Auburn: Auburn University is launching a partnership with Auburn City Schools to offer dual-enrollment classes to high school students. The partnership will allow Auburn High School students to begin taking Auburn University classes to help prepare them for college, The Opelika-Auburn News reports. The program allows students to earn high school and college credits at the same time, officials said. Auburn University calls the dual-enrollment program Auburn First. Auburn High School has been participating in dual enrollment with Southern Union since 2015 and the University of Alabama since 2018.
Juneau: A recently released mapping project seeks to show the importance of the Tongass National Forest in terms of carbon, the Juneau Empire reports. The Oregon-based Geos Institute published an analysis of the Tongass this month that highlights the importance of the national forest as a “carbon sink,” which the report says has global climate implications. “The Tongass is part of a global network of temperate rainforests that make up ~2.5% of the world’s total forest coverage,” the report says. “But these rainforests have exceptional carbon stores for their relatively small spatial extent and are critically important in climate regulation collectively and individually.” Trees absorb carbon from the atmosphere and convert it to oxygen as part of their natural life cycle, says Dominic DellaSala, chief scientist at the Geos Institute. Excess carbon is stored in the roots and soils of old-growth forests. “Just like Amazonia is the lungs of the planet,” DellaSala says, “the Tongass is the lungs of North America.”
Fort Huachuca: Conservation activists are pressing for the federal government to reexamine the effects of groundwater pumping at Fort Huachuca in southern Arizona. The pressure comes amid a leaked report that details how the area’s wells are taking a growing toll on the flow of the San Pedro River. The confidential 2010 study commissioned by the Army base was released by Robin Silver, a co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity, who says the findings show the base’s groundwater pumping has been harming the river for years and will do more damage unless water use is scaled back. Silver says the study’s projections of worsening effects on the river’s flow in the coming decades weren’t adequately considered when U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials issued an opinion in 2014 approving the base’s groundwater pumping for another decade.
Mountain Home: Visitors to Clysta Willett Park will soon be able to enjoy some improved amenities courtesy of the city and the state Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism. The city received a $96,500 grant from the state this month to make improvements to the Ritter Communications Field and the NEXT Powered by NAEC Field at the park. Plans call for Mountain Home to replace the two fields’ old wooden seats with modern aluminum bleachers that include sun screens. Concrete aprons will also be installed behind home plate, leveling that area for the bleachers. The fields’ chain-link backstop will also be replaced with modern netting, providing visitors with an easier view of the field. The grant also includes adding additional playground equipment to the park’s play area.
Oakland: Authorities have confirmed a fire chased eight people out of an evacuated and condemned building, injuring one person before fire crews could extinguish the blaze. Assistant Fire Marshal Emmanuel Watson compared the event to the 2016 fire that trapped and killed 36 people in the Ghost Ship warehouse illegally repurposed as living quarters for artists, San Francisco Chronicle reports. It took four engines, two trucks and a total of 27 responders to extinguish the Friday fire, authorities said. One woman suffered minor burns and was hospitalized. No firefighters were injured. At least six of the eight people who escaped Friday’s fire were living in the warehouse illegally, sneaking in after the building was reg-flagged twice this year, most recently in November, fire authorities said. The building needed sprinklers, extinguishers and alarm systems, they said.
Estes Park: Something new will be on tap at the Stanley Hotel in 2020. The Post Brewing Co. – a Colorado brewery and comfort food restaurant chain – will open a new location in the historic hotel’s carriage house, according to an announcement from Big Red F Restaurant Group, which runs The Post’s locations. The carriage house, one of the hotel’s original buildings, is currently undergoing a renovation as part of the project. It was built in 1905 to house entrepreneur F.O. Stanley’s famous Stanley Steamer vehicles. It is the last of the property’s original buildings to be fully renovated, according to a news release. The brewery and restaurant is set to open in the 4,400-square-foot space this summer.
Hartford: Public and private institutions across the state can begin applying to become sponsors of a federally funded program that provides nutritious meals and snacks to needy children and adults. Participating entities will be reimbursed for each meal they serve. More than 375 local child care centers and adult care centers across Connecticut currently participate in the federal Child and Adult Care Food Program, providing meals to more than 24,000 people daily. Approximately 800 day care home provider locations also participate, providing meals to more than 3,900 children daily. The initiative is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. More information about CACFP and the application process can be found on the Connecticut State Department of Education website.
Wilmington: The downtown public library will crack down on the kinds of bags allowed inside, a policy the city’s homeless say could keep them out of one of the few warm, free places to go in the winter. Beginning Jan. 1, bedrolls, blankets, garbage bags, wheeled carts and luggage will be prohibited from the library, according to signs posted on the doors. Patrons also will be limited to bringing two bags and cannot store anything at the library, according to the policy posted on the library doors. Administrators at the library, which is run by New Castle County, did not respond to multiple requests for comment in the business days before Christmas. The policy has frustrated those who have no place to store their belongings and heightened anxieties among the homeless population who feel they’re being pushed away from view in Wilmington’s business district.
District of Columbia
Washington: A small, brown, endangered bat would become the “official state mammal” of America’s capital city under a proposed ordinance that will get a public hearing in January. The idea was proposed earlier this year by several Girl Scout troops after they studied the little brown bats, according to a D.C. Council statement. The creatures, known to scientists as myotis lucifugus, typically grow to about 3.5 inches tall with a wingspan of up to 11 inches. They are found in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, according to the Chesapeake Bay Program. Though small, the bats can fly up to 22 mph and eat up to 1,200 bugs per night, according to the legislation. The little brown bat population has been hurt by a fungal disease called white-nose syndrome, which kills bats by increasing the amount of energy used during hibernation, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
New Smyrna Beach: A big red navigation buoy that bounced along Atlantic waves for two years has beached in Florida, where it’s drawing attention. Crowds of spectators streamed to New Smyrna Beach over the weekend for a close-up view and some pictures with the navigational marker that some described as “the size of a truck,” news outlets report. The beacon came from South Carolina and has been displaced since 2017, said Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan Dickinson, spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Jacksonville. “This one was from Sector Charleston,” Dickinson says. “We’re going to try to get it back up there.” Charleston is more than 300 miles north of New Smyrna Beach. The Coast Guard plans to bring in a crane sometime this week to remove the buoy. Officials say the move will depend on several factors, including the weather.
Savannah: Coastal Georgia’s largest city is delaying a plan to swap its current police headquarters for a new building farther from downtown. The plan calls for the city to trade the current building for a new one that Savannah College of Art and Design would build at no cost to the city. The Savannah Morning News reports City Manager Pat Monahan is seeking the delay because part of the proposed new site may be needed for widening of a canal. Part of the 5-acre site could be needed to build a foundation to replace the current Talmadge Memorial Bridge. The Georgia Ports Authority has said the bridge isn’t tall enough to accommodate larger new container ships. There are also concerns about maintaining the historic nature of the current red-brick headquarters and maintaining a police presence downtown.
Honolulu: Protesters at the Mauna Kea Access Road removed barricades for the first time since July as the demonstrators against a giant telescope project shift their focus away from the construction site. The access road was fully reopened Saturday to all traffic except construction equipment for the Thirty Meter Telescope project, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports. Telescope opponents are planning a demonstration at the Capitol in Honolulu when the legislative session begins Jan. 15, they said. “The movement and clearing this road is only the beginning of where we’ve got to go on this issue here, and hopefully this is the start of that,” Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim said. An international consortium wants to build the telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii’s tallest peak. But some Native Hawaiians believe the project will desecrate sacred land, and demonstrators blocked construction.
Rexburg: Police say they’ve made no progress despite receiving hundreds of tips about two missing children whose parents aren’t cooperating with authorities. The Rexburg Police Department has eight officers who are following leads that have come in from across the country in their search to find Joshua Vallow, 7, and Tylee Ryan, 17, according to the East Idaho News. The children haven’t been seen since September. Rexburg police say the parents, Chad and Lori Daybell, are named as persons of interest because they never reported the kids missing, have repeatedly lied about where their children are – initially saying the boy with special needs was in Arizona – and aren’t cooperating with the investigation. The couple issued a statement through an attorney last week, saying they love their son and daughter and look forward to addressing “allegations once they have moved beyond speculation and rumor.” The couple married in recent months after both of their spouses died under unusual circumstances earlier this year.
Chicago: Officials say $11.5 million in city vehicle sticker debt has been forgiven in three months from a program started by Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Nearly 11,500 motorists applied for the program that began in October and followed an amnesty program for late penalties on sticker purchases. Lightfoot has touted the debt relief as one of several initiatives in her first year as mayor aimed at easing the burden on Chicago families. City residents have to buy a sticker for each car they own. Prices vary depending on vehicle type. It’s nearly $140 for a large passenger vehicle. Violators get ticketed with steep fines. Critics have said that the program has fallen short, as only a small fraction of the roughly 500,000 motorists with city sticker debt applied. Unpaid city sticker debt – which at one time could reach nearly $500 each with late fees – is the biggest source of ticket debt in the city, according to a WBEZ and ProPublica investigation.
Bloomington: Indiana University has started a yearlong test of using license plate reading cameras for parking regulation enforcement on its campus in the city. The project that began in November involves a camera mounted on a vehicle and comes as campus officials plan a switch from hang-tag parking passes to a system involving license plates registered by the parking permit holder. “It’s not really a pilot to evaluate if we want it,” campus parking operations manager Amanda Turnipseed says. “It’s to figure out how to do it the most efficient way and with the least amount of hardship on our end users.” Parking officials will consider issues such as how to track whether more than one vehicle registered to a permit are on campus at the same time and how to account for multiple people sharing a permit.
Rockwell City: The city is the next victim in a growing list of small rural towns that have lost or are about to lose their only grocery store. The town of about 2,000 learned last week that Heartland Market, formerly known as South Side Grocery, will soon close, following the small chain’s closures in Manson, Rolfe, Rockwell and, soon, Manning. The closing will leave most of Calhoun County without a grocery store. A Facebook post last week notified shoppers that the store would close in the next “few weeks,” offering them 30% off groceries as it started the liquidation process. Owner Nick Graham would not specify a last day for the store. Mayor Phil Heinlen said the city received notice from an employee Tuesday, as soon as at least one employee apparently said they were told, setting the city in motion to contact chain stores to explore an alternative for the town.
Neodesha: This small southeast Kansas town hopes a new program offering free college tuition to graduates of the local high school will help attract new residents. A wealthy former resident of the town about 150 miles southwest of Kansas City, Kansas, announced the scholarship offer last month. Ben Cutler says he doesn’t think he would have been nearly as successful in life without his Neodesha upbringing in the 1950s and ’60s. He decided to create the college tuition program as a way to give back to his hometown. Cutler declined to say how much he donated, but he estimates it should be enough to cover at least 25 years of college costs for the town’s graduates. Cutler is a retired former CEO of USHealth Group, which provides health insurance to small businesses and the self-employed.
Louisville: A partnership between Louisville Gas and Electric and Kentucky Habitat for Humanity aims to lower families’ utility bills by giving them shares in a solar project. The utility’s solar share program allows ratepayers to purchase a share of a large solar field and get a credit on their utility bills for the solar energy the share generates, WKYU-FM reports. Solar share participants can also give their energy credits to another person or to a nonprofit. “And I hope they’ll consider this as an option as they look to make some kind of impactful contribution to Habitat and other nonprofits across our service territory during the holiday season and really all year round,” says LG&E Vice President of Customer Services Beth McFarland.
Baton Rouge: The state will be stocking 1- to 2-pound rainbow trout in 13 ponds statewide during January for kids and grown-ups to catch. It’s part of the Get Out and Fish! program put on by the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Foundation. The department put thousands of channel catfish into the ponds in the fall. Rainbow trout can be stocked only in cold and cool weather, according to a news release. There are four stocked sites in cities along I-20, from Turner’s Pond in Minden, through Grambling and Ruston to Kiroli Park in West Monroe. There’s one at William T. Polk Park in Vidalia and four in southwest to south-central Louisiana, from Purple Heart Memorial Park in Ragley through Jennings and Lafayette to Southside Regional Park in Youngsville. And four are in the southeast, from BREC’s Burbank Park in Baton Rouge through Walker and Hammond to Joe Brown Park in New Orleans.
Orono: The state wants to find a way to keep more of the plastic used by agriculture greenhouses out of landfills with a new recycling program. The state is targeting low-density polyethylene, a clear film used to cover agricultural structures such as greenhouses and high tunnels. The state disposes of more than 30 tons of the plastic, and most of it goes to landfills, according to the University of Maine. University of Maine Cooperative Extensive is set to receive more than $38,000 from a Maine Department of Environmental Protection Waste Diversion Grant to develop a statewide pilot program to recycle the plastic, the university said. The goal is to collect at least a third of the state’s annual waste greenhouse plastic and work with an end-user with the ability to convert it for use in new materials. The university expects the volume of the plastic waste will increase, in part because of the growth of the hemp and cannabis markets.
Middletown: The average number of bushels of corn per acre is between 180 and 250. This year, Drew Haines of Middletown yielded over 422 bushels per acre, beating Maryland’s state corn yield record and winning first place in the National Corn Yield Contest in the no-till, non-irrigated corn category, the Frederick News-Post reports. “It’s turned into an addiction,” he says. No-till means no tilling was done other than the corn-planter itself going into the ground. Non-irrigated means there was no mechanical watering. “We rely on whatever Mother Nature gives us as far as water,” Haines says. The National Corn Yield Contest is a program of the National Corn Growers Association. Any NCGA member is eligible to apply for the contest, which has both national and state-level winners.
Gloucester: Hundreds of people plunged into the chilly ocean Saturday to honor Peter Frates, the former college baseball player whose battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease helped spread the ALS ice bucket challenge. About 1,000 people showed up for the final “Plunge for Pete” at Good Harbor Beach, and more than half of those braved the frigid waters on what would have been Frates’ 35th birthday. The event, in its eighth year, raised money for the Pete Frates #3 Fund, which helped pay for Frates’ medical bills. “He is laughing so hard right now at me getting into the ocean,” said Frates’ wife, Julie, who participated in the plunge for the first time wearing the bikini she had on when she first met her husband. “This is the best birthday party he could ask for, and wherever he is, he is very grateful.”
Ann Arbor: A company that makes self-driving food delivery vehicles will begin testing them out in Ann Arbor this week with patrons from four restaurants. Ann Arbor-based Refraction AI makes the REV, an autonomous robot that’s 5 feet tall, with wheels and a fuselage that can hold delivery bags. The company will begin using its REVs on Friday to make meal deliveries from four restaurants to a test group of 300 customers in downtown Ann Arbor. Refraction AI hopes that its electric, 100-pound REV can make food deliveries for half the cost of existing delivery services like Grubhub, EatStreet and DoorDash, the Detroit News reports. If successful, the robots could open the door to metropolitan areas being serviced by self-driving vehicles that hustle meals, groceries and documents to customers.
Bloomington: Police were called to remove a group of 50 rowdy juveniles from the Mall of America over the weekend. Mall security had asked the young people to leave because they were disturbing other people, but the group refused, Bloomington Deputy Police Chief Mike Hartley said. Police arrived Friday night and escorted the group out. A couple of juveniles were cited for disorderly conduct, the Star Tribune reports. “It was a large group that was asked to leave. Once they weren’t going to leave … (Bloomington police) just assisted mall security in moving them out,” Hartley said.
Oxford: A bar will be opening inside a hotel on campus at the University of Mississippi. The university received state approval for resort status for the Inn at Ole Miss, and that allows the sale of alcohol. The Oxford Eagle reports the current McCormick Cafe inside the hotel is being renovated. The 2,000-square-foot indoor and outdoor space will feature a bar handcrafted by Ben Napier, an Ole Miss alumnus. He and his wife, Erin, co-star of the HGTV show “Home Town,” live in Laurel, Mississippi, and frequently visit Oxford. The school’s football arena, Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, began selling alcohol for the first time Oct. 19 during the Ole Miss-Texas A&M game, and beer sales have continued at the Pavilion during basketball games.
Jefferson City: A family that saw its application to grow medical marijuana rejected by the state is now suing, demanding a license to participate in Missouri’s fledgling medical cannabis industry. The lawsuit filed Friday by Paul Callicoat and his family, of Sarcoxie, came a day after the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services granted 60 licenses from the more than 500 companies that applied. The Callicoats, who had planned to open a cultivation facility called Sarcoxie Nursery, were not among those who won a license. The family’s lawsuit argues the state’s 60-license limit violates the state constitution’s “right to farm” amendment passed by voters in 2014. The lawsuit also challenges the state’s selection process that gave more points to businesses in high-unemployment ZIP codes, saying that “geographic bonus” was announced after the family had already paid a non-refundable $10,000 application fee.
Kalispell: A Montana outfitter has announced plans to purchase multiple electric bikes for rental use on a scenic mountain road in Glacier National Park. Glacier Guide and Montana Raft Company is already taking reservations for bike rentals and guided tours on Going-to-the-Sun Road in spring 2020, The Flathead Beacon reports. The decision comes months after the U.S. Secretary of the Interior ruled to allow powered bikes to be used in national parks, officials said. It is unclear what brand of e-bikes will be purchased, but the company is expected to buy at least 10 to start, company officials said. They have plans to make test trips with the bikes in April to see how they can withstand the elevating road, officials said. All bicyclists must obey speed limits and any other state traffic laws, authorities said.
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Wayne: Students may receive two bachelor’s degrees from two colleges after four years in a new biology and agriculture program. Wayne State College and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln announced the program earlier this month. Students can earn a life sciences degree with a concentration in biology from Wayne and an applied science degree with concentrations in agriculture and natural resources from the Lincoln university. Tammy Evetovich, dean of the Wayne State School of Natural and Social Sciences, praised the flexible program, saying that “people can take it and do what they want with it.” The Norfolk Daily News reports students will spend three years at Wayne State’s School of Natural and Social Sciences and then finish with a year at UNL’s College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources. Graduates will be prepared for jobs related to farming, ranching, parks and recreation and land management.
Reno: A nonprofit organization promoting vaccinations has canceled two events this month in Reno and Las Vegas after it said anti-vaccination activists harassed restaurant vendors hired to host the events. Immunize Nevada executive director Heidi Parker says several people posted bad reviews for each vendor for supporting the organization’s events on Facebook and Yelp. The comments were bringing down the overall review rating. Immunize Nevada reported the hecklers to Facebook and Yelp, which took down the comments. With sponsorships from groups such as the Community Health Alliance, Immunize Nevada booked the venues and made food arrangements several months in advance. The organization said it lost a few thousand dollars after canceling both events.
Concord: A bill up for consideration before the Legislature in 2020 would require school districts to offer lessons on climate change. The House bill would require at least 10 hours of climate education or a full semester of environmental education in high school and anywhere from two hours to eight hours for younger students. It would take effect July 1, 2021. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Chris Balch, a Democrat from Hillsborough, said some teachers incorporate climate change into their science curriculum, but it’s the state’s responsibility to prioritize it. “We need to have a common base of knowledge of what climate change is, how it works, how it happens, what we can do about it,” he told New Hampshire Public Radio. Nationally, many teachers report they shy away from the topic, not only because of issues with materials but also because of political sensitivities and uncertainty about where to introduce an issue that crosses so many disciplines.
East Rutherford: Organizers are billing it as the largest gathering MetLife Stadium has ever hosted. But the throng of more than 92,000 men and women expected to pack the venue Wednesday aren’t gathering for a playoff game or New Year’s gala. They will celebrate having read the entire Babylonian Talmud from cover to cover in an event called Siyum HaShas. Learning the ancient, voluminous work of Jewish law and folklore is no simple feat: It takes participants seven and a half years to complete all 2,711 pages. Such a venture warrants a momentous celebration – in Hebrew, a siyum. The MetLife gathering will be the largest venue – organizers have erected seating and a large dais on the field – and an overflow crowd of 20,000 is expected at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Through satellite hookups, the event will be beamed to over 100 sites across the globe.
Albuquerque: Creators of the popular video “Baby Shark,” whose “doo doo doo” song was played at the World Series in October and has been a viral hit with toddlers around the world, have released a Navajo version of the tune. Pinkfong, a brand of the South Korea company SmartStudy, announced it unveiled the new version Sunday after holding singing auditions on the Navajo Nation. “Łóó’ Hashkéii Awéé,” which loosely means “Navajo Baby Shark,” is the 20th language version of “Baby Shark,” SmartStudy marketing manager Kevin Yoon said in an email. The project was launched after Navajo Nation Museum director Manuelito Wheeler reached out to SmartStudy in September about translating “Baby Shark” into Navajo. The museum previously had lobbied for Navajo versions of the movies “Star Wars” and “Finding Nemo” that were eventually made.
New York: This year’s New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square will spotlight efforts to combat climate change when high school science teachers and students press the button that begins the famous 60-second ball drop and countdown to next year. “On New Year’s Eve, we look back and reflect on the dominant themes of the past year, and seek hope and inspiration as we look forward,” Times Square Alliance President Tim Tompkins said in a statement. The honorees, he said, “are working to solve this global problem through science.” Jared Fox, who teaches at the Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School, and seniors Ricardo Herrera and Diane Arevalo are working on a clean-air and greening project in the school’s Upper Manhattan neighborhood. Aida Rosenbaum, a Bronx Latin School teacher, and seniors Daniel Soto and Van Troy Ulloa led a fundraising walk to raise money for places without clean water.
Raleigh: The deadline to comment on how the state Wildlife Commission should manage more than 1,700 acres of new public game land is coming up this week. The commission has sought the public’s view of how to manage the 1,760-acre Dan River Game Land since September. The deadline to respond is Wednesday, says Jodie Owen, a commission spokeswoman. The opinions will help guide the management and activities on the game land, located 4 miles southwest of Eden on the Dan River, for the next 10 years. The state became the full owner of the property in the spring of 2018 after purchasing acreage from the Piedmont Land Conservancy, according to the News & Record of Greensboro. The commission’s plans include a canoe and kayak launch to provide a take-out for paddlers coming from other access points upstream and downstream.
Mandan: A local man is accused of threatening to “shoot up” a state government agency. Christopher Chase, 46, faces a felony terrorizing charge. According to a police affidavit, Chase allegedly threatened Workforce Safety and Insurance in social media posts, saying, “I want them all to suffer the way I have,” and “Gonna take out as many as I can before they kill me so they know what it feels like.” Police responded to a request for a welfare check after a caller saw the posts. Chase made his initial court appearance Thursday. His bail was set at $1,000 cash with a stipulation that he not have contact with the state agency, The Bismarck Tribune reports. He was not listed on the Burleigh Morton Detention Center roster Friday.
Columbus: The U.S. Census Bureau is seeking thousands of temporary workers to help conduct its 2020 count in the state. Workers are needed to interview residents and update address lists, The Columbus Dispatch reports. The Census Bureau also is seeking field supervisors, recruiting assistants, clerks and office supervisors for its eight field offices. The positions will pay between $14 and $23.50 an hour. Census Day is April 1. It is unclear how many people will be hired in the state. The Census Bureau hired 24,000 temporary workers for the 2010 count. The bureau is seeking about 88,000 applicants in Ohio and has received about 36,000 thus far. Job offers will be made between January and April, with some positions lasting through September. Information about Census Bureau jobs and qualifications is available online.
Oklahoma City: The Department of Commerce is seeking additional money for an economic development fund dedicated to attracting businesses and jobs to the state. The department is requesting legislators appropriate $14 million next year to the Quick Action Closing Fund – a pot of money the governor can use to cover infrastructure and development costs for businesses relocating to the state. The request comes after the Legislature appropriated more money for the fund this year than ever before. At Gov. Kevin Stitt’s behest, legislators appropriated $14 million to the fund this year on top of a $5 million supplemental appropriation approved in March. “Cumulatively, that was more than we had put in there since the foundation of the program,” says Brent Kisling, the department’s executive director. “We’re just asking that we maintain that baseline of $14 million for another year so we can see that growth.”
Salem: A plan that would require purchasing a permit before entering three of the state’s most popular wilderness areas has received a largely negative response. More than 13,700 comments were submitted on a proposal to charge $4 to $11 per day to enter the Three Sisters, Mount Jefferson and Mount Washington wilderness areas beginning in 2020. The comments, which came from across the country, echo the idea that while action is needed to combat overcrowding and garbage on wilderness trails, the proposal is too costly and restrictive. “There is something amiss when an American citizen has to pay a fee to hike on their lands, which are really our birthright, not a commodity to be ‘sold,’ ” said George Nickus, executive director of Wilderness Watch.
Philadelphia: The city has appointed a new police chief to lead a troubled department that has been plagued by sexual harassment lawsuits and racial discrimination – issues she will be suited to tackle with “conviction,” Mayor Jim Kenney said Monday. Democratic Mayor Jim Kenney announced his choice of Portland, Oregon, Chief Danielle Outlaw to fill the job, which has been open since August, when the last commissioner abruptly resigned amid a scandal. Outlaw spent nearly two decades with the police department in Oakland, California, before being named Portland’s chief more than two years ago, becoming the first black woman to hold that job, as she is in the new Philadelphia position. Kenney said Outlaw will focus on addressing racism and gender discrimination and “horrid instances of sexual assault on fellow officers.”
Providence: Firefighters are doing their part to keep city streets drunken-driver free by offering free rides home on New Year’s Eve. This is the sixth year that the city’s firefighters’ union has offered the Safe Night program, in which off-duty firefighters provides rides from bars and restaurants to private residences within city limits. The program will run from 8 p.m. Tuesday until 7 a.m. Wednesday. The union is urging patience to people requesting a ride because only a limited number of off-duty firefighters will be available. “It’s an opportunity to give back to our community by offering a free and safe ride,” IAFF Local 799 President Derek Silva says.
St. Phillips Island: Guests will soon be able to rent a beach house that once belonged to billionaire Ted Turner’s family on a private island, state officials say. South Carolina State Parks is finishing rehabilitation work on the property and expects to open the site for rental starting in spring 2020, Duane Parrish, director of the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, told The Post and Courier. The four-bedroom, four-bathroom house sits on what was once the family compound on the 4,680-acre St. Phillips Island across the sound from Hilton Head Island. But there’s more work to do. The newspaper says there’s no bridge, electricity or water line to it, and restrooms are portable. Travel on the island is limited to sand trails through the forest, and the house is set almost 4 miles from the boat landing. Parks staff plan to run a tram though the island, among other upgrades.
Sioux Falls: The rain and snow that hit the city over the year’s final weekend was enough to make 2019 the wettest year in Sioux Falls history. So far this year, 39.27 inches of precipitation had fallen on Sioux Falls as of Sunday morning. That amount broke the previous record of 39.17 inches, set last year. The past two years have been the wettest in the history of the city. Annual precipitation totals date back to 1891. Over the course of that history, Sioux Falls has averaged 25.7 inches of precipitation a year. Steady rainfall throughout Saturday and a mix of rain, sleet and snow overnight clinched the record early Sunday morning in Sioux Falls, according to the National Weather Service. The precipitation broke daily rainfall records for Sioux Falls on Saturday and Sunday as well.
Nashville: State parks are offering free, guided hikes on New Year’s Day. Free hikes will be available at all 56 state parks Jan. 1 with the exception of Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park, which hosts a New Year’s Eve event in Nashville, state park officials said in a news release. Hikes are led by a park ranger and vary in degrees of difficulty. The free hikes are part of America’s State Parks First Day Hikes in all 50 states, officials said. State parks also offer free hikes on National Trails Day, National Public Lands Day, after Thanksgiving Day and to mark the coming of spring. More information can be found at the Tennessee State Parks website.
Austin: Texas business leaders say they’re all for college students pursuing their passions, even if it means majoring in contemporary dance, sculpture or something similarly esoteric. They’d just like to convey a few financial details first – like the probability of earning a bigger paycheck as a computer programmer or even a plumber. “A lot of people have no clue” how many jobs are available in various occupations and what they pay, said Tony Bennett, president of the Texas Association of Manufacturers. Beginning in the new year, wage and workforce statistics will have a higher profile during the application process for Texas colleges and universities under a measure backed by Bennett’s organization and other business groups around the state and approved by lawmakers during this year’s session of the Legislature. The law requires a “prominent link” to the data on the standardized electronic college application called ApplyTexas.
Salt Lake City: The state is known for its high birth rate, but an ongoing lag has researchers wondering if it’s in a new era of lower fertility. The state’s demographers expected people to start having more children as they recovered from the Great Recession, but even with more people working and making more money, the state’s fertility rate has continued to drop, the Deseret News reports. Utah’s fertility rate fell to 2.03 births per woman last year – the lowest rate in more than 50 years, new census data shows. The state, which had the highest rate in the United States as recently as 2015, now sits behind North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska. The national fertility rate has fallen to a historic low of 1.73 births per woman.
Montpelier: Thirty-four people took advantage of the state’s aid-in-dying law in the most recent two-year period studied, according to a report released by the Vermont Department of Health. The report, which was submitted to the Legislature last week, covered the two years ending June 30. It found that of the 34 cases, 24 were from people with cancer; four had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease; three had other degenerative neurological diseases; and three were due to other events. Of the 34 people, 28 hastened their deaths using a drug prescription; five died of the underlying disease without taking a prescribed aid-in-dying drug; and the mechanism of death in one case was unknown, the report said. Since Vermont’s law, known formally as the Patient Choice and Control at End of Life Act, passed in 2013, the law has been used 87 times.
Richmond: As much of central Appalachia looks to reinvent itself amid the decline of coal, community leaders in mountainous southwest Virginia say they are seeing some early success by focusing on another natural resource: the Clinch River. The Clinch is the centerpiece of what will be one of Virginia’s newest state parks, thanks to a yearslong grassroots effort. Advocates say the park will help protect the river, a biodiversity hot spot, and support a growing regional outdoor recreation and tourism industry. The generally gentle river – ideal for mellow floats during the summer, or canoeing, kayaking and fishing – has the highest concentration of rare aquatic species of any river in the United States, says Brad Kreps, an employee of The Nature Conservancy who has been involved for years in the push to create the park. State lawmakers have allocated about $5 million so far to the Clinch River State Park.
Seattle: The state’s age for legally purchasing tobacco was set to increase from 18 to 21 beginning Jan. 1, but a change in federal law has already effectively raised the age. The state Liquor and Cannabis Board said that prior to Jan. 1, state officers encountering retailers selling to people under 21 were to provide education instead of pursuing enforcement, The Seattle Times reports. Congress inserted the provision raising the purchase age into an emergency spending bill signed by the president Dec. 20. New federal legislation does not normally take effect immediately, but the change was made to existing law, a Food and Drug Administration spokesman said. Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee requested that more regulations on vaping products be adopted in the next legislative session, which begins Jan. 13.
Charles Town: A historic home that played an important role in the area’s African American history is changing hands as a way of continuing to preserve it. The Webb-Blessing House was the only residence owned by a free African American family living in Charles Town before the Civil War, The Journal reports. Since 2003, it had been owned by the Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society. When group members decided they were no longer able to take care of it, Friends of Webb-Blessing House stepped forward to help. The property officially changed hands Friday. Doug Perks, chair of the Friends group’s steering committee, told the paper the group will maintain the building and tell its story. That includes the story of the Webb family that built the house before the Civil War and continued to live in it until 1866, when it was purchased by John Frederick Blessing, Perks said. Blessing was a confectioner who supplied meals to John Brown after Brown was incarcerated in the Jefferson County Jail, Perks said.
Madison: The Wisconsin Elections Commission deadlocked Monday over whether to remove the voter registrations of more than 200,000 people in response to a judge’s order. The commission’s inability to reach a consensus means the voters will stay on the rolls for at least the time being. An appeal in the case is ongoing, and the commission faces a separate lawsuit that is trying to make sure people are not pulled from the rolls. The three Republicans on the commission sought to take many of them off the rolls, but they were blocked by the three Democrats on the panel. It was the second time in as many weeks that the commission broke down along party lines over the lawsuit, which has drawn national attention because of Wisconsin’s top-tier status in the 2020 presidential race.
Casper: A new state rule seeks to reduce a record number of applications for permits to drill oil and gas wells. The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission rule makes it easier for other developers and mineral owners to challenge permit applications and contest permits when drilling doesn’t begin right away. Wyoming Oil and Gas Supervisor Mark Watson says the rule encourages competition. Recently, companies with no immediate plans to drill have been applying for multiple permits to secure control over potential drilling areas in Wyoming. The commission received almost 70,000 drilling permit applications in just three years. The Casper Star-Tribune reports the commission faced a backlog of thousands of permit applications and protests from competing operators. The new rule took effect Dec. 20.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
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