The gambling news: West of Asheville, there's no bigger economic engine than the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and its Harrah's Cherokee Casino. The Smoky Mountain News reports that, for the first time, alcohol sales are a viable possibility at the casino. That's because the tribal council has agreed to allow a boundary-wide vote on whether alcohol should be sold there.
"Alcohol is a contentious issue among members of the Eastern Band, which has long banned all alcohol sales on the reservation," according to the newspaper. "But the Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise Board has maintained that adding alcohol to the casino is all about business."
• Meanwhile, the tribe is exploring the possibilities of opening a new gaming facility, which would feature high-stakes bingo and some electronic games, on tribal land in either Cherokee County or the Snowbird community. "Principal Chief Michell Hicks said a feasibility study conducted roughly three years ago proved such a facility would be positive in creating jobs for both Native Americans and other residents of western North Carolina," the Cherokee Scout reports.
It's dry outside: It's the dog days of summer, and the ongoing drought is dominating news headlines. Here's a look:
• In Madison County, the Marshall town board met to address a water crisis that began when one of the town's three wells stopped producing water. The town has adopted mandatory water restrictions, according to the News Record & Sentinel. "Specifically, the town has ordered that restaurants use paper or plastic ware, that no one wash their car, and that no yards to be watered. Aldermen suggested residents limit shower times and reduce the number of times they wash clothes and dishes."
• In McDowell County, the city of Marion is asking people to voluntarily conserve water. In Transylvania County, the town of Rosman is considering mandatory water restrictions. There's an outdoor watering ban in Robbinsville in Graham County. Mitchell and Yancey county officials are keeping an eye on water levels, but supplies are good so far.
• In Highlands, town officials have also asked people to voluntarily cut their water usage, and they've gotten specific. They want residents to limit the use of washing machines, dishwashers and the flushing of toilets, and showers should be four minutes or less, the Highlander newspaper reports. In an interesting aside, the newspaper notes that some days, water simply drips over Bridal Veil Falls, one of the area's most popular waterfalls.
• Hendersonville City Council has been beset by complaints from businesses after it recently enacted mandatory water restrictions.
• The bad news is that the drought means water flow in the French Broad River has reached the lowest levels since record-keeping began in 1895. The good news is that low water levels make it a lot easier to catch fish.
In the courts:The trial of Polk County Sheriff Chris Abril will now be held in Buncombe County after a judge approved the change of venue, according to the Times-News in Hendersonville. The trial will be scheduled for November. "Abril, 45, was arrested Aug. 28, 2006, and charged with five counts of first-degree statutory rape and one count of first-degree sexual offense from incidents that are alleged to have occurred 20 years ago involving a 10-year-old girl and 12-year-old girl," the newspaper reports.
• In Henderson County, the former director of a controversial animal shelter is facing 93 misdemeanors for mistreating dogs and cats and will have her next court appearance in October. "In July, sheriff’s deputies and animal control officers seized 44 animals from (Kim) Kappler’s home in Flat Rock and charged her with multiple violations of the county’s animal control ordinance and assessed a $4.4 million fine," the Times-News reported.
Dumb criminal news: Police in McDowell County say a guy stole a riding lawn mower from a home and drove it to a nearby nursery, where he ditched it for a flatbed truck, then wrecked the truck in Morganton. "This suspect was left with no ride — except the one he got to jail," the McDowell News reported.
Murder trial: A high-profile murder trial of a man charged with killing three people at a Christmas-tree farm in Ashe County on the North Carolina/Virginia border earlier this year has started. Seventy-four-year-old Ronald F. Hudler, his son and another man were found dead on Jan. 24. Hudler owned and operated several tree farms and was chairman of the N.C. Department of Labor's Agricultural Safety and Health Council. In 1995, a tree from his farm was the official White House Christmas tree.
School construction: While schools are re-opening across the region, parents in Henderson County are eagerly watching the construction of two new schools there, according to the Pisgah Mountain News. There's a $14.5 million elementary school under construction in Mills River. It should be finished in about a year. And construction is proceeding on the $15 million Hillandale Elementary School.
Young politico: Chris McClure, the 28-year-old executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party is a Haywood County native, reports the Mountaineer newspaper. "The Tuscola High School graduate of 1998 grew up in Hazelwood, then moved to Clyde. He went on to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill aspiring to be a doctor, he said, but encountered a chemistry class that dramatically changed his plans."
Long live the local Libertarian Party: The Asheville Daily Planet reports that the local Libertarian Party is still alive. Its future was in question when chairman Bernard Carman stepped down a few weeks ago, but Robert Parker stepped up to succeed him. There's one problem — Parker is registered "unaffiliated" rather than as a Libertarian, a mix-up he blamed on the local elections board. The newspaper also reported on a visit by the party's gubernatorial nominee, Michael Munger, and the party's state chairwoman, Barbara Howe.
Ghost Town gears up: Two key pieces of the Maggie Valley amusement park Ghost Town in the Sky are just about ready to open. The park's Cliffhanger roller coaster, formerly the Red Devil, is ready to thrill riders after $6 million in repairs in upgrades, according to the Haywood County News. Perched on the side of Buck Mountain, it's one of the most unique roller coasters around. The park's incline railway should be ready to carry visitors to the top of the mountain in about a month. The park closed in 2002, but opened last May under new ownership.
— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor
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