Jones Gap State Park expands along N.C. border

Published 10:06 pm Friday, December 3, 2010

Conservation groups are working to protect mountain land in Upstate South Carolina and add it to a state park along the North Carolina border.

Naturaland Trust is expected to receive 305 acres to add to Jones Gap State Park. The donated land includes Grassy Top Mountain, which at 3,300 feet is the 11th tallest peak in South Carolina. In addition, the Nature Conservancy is raising funds to buy 85 acres adjacent to the land donated to Naturaland Trust.

Both conservation groups have already protected other tracts in the area. The Nature Conservancy previously acquired more than 200 acres for Jones Gap State Park. Naturaland Trust recently reached an agreement to permanently protect the Asbury Hills Methodist Camp at the base of Caesars Head State Park.

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North Carolina and South Carolina showed improvement in the 2010 March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card, although both states received low grades again. The March of Dimes gave North Carolina a D for its 12.9 percent rate of preterm births and South Carolina an F for its 14.3 percent rate.

Preterm births are defined as those occurring prior to 37 completed weeks of gestation. North Carolinas preterm birth rate was down from 13.3 percent in 2009 and 13.7 percent in 2008. South Carolinas rate has declined from 15.5 percent in 2009 and 15.6 percent in 2008.

The Carolinas were among 32 states and the District of Columbia that showed improvement in preterm birth rates in this years report. However, the March of Dimes gave a D grade to the nation as a whole considering it continues to have one of the highest preterm birth rates of industrialized nations. The 12.3 percent preterm birth rate in the U.S. this year remains well above the 7.6 percent rate the March of Dimes set as an objective for 2010. Preterm birth rates increased for three decades before declining in recent years. The March of Dimes says better health care, new research and more intervention programs are needed to continue the downward trend.

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North Carolina is expanding a managed care program designed to improve health care and reduce costs by employing case managers and health coaches. The Community Care program, set up 12 years ago for the nearly 1 million Medicaid patients in the state, provides access to a network of medical practices focused on patient education and chronic illness management.

The program now will be implemented in Ashe, Avery, Bladen, Columbus, Granville, Transylvania and Watauga counties.&bsp; Residents in those counties who are insured by Blue Cross and Blue Shield or other government plans will be allowed to enroll in the Community Care network.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services says it has received nearly $12 million for the three-year pilot project. The program pays doctors a fee ranging from $2.5 to $5 a month to manage their patients care. Over the three-year period, the program is expected to save about $37 million in medical costs through reduced hospital visits, improved medical decisions and monitored use of medications.

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Beginning December 1, North Carolina license plates can no longer be obscured by frames. Legislators passed the new law to address wide license-plate frames that cover part of the plate, including registration stickers or even the state name. Violators can be fined $100. The state passed a 2009 license plate frame law last year, but it included only a warning for violators in the first year. The new law says a driver cannot cover the license plate with any frame or transparent, clear or color-tinted cover that makes a number or letter included in the vehicles registration, the state name on the plate, or a number or month on the registration renewal sticker illegible.

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The first of many electric-car charging stations in North Carolina was introduced in Raleigh this week. One of the stations is in front of City Hall, while another is near the citys convention center. By September, Raleigh plans to have at least 30 stations, most of them near downtown public parking garages or N.C. State Universitys Centennial Campus. &bsp;

About 350 recharging stations are expected in North Carolina next year. Most of them will be financed by federal stimulus money. The initial recharging stations, donated by Eaton Corp of Ohio, will use 9-foot cords to provide free electricity to electric cars.

Raleigh officials said they formed a partnership with Indianapolis and Portland, Ore. Last year to help Raleigh become a leader in electric vehicles in the Southeast. Next summer Raleigh plans to host the annual electric car conference organized by the Electric Power Research Institute. The city already uses 10 hybrid vehicles for city work, and plans to get 10 electric vehicles next year.

Were trying to get ahead of this, but also trying to anticipate consumer demand, said Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker.

About 80 electric car charging stations are expected to be in operation soon in South Carolina, including some around Spartanburg and Greenville. Plug-In Carolina, a nonprofit organization, is coordinating work to set up charging stations that will serve vehicles such as the new Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf. Plug-In Carolina received grants from the South Carolina Energy Office and support from public utilities to set up the stations. About half of the stations are expected to open on December 8.

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Recent federal stimulus grants to urban transit agencies are expected to benefit Proterra Inc., an electric bus manufacturer that plans to create 1,300 jobs in Greenville, S.C.. The $25 million in federal grants will help agencies purchase 20 fast-charge electric busses and four charging stations. Proterra says its products are the only ones that meet the federal requirements.

Leading transit agencies across the U.S. are turning to Proterra as a trusted expert in all-electric public transportation solutions to reduce operating costs with the added benefits of emissions-free, low-noise operation and greenhouse gas-emission reduction, says Proterra President and CEO Jeff Granato.

The federal grants went to transit agencies in Florida, Nevada, California, and Washington.&bsp; Proterra says it is working on contracts with the agency and plans to manufacture the new order at a temporary plant in Greenville. The company says it plans to break ground soon on a permanent plant at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research.

Proterra also announced recently that it signed a supply agreement with UQM Technologies Inc. of Colorado for electric propulsion systems. Granato says UQMs propulsion system is highly reliable and its efficiency produces exceptional fuel economy for Proterras EcoRide bus.

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Mountain 1st Bank plans to close branches in Arden and Lake Lure on February 28.&bsp; The bank says it is not closing any accounts, only moving them to other nearby branches. The Arden branch will consolidate with the Fletcher branch and the Lake Lure branch will do the same with the Four Seasons location in Hendersonville. The parent company of Mountain 1st Bank, 1st Financial Services Corp., says deposits at the Lake Lure and Arden branches did not meet the banks standards. Bank officials cited the current economic cycle for the closures, along with the elimination of several non-branch positions within the bank.

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Esmeralda Inn & Restaurant in Chimney Rock recently reopened with new owners. Doug and Aileen Kelly purchased the inn in June from Florida-based company America Prime. Doug Kelly has worked for many years in the hospitality business and operated a small inn in New Jersey. He says he and his wife have been looking for a property in Western North Carolina. The couple has made some decorative changes to the inn, but did not have to do much major work because the previous owners had completed a $1 million renovation prior to the sale.

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Trout farmers in Western North Carolina will receive funds through the states Aquaculture Grant Program set up to aid farmers who suffered losses in 2009. The producers of trout, catfish, hybrid striped bass, gamefish, freshwater prawn and ornamental fish species have been hit hard by a spike in feed costs. Chris Selle of Cantrell Creek Trout Farm in Transylvania County says he was paying about 60 cents a pound for hatchery feed two years ago and now is paying more than a dollar per pound. Skip Thompson of the N.C. Cooperative Extension cited increasing energy costs associated with transporting the feed.

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The 750,000-square-foot Dell manufacturing plant in Winston-Salem has shut down after six years of operation. The company was offered more than $300 million in economic incentives by the state to choose North Carolina in 2004. Most of the incentives were never paid because the company failed to meet investment and job creation targets. Dell has repaid $26 million to local governments for upfront incentives. At its height the plant employed 1,400 people, but the workforce was cut to 900 by the time Dell announced last year its plans to close the plant.

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Fountain Powerboats announced plans to create 411 jobs and invest $5.1 million over the next five years in Beaufort County, continuing a positive trend for the boat industry in North Carolina.

Fountain Powerboats announcement comes four months after Hatteras Yachts announced it plans to create 350 jobs at its New Bern facility as it closes a plant in California.

Fountain Powerboats is relocating two of its manufacturing lines now located in Florida. &bsp;

Todays announcement is wonderful news in a county that, like many others, has been hit hard by the recession, said Rep. Arthur Williams of Washington.

Fountain plans to manufacturer its Donzi Marin, Pro-Line, Fountain and Baja boat lines in Beaufort County. The company could receive up to $6.1 million in incentives if it meets investment and job creation goals.