both newspapers.

Rural Calendar: Ky. Ag Women meet Nov. 2-4; pre-registration deadline today

The sixth statewide Kentucky Women in Agriculture (KWIA) conference will take place Nov. 2-4 at the Executive Inn Rivermont in Owensboro. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to empowering women in agriculture through education, involvement and action.

The main conference begins at 9 a.m. Nov. 3 with a KWIA business session, followed by an opening session with keynote speaker Hilda Legg. Legg is a former administrator with Rural Utilities Service in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She also served as the executive director and CEO for The Center for Rural Development in Somerset for seven years.

Contact Kim Henken at (859) 257-7775. Conference registration is limited and costs $60 for KWIA members and $70 for nonmembers. Pre-conference registration is an additional $10 for the agri-tourism workshop. Included meals are lunch and dinner on Nov. 3 and breakfast and lunch on Nov. 4. Send registration and checks payable to Kentucky Women in Agriculture Inc., attn: Kim Henken, University of Kentucky, 206 Scovell Hall, Lexington, Ky., 40546-0064.

Pre-registration is required and must be received by Oct. 20. No registrations will be accepted at the door. For a conference program, registration forms or further information, visit the KWIA Web site.

Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2005

Natural gas prices taking toll on U.S. agriculture, shaping future production

High natural gas prices are shaping farming decisions across America's heartland, from what farmers will plant in the spring to how corn and soybeans processing plants operate.

Consumers are not yet feeling higher costs because producers are instead taking it out of their profit margins, reports Lisa Haarlander of Reuters. Jeff Adkisson, executive vice president of the Grain and Feed Association of Illinois, told her, "There's that constant fear of raising their rates to recoup those costs because they are so competitive. The first guy who raises his rates won't have grain to merchandise."

Elevators use large amounts of natural gas to dry freshly harvested grain for storage. High fees for drying could cause farmers to take crops to another elevator, writes Haarlander. Natural-gas prices have more than doubled in the last year, rising to $11.92 per million BTU from $5.85. Roger Fray, vice president of grain at West Central Cooperative, said, "If you don't have an efficient, modern dryer, at current commercial rates you're losing money." Many plants were built to use natural gas. (Read more)

Gas, heating, medication rate hikes force seniors to cut back expenses

Medication costs, rising home-heating rates and increasing gas prices are forcing our country's seniors to alter their lifestyles.

A recent American Association of Retired Persons survey reported that 62 percent of Americans older than 50 are driving less because of gas prices. The survey also said 41 percent of seniors reported that they have tried to combat the gas prices by reducing other expenses; "40 percent said they were saving less, 13 percent said they were eating less and 6 percent said they had reduced medical treatment," writes Dean Abbott of the weekly Georgetown News-Graphic in Kentucky.

Marilyn Grove, director of a senior center in Georgetown, said rising costs, including gasoline prices, have forced the center to reduce the number of days per week hot lunch are offered from four days down to three. Another change came in reducing the number of people who are delivered hot meals each week from about 15 to five. “When we have to reduce that, it's hard because they are more isolated. Many times, they become more frail," Grove told Abbott. (Read more)

FCC wants opinions on ‘broadband era’ regulations, consumer protections

The Federal Communications Commission is seeking public and industry comment on its proposed rulemaking on "non-economic industry factors and consumer-protection measures the agency could consider to prepare for what it calls the emerging 'broadband era.'"

The FCC said it will seek “to ensure that consumer protection needs are met by all providers of broadband Internet access service, regardless of the underlying technology,” reports Telecomweb.com.

The commission wants to formulate and apply guidelines to all provisioning rivals in the broadband era. That action would be part of a broader action to give wire-line carriers the same light-touch regulatory status as cable companies for providing bundled and broadband services, including DSL, reports Telecomweb.com. (Read more)

Hurricane aftermath: Agriculture damage still being tallied; relief continues

Several weeks after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the impact on agriculture is still being measured. Initially, the USDA reported a $30 million loss in livestock for Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana combined, and the damage to agriculture, forestry and fisheries industries could surpass $1 billion.

Over the next months, the Rural Advancement Foundation International-U.S.A. (RAFI-USA) will be partnering with the Farmers' Legal Action Group (FLAG) to help recovery efforts. RAFI-USA and FLAG are conducting a public awareness campaign about disaster assistance. Farmers need to be aware of the steps they should take to maximize their eligibility for assistance, writes RAFI-USA.

RAFI-USA plans to work with regional partners to train personnel on disaster assistance programs. The first training session is scheduled for Oct. 20 and 21 in Epes, Ala.

Number of U.S. manufacturing jobs continues decreasing; extinction next?

"Is (manufacturing) sliding toward extinction? Viewed historically, the question is misleading. It's true that manufacturing employment now accounts for only one in nine jobs, down from one in three in 1950. But the decline mostly reflects higher efficiency. Americans make more things with fewer people. From 1990 to 2000, for example, manufacturing output rose 61 percent while employment fell 2 percent, reports economist David Huether of the National Association of Manufacturers," writes economist Robert J. Samuelson in a column for The Washington Post.

"Of late, however, the news about manufacturing has seemed particularly dismal. Since mid-2000, 3 million jobs have vanished. . . . The fate of American manufacturing lies largely in American hands. Of course, some labor-intensive production will go abroad. But in many industries, job losses and cost-cutting -- though devastating to individuals -- can sustain production and restore profitability. The U.S. steel industry now produces more than in the 1980s, though it has lost two-thirds of its jobs. Elsewhere, innovation and high-value manufacturing should create jobs," opines Samuelson.

"But one giant unknown clouds everything: China. Until now, its booming U.S. exports have mostly displaced exports from other countries. As China modernizes -- moves into more advanced industries -- this could change dramatically. The combination of low wages, a huge market and an artificially low currency confers staggering competitive advantages. They constitute a powerful magnet for foreign investment in many sectors, whose output could subsequently be exported. Unless the currency rises substantially, the United States could lose many industries that, by all other economic logic, it shouldn't. Therein lies the real threat of extinction or something close to it," concludes Samuelson. (Read more)

Energy prices put Montana coal in the spotlight; governor holds summit

With skyrocketing oil and natural-gas prices, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer began a two-day regional energy conference in Bozeman yesterday to highlight the state's cheap and largely forgotten natural resource -- coal, and plenty of it.

"Panel discussions on Montana's currently stagnant coal industry and new clean coal technology were packed. Schweitzer touted plans for a new coal-to-liquid fuels plant in Montana during his opening remarks, and industry officials sang the praises of coal in highlighting ways to ease the country's energy crisis," writes Sarah Cooke of The Associated Press.

Chuck Kerr, president of Great Northern Properties in Houston, told Cooke, "Coal has the unique ability to provide abundant energy cheaply. I think the sun, moon and stars have aligned. I think we have a tremendous opportunity, and I think that opportunity is now."

Montana has the nation's largest coal supply - estimated at 119 billion tons. But national use is limited by the state's relatively remote location, limited infrastructure, low coal prices and competition from neighboring states. Also, Montana coal barely meets federal sulfur levels, restricting the number of plants that can consume it. Shipping it is difficult because of its crumbly consistency and higher risk of combustion. Schweitzer and others contend coal-to-liquids fuel technology may be a solution. (Read more)

Digging deep: Southern Iowa event recalls mining history, salutes heritage

The "Salute to Southern Iowa Coal Mining" event this past weekend in Oskaloosa gave area history buffs an old-time opportunity to gather and talk about their passion for mining.

"It's as if the descendants of Iowa's coal miners are digging for their history," writes Mark Newman of the Ottumwa Courier. About 30 people attended a "Memories of a Coal Digger's Son." workshop. Presenter Carl Blomgren talked of growing up around mining towns in the 20s and 30s, notes Newman.

Kevin Ballalatak, of Lovilia, said, "Dad used to be a coal miner. I grew up listening to all them old stories." Even with the demise of many coal mines, history buffs have not lost interest, Newman writes. The State Historical Museum in Des Moines is hosting a small mining exhibit with a video presentation, part of which highlights the famous coal palace that had been built in Ottumwa. (Read more)

Witness for intelligent design in Pennsylvania trial lumps theory with astrology

"A leading architect of the intelligent-design movement defended his ideas in a federal courtroom on Tuesday in Harrisburg, Pa., and acknowledged that under his definition of a scientific theory, astrology would fit as neatly as intelligent design," writes Laurie Goodstein of The New York Times.

Professor Michael J. Behe, a biochemist at Lehigh University, testified for the Dover, Pa., school board, which is requiring that intelligent design be taught in biology class. Parents have sued the school district, and "at issue in the lawsuit is whether the concept's introduction into biology class is an abridgment of the separation between church and state," reports Goodstein. The school board voted that the lesson should say problems exist with the theory of evolution and intelligent design is an alternatives worth considering.

Behe insisted that intelligent design is not the same as creationism, the Biblical view that God created earth and its creatures fully formed. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that creationism is a religious belief and not allowed in public schools, notes Goodstein. (Read more)

Kentucky lieutenant governor campaigns among newspapers for casinos

Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher has declined to endorse the idea of casinos in the state, but is not working to defeat it. His justice secretary, Lt. Gov. Steve Pence, is going to the front lines as an advocate and he recently talked to the Cincinnati Enquirer editorial board. "Pence [said] Kentucky gambling dollars are paying for Indiana roads and Indiana teachers. Medicaid costs are 'eating up every dollar of Kentucky growth,' [and he] believes [casinos] can play a ... part [in the state's economy]. Pence thinks each Kentucky county should get to vote on it," write the Enquirer's editors.

The Enquirer noted that Pence and legislators have taken the pragmatic approach. "Kentucky already is a big gambling state. If Ohio legalizes casino gambling, 'that would mean more Kentucky gambling dollars going out of state,' [Pence said]." If Ohio and Kentucky add casinos, the editors opine that "both states would need to make sure their venues could compete."

Pence told the Enquirer editors he "favors earmarking new taxes from casinos for schools or health care," and, they write, Pence, "doesn't deny offsetting costs from gambling such as addiction, bankruptcies and other ills, but argues Kentucky already must deal with the ills, without any of the gains." The editors conclude that casino advocates need to show strong net gain ... if they expect to boost the odds for legalizing casino," in Kentucky. (Read more)

University of Kentucky and drug company to develop radiation treatments

The University of Kentucky and a pharmaceutical company will use a $1.2 million grant to develop treatments for radiation emergencies, such as after exposure to a dirty bomb.

University officials said Tuesday, "The grant, awarded by the National Institutes of Health, will be for research by the UK College of Pharmacy's Center for Pharmaceutical Science and ChemPharma International," reports The Associated Press.

Michael Jay, the center's director and the study's principal investigator, told AP the hope is to develop alternative ways of clearing the body of radioactive elements. The new treatments could be used in a mass exposure, such as a terrorist attack. Currently drugs are administered intravenously. Jay said oral treatments would be easier to distribute and administer. (Read more)

Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2005

Children of meth addicts endure abuse, neglect; 'people treat their dogs better'

"In one picture, she was a beautiful, blonde teenager with a face dotted with freckles and a future full of potential. In the next, her skeletal frame cowered in a corner and peered out at the world through hollow, sunken eyes and a body dotted with self-inflicted bruises," writes Tammie Toler of the weekly Princeton Times in West Virginia.

Once the teen started using meth, her newfound addiction triggered a downward spiral into the drug's dark culture. Many American children have become meth victims, whether they or a parent uses the drug, said J. Centeno, coordinator of the Southern Regional Drug and Violent Crime Task Force. Some kids have OD'ed on meth because their addicted parents left the substance in baby bottles, or they have died because of explosions caused by meth cooking sessions gone wrong, added Centeno.

Some meth heads were once hard-working parents who tried the drug simply for an energy boost, reports Toler. ”Methamphetamine gives them that high, and they stay that way for days,“ Centeno said. ”It makes you feel like you want to go outside and build a barn in the back yard, right now.“

Children of meth users suffer through the stages of addiction and withdrawal, because the drug completely consumes their parents' lives, Centeno said. Kids endure abuse and neglect, and they develop rashes from the toxic chemical combinations in their houses, notes Toler. ”A lot of people treat their dogs better than methamphetamine addicts treat their kids,“ Centeno said. (Read more)

Illinois authorities fight meth plague; drug poses 'huge danger,' deep addiction

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, top law enforcement officials and legislators are seeking any solutions they can find to the pervasive, destructive and stubbornly consuming methamphetamine plague ravaging their state and much of the U.S. with poor rural areas disproportionately affected.

Madigan, law officers and lawmakers attended a methamphetamine summit last week as part of their continuing quest: "They sense the huge danger the drug poses," writes Sanford J. Schmidt of the Alton [Ill.] Telegraph. State Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton, told Schmidt, "The users don’t care about anything else."

Madigan and Haine are getting bipartisan support in their effort to combat the meth scourge, which seizes its users at a deeper level than previously seen. Dr. John Hoelscher, medical director for Flexcare, a drug and alcohol treatment program based at Alton Memorial Hospital, told Schmidt, "It’s just a very powerful stimulant of a brain chemical. It’s very specific and potent. It comes on very rapidly."

"Laboratory rats will literally commit suicide to get the drug," Hoelscher said. Robert Jenkins, a certified drug counselor with New Visions, a drug detoxification center based at Touchette Regional Hospital in Centreville, told Schmidt, "The drug is a very violent drug. It is probably the most addictive drug I’ve ever known." Hoelscher added, "It’s not easy to treat. The success rate is very poor." (Read more)

English rural areas link up to broadband; speed, breadth contrasts U.S.

In stark contrast to the slow pace and commercial foot-dragging in the U.S., some of the last rural parts of England have been connected to broadband with the help of the government-run East of England Development Agency (EEDA).

"Eight communities have been connected. The Broadband Gap project aimed to upgrade some of the last few telephone exchanges in the region, which would not otherwise have been upgraded.Work began this summer and finished in September ahead of schedule," reports the British Broadcasting Corporation.

For the eight exchanges now connected, high-speed service means that small and medium business businesses in these areas now have the capacity to run a number of larger business applications, such as video conferencing. (Read more)

Yahoo, Bell South join forces in effort to provide high-speed Internet access

Nine rural states will be getting a high-speed Internet boost from Yahoo Inc. and BellSouth Corp.

"The move is the latest step in a mating dance that has now united the owner of the Web's most popular destination with the three largest U.S. regional phone companies," reports The Associated Press. The service will debut next year and provide subscribers with customized material from BellSouth's Web site, which had an Internet-leading 99.3 million U.S. visitors last month, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.

BellSouth wants to use Yahoo to prevent its Internet service from becoming faceless. Yahoo will get an unspecified amount of the subscription revenue and a steady stream of traffic. Yahoo sells advertising on the service that generates most of its profit. The service will be available in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. (Read more)

Tobacco RICO charges barred; U.S. can't pursue damages, says high court

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to allow the Bush administration to pursue a $280 billion penalty against tobacco companies on claims the companies misled the public about the dangers of smoking.

"The decision ... was not unexpected because the government's case is still pending and the federal judge who presided over the nine-month trial has not yet decided whether tobacco companies are guilty of wrongdoing. The Supreme Court declined, without comment, to intervene now, and the case could return to justices next year," writes Gina Holland of The Associated Press. (Read more)

Shares of Altria Group Inc., parent of the biggest U.S. cigarette company Philip Morris USA, climbed $4.34, or 6.1 percent, to $75 in morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange. William Ohlemeyer, Altria vice president, said the decision was appropriate, writes Holland. (Click here) for more details on the financial reactions to the ruling.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told Holland, "We continue to believe very strongly in this case." Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids Executive Director William Corr said the Justice Department "should not use the Supreme Court's decision as an excuse to let the tobacco companies off the hook with a weak settlement." For a more detailed story on the ruling by Paul Kapan of Reuters, click here.

Wal-Mart gets OK for store despite objections in small Charlotte area county

A Wal-Mart Supercenter is coming to suburban-Charlotte area Lincoln County in the midst of concerns over the increased traffic caused by such developments and the monopoly-like presence of the giant.

County commissioners voted to allow the retail giant to build a 203,819-square-foot store in one of the Charlotte region's fastest-growing areas. There was only one dissenting vote and that came from a council person who lives two miles from the roughly 28-acre Supercenter site, writes Jefferson George of the Charlotte Observer. The store would be the county's largest retail space, notes George.

Five conditions were set, including turn lanes to handle the expected traffic increase. "The board worried the turn lanes wouldn't be installed by the N.C. Department of Transportation before the store opened, possibly in late 2006," writes George. Commissioners considered having the company pay for the road work or wait until the work was finished, but instead asked Wal-Mart to pressure state officials to make the improvements. Another condition barred "slogan-type signs" on the facade of the store, notes George.

The approval was a blow to residents who voiced concerns. One group had worked with Wal-Mart to get the road improvements but still had some concerns last night. Another group opposed Wal-Mart because of concerns about its impact on local businesses. (Read more) For more background on the controversy, from the Observer, click here, and from The Lincoln County Times, click here.

Western rural sprawl raises issues; scenic mountains drawing development

Rapidly growing rural development throughout the country, especially in the West around scenic mountain communities, is raising some concerns, reports Brodie Farquhar of the Casper [Wyo.] Star Tribune.

Farquhar writes of rural development or "sprawl" around resorts such as Jackson and Lander. "Tucked against the foothills of the Wind River Mountains, Lander’s growth is most easily seen not in town, but in a 10-mile swath around the city," he writes.

Ron Cunningham, a University of Wyoming extension educator, called the growth "dramatic." Farquhar writes that "ranches used to come right up to the edge of town [and] now there’s a sprawling array of small-acreage 'ranchettes' and 'farmettes,' sprouting everything from run-down trailers to McMansions."

Many of the people who are buying or building homes in the country have little background or experience for country living, notes Farquhar. Cunningham said some people assume that if they have water running through their property, that they can use it. But that isn’t necessarily so, writes Farquhar. (Read more)

South Florida 'niche' farming provides major boost to area economies

In the face of free-trade competition, development, unpredictable weather and pestilence, farmers in south Florida are turning from the traditional crops of The Sunshine State to so-called niche farming to gain strength and economic muscle.

"The consolidation of farming into big operations ... is one of the modern aspects of Homestead agriculture as farmers dig in against woes ranging from global competition and imported pests to hurricanes and soaring land prices. To stay competitive, the industry is making investments to upgrade technology and machinery to cut costs," writes Jane Bussey of the Miami Herald.

Miami-Dade County generates an estimated $1.1 billion a year from agriculture and still has about 90,000 acres of farmland, according to the 2002 U.S. Census. It is also seeing a proliferation of small farms and nurseries, as farmers try niche strategies to survive, writes Bussey.

Some farms have assembly-line production of orchids and bromeliads; others are exploring fruit wines, or conducting plant research as a sideline. Row crops and citrus groves are giving way to tropical fruit orchards and tree nurseries, Bussey writes. Instead of fresh vegetables bound for Publix supermarkets, more growers are raising ornamental plants bound for Home Depot. (Read more)

Dade County Farm Bureau Executive Director Katie Edwards told Bussey, "There are two trends. We are seeing an increase in the number of [small] farms. We are seeing an increase in very large farms and cooperatives." Edwards adds that middle-size farms are closing up shop or consolidating.

Rural community gets grant to rid water supply of waste; five counties affected

A southeastern Kentucky town has received some financial help in its effort to stop the flow of human waste into a small lake that supplies drinking water for residents in five counties.

The $750,000 federal grant comes from the government-sponsored environmental organization PRIDE. "The money will pay for construction of a municipal sewer line along the edge of the 440-acre reservoir," writes Roger Alford of The Associated Press.

Mount Vernon Mayor Clarice Kirby told Alford about 35 homes along the northeast shoreline of Lake Linville have septic tanks that spew raw sewage into the lake, which serves portions of Garrard, Lincoln, Madison, Pulaski and Rockcastle counties. Dennis McClure, superintendent of the Mount Vernon water and sewer departments, said the lake has elevated levels of fecal bacteria from human and animal waste.

PRIDE, formed by U.S. Rep. Harold Rogers, R-5th District, has invested $111 million to upgrade sewage service for some 26,000 homes in Southern and Eastern Kentucky. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency told AP eliminating straight pipes in Eastern Kentucky would cost $300 million. Failing septic systems boost the cost to $1 billion. (Read more)

Rural Arizona communities harder hit by new EPA arsenic requirement

Some metropolitan Phoenix area water plants are finding it difficult to comply with a new federal requirement to cut arsenic.The requirement, which begins early next year, will affect rural Arizona harder.

Tucson's KVOA-TV in a combined Associated Press and staff story reports, "That's because hundreds of small private water companies in rural areas pump only groundwater, which tends to have more arsenic." (Read more). For the more detailed story of origin from Jahna Berry of The Arizona Republic, click here. Regulators and industry experts say those firms have less cash to treat water than a big city operation and will be more likely to pass the costs to others.

The Environmental Protection Agency changed the standard for arsenic in water in 2001 from 50 parts per billion to 10 parts per billion to protect the public against the cancer-causing substance.

Appalachian Power makes progress on a transmission line linking two states

Appalachian Power says it expects to have all towers up by the end of the month for a 90-mile transmission line that will run from Wyoming County, West Virginia, to Jackson's Ferry, Va.

The company reports more than 300 towers are needed for the construction project. A helicopter will deliver eight partially-assembled towers this week to remote areas in Bland and Wythe counties, Virginia, while a crane will be used to build the remaining five towers by the end of October, reports WAVY-TV of Norfolk, in a combined Associated Press and staff report.

Appalachian Power says the project addresses the states' growing customer demand. (Read more)

Time Inc. editor-in-chief to step down; editorial director to take position

Time Inc.'s editor-in-chief for eleven years, Norman Pearlstine, will step down at the end of this year, succeeded by editorial director John Huey.

Pearlstine, 63, will remain with Time Inc. parent Time Warner Inc. as a senior adviser and will continue work on a book scheduled to be published in 2007, reports Bloomberg News. (Read more)

Pearlstine had also managed the business side of Time Inc. International, as well as the company's online and television operations from 1996 through 1998. Prior to Time, Pearlstine spent 23 years at Dow Jones & Co., including nine years as managing editor of The Wall Street Journal.

Huey, 57, has been editorial director since 2001, overseeing the weekly magazines Time, Sports Illustrated, People, Entertainment Weekly and Life, Fortune, Money and Business 2.0. In 1992, Huey co-authored "Sam Walton: Made in America," the autobiography of the late founder of Wal-Mart.

Monday, Oct. 17, 2005

Farm subsidies dispute stalls global trade talks; delay discourages trade rep

Reaching a worldwide trade agreement that cuts barriers and reduces government funds has hit a hitch over farm subsidies, proving to be tougher than expected for U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman.

"This past week ... Portman got a sobering glimpse of exactly how tough it will be to succeed in global trade negotiations. The ongoing talks ... are intended to take a major leap forward in economic globalization by lowering tariffs and liberalizing rules governing international commerce," writes Paul Blustein of The Washington Post.

"Portman sought to jump-start the talks last Monday with a series of proposals on agriculture, the centerpiece of which he described as an offer to cut Washington's 'trade-distorting' farm subsidies by 60 percent. Curbing such payments to farmers by rich nations is the top demand of developing nations, because subsidies often lead to overproduction of crops, which in turn can depress world prices and hurt farmers in poor countries," writes Blustein.

Portman criticized the European Union and a group of developing countries led by Brazil and India. He accused them of not offering counter proposals "even close to comparable" in scope to what the United States offered. Portman told Blustein, "There's a lot at stake. The clock is ticking." (Read more)

Wal-Mart bank: A 'dangerous and unprecedented concentration of power'?

"Wal-Mart's proposal to open a bank has sent a wave of concern through community bankers, who view the move as the first of several maneuvers that will turn the company into a financial services behemoth and drive them out of business," writes Michael Barbaro of The New York Times.

"The chief executive of a bank in North Dakota predicted a 'dangerous and unprecedented concentration of economic power.' The president of a bank in Colorado foresaw 'unacceptable risk to the banking system.' The head of a California bank anticipated 'long-term community disinvestment,'" writes Barbaro.

Wal-Mart filed an application with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in July for an industrial bank in Utah to process credit and debit card transactions for its 3,500 stores nationwide. This marks the company's fourth effort to enter the banking industry. A public comment period for the application drew a record-breaking 1,100-plus responses. Wal-Mart Financial Services President Jane Thompson defended the company's proposal, telling Barbaro, "This will not be a bank that a consumer ever sees. It's only customer is Wal-Mart." (Read more)

A coalition, including the Independent Community Bankers of America, the National Grocers Association, the National Association of Convenience Stores and the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which is trying unionize Wal-Mart workers, has formed to block Wal-Mart's effort. A coalition of community groups called Wal-Mart Watch opposes the application and has sent a petition with 11,000 signatures to the FDIC, which is expected to issue a ruling in July.

Broadband access to play integral role in rural America's future, says paper

Another major newspaper has singled out broadband Internet access as a key to success for rural areas, especially in the areas of education and economic development.

"Access to fast Internet service is as fundamental to today's economic infrastructure as roads and electric power were to the past's. Broadband service is now essential to many ordinary functions of basic business, even for the smallest firms, farms and home offices, and certainly for the high-tech operations Kentucky must attract and keep. As the rest of America hurries to get ahead by using it, rural and small-town Kentucky must not be left behind," writes The Courier-Journal in a Sunday editorial.

The Louisville newspaper cites ConnectKentucky, the state's nationally recognized business-university-government alliance, which is working to achieve that goal, educate people about the potential, and help them figure out how to get service.

ConnectKentucky Chief Executive Brian Mefford preaches that state subsidies are needed to expedite broadband service "to every area of the state." "He's right. If the normal private providers can't see a short-term business case for expanding their services to more remote areas, then government must step in. It's that urgent," opines the C-J.

Sen. Ernie Harris, R-Crestwood, head of the legislature's broadband task force, "welcomes tax cuts for private Internet providers, but wants to think about spending state money to ensure access in areas providers are not interested in serving. [That's] ... the surest way to fall further behind in the information age. He doesn't seem to understand the potential good that state government could do," concludes The Courier-Journal. (Read more)

Carpe diem: Man builds wireless cloud in Oregon, after companies shun area

"Parked alongside his onion fields, Bob Hale can prop open a laptop and read his e-mail or, with just a keystroke, check the moisture of his crops. As the jack rabbits run by, he can watch CNN online, play a video game or turn his irrigation sprinklers on and off, all from the air conditioned comfort of his truck," writes Rukmini Callimachi of The Associated Press.

In the midst of a national battle between municipalities wanting to provide free or cheap Internet service and telecommunication companies fearing a loss of revenue, Hermiston, Ore., is smack dab in the middle of a 700-square mile wireless cloud. Companies saw little chance for profit in the desolate region, which freed up businessman Fred Ziari to build the $5 million system, reports AP.

Ziari's network is used by the public for free, but he is recouping some of the expense via contracts with 30-plus city and county agencies. He also has a contract with Hale's farm, which supplies two-thirds of the red onions used by Subway restaurants, notes Callimachi. (Read more)

Montana energy summit boasts industry sponsorship, comes under fire

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer's energy conference is being backed largely by the state's biggest utilities and energy companies, and he makes no apology for it.

"NorthWestern Energy has pledged $25,000 to help sponsor the two-day symposium, which starts [tomorrow] at Montana State University, and PPL Montana and MDU Resources Group have promised $15,000 each," writes Mike Dennison of the Billings Gazette.

NorthWestern is the state's largest gas and electric utility. PPL Montana is the state's dominant power company. MDU provides electricity and gas to much of Eastern Montana. In all, Dennison writes, "energy firms are footing about 80 percent of the cost of the $75,000 conference."

Environmental groups and others are criticizing the summit because of the industry sponsorship. They say the summit's goal is to find an energy strategy that benefits the public, not the energy industry. Pat Judge, energy program director for the Montana Environmental Information Center, told Dennison, "It's wholly inappropriate for that to be funded by industry dollars."

Judge admits the conference is "pretty diverse," but adds, "The most glaring oversight is to not have a panel on global climate change." Schweitzer said he thinks the conference lineup speaks for itself. (Read more)

Agriculture prevails in 'quiet corner' of Connecticut, Miami Herald reports

The concept of farming, either massive and impersonal, or relegated to the misty realm of bucolic nostalgia, is usually assigned to the Midwest, but a Miami newspaper cites a special corner of a New England state where old fashion farming is alive and beautified.

"Though a full three-quarters of the state is rural, Connecticut is not the first place that springs to mind when one thinks of off-the-beaten-track New England; well-trod Mystic and the Foxwoods casino lure most visitors to the Nutmeg State. But less-frequented treasures abound in Northeast Connecticut, otherwise known as the Quiet Corner -- a place of verdant farmland, rolling meadows, reasonably priced antiques and, most significantly, an air of timelessness," writes Alex Hershey of the Miami Herald.

"Perhaps nowhere else in New England will you find such a charming valley -- rife with herbaries and greenhouses, pick-your-own orchards and old-fashioned ice-cream parlors, dusty antiques shops and agreeable B&Bs -- so close to major urban areas (an hour's drive from Hartford or Boston will land you in the thick of things)," writes Hershey, who profiles "some of the area's prime draws." (Read more)

Florida clamming community feeling development heat; people selling, moving

A Florida community renowned for its clamming is finding it difficult to maintain its edge in the face of rising property taxes, driven higher by rapid area development.

"The chairman of the Cedar Key Aquaculture Association isn't giving up clam farming, but he expects to make some serious money selling his home and workplace while escaping $275 in monthly real estate taxes. He plans to move to a place off the island ... but leave his boat docked in town to provide easy access to his off-shore clam sites," writes Nathan Crabbe of the Gainesville [Fla.] Sun.

"It's getting too expensive for us blue collar folks to live out here," he said. "In just a dozen years Cedar Key has cemented its place as the national leader in farm-raised clams, but some farmers feel like they're victims of their own success. As the clam industry has allowed the town to remain a place often described as one of the last vestiges of 'Old Florida,' newcomers flocking there for the experience sometimes contribute to altering it," writes Crabbe. Ann Marie Boutwell of Baynard Realty told Crabbe, "You can have a $400,000 house and be right next door to a single wide that has a clamming operation."

Realtor Doris Hellerman, owner of Pelican Realty, lists three-bedroom homes on the Gulf for up to $1.2 million. She told Crabbe, "We don't have anything below $200,000 now that's improved." Hellerman has more listings than any time in memory, but worries about high prices altering the community's character. The realtor criticizes investors who buy homes and "flip" them three months later at a higher sale price. "I don't see where they do anything for anybody but themselves," she told Crabbe. (Read more)

Florida burg blocks roads to keep out city folk: 'They'd like to be in W. Va.'

A Florida community wants to live in a rural atmosphere right in the middle of a metropolitan area. That desire has spurred a series of measures to cut the community off from other cities.

Southwest Ranches, Fla., is a cluster of spacious, suburban homes in metropolitan west Broward County that is barricading roads to deny access from neighboring cities. The town council, after getting complaints over the road blocked streets, has decided to increase the practice. Residents in nearby cities now travel miles out of their way to reach schools and hospitals, writes Fred Grimm of the Miami Herald.

''They'd like to be in West Virginia,'' Weston Mayor Eric Hersh told Grimm. "But they're in South Florida and they've benefited tremendously from the growth and all the amenities of the cities around them.'' Hersh said that on Monday the Weston City Commission will reverse its support of proposed $3.2 million county grant to fund a park and a new town hall in Southwest Ranches.

More backlash from nearby communities may follow, notes Grimm. ''We're going to be looking at the many ways we subsidize them -- at recreation, police, fire support,'' Hersh said. "They're in for a big shock. They're going to find out that it's not always so pleasant to be an island.'' (Read more)

Rural Calendar I: Southeast Watershed Roundtable; pre-reg. deadline Oct. 19

The Kentucky Waterways Alliance and the Southeast Watershed Forum invite you to network and share at the Forum's 8th Annual Southeast Watershed Roundtable, in Bowling Green, Ky., on Nov. 2-4.

Geoffrey Anderson, who directs EPA's Smart Growth office, will keynote the forum, which will feature successful strategies to protect the environment and the "bottom line." Five workshops and two field trips will be offered on Nov. 2, prior to the two-day roundtable.

To learn more and to register online, go to http://www.southeastwaterforum.org. Early registration deadline is October 19 - (This Wednesday) - after that, the cost increases from $85 to $100.

Rural Calendar II: Appalachian Heirloom Seed Conservancy Oct. 21-23

The Second Annual Fall Conference will be held Oct. 21-23 at the Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center on Pilot Knob Cemetery Road in Berea, Ky.

For more information, call Brook Elliot at (859) 623-2765 or email KentuckySeeds@hotmail.com, or call Roger Postley at (859) 278-4846 or email him at RPostley@aol.com.

Registration and charges: Member can pre-register for $5, or pay $8 at the door; and non-member can pay $15 for everything or $10 per day (fees apply toward membership). Speakers pay nothing.

Friday, Oct. 14, 2005

Decline in pay phones hurts rural poor; it's a matter of 'dollars and cents'

As portable information and communications technology proliferate, old-line analog methods are falling to the wayside, to the detriment of many, but especially the rural poor.

"With the proliferation of cell phones, BlackBerrys and other devices that operate on digital technology rather than dimes, pay phones are a disappearing breed in the United States. There were about two million nationwide in 1997; about 1.3 million were operating last year, according to the Federal Communications Commission," writes Katie Zezima of The New York Times.

The Kentucky Public Service Commission began a public-interest pay-phone program last year, but spokesman Andrew Melnykovych told Zezima the agency had the phone in its building removed because of a lack of use. Melnykovych said, "It's not particularly missed. Where they're not profitable, they're disappearing." But, Zezima notes, they are sometimes a necessity.

Sue Berkowitz of the Appleseed Legal Justice Center in Columbia, S.C., told Zezima, "There are some folks who just can't afford a cell phone. Low-income people don't even have land lines. It's a problem in rural areas, where you can't get cell coverage. It's really a health and safety issue." Her group filed a petition with the state to enact a public interest pay phone law.

Verizon spokesman Earle Pierce told Zezima the decision to keep a pay phone running came down to dollars and cents. "If we can't even recover the cost of a dial tone, why would we leave the phone there?" He would not say how much it cost to run a pay phone, she writes. (Read more)

Appalachian leaders endorse high-speed Internet as key to competitiveness

High-speed Internet service is a basic service essential for rural communities to compete economically, Appalachian Regional Commission Chairman Anne Pope and U.S. Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers of Kentucky's 5th Congressional District told attendees his week at the annual meeting of the Rural Telecommunications Conference in Lexington, Ky.

Pope, introducing Rogers, quoted him as saying of broadband, "It gives you the ability to talk above the mountains . . . If we can talk above the mountains, we can do business anywhere."

"Telecom has now become part of infrastructure," one of the four things ARC invests in, Pope said. "It is as important as water and sewer for a community to be competitive." She said the agency has "a special commitment" to broadband and has spent more than $10 million on its telecom plan in the last year. She said the program is "allowing rural communities to stay rural but being able to compete anywhere."

Rogers said several companies and government agencies in his southeastern Kentucky district, one of the nation's poorest, have proven the viability of basing their information-intensive services in the region. "Now my district, my area, is known as Silicon Holler," Rogers joked. "So we've come a long way, baby, but we've got a long way to go." He said it all depends on "getting wired."

Meth War: States hold summit, enact new laws; Oregon police seek legislator

Governors and other officials from 13 Midwestern states are to gather in December for a three-day summit to work on plans for combating the spread of methamphetamine production and abuse.

"Agency heads and policy leaders are among those invited to Indianapolis for the Dec. 13-15 meeting sponsored by the Midwestern Governors Association and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy," writes Charles Wilson of The Associated Press. (Read more) The association’s Washington director, Jesse Heier, told Wilson “This summit is a great opportunity [for them] to share experiences and learn new approaches to fighting meth abuse.”

A 2004 Drug Enforcement Agency study found more than half of all U.S. meth lab incidents occurred in the Midwest. The MGA includes Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

In North Carolina, Jerry Sena of The Mountain Times in Boone reports Gov. Mike Easley has signed a law restricting purchases of colds medicines containing pseudoephedrine to curtail the manufacture of methamphetamine. (Read more) The bill is modeled after a law passed by Oklahoma legislators in April 2004. Sena's story also focuses on reactions from pharmacists in the mountain community.

In Maine, Victoria Wallack of The Ellsworth American writes about a new law making it tougher to buy products containing pseudoephedrine, which goes into effect Nov. 1. The measure is designed to prevent the meth epidemic from infiltrating Maine, she writes. (Read more)

For an AP follow up to the story about Salem police finding meth in an Oregon state representative's car following an auto mishap, Salem police request Wirth turn herself in on drug charge, click here.

'Eco-farming' could counter impact of global warming, say scientists

Scientists say that keeping carbon in fields through no-till farming can help reduce global warming.

"Researchers from the University of Illinois and Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee say, 'Our research focuses on the feasibility of different sequestration schemes for reducing natural emissions of carbon dioxide or enhancing the natural uptake of atmospheric carbon dioxide,'" writes Ayinde O. Chase of All Headline News.

Chase explains that plants take in carbon dioxide and store it in their tissues and cells. Most carbon is returned to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide when crops are harvested and eaten. Some carbon can be permanently stored, or confined, in the soil as organic matter with no-till farming. As the land changes, harvesters and farmers could increase the amount of organic carbon in soil, she writes.

Carbon levels in the ground depend on climate changes and how much carbon dioxide there is in the air. Researchers say converting from conventional plow tillage to a no-till practice is among the most cost-effective ways to reduce carbon dioxide buildup, writes Chase. (Read more)

West Virginia, with great need, ranks near bottom in indigent healthcare

Despite its great health needs, especially in rural areas, West Virginia ranks fourth lowest in the nation in the percentage of state funds it spends on the Medicaid program for the poor and disabled, reports a health-care foundation and the weekly State Journal, based in Charleston.

"The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that West Virginia spends just 6.1percent of its general revenue on the program," writes Juliet A. Terry. "The state receives nearly $3 in federal Medicaid money for every $1 in state funding -- an enviable match -- and yet just three states spend a smaller percentage of their budgets on the program than West Virginia."

In West Virginia, the number of uninsured adults has increased since from19.5 percent in 1993 to 23.5 percent in 2003, according to Department of Health and Human Resources, while 19.1 percent of the state's population had no coverage in 2003. A large portion of West Virginia patients rely on Medicaid, but the state has not fully funded the program, and it's facing cuts, Terry reports. And, with most of the state being rural, patients may need to travel to cities for specialists' attention, creating a sizable barrier to
care for the poor and elderly. (Read more)

Group wanting to 'keep it rural' pledges to work with county on development

Groups in eastern King County, Washington, are exerting political influence on how their county is developed, one adamantly opposed to new environmental regulations, another seeking moderation.

One "group of rural residents ... stood in front of the Metropolitan King County Council, but instead of the usual tension, the council members smiled and said they looked forward to working together on common solutions," writes Ashley Bach of the Seattle Times. The group formed last spring to counter opposition to new environmental regulations from some rural residents.

The new group turned in 12,000 signatures from rural residents who it says support a moderate approach. Mike Tanksley, one of the group's leaders, told Bach the signatures are from residents who want to "bring our community and policy makers together in a constructive manner."

Another group more strongly opposing the environmental regulations gathered about 18,000 signatures to try to force the issue to the ballot. A Superior Court judge ruled the referendum could not go forward. Both groups call themselves "The Rural Majority" and both claim the right to use that name. Vocal opponent Ron Ewart said his group has registered the name with the Secretary of State's Office.

State's 2006 cigarette tax hike proposal nets little support after prior increase

In an example of localizing a state Capitol story, James Mayse of the Messenger-Inquirer in Owensboro, Ky., reports Gov. Ernie Fletcher's suggestion to further raise the state's cigarette tax in 2006 "did not generate much enthusiasm among local legislators."

"Some said the General Assembly does not have the political will to raise the tax again when they return to Frankfort in January," writes Mayse. Fletcher suggested raising the tax on cigarettes to more than 40 cents per pack. "During the 2005 session, legislators adopted Fletcher's proposal to raise cigarette taxes, finally arriving at a compromise that raised the tax from three cents to 30 cents," he writes

Mayse sought reaction not just from Rep. Brent Yonts, a Greenville Democrat, but form legislators outside the paper's circulation areaa -- Sen. Charlie Borders, a Grayson Republican and chairman of the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee, and Richmond Sen. Ed Worley, leader of the Senate Democrats. Yonts told Mayse, "We did tax modernization last session. We took a bunch of people off the tax rolls. I'm not in favor of increasing their taxes again." Borders told him, "I don't see any desire by the legislators to raise taxes." But Worley told Mayse, "I think we would be more than willing to look at the governor's proposal objectively, and if it is justified, to consider another increase."

Kentucky Tobacco and Candy Association Executive Director Marvin Gray told Mayse another increase in cigarette taxes "would cause more pain for our retailers and wholesalers." Gray also said he didn't think the governor's suggestion would generate much momentum. (Read more) Mayse was one of a number of journalists at a recent Institute for Rural Journalism & Community Issues conference on covering state and federal politics and governments from places other that the capitals..

Immortalized: Missouri preps the country's first photojournalism hall of fame

Eight photographers will comprise the first induction class at the Missouri Photojournalism Hall of Fame in Washington, Mo., when it opens Oct. 20.

Missouri is believed to be the first state with a hall of fame dedicated solely to photojournalism, reports the weekly Washington Missourian, one of the hall's sponsors. (Read more)

Other sponsors include the Missouri Press Foundation, Missouri Press Association, University of Missouri School of Journalism, The Associated Press, the Washington Area Chamber of Commerce and its tourism department, Downtown Washington, Inc., Core Restructuring Committee and the City of Washington. The Hall's hours are noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

Rural Calendar: Wool, Walnut, and Weeds Field Days Oct. 29-30

The Kentucky Wool Society is having the Wool, Walnut, and Weeds Field Days Saturday and Sunday, October 29 and 30, from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., at the historic and picturesque Lan Mark Farm located at 121 Sharpsburg Road (State Highway 1198) in Bourbon County.

The society will demonstrate the use of their needle-felting machine. The event will also have fiber art demonstrations using wet and dry felt methods. There will be a dye pot brewing on display and members will make natural dye from walnuts and other native plants. Refreshments will be made from native plants.

Nancy Ogg will lead a plant walk, and discuss native plants and their uses. Kristy Sturgill will display her award-winning needle felted articles, which utilize felted wool supplies purchased from Kentucky Wool. She won “Best of Show” in Rugs and “First Premium” in Textiles at the 2005 Kentucky State Fair. For more information, call 859 383-4560 or visit the Kentucky Wool Society Web site at www.kywool.com.

Thursday, Oct. 13, 2005

New satellite technology speeds up Internet service in rural areas, but at cost

"For much of the Internet age, living in the rural West has meant traveling the information superhighway at speeds akin to a tractor chugging along a dirt road," writes Ruffin Prevost of the Billings Gazette's Wyoming Bureau. But, he adds, that scenario is slowly changing for the better as new technologies and services make getting online easier, cheaper and faster.

In Cody, Wyo., "Rod Smith uses a satellite dish to connect to the Internet, with each click of the mouse beamed 22,300 miles into space, and each Web page being sent back down the same distance. He finds it much faster than connecting over the telephone," writes Prevost.

Advanced Communication Technology of Sheridan, along with sister company RT Communications in Worland, offers satellite Internet coverage to all of northwestern Wyoming. ACT's Jesus Rios told Prevost that today's satellite systems are cheaper and faster than those of just a year or two ago, and a new nationwide service called WildBlue offers the best speeds yet for such connections. Rios also told the newspaper, "The difference is WildBlue uses spot-beam technology, so that enables them to target certain areas of the country with narrower beams. That's why they've accomplished the faster speeds compared with their competitors."

DirecWay and WildBlue offer download speeds comparable to cable modem or high-speed phone line, but they typically lag in upload speeds and cost more -- between $300 and $800 for satellite equipment and installation, and $50 to $80 for monthly service, depending on speed. (Read more)

States aim to protect poor from heat bills expected higher in energy crisis

Fuel bills are expected to rise sharply this winter, and states are setting aside extra money to help Americans keep the heat on when the weather turns cold. "Ohio freed up an additional $75 million for heating assistance for the needy, and Wisconsin added $16 million. Iowa officials set up a Web site to give people advice on how to save energy and get aid, but they acknowledged that may not be enough," writes Connie Mabin of The Associated Press.

Jerry McKim, chief of the Iowa Bureau of Energy Assistance, told Mabin that People "can only turn the thermostat so low before it affects your health and well-being. This is a life-or-death matter. I have serious anxiety about what folks will face this winter." Sounds like plenty of local stories to us.

Winter heating bills could be 50 percent higher than last year — an average of $350 more for natural gas users and $378 more for fuel oil users. The rising prices are blamed largely on Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. More than half of all U.S. households heat with natural gas. Nearly a third of the country relies on electric heat, but those homeowners may see their bills go up too, because many power plants use natural gas, especially for generation during high-demand periods..

The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program is expecting many more applicants this winter. Congress provided $2.2 billion for the program last year. President Bush has proposed cutting it to about $2 billion this year. Twenty-nine governors have asked Washington for $1.3 billion more for emergency energy assistance. There has been no immediate action from Congress on the request.

Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack told AP, "This program is critical to the elderly, disabled and children of this state." Wisconsin has more than doubled its funding to $16 million. Ohio Gov. Bob Taft has ordered $75 million added to the state's $100 million heating aid program and the income limits will be raised so that more families can receive money to pay their heating bills. (Read more)

National dilemma: Urban-rural split of state revenue debated at forum

A forum involving an economist and state representative from Louisville and a former Eastern Kentucky legislator yesterday provided an example of the national debate between urban and rural areas over how to fairly divide tax dollars to best benefit all.

University of Louisville economist Paul Coomes squared off with former state Rep. Herbie Deskins of Pikeville at the Louisville Forum, which debated whether Louisville gets its fair share of state tax dollars, a topic expected to arise at next year's General Assembly, reports Joe Gerth of The Courier-Journal.

Deskins, a rural Democrat, said changing the state's funding scheme would be counterproductive and divisive. Rep. Scott Brinkman, a Louisville Republican, backs a measured effort, with getting more as tax revenue increases. The General Assembly meets in January and a hot topic will be an expected $75 million in bonds for a downtown arena in Louisville, writes Gerth.

The governor and legislators will have to decide how to balance the Louisville project against the needs of their own districts and a $675 million gap in the state's Medicaid program, notes Gerth. Deskins said more affluent parts of the state have a moral responsibility to help poorer areas. Brinkman argued the entire state can prosper only if Louisville and other urban areas can bring high-paying jobs to the state. Coomes said Jefferson County loses about $940 million a year because of the funding formulas. (Read more)

Wisconsin town squares off against developers in court to keep rural flavor

The Wisconsin town of Randall, with 3,300 people, is in a heap of legal trouble. It has a 3-year-old development moratorium that some of the state's largest developers want ended.

"The rural Kenosha County community is the target of an Aug. 4 lawsuit by ... the Wisconsin Builders Association and [the] Wisconsin Realtors Association, over its growth curbs. The parties are due in Kenosha County Circuit Court on Dec. 8. Their case may determine for all state municipalities the legal parameters of this increasingly common land-use tool, including who may use it," writes Michele Derus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Tom Larson, regulatory and legislative affairs director for the Wisconsin Realtors Association, told Derus, "Towns have no specific authority, like villages and cities do, to enact a moratorium. Yet we're seeing more and more towns enacting them." Randall enacted its moratorium in August 2002. It applies to new tracts larger than 100 acres or 20 housing units and was designed to give the community time to enact a comprehensive growth plan, which is taking longer than expected, so town officials have extended the moratorium, writes Derus.

Jerry Deschane, deputy executive vice president for the Wisconsin Builders Association, told Derus, "Their moratorium is a Draconian measure which takes away people's ability to conduct business, and it has already been extended twice. Any good planner will tell you this is not the way to manage land use."

Town Board Chairman Matt Ostrander countered, "There are a number of large-tract landowners out here, and the equation in their mind is, 'The more houses I can put on this land, the more money I can make.' " Ostrander added that the townspeople are determined not to allow unfettered growth, Derus writes. (Read more)

Raising tobacco becomes a thing of the past, or less of a thing, for many

The Grant County (Ky.) News has provided another chapter in the continuing saga of tobacco farmers in the once burley bastion state of Kentucky leaving the business in the wake of settlements, buyouts and the end of the federal price support program.

"Shirley Wright takes a lunch break from cutting her tobacco crop. Shirley and her husband, Henry Wright, have been married for 30 years and have raised tobacco each year of their marriage," writes Sarah Adams of the Williamstown newspaper. Wright told Adams, "I'm hoping our marriage lasts longer than the tobacco because I think this is our last year," Shirley said. "This year was just to try it and see how it sells." Shirley told the newspaper the cost of tobacco production, from fertilizer to labor, was up dramatically this year. The Wrights' normal tobacco crop of 22 acres was cut down to eight acres in the first year after the federal tobacco buyout, which left growers to deal with companies on their own.

Of the $10.1 billion appropriated for the buyout, $9.6 billion will be paid to growers and owners over 10 years, notes Adams. The remaining $500 million is to reimburse stockholders of growers' associations and the Commodity Credit Corporation. The Wrights decided to receive their buyout payments over 10 years instead of receiving one lump payment, Adams writes. (Read more)

Southwest Virginian finds ginseng gold; giant, record root raises hopes

An Inman, Va., man works to get to the root of his economic needs, and a giant ginseng root he unearthed recently has raised his hopes for greater financial security, even in the face of tighter harvesting regulations.

Steve Adams found the biggest American ginseng root he'd seen in 40 years of digging, measuring about 16 and one-half inches long and about four inches around. "Adams knew ...he'd struck gold. The top of the plant, with green leaves and red seeds, measured about three feet high, he said. That's big by any ginseng digger's -- or 'sanger's' -- standards," writes Jodi Deal of The Coalfield Progress in Norton, Va. Until last week, the biggest root Adams said he's ever seen was about 12 inches long.

The roots can bring about $250 per pound. At the beginning of this year's ginseng season, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service changed federal guidelines for wild ginseng harvests. To export, ginseng diggers must now prove their finds are at least 10 years old. That's double the old threshhold of five years. The rule was tightened in hopes of protecting the slow-growing plants from over-harvesting.

Ginseng is used in herbal medicines to purportedly provide pep, stimulate blood circulation and aid in recovery from illnesses. The roots can be chewed, eaten, pulverized into powder for dietary supplement pills or, most often, brewed in tea. (Read more)

FEMA jobless tally shortchanges needy in southeastern Kentucky, say critics

The formula used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to distribute non-disaster aid is preventing the most needy people in Central Appalachia from receiving money, according to groups that serve the poor in southeastern Kentucky.

Bell County Emergency Shelter Director Richard Witherite told Roger Alford of The Associated Press that federal funding to provide emergency food and shelter to the hungry and homeless is declining for some organizations in impoverished communities. Witherite said the money is distributed based on unemployment statistics that do not count for those who have given up on seeking jobs.

The entire state of Kentucky received just under $2 million to help pay for food, shelter, rent, mortgages and utility bills for people with non-disaster related emergencies. Jefferson County, home of the state's largest city, got the largest appropriation, $409,115, while Bell County received $11,632. Witherite told Alford that leaves local organizations scrambling to find money to help cover emergency needs before the arrival of winter.

The Kentucky Office of Employment and Training reported Bell County's unemployment rate at 6.1 percent for August. The number of unemployed, according to the official government count, was 583. Witherite told Alford, "In reality, our unemployment rate is probably 40 percent because we've got people who aren't even looking for work. They've given up." The Kentucky Office of Employment and Training said people who have received unemployment benefits or who have actively sought work in a given month are included in the unemployment statistics.

Pulitzer winner Jack White, dean of Rhode Island journalism, dead at 63

The dean of Rhode Island journalism, Jack White, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of President Nixon's underpayment of income taxes, along with two Emmy Awards, has died.

WPRI-TV, in Providence, where he was a reporter, reported that White died unexpectedly early Wednesday morning at his home on Cape Cod. The cause of death was unknown. He was 63, writes Eric Tucker of The Associated Press.

White began his career in newspapers and then became a television reporter for two decades. While working for The Providence Journal and Evening Bulletin, he won his Pulitzer for National Reporting in 1974 for his story on Nixon's tax troubles. The article prompted Nixon to utter his famous line, "I am not a crook." Providence television station WJAR-TV reporter Jim Tarican told AP, "Whatever he did was right. It was accurate. It was fair." (Read more)

Rural Calendar I: Community Survival Institute in Jackson Hole Oct. 19-22

Now in its 13th year, Helping Small Towns II will offer the Tools for Community Survival Institute for community development professionals and practitioners. The Institute offers the basic skills to confront and control the hard work of community building. It runs from October 19th through 22nd at the Snow King Resort in Jackson Hole, Wyo. Daily sessions run from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., except for Saturday which ends at noon. Scholarships are still available on a limited basis.

To find out more about the Institute and registration, go to www.heartlandcenter.info and click on the Annual Institutes button, or phone 800-927-1115, or call the institute at 402-474-7667. The institute's fax number is (402) 474-7672 and you can email them at info@heartlandcenter.info

Rural Calendar II: Appalachian Heirloom Seed Conservancy Oct. 21-23

The Second Annual Fall Conference of the Appalachian Heirloom Seed Conservancy will be held Oct. 21-23 at the Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center on Pilot Knob Cemetery Road in Berea, Ky.

For more information, contact Brook Elliot, (859) 623-2765, KentuckySeeds@hotmail.com or Roger Postley, (859) 278-4846, RPostley@aol.com

Registration and charges: Member, pre-registered $5; member at door, $8; non-member, $15 for all or $10 per day (fees will apply toward membership). For speakers, there is no registration charge.

Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2005

Task force urges state involvement in covering tab for broadband setup

"Kentucky should help cover the setup cost of satellite-based Internet service for residents in areas where that's the only option for high-speed connections, a proponent of computer technology told a state task force yesterday," writes Bill Wolfe of The Courier-Journal.

The state will need to provide incentives to increase broadband use, said Brian Mefford, president and chief executive of ConnectKentucky, a nonprofit group promoting broadband. Mefford told a broadband task force that the state should pay half of the typical $400 setup cost for people who sign up for satellite services, with Internet service providers likely paying the rest, reports the Louisville newspaper.

The task force, made up of legislators and industry representatives, will address the recommendation in a report to the General Assembly next month, said the group's chairman, State Sen. Ernie Harris, R-Crestwood. Broadband is available in about 75 percent of the state, but about 22 percent of homes have a high-speed connection, Harris told. "Broadband allows us to grow our economy in the smallest communities in the state," he said, notes Wolfe.

The meeting occurred yesterday during Rural TeleCon '05, a conference being held by ConnectKentucky and the Rural Telecommunications Congress (Read more). A speech by Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who has made universal broadband access a priority, is available here.

Coming: Reports on speeches by U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of Homeland Security appropriations panel, and Anne Pope, federal co-chair of the Appalachian Region Commission.

Studies suggest U. S. two-years behind Canada in broadband race

In the contest for broadband use, it appears the United State is losing out to one of its neighbors.

"Canadian households are continuing to lead Americans in the use of broadband, two new studies say. Almost (half) of all Canadian households connect to the Internet by broadband, says Toronto-based Solutions Research Group, a high-tech survey company. In contrast, only 34 percent of American households use a broadband connection to the Internet," writes Jack Kapica of Globetechnology.com.

Canadian homes with the high-speed connections increased to 49 percent this year, up from 40 percent in 2004 and 31 percent in 2003. "While Canada is somewhat behind the U.S. in areas such as wireless or HDTV, on this very important score Canada is at least two years ahead of the curve," said study director Kaan Yigit. The study also reports that broadband-enabled homes in Canada exceed the number of homes with digital television. The reverse is true in the United States, notes Kapica. (Read more)

Rural living easier on the lungs, indicates Scottish university study

A country breeze has always been seen as good for a person's health. Now, there's scientific proof.

A Scottish study says country living may be good for your respiratory health, and rural living is associated with a lower prevalence of asthma. "Moreover, while the prevalence of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and emphysema, which are caused primarily by smoking, is similar among country and city dwellers, living in the country appears to be associated with better health status among subjects with these two lung ailments, the study hints," reports Reuters.

The University of Aberdeen in the United Kingdom analyzed responses from more than 1,000 adults living in rural areas of Scotland and nearly 1,500 living in urban areas of Scotland. The investigators discovered that the prevalence of any lung illness was 28 percent lower among those living in the country compared with those living in cities, reports the wire service.

There may be differences, however, between rural and urban areas not measured in the study including air pollution, body mass index, diet, and exposure to farming and other occupational exposures. Many of these factors are known to be important to long-term lung health, notes Reuters. (Read more)

Bird flu terror alert: Australia adds disease to terrorists' possible weapons list

Australian counter-terrorism authorities have plans to combat terrorists spreading avian influenza.

"The National Counter Terrorism Committee has included the use of bird flu ... as a weapon in possible terrorism attack scenarios, Attorney-General Philip Ruddock's office confirmed," write Mark Dunn, Kate Jones and Shaun Phillips of the Melbourne Herald Sun.

Ruddock's spokeswoman told the newspaper, "It certainly is factored into the counter-terrorism plan." Australia joins the U.S. and Canada in treating bird flu as a possible "agri-terrorism" weapon against the West. "The H5N1 strain -- the most virulent type of bird flu -- has so far claimed more than 60 lives in Asia. If the strain mutates into a human-to-human virus, the World Health Organization has warned millions could die," write Dunn, Jones and Phillips.

One official told the newspaper that flights from countries that detected H5N1 are closely monitored. Australian airports have thermal scanners for detecting passengers with a fever in the event of a pandemic. Scientists fear the disease has spread from Asia to poultry in Europe and South America. (Read more)

Border restrictions cost Canadian farmers millions; mad-cow concerns linger

Industry experts say Canadian cattle producers will have to continue to wait for the U.S. border to fully reopen to normal trade, in light of several years of mad-cow concerns and trade restrictions.

"There was hope the U.S. Department of Agriculture would publish a new rule this fall that would pave the way for renewed shipments of older cattle and breeding stock starting next year. Now the Canadian Cattlemen's Association and other groups are warning producers not to expect the border to fully reopen until some time in 2007 -- four years after mad-cow disease was discovered in an Alberta cow," writes John Cotter of Canadian Press.

Dairy cattle breeder Jon Walker Sr. told Cotter, "A lot of us won't be here by then. We always fed between 1,500 and 2,000 head. I think we have 300 now . . . I wish I didn't have them."

The Canadian Livestock Genetics Association estimates the continued shutdown is costing the breeding industries about $300 million a year in lost sales. Industry experts say the USDA wants to ensure it can withstand lawsuits from protectionist groups such as R-CALF USA, which represents about 18,000 U.S. ranchers. The group went to court and temporarily derailed the USDA rule that eventually led to the border reopening in July to Canadian cattle under 30 months of age, writes Cotter. (Read more)

Farmers coalition wants Congress to oppose all agriculture budget cuts

The National Farmers Union, along with nearly 200 agriculture, conservation, rural development, food and nutrition, and religious organizations, has sent a letter to Congress urging opposition of all budget cuts to vital agriculture programs.

The NFU letter stated, in part, “Americans across our nation who rely on this legislation are facing tremendous challenges. Cutting essential agricultural, rural, conservation and nutrition programs at this time would be counterproductive,” reports the Southwest Nebraska News Network.

NFU President Dave Frederickson told reporters, “Congress should be looking to help farmers and ranchers cope with low prices and skyrocketing input costs, not reducing the safety net contained in the Farm Bill.” (Read more)

North Dakota farmers file suit against state; producers oppose wheat check-off

Four individuals and two groups have filed suit against the state of North Dakota to stop the mandatory funneling of a wheat check-off increase to the North Dakota Grain Growers and the U.S. Durum Growers.

The plaintiffs, represented by attorney Sarah Vogel of Bismarck, charge the state legislature improperly directed funds to two "private trade associations." The plaintiffs say the arrangement is unconstitutional. The suit was filed Oct. 7 in South Central District Court in Bismarck, writes Mikkel Pates of the Grand Forks Herald.

If the arrangement is not declared unconstitutional, the plaintiffs are asking the court to declare both growers groups and their national affiliates "public entities." That would make them subject to the state's open meetings and open records laws. The plaintiffs charge the arrangement may have funneled about $1 million to the two groups over the two years, writes Pates.

Lawmakers mandated that the Wheat Commission contracts with the two groups "require" the two state groups use state funds to pay "all dues required" in their national affiliates, Pates notes. (Read more)

Endangered forests: New list spurs debate over logging practices, reasons

Daniel Boone National Forest harbors 24 endangered species and now finds itself endangered.

It joins 10 other endangered national forests, according to a report from the National Forest Protection Alliance, a coalition that fights commercial logging on federal public lands. Daniel Boone National Forest survived "near-complete deforestation roughly 100 years ago and is now threatened by an all-time high logging boom," the report says, writes Andy Mead of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The report's author, Jake Kreilick, said timber is no longer needed from national forests. Red Mann, who oversees timber for the 192-million-acre national forest, countered that modern logging focuses on removing storm-damaged trees. "(U.S. Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth) says the timber wars are over, and some of the environmental groups are not willing to accept that," Mann told Mead. "They're still out on the battlefield, bayoneting the wounded."

Mann acknowledged that Daniel Boone National Forest is threatened by insects and disease, though, reports Mead. Some other sites on the endangered list include Tongass National Forest in Alaska, Bitterroot National Forest in Montana and Idaho, and George Washington and Jefferson national forests in Virginia. (Read more)

Oldest rodeo bans free chewing tobacco; snuff seen as top rural health threat

The nation's oldest rodeo has taken a health stance against free samples of snuff given as part of the prize package when cowboys successful stay on thousands of pounds of jumping and jolting livestock. The purpose of the ban is to discourage young people, who idolize rodeo cowboys, from "dippin'."

"Chewing and riding bulls have long been partners on the professional rodeo circuit. But in late September, one of the nation's oldest rodeos took its best shot at that marriage. Tobacco companies were prevented from giving out free samples of snuff at the Pendleton Round-Up, where for 95 years cowboys have come to test their mettle," writes Rukmini Callimachi of The Associated Press.

Health officials have singled out chew as one of the top health threats in rural counties. Nationwide, an estimated 3 percent of adults chew tobacco, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Pendleton city officials said they took the stance against the free snuff after hearing stories of children getting their hands on the tobacco. The National Cancer Institute has tied stuff to oral cancer, as well as mouth lesions and tooth decay.

Cowboy Bryan Richardson first straddled a bull at age 13. He'd been chewing tobacco for four years, writes Callimachi. Richardson told him, "Maybe some will consider slowing down on it, or no longer using, ... start thinking about not only the health risks, but the economic cost of their habit."

New, cheaper, deadlier meth-like drug with chlorine base discovered in Iowa

The theft of a chlorine tank in Iowa has lead authorities to discover what appears to be a deadly alteration of the already dangerous, highly addictive and illegal narcotic methamphetamine.

O'Brien County, Iowa authorities say a rural water employee noticed a 150-pound chlorine cylinder missing from this well pump house. But when officials found it in a ditch about five miles from the pump house, it was nearly empty, just two pounds of the concentrated chemical was left, reports KELO-TV's Lou Raguse. KELO-TV is in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Deputies fear chlorine is the latest ingredient in the ever-changing recipe for meth in a new version known as C-C2 or C2-C. The recipe "calls for an unhealthy dose of liquid or gas chlorine," writes Raguse. Darcy Jensen, executive director of Prairie View Prevention Services in Sioux Falls, told KELO-TV she fears now that anhydrous ammonia is harder to get a hold of, meth cooks are using substitutes such as chlorine.

The new drug looks similar to crystal meth. The effects are similar but not as long-lasting, and authorities believe it is being sold as meth. Jensen told Raguse, ”It's a marketing issue. (Drug dealers) are not going to want to put a new name or new drug out there is that's been the drug of choice in the area." (Read more)

Industry news 1: Rust Publishing acquires two Tennessee newspapers

The owner of the Shelbyville (Tenn.) Times-Gazette has purchased two newspapers in adjoining Marshall County.

The Lewisburg Printing Co. announced Oct. 4 the sale of the Lewisburg Tribune and the Marshall Gazette, which publish as the combined Tribune-Gazette, to Rust Publishing Central TN LLC.

Times-Gazette Publisher Hugh Jones also will be publisher and part-owner of the Tribune-Gazette, a twice-weekly 5,000 circulation paper. Rust Publishing's parent company, Cape Girardeau, Mo.-based Rust Communications owns 50 newspapers in eight states. Its only other Tennessee paper is the State Gazette in Dyersburg, near the state’s northwestern corner.

Former Tribune-Gazette publisher Thomas Hawkins said the focus of the Lewisburg Printing Co. has shifted away from newspaper publishing, spurring the sale. "It was a difficult decision to sell these newspapers, but the focus of our company has moved toward commercial printing, and we did not feel we could give the hometown newspapers the attention they deserve," Hawkins said. "We wanted to choose a company that we knew would take care of our employees while growing the newspapers."

Industry news 2: Former publisher purchases Titusville (Pa.) Herald

The Titusville (Pa.) Herald has been sold to its former publisher, Michael Sample.

The 4,065-circulation daily was owned for six years by Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., of Birmingham, Ala. CNHI also owns The Meadville Tribune, a 14,000-circulation daily, also in Crawford County. The sale was completed on Sept. 30.

Sample, a Titusville resident, was the Herald's publisher from 1994 to 2000 and is the son of George Sample, publisher of The Journal, in Corry, in eastern Erie County. That county borders Crawford on the north. Michael Sample recently left the Corry paper, where he was president and ad manager.

Wildfires: New guide offers suggestions for protecting communities

A new disaster prevention guide provides easy-to-implement suggestions for protecting communities from the kind of out-of-control wildfires currently ravaging California homes.

The tips are compiled in A Guide for Protecting Communities From Wildfire, which was released this week to coincide with the ongoing National Fire Prevention Week. Areas covered in the publication include "firewise" landscaping, water availability, vehicular access, housing designs and open burning.

The guide was released by the Kentucky Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet and is a joint publication of three of the cabinet's agencies -- the Office of Housing, Buildings, and Construction, Kentucky Division of Forestry and the Kentucky Office of Insurance. The guide can be downloaded for free at this site.

November workshop to help rural communities fight meth epidemic

Methamphetamine production and abuse are growing problems, with roots firmly planted in rural areas and families and communities being ravaged nationwide. The University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service plans a two-day workshop Nov. 14-15 to help communities combat the scourge.

"The program, entitled 'Methamphetamine - Too Close to Home,' will be at the UK Research and Education Center in Princeton," writes Laura Skillman of the UK extension service communications office. Torey Earle, chair of the Cooperative Extension Service's West District quick response team on drug abuse awareness, told Skillman the purpose of the event is to provide assistance and resources to community partners that will enable people to work together locally to address the issues.

The first day of the workshop will focus on family and community alliances, and feature a discussion with legislators on anti-meth legislation. Environmental impacts on farm and family, including the standards for cleanup and remediation, will be the topic of the second day. Workshop sponsors include the UK Cooperative Extension Service, UK Health Education Extension Leadership Program, Eastern Kentucky University Training Consortium, Pennyrile Narcotics Task Force and Butler County Extension Homemaker Association, writes Skillman.

Participants may attend the program for one or two days. The cost is $15 for one day or $25 for both. Lunch, beverage breaks and an informational CD are included in the fee. Registration forms and more information about the workshop are available at county offices of the UK Cooperative Extension Service.

Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2005

Failure of bid to block government-provided broadband in Illinois leads to creation of council to craft solutions to rural and small-town Internet access

Broadband advocates in Illinois defeated an effort to keep municipalities out of ownership this year, and now community interests are coming to the forefront.

“There are consumer and community interests in this whole matrix of federal and state policy that are often times not paid attention to really well,” said Dr. Dave Lamie of Western Illinois University during a morning session today at Rural TeleCon '05 in Lexington, Ky. The ninth annual conference of the Rural Telecommunications Congress has the theme "States as Broadband Laboratories."

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich issued an order to establish the Broadband Deployment Council on Sept. 6. The council will get both public and private input concerning broadband, then make recommendations to the state’s General Assembly, said Carolyn Brown Hodge, the director of rural affairs in Illinois.

Prior to the council, cities seeking municipal broadband or partnerships with telecommunication companies didn’t know where to start, Hodge said. “Who you gonna call? What’s the answer? Ghostbusters? Who you gonna call? Well, that’s the problem in Illinois. Nobody knows who to call,” she said.

“Being able to communicate what’s important about digital literacy and digital access to people in your state is critically important. We want to have hearings in Illinois on these issues. It’s been an uphill march to this point,” said Michael Maranda, president of the Association for Community Networking.

Coming: Reports on speeches by U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of Homeland Security appropriations panel, and Anne Pope, federal co-chair of the Appalachian Region Commission.

'Grow your own' rural health care and health-care leaders, says scholar

Rural areas have historically lagged behind in health care where some of the greatest needs occur. But, a scholar who studies such matters says its best not to wait for health care to be imported. Instead he says the best way to get and keep it, is by growing and staffing it locally.

"When rural health professionals speak of 'growing their own,' ... they’re referring to the tried-and-true strategy of raising up a crop of doctors, nurses, dentists and other providers from within the community who will stay and practice in the community. And for places that find it difficult if not impossible to attract such folks from outside, it’s the best (and often the only) way to make sure care is available locally," writes Thomas D. Rowley, a fellow with the Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI).

Rowley cites Uvalde, Tex., with a history of limited health-care options. "There were a few doctors in town, but not many accepting new patients or patients on Medicaid. The hospital emergency room [was] overflowing with non-emergency cases." Those who could afford it, would travel to Mexico — 75 miles away. Others "simply went without care or sought it much too late." Now the area is served by a Community Health Center. Rowley details the saga of Rachel Gonzales-Hanson, who "went from client to board member to CEO in a few short years," he writes.

The "Uvalde native runs an operation with a $6.7 million budget, 100 staff and clinics in three towns. It provides services from dental to radiology to obstetrics. It also offers language translation and public health services like immunization, diabetes management and sexually transmitted disease prevention and treatment," he writes. (Read more)

Open-records exemption allowing unintended exceptions in court tomorrow

The author of an amendment to the Kentucky Open Records Act says it is being used in ways he never intended, and hiding from the public things that should not be. Now The Associated Press is challenging its use in court.

"When Rep. Mike Weaver [D-Elizabethtown] was crafting a new exception ... he envisioned protecting documents that might show a weakness in public infrastructure ... He did not imagine state government would be using the exception to try to keep secret a whole host of items that have traditionally been open to public scrutiny," writes AP's Mark Chellgren. (Read more)

Weaver meant for the exception to the state's Open Records Law to cover items that might expose a "vulnerability in preventing, protecting against, mitigating, or responding to a terrorist act," writes Chellgren. Gov. Ernie Fletcher and the Kentucky State Police first used the exemption to deny access to records of the cost of providing security to Vice President Dick Cheney, after he flew in and out of Louisville for a fundraising appearance in Indiana. He did not set foot in Kentucky, notes Chellgren.

The AP appealed the initial denial. The state attorney general's office upheld the denial. The AP then took the case to court, and Franklin Circuit Judge Roger Crittenden has a hearing tomorrow.

Jon Fleischaker, a Louisville lawyer who represents the AP in the lawsuit, told Chellgren, "What they're trying to use it for is to close access to, frankly, anything they want to close." Weaver told Chellgren if state government continues to apply the exception too broadly the legislature may revisit the matter. "If I think it has been abused, I would be inclined to do something about it," said Weaver.

Ethanol boosts farmers' income, fuels debate; environmental effects uncertain

Ethanol is a growing business for Midwestern corn farmers, who can make more money growing an additive for gasoline than raising food.

"But even as corn-laden trucks rumble into the Adkins Energy LLC plant [near Lena, Ill] and tanker trucks bearing the colorless liquid roll out toward gas stations, scientists have never fully settled the question of whether ethanol is a good business for the nation. Some wonder if cars powered by a mix of gasoline and ethanol really spew fewer pollutants, as backers claim," writes Robert Manor of Knight Ridder News Service.

One Cornell University researcher told Manor it takes more energy to make ethanol than it gives off as fuel. The number of ethanol plants continues to rise, because of the benefit to farmers and politics. . There are 88 ethanol plants around the United States and 16 more under construction. Industry observers expect 50 to 70 new plants to open by 2012.

President Bush signed a comprehensive energy bill in August requiring refiners to increase use of ethanol from 4 billion gallons a day to 7.5 billion by 2012. The cost will be at least $3 billion a year in government subsidies to the ethanol industry, needed to make the price of ethanol competitive with gasoline. David Sykuta, executive director of the Illinois Petroleum Council, told Manor "Nobody could buy ethanol without the subsidy." Advocates say Ethanol cuts vehicle pollution emissions. Today ethanol makes up about 3.5 percent of the gasoline sold in the United States, Manor writes. (Read more)

Freshwater shrimp big business following Gulf Coast storm devastation

There's something new in the water in Wise County, Texas, something that's starting to spread in the Eastern United States.

It's a crustacean - freshwater shrimp, to be exact. And Wise County, Texas' first shrimp farm had its first freshwater shrimp harvest this Saturday. Farm owner Doug Bryan hopes the new agricultural endeavor will attract local consumers seeking fresh shrimp, writes Brian Knox of the Wise County Messenger, consistently one of the nation's best weekly newspapers.

“You put them in clean water, then put them in ice water,” Bryan told Knox. “They can’t survive in cold water. And it’s no trouble to fix them.” Shrimp cannot survive in water temperatures below 57 degrees, so the approaching fall is the perfect time to harvest them, Knox writes. The farm has a simple harvesting process. The two ponds with freshwater shrimp, or prawns are drained, the prawns are pulled out and consumers put the shrimp in coolers.

The president of Aquaculture of Texas Inc., Craig Upstrom, told Knox that prawn farming has become popular in the eastern United States within the last 15 years, although it has still not really caught on in the area surrounding Bryan's farm. Upstrom estimated that the state only has about six shrimp farms. He expects prawn farming to increase as more people learn about farm-raised freshwater shrimp.

“It’s a very good product,” he said. “Some compare it to lobster. It doesn’t have iodine and has half the cholesterol of marine shrimp.” Upstrom added that customers are truly getting a fresh, healthy product when they buy local farm-raised prawns. Niche marketing will be key for prawn farmers, he told Knox, and some areas in southern Illinois and Kentucky have shrimp festivals. (Read more)

Supply and demand driving up coal prices to record levels in Wyoming

Wyoming coal prices are at an all-time high driven by a supply shortage and unrelenting demand among electric utilities as they try to avoid even steeper natural gas prices.

"While frustrated by railroad troubles to meet increasing demand, Powder River Basin coal producers aren't complaining about contracts being struck for 2006 delivery at $15.45 per ton -- up from around $10 per ton in July and $7 per ton a year ago," writes Dustin Bleizeffer of the Casper Star-Tribune.

A series of train derailments is partially behind the supply shortage, notes Bleizeffer. A joint effort between Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe could increase overall traffic by 2006, but other market forces are expected to hold coal prices at the current high-water mark, he writes. Richard Price, a coal industry analyst, told Bleizeffer, "Right now it's a demand-driven market, and as long as that demand is there, and I would expect it for the next several years, you're going to see a reasonable stability in coal prices -- a lack of volatility in prices."

Price said he expects coal will hold its 52 percent of the electrical generation market. Demand for clean-burning natural gas, which fuels about 17 percent of the nation's electrical generation, is expected to increase. It is currently at $10 per thousand cubic feet of gas -- double what prices were about a year ago. While Wyoming has plenty of both commodities, Bleizeffer writes, "Coal producers ... said this summer's railroad woes fought against their efforts to boost production beyond the basin's record 381.7 million tons set last year. (Read more)

Virgunia county's 'rural character' is endangered species; proposals are divisive

A Virginia county's comprehensive plan, a blueprint for growth and land use, has proved to be divisive as forces for and against development square off, and mirroring a national dilemma.

"The folks [in Orange County] who are devoted to preserving the "rural character" of the county ... are led by staff and members of the Piedmont Environmental Council. Large landowners with conservation easements have been joined by those interested in historic preservation and tourism," writes Robin Knepper of The Free Lance-Star of Fredericksburg, Va. (Read more)

PEC Field Officer Dan Holmes told Knepper the Orange Planning Commission is pushing forward "an inferior document" with a vision statement and land-use map that "are not compatible." Planning Commissioner Steve Satterfield, a PEC supporter, told her, "The plan looks foolish right now. I don't want to be associated with this piece of work."

Some residents, along with the Orange County Chamber of Commerce, support economic development. One of those, local car dealer Kevin Reynolds, applauds efforts to preserve the county's rural character, But, he told Knepper, "I love and want to keep the rural nature of the county, but I'd like to see the plan changed to address far more economic growth that will bring more jobs to our citizens." The Planning Commission has scheduled an Oct. 13 work session "to make their final 'tweaks, '" writes Knepper. A public hearing on the comprehensive plan will be held Nov. 3.

For another development-versus-preservation story, this one from the Detroit Free Press, about "a new state program that will let local governments purchase the farmers' land-development rights," click here.

Lawsuits pending over monumental coal-sludge spill, five years later

Five years after one of the South's worst ecological disasters deluged an Eastern Kentucky community residents charge in a lawsuit that sludge remains in the soil despite a $46 million cleanup and they are asking for unspecified actual and punitive damages.

Attorney John Kirk filed suit yesterday on behalf of 20 people against Martin County Coal, a subsdiary of Massey Energy Co. of Richmond, Va. The statute of limitations runs out today. Kirk told Roger Alford of The Associated Press, "The vegetation is back ...[but] ... there's a facade of normalcy." Kirk has two lawsuits pending against the company on behalf of 45 people.

The spill affected much of the Big Sandy River, the Tug Fork and some tributaries in rural Martin County. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources estimated that 1.6 million fish were killed from the sludge that escaped a mountaintop impoundment outside of Inez. Sludge in some places was 7 feet deep. Massey Energy's Martin County Coal paid $3.25 million in penalties and damages to the state of Kentucky and agreed to pay $225,000 to the department to restock affected streams.

Massey spokesman Jeff Gillenwater told Alford, "We put a lot of effort into the cleanup. It's looking good. I think every year we're seeing better and better results." After the slurry spill, state and federal regulatory agencies did a review of all sludge ponds, trying to determine the risk of similar spills by checking the proximity of underground mines. Kentucky has 88 sludge ponds, including two that have been approved by state and federal regulators since the Martin County spill.

Connecticut forum targets methamphetamine; Tennessee prosecutor on panel

The state-by-state war against methamphetamine continues with Connecticut, a more recent ally in the fight, conducting a forum today to find some answers. A Tennessee prosecutor and a recovering addict will take part in the discussions.

"The chief state's attorney and other state leaders will ... discuss the potential societal, financial and environmental threats from methamphetamine in Connecticut. They will be joined by a state prosecutor and a recovering meth addict from Tennessee, both of whom will spotlight the travails Connecticut faces if it allows the highly addictive drug to become entrenched," writes Gregory Seay of The Hartford Courant. The symposium is open to the public.

Chief State's Attorney Christopher Morano, moderator for the symposium, told Seay, "We have an opportunity to address a problem before it gets across our borders." Gov. M. Jodi Rell has challenged the state's health, social services, environmental and law enforcement agencies to stamp out meth abuse in Connecticut. The panel's goal is to present the governor with legislation for the next regular session of the Connecticut General Assembly, writes Seay. (Read more)

Beetles bring death to forests; Colorado, Wyoming battling infestation

Forests in Wyoming are facing an epidemic beetle infestation this year, bringing serious threats for catastrophic forest fire.

"Hidden inside galleries and tunnels just under the bark of pines, spruce and fir, tiny brown bark beetles and their larvae are feasting and spreading a blue-staining fungus that saps the nutrient transport tissues trees need to survive and fend off further attacks," writes Jennifer Frazer of the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle.

A silviculturist and project planner with the Forest Service, Terry DeLay, told Frazer that every tree species has a beetle problem. "What we're seeing in this year's infestation is trees unable to produce sap and pitch to defend themselves," he said. Though the bark beetles are native to the forest, the insects usually kill just a few trees at a time, while creating habitats for woodpeckers and other birds that live in the cavities.

"Cold winter temperatures can kill the beetles, but thanks to a series of warm winters, dense forest stands from years of forest fire suppression, drought and a massive tree blow-down in the Routt National Forest - the Colorado counterpart of Medicine Bow that begins at the state line - the scale has been tipped in favor of the beetles in Colorado and Wyoming," Knox explains.

In a thick forest stand, individual trees don't get as much water and air. The Forest Service is thinning the stands so that remaining trees get more air and water, and to increase the air circulation. They hope this will help pitch out beetles. The service is also spraying insecticides and focusing timber sales in infested areas to remove the dead or dying trees that attract more beetles. (Read more)

Ohio University adds 10 scholarships to draw diversity from Appalachia

Ohio University is expanding its diversity initiatives next year with the Appalachian Scholars Program, designed to aid students from Ohio's Appalachian region.

"The program will provide about 10 students at OU's six campuses with a 4-year renewable scholarship, an annual book stipend and an opportunity to participate in an annual leadership seminar, writes Laura Yates for The Post, which bills itself as an " independent student-run daily newspaper serving Ohio University, Athens and the surrounding community."

O.U. President Roderick McDavis said the Appalachian Scholars Program is expected to eventually accommodate 40 incoming freshman, writes Yates. McDavis said at a recent news conference, "By creating greater access to education opportunities, Ohio University can make a profound difference in the quality of life and economic future for children of Appalachia."

The university has designated more than $920,000 this initial year for Appalachian students. The program is to benefit students from 29 Ohio counties identified as Appalachian, in eastern and southeastern Ohio. Leslie Lilly, president and CEO of the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio told Yates, that low high school graduation rates and low student achievement expectations in Appalachia need to be overcome. (Read more)

The rate of students from Appalachian Ohio who attend college is 30 percent, 11 percent lower than the state average and 32 percent lower than national average, according to www.appalachianohio.org

Central Kentucky shooting of Elizabethtown makes area 'almost famous'

The Cameron Crowe film Elizabethtown, shot in-part in Versailles, Ky., and featured in an advanced screening last Wednesday in Lexington, has its general release this coming weekend.

The movie, starring Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst, is the subject of a critical review by Ryan Ebelhar of the University of Kentucky student newspaper The Kentucky Kernel. Citing another Cameron Crowe film, Ebelhar says the film brings fame to the area.

"As a Kentucky native, when I heard that Crowe was directing a movie that took place in Elizabethtown, Ky., my first thought was, "What on Earth is there to make a movie about?" No offense to Elizabethtown, mind you. If a Hollywood director made a movie about my hometown of Owensboro, Ky., I would have had a similar response. But seeing as how Crowe also directed "Almost Famous," I had faith that this would be a great movie as well," Ebelhar writes.

"The dialogue is the most important part of the film. Crowe bases his dialogue on what he claims are 'conversations I wish I had.' As he says, it is impossible for movies to replicate what happens in real life. In fact, Crowe says he often carries a notebook around and writes down things he hears people say to use in movies, as in 'life is more poetic then what's in the movies,'" Ebelhar writes. (Read more)

Monday, Oct. 10, 2005

Delta authority chief: Technology is the key to the future of rural America

"Technology is going to lead the way with everything we do in rural America," but some local leaders still haven't embraced that idea, Pete Johnson, federal co-chairman of the Delta Regional Authority, told attendees in a speech to the Rural TeleCon '05 conference in Lexington, Ky.

Johnson said distance learning and tele-health are keys to having the educated, healthy workforce needed to grow local, state and regional economies, and geographic-information-systems mapping is needed to help jurisdictions adjust to population losses. "We've got to turn to the most innovative technologies that are available," he said. "One of the greatest problems we have is helping local leadership understand the benefits of these technologies and embrace them."

In some cases, Johnson said, "we have to go over" officials who are behind that curve. For example, he said he approved rural-broadband grants for each of the three Western Kentucky area-development districts served by the Delta authority though they did not fit the criteria established by states in the region. "I felt so strongly about doing something with broadband that I funded them," he said.

Johnson, a presidential appointee who served as state auditor in Mississippi, said the nation still needs to lend a hand to rural areas. "Rural America is often forgotten America," he said. "For those of us who live off the main roads, people often can't see the challenges that we face."

Tech firms, rural towns can collaborate to provide broadband Internet

To extend broadband Internet access, some rural communities are striking deals with private firms.

Cable and telecommunication companies may not be prone to extending high-speed access to rural areas, and communities may lack the funding to set up systems, said Kate McMahon, operator of Montana-based Applied Communications, during a morning session today at Rural Telecon '05 in Lexington, Ky. "So, some communities and ISPs have partnerships with revenue sharing," she said.

Some communities in the state of Washington have recently acquired broadband access on a large scale and city buildings have posters praising the service, McMahon said. She showed a slide of one such poster that read, "Drink the coffee, eat the bread, feel the love, surf the Internet."

The ninth annual conference of the Rural Telecommunications Congress has the theme "States as Broadband Laboratories." The Minnesota-based Blandin Foundation started a Get Broadband program in 2004, which offers communities grants up to $15,000 on a matching basis. Fifteen Minnesota communities are part of the program, which received $250,000 from the state government this year, said Gary Fields of Blandin during another session.

Some state and national lawmakers are pushing for municipal broadband, but telecoms have criticized the idea, for fear of losing potential revenue. Six rural Minnesota communities have set up municipal wireless systems, said Fields: "The middle ground may be looking at mutual ownership of the infrastructure."

Meth-ingredient laws turn states without them into sites for stockpiles

Indiana restricted the sale of over-the counter cold medicines to gain a strategic stranglehold on meth production. However; meth producers are now stockpiling supplies in states that don't limit sales of pseudoephedrine, the main ingredient in the highly addictive stimulant.

"They're going to the places with the least resistance," pharmacist Dan Beyer told Ryan Lenz of The Associated Press. Beyer owns a pharmacy about 90 miles southeast of Indianapolis and just 15 miles from Ohio, which does not restrict pseudoephedrine sales.

"If we're going to do all this work and all they have to do is cross a river, we've accomplished absolutely nothing," Beyer told Lenz. Such a dilemma is common because of the patchwork of laws on meth. Thirty-seven states restrict pseudoephedrine sales, but the laws vary from requiring a prescription to simply limiting the number of packages purchased at the same time.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports 13 states, including New York and South Carolina, have no pseudoephedrine laws. At least two, Massachusetts and Ohio, have legislation pending. Law-enforcement officers say meth producers exploit these differences by crossing state lines or by "pharmacy shopping" in states that require a log of purchases but can't cross-reference entries. "What we're beginning to see is people traveling great distances to get pseudoephedrine," Jack Riley, an assistant special agent for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, told Lenz. Some lawmakers say a national solution is needed. The U.S. Senate has approved a bipartisan bill that would provide federal controls to fight meth. (Read more)

Hollywood not hip: For a Charlotte Observer pop-culture column on Hollywood "missing chance to educate us about meth," by Tonya Jameson, click here.

Anti-crime programs train school-bus drivers to look for drugs, terrorism

School bus drivers passing through neighborhoods watch out for students and their assigned stops. Now some are also watching for suspicious activities that may be linked to drugs or terrorism.

"The Neighborhood Watch program ... enlist[s] bus drivers as the eyes and ears of law enforcement. Jefferson County, [Ky.] Ohio and Connecticut have trained drivers to recognize and report suspicious activity as part of an anti-terrorism effort. Eastern Kentucky school districts are considering asking drivers to look for crime on their routes," writes Alan Maimon of The Courier-Journal of Louisville.

A Whitley County, Ky., program has led to several arrests and investigations, Maimon writes. Several drivers said they support the program, but worry about retaliation in cases where drivers are asked to testify in court. Bus drivers are paid about $12-an-hour to participate in the program.

Paul Hays of Operation UNITE, the regional anti-drug task force that conducted Whitley County's bus-driver training, told Maimon the police hope that a driver who provides a tip may not be required to testify. "The objective is to make sure our neighborhoods are safe and our kids are safe," Hays said. Superintendent Lonnie Anderson said one tip in February led to the seizure of more than 200 Xanax pills, three pounds of marijuana and a half-gram of methamphetamine. The driver alerted police who came and made the arrest, sparing the driver from having to appear in court as a witness. (Read more)

Church commuters in N.C. keep faith in face of gas prices; less so in Del.?

Many churchgoers faced with the dilemma of faith versus higher fuel prices, choosing whether to drive to church or stay at home and save money, say they are finding their faith too precious to forsake.

"Loyalists logging 15, 20, even 30 miles or more one way do so because they feel like part of a community at their chosen churches," Sean McCloud, assistant professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, told Celeste Smith of the Charlotte Observer.

One woman told Smith she recently tried out different churches closer to where she lives and works to cut driving costs. But, Tracy Truchon said she and her family returned to their regular church "because it's where she and her mother prayed on Christmas a few years ago after her father died unexpectedly the day before." Truchon said the church is "where I seem to find strength when I need it the most."

In another example, Smith writes that "Kevin Ramsey, who lives near York, S.C., worships weekly with family 15 miles away at Salem Presbyterian in Gaffney ... where his congregation rallied around him five years ago when his then-newborn daughter was sick." Genea Morfeld Swan and her family told Smith it's all about warmth and acceptance, not gas prices: "You can give up going to Target three times a week, [but church] is like your family," Swan said.(Read more)

However, in Delaware, gas prices seem to be hurting church attendance. "The Rev. Anna Cottom looked around at the empty spaces in the pews last Sunday morning and urged parishioners to find ways to help fill them . . . at Ezion Mount Carmel United Methodist Church, Kristin Harty wrote for the The News Journal of Wilmington, in a story cited by the Observer. To read the story (for a fee), click here.

Gas Vol. 2: School chief cautions Kentucky districts considering four-day week

Kentucky's education commissioner, Gene Wilhoit, has cautioned school systems thinking about going to a four-day week that instruction and student achievement should come first.

"Wilhoit sent e-mail messages alerting [school systems] that he and the state Board of Education will be monitoring the test scores of schools that switch to a four-day school week. Schools generally lengthen the remaining school days to make up for the lost day," writes Nancy Rodriguez of The Courier-Journal. Four Kentucky school districts have adopted a four-day schedule. "This shouldn't be a very quick response to some short-term financial problems," Wilhoit said.

Webster County schools changed in 2003, writes the Louisville newspaper. "If it's going to be done, it needs to be done for the right purposes. Can you save some money? Well, yes. But it's not just a matter of saving money," said Webster County Superintendent James Kemp. The district made the change for financial reasons, and saved more than $300,000 in its first year of four-day weeks and used part of the savings to pay for full-day kindergarten.

Mainly small, rural school districts in states such as Colorado, Oregon and New Mexico have used four-day school weeks for years. Kentucky state law requires at least 175 six-hour days of instruction, or 1,050 hours a year, but does not specify the length of the school week. Kentucky's school year is among the shortest in the nation, tied with Louisiana, Maine, Vermont and Wyoming. (Read more)

Health literacy campaign targets women with exercise, nutrition advice

The Society for Women’s Health Research is partnering with a major telecommunications firm in a new health literacy public education campaign to help women improve their health.

The “Her Healthy Life” campaign is focused on exercise, nutrition and smoking cessation. The campaign’s messages are designed for women who may have low health literacy, which refers to the ability to understand and use health information, reports Newswise.com

Phyllis Greenberger, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based non-profit Society for Women’s Health Research, said “Health literacy problems affect millions of Americans from all backgrounds. Women make the majority of health care decisions for their family, so it is important to give them information they can use to make good choices ... We are providing simple tips for improving health that women can initiate on their own without visiting doctors or undergoing tests, which are often too expensive and inaccessible for poor and underinsured Americans.” (Read more)

Public-service announcements promoting the event will air nationally in October on the “Dr. Laura” radio show in English and on the “Doctora Isabel” show in Spanish. Brochures will be distributed by the National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL), based in Louisville. NCFL will distribute the brochures at its national conference and make them available to more than 6,000 literacy programs nationwide.

Fiddle, guitar and wind harp: Appalachian Kentucky's Mount Rushmore?

A 75-foot high sculpture of a guitar, fiddle and wind-harp that produces tues from the air may someday stand above the Bert T. Combs Mountain Parkway at Campton, Ky.

"Some people might laugh at it, but people probably also made fun of Mount Rushmore, too," Wolfe County Judge-Executive Raymond Hurst told Lee Mueller of the Lexington Herald-Leader. One feasibility study has projected the monument could attract 700,000 visitors a year, produce 1,300 jobs and eventually have an economic impact of $63 million on the region.

The proposed Eastern Kentucky Heritage Monument would be the world's largest wind harp, says mastermind David Musser. "We were trying to do something to put Campton on the map, but then we realized this was for all of Eastern Kentucky," he told Mueller. The project would cost $10 million and could take up to 10 years to finish.

The 30-acre project would also include an interactive museum, a theater and amphitheater, a walking trail and other attractions. The steel centerpiece will consist of a fiddle, guitar and banjo, located where the four-lane parkway splits into two-lane roads on the edge of the Appalachian Mountains. The wind-harp sculpture would become "the international logo for Eastern Kentucky," Musser told Mueller. (Read more)

Trailblazers extend walking route across long Appalachian mountain ridge

An army of volunteers is working to build a 120-mile route along one of the highest and most isolated mountaintops in central Appalachia, Pine Mountain.

"The project has captured the imaginations of people from across the nation who have scheduled vacations to come to Kentucky to help. So far, some 500 people have come. They work by day clearing trails to lofty crests that look down on lesser mountains in every direction. At night, they camp beneath the stars," writes Roger Alford of The Associated Press. Shad Baker, president of the Pine Mountain Trail Conference, the organization in charge of building the path atop the Eastern Kentucky mountain, said, "The views are spectacular. It's the closest thing to wilderness that Kentucky has."

The Pine Mountain Trail is part of a broader initiative to build a series of connected trails from the Florida Keys to Lake Champlain in upstate New York, notes Alford. Former Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton pushed for legislation to set aside a narrow strip from the Breaks Interstate Park to Cumberland Gap National Park as Pine Mountain Trail State Park.

Kentucky Parks Commissioner George Ward told Alford it may be another five to 10 years before the trail is completed. The state has set aside $3 million to buy easements, and officials are hoping that money can be stretched with people willing to donate such rights without charge. When complete, the park would connect with the Cumberland Trail State Park being developed in Tennessee. Park supporters say this effort will protect a national treasure and attract tourism dollars.(Read more)

Fall festivals carry a high price tag, may produce little revenue for rural towns

Court Day this weekend in Mount Sterling, Ky., requires 64 portable toilets, rows of vendor booths, and loads of food at an unknown cost, but local officials say the festival will continue no matter the price.

"It's a 200-year tradition, so it's going to happen regardless. The objective is not to make money but to provide services," event coordinator Laura Tipton told Scott Sloan of the Lexington Herald-Leader. Many fall festivals are occurring across the Kentucky landscape, and the hosts just want to put their city on the map and maybe break even financially.

Although Mount Sterling gets some revenue from vendor fees, Tipton told Sloan the festival requires overtime pay for police and other city workers. Tipton said she hopes the festival produces increased tourism, motel tax revenue and restaurant tax revenue.

London, Ky., hosts the World Chicken Festival in honor of Kentucky Fried Chicken founder Harland Sanders, whose first restaurant was actually in nearby Corbin. The festival was incorporated as a non-profit, and Mayor Ken Smith said the city spends about $20,000 to $30,000 a year to support the event. Food booths are ran by 20-plus local non-profit groups, which raise an estimated total of $10,000. Smith told Sloan he knows the city will never profit from the festival. (Read more)

Another annual event in Kentucky this weekend is the Foothills Festival in Albany, completing a run of 25 years with its 26th festival. Click here for the story from the Clinton County News.

Vanderbilt to present The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial at Belmont

With the nation debating whether to teach "intelligent design" in schools, one Tennessee university is remembering the state's Scopes Monkey Trial. The trial involved Darwin's theory of evolution being challenged outright in 1925, after the Tennessee legislature banned it from being taught.

"What would it have been like to ... witness William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow argue Tennessee vs. John Thomas Scopes? Theatergoers will have the opportunity to experience it for themselves when Great Performances at Vanderbilt University presents The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial on Oct. 19 and 20" at Belmont University in Nashville, writes Newswise.com.

“The trial of the century” was held in Dayton, Tenn., and "80 years later it is still the subject of intense debate as school systems across the country argue what can be taught about the origins of life," reports Newswise. The event is free and open to the public. An hour-long pre-performance forum, “The Scopes Trial: A Continuing Controversy,” is scheduled for 6:45 p.m. on Oct. 19, at the Curb Event Center at Belmont. (Read more)

The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial will follow the panel discussion and be presented again the following night at the Curb Center. Curtain time for both shows is 8 p.m. Tickets, which are $26, $30 and $34, are available at the Sarratt Student Center box office and all Ticketmaster outlets or by calling (615) 255-9600. Group discounts, as well as special prices for seniors, students and children, are available. Free parking for the Curb Center is available in Belmont’s Bernard Avenue garage.

Missouri J-school gets $1.7 million grant to house National FOI Coalition

The Freedom of Information Center at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism is receiving a $1.7 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to make room at the school for the The National Freedom of Information Coalition.

The Dallas-based professional advocacy group will use some of the grant to upgrade its Web site, which lists state groups. The coalition supports First Amendment issues, accessible government organizations and and protects public access to information through the education of media professionals, attorneys, academics and citizens. (Read more)

Knight is the major funder of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

Rural Calendar: Sustainable Development Conference in Minn. Oct. 24-25

The University of Minnesota is conducting a conference on sustainable development at its Crookston campus to take a global look at the interdependence of our ecological, economic, and social imperatives.

The conferences will feature overview presentations and case studies of how various college campuses have implemented principles of sustainability.

Registration is $100 for all meals and refreshment breaks and $50 for students. For a registration form, click here. The public is welcome to attend. Sponsors include the University of Minnesota, Crookston, Northwest Research and Outreach Center, Northwest Regional Sustainable Development Partnership, Northwest Minnesota Foundation, Minnesota Extension Service and others.

Southern Appalachian Man and the Biosphere Conference in Cherokee Nov. 1-3

The 16th annual Southern Appalachian Man and the Biosphere (SAMAB) Landscapes - Preserving Our Heritage Conference will be held at Harrah's in Cherokee, N.C.

The conference features: Preserving historical and natural landscapes; learning about Cherokee tradition and current Cherokee stewardship activities; field learning experiences addressing the cultural and natural environments significant Cherokee communities; an opening address by the Principal Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians; a keynote address by Charles Birnbaum, director of the National Park Service's Historic Landscapes Initiative; a presentation and poster sessions on the origins of southern Appalachian landscapes with activities to protect and restore them; and tools to help shape the future of mountain communities and improve our resource management activities.

Room rates at Harrah's are above government approved per diem. A block of rooms is reserved at the Ramada Cherokee. Call 1-800-849-5263 or (828) 497-4231 and mention SAMAB (reservation code SAMB). For more conference information, accommodations, the agenda and access to a registration form, click here. Fees are $85 for the full conference; or $60 for one day.

Friday, Oct. 7, 2005

Record ATV death toll, mainly in the hills, may bring federal rules

The Consumer Product Safety Commission is considering federal rules for all-terrain vehicles, which were involved in accidents that killed 740 people last year, many of them in hilly and mountainous areas where ATVs have long provided recreation for locals and more recently for tourists on trails..

A patchwork of state regulations applies to ATVs, but there are no federal laws governing the vehicles, The Associated Press reports. Last year's toll was a record, and 20 percent above the 617 recorded in 2003. Another record: At least 136,100 people were in accidents involving injuries while riding the four-wheel motorcycles, and a third of those hurt were younger than 16. (Read more)

Appalachian states led the list of fatalities during 2002-04, according to data that federal officials say is incomplete. Kentucky was first with 106, followed by West Virginia with 93; Pennsylvania, 86; and North Carolina, 77. Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, Ohio, Michigan and California rounded out the Top 10. For details on the report, click heres. For a CPSC press release and statement from CPSC Commissioner Thomas Moore, click here. For information from the ATV Safety Institute, click here. West Virginia University had been a leader in research on ATV safety. For one of its sites, click here.

Rachel Weintraub, director of product safety at the Consumer Federation of America, told reporters, "We have a serious national epidemic in this country of people getting killed and injured in very large numbers when they ride ATVs. The group is pushing for ATV regulation, especially for child use of the adult-sized vehicles." For more information, see this report from The Poynter Institute.

Rural towns bear greatest brunt of high fuel prices, and their poor feel it worst

The most economically vulnerable in the rural areas of America are most affected by high gas prices, says a think-tank senior fellow, writing in The Nation.

"While much ink has been spilled over the potential problems suburban and exurban commuters would face if the era of cheap oil really sputtered to a close, the most immediate victims are likely to be the long-distance commuters ... [in places] too remote even to be considered exurbs," writes Sasha Abramsky, a senior fellow at Demos, a New York think tank. For more on the author, click here.

"That urban and suburban communities can absorb higher energy prices is not hard to believe. That residents of low-income areas can continue to do so indefinitely, is harder to believe," Abramsky says. "As long as they need gas simply to continue working, they are going to do whatever it takes. After all, entire communities and lifestyles and job choices and consumption patterns have been crafted over the better part of a century on the basis of cheap and plentiful gasoline."

Judi Greenwald at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change told Abramsky, "You could draw an analogy with the Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program," which helps poor people pay heating or energy bills, do upgrades and get assistance for insulating their homes. Greenwald suggested to Abramsky, "At least theoretically, one could have a federal program that gives out grants to states to help people pay gas bills and possibly buy more fuel-efficient vehicles." (Read more)

Bird flu threat makes 'biosecurity' a watchword at poultry farms

For American poultry farmers, the fear of a flu pandemic spread from birds is "more than just some vague fear about what's happening half a world away," The Washington Post reports.

The fear "is why Jenny Rhodes won't let you on her farm," Joshua Partlow writes from the Delmarva Peninsula of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, a hotbed of poultry production. Rhodes, who posts a "No admittance" sign on her property, told Partlow, "Nobody goes down to the chicken houses unless it's ourselves or our serviceman. For us, biosecurity is something we deal with every day."

Partlow writes, " Farmers change clothes before moving from their homes to their chicken houses. Their employees walk through disinfectant baths to kill germs on boots heading in and out. Farm supply stores spray the tires of feed trucks with bleach. Agriculture officials are fitting poultry workers with protective suits and masks in case of an outbreak, and they are running simulations of how to respond if the virus spreads beyond state boundaries and -- the worst fear -- starts infecting people."

Maryland state medical epidemiologist David Blythe, told Partlow, "The situation that we're all concerned about is the possibility of a pandemic. There are reasons to be cautious about this and not ignore it," but added he he thinks the risk is remote. (Read more)

Newspaper exposes city-hall family hirings in its election lead-up coverage

The Lebanon (Tenn.) Democrat has exposed candidates' family members being placed on the city payroll after patronage charges were leveled by a political opponent in the heat of campaigning -- an example of the sort of pre-election coverage a 9,000-circulation daily can do.

"The two main combatants in the Lebanon mayoral race – incumbent Mayor Don Fox and Ward 3 City Councilor William Farmer – have had family working for city government while each man was serving Lebanon’s residents, writes Managing Editor Clint Brewer. "A survey of personnel and payroll records by The Lebanon Democrat show Fox and Farmer have had relatives on the payroll while they too served the city – Fox as the elected mayor and Farmer as the city’s contracted legal counsel."

In the kind of clarifying journalism that can help readers sort through campaign rhetoric, Brewer writes, "The story of the Fox and Farmer families in city government differ greatly. According to city records, Fox has had at least three family members on the city government payroll throughout his term," he notes, and continues, " City staff also could not produce any record of Farmer’s stepdaughter working for city government, a public claim Fox made that touched off a furor in the mayor’s race over allegations of nepotism."

Brewer underscores, "The controversy highlights yet another difference between two candidates who at one time were political allies. Fox is unapologetic for having family on the city payroll, saying excluding any public servant’s family from the helping hand city government often provides is unfair. Farmer maintains the practice is a symptom of a city government needing reform. (Read more)

Cumulus set to buy Susquehanna, largest privately owned broadcast group

"Susquehanna Media, the nation's largest privately owned radio broadcaster, is near a deal to sell its group of radio stations to investors including Cumulus Media, the Blackstone Group and Bain Capital for more than $1 billion," reports the New York Times, citing executives involved in the negotiations.

Susquehanna Media's owners Susquehanna Pfaltzgraff of York, Pa., put up the group for sale about five months ago, along with a separate auction for its cable-TV businesses.

"Executives involved in the deals cautioned that neither transaction had been completed and that there was a chance either deal could collapse or other suitors could emerge," Andrew Ross Sorkin reported for the Times. "Susquehanna operates more than 30 radio stations in some of the 40 largest markets in the country. ... Cumulus, based in Atlanta, is the second-largest radio broadcasting company in the nation based on the number of stations owned or operated; it owns 310 stations in 61 markets."

Sorkin adds that ABC Radio "is also up for auction, and many of the suitors that pursued Susquehanna are also pursuing ABC Radio."

New facilities improve rural health care on many levels, says new study

Rural communities that build new hospitals with the special "critical access" designation see more use of services, and report enhanced clinical performance and workforce recruitment, according to research findings presented this week at the National Rural Health Association’s (NRHA) annual Critical Access Hospital Conference in Kansas City, Mo.

The study reports rural communities that replaced their aging facilities with a new hospital saw a positive impact on patient admissions and outpatient visits. Stroudwater Associates conducted the study with assistance from researchers at the University of Minnesota and the University of Rochester. (Read more) Complimentary copies of the study may be ordered by clicking here.

New center to study, conserve Appalachian plants for medicinal use

The University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute (UMBI) and Frostburg State University, in collaboration with West Virginia University, have established the Appalachian Center for Ethnobotanical Studies (ACES) to explore health uses of Appalachia's rich plant life.

ACES has been established "to conserve wild native plants, to scientifically explore and understand their true medical efficacy, and to generate economic benefit for the people of the Appalachian region. The Appalachian Mountains in Western Maryland and West Virginia support a unique and exceptionally diverse flora, including many plants that have a long history of medicinal use," reports Newswise, a research-reporting service. (Read more)

On Oct. 13 and 14, ACES will host a symposium to discuss the collaborative efforts on ethnobotanical studies that integrate bioscience with indigenous herbal medicine practices, wildlife habitats, conservation efforts, cottage industries, and economic development for Central Appalachia. The meeting will be held at Rocky Gap Lodge and Resort near Cumberland, Md., and will include well known speakers and expert guests. To view the agenda or register for this program, click here.

Frostburg State University President Dr. Catherine Gira said in the Newswise report, “Within five years, we envision the evolution of the Institute from a 'virtual center' to a physical facility located in Western Maryland, which we believe will attract more information technology and virtual learning businesses to the region, as well as bring federal and industry research support dollars to the Appalachia region.” For more information on the center and the upcoming conference click here.

West Virginians battle mountains, economics, isolation for health care

"A health care crisis has been brewing in West Virginia for decades. It is not limited to doctors and patients who need insurance. It is not limited to reduced reimbursements for providers and nursing shortages. And it is not limited to West Virginians' increasingly poor health. It's all of it -- and more," writes Juliet A. Terry of the weekly State Journal, based in Charleston.

West Virginia's major cities may boast comprehensive hospitals, but reaching those centers is nearly impossible for many in the Mountain State. "Their chosen rural life keeps those advanced facilities largely out of reach. They rely on local clinics and country doctors," reports Terry.

"There is a fair segment of the population in West Virginia that doesn't have any insurance. That's a big challenge. A lot of folks don't have access to proper care," Chris Curtis, acting commissioner of the state Bureau for Public Health, told Terry.

In addition to its mountainous terrain and economic conditions, there are demographic challenges, writes Terry. "We're older, poorer, less well insured and more rural than much of the rest of the country," said Dr. Robert Walker, director of the Robert C. Byrd Center for Rural Health at the Marshall University School of Medicine. "But our heritage is rural. We shouldn't have to give that up to have quality care."

One of the State Journal's sister outlets, WVNS-TV in Beckley, had its own version of the report. To read it, click here. For the newspaper report, click here.

Mine-safety head calls for safer coal mines; operators say safer now than ever

The acting director of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration said in a speech prepared for a group of coal operators yesterday that the coal industry has eliminated many of the dangers faced by miners, but more improvements are needed.

Speaking in Pikeville, Ky., David G. Dye said in the speech released to The Associated Press, "We can all take a moment to congratulate ourselves here today, but only a moment," . "One mining fatality, one mining injury, one occupational illness is one too many, and you know we still have work to do," writes Roger Alford of AP's bureau in Pikeville (smallest town with one, we hear).

So far this year, 15 coal miners have been killed on the job in the United States, including six in Kentucky, which leads the nation. There have been three fatalities in Alabama; Pennsylvania and West Virginia have had two each; and Ohio and Oklahoma have had one each. Last year, 28 people died in coal mine accidents nationwide, so the fatality trend is decidedly down.

Dye said, "MSHA and the industry have worked long and hard together to take care of many of the obvious physical hazards, the ones that could be fixed with better engineering, better equipment, and better technology. We're now down to the hardest thing of all to fix, the human aspect of safety." Dye was the scheduled speaker at the annual meeting of Coal Operators and Associates, an industry group based in Pikeville. The meeting was closed to the public. Bill Caylor, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, told Alford technology has made coal mining safer. (Read more)

Farm aid: Alabama cattlemen to care for four-legged hurricane 'evacuees'

"More than 100 hurricane 'evacuees' arrived in the Brewton area last seek, and a good many more are expected in the coming days. They are very much like the evacuees who already have found respite in Brewton - hungry and in need of a home. The only difference is that the latest evacuees are of the four-legged variety and they're being 'housed' in pastures rather than shelters," writes Lydia Grimes of the weekly Brewton Standard in Alabama.

Southern Louisiana's cattle business took a major hit from hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which caught the attention of area cattlemen ready to help. The hurricane survivors are being transported to a farm in Alabama where they will reside until the Louisiana farms recover, reports Grimes.

"Southern Louisiana is a large cattle-producing area and the cows that survived were the ones who found high ground during the storm. The salt water has killed the grass and 80 percent of the cattle are gone. Those that are left are being rounded up and taken to holding pens in Baton Rouge to be sorted to try to find the owners," writes Grimes.

The cows coming to Alabama will not go home until their calves arrive. As trucks start arriving, the refugees are being isolated from local herds to make sure they do not spread any contagious diseases, notes Grimes. The calves will not actually go to Louisiana, but will instead be sent to feeder lots in the Midwest. (Read more)

Tobacco farmers should temper sense of entitlement, Ky. newspaper says

The death of the tobacco price support program has been an often-read theme over the past year, most recently with the lawsuit by burley growers saying that they have been shortchanged by the company-financed buyout of their federal quotas. But the largest newspaper in Kentucky, the state with the most tobacco farmers, says the end of an era has been kinder to them than they seem to realize.

"They're getting a cut of the multi-state tobacco settlement, and they're getting paid for the end of the federal quota system that had propped them up. But it never seems to be enough. They seem unable to accept that they lingered way too long in a dying industry -- an industry that they had been repeatedly warned was on its way out," opines The Courier-Journal of Louisville. (Read more)

Of the recent lawsuit, The C-J writes, "The case and the calculations are complicated; the battle is over whether the Bush administration's approach diverges from what Congress passed. ... But pretty soon, now, tobacco farmers need to face the fact that they are not more deserving than everybody else."

Groups form alliance to protect billions of dollars in fund; power in numbers

The Independent Telephone & Telecommunications Alliance , the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association , the Organization for the Promotion and Advancement of Small Telecommunications Companies and the Western Telecommunications Alliance have formed a new coalition to protect the security of $6.5 billion Universal Service Fund (USF).

The Coalition to Keep America Connected will lobby Congress as it considers telecommunications reform for the second time in a decade, writes Kelly Teal of Phone+ magazine. At the press conference where the associations announced the new coalition, people from various cooperatives shared stories of rural life, where access to health care and educational services often requires travel.

Thelma McClosky Armstrong, of the Montana chapter of American Telemedicine Association, said if it weren't for the USF Rural Health Care program, one Montana hospital serving one person per square mile would have to pay $3,000 per-month for its T1 connection. In one year, that would add up to three times the hospital's budget. “Rural America considers [the USF] a lifeline,” she added. (Read more)

"The town of Oregon does not have a hospital; doctors are 30-50 miles away, so having a T1 connection saves residents from traveling to receive test results, for example," writes Teal. Students also are able to take advantage of the bandwidth, using videoconferencing to take classes they do not have locally."

Rural Calendar: Tennessee's oldest town hosts storytelling festival this weekend

"A pumpkin here … a vase full of flowers there. Jonesborough’s bed-and-breakfast innkeepers are preparing for guests who are attending the 33rd Annual National Storytelling Festival," writes Sheleatha Carr of the weekly Herald and Tribune in Tennessee's oldest town.

The three-day festival starts today in Jonesborough, which is also home to the International Storytelling Center. An estimated six bed and breakfasts in the downtown area will host many of the storytelling enthusiasts. The oldest B&B has been accommodating festival visitors for 15 years. (Read more)

Thursday, Oct. 6, 2005

California weekly torched; publisher says editorial policies not to blame

Fire officials say arson caused the fire that gutted the offices of a weekly newspaper that routinely challenges officials in Riverside County, Calif., saying they allow runaway growth. However, the publisher says he does not think the fire was linked to his editorial stance.

The office of the Riverside County Record in Pedley burned early Sunday. Patrick Chandler, a spokesman for the county fire department, told The Associated Press that the motive for the arson was unclear. He said investigators are seeking links between the fire and two others on the same weekend.

"Dave Barnes, owner and publisher of the Record, dismissed suggestions that he may have been targeted because of his paper's aggressive reporting style," AP reported. "I don't think it was anyone angry at me," Barnes said. "Ninety-nine percent of the people I've fought with have been pretty friendly over the years." Barnes said he will operate out of a temporary office at his home, with computers salvaged from the fire.

"The staff of about 10 full-timers and contributors scrambled to put out Wednesday's paper on time for its 7,500 readers," wrote Susannah Rosenblatt of the Los Angeles Times. "The publication, which typically focuses on local politics in the unincorporated communities of western Riverside County, was four pages shy of the broadsheet's usual 20-page run." (Click here to read more) "Pedley is about 50 miles southeast of Los Angeles in an area that has seen explosive growth in recent years," AP reports.

Virginia town may be first with citywide broadband over power lines

The city of Manassas, Va., population 12,500, may be the first in which broadband Internet connections are commercially available citywide over power lines, a technology with promise for rural areas.

"This is an achievement of a major national milestone," Joseph E. Fergus, founder and chief executive of Communication Technologies Inc., or Comtek, which installed the system, told Yuki Noguchi of The Washington Post. Fergus said the technology "will be deployed within two years to scores of communities across the U.S." Comtek and Current say they have an advantage over competitors because they tap into already existing infrastructure, Noguchi writes.

Broadband-over-power-line technology allows access to the Internet through any electrical socket in the home or office. For years, it has been touted as a potential alternative to service from cable and phone companies. Scott Cleland, chief executive of the Precursor Group, a research firm, told Noguchi, "The technology works, but the business model is still up in the air." (Read more)

Jay Birnbaum, president of Current, told the Post the technology is far less expensive than deploying fiber-optic cable or digital subscriber line (DSL) service. In July, Current got backing from Google Inc. and the investment firm of Goldman Sachs & Co. is conducting six trials, including in Los Angeles and Honolulu, writes Noguchi. For a more technical story, from TechWeb News, click here.

Agriculture Department to test healthy cattle as safeguard against mad-cow

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced that over the next few weeks it will begin testing 20,000 healthy cattle in its enhanced surveillance program for mad-cow disease.

The owners have volunteered to have their cattle tested. Jim Rogers, spokesman for USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, told Christopher Doering of Reuters, "We haven't set a date yet" to start the testing, and added, "We're still making final arrangements."

The enhanced testing program is scheduled to expire by the end of December. The USDA has been under pressure from Congress to start testing healthy cattle. Some in the administration argue it is a waste of time and money. However, "Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, and Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, both Democrats, sent USDA Secretary Mike Johanns a letter in July asking why the agency had not started testing 20,000 healthy cattle as it had promised," writes Doering.

A spokesman for Harkin said, "These cattle have been found to have mad cow disease in other countries and it's critical they test them. [The Sen.) believes that USDA's testing needs to be expanded further to include more numbers." The healthy animals will come from the 40 slaughter plants that handle 86 percent of the aged cattle for human consumption each year in the United States, Doering writes. (Read more)

Mine safety agency to study drug, alcohol use to determine extent of problem

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) will try to determine the prevalence of miners showing up for work high on alcohol and drugs.

The agency is reacting to complaints from mine operators. Agency director David G. Dye told Roger Alford, Eastern Kentucky reporter for The Associated Press. "Alcohol and drug abuse by miners threatens the safety of their colleagues and that cannot be tolerated." Dyer said MSHA plans to study the extent of abuse in mines, the potential cost and possible strategies for dealing with it.

Two years ago, state and federal inspectors began investigating the death of a coal miner killed by an explosion in Eastern Kentucky. The inspectors found a bag of marijuana in the mine, and a co-worker of the victim told them he saw two miners snorting crushed painkillers, writes Alford. MSHA will be gathering information for all types of mining, not just coal.

Bill Caylor, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, told Alford, "It's important that we monitor these miners with problems. The intent is good. It needs to be thought through very carefully." Caylor said MSHA would have to consider peripheral issues, such as what happens to miners who have legitimate prescriptions for medications. (Read more) A series of public meetings has been scheduled, including one in Lexington on Oct. 31. For more on the scheduled meetings from the MSHA Web site, click here.

Also on the Appalachian coal beat: AP reports a Kentucky couple won a $968,000 verdict against a coal company that mined their land without permission. For details, click here.

Iowa may refinance tobacco bonds to generate more money for rural efforts

Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack says his state is moving toward re-investing its national tobacco-settlement money, hoping to generate more funds to aid the state's rural communities.

Vilsack said the action could bring tens of millions of dollars to the state, which he'd like to spend on the environment, economic development and rebuilding the state's decaying infrastructure, reports Charlotte Eby of the Quad City Times in Davenport. Lawmakers would have to approve Vilsack’s spending plan. The governor said he was excited about the idea of using additional dollars for water quality. He told Eby, “It should send a strong message to the rural communities and to those concerned about the environment."

The state was among several that sold bonds based on expected income from the 1998 settlement over 25 years. Now, Vilsack wants to pay off those bonds and sell new one with higher earnings, writes Eby. The governor told reporters he can't say exactly how much the state will make, but it could be in the tens of millions of dollars. The head of the Department of Management, Michael Tramontina, said it could be as much as $100 million, though nothing is certain, Eby writes. (Read more)

Iowa land-purchase program stops potential development on scenic lake

The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHR) has reached an agreement to purchase an area of land along Big Spirit Lake in northern Iowa to stop the construction of a housing development.

INHR spokesperson Cathy Engstrom said "they were concerned about the potential environmental impact of the housing development. She says the site has the last large remaining bulrush bed in the entire lake [which are] also are a habitat and food supply for many types of birds and help improve water quality," reports Darwin Danielson of Radio Iowa in Des Moines

Engstrom told Danielson the owners have agreed to sell the area to the foundation on a contract. The goal is to work with the Department of Natural Resources to raise six-and-a-half million dollars so they can put all or most of the land into public ownership, he reports.

Engstrom also told Radio Iowa the final plans for the area depend on how much money they can raise. If they raise all of the money, she said, then all 93 acres will become public land. If the group were to sell part of the land, she said they would then be able to dictate any development be done in a way that would be environmentally friendly.

Engstrom says lakeside development is something that is a delicate balance.The original proposal for the site included a row of 35 houses along the shoreline. The non-profit Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation was formed , it says, to protect the state's land, water and wildlife, claiming 6,000+ members and protecting more than 85,000 acres in the past 25 years. (Read more)

Meth epidemic continues: One day, one grand jury, one small town

Fighting in Iraq, devastation from two major hurricanes, Supreme Court deaths and nominations have pushed news of the methamphetamine epidemic to the back page, but the fight against the addictive and destructive drug continues in rural America, as a newspaper in Tennessee reports.

"Meth cases dominate criminal court docket" reads the headline over a story by Bill Grubb of The Rogersville Review, reporting on five indictments -- all related to meth. One day, one grand jury, one small town; something law enforcement officials say is being repeated more and more often in courtrooms across the country. (Read more)

Wisconsin newspaper's error prompts lawsuit over 'mother of all mistakes'

In today's pared-down, streamlined, digitized age of newsgathering and production, are more mistakes being published or broadcast? The jury is out on that question, but a mistake in a Wisconsin newspaper is being called "the mother of all newspaper errors."

The Fond du Lac (Wis.) Reporter, quoting a federal agent, said in July that a local gas station owner may have been a 9/11 "plotter." Actually, the agent said the man was only "a (sic) applauder of 9/11." The recording is somewhat garbled; listen to it by clicking here. "A photo of the station -- with its address -- accompanied the story. A suit against the paper says: 'AAP Petroleum has received threats and suffered derogatory comments from people who read the article and believe that Citgo is connected to terrorism, the 9/11 terrorist attacks and/or Osama Bin Laden,'” writes Jim Romenesko of The Poynter Institute, under the "mother of all" headline. (Read more)

The company filed a defamation lawsuit against Gannett Co., the owner of the Reporter, last week, claiming the article damaged its business, writes Jim Collar of The Northwestern. (Read more) The Oshkosh, Wis. newspaper, from which Romenesko got the story, is also a Gannett paper. Lani Dorlack, publisher of The Reporter, circulation 18,116, told Collar, “We intend to vigorously defend ourselves”

Alabama colleges, schools receive ARC grant to help hurricane evacuees

A $400,000 grant was awarded to area community colleges and school systems by the Appalachian Regional Commission to help assist evacuees from Hurricane Katrina.

"Anne Pope, ARC federal co-chair, said Wallace State and Gadsden State Community College would use their portion of the grant for short-term job training programs. Public schools in Cullman and 36 other north Alabama counties can apply for grant funds to recover costs of educating evacuee children," reports David Mackey of the Cullman Times.

Pope told the newspaper, "What we saw when we came here was that the physical damage (from Hurricane Katrina) may have been on the coast, but the evacuees moved north," An estimated 600 to 700 evacuees came to the Cullman area from the Gulf Coast in the weeks after the hurricane; many are expected to stay for months before they can return home. Almost 40 displaced children have enrolled in Cullman City and County schools, Mackey writes.

Wallace State President Vicki Hawsey told reporters about $260,000, or 65 percent of the grant will be allotted to job training at the community colleges, and $140,000, or 35 percent to K-12 schools. An official told Mackey public schools in 37 north Alabama counties could be allotted $400 to $500 per evacuee student to defray expenses like textbooks and transportation for the unexpected students. Officials also said hurricane evacuees would be targeted, but said job training programs will be open to local residents as well. (Read more)

Indians buy New York land for third casino; opponents want tight compact

The Seneca Indian Nation has announced the purchase of nine acres near Buffalo's waterfront for its third and final casino in western New York.

"The Tribal Council bought the land late Monday but waited to reveal the location until a Tuesday press conference with Mayor Anthony Masiello, whose city will share in the casino profits, writes Carolyn Thompson of The Associated Press. (Read more) Masiello, who has long championed a casino as an economic development tool, told Thompson private developers would be "drooling" to build nearby. He told her, "This is absolutely the right thing to do."

A 2002 compact permits the Senecas to operate three casinos if they share up to 25 percent of slot machine profits with the state and host cities. Seneca President Barry Snyder said the tribe hopes to break ground on the Buffalo site by December. He said negotiations were continuing for additional land, including a former rail terminal near the newly purchased parcels.

Joel Rose, spokesman for Citizens Against Casino Gambling, told Thompson, "They should have started this a long time ago, but they haven't. Presumably, they hope to rush it through without dotting all the I's and crossing all the T's." Rose also told AP the group's opposed gambling's because social costs, predicting increases in bankruptcies, divorces and child abuse should a casino be built, writes Thompson.

Rural Calendar: Southern water-quality conference in Kentucky Oct. 23-26

The University of Kentucky College of Agriculture and Kentucky State University will host natural resource professionals for the 10th biennial Southern Region Water Quality Conference Oct. 23-26 at Lexington's Holiday Inn North.

"The conference aims to strengthen the capacity for all natural resource professionals to develop and deliver successful water quality and water resource programs," writes Aimee Nelson of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture Communications Department.

The conference is sponsored by the Extension water quality programs of 13 land grant universities. Professionals from these universities will host workshops, lectures and poster and discussion
sessions about water quality issues such as quality drinking water, animal waste lagoon management, volunteer monitoring, storm water phase II runoff, community involvement, and watershed assessment.

Full conference registration is $290, which includes program materials and several meals. Single day registration is available for Monday, Oct. 24, or Tuesday, Oct. 25, and is $150 per day. For more information about the conference, contact Thom at (859) 257-4633 or visit the conference Web site at http://www.ca.uky.edu/water to view the program in its entirety. (Read more on this and other stories)

Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2005

Lack of community coverage spurs Web sites; newspaper aims to fill void

Reports on school field trips and pictures from father-son hunting expeditions might comprise the very meaning of community news, but such items are not being found in many if not most community newspapers. Instead, they are being posted on "I-town" Web sites.

Kathryn Casa of the Vermont Guardian writes in the first installment of a two-part series, "As high printing costs and corporate consolidation pare news department budgets, the day-to-day coverage of low-profile local news often falls by the wayside. Windham County’s only major daily, the Brattleboro Reformer, once had correspondents in each of the county’s 24 towns and hamlets. But since the paper was purchased a decade ago by MediaNews, one of the largest media corporations in the country, town coverage is divided among just five reporting positions."

“More and more, readers of papers and residents of communities are seeing themselves, and being seen, as a media market — consumers of a product instead of people who interact with their news media,” Brattleboro resident Ellen Kaye told Casa. Many residents are choosing alternatives such as ibrattleboro.com, a nationally-spotlighted community journalism Web site.

At the same time, about a dozen diverse residents have been meeting for more than a year to plan a new print newspaper, the Brattleboro Commons. "At the heart of the Commons is a Media Mentoring Project, a series of monthly journalism classes that will aim to teach local residents how to write a news story, and how to read a newspaper. Participants will be eligible to contribute stories to the “Community Works” pages of the Commons," writes Casa. (Read more)

Part two of the series explores how the St. Albans Messenger in Franklin County, Vermont, is using the Internet to complement its hard-copy newspaper. It has created I-town sites for communities in the county and a few outside it, returning local news to what Publisher Emerson Lynn calls a “hyper-local” level “while at the same time creating a symbiotic relationship with the Messenger as the flagship,” Casa writes.

"Anyone in a community can post comments, news or photographs to the I-town Web sites, channeled through a central administrator who screens for unacceptable material. (So far, nothing has been denied.) Conversely, the websites help Messenger editors keep their fingers on the pulse of the communities they cover, watching for trends and keeping a weather eye out for stories to toss to a reporter." (Read more)

Colorado plans for possible avian flu pandemic; could it be a national model?

Following concerns about the nation's readiness in the event of natural or terrorist-caused disaster, Colorado has devised a plan to combat a possible avian flu pandemic. The state is ready to quarantine the sick, vaccinate the public and, if necessary, bury people quickly without the normal funeral services.

"Avian flu has sickened or killed 120 people in southeast Asia, but hasn't yet had the sustained human-to-human transmission that would qualify it as a pandemic," says Dr. Ned Calonge, Colorado's chief medical officer, writes Bill Scanlon of the Rocky Mountain News in Denver.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's 29-page Pandemic Influenza Plan orders physician assistants and EMTs to practice outside their normal areas of expertise. So far, there is one possible case of human-to-human transmission, and that happened after several months of close contact between a parent and child. "There's a chance that the current avian flu will never mutate to sustained human-to-human transmission," Calonge told Scanlon.

The World Health Organization recently concluded chances are good the strain can be controlled before it leaves southeast Asia. As experts worry about avian flu, an even bigger threat could be new, novel strains of flu virus spreading with lightning speed between countries. Infectious-disease experts say the threat of a pandemic influenza is not a question of if, but rather of when. The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta estimates that up to 100 million Americans could be infected during a pandemic, and 89,000 to 207,000 could die. (Read more)

Storm-soaked lemons may be coming to an auto lot near you, warns columnist

Consumer-protection and insurance agencies are warning car shoppers to beware and not get soaked by the flood of lemons expected on car lots nationwide from the Gulf Coast hurricanes.

A columnist provides information and multiple links to help and warns even the slightest water damage can render a car useless. The warning, especially for vulnerable shoppers, poor and desperate, comes from Al Tompkins in his latest "Al's Morning Meeting" column for the Poynter Institute.

"Carfax has a free flood-check service now for prospective car-shoppers. This will be especially helpful in the case of cars registered in the Gulf Coast areas hit by Katrina. Carfax will tell you if the car was registered in a flood-prone or hurricane zone or if it has been issued a 'flood title,' which would indicate it has been water-damaged," Tompkins writes.

Tompkins' column also provides a link to an Associated Press story by business writer James Prichard - Agency Warns Buyers on Katrina Car Sales - (Click here). "Insurance companies usually purchase such vehicles from policyholders, declare them 'totaled' and then sell them at auction to be resold for parts, many of which will still be suitable for use in other cars and trucks," writes Prichard. "After virtually every major U.S. flood, the Better Business Bureau warns prospective used car buyers to be on the lookout for flood-damaged vehicles."

"Some unscrupulous dealers and wholesalers buy flood-damaged cars at scrap prices, clean them up, retitle them and resell them. The vehicles may look good, but their electronics and safety systems are likely damaged - and threaten the safety of the new owners," warns Tompkins.

In some states, Tompkins explains, "a flood car might get a 'salvage title' without mention of flood damage. Different states have different kinds of titles for flood cars." Tompkins has state-by-state information from Carfax with a link to their site to help motorists search for safe bargains. Tompkins also cites NBC which says up to a quarter of a million flood-damaged cars might hit the market. MSN Money points out that even a little bit of water can be big trouble for today's electronics-filled cars. (Read more)

Can ethanol fuel rural economy? Cost, supply problems among chief negatives

Most Colorado gasoline would have to be a 20-percent ethanol blend by the year 2013 under a proposed law being considered for ways to spur rural economic development.

"Mandating the statewide use of the oxygenated gasoline additive, generally made from corn, could reduce air pollution, provide additional markets for Colorado farmers’ crops, and promote the construction of more ethanol plants in the state, members of the Interim Committee on Rural Economic Development Issues said Monday," writes John Fryar of the Daily Reporter-Herald in Loveland.

Sen. Brandon Shaffer (D-Longmont) told the newspaper, “This is a national defense issue. We’re all looking at national energy concerns.” Shaffer said that includes “alternatives to foreign oil, even domestic oil.” The legislation sets an ethanol-blend requirement of 5 percent ethanol in gasoline by Jan. 1, 2007, and gradually increases that to 20 percent by January 2013. The committee should decide Oct. 27 whether to recommend sending the measure to the full legislature for consideration.

Suncor General Manager of Supply and Marketing Steve Douglas told The Associated Press that Colorado presents special challenges for ethanol fuels. It can cause performance problems at Colorado’s elevations, he said. Douglas said the industry has supply problems from increased demand and a single rail line serving the region. Ethanol must be mixed with gasoline near the retail facilities, and ethanol blends cannot be shipped by pipeline, writes Fryar. (Read more)

Meanwhile, New Hampshire Agriculture Commissioner Steve Taylor reports in his Weekly Market Bulletin that 13 percent of the nation's corn crop is going to ethanol..

FDA proposes feed rule to block mad-cow disease; critics want stricter action

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration yesterday proposed banning some high-risk cattle parts from all animal feed to fight the spread of mad-cow disease.

"Since 1997, cattle brains and spinal cords have been banned from cattle feed. The FDA proposal would expand the ban to poultry, pig and pet foods," writes Purva Patel of the Houston Chronicle.

Consumer groups, however, wanted the regulation to ban other materials from feed such as cow blood, poultry litter and fats. Joe Mendelson, legal director for the Center for Food Safety, told Patel, "It really amounts to a less-than-adequate ban." Cattle brains and spinal cords are considered high-risk because they can carry bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad-cow disease.

The FDA's new rule would ban the use of feed with those tissues from cows 30 months old or older and from all cattle not inspected and passed for human consumption. The ban also includes tallow with more than 0.15 percent insoluble impurities. An earlier proposal would have banned use of tissue from all mammals and poultry as sources of animal feed. Cow blood can still be fed to calves as milk substitute.

FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine Director Stephen Sundlof told Patel that because the proposed rule bars the use of "high risk" cattle parts, banning other parts and products such as blood and poultry litter was unnecessary. The U.S. beef industry is pushing Japan to lift a ban on imports implemented in December 2003. The comment period for the proposed rule ends Dec. 16. (Read more)

Rural citizens organize to protect their way of life from urban sprawl

A rural group in Northern Kentucky is working to preserve its lifestyle in the face of urban sprawl, a struggle noted in the latest column of a Kentucky journalist known for his love of all things country.

"Members of the Camp Springs Initiative hope that thoughtful planning and zoning, coupled with their idea for bringing urban neighbors to Camp Springs -- to bicycle to historic sites and to buy local produce and art -- will give landowners an alternative to selling their property for development," writes Byron Crawford of The Courier-Journal. The area in Campbell County was once a bastion of bucolic and a respite for city-dwellers seeking to get away, driving country roads on weekend trips. Now, the community wants to strike a balance.

The group is seeking grant money to build a 30-mile paved bike and walking trail looping "past many of the 29 original stone homes of early German settlers. The homes -- once largely occupied by vintners -- are now all on the National Historic Register. Many of the historic properties are owned by area farmers or artists," writes Crawford. Mike Enzweiler, a descendant of one of the original families, told him, "We don't need to create some kind of an attraction. We already have the stone houses, and we want to build a covered bridge or two."

Don Girton, formerly with the U.S. Forest Service, told Crawford the community's half-dozen or more practicing artists, along with several potters, vineyard owners, farmers and owners of historic properties, form the nucleus of the community's resources. Paul Schaefer, vice president of the Camp Springs Initiative, and a former Cincinnati television news anchor/reporter, told Crawford, "The idea is to connect communities. Everyone agrees it would be a real attractive feature for the community and would bring in the right kind of tourism." (Read more)

Tone it down? Media using emotion in disaster coverage raises questions

Praise and criticism is being heaped upon journalists who have recently expressed emotion during their coverage of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Should these reporters behave as humans or robots?

"The issue cuts to the heart of what it means to be a journalist at a time when the matter is more in doubt than ever. In a profession that pledges itself to suppress self-interest to ensure its credibility, are emotionalism and outrage ever appropriate? And if so, when do they go too far?" ask Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, and Bill Kovach, chairman of the Committee of Concerned Journalists.

The two men write that while emotion can propel journalism to a higher level of investigation, it can also lead to manipulation of how they cover events. "One problem is that this kind of emotional formulation of the news can distort coverage. You search for stories that play that tune, and avoid those that do not. The emotionalism becomes the news, the brand, the gimmick. Information is deemed too cerebral and insufficiently visual," write Kovach and Rosenstiel. (Read more)

"The first sensible rule here would seem to be that emotion ought to come at those moments when any other reaction would seem forced or out of place -- when it's the only organic response. . . . The second rule should be that once journalists have reacted in a human way to what they've seen, they must compose themselves to sort out responsibility for how and why things happened," conclude Kovach and Rosenstiel.

Rural Tennessee county seeks answers to its abnormally high suicide rate

DeKalb County, Tennessee, a rural county best known for its vacation locations around pristine Center Hill Lake, has a suicide rate four times the national average, and the state wants to know why.

The county has an average of about 43 suicides per 100,000 people, compared to the national average of about eleven. DeKalb County has the fifth-highest rate among 3,000-plus counties nationwide. The county ranks just under a desolate desert county in New Mexico and barren wilderness counties in Alaska, reports Claudia Pinto of The Tennessean.

Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network Executive Director Scott Ridgway told Pinto a task force was being formed to determine the cause. Once that's understood, steps will be taken to reverse the trend, including efforts to educate people on the warning signs and reduce the stigma of seeking counseling. There were 30 suicides in DeKalb County between 1999 and 2002. (Read more)

$16 million cash infusion from health insurer to boost local, rural health agencies

The Blue Shield of California Foundation has awarded $16 million total to nonprofit organizations across the state, including hundreds of thousands to some rural health agencies.

"Foundation officials said the money is targeted at nonprofits working to improve health care access, advance medical technology and prevent domestic violence," writes Todd Milburn of the Sacramento Bee. The money will bolster the group's efforts to provide care for rural and underserved communities through technology, said Barbara Johnston, the group's executive director.

CommuniCare Health Centers Executive Director Robin Affrime told Milburn the $50,000 earmarked for that group will help cover the cost of providing care for the 22,000 low-income patients the clinics see every year. The group operates seven clinics. California Primary Care Association CEO Carmela Castellano-Garcia told Milburn the group plans to use much of its $60,000 to research legal issues affecting community clinics. Other grants included $100,000 to the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California for health policy research. (Read more)

FCC road tour: Commissioners to visit cities, explain media ownership rules

Iowa City will serve as the kickoff site for a national tour of town hall meetings when it hosts Federal Communications Commission members today.

The forum will focus on the FCC's 2003 decision to ease media ownership rules, specifically the number of newspaper, television and radio station outlets companies can own in a market. The changes since have been challenged in court and have not been implemented, writes Gregg Hennigan of the Iowa City Press-Citizen. The Rural Blog reported Tuesday that Clear Channel Communications, the biggest U.S. radio operator, is asking Congress to ease ownership restrictions. So are other big group owners.

The FCC is expected to start revising rules this fall, said Amanda Ballantyne, a field organizer for Free Press, a national media advocacy group that is arranging the town meetings and opposes the rule changes. The politically-diverse state of Iowa was chosen for the first forum because of its bellwether status, Ballantyne told Hennigan. (Read more)

E.W. Scripps Co. buys California weekly; operation may be combined with daily

The E.W. Scripps Co. has purchased the 122-year-old Valley Post (paid circ. 2,989), a weekly newspaper in Anderson, Calif., from North Valley Newspapers Inc. Scripps already owns Shasta County's daily newspaper, the Record Searchlight (circ. 33,407).

The deal also gives Scripps "the Valley Times, Happy Valley Times and Post-Adviser, with a combined paid and unpaid circulation of 9,900, and two monthly publications, Senior Scene Magazine and the Buyers Guide," announced the California Newspaper Publishers Association.

Deborah Smiddy, publisher and president of the Record Searchlight, said the Valley Post will not undergo any immediate changes, but some of the newspapers' operations may later be combined. (Read more)

Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2005

Regional development chiefs coming to Rural Telecom conference next week

Pete Johnson, federal co-chair of the Delta Regional Authority, is the latest headline speaker secured for RuralTeleCon '05, the ninth annual conference of the Rural Telecommunications Congress, to be held in Lexington, Ky., next week.

Appalachian Regional Commission Federal Co-Chair Anne Pope was already on the program. Other top speakers include Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher, 5th District U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky, and Hilda Legg, former administrator of the Rural Utilities Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The conference, which will include many concurrent sessions, is expected to attract more than 500 small and rural business owners, officials from all levels of government and professionals from the fields of tele-health, distance learning, community economic development, e-government and public policy.

The Rural Telecommunications Congress calls itself "a national stakeholder organization dedicated to assuring rural communities and rural residents in the United States have access to the information and support they need to obtain and use advanced telecommunications services, particularly broadband digital communications, for community and economic development."

The conference begins with a reception Sunday night and will end at noon Wednesday. For information on programming and registration, go to http://www.ruraltelecon.org/conference/index.php.

History repeats itself: Pass national shield law, says First Amendment lawyer

A Washington lawyer says the jailing of New York Times reporter Judith Miller is an example of a "crisis" that repeats itself about every four decades, and a national shield law is needed to stop the cycle.

"Since the beginning of modern American journalism this scenario has repeated itself in each generation almost on cue, about every 35 years. Every time this crisis has erupted, the jailing of journalists has been the catalyst for changes in the law that protected a subsequent generation of reporters," writes lawyer Nathan Siegel in a column for The Washington Post

"Exactly 35 years after the first Nixon-era subpoenas, six reporters from many of the country's most prominent news organizations, including Judith Miller, have been jailed or fined. Congress for the first time in a generation is seriously considering a federal shield law similar to those some states started passing over a century ago," he writes. That effort failed but resulted in passage of more state laws; now, statutes or case law in 49 states recognize some right to source confidentiality. The exception is Wyoming.

The 35-year pattern "reflects a fundamental conflict between the judiciary and the press that tends to recur whenever a new generation of judges and prosecutors uninfluenced by the memory and lessons of prior conflicts emerges," Siegel says, adding that the public has consistently backed source confidentiality. "That is why every time a movement has started among a new generation of prosecutors and judges to force disclosure of sources, other democratic institutions have responded in kind. If the Supreme Court will not intervene, as it did not in this case, Congress should recognize that generations have already spoken on this issue and pass a federal shield law," Siegel concludes. (Read more)

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues urges journalists at all levels -- and readers, listeners and viewers who support a federal law -- to lobby senators and reprsentatives to pass it. To help your readers understand the need for it, and journalism in general, take a cue from this column by Cindi Ross Scoppe, an editorial writer for The State in Columbia, S.C.

Hurricane recovery: Winn-Dixie aims high despite low funds, missing employees

Winn-Dixie Stores Inc. is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and dozens of its 125 supermarkets in the New Orleans region were looted, flooded or otherwise damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Instead of closing up shop permanently, though, the company is trying to reopen stores at a faster rate than its rivals.

Winn-Dixie executives estimate it will cost $100 million to complete such a task, writes Janet Adamy of The Wall Street Journal. Insurance will cover the cost of remodeling, but first the cash-strapped Winn-Dixie has to front the money. The company is aiming to completely remodel eight stores and partially remodel another eight. Remodeling could cost $4 million a store.

The challenges may overwhelm Winn-Dixie, which will have to recover sales at stores that could be idled for months. Also, the company is still missing 1,100 of its 5,900 area employees, reports Adamy.

"Winn-Dixie also will need to make drastic changes to its stores to win over new shoppers, experts say. Years of operating with dim lights and sparsely stocked shelves have caused the company to lose its firm grip on the Southeast market. Wal-Mart stole customers with its lower prices, while Publix Super Markets Inc. lured upscale shoppers with more appealing aisles," notes Adamy. (Read more)

Some Alabama farmers predict record harvest, others hurt by hurricane

Despite two tropical storms and two hurricanes, most Alabama farmers are optimistic about netting a near record harvest. Still, higher production costs could diminish their bounty.

"The Alabama agriculture statistics service is predicting the cotton growers will pick less cotton than last year but far more than the 10-year average. The soybean crop should also be above average although a little smaller than 2004, and the same goes for corn," reports WTVY-TV of Dothan, Ala.

The state's peanut farmers are expected to tie last year's record-setting harvest. Farmer Rod Richardson told the television station they need a good year. This year's crop has cost more to produce because of high fertilizer prices as well as fuel prices, Richardson told the station.

While many farmers are optimistic, in Mobile County, where Katrina’s winds battered crops and showered them with salt water, farmers don't expect to harvest anything this year. (Read more)

Journalist in crisis: Write stories or help victims? Katrina resurrects dilemma

Since the dawn of journalism, practitioners and observers have debated whether news reporters and photographers have a higher duty above covering crises. Should they intervene where their actions could save lives? A veteran newsperson did both in the midst of Katrina's aftermath.

"Journalism may be the only profession where someone who helped save more than a dozen lives felt compelled to reassure his bosses his time was well spent," writes David Bauder of The Associated Press. The night after Hurricane Katrina struck, veteran CNN photographer Mark Biello "brought back vivid images of New Orleans residents rescued from floodwaters. Some he pulled into a boat himself." Biello has covered famine, disaster and Baghdad in the first Gulf War, but even he was shocked by what he saw from a New Orleans highway overpass.

Biello joined a rescue boat struggling to save survivors following the storm. "I was just recording and witnessing [but] there were people submerged in the water and they asked for my help ... They needed the physical strength to pull people up," Biello told Bauder. "[Biello] could hear screams in the dark from people he knew they couldn't reach. He is still haunted by the memory of hands sticking through the rafters of one house; when they floated by again, the hands were gone," Bauder writes. (Read more)

Biello is "convinced he did the right thing, the human thing," but still felt he had to explain to CNN management why he wasn't spending all his time working. "Those conflicting feelings are partly why he hasn't told his story publicly until now. CNN management has fully supported him," Bauder writes.

Radio giant wants a bigger slice of the pie, asks Congress to ease restrictions

Clear Channel Communications, the biggest U.S. radio station operator with 1,200 stations, is once again asking that Congress ease restrictions on how many outlets it can own in a market.

Citing competition from satellite radio, Clear Channel CEO Mark Mays "proposed that broadcast radio operators be able to own 10 stations instead of eight in markets where there are at least 60 stations and up to 12 stations in markets where at least 75 radio outlets operate," writes Jeremy Pelofsky of Reuters.

The Federal Communications Commission in 2003 refused to adjust ownership restrictions. Mays is arguing that satellite radio providers offer 150-plus channels per market and there needs to be a level playing field, reports Pelofsky. "How much bigger does one need to get?" asked Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota. (Read more)

NNE buys Daily Hampshire Gazette, oldest continuously issued paper in Mass.

The Daily Hampshire Gazette, the oldest continually published newspaper in Massachusetts, is being sold to Newspapers of New England, based in Concord, N.H. Gazette publisher Peter DeRose, whose family has owned the newspaper since 1929, did not reveal the purchase price. DeRose will continue as publisher, and the editors, managers and staffs of the Gazette and Bulletin also will remain, he said.

The transaction, which is expected to be completed by January, also includes the sale of the weekly Amherst Bulletin. The Gazette, which has a weekday circulation of 18,243 and 19,778 on weekends, was first published on Sept. 6, 1786. The Bulletin has a weekly circulation of 14,000.

NNE, which is privately owned, publishes the Concord Monitor and owns the Recorder in Greenfield, Mass., about 20 miles north of Northampton, home base for the Gazette. NNE also publishes the Valley News, serving Lebanon and Hanover, N.H., and White River Junction, Vt., and the weekly Monadnock Ledger, serving 16 towns in southern New Hampshire.

Stephens Media Group buys two weeklies in central Arkansas from Chisms

Stephens Media Group has purchased two weeklies in central Arkansas, the 107-year-old North Little Rock Times and the Maumelle Monitor.

"We are excited to have a publishing presence in the part of Arkansas that our family has called home for almost 80 years," Warren Stephens, president of Little Rock-based Stephens Group Inc., the parent company of Las Vegas-based Stephens Media, told The Associated Press. Stephens Media bought the papers from David and Kitty Chism of KDC Communications for an undisclosed price.

Stephens Media owns 11 dailies and more than 30 weeklies. For a list, click here. Its largest newspaper is the Las Vegas Review-Journal. In Arkansas, the company owns the state's second-, third- and fifth-largest dailies: The Morning News in Springdale, circulation 37,669; the Southwest Times Record of Fort Smith, circulation 37,462; and the Pine Bluff Commercial, circulation 18,548.

Rural Kentucky city council chastises newspapers for 'unfair reporting'

The Greenup (Ky.) City Council has passed a resolution calling for "fair, complete, and accurate reporting" from two commonly-owned newspapers that cover it.

Kenneth Hart of The Daily Independent of nearby Ashland wrote that the council "Tuesday passed a resolution first proposed last month by Councilman Bud Quillen chastising The Independent and the Greenup County News-Times -- the only media outlets that cover the council's meetings on a regular basis -- for what it claims is biased and inaccurate reporting." Quillen said, "If we don't do something, we're going to have the public against us and coming here to complain about things they read."

The resolution calls upon the papers, owned by Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., to "provide fair, complete and accurate reporting on the activities of our city's government." It alleges that "erroneous reports" by the two papers have caused "unwarranted controversy that has damaged the image of our city," and that the newspapers 'have concentrated their reporting on contrived controversies rather than the many accomplishes (sic) of this council."

The resolution also claims an editorial in The Independent "falsely represented this council as never having read the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution or were not capable of understanding it," Hart notes. Independent Editor Mike Reliford said, "We are very satisfied with the work of the reporters who cover the council, Cathie Shaffer and Ken Hart. I have worked with both ... and have always found both to be forthright and honest." Shaffer told The Rural Blog that city officials have cited no specific errors.

Eddie Blakeley, publisher of The Independent and the News-Times, called the resolution "meaningless" and said it would have "no bearing on the way we cover the council or otherwise conduct our business," writes Hart. Blakeley has again asked to meet with council members, but, said Reliford, "Thus far, they have not taken us up on that offer, but have chosen instead to grandstand in their meetings." (Read more)

A dream come true: Kentucky editor to become Coal Valley News publisher

Timothy Kiger is replacting Janet Yeager as publisher of The Coal Valley News (Madison, W.Va.). Yeager retired Friday after working 43 years at the publication, which is owned by Community Newspaper Holdings Inc.

Kiger has been managing editor of CNHI's Grayson Journal-Enquirer and the Olive Hill Journal-Times in Carter County, Ky., for the past five years. Kiger worked for The Coal Valley News in the mid-1990s.

“Becoming a newspaper publisher has been a dream of mine since I entered the industry 15 years ago,” Kiger said. “Even though I am a Kentucky native, I have spent most of my professional life working throughout the coalfields of southern West Virginia as a reporter and newspaper editor." (Read more)

Illinois legislative task force to probe weaknesses in rural health care system

Rural health care, often the abandoned step-child of the nation's vaunted health care system, is being reviewed by an In Illinois legislative task force charged with make recommendations for change.

"Action in the Illinois House last spring created a legislative rural Health Task Force and a key downstate member says their work is about to begin. The bipartisan task force will consist of members from both the Illinois House and Senate," reports WJBD Radio of Salem, Ill.

Republican Senator Dale Righter told the radio station, the group wants to define problems restricting access to quality, affordable health care in less populated areas. The task force will interview doctors, insurers, and patients for input on how to improve rural healthcare, WJBD reports. Righter says he's certain that less-dense population and the low medicaid reimbursement rate are factors. (Read more)

Wrong order: Police bust California bartender for selling meth on the job

Police have arrested a San Francisco bartender for allegedly serving more than alcohol to customers. Bartender Mark McCreery, a man previously arrested for selling methamphetamine, was arrested again this past weekend at work for selling the drug to undercover officers.

The bartender"was nabbed after a three-month investigation by local police and the [California] Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control into criminal activity around the ... bar and a neighboring establishment, " reports the San Mateo Daily Journal in a staff and wire services report. (Read more)

McCreery was arrested for selling the officers two ounces of meth in exchange for $1,350 and some stolen property. McCreery was booked into San Mateo County jail along with a bar patron whom police alleged was the bartender's drug supplier. After his prior arrest, McCreery posted bail and returned to work.

Iowa program to help new rural businesses, assist existing entrepreneurs

MyEntreNet gives "rural communities planning assistance to support entrepreneurship," writes Jerry Perkins, farm editor for The Des Moines Register.

University of Northern Iowa's Regional Business Center Director Maureen Collins-Williams told Perkins competitive grants will be awarded to four regions in Iowa for 2006-2007. The application deadline is Dec. 2. A region is defined as an area of up to two counties with 55,000 or fewer people.

The network will use existing agencies and other entities to avoid duplicating services, and each region selected will receive two years of training, technical and networking assistance from business development organizations. Selected regions also will receive $2,500 each from the Community Vitality Center. A pilot project in some rural communities in northeast Iowa tested the concept. Two business owners who benefited from the pilot project said the service helped them make some critical decisions, notes Perkins.

Mary Lawyer, director of the Iowa Department of Economic Development, told Perkins the $155,000 grant to run the program comes from the Iowa Board of Regents' $5 million allocation from the Values Fund, a $50 million-a-year program to boost Iowa's economy. (Read more)

Appalachian museum preserves heritage, honors its heroes, ambassadors

The Appalachian Hall of Fame in the Museum of Appalachia near Norris, Tenn., honors well-known figures and others not so well-known, including an unlikely hero who shunned violence and yet displayed bravery above and beyond on the muddy battlefields of World War I France.

"Sgt. Alvin York, a conscientious objector from Pall Mall, Tenn., became the most decorated hero of World War I and the subject of an Oscar-winning film with Gary Cooper," writes William Schemmel of The Huntsville (Ala.) Times. "Born in an East Tennessee log cabin, Cordell Hull became a U.S. congressman, senator, President Franklin Roosevelt's secretary of state, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and 'Father of the United Nations.' The Carter Family and Roy Acuff popularized country music," Schemmel notes of just a few of the Hall of Fame's honored Appalachian ambassadors.

Among the lesser-known achievers, coal miner Alex Stewart "was a master of 100 different crafts from well-digger to moonshiner, house-builder and the world's best cooper. He went up to Indiana one time, and I asked him how it was. He said, 'Pshaw, the dogs in Tennessee are friendlier than the people in Indiana,'" wrote the museum's primary patron and organizer, John Rice Irwin, a former country schoolteacher who is credited with saving a large chunk of endangered Appalachian culture from extinction at the museum, notes Schemmel. (Read more)

Schemmel also did an extended article on the culture of the region preserved and honored in The Appalachian Hall of Fame.. "Music is a part of everyday life at the museum, whose 250,000 Appalachian artifacts, two dozen buildings, livestock and vegetable gardens have been lovingly assembled over the past 45 years," he writes. (Read more)

Appalachian Trail license plate designed to raise funds to help protect path

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy wants to sell more than 5,000 specialty license plates to generate $100,000 a year to protect the popular footpath through North Carolina. Other states may follow.

"Like similar plates that help raise funds for groups supporting the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the tag provides fans of the Appalachian Trail with a way to show their support," writes Julie Ball of The Asheville Citizen-Times. Morgan Sommerville, regional director of the conservancy, said proceeds will be used to protect and conserve the scenic trail in North Carolina. The conservancy's campaign begins today.

Hot Springs, N.C., Mayor Deborah Ponder told Ball that hikers on the trail provide a big boost to tourism. The trail passes through the town and through sections of 14 states from Maine to Georgia. Somerville told the newspaper that North Carolina is the only state to offer the specialty tag for the trail. Since May, the state has issued about 875 license plates featuring the Appalachian Trail logo. (Read more)

The license plate costs $50, $20 of which goes to the Appalachian Trail Conference. A personalized plate will cost more. To order a license plate, go to http://www.ncdot.org/DMV/.

Rural Calendar: Appalachian Heirloom Seed Conservancy, Oct. 21-23

The Second Annual Fall Conference will be held at the Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center on Pilot Knob Cemetery Road in Berea, Ky.

For more information, contact Brook Elliot at (859) 623-2765 or by emal at KentuckySeeds@hotmail.com, or call Roger Postley at (859) 278-4846 or email RPostley@aol.com.

Registration and charges: Member, pre-registered $5; member, at door $8; non-member $15 all or $10/day (fees will apply toward membership).

Katrina forces rescheduling of forums in Kentucky on use of tobacco

Seven Kentucky forums to discuss tobacco use and ways to prevent or minimize it have been rescheduled. The forums, sponsored by the state's Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Program and Get Healthy Kentucky!, were postponed because of travel restrictions on state employees following Hurricane Katrina.

The new schedule: Northern Kentucky, Oct. 27, 1-5 p.m., Marquise Banquet and Conference Center, Town Drive, Wilder; Bowling Green, Nov. 1, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Holiday Inn, University Plaza, 1021 Wilkinson Trace; Somerset, Nov. 3, 1-5 p.m., Center for Rural Development, 2292 U.S. 27 South, Suite 300; Louisville, Nov. 8, 9 a.m.-1 p.m., Clarion Conference Center, 9700 Bluegrass Parkway; Lexington, Nov. 10, 1-5 p.m., Holiday Inn North, 1950 Newtown Pike; Owensboro, Nov. 16, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Experimental Theatre at River Park, 101 Daviess St.; and Paducah, Nov. 18, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Luther F. Carson Center for the Performing Arts, 100 Kentucky Ave. Community leaders from each area have been invited, but private citizens also are welcome at the forums. (Read more)

Monday, Oct. 3, 2005

Wal-Mart suffers from image and its own success; more on NNA meeting

Mega-retailer Wal-Mart has become a victim of its own success, and a negative image, and its bottom line is lagging under the weight of both.

"The Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer still tops the globe in sales, but it has become much harder for the company to continue achieving growth, writes Lara Mossa of the Oakland Press of Pontiac, Mich.

Neil Stern, a partner with a retail consulting firm, told Mossa, " It's the story of a growth company transitioning to a moderate- growth company." Wal-Mart, she writes, is facing a General Motors-like dilemma. Mossa asks, "How do you grow when you're so big?" The company grew by 10 percent and had $256.3 billion in sales in 2004, but analysts are beginning to wonder whether negative publicity and higher gas prices will slow the chain's growth.

Scott Horsburgh, president of an investment management firm, told Mossa, " It looked like they missed a beat last year, but really it has persisted since then." Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has pointed to gas prices as the reason for small sales increases. In May, it blamed gas prices for a sales gain of only 2.5 percent. Stern told Mossa, "A Wal-Mart customer is typically on a budget; as gas prices have gone up significantly, those dollars are taking away from retail shopping." Wal-Mart's monthly sales rebounded a bit this summer and September sales are expected to grow by 2 percent to 4 percent, Mossa writes.

Wal-Mart has had to combats attacks on its image, ranging from class-action lawsuits to gender discrimination in employee pay and promotions. Nonprofit groups have formed to urge Wal-Mart to implement better labor and community practices. Stern said, "I think the consumer is still going to shop at the place with the lowest prices and the best selection, but it certainly doesn't help Wal-Mart," writes Mossa. (Read more)

Friday's Rural Blog reported on meetings between National Newspaper Association conference attendees and the company's vice president for coprorate communications. Click here for an additional report on the meeting, with emphasis on the question-and-answer session.

Country towns or micropolitan centers, rural is a feeling, reporter writes

Get a group of statisticians, demographers, government officials and bureaucrats in a room and however many you have is how many possible definitions of "rural" you would likely find. But a veteran Tennessee reporter says rural isn't so much a place as it is a feeling.

"The task is deceptively simple: Define 'rural' in the 21st Century. Go to Webster's, and you'll get this: 'living in or characteristic of farming or country life.' Go to the U.S. Census Bureau, and you'll find this: 'A rural area is any area that is not defined as urban.' Clear as the Cumberland River on the morning after an evening deluge, isn't it," writes Leon Alligood of The Tennessean.

Alligood says he asked 10 or so people to define "rural," and got answers ranging from - "It's more of a mindset than anything," to "I live eight miles out on 11 acres. That's rural to me," to, "I tend to think of it more as open space," and, "Rural is a lack of pavement."

Then, Alligood turns poetic, and gives one of the best definitions of rural we've seen: "As for me, rural is elbow room, the faint smell of manure and silage, small town cafés where sun-bronzed farmers gather in the morning for coffee and scrambled eggs, water tanks spray-painted with 'Go Wildcats' or 'John loves Suzy,' traffic jams caused when a corn combine ambles down a state highway moving from one field to another and, on a cloudless night, a universe of stars twinkling from horizon to horizon."

Alligood attended a national rural journalism conference sponsored by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Maryland in June. At that conference the definition of "rural" came up several times, and the answers were myriad. With that in mind, he raises the conundrum of reporting on rural issues when there are so many definitions of what it is. (Read more)

"In order to define our duties, we have to define what is rural, right?" he asks. Dee Davis, president of the Center for Rural Strategies, based in Whitesburg, Ky., told Alligood, "Rural ... resides in the land of perception. Rural is a Rorschach test. For some, it's all cows and clover. For others, it's a sense of where you came from and how that experience shaped you. There's not a one-size-fits-all definition of rural, Davis contends." Blog Note: To paraphrase a U. S. Supreme Court Justice who was opining on a much different subject, - we may not be able to define it, but we know it when we see (or feel) it.

Smaller towns bore brunt of Rita's force; storm deceptive in its destruction

With the storm clouds gone, and relief agencies at work, the devastation from Hurricane Rita along the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast has become more apparent and more destructive than previously thought, especially to the many small towns that populate the predominantly rural area.

"Because the storm spared [major] Texas cities that had expected to be pummeled by its wind and force, Hurricane Rita was broadly perceived as the Chihuahua to Hurricane Katrina's bulldog and something dodged rather than survived. But looking at small towns ... it is clear that ... Hurricane Rita was as strong as its predecessor, or stronger," writes Jennifer Steinhauer of The New York Times.

Steinhauer notes the storm killed 100 people, many while they were trying to evacuate; destroyed homes and businesses; and upended more oil rigs than Hurricane Katrina. It knocked out power for hundreds of miles. Charles Gibson, a national guardsman from South Carolina, told her, "There may not have been much incentive for people to get down to these little towns, but for the people down here who are totally devastated, they feel left out and ignored, as if their story hasn't been told."

The embarrassment of communications and response failures following Katrina prompted government agencies to respond more quickly and aggressively following Rita. But, Steinhauer notes, the massive one-two punch in basically the same region has burdened the nation's resources. Todd Hunter, the police chief of Jasper, where 95 percent of the electric grid was destroyed, said "I think FEMA is stretched, but the response is good at this point. It was an unprecedented deal here." (Read more)

Hurricane recovery: Several agencies collaborating to provide rural relief

Agencies are continuing to join forces in the ongoing efforts to help Louisiana's rural residents get back on their feet in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The Southern Mutual Help Association has formed a two-pronged Rural Recovery Response initiative. The Rural Recovery Fund is handling financial needs, and the Rural Recovery Task Force is addressing housing, health and finance issues, writes Amanda McElfresh of The Daily Advertiser in Lafayette, La.

SMHA is working with the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, OxFam America and state Rep. Sydnie Mae Maraist Durand, to meet the needs of hard-hit communities. "The smaller communities have to have access to the help they need," Miriam Aschkenasy, a Boston University assistant professor working with OxFam, told McElfresh. "We want to help activate that help, get the residents access to it and help them develop the capacity to get back on their feet." (Read more)

Vapor trails: Meth stays in the air 24 hours after being made; vacuums stir it up

"Children crawling through a house in which methamphetamine was made can be exposed to deadly chemicals at least 24 hours afterward, a study done in Colorado Springs found. Other household activities such as vacuuming and walking also can stir up meth and the chemicals used to make it from contaminated surfaces such as carpets and sofas," writes Anslee Willett of the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Headed by the National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver, the study measured toxic fumes produced by meth labs and how they linger for 24 hours after the drug is made. “If you’re doing activities in the home, that means this meth is put into the air and is easily inhaled,” Shawn Arbuckle, a researcher with National Jewish, told Willett.

The new study, conducted in an abandoned Colorado Springs house, is one of the first to examine health hazards in an area after production. The study found that airborne meth, during manufacturing or up to 24 hours later, penetrates the lungs and is absorbed quickly. "Exposure to meth labs has been linked to kidney failure, heart attacks, strokes, seizures and death," writes Willett. (Read more)

Montana governor offers answer for nation's fuel 'substance abuse' -- coal

Post-Katrina, Rita and Iraq, America is a place of rising tension, energy prices and apprehension about them. The governor of Montana offers a cure for the nation's energy woes -- coal.

"Before the hurricanes bumped up already outrageous fuel prices, President Bush was forced to ask the royals of Saudi Arabia - the country that gave us 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers - to lower the price of oil so Americans could afford to drive. He was refused," writes Gov. Brian Schweitzer in an op-ed piece for The New York Times. Schweitzer is also viewed as a potential Democratic presidential candidate.

Schweitzer writes, "America is addicted to foreign oil, and like any addict we are at the mercy of the pushers and require an intervention. Montana, among other states, is trying to help America get clean by promoting a range of modern domestic energy strategies. Yet our biggest idea is actually a very old recipe: gasoline made from coal instead of oil."

Schweitzer says the nation can produce gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and other petroleum products out of coal, a process that was used in America as early as 1928. "Montana thinks synfuels make a lot of sense for America, especially since our state has 120 billion tons of coal, more than a third of America's reserves. That's the liquid fuel equivalent of one-quarter of the oil underlying the Middle East. Responsible development of even a small fraction of these reserves could give America control over the price of gas, dissolve the oil bonds that tie us to the Middle East, and create wealth and jobs that would remain on American soil," he writes. (Read more)

Burley tobacco farmers join Virginia lawsuit's call for full buyout payment

Two Virginia tobacco farmers have sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture, accusing it of drifting from Congress's directives and slashing buyout payments, and they may be the tip of the leaf, so to speak.

The farmers charge USDA "replaced a simple calculation approved by Congress with a complex formula that cuts payments to many farmers. Daniel H. Caldwell, one of the growers' attorneys, claims the tobacco companies funding the buyout could save hundreds of millions of dollars,"writes Stephanie Stoughton of The Associated Press. Some flue-cured tobacco growers have complained about smaller-than-expected payments, but the USDA formula may impact burley farmers more.

Burley is mostly grown in Kentucky and Tennessee. Danny McKinney, chief executive officer of the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative Association in Lexington, Ky., told Stoughton he thinks up to a quarter of the 75,000 burley growers may have been shorted. "I didn't realize that if the House passed it, the Senate passed it and the president signed it, that the USDA had any power to change it," McKinney said. A USDA spokesman declined comment and deferred to the Justice Department, which said only that it planned to file a response this month. (Read more)

Bluegrass State's tobacco money split between two agencies, 'diluted,' paper says

Kentucky is spending $5 million a year to combat tobacco use, but questions are cropping up about how much of that money actually goes toward the intended goal.

"The $5 million spent per year is diluted because one of the two agencies sharing it devotes much of its time and money to battling illicit drugs and alcohol abuse. The Kentucky Agency for Substance Abuse Policy receives $2.2 million a year, but a state official could not say how much of that goes to tobacco prevention and cessation programs," writes R.G. Dunlop of The Courier-Journal.

Larry Carrico, who ran the agency known as KY-ASAP from 2000 until late 2003, said tobacco was never a primary focus. "Our general charge was more about the substance-abuse issue," Carrico told the Louisville newspaper. "Probably not even 25 percent of their money and effort went to tobacco control."

KY-ASAP and the Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Program share money sets aside for tobacco control, which originates in Kentucky's portion of the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement. As part of the 1998 deal, companies make annual payments to states as reimbursement for past tobacco-related health costs. Kentucky's cessation and prevention program receives $2.7 million a year, barely one-tenth of the $25 million that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says should be spent. (Read more)

Iowa beef plant remains on standby; mad-cow scare, beef bans closed facility

A beef processing plant in Tama, Iowa, closed a more than a year ago, but maintenance workers are keeping the facility ready just in case cattle slaughters resume.

The 900-member Iowa Quality Beef Supply Cooperative bought the Iowa Quality Beef Plant, fixed it up and opened in July 2003. Cooperative officials hoped the plant would reestablish the state as a supplier of high-quality beef. Then came the mad-cow disease scare, the closing of export markets, and eventually, the plant's closing, writes Matthew Wilde of the Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier.

The key to the plant's future is the resumption of beef exports to Japan and South Korea. Japan was the largest buyer of U.S. beef at $1.4 billion a year. Japanese officials are still studying whether U.S. beef is safe, reports Wilde.

Re-opening the Tama plant would provide a great profit boost to Iowa's cattle farmers. Farmers lost money in July and August for the first time in 2 1/2 years. John Lawrence, Iowa State University livestock economist, told Wilde the losses will most likely continue until next year. (Read more)

Cooperative fighting for power line; groups fear harm to national forest

East Kentucky Power Cooperative wants to again argue before the state a proposed 4.8-mile power line crossing Daniel Boone National Forest.

The Kentucky Public Service Commission decided Aug. 19 that while the 138-kilovolt line is needed to provide reliable service, EKPC should look at installing it along an existing right of way, writes Allen Blair of the Ashland Daily Independent. EKPC countered that developing another route would impose unnecessarily higher costs on users and create a risk of cascading blackouts.

The commission's preferred route would require at least two more years of review and affects 35 private property owners rather than the 18 in the proposed path, EKPC argued. Environmental groups are worried that EKPC's proposal would hurt the recreation and wildlife area. The power company could be reheard sometime this month, reports Blair. (Read more)

U.S. Senate bill would allow insertion of synthetic ingredients into organic food

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) wants to preserve the organic standards that provide an alternative to industrial agriculture. The U.S. Senate is scheduled to vote this week on a "rider"to the 2006 Agriculture Appropriations Bill that would permit the USDA rather than the National Organic Standards Board to designate synthetic ingredients as suitable for organic production.

The OCA is urging people to contact their senators to oppose the rider, and let the standards board handle the debate over synthetic ingredients. For more information about this issue, visit this site.

At the Annual "Healthy Foods-Local Farms Conference" held Oct. 1 in Louisville, the Kentucky Resources Council provided suggestions for strengthening farms and promoting healthy foods. Some of the suggestions included learning more about food, teaching children and watching what you purchase. To read more of the suggestions, click here



Permission to reprint items from The Rural Blog is hereby granted, on the condition that clear credit is given to the original source of the material. If the blog provides information for a story, please ket us know by sending an e-mail to al.cross@uky.edu.

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues helps non-metropolitan media define the public agenda in their communities, through strong reporting and commentary on local issues and on broader issues that have local impact. Its initial focus area is Central Appalachia, but as an arm of the University of Kentucky it has a statewide mission, and it has national scope. Cooperating institutions include Appalachian State University, East Tennesee State University, Eastern Kentucky University, Marshall University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and West Virginia University. To get notices of Rural Blog postings and other Institute news, click here.



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Last Updated: Nov. 1, 2005