Friday, January 09, 2009

Leahy pushes for aid to rural police in stimulus

Add rural law enforcement to the list of potential beneficiaries of the economic stimulus package being prepared for Congress. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., "this week introduced the Rural Law Enforcement Assistance Act, which would authorize $75 million a year over the next five years in new ... grant money for state and local law enforcement in rural states such as Vermont and in rural areas within larger states," Erin Kelly writes for the Burlington Free Press. "The money could be used to hire and train police officers, buy equipment and fund special crime-fighting task forces. The grants also could be used for crime prevention and drug treatment programs."

Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, had several law-enforcement officials testify before his panel yesterday, all of whom pushed for restoration of recent cuts in federal support for local police. "The one dissenting voice ... was David Muhlhausen, a senior policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank," Kelly reports. He said expanding such programs wouldn't stimulate the economy. “The federal government should not become a crutch on which local law enforcement becomes dependent,” he said. (Read more)

What sort of ash disposal method does your coal-fired power plant use?

The Coalfield Progress, a twice-weekly newspaper in Norton, Va., is doing what should be done by all news organizations that serve readers, listeners and viewers who live near coal-fired power plants or future plant sites: asking questions about ash disposal in the wake of the spill that wrecked a neighborhood in Tennessee (see item below).

"If the coal-ash disposal method that failed Dec. 22 near Knoxville is an apple, then Dominion Virginia Power’s proposed Virginia City coal-ash landfill is an orange, according to company officials," Jeff Lester reports. "Dominion says its plan for burying ash in a lined, state-of-the-art landfill is very different — and much safer — than the Tennessee Valley Authority ash slurry pond that breached in Kingston, Tenn., causing the biggest ash spill in American history."

The Tennessee plant uses wet disposal, which creates a slurry that flows. The Virginia plant, far from a major stream, plans to conserve water and will use dry disposal, Lester writes. (Read more; subscription may be required)

Leak found, stopped at TVA disposal pond in Ala.

The Tennessee Valley Authority "is investigating a leak from a gypsum pond at its Widows Creek coal-burning plant in northeastern Alabama, a spokesman said at about 10:45 a.m. Central Time," writes Anne Paine of The Tennessean. TVA says was detected at 6 a.m. today and has been stopped. Many safety concerns about waste disposal at coal-fired power plants have been raised following the disaster at the TVA ash pond in Kingston, Tenn.

Some of the material from the Alabama pond flowed into nearby Widows Creek, but according to TVA officials most remained in the pond. "Gypsum is a byproduct of coal-burning power plants when 'scrubbers' are added that use limestone spray to clean air emissions," adds Paine. This pulls sulfur dioxide from the emissions." (Read more)

2008 saw record low number of miners killed

"The number of miners killed on the job in the United States fell to 51 in 2008, the fewest number of deaths since officials began keeping records nearly a century ago, according to preliminary data released by federal regulators Thursday," writes Roger Alford of The Associated Press. The historic low follows two years in which the number of mining fatalities rose, largely because of coal-mine disasters. Coal mines accounted for 29 of last year's deaths, compared to 34 in 2007. The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration reported that 22 deaths occured in other types of mines, down from 33 in 2007.

As beefed-up mine safety regulations helped bring down the number of mining deaths in 2008, it was also the first year that mine safety inspectors were able to complete all mandated mine reviews. MSHA added 360 inspectors and paid $10 million in overtime to complete the task. "Inspectors issued nearly 167,000 citations for safety violations in 2008, up from 130,000 the year before," writes Alford. "The federal agency fined mine operators $194 million in 2008 for safety violations. That was the largest amount of fines in the agency's history, up from $130 million in 2007."(Read more)

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Chair of Obama transition calls for digital TV delay

Congress should delay the Feb. 17 switch to digital television because the nation, especially many rural viewers, are unlikely to be prepared for it, President-elect Barack Obama's transition co-chairman told congressional leaders in a letter today.

John Podesta cited the new waiting list for $40 federal coupons for digital converter boxes and "problems with the government's effort to educate the public about the switch and help prepare people, particularly the elderly, poor and those living in rural areas," report Jim Puzzanghera and Christi Parsons of the Tribune Co. Washington Bureau.

"Podesta said in the letter that 1 million requests are on the waiting list and the number could climb to more than 5 million by early February," Tribune reports. "Obama supports waiving federal rules to allow the Commerce Department to start sending out more coupons' rather than waiting for coupons already issued to expire." He also plans to include more money for the coupon program in his stimulus package; broadcasters favor that instead of a delay. They "have spent billions of dollars preparing for the transition and are eager to turn off their old analog signals." But Consumers Union favors a delay, "and Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), the incoming head of a House subcommittee with oversight over telecommunications, said Thursday that he is considering a delay." (Read more)

Obama includes rural broadband in stimulus plan

President-elect Barack Obama said today that his massive economic stimulus program includes "expanding broadband across America, so that a small business in a rural town can connect and compete with their counterparts anywhere in the world." Obama had called for action on rural broadband throughout his campaign and after the election.

"Most industry players concede that there needs to be greater stimulus for broadband rollout, but there are disagreements over how relevant the rankings are given that some of the leading countries are smaller and easier to wire. They also disagree on the best way to close the gap," John Eggerton reports for Broadcasting & Cable. "One proposal the FCC has been considering is to reform the government-run, telecommunications company-funded subsidy of rural telecommunications to underserved communities, the Universal Service Fund, to help fund the broadband rollout. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has also proposed creating a baseline free Internet service as part of an upcoming auction a national spectrum license, and recently agreed to allow unlicensed devices like laptops to share broadcast spectrum, in part to boost broadband penetration." (Read more)

Buyer found for Conn. papers in danger of closing

A buyer has been found for five small newspapers in central Connecticut that the financially troubled Journal Register Co. planned to close next week. Michael Schroeder, a Long Island media consultant and former publisher of a free commuter daily in Boston, has signed a letter of intent to buy the Bristol Press and the New Britain Herald, 9,000-circulation papers that have a combined Sunday edition, and three weeklies: the Wethersfield Post, the Newington Town Crier and the Rocky Hill Post.

"The move to save the papers became something of a community cause as Mayors Timothy Stewart, of New Britain, and Art Ward, of Bristol, along with state Reps. Tim O’Brien, Betty Boukus and Frank Nicastro and others worked to keep them open and functioning as a service to their constituents," the Press reported. In a news conference at the state Capitiol, Schroeder indicated that the papers, not far from the capital of Hatford, need to strengthen their community connections: “I’m here to give enough time so the community can save the papers.” Press reporter Jackie Majerus paraphrased him as saying "The papers are going to need subscribers, advertisers and community support to make it work." (Read more)

"Just who is Schroeder?" asks Lynn Doan of The Hartford Courant. "He's getting into the newspaper business as the industry faces fundamental change, but those who know him say he might be just the person to resurrect the Press, Herald and three weeklies that come with the deal." Schoreder was a copy editor and later chief of staff to the publisher of Newsday on Long Island. (Read more) For Press reporter Steve Collins' blog on efforts to save the paper, click here.

UPDATE, Jan. 13: Schroeder's plan for changes at the papers "could be one of the most remarkable experiments in media anywhere in America," Courant columnist Rick Green writes.

Sharper decline in number of students in rural Alaska suggests rural population is shrinking

As Alaska officials attempt to determine how many rural residents have migrated to the state's only urban area, in and around Anchorage, they are trying to find out how many students have left rural schools. State researchers ... report that rural schools lost 1,802 students in the last five years," writes Alex DeMarban of the Daily News-Miner in Fairbanks, but there have been some problems in using these statistics.

In the same period, the number of urban students declined by 204, and one would expect that number to have risen if rural students were migrating. A decrease in the birth rate is a likely factor. "The Alaska birth rate has fallen in recent years, dropping from 24.4 for every 1,000 residents in the 1980s to 15.4 in 2005-2006," DeMarban writes.

The review of student populations is part of a larger effort to determine at overall population trends in Alaska. What the rural student numbers clearly suggest is that the state's rural population, 34 percent of the total at the 2000 census, is in decline. (Read more)

An earlier blog here, citing an article from the Anchorage Daily, found that much of the data about the migration from Alaska's rural school population has been exaggerated.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Democrats plan bill to void late Bush regulations

Congressional Democrats are preparing bills to reverse a host of reguations adopted by the Bush administration in its final weeks, apparently including one intended to remove legal and technical obstacles to mountaintop-removal mining of coal. So reports Joaquin Sapien of ProPublica, citing The American Prospect, a liberal magazine.

The Prospect's Tapped blog reports that one of the first 10 Senate bills will be the "Returning Government to the American People Act, to return the government to the people by reviewing controversial 'midnight regulations' issued in the waning days of the Bush administration. Senate Democrats plan "to provide the new administration legislative authority, if it doesn't have it already, to review (and presumably deny) the last administration's late regulations." (Read more)

In agreement with EPA, Perdue will help its contract poultry farmers limit water pollution

Perdue Farms has agreed with the Environmental Protection Agency "to implement a four-year program aimed at protecting waters in the mid-Atlantic and Southeast" over the next four years, reports Janie Gabbett of MeatingPlace. "The agreement grew out of a pilot program initiated by EPA and Perdue on the Delmarva Peninsula in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia," Gabbett writes. The agreement is especially important for the Chesapeake Bay.

"Beginning in 2007, EPA and Perdue provided training and assistance to the largest independent contract poultry farms growing for Perdue throughout the peninsula," EPA said in a press release. The training helps farmers control water runoff and manage chicken litter. Under the agreement, each Perdue plant will have a management system "to reduce environmental impacts and increase operating efficiency," EPA said. "The initiative also will include an awards program to recognize poultry farms that demonstrate environmental excellence in protecting and restoring waterways." For a copy of the agreement, click here.

As housing bubble burst, rural had less air to lose

The burst of the housing bubble was a largely urban phenomenon. "From early 2007 until the third quarter of '08, housing prices in rural areas have risen by two percent on average, according to figures released by the Office for Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight," writes Bill Bishop of the Daily Yonder. "During the same period, metro housing prices have declined by nearly 8 percent."

Rural home values didn't drop as sharply because, as the graph shows, they did not experience a steep price increase that preceded the decline in urban home values that followed. "There was less rise in rural home prices from 2000 to 2005 so there was less air in the bubble when it finally popped," Bishop writes.

Not all rural areas were able to avoid the sharp decline in home values. Some areas of Pacific Coats states have seen a sizable decline in home values since 2007. However, "In the West South Central region (Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana), an area where rural communities have been bolstered by a strong energy-producing and agriculture economy, housing prices outside the cities have continued to grow despite the national bust," Bishop notes. Read an earlier post on the rural housing market by clicking here.
(Read more)

Coal-ash dump sites are unmonitored, unregulated

In wake of the coal-ash pond breach in East Tennessee last month (Associated Press photo), The New York Times reports that many of 1,300 similar dump sites in the U.S. remain unregulated and unmonitored. The sites contain toxic heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, mercury and selenium, which according to the Environmental Protection Agency threaten both water supplies and human health, and are not subject to any federal regulation.

The coal industry has even been seeking "beneficial uses" for coal ash as a means of dealing with the huge quantities of waste from burning coal. "In 2007, according to a coal industry estimate, 50 tons of fly ash even went to agricultural uses, like improving soil’s ability to hold water, despite a 1999 EPA warning about high levels of arsenic, writes the Times' Shaila Dewan. "The industry has promoted the reuse of coal combustion products because of the growing amount of them being produced each year — 131 million tons in 2007, up from less than 90 million tons in 1990."

There have been numerous reports of water contamination from coal-ash dumps across the country. "In 2007, an EPA report identified 63 sites in 26 states where the water was contaminated by heavy metals from such dumps, including three other Tennessee Valley Authority dumps," adds Dewan. "Environmental advocacy groups have submitted at least 17 additional cases that they say should be added to that list." (Read more)

Kentucky coal companies stop fighting bill that would require emergency plans for slurry spills

Kentucky's coal industry has dropped its opposition to legislation that requires emergency plans for action in the event of coal slurry disasters. "We recognize the need. It's the right thing to do," Bill Caylor, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, told Bill Estep of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Kentyucky has 64 coal-slurry impoundments that are considered "high-hazard," meaning that a dam break would pose high potential for death or serious structural damage. Many residents at risk began lobbying for legislation requiring emergency plans after a dam broke in Martin County in 2000. Though the damage was largely to creekside property, many believe it could easily have been much worse, because residents were not immediately notified of the breach.

Caylor says coal-industry opposition has never been to the implementation of emergency plans, but to legislation that unfairly targets slurry impoundments. He says that legislation should apply to all high-hazard dams. Kentucky is one of 10 states that do not yet require such plans. (Read more)

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Rural stock index scored better than the bigs in '08

The Daily Yonder summarized the 2008 performance of the "Yonder 40," the 40 stocks it has picked to represent the rural economy, and found that those stocks beat the Dow Jones Industrial Index, the NASDAQ composite and the Standard and Poor's 500. The Yonder 40 was down 31.3 percent , compared to -34% for the Dow, -38% for S&P, and -40.5% for NASDAQ.

"The Yonder 40 was helped by having some of the best performing stocks in the major indices," co-editor Bill Bishop writes. "The two best stocks in the S&P 500 in 2008 were UST, the smokeless tobacco producer, and Family Dollar, the Main Street retailer," while "Wal-Mart, a DY 40 stalwart, was one of only two stocks among the 30 companies in the Dow Industrials to show positive returns in 2008." (Read more)

Rural housing prices more stable than in metros

Rural housing prices have remained more stable than their metropolitan counterparts during the recent crisis, according to a study published in The Main Street Economist, a publication of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.

Chad Wilkerson, a vice-president of the bank, attributes that to "better fundamentals in home prices" in rural areas. He notes that rural housing prices have always been more closely related to household income than in urban areas, so there was less of a "bubble" in rural areas. Also, new home construction in rural areas slowed at the first sign of the economic crisis, which left fewer unsold houses to drive down prices.

The rural housing market is not immune from the crisis, though. While not experiencing the housing inflation seen in metropolitan areas, rural areas did see housing prices grow slightly faster than incomes, a trend that Wilkerson says "may need to unwind somewhat." He adds, "With commodity prices falling sharply in late 2008, many rural economies are bracing for slower economic growth heading forward -- and, in turn, softer demand for housing." (Read more)

RIP: Verna Mae Slone, writer, homemaker, cultural historian and a face of Appalachia

Appalachia lost one of its most authentic chroniclers yesterday, when Verna Mae Slone died at the age of 94. Slone, who lived most of her life in Pippa Passes, Ky., population 300, was best known for her first book, What My Heart Wants to Tell, which was published when she was 65. She went on to write five more books. "I often referred to her as the Grandma Moses of the mountains," Mike Mullins, longtime director of the Hindman Settlement School, told Tom Eblen of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

"In simple language, Slone wrote about life and the importance of family, community and the fast-disappearing culture of her beloved Eastern Kentucky mountains," Eblen writes. But along with serving as a voice for Appalachia, she also became a face of it when a 1993 photograph, right, by Barbara Beirne was the centerpiece of Beirne's "Women of Appalachia" exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution. "Verna Mae Slone was a gracious, dignified, intelligent woman," Beirne said Monday. "Everyone who views her photograph seems aware that they have been introduced to a very special person."

Slone became a writer after reading transcripts of oral histories she gave the settlement school. In addition to her books, she also wrote a column for the local weekly, the Troublesome Creek Times. The paper still has five community correspondents, plus a local music columnist. (Read more)

Study confirms long-held suspicion that when local budgets get tight, cops write more traffic tickets

A new study has confirmed what many have long suspected: when local government budgets tighten, more traffic tickets are written, at least in North Carolina. After getting a speeding ticket, Thomas A. Garrett, an assistant vice president at the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank, teamed with Gary A. Wagner, an economist at the University of Arkansas Little Rock, to study the correlation between local economies and traffic citations.

The study, "Red Ink in the Rearview Mirror," examined 96 North Carolina counties over 14 years, and found, that "controlling for other factors, a 1 percentage point drop in local government revenue leads to a roughly .32 percentage point increase in the number of traffic tickets in the following year, a statistically significant connection," reports Todd Frankel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Garrett said the study does not dispute that public safety remains at the heart of ticket-writing, but he said the study shows that political and economic interests affect how much emphasis is placed on writing tickets." (Read more)

The findings would not apply to all states. For example, when Kentucky unified its state judicial system in the mid-1970s, local governments stopped getting revenue from fines. They still get an annual appropriation from the state, based on the revenue they were generating then.

Developer drops bid for change that would have let federal forest roads be paved for development

We recently reported on controversial plans by the U.S. Forest Service to change its road easements, allowing the paving of logging roads through naitonal forests for residential development on adjacent tracts. But today, The Missoulian reports that the developer pushing for the change has backed off, citing public opposition as the primary factor.

“Although we continue to believe that the easement amendment would be beneficial to the general public, given the lack of receptivity, we have decided not to go forward with the amendment,” Plum Creek Timber Co. President and CEO Rick Holley wrote in a letter to Montana's Missoula County. The company had been working with Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey to amend the company's easements, which traditionally have been understood to allow roads only for timber transportation.

"The argument over the scope of the easements, in fact, remains far from resolved," writes Michael Jamison. County Commissioner Jean Curtiss "said Plum Creek has removed the urgency created by Rey's departure," which will come as the Bush administration ends. Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said Plum Creek's move will help create a more transparent process in deciding on how to interpret the easements: “If this is a good deal for the public, then there's no harm in taking the time to work through it properly." (Read more)

Immigration raids may have paved the way for unionization of America's largest pork plant

The recent unionization of the largest pork processing plant in the U.S., Smithfield Foods' plant in Tar Heel, N.C., may have been driven by immigration raids that purged the plant of undocumented workers wary of the idea.

"The 2007 raids purged the Bladen County plant of illegal Hispanic workers, and left behind a majority of native workers more likely to support unionization," writes Kristin Collins of The News & Observer of Raleigh. "According to the company, the share of Hispanic workers has shrunk from about half in early 2007 to one quarter today. Black people now make up 54 percent of the plant's work force. ... Labor experts say blacks are traditionally more supportive of unions than other races or ethnic groups."

A pro-union employee who is a U.S. citizen of Dominican descent told Collins that the raids left even legal workers at the 5,000-employee plant "too frightened to speak up for unionization," as Collins put it. But company and union officials dismissed the ethincity factor. A United Food and Commercial Workers spokesman "said the key to the union victory was not the exodus of Hispanics, but bridging the divides between races," Collins writes. (Read more)

Coalition urges an end to wildlife killings by USDA

"A coalition of 115 conservation, animal protection, ranching, and faith-based organizations from across the United States today sent a letter to President-elect Barack Obama's nominee for agriculture secretary asking that he halt the government slaughter of millions of wild animals, including wolves, coyotes, bears, cougars, and prairie dogs," according to the Environmental News Service. These groups argue that the killing of these animals is bad for the environment, because carnivores are "keystone species," and that money spent on the killings could be used to educate people to reduce contact with the animals. Former Iowa Gov, Tom Vilsack is Obama's choice for secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Read more)

Monday, January 05, 2009

Need a federal coupon for a digital TV converter? You'll have to wait; the program is out of money

Next month's transition to digital television, which is bound to be troublesome for many rural Americans, just got more troublesome. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced today that the program to provide $40 coupons for digital converter boxes has exhausted its $1.34 billion budget, "weeks sooner than anyone expected," because of heavy news coverage of the issue over the holidays, writes Ira Teinowitz of TVWeek.

"Instead of getting a coupon, consumers on the list will be notified there will be a delay," Teinowitz reports. "Through Feb. 11, about 351,000 coupons are expected to expire unused each week, and the same number then can be issued. Because more consumers applied for coupons in November and December, the number that will expire later in February and March also will grow, but that will come after the Feb. 17 DTV transition." (Read more)

"Members of Congress are now scrambling to find ways to allocate more money to the program," reports Kim Hart of The Washington Post. "Congress could solve the funding shortfall by approving more money for the program or waiving the rule to allow the NTIA to issue new coupons without waiting for unredeemed ones to expire." (Read more)

The switch to digital TV is a major story in rural America, but one that many rural journalists may have difficulty covering because it's an unfamiliar subject and the sources are mostly in Washington. The National Press Foundation is sponsoring a free, 75-minute webinar on the subject on Jan. 22. Space is limited, and available on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information, click here.

Towns seek new solutions to rising salt prices

High salt prices have some towns getting creative when it comes to keeping ice off their roads. A couple of recent articles have examined solutions to salt prices that have almost doubled since last year, a rise which has strained many towns' already-squeezed budgets.

The Wall Street Journal reports many towns are abandoning traditional road salt outright, or making their own concoctions. "We're sort of experimenting," says Ted Hubbard, the chief deputy county engineer in Hamilton County, Ohio, where road salt is being mixed with ash residue from coal-fired power plants. Other towns have tried garlic salt, molasses and "a rum-production byproduct that smells like soy sauce," write Ilan Brat and Timothy W. Martin. (Read more)

Some Midwestern states and localities, on the other hand, are finding that buying salt together is helping to defray costs and combat price gouging, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "Investigators also found price discrepancies in Indiana and Kentucky, where some local governments were paying up to 50 percent less than their counterparts just across the border in Ohio," writes Scott Williams. As a result, the Ohio Department of Transportation is recommending interstate cooperation with states such as Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota and Iowa in purchasing road salt, saying that "coordination instead of competition among other states could reduce the likelihood of unbalanced shortages and supplies." (Read more)

To read The Rural Blog's previous coverage of road salt, click here and here.

Study says 1/3 of veterans show signs of depression, a major risk factor for suicide

About a third of veterans treated at Department of Veterans Affairs health care facilities show signs of depression, a serious risk factor for suicide among them, a study by the University of Michigan Health System found. That is significant for rural areas, since rural inhabitants make up a disproportionately large amount of military recruits and the VA has had difficilty getting mental-health services to rural areas.

The researchers recommended that patients, in the 12 weeks after seeking treatment, should receive intensive treatment for depression to prevent suicidal behavior. Marcia Valenstein, M.D., clinical psychiatrist with the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System and associate professor of psychiatry with the University of Michigan Health System said the study shows "the need for very close follow-up for patients who are discharged from our inpatient services because this is a particularly vulnerable time for them."

The VA has made the isssue a priority by giving $300 million to expand suicide prevention and other mental-health services. (Read more)

Lovers of the land call for farm programs against soil loss and degradation, for rural communities

One of the first New Deal farm programs was the Soil Conservation Service, successor to the inaptly named Soil Erosion Service. Now it's part of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, part of the Department of Agriculture, but the ethic of soil stewardship lives on in county soil conservation districts -- and in the minds of thoughtful folks like farmer-author Wendell Berry of Kentucky, right, and Wes Jackson, a plant geneticist and president of The Land Institute in Salina, Kan. In The New York Times today, they call attention to the parlous health of our nation's soil.

Soil "is as nonrenewable as (and far more valuable than) oil. Unlike oil, it has no technological substitute — and no powerful friends in the halls of government," they write. Soil erosion and depletion "never enough noticed, has been made worse by the huge monocultures and continuous soil-exposure of the agriculture we now practice. To the problem of soil loss, the industrialization of agriculture has added pollution by toxic chemicals, now universally present in our farmlands and streams. ... Clearly, our present ways of agriculture are not sustainable, and so our food supply is not sustainable. We must restore ecological health to our agricultural landscapes, as well as economic and cultural stability to our rural communities."

Berry and Jackson recommend a return to crop rotations that include pasture for hay and grazing, and the "more radical response" of research to develop perennial versions of major grain crops. (Rye may offer the best immediate prospect.) And they call for "a national agricultural policy that is based upon ecological principles. We need a 50-year farm bill that addresses forthrightly the problems of soil loss and degradation, toxic pollution, fossil-fuel dependency and the destruction of rural communities." (Read more)

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Daughter of Stinking Creek author returns, tells story of two women who made big differences

Forty years ago, John Fetterman was a top writer at The Courier-Journal in Louisville and spent much of his time chronicling the tribulations of Appalachia, in particular the communities along Stinking Creek in the southeastern corner of the state. He wrote a book, Stinking Creek, and won a Pulitzer Prize for a C-J Magazine story on the funeral of a mountain soldier killed in Vietnam. John Fetterman died young, but took his daughter Mindy to Stinking Creek with him and inspired her to be a journalist. In the last year or so she went back, to report on life there for USA Today, for which she has been a reporter and is now manager of enterprise and innovation.

The result was an insipring story that ran over the holidays in USA Today, The C-J and surely some other Gannett Co. Inc. newspapers, accompanied by an online photo gallery and video. It told the tale of a teacher-farmer, Irma Gall, and a nurse-midwife, Peggy Kemner, left, who had spent 50 years on the creek, educating and serving generations of families with a wide range of health, social, youth and community services -- and are still doing it through tribulations of their own, such as the osteoporosis that has bent Kemner's back. (Photo by Garrett Hubbard)

"Quietly, they advocated birth control and education for women," Fetterman wrote. "Viewed at first with suspicion and distrust, the women known as "the nurses" have, over the decades, proved how much hands-on caring can make a difference in the lives of individuals. ... As family size shrank, the abject poverty that encased Stinking Creek began to ease. The mountains opened up, and the people could see out."

Fetterman says in the video, "I realized that these two women have had as much impact on Stinking Creek as the federal government's War on Poverty," which provides a national frame for her story. To read it, view the photo gallery and watch the video, all of which are worth your time, click here.

Forest Service plans to amend easements, allowing logging roads to be paved for subdivisions

In its final days, the Bush administration is preparing to change U.S. Forest Service easements to "make it far easier for mountain forests to be converted to housing subdivisions," by allowing logging roads to to paved, Karl Vick reports for The Washington Post.

Vick reports that Mark Rey, a former timber-industry lobbyist who is the agriculture undersecretary overseeing the Forest Service, negotiated the change "behind closed doors with the nation's largest private landowner," Plum Creek Timber Co., which transformed itself from a logging firm into a real-estate investment trust and is building subdivisions in the Rockies, primarily in Montana, where President-elect Barack Obama campaigned against the idea after journalists reported on it and county officials opposed it.

Michael Jamison of The Missoulian reports that officials in Missoula County officials, where Plum Creek owns 57 percent of the private land, that the change "could pave the way for wholesale rural development -- along with all the attendant costs, as taxpayers struggle to deliver urban infrastructure and firefighting" to newly developed areas.

"The uproar last summer forced Rey to postpone finalizing the change, which came after 'considerable internal disagreement' within the Forest Service, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report requested by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.)," Vick writes. "The report said that 900 miles of logging roads could be paved in Montana and that amending the long-held easements 'could have a nationwide impact.'" (Read more)