Atmore: The state is largely shutting down a state prison that houses more than 600 inmates because of sewer and other infrastructure problems in the 51-year-old facility, the state commissioner announced Wednesday. The move is the latest upheaval in the prison system that has struggled with overcrowding, low staffing, violence and aging facilities. Alabama Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said 617 inmates at Holman Correctional Facility at Atmore will be sent to other state prisons. Dunn said the decision was made because maintenance crews were struggling daily to maintain sewer and electrical systems housed in a tunnel running beneath the main prison building. Some inmates, including death row inmates, will remain at Holman in units that run on separate systems, he said.
Anchorage: The population of endangered beluga whales in Alaska’s Cook Inlet continues to decline, federal marine mammal authorities announced Tuesday. A biennial survey conducted by the fisheries arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimated the population of the white whales at 250 to 317, with a median estimate of 279. “The population is estimated to be smaller and declining more quickly than previously thought,” NOAA Fisheries said in the announcement. The survey is based on data collected by aerial surveys in summer 2018. The survey also documented that a contraction has persisted of the summer range of belugas, the geographical area where they live. Since 2008, on average 81% of the total population occupied the Susitna Delta near the north end of the inlet in early June during the aerial survey period. Before that, about 50% did.
Grand Canyon National Park: If you want to tie the knot at the Grand Canyon, you’ll want to get your request in sooner rather than later. A lack of staffing means applications for special use permits will take longer to process, park officials said this week. Weddings, family reunions, memorial services, organized group hikes or runs within the canyon, and scattering ashes within the park all require special use permits. The most popular request is to say “I do” at Shoshone Point at the South Rim, the only viewpoint available for outdoor receptions, or at a multipurpose building known as Shrine of the Ages, said Sharon Ringsven, the park’s deputy chief of commercial services. Other wedding locations are available within the park. Basic permits now take up to 30 days to process but will take up to 45 days starting Feb. 14. More complex requests could take up to 90 days.
Little Rock: A judge on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit trying to block from this year’s ballot a referendum on a new law expanding the procedures that optometrists can perform. Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen dismissed the lawsuit by Arkansans for Healthy Eyes, a group formed in opposition to the referendum effort. The lawsuit claimed the referendum wasn’t approved under the correct process. The new law allows optometrists to perform several procedures that previously only ophthalmologists could perform, including injections around the eye, the removal of lesions from the eyelids and certain laser eye surgeries. The law’s supporters say optometrists are already trained to perform the procedures but were being forced to refer patients elsewhere. It has drawn heavy opposition from ophthalmologists who say the change puts patients at risk.
San Francisco: A top public official and go-to bureaucrat to mayors over two decades was charged with public corruption Tuesday, upending City Hall as elected leaders scrambled to reassure the public that bribery and kickbacks would not be tolerated. The complaint unsealed against San Francisco Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru and longtime restaurateur Nick Bovis focuses on an aborted attempt in 2018 to bribe a San Francisco airport commissioner for retail space. It also alleges other schemes in which Nuru is accused of trying to help his friend score contracts to build homeless shelters and portable toilets, along with a restaurant at the city’s new $2 billion transit station. Nuru is also accused of accepting free labor at his vacation home and a John Deere tractor as well as lavish gifts from a developer, including a $2,070 bottle of wine.
Denver: A state audit found Colorado may be losing significant tax revenue due to oil and gas companies failing to submit thousands of monthly reports used to track how much energy they produce. The audit estimated the energy producers operating in the state would have been subject to “about $308 million in penalties for delinquent reports,” Colorado Public Radio reports. Regulators are not imposing penalties or tracking missing or incomplete production reports, the audit found. The reports help the state determine whether the companies have paid the correct tax amounts. The audit said 10% of operators also filed reports with missing information. “It was distressing to see that there was a culture of acceptance of not filing forms,” said Rep. Dafna Michaelsen Jenet, the Democratic vice chair of the committee. “And the top producers are the biggest violators, and we’re talking about thousands upon thousands of forms not filed. ”
Bridgeport: The city is asking police to enforce a youth curfew following a shooting outside a courthouse that left four people in the hospital. Bridgeport Police Chief Armando Perez said Tuesday that the department increased patrols across the city immediately after the shooting. The victims were sitting in a car outside Bridgeport Superior Court on Monday afternoon when someone in a passing SUV opened fire, police said. City officials said the shooting was not random, and the four people were targeted. They were all taken to the hospital with injuries not considered life-threatening. The youth curfew, based on an ordinance passed and enforced in 2012, will be enforced from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and midnight to 6 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Mayor Joe Ganim said it is up to police whether they will issue a $50 fine or order community service for curfew violations.
Dover: Reunited rockers Rage Against the Machine and Grammy record-setter Billie Eilish will lead a high-powered 2020 lineup for Firefly Music Festival on the first weekend of the summer. The festival, entering its ninth year in the city, revealed the lineup – which also includes Halsey, Khalid, Blink 182 and Maggie Rogers as headliners – on Tuesday morning. The three acts that will close Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights on the main stage are Rage, Eilish and Halsey, officials said. Presale tickets will go on sale Friday at 10 a.m. at fireflyfestival.com. Fans must first go to the site and register for a unique access code to the sale. Four-day general admission passes start at $299, VIP at $699 and Super VIP at $2,499. Tickets will open to the general public Monday. Once the $299 general admission tickets are sold out, they will increase in price by $20 increments each time a new batch sells out, topping out at $359 each.
District of Columbia
Washington: Local leaders have vowed not to support a former councilman who filed papers to run for the seat he vacated less than two weeks ago amid ethics violation allegations. Jack Evans filed paperwork Monday to seek reelection to the D.C. Council, news outlets report. Evans resigned Jan. 17, shortly before councilors were set to vote on his expulsion. An investigation found he used his position to benefit private clients and failed to recognize their payments as conflicts of interest. “I cannot support him coming back,” council Chairman Phil Mendelson said Tuesday. Evans has also been the subject of a federal investigation, according to news outlets. He’s denied any wrongdoing. “We should all call on Jack to do not what’s best for Jack but what’s best for the District of Columbia,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said. A special election to fill Evans’ former Ward 2 seat has been scheduled for June.
Sanford: Inmates are sewing cloth pouches for kangaroos and koalas orphaned by wildfires in Australia, even if animal care organizations there have enough of them for the time being. The Seminole County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday tweeted video showing two inmates hard at work at sewing machines, stitching together what are called “joey pouches” for the orphaned marsupials. The pouches are made from old uniforms. “Inmates making them learn a new skill they can use upon their release,” tweeted the sheriff’s office, located outside Orlando. Australia’s unprecedented wildfire season has charred huge expanses of brushland, rainforests and national parks – killing more than a billion wild animals by one estimate. People hoping to help out from afar have been sewing pouches and sending them to Australia – so many that earlier this month, an organization distributing the pouches said it was being “overwhelmed.”
Athens: Terrapin Beer Co. has installed solar panels and aims to reduce its energy consumption by 30%. The Athens-based brewery recently cut the ribbon on the project, which involves 720 solar panels on Terrapin’s roof and on its parking lot’s sunshades. “At Terrapin, we want to be bigger than beer,” Terrapin president Dustin Watts said. “That is our main focus and goal. … Beer brings people together, and, with that beverage, if we can inspire people to do good or do better things for the planet and for human beings in general, that’s our main goal.” The solar panel array is part of Terrapin’s larger sustainability campaign called Terraprint. There’s now a TV screen in the tap room that shows customers how much solar energy is being used at any given time.
Wailuku: Fewer sea turtles were found stranded on Maui last year than in 2018, although officials say most cases continue to be caused by fishing gear. There were 141 documented cases of green sea turtles stranded on Maui last year, down from 174 in 2018, The Maui News reports. Among the stranded turtles reported in 2019, 117 were located alive. Fishing gear caused 102 strandings, and 13 were stranded due to unknown causes. The remaining 26 were caused by boat strikes, buoyancy disorders, injured flippers, shark bites, diseases, or turtles becoming stuck in rocks or sand, officials said. The Maui Ocean Center Marine Institute said fishermen are encouraged to help turtles by removing hooks and lines. The institute is the nonprofit arm of the Maui Ocean Center aquarium that coordinates responses to sick, injured, distressed or expired sea turtles on Maui.
Boise: The state’s top wildlife official on Tuesday requested authorization from lawmakers to spend $408,000 to count wolves. Department of Fish and Game Director Ed Schriever told the Legislature’s budget-setting committee that the expense would become part of the agency’s annual budget to keep a running tally of the number of wolves in the state. Idaho stopped counting wolves in 2015 after it was no longer required to do so by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service following the lifting of protections for wolves under the Endangered Species Act. In April, Schriever cobbled together existing efforts to count wolves, and last week he announced there are 1,000 wolves in Idaho based on information from 600 cameras scattered around the state. The population had been closer to 1,500 early in the summer of 2019 but was reduced through hunting, trapping and killing of wolves that preyed on livestock.
Chicago: The Old St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church will no longer host its World’s Largest Block Party, the church announced on its website Tuesday. The 35-year-old, two-day festival of music and food drew thousands of people to a street west of Chicago’s business district. Old St. Patrick’s pastor, the Rev. Tom Hurley, said in the letter that the summer event environment in Chicago is more competitive than it was 35 years ago and more difficult for the 175-year-old church to navigate. “We are grateful for where we have been and we are excited as we look to the future and starting to plan events, experiences and programs that reflect where we are going,” Hurley wrote. In the block party’s place, the church on March 14 will host what Hurley calls a “Shamrock’n the Block” party to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Old St. Patrick’s used proceeds from the World’s Largest Block Party to fund its social justice initiatives.
Gary: State officials have put the Gary Community School Corp. on notice for violating Indiana law by offering enrollment incentives last fall. The district posted on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram offering $25 Visa gift cards to parents who referred students to successfully enroll in Gary schools, Northwest Indiana Times reports. The posts said those students also would be entered in a raffle to receive an iPad. Indiana law explicitly prohibits any public, charter or private schools who receive state scholarship funding from offering incentives in the form “of any item that has monetary value, including cash or a gift card.” The incentive offer was posted online with a Sept. 13 deadline – the same day all Indiana districts were required to submit student enrollment totals to the Department of Education for verification. State school funding is directly tied to student enrollment.
Des Moines: The state will for the first time have two women on its Supreme Court after Gov. Kim Reynolds on Tuesday named an eastern Iowa attorney to the seven-member panel. Dana Oxley, the only female finalist on the list forwarded to the governor Jan. 9, is an attorney who has questioned the importance of abiding by past decisions. In her application she said that the court should “not blindly apply its prior decisions but must be vigilant in protecting the rule of law.” Oxley, 52, of Swisher is the second woman on the court, joining Susan Christensen, appointed by Reynolds in 2018. Oxley is only the fourth woman ever named to the state’s highest court. Reynolds said gender was not a factor in her choice. “We need more women in the courts, yes, but I don’t make my decision based on gender. They earned those selections,” Reynolds said. “She’s smart; she’s articulate; she’s hard-working; she brings a breadth of experience to the court.”
Wichita: Cropland that turned into a crime scene of serial slayings in the 1870s is up for auction. The 162-acre tract where the Bender family killed at least 11 people will be sold off to the highest bidder by an auction company next month, The Wichita Eagle reports. Accounts say the family of four who came to be known as the “Bloody Benders” would lure travelers into their home, inviting them for a hot meal and a place to rest. Once seated at the dinner table, instead of hospitality, these travelers would get their throats slit or heads bashed in – their bodies tossed into the cellar until they were able to be hauled out and buried at night. An 1873 excavation found 11 bodies in the garden, although some suspect the Benders killed up to 21 people. When people became suspicious over the missing travelers, the Benders fled. They were never captured. The Feb. 11 auction is open to the public.
Frankfort: A transgender candidate for the state House is criticizing three GOP bills affecting the transgender community. One measure would prohibit students from using public restrooms that don’t align with their “biological sex,” another would make it a felony for doctors to prescribe gender-altering medications to minors, and a third would require student-athletes to play sports based on the sex listed on their birth certificate. Democrat Ramona Thomas, who began transitioning in 2017, said Tuesday that she wants to fight to protect transgender youth. Thomas is running for a House seat to represent southwestern Jefferson County. “These bills are the end result of LGBT people and trans people not being present in our government for so long,” Thomas said.
New Orleans: A military veteran who was sent to prison for life after selling less than 1 gram of marijuana to an undercover investigator should be allowed to pursue an appeal of the harsh sentence, defense attorneys told the Supreme Court of Louisiana on Monday. Attorneys representing Derrick Harris said that during a habitual offender sentencing hearing, his trial lawyer failed to note mitigating circumstances, including mental health problems and drug addiction following his service during Operation Desert Storm in the 1990s. Those factors would have allowed the judge to impose less than the life sentence called for under Louisiana’s habitual offender statutes, his lawyers at Monday’s hearing said. In addition, an appellate lawyer failed to raise some of the trial lawyer’s failures in an initial appeal, according to a brief filed for Harris.
Portland: The state ranks last in New England in access to high-speed internet, but a new push from state and federal leaders seeks to change that. A proposal before the Legislature would provide $15 million to ConnectME Authority, which seeks to bring broadband to more households in the state. The proposal, submitted by Democratic Sen. Erin Herbig of Belfast, received a public hearing Tuesday. Also, officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Democratic Gov. Janet Mills are expected to make an announcement Thursday in Arrowsic about new broadband investments around the state. USDA officials called the new push “a multimillion-dollar Reconnect Pilot Program investment.” The pilot program provides grants and loans to improve broadband access in rural areas. The USDA funding will bring high-speed internet to more than 4,500 homes in Maine, officials with the agency said.
Baltimore: The Chesapeake flavor of Old Bay seasoning has been turned into a hot sauce. Hours after the release of a limited-edition Old Bay hot sauce, McCormick & Co.’s website sold out. In a tweet Wednesday afternoon, the company thanked its ardent fans for their love and said it is restocking. In an earlier press release, McCormick said the new sauce would hit stores in the next month. The company suggests using it to “warm up” foods like chili, soup, chicken wings, nachos and dips, as well as drinks like Bloody Marys. Old Bay Hot Sauce will be sold in Acme, Giant, Food Lion, Safeway and Wegmans, among other grocery stores. The company says it will also be offered in “many local favorite restaurants.” A 10-ounce bottle retails for $3.49. Old Bay seasoning is a trademark of Maryland seafood, but some loyalists in the region will use it on almost anything.
Auburn: The battle to eradicate Asian longhorned beetles continues over a decade after the species was first discovered in the Worcester area. Officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Monday that an infested tree was discovered Jan. 14 at Pakachoag Golf Course in Auburn. Officials said survey crews will search trees on public and private property around the area where the infested tree was discovered, the Telegram & Gazette reports. Rhonda Santos, spokeswoman for the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said there were no other infested trees when the area was inspected last week. The infested tree was a red maple tree, according to Santos. Santos said there were no adult beetles found, but there were egg sites and emergence holes. Tree climbers will be dispatched to the area to conduct additional surveys for the next one to two weeks, according to Santos.
Detroit: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has signed a $2.5 million agreement to design a project to remediate contaminated sediment and create a substantial new habitat at a riverfront park being developed in the city. The contaminated sediment at the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park is within the Detroit River Area of Concern and identified by the U.S. and Canada as one of 43 toxic hot spots in the Great Lakes basin, according to the EPA. The project agreement allows the EPA to evaluate and develop a plan along the shoreline of the 22-acre site along the city’s west riverfront. Work will be funded through a Great Lakes Legacy Act cost-sharing partnership with the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, which has agreed to contribute nearly $900,000 to the project’s cost.
Grand Portage: Ryan Redington has won the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon in northeastern Minnesota for the second time in three years. The Alaskan musher and his huskies spent more than 29 hours on the nearly 300-mile trail along Lake Superior before arriving in Grand Portage late Tuesday afternoon. The Star Tribune says Redington comes from a family of dog mushers. He won the Beargrease marathon in 2018 and has competed in numerous races, including Alaska’s famous Iditarod, which his grandfather founded. The seven dogs who finished the race with Redington were treated to hunks of frozen meat. A sleep-deprived Redington said he was looking forward to a shower and a warm meal. Redington’s team crossed about 15 minutes ahead of second-place finisher Keith Aili, of Ray, Minnesota.
Hattiesburg: The University of Southern Mississippi expects hundreds of children’s librarians, teachers, and fans of books for children and young adults at its 53rd Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival on April 1-3. The event at the Hattiesburg campus includes lectures and workshops featuring renowned authors and illustrators and other experts in the field. The Wednesday-through-Friday festival also includes presentation of the Ezra Jack Keats Awards and the Magnolia Book Awards. The Keats title honors an outstanding new writer and an outstanding new illlustrator. Mississippi children and teens will vote in February for Magnolia Book Awards in four age categories. The festival’s top award, the Southern Miss Medallion, is going to Rita Williams-Garcia, who has written a dozen young adult and middle-grade novels.
Jefferson City: The State Capitol dome will shine red for the Kansas City Chiefs as the team prepares to make its first Super Bowl appearance in 50 years. Gov. Mike Parson announced in a news release that he ordered the dome to glow in the team’s color Friday night. Parson said that as a season-ticket holder and longtime fan, he “couldn’t be more excited for the Chiefs.” The team’s last Super Bowl appearance was in 1970, when the Chiefs defeated the Minnesota Vikings. Parson said it’s “about time we had another big win.” The Chiefs are playing the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday in Miami.
Helena: They hope to come up with a plan everyone can bear. The state kicked off a two-day summit Wednesday for groups that educate the public about grizzly bears with encouragement from the head of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to teach people how to live with and understand the ursines. “People were surprised at how many different efforts are going on right now at education and information regarding grizzly bears,” FWP Director Martha Williams said about conversations during a dinner with attendees the night before. Grizzly bear populations are growing in Montana, including into areas where they have not lived for decades, state officials said. Grizzly bears are listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act in all areas of Montana, and delisting efforts continue in places where recovery goals have been met. There are reportedly more than 1,850 grizzly bears in north-central and northwestern Montana and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
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Gretna: The driver of a snowplow plunged the vehicle into the Platte River on Tuesday as he was being followed by authorities who later arrested him. U.S. marshals and Sarpy County sheriff’s deputies believed the driver of the Nebraska Department of Transportation snowplow was a wanted federal fugitive and began following the plow on a highway south of Gretna. After a few minutes, Deputy U.S. Marshal Will Iverson said the plow left the road and went down an embankment into the river. The driver managed to get out of the cab, and officers pulled him from the river. The driver’s name wasn’t released, but the Transportation Department told the Lincoln Journal Star he was employed by the agency. After being treated at a hospital, he was taken to jail. Charges against him remain sealed.
Las Vegas: About 1 in 10 people booked last year into the two largest jails in the city had no permanent place to live, a police official told a panel studying homelessness last week. Las Vegas Department of Public Safety Lt. Danielle Davis told the group the homeless make up about 10% of the overall city jail population, but one measurement put the figure at just over 15% of the more than 33,000 people booked last year, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports. Of the nearly 75,000 people processed into the Clark County Detention Center in 2019, just over 6% identified themselves as homeless, Las Vegas Metropolitan police Capt. Neldon Barrowes said. The presentations came with the city beginning Feb. 1 to enforce a law making it illegal for people to sleep on streets when beds are available at established shelters.
Portsmouth: A pair of civil engineers took their relationship to new heights atop a local bridge. Dan Del Tufo arranged to have the Memorial Bridge in Portsmouth lifted to its maximum height, and that’s where he surprised Julia Kallmerten with a marriage proposal – so she could, in his words, “aggravate me for the rest of my life.” She said yes. The couple met at the University of New Hampshire, and both have worked on projects around the bridge, The Boston Globe reports. “This is not something we typically do, but through the description of the work they did at UNH and the work that (Julia) has done, DOT approved the request as long it could be tied to normal bridge maintenance operations,” said Eileen Meaney, communications officer for the New Hampshire Department of Transportation. “They were super cute, and we wish them the best.”
Trenton: A motorcyclist cited for turning his license plate upside down because he thought “it was cool” has lost another bid to rescind a traffic ticket he received. In a ruling issued Tuesday, a state appellate court determined that the ticket and the $139 penalty Scott DiRoma received in municipal court were both justified. The ruling upheld a decision issued by a Somerset County judge. DiRoma was driving his motorcycle in Warren Township in June 2018 when he was stopped by a police officer who noticed his license plate was mounted upside down. DiRoma told the officer he liked the way the plate looked and “wanted to be different,” authorities said. A municipal court judge eventually imposed a $106 fine and $33 in court costs after DiRoma was found guilty of violating a state law mandating that license plates be kept clear and distinct.
Santa Fe: A Democrat-backed bill to legalize recreational marijuana businesses in all towns and counties across the state passed its first test late Tuesday amid heighten interested from businesses and health care advocates. The Senate Public Affairs Committee voted 4-3 along party lines to move along the measure that would subsidize medical marijuana and automatically expunge many past pot convictions. The committee had to convene on the Senate floor to accommodate crowds around a proposal that would subsidize medical marijuana for low-income patients and expunge many past pot convictions. An initial draft of the bill from Democratic Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino of Albuquerque would also override local governments that don’t welcome the industry. The condition is an attempt to stamp out black markets. “This is the future,” Ben Lewinger, executive director of the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, told lawmakers. “New Mexico doesn’t have time to waste precious years.”
New York: The Bureau of Prisons is holding off on transferring the warden who was in charge of the New York City jail where Jeffrey Epstein killed himself. The agency said Tuesday that it would defer the transfer of Lamine N’Diaye to a leadership role at FCI Fort Dix, a low-security prison in Burlington County, New Jersey, until the internal investigation is completed into the circumstances surrounding Epstein’s death at the Metropolitan Correctional Center. Epstein was found unresponsive in his jail cell Aug. 10 and was later pronounced dead. The Associated Press reported last week that N’Diaye was to be transferred despite multiple active investigations into Epstein’s death. The agency’s backtracking came after Attorney General William Barr stepped in and told officials at the Bureau of Prisons to reverse course given the active investigations, a person familiar with the matter told the AP.
Apex: A man who survived an attempted lynching in 1952 was helped by hundreds of people to move to a new home Tuesday so a highway can be expanded. Lynn Council, 87, planned to move into a new house in Apex after living in his current home for more than 60 years, news outlets report. Council was accused decades ago of a robbery he didn’t commit. Two deputies hanged him from a tree to try to get him to confess. When he didn’t, the deputies took him down. Council later settled into a home just outside Apex. About 20 years ago, he took out a $20,000 federal home repair loan. One condition of the loan was that the full amount must be paid if he moved out or died. The state recently bought Council’s home so the Department of Transportation can expand the NC-540 highway. That meant he needed to pay back the $20,000 loan. Garrett Raczek learned about Council’s story and launched an online fundraiser that by early Thursday had exceeded $24,000.
Fargo: City leaders are considering a change to an ordinance that restricts selling firearms and ammunition from home. City Commissioner Tony Gehring says the state has no restrictions on it, and if there is no good reason for the law enacted in 2001, it should be fixed. Duane Spooner, owner of Duane’s Gun Repair, tells KVLY-TV he welcomes the potential change and doesn’t think it would have a negative impact on his business. “I think from the city standpoint, it’s a positive thing to look at,” Spooner said. “Why would you want to do something that stops commerce in your city?” Fargo commissioners have sent the law to the city planning staff and law enforcement so they can research and review it and provide a recommendation.
Toledo: Nearly halfway into a 10-year pledge to combat the toxic algae that turns Lake Erie a ghastly shade of green, the state has made little progress. Its patchwork of mostly voluntary efforts hasn’t slowed the farm fertilizers that feed algae blooms, leading to contaminated drinking water and dead fish. Ohio’s governor has authorized an ambitious plan that this year will begin offering farmers financial incentives to adopt new agriculture practices and will create a network of wetlands to capture and filter runoff from fields. The broad approach is being watched closely by states struggling with an increasing number of algae outbreaks. Some environmental groups are skeptical, but others that have been at odds with the farming industry are hopeful. While there are no guarantees the strategy will revive the shallowest of the Great Lakes, there are potential pitfalls, including a lawsuit calling for tougher regulations, that could upend the state’s goal of drastically reducing nutrient pollution entering the lake’s western end by 2025.
Tulsa: The state’s prison population has dropped below 25,000 for the first time in more than a decade, but the system is still overcrowded. The Oklahoma Department of Corrections’ weekly population count for Jan. 21 was 24,992, Tulsa World reports. The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ year-end data shows that the state’s prison population hadn’t been below 25,000 since 2009. Adam Luck, a member of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, credited positive changes to significant justice reform measures. But he said the state would benefit from engaging in a tough conversation about prison population goals. “It’s often overlooked, but there’s a deeper conversation we need to have – how over capacity we are even including all of the bunk beds we’ve added,” Luck said. The system is at 101% capacity, with state institutions at 109% and contracted private prisons at 93%, according to corrections department data.
Portland: Rockslides triggered by unrelenting rain have closed local roads and highways around the state, including a highway near Crater Lake National Park that was closed for hours Tuesday after two boulders the size of a small living room crashed down, narrowly missing a passing car. The giant boulders fell from a hillside that has endured pounding rain and repeated freezing and thawing of the rock because of harsh winter conditions, said Gary Leaming, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Transportation. The driver of the Toyota SUV came around a curve on the windy and rural highway near Prospect, Oregon, and swerved to miss the first boulder but crashed into the second. The boulders are about 15 feet by 15 feet, he said, and dwarfed the large SUV in size.
Punxsutawney: Every Feb. 2 for more than 130 years, Punxsutawney Phil and his handlers have trekked to Gobbler’s Knob, where the groundhog is tasked with predicting the remaining winter season. This year, however, animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wants the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club to break from tradition, calling for the replacement of Punxsutawney Phil with an animatronic groundhog. In a Tuesday letter to club President Bill Deeley, PETA President Ingrid Newkirk said it is “long overdue for Phil to be retired.” She cited the “great stress” groundhogs feel when in “close proximity to the public.” Newkirk proposed a replacement for the live groundhog: an animatronic animal with artificial intelligence “that could actually predict the weather.” She said using animatronics in lieu of live animals is now “more popular than ever.”
Providence: The new superintendent for the struggling Providence Public School District says he’ll work with a sense of urgency to unleash “hope and opportunity” for students. Harrison Peters was introduced this week as the superintendent charged with turning the district around. Peters, the outgoing chief of schools for Hillsborough County Public Schools in Florida, said that while he believes genius and talent is distributed equally across zip codes, he has found that opportunity is not. He said he will be a superintendent who moves with a sense of urgency, passion, purpose and respect. Rhode Island took control of Providence’s schools Nov. 1. It’s expected to take at least five years to turn around a district that has been beleaguered by low test scores, crumbling infrastructure and widespread dysfunction.
Columbia: Dozens of teachers returned to the Statehouse on Wednesday to remind lawmakers they have their own ideas about how to reform education, a debate that continues to drag on in the Legislature. The teacher-led organization SC for Ed, which organized a rally of more than 10,000 people in support of teachers last year, prompting several school districts to close, has said its only planned actions so far this year are to talk to lawmakers and attend meetings. But the grassroots group’s social media hashtag #ScforEdDressRehearsal was a reminder of its March 17 deadline for lawmakers to set their goals. If they don’t meet the deadline, the group said, it will consider another walkout. The teachers who showed up Wednesday wore red, the color the organization adopted as its symbol for action.
Oglala: Oglala Sioux Tribe members will vote in March on whether marijuana should be legalized on the Pine Ridge Reservation and whether alcohol should be served in its casinos. Voters will answer three separate questions March 10: Should medical marijuana be available on the reservation? What about recreational marijuana? Also, should alcohol be sold at Prairie Wind Casino near Oglala and East Wind Casino near Martin? The referendums requite a majority of votes to pass, and the decisions would be binding, meaning the tribal council must implement them, according to Elections Commission executive Sandra Old Horse. The Rapid City Journal reports eligible voters are enrolled members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe who are at least 18 years old and have lived on the reservation for at least one year.
Nashville: Two East Tennessee legislators are attempting to place a long-awaited statue of David Crockett outside the state Capitol in place of a controversial former lawmaker and newspaper publisher who was a prohibitionist leader and espoused racist views. Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, and Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown, are introducing a bill to move the statue of Edward Carmack, currently on display along Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard above the Motlow Tunnel entrance to the Capitol, and replace it with one of Crockett. The Carmack statue would be moved to a new spot on the grounds, the bill says. Crockett, a pioneer and Tennessee politician who became a folk legend, has had a bust on display since 2016 on the second floor of the Capitol, outside the House of Representatives’ chamber.
Dallas: More than 20 police officers have been suspended without pay after an internal investigation found they failed to account for money won in gambling stings, document their use of police funds and properly place seized property into evidence, among other policy violations, officials announced Wednesday. None of the detectives and supervisors, who previously served on the city’s vice squad, will face criminal charges because prosecutors determined the nearly three-year investigation found “insufficient evidence” that the law was broken, the police department said. The group acknowledged some policy violations, but poor documentation prevented investigators from determining what happened to some of the funds and seized gambling machines, according to the department. Some officers were accused of giving internal affairs detectives false or misleading statements.
Salt Lake City: The state’s new medical marijuana program will launch on time in the coming weeks, though health officials said Wednesday that it will start small. One or two dispensaries are expected to open the first week of March, when people can begin getting patient cards that will allow them to legally buy the drug in the state. To get the cards, they will need a recommendation from a doctor, which may be a challenge because the number of medical providers interested in recommending the drug has been “very limited,” said Marc Babitz, deputy director with the Utah Department of Health. Some medical providers may be hesitant because it remains illegal on a federal level, he said. But Utah is the 33rd state to legalize medical cannabis, and no doctors have been prosecuted. “I think this is actually much safer than a lot of the medications that we use,” he told a panel of lawmakers.
Quechee: A bird rehabilitation center treated a record number of wild birds last year, staff with the institute say. The Vermont Institute of Natural Science says staffers treated a record total of 705 wild birds in 2019 at the institute’s Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation, and 77 of those were barred owls. In 2018, the institute treated 45 barred owls, out of 652 birds total, Valley News reports. The weather and an increase in public awareness contributed to the higher numbers, said Grae O’Toole, the lead wildlife keeper at the institute. “We weren’t expecting the influx that we received (last) winter,” she said. “They’re just not able to punch through the ice to get to prey on their own.” In addition to the barred owls, staff also treated a pine grosbeak and a Bohemian waxwing, songbird species that are typically found farther north in Vermont.
Richmond: The state’s attorney general, who has vowed to go to court if needed to see the Equal Rights Amendment adopted, plans to announce “landmark civil rights litigation” dealing with the proposed constitutional amendment, his office announced Wednesday. Attorney General Mark Herring is partnering on the lawsuit with fellow Democratic attorneys general Kwame Raoul of Illinois and Aaron Ford of Nevada, Herring’s office said in a news release. A news conference to discuss it is planned for Thursday. The announcement came two days after Virginia became the critical 38th state to ratify the measure, which would prohibit discrimination based on sex. Nevada and Illinois were the next-most recent states to ratify the ERA – Nevada in 2017 and Illinois in 2018. The ERA’s future is uncertain, in part because of a 1982 deadline for ratification that Congress enacted decades ago.
Seattle: Another endangered orca is missing and presumed dead in the Pacific Northwest, a large male who had fathered many of the population’s calves in the past three decades. The whale, born in 1977 and known as L41 or by the nickname Mega, was not with his family when researchers encountered them last Friday, the Center for Whale Research said. He was last seen last summer, and he appeared thin then. Shari Tarantino, president of the Orca Conservancy, said L41’s death would leave just 72 animals in the “southern resident” population of orcas that frequents the waters between Washington and Canada. That’s the fewest since the mid-1970s, after more than 50 were captured for aquarium display or killed in the process. The whales have struggled with pollution, vessel noise and most significantly a dearth of their preferred prey, Chinook salmon. Researchers say they are on the brink of extinction.
Charleston: A federal agency has proposed designating habitat areas for two protected crayfish species in coalfield regions. The proposal announced in a statement this week by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would protect 362 stream miles for the Big Sandy crayfish and 83 miles for the Guyandotte River crayfish. The Guyandotte crayfish is listed as an endangered species and the Big Sandy crayfish as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the Guyandotte River crayfish has lost more than 90% of its range and is now only found in two streams in Wyoming County, West Virginia. The Big Sandy crayfish, whose range has been reduced by more than 60%, is found in the upper Big Sandy watershed in southern West Virginia, southwestern Virginia and eastern Kentucky. The environmental group alleged in a 2018 lawsuit that the species were being harmed by sediment from coal mining operations that disturbed their stream habitat.
Spring Green: The School of Architecture at Taliesin, which architect Frank Lloyd Wright opened in 1932, will close in June, the school announced Tuesday. Approximately 30 students are currently enrolled at the school, splitting their time between Taliesin West, Wright’s winter home in north Scottsdale, Arizona, and Taliesin in Wisconsin. The school’s governing board made the decision to close Saturday, after the school was unable to reach an agreement with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation to keep the school open, according to the announcement. The foundation issued a statement saying the school’s governing board “had communicated unequivocally to the Foundation that the School did not have a sustainable business model that would allow it to maintain its operation as an accredited program.”
Jackson: An annual sled dog race through Wyoming and Idaho begins Friday. The first day of the 25th annual Pedigree Stage Stop Sled Dog Race is for show. Teams will run through downtown Jackson and finish at a park on the south side of town. From there, racers go to Alpine, Pinedale, Kemmerer, Big Piney/Marbleton, Lander and Driggs, Idaho, before finishing near Lower Slide Lake northeast of Jackson on Feb. 8. The racers will compete for $165,000 in prize money. This year’s race will discontinue eight-dog teams and feature only traditional 10-dog teams, the Jackson Hole News & Guide reports. Canadian musher Anny Malo won the 10-dog race in 2019. She completed her first appearance in the event in a cumulative time of 14 hours, 34 minutes and 2 seconds.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
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