Around the Region: Biltmore Lake gets signatures to block annexation

Published 10:10 am Friday, August 19, 2011

Biltmore Lake may become one of the first communities in the state to block an annexation under a law passed last year to give North Carolina residents more power against involuntary annexations. The community reports it has acquired signatures on a petition against the annexation from at least 60 percent of its landowners, the minimum needed to meet a requirement in the new law.
Although Biltmore Lake residents filed a lawsuit to block Asheville’s 440-acre annexation, the issue remains unresolved four years after the annexation was initially approved by Asheville City Council in 2007. Buncombe County Superior Court ruled in favor of city council, but the decision was appealed.  Biltmore Lake said its goal is to acquire signatures from at least 90 percent of landowners by the petition deadline of Dec. 2.
Residents have said they do not want the city’s services or the higher taxes that would come with the annexation. Dieter Buehler of Biltmore Lake said residents are very proud of their community and they believe they can do a better job of running it than the city can.
The state’s new annexation law, passed by a Republican-controlled general assembly last summer, gives communities a clear legal option to stop involuntary annexations. Biltmore Lake is one of several North Carolina communities that plan to use the new law to stop pending annexations. Petitions under the new law also have been started in Kinston, Lexington, Rocky Mount, Wilmington, Marvin, Fayetteville and Southport.
North Carolina and South Carolina rank 10th and 11th, respectively, for air pollution from coal- and oil-fired power plants in 2009, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
The agency, which recently released its 2009 Toxics Release Inventory, said power plants are the largest industrial source of air pollution in the Carolinas, along with 26 other states. Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida were at the top of NRDC’s list of states with the most air pollution from power plants.
Utilities send to NRDC their reports detailing releases of chemicals to air, water and land.  NRDC has voiced opposition to a U.S. House proposal that would delay proposed EPA limits on mercury and other toxic emissions from power plants. According to NRDC, North Carolina utilities released 14.9 million pounds of toxic air emissions in 2009, nearly half of the total air pollution released in the state.
To avoid upgrades necessary to meet new air pollution controls, Duke Energy is planning to retire some of its older coal-fired power plants in North Carolina by 2015. The company also announced plans recently to retire six coal-fired power units in Ohio. Duke Energy and Progress Energy in North Carolina have also installed scrubbers in their larger plants, which they said will catch up to 90 percent of mercury.
Progress Energy and Duke Energy have settled lawsuits filed by their shareholders against the utility companies’ plans to merge.
The shareholders claimed in nine lawsuits that the proposed merger would benefit primarily the two companies’ executives while diminishing the investments of shareholders.
The utility companies have agreed in the settlement to make additional public disclosures regarding the merger and to pay up to $550,000 to attorneys representing the shareholders.
If the merger is approved it will result in the largest single public utility in the country with approximately 7.1 million customers in six states. Executives at the power companies have said the merger may also improve chances for approval of new nuclear plants in the future.
Shareholders are scheduled to vote on the merger on Aug. 23. If approved, the merger also will require approval from state and federal agencies.
The North Carolina Utilities Commission has ruled that Duke Energy can spend up to $120 million to maintain the site of a proposed new nuclear power plant in South Carolina.
Duke Energy, which already has spent $172 million in development costs related to the project, told the commission it wanted to spend an additional $287 million through 2013, when it plans to obtain a construction license for the plant. However, Duke recently agreed with the commission’s ruling to spend $120 million through June 30, 2012.
Duke Energy has proposed to build the Lee Nuclear Station in Cherokee County, S.C.
The Golden LEAF Rural Broadband Initiative is launching the $104 million second phase of a project to expand broadband Internet service in rural areas of North Carolina.
The project, expected to create one of the largest broadband networks in the country, is partly funded by a $75.75 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program. The initiative also has received $28.25 million in private donations for the second phase, including $24 million from the Golden LEAF Foundation.
The project, expected to be complete by July 31, 2013, will install 1,620 miles of fiber-optic cable in 79 of North Carolina’s 100 counties. The broadband expansion is expected to promote economic development in North Carolina, generating $10 of economic impact for every $1 of investment.
“It’s kind of like we’re building the highway of the future in North Carolina,” said Joe Freddoso, president and chief executive of MCNC, a nonprofit operating the N.C. Research and Education Network (NCREN). The network links teachers, students and partners with technology.
Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) said she expects the project will bolster rural communities.
“Broadband is quickly becoming as important to a community’s success as traditional infrastructure,” she said.
The project’s second phase also will improve broadband access at the 350-acre North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis, where eight North Carolina universities and the state’s community college system conduct research on health, nutrition and agriculture.
“Now we can connect with every part of the world,” said David Murdock, founder of the biotech campus.
A state task force has recommended the N.C. Board of Education use private donations to keep alive the summer academic program at the Governor’s School in North Carolina next year.
The school will need donations as a result of cuts in state funding by the N.C. General Assembly. The task force said a minimum of $550,000 should be raised from private contributions for the summer program next year at the Governor’s School.
The six-week enrichment program, which hosts about 600 to 800 students each year, costs about $1.5 million to operate. The task force said $550,000 would allow the program to host about 300 students. Since 1963 more than 31,000 students have participated in the summer enrichment program.
The South Carolina College of Pharmacy has opened a new Upstate campus in Greenville with an inaugural class of 17 students. The college, which resulted from a collaborative effort between the University of South Carolina and Greenville Hospital System University Medical Center, already has campuses in Columbia and Charleston.
The expansion to Greenville means the college has “truly arrived as a statewide institution,” said Jospeh DiPiro, the college’s executive dean.
The new campus is part of an effort to address a significant shortage of medical professionals in the state. The college expects to receive accreditation from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, which will allow it to expand from a two-year to a four-year program and grow from about 40 to 400 students in the future.
The college said its new Upstate campus provides access to first-class clinical outcomes research and clinic training from 16 clinical pharmacists in the Greenville Hospital System. The hospital system said it plans to invest $5 million over 10 years to expand pharmacy education in the Upstate.
The Asheville city school district is moving ahead with plans to provide laptops to all students at Asheville High and the School of Inquiry and Life Science this year. The laptop project began this year with freshmen only.
Matt Whiteside, director of instructional technology and media services for Asheville City Schools, said the district decided to expand it to all students after seeing how well it worked with freshmen. Educators said the laptops created a more collaborative learning environment in the classroom. Students can review a teacher’s lecture online at home and collaborate with students online while in the classroom.
The school system used some federal stimulus funds to purchase the first laptops and plans to use school funds, coupled with grant money, to fund the project’s expansion. The school system also hopes to eventually expand the program to high school students at Randolph Learning Center.
“We think it’s going to have some impact on the achievement gap because all students will have the same tools,” said Leah Ferguson of the Asheville City Schools Foundation, which is seeking a $100,000 challenge grant for the project from the Mebane Foundation.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox