Saturday, September 15, 2007

Zoning for Virginia's first wind farm gets high-court approval; state commission next hurdle

The first industrial wind farm in Virginia got a green light yesterday from the state Supreme Court, which said the Highland County Board of Supervisors did not make errors when it gave the project a conditional-use permit. Now all it needs is a permit from the State Corporation Commission, but opponents could appeal that decision to the Supreme Court, too.

"Adjoining landowners and other opponents said the giant windmills would kill birds and bats, hamper tourism and ruin the scenic views of a county known as "Virginia's Switzerland'," reports Laurence Hammack of The Roanoke Times. "Supporters say the $60 million project could provide power to about 15,000 homes, generate tax revenue for the county and pose no adverse effects on the environment."

The project of Highland New Wind Development would have 19 turbines on masts as tall as 400 feet on top of Alleghany Mountain, near the West Virginia border. "With wind power a relatively new concept for the East Coast, the case was watched closely by energy developers and conservationists," Hammack writes. "But precedent-setting decisions are more likely to come from the SCC than from Friday's court action. The legal challenge heard by the Supreme Court dealt with narrow procedural issues and zoning requirements -- not the fundamental arguments for and against wind farm technology." (Read more) For the SCC hearing officer's report, click here.

The Recorder of Monterey is following the story of wind power in the East. Last month the weekly newspaper looked at the prospects for it in adjoining Bath County. "Though supervisors and planners agreed they need to plan head, the federal lands making up half the county could mean there's little they can do to prevent the industry from taking hold," Charles Garratt wrote. His story is a good primer on the industry, especially in the East.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Coal companies want mining to pave way for four-lane roads in Central Appalachia

The multi-billion-dollar cost of the proposed Coalfields Expressway, a project put on the drawing board almost 20 years ago, could be cut by about half "by combining construction . . . with surface coal mining," according to a study funded partly by companies that want to do the mining, Paula Tate reports in The Coalfield Progress of Norton, Va.

The four-lane highway would stretch 115 miles from four-lane US 23 at Pound, Va., near the Kentucky border, to Interstates 64 and 77 near Beckley, W. Va., and run through some of the richer coal deposits remaining in the Eastern U.S. The study by the Virginia Department of Transportation, Alpha Natural Resources LLC and Pioneer Group Inc. calls for Alpha to mine and prepare a roadbed for about 30 miles of the 50-mile route in Virginia and for Pioneer to do the other 20 miles. Alpha CEO Mike Quillen "noted that the road, which would have a 60 mile-per-hour designation, would be one of the most scenic highways in the country," Tate wrote. The route for the 65-mile West Virginia section, pictured above, was selected nine years ago, and at least one small section is complete.

Alpha is already mining and building a section of the 90-mile King Coal Highway, planned to roughly parallel US 52, which runs along the western border of West Virginia and intersects the Coalfields Expressway route a few miles east of the junction of Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia. The eight-mile section east of Williamson, W.Va., is estimated to cost $110 million; the whole road, about $2 billion, according to the Federal Highway Administration. It would connect I-64 with I-77 at Bluefield. For FHwA's description of the King Coal Highway, click here.

Supporters of the roads say they would greatly improve the economy of the region. Skeptics worry about increased environmental damage from coal mining. We neither endorse nor oppose these projects, but we do object to the name of the "expressway." It would have intersections, so it wouldn't be an expressway, and there is only one coalfield in Appalachia, so the name needs to be singular, not plural. The Coalfield Progress has its own nomenclature right. (Read more)

Anniston Star editor's varied pieces on constitutional reform win commentary prize

Bob Davis, editor of The Anniston (Ala.) Star, circulation 25,000, has won the Carmage Walls Commentary Prize for newspapers with less than 50,000 circulation. The award, presented by the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association, encourages thoughtful, courageous and constructive editorial page leadership" on local issues, says the latest SNPA eBulletin.

Contest judges said "Davis managed to take what might be a dry, yet important, topic – constitutional reform – and turn it into interesting reading with new angles each time he wrote about it. . . . His employment of a variety of writing styles, including poetry, was successful at surprising readers over time, in a persuasive way.”

Davis wrote on his entry form that Alabama's 1901 constitution was written to establish white supremacy in the state. "Though much of the Jim Crow is now rendered a dead letter, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, the part that locked all but the rich and powerful out of state and local government is still very much alive," he wrote. "The editorial mission of The Anniston Star when it comes to constitutional reform is to explain the problem on a personal level. If finger-wagging was the cure, the document would have been rewritten years ago. Our attempt is to use a variety of styles to urge reform."

For examples of Davis's work, and that of other winners, click here. Second place in the small-circulation division went to David Klement of the Bradenton (Fla.) Herald, circulatrion 47,000.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ky.'s public-private partnership for rural broadband setting example for other states

"Largely rural, Kentucky is best known for its bourbon and horse racing; it rarely ranks in the top tier of states on any measure of 21st-century success," The Economist reports. But it has one of the most successful public-private partnerships to bring broadband Internet service to rural areas. It's called ConnectKentucky and it's headed by Brian Mefford, right.

The weekly British magazine (which calls itself a newspaper and doesn't use bylines), reports from the "remote farm" of Lajuana Wilcher, former state environment secretary, checking "an online database for local ranchers demanding alfalfa. She can specify at what price she is willing to sell, which counties to search and whether her hay is square-baled or rolled. Without her high-speed internet connection, Ms. Wilcher insists, it would take far too long to find the most generous alfalfa prices, order spare tractor parts and locate the best breeding stock for her small cattle operation" in Southern Kentucky, near Bowling Green.

Five years ago, "Internet service providers could not be sure that there were enough Lajuana Wilchers in the Kentucky countryside to justify new investment in cabling or wireless transmitters," and "the state had among the lowest rates of broadband availability in the country," The Economist reports, citing Mefford. "But by the end of this year, Mr. Mefford boasts, 98 percent of residents will have access to inexpensive broadband services."

Other states are talking about copying Kentucky to overcome what the magazine calls "the poor design of federal loan and grant schemes by Congress" and come closer to the goal President Bush set in 2004, "to provide every American with access to broadband by this year. . . . ConnectKentucky might beat Mr. Bush to fulfilling his own goal. The group is morphing into a company called Connected Nation, and is helping to wire up the neighbouring states of West Virginia and Tennessee." (Read more)

Rural activists in Ky. stirring opposition to McConnell, U.S. Senate's Republican leader

Rural votes have been key to many Republican victories, but three activists from rural Kentucky are helping lead growing grass-roots opposition to Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell in his home state, mainly based on his support of President Bush and his Iraq policy, Bob Moser reports in The Nation. McConnell's up for re-election next year, and conservative pundit Robert Novak said yesterday that he "could be in danger."

The rural trio is Yale University graduate student Matt Gunterman, 30, who was the Democratic nominee last year for McLean County judge-executive, the top local administrative post; New York University law student Shawn Dixon, 24, a native of Columbus, Ky., a tiny town on the Mississippi River; and Jim Pence, 68, a "Salem- smoking, pickup-driving, self-proclaimed hillbilly" from Hardin County who's built a following for his blog, Moser writes.

Gunterman, the creator of, wants to "fire up an Internet-based 'Ruralution,' connecting grassroots progressives from rural America to spur political action," Moser writes. Gunterman "sees Pence as a prime example of the passion and wit that generally go untapped by Democrats and urban progressives. 'There's no one like Jim in the entire United States,' says Gunterman. 'Not with his age and his ornery attitude. He is very much a hillbilly, and he's reinvigorated the term.' In his three years of crisscrossing Kentucky to publicize its antiwar and progressive insurgencies, Pence has also stirred up the state's traditionally timid left-wingers," reports Moser, a North Carolina native who is writing a book on the South and "purple America," states that are neither red nor blue.

The trio has "also pushed the state's more established media to take notice of the progressive groundswell," Moser writes. "In 2004, when Dixon was working as deputy policy and communications director for Democrat Daniel Mongiardo's uphill Senate challenge to Republican Jim Bunning, he spent much of the campaign in a state of frustration over Kentucky newspapers' assumption that the incumbent would cruise to victory." Bunning won by only 1.4 percent of the vote, after some unusual behavior that turned off urban voters. But with President Bush and a same-sex marriage question on the ballot, Bunning's rural margin made up enough of his urban deficit for a win. (Read more)

With editor-publisher laid up, N.C. journalism students ride to rescue with 'bucket brigade'

In days of yore, a bucket brigade was the hand-to-hand predecessor of firefighting equipment. This month, it is a rescue mission, by journalism students, for weekly newspaper editor-publisher Ken Ripley, reports the director and namer of the brigade, Jock Lauterer of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The photo shows Lauterer (with hand on table), Ripley and the students who are commuting an hour or more each way to help publish the Spring Hope Enterprise, circulation 4,100, while Ripley is out of the office for surgery and a long recovery this fall.

Lauterer, director of the Carolina Community Media Project in the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communications, writes in his Blue Highways Journal that he got the idea before Ripley's need arose -- from the recent tornado that virtually destroyed Greensburg, Kan., and its newspaper: "It occurred to me: Hey Lauterer, what would YOU do if an North Carolina community paper took a direct hit from a hurricane? How prepared are you? Do you have a Rapid Response Journalism Team primed and ready?"

Lauterer worked up a plan, "But then my thinking took another turn. Why sit around and wait for disaster to strike? Find a community paper right now that needs help. And that led us to Spring Hope, where I knew my long-time pal and veteran editor and publisher, Ken Ripley, was going in this month for a double hip replacement, a process that will require two separate operations and a lengthy recovery at home. Knowing the unstoppable Mr. Ripley, he refuses to miss an issue, putting out his paper via laptop from his bedside."

School consolidation prompts struggles to find uses for buildings; meanwhile, football teams merge

The empty, abandoned school is yet another sign of shrinking rural communities. Across Nebraska, these old buildings offer communities difficult choices as they weigh the risks against the rewards of finding new uses for these structures, reports Paul Hammel of the Omaha World-Herald.

Hammel writes that in the last nine years at least 27 Nebraska school districts have been forced to merge, and thus dozens of old schools lie empty. While some communities have decided the aging buildings aren't worth trouble, others seek to find new uses for them. Hammel recounts some of these renovation successes as well as the failure. In Avoca, Neb., two musicians transformed a school into a music studio, while in 1993 an old school in Holbrook became the Central Plains Technology and Business Development Center and is now occupied by six businesses.On the hand, there were failed attempts made by people in Nelson and Edgar to turn old schools into museums. In Venango, some locals want to turn the high school into youth home, but Hammel writes that after five years of lying vacant the school needs about $400,000 in repairs to satisfy safety codes. (Read more)

In a related story, The New York Times explores how merged high-school football teams are signs of changing times. Joe Spring reports from northwestern Minnesota and describes how Friday night football has changed, as nearby towns merge their high schools and their football teams. In Marshall County, where the towns of Stephen and Argyle have found football success as the Stephen/Argyle Central Storm, the average age is 40 and almost 20 percent are over 65. (Above, the team practices in a photo by Spring). The aging community means smaller classes at the high school, whose student body has dropped to 180 from 270 a decade ago. “Many places are turning back to frontier,” Tom Gillaspy, the state’s demographer, told Spring. (Read more)

Kentucky farm joins others in replacing tobacco with wine grapes

With the future of tobacco in doubt, one farming family in Clark County, Kentucky, decided to look for another crop. They found it in grapes. Now called the Harkness Edwards Winery and Vineyards, the Edwards family farm has 13 acres of grapes and plans to have more eventually, reports Katheran Wasson of The Winchester Sun. (Kate Edwards, left, and her mother, Cathy Edwards, pick grapes at the vineyard in a Sun photo by James Mann.) The decision to switch from tobacco to grapes was difficult, Cathy Edwards told Wasson, but with the beginning of the state's tobacco buyout they needed a new cash crop. Cathy and Harkey Edwards also said they wanted to make sure their three daughters had something to inherit. So after getting advice from the University of Kentucky and the Kentucky Vineyard Society, the Edwardses settled on the vidal blanc grape, a French hybrid developed in the United States. This year will mark the second harvest, and Harkey Edwards said they would produce about 900 gallons of vidal blanc. Meanwhile, the family is finishing the winery's retail and tasting areas.

"I find a lot of gratitude in what we're doing," Cathy said. "I've enjoyed this whole venture; it's been a lot of work, certainly a lot of stress in just unknown issues, but we're working through it, and I think we're seeing some light at the end of the tunnel." (Read more) In a 2006 article for a publication of the University of Kentucky's College of Agriculture, Terri McLean traced the history of winemaking in the state, which before Prohibition "was the third-largest grape- and wine-producing state in the nation." She reports that long-time tobacco farmers are once again discovering grapes.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Tenn. governor has plan to spur rural business

Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, right, grew up in suburban Boston, but in his second term he continues to look out for rural areas of the Volunteer State. This week, he announced "a new effort to spur business growth in rural areas, including a venture loan fund to help expand businesses with potential for growth and creating new jobs," reported Richard Locker of The Commercial Appeal's Nashville bureau.

Bredesen, who came to Nashville as a health-care entrepreneur, failed in his first gubernatorial bid and became mayor, "wants to expand economic growth occurring in Tennessee's metropolitan areas to rural counties that are economically distressed," Locker wrote. "He said this year's big increase in corporate tax revenue primarily occurred in 12 urban and suburban counties, which 'underlines for me how disparate the economic development is: how much it's hitting the big counties and ring counties and how little of it is getting out in the rural areas.' As a result, Bredesen is devoting a large part of the annual Governor's Conference on Economic and Community Development here Tuesday and Wednesday to helping rural areas."

One feature of Bredesen's plan is a $13.25 million Rural Opportunity Fund, funded mostly by financial institutions. It "will lend money mostly to existing small businesses in rural counties that have demonstrated their viability but need venture capital to grow," perhaps even to startup companies, Locker wrote. (Read more)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Ky. principal bans editor from football game press box, cites paper's story on racial incident

On Friday The Winchester (Ky.) Sun ran a story about the arrest of four white high school students on terroristic-threatening charges stemming from a black student's receipt of a racist note that contained threats and images of a lynching and a Confederate battle flag. That night, the newspaper's sports editor, Keith Taylor, went to cover the high school's homecoming football game but was barred from the press box by Principal Gordon Parido, who cited the story as the reason, The Sun reported.

On Monday, Parido apologized, reported WTVQ-TV in Lexington. "I get a phone call saying, you're banned from the press box tonight, and I said you're kidding right?" Taylor told WTVQ's Erika Harsh. The Sun later posted a short story saying "Parido called Managing Editor Randall Patrick to apologize for banning Taylor from the game and for taking 'the tone' he did. He said that Superintendent Dr. Ed Musgrove informed him that he did not have the authority to ban Taylor in the first place. Parido said he also intended to personally apologize to Taylor. The principal maintains that the story was inaccurate, but has twice declined to say what the inaccuracies were." (Read more)

The paper's original story on the incident marked the second time the racist note had been in the news that week. WLEX-TV in Lexington ran a story four days earlier, two days before the youths were arrested. The TV story prompted a threatening phone call to the student, reporter Katheran Wasson wrote. The students are juveniles; Wasson confirmed their arrest by interviewing one of their parents.

Wasson's story was accompanied by a copy of the note, provided by the black family, and an editor's note saying that the mother of one of the boys accused of drawing the pictures told the paper that the words and names were added later, not by the boys accused of passing the note. "The Winchester Sun covered those words, including names, with black bars in this printed version because of the disagreement between the parties over whether they were in the original document, which was given to police for evidence," Patrick wrote, noting that the original note is not public under state law on juvenile proceedings. "The Sun decided to publish the note to allow readers to decide for themselves the seriousness of the complaint."

Edwards wins Texas Democrats' Internet poll; wife cites his rural background, policy stands

Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards won an Internet straw poll of Texas Democrats because "He understands their lot – he too grew up in a town where Sunday morning church and Sunday evening church and Wednesday night church and Friday night football were what the town was built around," his wife, Elizabeth Edwards, said in Austin while she was in town for a fundraiser and book promotion. She added, "He has a rural policy, which is sorely missing from the other candidates."

State Democratic Chairman Boyd Richie said Edwards won 38 percent of the total vote of 8,101, while Illinois Sen. Barack Obama got 21 percent and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton 20 percent. Five other candidates split the vote in the week-long poll, writes Robert T. Garrett of the Dallas Morning News.

Garrett warns: "Online surveys are not considered an accurate reflection of public opinion because participants are a self-selected group. Reputable pollsters carefully screen respondents to ensure they are potential voters, and they take a sample that matches the breakdown of a population by age, race, sex and location."

Richie said the party tried to block attempts to vote from out of state or more than once. "But the party could do little to ensure that respondents were even eligible to vote, let alone registered to vote or likely to do so in a Democratic primary," Garrett writes. Richie said the poll was "more representative" than the state Republican Party's straw poll, in which " 1,300 Texas Republican activists voted in person, but they had to pay to do so," Garrett writes. "The poll was won by U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter of California." (Read more)

Study reveals facts underneath the myths of Latino migration to rural communities

A new study "suggests that many 'facts' that are taken for granted on the immigration issue simply do not hold up to the evidence," University of Kentucky sociologist Patrick H. Mooney writes in the Daily Yonder.

The study was done by Dr. Martha Crowley, a sociologist at North Carolina State University, and Dr. Daniel Lichter, a scholar at Cornell University’s Bronfennbrenner Life Course Center. It looked at 1990 and 2000 census data on population and economic growth, poverty, crime, unemployment and public assistance.

They set up three categories: Rural counties with traditionally large Latino populations, those that experienced a significant rise in the Latino population in the 10-year period, and rural counties with no Latino growth. They found that rates of poverty and unemployment declined in all three. Counties with increased in-migration of Latinos had the lower percentages.

The study found that high Latino in-migration "may dampen income opportunities for African-Americans," since blacks' rate of growth in per capita income was lowest in counties with significant jumps in Latino population. The proportion of the population receiving public assistance was also lowest in the high-growth counties, but there was increased stress on local schools and hospitals.

While retail sales and median home values rose more sharply in areas with high growth, those same counties still had the highest rates of violent crime and property crime arrests even though those numbers were on the decline. "In other words, in-migration correlated with declining rates of arrest," Mooney writes. (Read more)

Rural voters are pivotal but feel 'invisible' politically, Denver Post reports

The last four presidential elections have hinged, in part, on rural voters, but those rural residents continue to feel lost on the political landscape, reports Karen E. Crummy of The Denver Post.

Voting patterns from the past few decades of presidential elections show that the way rural voters divide along party lines can predict the overall vote.When Bill Clinton was elected in 1992 and 1996, he grabbed almost 50 percent of rural votes, and George W. Bush took more than 60 percent in his 2000 and 2004 electoral victories.
"It shows that to win as a Republican, you need the lion's share of rural votes. For Democrats to win, you have to neutralize those voters," said Seth McKee, a University of South Florida professor who analyzed rural voters in presidential elections from 1992 to 2004.

Crummy writes, "Rural America remains conservative, with social issues in the forefront, but these voters are also consumed by economic concerns and the lack of job opportunities." She quotes Bess Isaacs, the 82-year-old owner of R.W. Isaacs Hardware in Torrington, Wyo.: "I've never voted a straight ballot. It doesn't take brains to vote across the board. . . . Right now I'm not impressed by either side."

Rich Campbell, a doctor in Torrington, told the Post, "You ask most of rural America, and they will say neither party has a vision or game plan for us. There is no respect for agriculture. No planning for our infrastructure. No understanding of the long distances people have to go to access medical care." (Read more)

Despite being an attractive bloc of swing voters, rural residents are overlooked often as a matter of logistics, Crummy reports. Rural voters are tougher to visit because they are scattered, and they account for about 5 percent of the donations to presidential candidates, according to a June 17 story in the Daily Yonder.

Harkin makes push to increase funds for rural development in Farm Bill

Rural development could become a bigger part of the Farm Bill, provided Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, can find a way to pay for it. The chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Harkin wants to add $2 billion in mandatory spending over the next five years for rural development, reports The Des Moines Register.

The bill has yet to move in the Senate. The House version includes just one mandatory spending program, which puts $30 million in grants aimed at encouraging value-added crops, so Harkin must work to guarantee the necessary funds for his development projects, writes Philip Brasher of the Register's Washington bureau.

Chuck Fluharty of the Rural Policy Research Institute called Harkin's measure "by far, the single most significant piece of rural development legislation ever offered by a seated chairman of any U.S. committee." Beneficiaries range from water systems to child-care centers to small-business owners and other entrepreneurs, Brasher writes. Harkin may be helped by White House criticism of the House version for its lack of expansion of the rural development function of the Department of Agriculture. (Read more)

In a recent report, the Nebraska-based Center for Rural Affairs noted the gap in funding between farm commodities and programs for rural development, write Chris Green and Sarah Kessinger of the Harris News Service. Farm commodities account for $42 billion of the $286 billion House farm bill, while rural development accounts for $456 million, but only $30 million of that is mandatory spending. (Read more)

Health-care costs mean going into debt for one in five farmers, survey says

A survey conducted by the Access Project and the University of North Dakota found just 5 percent of farm and ranch households lacked health coverage, but about 20 percent of respondents said they had to take on debt in 2006 to make payments for health expenses, reports Julius Karash of The Kansas City Star.

With help from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, the survey went to 2,000 small farm operators in Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska and the Dakotas. It found that about one-third of respondents bought individual health-insurance policies, far higher than the 8 percent nationally who are covered by individual policies, Karash reports.

“Farmers and ranchers have more financial resources than many other rural Americans,” Bill Lottero of the Access Project said in a statement accompanying the report. “It’s clear that middle-class folks with health insurance are feeling the pinch of spiraling premiums and medical costs.”

Alan Morgan, chief executive officer of the National Rural Health Association, an advocacy group, said the less comprehensive policies used by many farmers mean they wait to seek care and when they finally do, the delay equals an even greater cost. “The insurance crisis impacts everyone, but for farmers it’s particularly an acute problem,” Morgan told Karash. “They usually have some form of health-insurance policy. But with high deductibles and co-pays, it’s not a workable product.” (Read more)

Number of hunters and anglers declining, but wildlife watching on the rise

Although not an endangered species, the number of American hunters dropped by about 1.5 million from 1996 to 2006, reports David Cray for The Associated Press. The number of hunters older than 16 fell from 14 million to about 12.5 million, a 10 percent drop, according to new figures from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. That decrease means a loss of sorely needed license-fee revenue for wildlife agencies, which depend on the fees for the majority of their budgets, Cray writes.

Fewer Americans were fishing, too, with the numbers down from 35.2 million in 1996 to 30 million in 2006. Experts point toward increased urbanization as the key cultural factor, Cray writes, as public approval of hunting has remained high -- with about 75 percent of Americans supporting the activity. Cray also reports that last month, President George Bush asked that public lands be reviewed by federal agencies in an effort to find more hunting spaces. (Read more)

The new data also show a 13 percent increase in the number of bird watchers, wildlife photographers and other wildlife watchers from 62.8 million in 1996 to 71.1 million in 2006.

Fast download, slow upload key to cheaper satellite broadband access?

SkyWay USA promises broadband access anywhere, and thanks to its hybrid system of satellite and dial-up connection, it offers a cheaper way online than pure satellite-based Internet providers, reports Bill Wolfe of The Courier-Journal in Louisville. (George Dick, right, SkyWay USA's CEO, and Mick Whitton, vice president of sales in a C-J photo by Bill Luster.)

The Louisville-based company was founded in Jackson, Ky., in the Appalachian coalfield, and now has 300 subscribers to its service that allows users to download Web content using a satellite connection, Wolfe reports. Uploads, however, are handled by a dial-up connection, which means sending a large file such as a video or photo will still take a while. Still, this system offers a cheaper alternative to other satellite-based connections, especially in rural areas where there are few choices for high-speed Internet access. And rural areas are the only places SkyWay USA seeks customers.

Wolfe reports, "SkyWay believes it can compete with HughesNet and WildBlue because its service and equipment cost less, Dick said. WildBlue plans start at $50 per month. HughesNet starts at $60. SkyWay offers plans starting at $30 monthly. In addition, equipment for SkyWay's competitors can cost from $300 to $500, Dick said. After rebates, SkyWay's dish and modem are available for about $100." (Read more)

'Hay man' turns scarecrows into community art in Massachusetts town

Over the last few years, public arts projects have appeared across the country, successfully turning fiberglass bears, bulls, horses and baseballs into sidewalk art and sources of local pride. Rural communities are following suit, in hopes of harnessing local creativity to get folks back to Main Street.
In Pittsfield, Mass., population 45,000, the latest take on the trend is "Hay man" - a collection of 75 hay-filled scarecrow figures created by local residents, reports Tony Dobrowolski of the Berkshire Eagle. (Left: an example of the scarecrow, in photo by Darren Vanden Berge.) The project will be Pittsfield's third foray into public art, as the town hosted "Sheeptacular!" and "Art of the Game" (baseball bats) the last few years, Dobrowolski writes. "I remember when Sheeptacular! came out, and I was one of the skeptics," said Michael P. Daly, the president and CEO of Berkshire Bank, one of the event's several sponsors. "But it took off. I'm looking forward to seeing the haymen, haywomen, hay things that will be created." (Read more)

Monday, September 10, 2007

Rx for rural job growth: regional cooperation to overcome old jealousies, rivalries, expert says

Rural communities prosper when they learn to “get beyond the petty jealousies of Friday night football,” Mark Drabenstott of the Rural Policy Research Institute, right, told the Texas Rural Innovators Forum last week. What he means is, rural economic development is very, very difficult one county at a time; regional cooperation is the key, and that can be tough due to longstanding rivalries and/or jealousies.

Regional cooperation is necessary because most rural areas "lack the critical mass of employers, educated workers and amenities found in cities, and many rural areas have become too dependent on the production of commodities," the Daily Yonder reports in its account of Drabenstott's speech. "As a result, income and job creation has lagged in rural America. Only four rural counties were among the top 10 percent in income creation between 1995 and 2005," and all those were in or near coastal cities.

For decades, rural areas recruited factories with low wages, taxes and land costs. In a globalized economy, factories are going where work can be done most cheaply, and workers are going where they can best use their skills and enjoy life. That means a "brain drain" from rural areas. Rural towns once use low crime rates as a recruiting angle, but Drabenstott said that no longer works. He said they must provide a higher quality of life and opportunity for entrepreneurs, who create most of the new jobs in America.

"Regional cooperation in rural America is rare, however," the Yonder reports. "In most successful regional collaborations, Drabenstott said, there is an organization that brings the community together — a “King Arthur” who creates the regional roundtable. In many cases, the catalyst of regional cooperation is either a non-profit group or a university or community college." Click here to listen to the 50-minute speech.

Hispanic Iowa editor says Clinton, Edwards won Spanish-language forum, but she leans to Obama

"The editor of an influential newspaper in western Iowa's Latino community ... thinks Hillary Clinton and John Edwards had the strongest performances in the Univision debate in Miami," reports the Iowa Independent. But Lorena Lopez of La Prensa, in photo with her son, is leaning toward an endorsement of Barack Obama, whom she interviewed in Spanish recently, after first leaning to Clinton, Doug Burns reports in the Web-only Independent and the newspaper where he works, the Daily Times Herald of Carroll -- where La Prensa is also based.

Lopez "says Clinton appeared to command issues and seemed 'calm' in her approach to the questions on issues of concern to the Latin community," Burns writes for the Independent. "She thinks Edwards may have made some inroads with his debate performance as well. Lopez is writing an article for her paper on the details of these views, and we'll get a translation." (Read more)

The free, twice-monthly tabloid, which claims a distribution of 6,800 after 16 months in business, is "one of the more influential venues for discussion and debate in western Iowa's burgeoning Hispanic community," Burns writes in the Times Herald. Assisting Lopez, a former television personality in Nicaragua, is her son, Carlos A. Arguello, 23, a graduate of the local high school and the University of Northern Iowa. (Read more)

In the "Destino 2008" debate from Miami, Edwards "made his health care plan seem cheaper than it would actually be. He assumed it was in effect right now, rather than the soonest it could possibly be implemented, which is 2009 or 2010," reports Annenberg Political Fact Check, or

Rural town manager in southern Maryland wants all reporters' questions, officials' replies in writing

Nestled between the Port Tobacco River and the Zekiah Swamp near Chesapeake Bay, the town of La Plata, Md., population 7,500 or so, doesn't seem like a likely place for officious policies toward journalists. But new Town Manager Daniel Mears wants all reporters' questions for town officials to be in writing, to be relayed to the mayor and all council members, and to be answered only in writing.

The policy was reported Thursday by the Southern Maryland Extra, a publication of The Washington Post. Reporter Philip Rucker said Mears didn't respond to several e-mails until Rucker sent a list of questions to the city clerk, and declined a telephone interview. But Mayor Gene Ambrogio, reached at home, granted an interview -- and, after first defending the policy and his new manager, said it might not last long.

"When asked what constituents would think of a policy that cushions the town's elected officials from direct questioning from news reporters, Ambrogio distanced himself from the policy," Rucker wrote, quoting Ambrogio as saying he "did not approach the other council members and say, 'I want to implement this policy.' The town manager, he's the one who came out with this idea. . . . Maybe it's not the perfect solution. It's one of those things where you don't know if it's going to work until you try it." (Read more)

But the new policy doesn't appear to be getting much of a test among town officials and the local Maryland Independent, which hasn't reported the policy. "We have continued to call officials and they have continued to return our phone calls," Editor Angela Breck said in an interview with The Rural Blog. "It has not posed a problem for us." For an Independent profile of Mears when he came to town, click here.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Giuliani's head-cracker image helps him overcome social-issue stands, especially among rural voters

Rudy Giuliani, shown here in Iowa (in photo by Jeff Mermelstein for The New York Times) is the leading Republican presidential candidate. He supports abortion rights, gay rights and gun control, and is on his third marriage, so how is he leading in a party in which the largest voting bloc is social conservatives? As mayor of New York, especially in the post-9/11 spotlight, he gained an image of cracking heads to keep order, and Republicans think he can do that with terrorists and illegal immigrants.

That is especially apparent in Giuliani's appeal to rural voters, as two New York journalists have written in long articles recently. First, in a 16-page piece in The New Yorker titled "Mayberry Man," Peter J. Boyer wrote: "It is also possible that the rest of the country knows all it wishes to know about Giuliani. It was Giuliani who was depicted in the Times as imposing 'the mores of Mayberry' on the city." (Read more)

In the Times Magazine today, Matt Bai explores Giuliani's attitude toward terrorism: "More than any other Republican candidate, with the possible exception of John McCain, Giuliani has rooted his campaign in the grand and foreboding notion that America is now engaged in a civilizational struggle." Bai's 8,232-word piece has repeated references to Giuliani reprising the historic roles of Winston Churchill against the Nazis and Ronald Reagan against Soviet communism, and glimpses of his ability to appeal to voters in rural Iowa:

"It’s hard to imagine the slashing mayor of New York getting on famously with the people of Sloan, Iowa, a one-strip farming town of about 1,000 people. (Motto: 'A Good Place to Grow.') But Rudy out of his element turns out to be a surprisingly deft campaigner. Ever the prosecutor, he retains a talent for explaining complex concepts, flipping his round spectacles on and off his face for emphasis and rubbing his forehead as if deep in thought. He has a penchant for talking to voters as if he were their tough-love therapist, frequently invoking words like 'reality' and 'denial.' Vowing to end illegal immigration during one town-hall meeting in Iowa, Giuliani told the crowd, “Every other country does it, and we can do it.” Then he clutched his heart and spoke softly. 'It’s O.K. to do it.' You could almost hear a collective sigh among the Iowans, who didn’t consider themselves bigots just because they wanted to seal the borders, and who now felt validated by America’s mayor. They lined up for autographs."

But what about social conservatism and its lifeblood, religious faith? "At a family restaurant in Le Mars ('the ice-cream capital of the world'), Giuliani was asked about his religious beliefs. 'I believe in God,' he said haltingly. 'I pray and ask him for help. I pray like a lawyer. I try to make a deal: "Get me out of this jam, and I’ll start going back to church."' Then he wandered off into a discourse that somehow ended up with an assessment of Times Square and how good he feels that there are so many 'functioning theaters' there. It’s not an especially convincing routine, but it may be good enough. Conservatives desperately fear another Clinton presidency and may embrace anyone who seems likely to blunt Hillary’s advantage in moderate swing states. (A button I saw in Iowa proclaimed, 'I’m helping Rudy stop Hillary.') And old assumptions of what an evangelical voter actually wants may no longer be operative. There is a sense among the Christian right, says the Republican pollster Frank Luntz, who isn’t working for any of the candidates, that beating back the global onslaught of radical Islam may be a more pressing religious issue than stomping out liberal judges at home."

Paxton Media Group buys another Northern Indiana paper, getting monopoly on dailies in county

Kentucky-based Paxton Media Group is continuing its recent expansion in northern Indiana by purchasing the LaPorte County Herald-Argus from the Small Newspaper Group, an Illinois firm with no other papers in Indiana. (The selling firm's name comes from the family that owns it, not the size of its papers.)

Paxton already owned The News Dispatch of Michigan City, about 10 miles from LaPorte in northwestern Indiana's LaPorte County, population 104,000. The city of La Porte's population is 22,000, Michigan City's 33,000, but the La Porte paper has a larger circulation -- 12,488, to the Michigan City paper's 10,702. LaPorte is centrally located in the county, while Michigan City is on the shore of Lake Michigan.

Terms of the sale, which is expected to be effective Oct. 1, were not disclosed. It will be Paxton's third purchase of an Indiana newspaper in five months, giving it 11 papers in the state and 32 overall, with 370,000 circulation. It bought The Herald-Press of Huntington in April and the Chronicle-Tribune of Marion in July. Paxton owns seven dailies in North Carolina, four in Arkansas, three each in Georgia and Kentucky (including The Paducah Sun, where the family-owned chain started), and one each in Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi and Tennessee. Its Michigan newspaper is in St. Joseph, 40 miles up the lakeshore from Michigan City.

Paxton President and CEO David Paxton said the firm would combine "the strengths of the Herald-Argus with other Paxton newspapers in the area" to improve service. Officials of the Small group said "the sale was desirable to help the group make the transition in a multimedia age," The Herald-Argus reported. (Read more)