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Rural News

Georgia's voter fraud investigations disproportionately focus on rural

Daily Yonder | Posted on May 18, 2017

If Douglas, Georgia, City Commissioner Olivia Pearson lived in an urban county with better trained election workers, she might not be facing charges that threaten her public office and her freedom, a voting rights consultant said. Olivia Pearson is charged with illegally assisting a voter in the 2012 general election and falsely signing a form explaining her reason for doing so. The event occurred in Coffee County, a rural southeast Georgia county with a population of about 42,000. In testimony before the State Elections Board, Pearson maintained that poll workers allowed her into the voting area and then afterwords asked her to sign a form without proper explanation. The state assistant district attorney who is prosecuting Pearson said in court that Pearson was aware of the rules and intentionally lied on the form about her reasons for assisting a voter.Pearson returns to court on June 5 for a second trial. Her first trial in late March 2017 resulted in a hung jury. The charges carry a maximum of a five-year sentence. A felony conviction would also mean Pearson would no longer be eligible to hold her City Commission seat in Douglas, which has about 11,000 residents.

Religious beliefs involved in Oregon pesticide dispute

ABC news | Posted on May 18, 2017

Religious beliefs involving the use of pesticides are part of a dispute over noxious weeds on a 2,000-acre organic farm in Oregon that has attracted the attention of organic food supporters. Sherman County may order the owners of Azure Farms, near Moro, to spray to control the weeds if the farm doesn't come up with a weed management plan by next week.The county said in a letter it also might do the spraying itself then bill the farm owned by Ecclesia of Sinai.The farm, which is operated by a major supplier of organic products called Azure Standard, would lose its organic certification if herbicides are applied.The company has also cited religious beliefs for refusing to spray, including a biblical passage stating that the land should not be defiled.  Alfred Stelzer, of Ecclesia of Sinai, says the farm "made a covenant" to follow the Bible and cited a passage from the Book of Numbers 35:34 that says the land must not be polluted.Neighboring farmers who don't use organic methods have complained that the weeds pose a risk to their crops if they aren't contained.Growers of certified wheat seed, for example, say their crop could be contaminated by rush skeleton weed, Canada thistle, morning glory and white top, the newspaper reported.If the operation doesn't develop a plan and refuses to allow spraying, the county could ask Oregon agricultural officials to place their operations in quarantine.A video posted on the farm's website has resulted in hundreds of phone calls and thousands of e-mails to county officials from supporters of the farm.

Ontario town of 36,000 partners with Uber to create substitute for public transit

CBC Canada | Posted on May 18, 2017

Innisfil, Ont., will become the first town in Canada to partner with the controversial ride-hailing service Uber to provide on-demand transit service. The roughly 36,000-population Ontario town, just south of Barrie on the western shore of Lake Simcoe, is officially launching the service at 10 a.m. to help address community concerns about a lack of transit. "To me, it's a savings, and everybody in the community can use it," he said. "If we went with buses, only a certain amount of people can use it.""To me, it's a savings, and everybody in the community can use it," he said. "If we went with buses, only a certain amount of people can use it." Buying two buses for the town, hiring drivers, and putting bus stops in would cost roughly $1 million, Wauchope told CBC/Radio-Canada on Sunday.In contrast, around $175,000 has been put aside for the six-month pilot project, which also includes using local taxi companies for accessible rides.Wauchope said the decision to use Uber came amid pressure from students, seniors and one-car families. It also followed a June 2016 town staff report to council that suggested looking into an on-demand transit option.  So how, exactly, will the partnership work?According to the town, Innisfil residents will be able to book trips anytime, anywhere. Certain key destinations — such as the Barrie South GO train station and Innisfil Recreational Complex and Town Hall area — will have set rates of $3 to $5.Riders can also pick any destination of their choice, and will save $5 off their fare.

A New Meth Surge Gathers Momentum

Pew Charitable Trust | Posted on May 18, 2017

The opioid epidemic has killed tens of thousands over the last two years and driven major reforms in state and local law enforcement and public health policies for people with addiction. But another deadly but popular drug, methamphetamine, also has been surging in many parts of the country. And federal officials say that, based on what they learned as opioids swept the U.S., methamphetamine is likely to spread even further. From Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma to Montana, Wisconsin and Minnesota and all across the South, inexpensive methamphetamine is flowing in from Mexico, fueling what police and epidemiologists say is an alarming increase in the number of people using the drug, and dying from it. Nationwide, regular use of the inexpensive and widely available illicit stimulant increased from 3 to 4 percent of the population between 2010 and 2015, according to SAMHSA. At the same time, heroin use shot from 1 to 2 percent of the population.  The number of people using methamphetamine, also known as meth, crystal meth, crystal, crank, ice and speed, has been among the highest of any illicit substance for decades. But despite the stimulant’s harmful long-term effects on the body — including rotting teeth, heart and kidney failure, and skin lesions — its overdose potential is much lower than prescription painkillers and other opioids.

Dam on Yellowstone River moves ahead

High Country News | Posted on May 16, 2017

Pallid sturgeon, declared endangered in 1990, can live for decades and reach 5 feet in length. Fewer than 125 are left in the Upper Missouri River Basin; they’re believed to be genetically distinct and key to the species’ survival. Their reproduction is hampered by dams, though, and in 2015, environmental groups sued to demolish one on the Yellowstone River that blocks 165 miles of crucial spawning habitat (“Can pallid sturgeon hang on in the overworked Missouri River?” HCN, 9/17/12). Federal agencies proposed building a new dam with a fish bypass channel as a compromise, but a U.S. district court judge blocked the project in 2015, pending review of the bypass channel’s efficacy. In April, the judge allowed the $57 million dam to proceed. However, the environmental review acknowledges that “there is no evidence” that sufficient numbers of sturgeon will use the bypass, leaving the fate of the prehistoric fish in limbo.

When Oregon farm and ranch land changes hands

Capital Press | Posted on May 16, 2017

The impact is unclear at this point, but the primary worry is about ag land being taken out of production. Jim Johnson, the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s land-use and water planning coordinator, said ag land conversion is a concern especially in areas with “amenity values.” Daggett’s scenic Wallowa County is an example, “Where the primary reason to live out there is to be there, and the secondary reason is to farm,” Johnson said.Ag property purchased to be a recreational site, he said, inflates land values and makes it more expensive for farmers and ranchers to buy or rent.New owners who aren’t interested in farming themselves might gain more revenue by enrolling land in the federal Conservation Reserve Program, in which they receive payments for taking it out of production, rather than leasing crop land to other farmers, said Walter Powell, a Condon, Ore., wheat farmer. In that case, there’s a reduction to the farming infrastructure: the seed and fertilizer dealer, the equipment store, local employment and more, Powell said.Jim Wood, a cattle rancher near Post, in Central Oregon, said the biggest threat to high-desert cattle ranching is the fragmentation of grazing ground. Ranching in his area requires big acreage to be ecologically and economically sustainable, and segmentation or development for other uses cuts into that and increases land prices, Wood said.“If you overgraze, this landscape is quick to be unforgiving, and you’re going to be out of business,” he said.Oregon’s land-use laws — adopted to preserve farm and forest land from urban sprawl — generally preclude rapid, wholesale development of agricultural land.Statewide, counties approved 473 houses on farmland in 2014 and 522 in 2015, the most current figures provided by the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development.

As Fentanyl Spreads, States Step Up Responses

Pew Charitable Trust | Posted on May 11, 2017

The presence of fentanyl in the illicit drug supply has put law enforcement officials and the medical community on high alert in more than a dozen states, accelerating the battle against opioids on all fronts. States, counties and cities are responding to this latest crisis by doing more of what they already were doing: stockpiling the overdose reversal drug naloxone, funding more drug treatment, and ramping up police surveillance of drug trafficking. In addition, a handful of states are stiffening penalties for selling the lethal drug. But even in hard hit states that have been battling fentanyl for more than three years, the death toll continues to spike. Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia and Rhode Island were among the states hit hard by fentanyl as early as 2013. Maryland and other states also are developing policies for detecting the deadly drug as quickly as possible and targeting public health messages to affected communities.

The decline of Arctic sea ice

The Economist | Posted on May 2, 2017

Over the past three decades the area of sea ice in the Arctic has fallen by more than half and its volume has plummeted by three-quarters. So says a report “Snow, Water, Ice, Permafrost in the Arctic” (SWIPA), produced under the auspices of the Arctic Council, a scientific-policy club for the eight countries with territory in the Arctic Circle, as well as observers including China and India.  SWIPA estimates that the Arctic will be free of sea ice in the summer by 2040. Scientists previously suggested this would not occur until 2070. The thickness of ice in the central Arctic ocean declined by 65% between 1975 and 2012; record lows in the maximum extent of Arctic sea ice occurred in March. 


California Assembly bill to expand broadband in rural areas moves forward

The Reporter | Posted on May 1, 2017

A $330 million package will expand broadband access and digital literacy to communities deprived of a reliable internet connection, thanks to Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D-Solano.  Assembly Bill 1665, joint-authored by several bipartisan Assemblymembers, including Aguiar-Curry, Eduardo Garcia, D – Coachella and Brian Dahle, R – Bieber, passed out of the Assembly Communications and Conveyance Committee with a 12-0 vote.“People don’t start businesses in areas where they can’t even send an email,” Aguiar-Curry said. “When I was the mayor of Winters, I watched families get their first email address. I saw farmworkers finally have a platform to talk to their kids’ teachers despite their work hours. I know first-hand how internet access can transform a community. AB 1665 will transform communities across California.”Past efforts to increase funding to close the connectivity gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” known as the “Digital Divide,” were intensely opposed by the largest telecommunications companies. AB 1665 is the product of bipartisan legislative leadership. After a three-year stalemate, this bill represents a cooperative effort between legislators and representatives from the telecommunications industry to invest in broadband access and rural development.The California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) is a state program aimed at closing the Digital Divide. The CASF does not depend upon General Fund dollars, but instead is funded by a small surcharge on in-state phone bills spread out over a five-year period. The current goal of this program is to incentivize the expansion of broadband infrastructure to 98 percent of California households. However, Aguiar-Curry and her partners successfully negotiated to expand this goal to 98 percent of households in every geographic region of the state, assuring that rural California would be served as well, instead of the target being satisfied in urban areas alone.“Using this regional approach to provide internet to historically unserved and underserved communities, we will be able to help our schools, students, and small businesses, and effectively connect rural constituencies to the rest of the world,” Dahle said has he testified in support of AB 1665. “This bill will provide services to rural areas of the state that have long been forgotten, or seen as too difficult and remote to provide service.”

Florida Legislature cuts all funds for Florida Forever land conservation program

Treasure Coast Palm | Posted on May 1, 2017

Lawmakers Friday tentatively agreed to defund the state's main land conservation program to free up money for a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to curb discharges, and other legislative priorities. On the chopping block is Florida Forever, which acquires land for trails, natural spaces and conservation areas. That's not final until the Legislature passes a state budget by the May 5 end of session, and things still could change, state Sen. Rob Bradley said. The decision by House and Senate committees in charge of negotiating environmental spending comes less than three years after more than 75 percent of voters passed constitutional Amendment 1 in 2014 to set aside money for land and water preservation.Florida Forever is taking a back seat to Senate President Joe Negron's push to borrow up to $1.2 billion to build the reservoir to reduce harmful discharges into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers, key lawmakers said. Also taking priority are proposals to inject more money into restoring beaches, Lake Apopka and the St. Johns River, said Bradley, the chairman of the Senate natural resources budget committee. He's pushing to allocate $20 million annually for the St. Johns. Beaches are a priority of Senate budget chief Jack Latvala. Environmental groups aren't having it. They have long argued lawmakers could pay for all environmental programs if they didn't use Amendment 1 proceeds to pay for routine operating expenses such as salaries and vehicle purchases.The House and Senate earlier this session proposed cutting a program that pays ranchers not to develop their lands. They tentatively agreed to allocate $14.5 million to buy land for parks."When 75 percent of voters said 'yes' to the Water and Land Conservation Amendment in 2014, they expected more funding for parks, waterways and protected wildlife habitat — not less, and certainly not zero," said Aliki Moncrief, executive director of Florida Conservation Voters, a nonpartisan nonprofit whose mission is environmental protection.