Around the region: Snow removal costs WNC more than $9M

Published 2:17 pm Friday, February 11, 2011

Tourism boost expected from Democratic convention

Heavy snowfall has sapped the financial reserves of governments in Western North Carolina that have spent more than usual this winter on snow removal and road treatment.
Asheville reports it had spent more than $250,000 prior to this week’s latest storm, while Black Mountain had spent more than $35,000 since Christmas. Black Mountain’s public works department said it would be struggling financially after the latest storm.
The state of North Carolina has spent more than $9 million so far removing snow and treating roads in the 17 western counties and approximately $31 million across all 100 counties this winter.
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Western North Carolina will see more visitors next year when Charlotte hosts the Democratic National Convention, according to tourism officials in the region.
Melody Heltman, director of Henderson County Travel and Tourism, said she expects to see more business from the convention and she likens the potential economic impact to what was seen with the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Heltman said many people visiting the Olympics took the opportunity to travel up to the mountains and along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The biggest economic impact is expected the week prior to the convention and the week after when convention visitors may go sightseeing in the area.
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An $800 million development at Lake Norman is moving ahead after Langtree Properties of Mooresville partnered with RL West Properties of Toledo, Ohio to gain capital needed for the project.  Langtree said the partnership will allow work to begin immediately on the 300-acre mixed-use community that will include four miles of waterfront and about two miles of I77 frontage.  The project, which will include a 300-room Embassy Suites hotel and 75,000-square-foot convention center at Exit 32 of I-77 has been in the planning stages for six years.
Brad Howard, vice president of the Langtree Group, said the project “is about economic development,” and it will create jobs and generate property tax revenue.  “The world is ready to begin taking risks again,” he said. “It has been a difficult road, but our dream is now a reality.”
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Investors are giving new life to two stalled residential developments in Eastern North Carolina. Mountain Real Estate Capital of Charlotte has acquired the upscale Tidalwalk community on the Intracoastal Waterway south of Wilmington and LMC Group of Wilmington has agreed to buy the Turtle Creek Development in Surf City from Wells Fargo Bank.
DCNC, the original owner of Turtle Creek, only sold 24 units before work at the subdivision was halted and the company filed for bankruptcy.  LMC Group said the second phase of Turtle Creek is now sold out and the company is working to develop land for an additional 147 single family homes and 183 townhomes.
The TidalWalk subdivision, which stalled as the housing market collapsed includes nearly 200 lots.
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The Southern Environmental Law Center has settled a dispute with the U.S. Forest Service over logging in a national forest near Blowing Rock. The law center said the U.S. Forest Service agreed to preserve a group of trees that are more than 300 years old, and to reduce logging across 100 acres of the Pisgah National Forest. The dispute began six years ago after the forest service announced plans to log in the forest area known as the Globe.  The forest service said the agreement to end the dispute address the concerns of residents and environmentalists, while still allowing the forest service to meet its logging goals.
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Anyone interested in visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park can now check road conditions at the park by electronic text or Twitter. Dale Ditmanson, superintendent of the national park, said the new service will help visitors with cell phones or Internet access get information promptly without having to make a phone call. He said the change also will reduce the workload for park employees.
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Bats infected with the deadly white-nose syndrome have been discovered in a cave at Grandfather Mountain and an old Avery County mine, according to state wildlife officials. The infection has already killed hundreds of thousands of bats in the Northeast.
“This discovery marks the arrival of one of the most devastating threats to bat conservation in our time,” said Gabrielle Graeter, a biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.
The disease is named for the infection that leaves a white fungus around the bats’ faces and wings.
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The North Carolina Energy Office has awarded $8.5 million to help 43 public and private agencies complete projects that improve energy efficiency or use renewable fuels.
Money was awarded to 17 “Main Street” projects planned by county governments to enhance downtown areas. The list includes Hendersonville, which will receive $90,455 to upgrade energy efficiency at four businesses on Main Street, and Forest City, which will receive $227,781 for energy efficiency upgrades at seven downtown businesses.  The counties must match 50 percent of the project cost.
Funds also were distributed for 15 “commercial renewables initiatives” for renewable technology projects. Henderson County will receive $71,419 for solar thermal systems at the Henderson County Courthouse and the Detention Center in Hendersonville. The YMCA of Western North Carolina in Buncombe County will receive $24,719 for a solar thermal rooftop collector system to supply hot water for showers and janitorial purposes.
The rest of the funds were awarded to 11 projects that will reduce energy costs and create jobs for commercial, industrial or non-profit companies. Van Wingerden in Henderson County was awarded $310,000 to install a hot water storage tank to reduce boiler cycling and purging.
N.C. Governor Bev Perdue said the projects will “make businesses and government facilities more energy efficient, which holds down costs and helps – particularly during these challenging economic times – control government spending on utilities.”
North Carolina said the latest funds awarded from the federal Recovery Act will inject $16.1 million into the state’s economy. The state said it has now distributed nearly 90 percent of the Recovery Act funds it has been allocated through the State Energy Program and the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant programs.
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Progress Energy and Duke Energy said they are planning to provide free charging stations for about 300 homeowners in North Carolina who purchase the new Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf or Ford Focus. The new car owners will save several thousand dollars by not having to buy the charging stations, and the state’s two biggest power companies will get a chance to study for long-term effects of charging electric cars on the stat’s power grid.
Duke Power officials said they estimate about 220,000 electric cars will in use in the Carolinas by 2020. Most of the cars will be in Charlotte, Raleigh and other affluent communities, said the power companies.
Duke said it anticipates it will cost about $400 million to upgrade its power system if electric car charging is not carefully managed. The company said it could cost as little as $100 million if it can encourage customers to recharge at night, during off-peak hours.
“By doing this study, we can better understand how the vehicles will integrate into the grid (and) what amount of charging will occur during our peak demand times,” said Duke Energy spokesperson Paige Layne.
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N.C. Gov. Bev Perdue said a report issued this week by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory shows North Carolina has a significant opportunity for to generate energy from offshore wind. The National Offshore Wind Strategy states that North Carolina has the largest offshore wind potential on the East Coast.
“I want North Carolina to be the first state on the East Coast using offshore windmills to generate energy,” said Perdue. “Developing just some of these resources could be an economic boon to the state in the years ahead.”
Perdue said North Carolina will work with the federal government to “keep our state aggressively moving forward in building our green energy economy.”
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Williamsburg County in South Carolina will be home to a new power generation facility that will turn methane gas, naturally produced on a hog farm, into a fuel source for electricity. The Burrows Hall Renewable Energy Facility is expected to begin generation this summer using an anaerobic digester at Burrows Hall Farm, which has partnered on the project with Santee Cooper, Environmental Fabrics Inc. and Clemson University. Clemson’s South Carolina Institute for Energy Studies helped obtain a grant from the S.C. Department of Agriculture for the project. “This project taps into indigenous energy resources in our state, which not only creates jobs but also helps to reduce harmful emissions,” said Ashlie Lancaster, director of the S.C. Energy Office.
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The Dogwood Festival in Fayetteville has been named the “Event of the Year” by the North Carolina Association of Festivals & Events for the second year in a row. The festival also claimed the “Rising Star” award for its New Year’s Eve Party in the Park. The Dogwood Festival competed against festivals from across North Carolina and South Carolina, including the North Carolina Oyster Festival, the Azalea Festival, the North Carolina Seafood Festival and the Barbecue Festival in Lexington.
The Dogwood Festival, which is free to the public, is put on with one full-time employee, one part-time employee and an “army of volunteers on a shoestring budget,” according to the festival’s executive director Carrie King. This year’s festival will be held April 29 through May 1.