Top news stories in 2010: weather, elections, recession
by Leah Justice
The top stories in the Thermal Belt in 2010 were similar to those in the rest of the country: the weather, elections and the recession.
The Thermal Belt area experienced an exciting and unusual year in weather, with a major ice storm, several wind storms and more than average snowfall, including the first white Christmas since 1963.
The area was also greatly affected by the recession, with higher than normal unemployment rates that reached 10 percent. Organizations such as the Thermal Belt Outreach Ministry made headlines several times throughout the year, as they sought more funding to meet the exceptional rises in numbers of people seeking financial and food assistance.
The 2010 local election topped the news for several months over the year. Ten candidates ran for the three open seats on the Polk County Board of Commissioners. The primary narrowed the race to six candidates (three Democrats and three Republicans), and two Unaffiliated candidates added their names to the list for an eight-candidate race. The top winner this year was Ted Owens (R), with incumbent Ray Gasperson (D) and Tom Pack (R) also securing seats.
The sheriff race also had a few contestants, with a primary being held for Republicans. Donald Hill (D) won the sheriff election over Nathan Shields (R). Hill was appointed sheriff in 2008.
Former Polk County Sheriff Chris Abril continued to be in the news during 2010 after being arrested for driving while impaired in October, 2009. Abril, who resigned in 2008 prior to pleading guilty to felony solicitation to take indecent liberties with a minor, was convicted of driving while impaired while on supervised probation. Abril appealed his DWI district court conviction but later accepted the district court sentence. He was placed on 30 days of electronic monitoring for violating probation.
The Jay Clark V murder case was also wrapped up this year. Ida Hayes Clark’s jail sentence was suspended and she was placed on probation for accessory after the fact of murder.
Other notable news in 2010 was the canceling and reorganization of the Blue Ridge Barbecue festival. The Foothills Chamber of Commerce announced in January that it had canceled the annual event because profits were not enough for the tremendous effort and resources it takes to put on the event.
A public outcry over the cancelation ended with 75 residents and businesses each making $1,000 pledges to place in the festival’s rainy day fund. The festival, which is North Carolina’s annual barbecue championship, was held in a slightly scaled down version.
Also locally noteworthy this year was Tryon’s 125th anniversary. The town celebrated with a festival in early September and other events throughout the year.
In local government news this year, the Polk County Board of Commissioners completed renovations to a new adult day care center to be run by Rutherford Life Services. The county also began constructing a new department of social services building off Wolverine Trail in Mill Spring.
The building size and location were topics of controversy throughout the year, especially during the elections. The new building will be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified.
Polk County and the towns of Columbus, Tryon and Saluda also agreed to once again hold joint meetings in an attempt to consolidate some services. The main topic has been joining water forces by creating a joint water authority. Joint meetings several years ago on the same topic ceased after the county and towns could not come to an agreement. The next joint meeting is Jan. 11.
Chocolate Drop development was also in the news several times in 2010, especially following heavy spring rains. Erosion problems on the mountain caused the Town of Columbus to close a road because of safety concerns.
Seven lot owners sued the developers, claiming they were sold property that wasn’t buildable. The State of North Carolina also sued developers for not correcting erosion violations.
The area also lost several notable residents in 2010. The area mourned the passing of former Polk County commissioners Sue Cochran, Earl Foy and Bill McKaig.
Former Columbus Town Manager Glenn Rhodes also passed away this year, as did several other well-known community members, including Tom Mosca and recently Chuck Ross, both of whom were both instrumental in the Tryon Riding and Hunt Club and Block House Steeplechase.