Archives – March, 2011
An increasing awareness of the concerns surrounding the disposal of prescription drugs has spurred a local effort to provide Asheville and Buncombe County residents with a safe place to deposit unwanted medicine.
To handle the growing need, the APD has set up its own secure prescription drop box in the department for use by residents looking for a way to get rid of medication.
Leaving expired prescriptions around the house can pose a health risk if mistakenly ingested, and parents are increasingly diligent to keep drugs out of children’s hands. Meanwhile, throwing medicine away leaves them vulnerable to animals or even humans sorting through trash. And more and more people are getting the word that flushing prescriptions down the toilet has the potential to contaminate water sources.
Detective Tammy Bryson of the APD’s Criminal Drug Unit says a large number of requests from the community made it apparent that such a program was needed locally. “People were calling in once or twice a week saying, what do I do with them?” Bryson says. “Officers were running out to get them.”
The APD and the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office have participated with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation to host regular Operation Medicine Drop events like the one on Saturday, March 26, and over the past year, Bryson says, both departments have worked to establish a pick-up program for residents calling in. Even then, picking up and disposing of prescription medicine required the approval of the DEA and a federally-approved method of safe destruction. And as the program progressed, demand grew high enough that the department saw a need for its own drop off location.
“People are more aware of the risks of keeping meds around and the hazards of disposing of them improperly,” Bryson says. “If we get prescriptions out of the house and get them destroyed, it reduces the chances of something like that happening.”
“The best way to prevent the potential for tragedy from accidental poisoning is to remove the risk from the environment,” says APD Chief Bill Hogan. “The drop-box located at APD is a way we can offer a secure, convenient method of disposal for our citizens. This is an on-going effort to keep our children and our community safe.”
The box is located on the lower level of the municipal building inside the door marked Property Management on South Spruce Street and is available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday though Friday. The drop box is only available to members of the public, not for commercial use and only prescription medication can be accepted, not medical waste or needles.
Prescriptions dropped off at the location are properly destroyed and disposed of by the department’s Evidence Management Section.
For more information about the medicine drop box, contact Det. Tammy Bryson at (828) 250-4628. For information on the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office’s own drop box, contact Lt. Randy Sorrells at (828) 250-4473.
March 31, 2011
The City of Asheville Fire Department gave serious messages a fun twist recently, bringing its Asheville PALS skits to City of Asheville elementary schools. Asheville PALS, which stands for Prevention and Life Safety, is a program developed by AFD that uses skits, clowns, puppets and kid-favorite Sparky the Fire Dog to convey fire and child safety lessons to kids.
“We wanted to create a fun way to interact with kids,” says AFD Public Information Officer Kelley Webb. “They get a kick out of the program and learn safety lessons as well. It’s a different way of reaching them.”
This is the fifth year for the Asheville PALS program, and firefighters who volunteered to clown around and appear in the show performed at Sandhill-Venable, Johnston, Haw Creek, Jones and Vance Elementary Schools.
This year, the skit’s theme was “Playing in the Park,” and covered important child safety lessons like always wearing a bike helmet, being cautious of strangers and not playing with matches.
Webb, who played along with the clowns and puppets onstage, also highlighted the importance of smoke detectors in the home and having a family meeting place outside the house in case of a fire.
The Asheville Fire Department coordinates programs throughout the year to educate and interact with school students. Alongside the PALS presentation in the spring, the department also visited schools in October to offer smoke alarm and fire safety sessions. Students there were able to learn about fire trucks, participate in fire drills and use the department’s educational fire safety trailer to talk about fire safety in the home.
March 28, 2011
City of Asheville Arborist Mark Foster walks up to a tree on Battery Park Avenue and effortlessly flecks away a piece of loose, spongy bark revealing exposed wood instead of a normal, colorful inner bark. The London plane sycamore is dying, he says, along with the others on that stretch of sidewalk. For the past few seasons, Public Works staff have trimmed the canopies of the row of trees further and further back to remove dead branches, and this spring, he doesn’t expect many of them to leaf out at all. “These are in bad shape.” he says. “This is a mismatch between a tree and the environment it needs.”
Like many of the trees in downtown Asheville, the sycamores were planted some 20 years ago and, alongside others in the Downtown Business District, will be replaced in the coming weeks.
Foster is aware of the exposure that removing trees earns in Asheville, and as an arborist, is sympathetic to the desire for healthy, attractive trees in the city. That’s why these sycamores, along with the others being removed, will be replaced with young, stronger and easier to maintain specimens like fruitless sweet gum and Cleveland select pear trees.
Probably the highest-profile of the projects will be the replacement of large Bradford pear trees in front of the Haywood Park Hotel. Older Bradford pear trees, Foster says, are highly susceptible to broken limbs during storms, and heavier limbs become a hazard if they extend over sidewalks and traffic. And, he says, the trees grow wide canopies that tend to impact buildings like the Haywood Park Hotel, the owners of which agree with Foster’s assessment. “People planted Bradford pears because they are attractive when they bloom and they are urban tolerant.” Foster says. “It wasn’t until they began falling apart 15 or 20 years later that people realized it wasn’t such a good idea.”
The introduction of Cleveland select pears and fruitless sweet gum on the site, which have a more upright branch form, will offer the ability to maintain the new canopy and keep it off of surrounding buildings, Foster says.
Already, crews can be seen removing red and sugar maples on College Street behind the Biltmore building. In those cases, the trees are upending and buckling the sidewalk to the point where the pedestrian walkway needs to be replaced. Unfortunately, Foster says, the trees were not planted low enough relative to the walkway to avoid cracking it, making it necessary to repair the sidewalk to make it safe and meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards. “It was getting so distorted that it was becoming a concern,” Foster says.
The new trees, a mix of red maple and American holly, will be planted lower and with a root barrier in place to prevent their encroachment and degradation of the sidewalks. Trees on Patton Avenue at the BB&T building will also be replaced to make necessary sidewalk repairs.
And, he says, the younger trees will allow an opportunity for developmental pruning that was not done in the case of many downtown trees. This kind of pruning helps develop good form and branch structure and reduces the amount of maintenance they need later in life.
Click here to see more about Asheville’s street trees.
March 24, 2011
Math literacy is crucial to succeeding in the 21st century, but difficulties with math remain one of the leading causes of school dropouts. Bridging that gap is the idea behind a partnership between the City of Asheville’s 21st Century community learning program and UNC Asheville’s Math and Social Justice class.
Each Monday afternoon over the past school year, UNCA students and Asheville Middle School students met for math tutoring. “Their focus is very much tied into our goals of enrichment,” says Ginny Alexander, Director of the 21st Century Community Learning Center. “It is part of making kids feel good about themselves, improving and getting more confident and not dropping out.”
The 21st Century program is part of the city’s West Riverside Operation Weed and Seed initiative and is funded through the State Department of Public Instruction by Department of Education’s Title IV “No Child Left Behind” federal funds. As grant administrator, the City of Asheville contracts with independent teachers and resource providers that incorporate learning into more aspects of student’s lives. That can include sports, cooking or even dance. “We want to get the kids to apply what they are learning,” says Alexander. “If we find new ways to engage students, they don’t even know they are learning.”
The UNC Asheville partnership grew out of a course developed by Associate Professor Sam Kaplan, who says that math literacy is one of today’s great social equalizers. “What you see about 100 years ago is a push towards reading and writing literacy, now you see the same push for math literacy,” Kaplan says.
Middle school students benefit from one-on-one tutoring sessions, while the UNCA students get tutoring experience and class credit. Tutors use creative techniques to turn the student’s homework and math problems into examples of real-life problem solving, showing the students how math applies to their lives. To mix it up, athletic activities designed to feature math problems get kids moving while thinking. At the end of each day, Kaplan and his students gather in the Asheville Middle School media center to discuss what they have learned.
Alexander points to the tutoring as an example of the prevention, intervention and neighborhood improvement strategies of the Weed and Seed initiative, giving children a better chance at staying in school and more options for their future.
“Kids in the Weed and Seed community say ‘I want more choices.’” Alexander says. “And knowledge of math gives you those choices.”
Click here to see volunteer opportunities with the 21st Century CLC.
March 22, 2011
With the completion of a sidewalk connection project on Short Michigan Avenue this week, the Engineering Services and Street divisions of the City of Asheville’s Public Works Department finished work on a menu of street, pedestrian and bicycle access improvements funded by grants through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
The grant-funded improvements not only provided work for private contractors, but also allowed for the completion of enhancement projects that were priorities for the City of Asheville like new bike lanes, connecting sidewalk routes and repaving roads. The funding had an additional local economic impact on area business, as area contractors were able to provide the lowest responsive, responsible bid on all projects
Begun in the Spring of 2010, each project contains multiple enhancements, most of which are highlighted in the city’s pedestrian and bicycle master plans. Stimulus funding grants were awarded based on an application process, with federal funds for sidewalk and street projects appropriated by the North Carolina Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration and distributed through the French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization. Each project was supported by a vote by Asheville City Council.
City of Asheville Engineering Services Manager Greg Shuler said once funding opportunities were announced, city staff rallied to navigate the procedures laid out in the ARRA grant application identify suitable projects and identify likely candidates for stimulus funds.
“The magic words here were ‘shovel ready,’” Shuler said. “We needed projects we could act quickly on.”
That effort was aided by existing master plans which show priorities and plans based on public input processes and council support. “We used master plans as much as possible to best identify projects that would work,” Shuler said. “This is is an example of why it is so beneficial to have plans put down on paper, so when funding comes together, you are ready to jump.”
Below are the ARRA funded sidewalk and street improvements performed by the City of Asheville’s Public Works Department:
• Coxe Avenue/South Slope bike resurfacing and bike lanes: Crews milled up old asphalt the entire length of Coxe Avenue and resurfaced including drainage upgrades. Bike lanes were painted on Coxe Avenue as well as Martin Luther King Drive, Asheland Avenue, and Hilliard Avenue. “The addition of bike lanes was just huge there,” Shuler said.”
• Kimberly Avenue resurfacing and uphill bike climbing lane: “We were very proud of that project,” Shuler said. “That road needed repaving in the worst way, and we were able to do a good resurfacing and improve our bicycle infrastructure.”
• Downtown Streetscapes: Landscaping and plantings on the median and islands on College Street.
• Fairview Road traffic signals in Oakley: Signals improve vehicular flow in a congested area while improving pedestrian safety in a busy school zone. “We’re really proud of our inspectors and engineers who worked on this one,” Shuler said.
• Closing sidewalk gaps: Dramatically improving pedestrian access can be achieved by linking existing stretches of sidewalks that previously were separated by gaps. Such links were made on Hendersonville Road, Chocktaw Street, Depot Street, Short Michigan Avenue, Evelyn Place, Hillard Avenue and Linden Street.
Street and sidewalk projects were not the only City of Asheville Initiatives funded by the ARRA. Other initiatives include homeless prevention, justice assistance grants, energy efficiency upgrades and the recently approved up-fitting of LED street lights. To see more information on Asheville’s use of ARRA funding, click here.
March 17, 2011
Asheville’s firefighters got an up-close look last week at the inner workings of vehicles that transport potentially hazardous chemicals along highways and rail lines. Over three days, the Asheville Fire Department learned the ins and outs of tanker trucks and tractor trailers that transport anhydrous ammonia, a chemical that is used in agriculture, wastewater treatment, and refrigeration, but that can be dangerous in the case of a wreck or equipment failure.
“Firefighters don’t just respond to fires,” said Asheville Fire Department Emergency Management Specialist Abby Moore. “They need to be aware of all kinds of dangers and how to deal with them. There is no such thing as too much training.”
The training was hosted by Grammer Industries, a lead transport company of anhydrous ammonia, and the Potash Corporation, which manufactures the chemical. Both companies are active in training first responders on how to address the chemical and the machinery used to transport it, providing a demonstration rail car and tractor trailer with cut aways that show how the safety mechanisms work.
The companies are participating in a federal program that takes them through the eastern part of North Carolina, but Moore was able to secure a visit to Asheville utilizing Homeland Security grant funding.
The three days of training and instruction provided a learning opportunity not only the department’s HAZMAT team, but for the department as a whole.
“This really is a benefit to the department, to learn how to respond in a safe way,” Moore said.
Moore said the training could not have happened without the cooperation of Norfolk Southern, who allowed the department to use its rail yard on Meadow Road. “They deserve a lot of thanks for this,” Moore said.
To best be able to respond to emergencies, the Asheville Fire Department participates in regular training in a variety of different scenarios. Last May, the department’s HAZMANT team hosted a regional training drill at the Norfolk Southern site. And in November, the department trained on high-ropes skills thanks to the use of a construction crane on the Mission Hospital campus.
March 14, 2011
Bus riders and non-riders alike have undoubtably noticed a handful of new City of Asheville buses making the rounds in the past few weeks. After all, with their bright blue and green color scheme, the additions to the city’s transit fleet are hard to miss. But it is the environmentally friendly technology the buses use that makes them even more notable.
The five new buses recently put on the road are electric/diesel hybrid vehicles purchased by the City of Asheville’s Transportation Department over the past year, the first of an eventual full replacement of the city’s 16-bus fleet by mid 2013. Transportation Planning Manager Mariate Echeverry says her department saw an opportunity for the buses to fill needed roles in current service and put them online to replace the city’s oldest vehicles.
“We wanted to go ahead and get them out on the road,” Echeverry said. The move also allows the public to get a glimpse of the big changes Asheville transit will see in the future, and allow the Transportation Department to collect performance data on the new vehicles. “We saw an opportunity to display to the public that there are changes coming,” Echeverry added.
The hybrids are propelled partially by electricity and partially by diesel, and recharge their batteries when drivers apply the brakes. Because they use next-generation hybrid technology, they do not need to be charged at charging stations, relying solely on the brakes to charge the batteries.
The hybrid buses are being rotated through different routes, but so far are operating on routes on the busiest and most congested corridors in the city: Merrimon Avenue, Haywood Road, Biltmore Avenue, Tunnel Road and Patton Avenue. Those kinds of roads are the most beneficial because stop-and-go traffic is a big fuel consumer for standard diesel buses, and it provides more braking for hybrids to use to recharge.
Escheverry also notes that the electric power makes for a quieter ride, meaning that passengers can hold conversations without as much background noise. That and the brand new interior make for a much improved ride, she points out.
March 11, 2011
Olive and Obiwan, the WNC Nature Center’s resident otters, officially moved into their newly renovated home on Thursday, March 10, exploring a new habitat and delighting a crowd of onlookers. The new exhibit space, which serves as a gateway exhibit for the nature center, provides the otters with more space to roam and new kinds of environments in which to explore.
“There’s not many species that have as wide a range of habitat in North America as otters do,” explains the center’s Animal Curator Allison Ballentine. “So we tried to include a good variety of environments.”
That includes adding more places for the otters to hide and a larger amount of substrate – ground material that otters use to dry their fur.
Funding for the exhibit renovation came thanks to a $60,000 donation through the non-profit Friends of the WNC Nature Center. City of Asheville funding was used to augment surrounding areas to match the exhibit’s new look.
The exhibit also includes more observation spots for WNC Nature Center visitors, and is incorporated with surrounding areas like the adjacent turtle pond. Chris Gentile, the center’s director, said the exhibit is the result of a design adapted for the otter’s enjoyment and executed by the contractors on the project.
“They really hit it out of the park,” Gentile said.
To get ready for the big day, Olive and Obiwan were gradually introduced to their new habitat over the course of a week, taking tentative first steps as nature center employees looked on to make sure the animals were safe and unable to escape.
“It took them about 20 minutes for them to go through the tunnel the first time,” Ballentine said. “It was so rewarding to watch them go through and see the habitat.”
On Thursday’s opening event, the otters quickly took to their new home, enthusiastically approaching a housewarming gift of an ice sculpture complete with fish frozen inside.
The otter exhibit has always been one of the center’s most popular attractions, and the new design is enhanced by recently added Appalachian-based plantings and landscaping as well as educational markers. Gentile says the design is indicative of the direction in which the WNC Nature Center is headed. The center, he said, is currently developing site plans for other exhibits in the park that will further enhance the enjoyment of animals and visitors.
“We are getting to the place where each exhibit is telling a story, and that’s right where we want to be,” Gentile said.
The WNC Nature Center’s mission is to increase public awareness and understanding of the natural environment of Western North Carolina. Featuring over 150 animals including otters, black bear and red wolf, the Center is open from 10:00 – 5:00 daily.
The Center is operated by the City of Asheville and is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)
March 10, 2011