Google stunned a few communities last June with the announcement that they were taking a break from fiber deployments and considering building hybrid wired/wireless networks. Suddenly, people started to publicly question whether fiber is the Holy Grail that communities assume it to be. Wireless in broadband has been deified, vilified, misunderstood, hyped to holy heaven, and in some circles, just plain ignored. To many, fiber can do no wrong, only become faster. Then came gig fiber. No, wait, now there’s gig wireless. Communities need a reality check! Despite media reports after the Google announcement that anointed hybrid infrastructure the next big thing, these types of networks have been around for over a decade. But they tended to get lost as proponents of one technology or the other tried to get market dominance. Some smaller communities have already deployed hybrid networks tailored to meet their specific needs and resources.
I learned about Peter Crabtree’s work when my co-worker, Tim, yelled to me across the office, “Hey, Shawn, come look at these.” On his screen were black-and-white photographs of small-town newsrooms — the cluttered desks, a news staffer taking notes with a phone cradled under her chin, inexpensive wood paneling, police scanners, a writer intently looking at a computer as if her words might pop up on her screen any moment. We scrolled through Crabtree’s photographs and fell to telling stories about our own experiences in newsrooms. The people, the equipment, and the lived-in look even the newest spaces invariably had. It turned out that I actually interned at one of the papers that Crabtree featured, the Santa Fe New Mexican, back in 2000. Though newspapers have had a rough go of it lately, there’s still plenty of print journalism in small towns. There are an estimated 7,500 papers with under 30,000 in circulation in the U.S., according to a Stanford report. I think the ones that thrive have do so because their focus is local. To some extent they provide information that residents can’t get anywhere else. That doesn’t make them invulnerable, but it does perhaps make them irreplaceable. We like these photos so much, we’re going to run some today and then use the rest of Crabtree’s collection as a recurring feature for several weeks. It’s our way of calling attention to an important small-town institution and the people who put out the news.
Sen. Eric Brakey wants to allow the unlicensed ownership of hedgehogs as pets. Rep. Mattie Daughtry is seeking legislation that would regulate rabbit production for local consumption. Rep. David McCrea will push for a bill that would allow hunters whose religious beliefs prohibit them from wearing hunter orange to instead wear red clothing. As the 128th session of the Maine Legislature gets underway, these are just a few examples of some of the more unusual legislative requests that will be considered this year. Mattie Daughtry, a Brunswick Democrat, has proposed legislation that would allow farms that slaughter fewer than 1,000 rabbits annually to sell them on their farms, at farmers’ markets, at community supported agriculture outlets, to consumers at their homes, to grocery stores and to locally owned restaurants, all without being inspected. Under her proposal, rabbits can not be transported across state lines and all rabbits would have to be sold whole. The name of the rabbit producer and its address must be visible on a label as well as safe handling and cooking instructions. McCrea, a Fort Fairfield Democrat, is serving his first term in the Legislature. An Amish community in Fort Fairfield and Easton asked him to sponsor legislation that would allow Amish hunters to wear red rather than hunter orange during hunting season. He said the Amish people lead a simple life and try to avoid bringing attention to themselves. Their religious beliefs frown upon them wearing brightly colored clothing such as blaze orange, but their leaders told McCrea they could wear red.
This all-volunteer fire station and the two others in Shippensburg, a factory and university town of about 5,500 people in a central Pennsylvania valley, are vestiges of the past. Firefighters sit around on weekdays playing rummy, and people gather for bingo Friday nights. Yet, the stations are much quieter than they were decades ago, when they felt like the center of the town. And as the community’s interests have shifted from the fire stations, the number of volunteers has fallen. “Everybody has other things occupying their time,” said Shippensburg Fire Chief Randy O’Donnell. The number of volunteer firefighters has been falling for decades here and across the country, dropping by about 12 percent from 1984 to about 788,000 in 2014. That has spelled trouble for cities and towns — especially smaller ones in more rural areas — that have always depended on volunteer departments to save thousands, even millions, of dollars every year on salaries and benefits. Many have been forced to hire at least some paid staff. The decline in volunteers has become more drastic in the last decade, as young people have moved out of rural areas and into bigger cities.
In the coming weeks, swarms of sterile screwworm flies will blanket parts of the Middle Keys, an army of millions manufactured in Panama to combat an outbreak of the flesh-eating pest attacking the islands’ beloved Key deer. No screwworms have been detected on the mainland, but because so little is known about the dog — a German shepherd — or where it came from, officials want to act aggressively to prevent the spread of the grisly outbreak that has ravaged endangered Key deer. Since September, at least 135 deer, part of the last herd on the planet, have died in the Lower Keys.
An unusual type of contagious foot disease may be affecting Kansas’ deer population at a higher than average rate, and the cause isn’t yet known. Tim Donges, president of the Quality Deer Management Association’s Bluestem branch, said reports of foot rot have been coming in at an alarming rate in recent weeks. As a result, the QDMA is working with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism to get to the bottom of the issue. “It is new to me this year and has always been said to be a rarity, but it does not appear to be rare this year in Kansas,” Donges said. He said his land was among those that had apparently been hit by the disease. “I have 20 percent of the bucks that use my 200-acre farm as part of their home range that have shown signs of what appears to be foot rot,” Donges said. Shane Hesting, wildlife disease coordinator with the KDWPT, said he is working with a cooperative lab based in Georgia to try and figure out the cause of the high numbers of foot rot reports, and if it is indeed foot rot.
Fighting fire and going green. The City of Dubuque is planning to install solar panels on five of the city's six fire stations. The city says using solar energy will help cut electricity costs by more than 30%. The City Council unanimously approved a contract with Eagle Point Solar to install the solar arrays.
Upgrades to a wastewater treatment plant along Ontario's Grand River, led to a 70 per cent drop of fish that have both male and female characteristics within one year and a full recovery of the fish population within three years, according to researchers.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. just logged its second warmest year on record – a span covering 122 years of data. The average annual temperature for the contiguous U.S. was 54.9°F, which was 2.9°F above the 20th century average. 2016 ranks only behind 2012 (55.3°F), and it represents the 20th consecutive warmer-than-normal year for the U.S. Globally, 2015 holds the current title of warmest year on record. In addition to the near all-time record warmth, during 2016, the U.S. endured 15 weather-related disasters with losses exceeding $1 billion, causing a total of $46 billion in damages. This was the second highest number of billion-dollar events since 1980, only one less than 2011.
Plans are being laid in Washington to repeal the Affordable Care Act as soon as Donald Trump takes the presidential oath of office. Hidden inside the law is a little-known provision unrelated to the health insurance expansion that helps rural hospitals across America stay open. It’s called the 340B drug discount program. The ACA made 1,100 rural hospitals eligible and it requires drug companies to supply these remote providers with discounted medications. These discounts can be passed along to patients unable to afford expensive medications or the savings can help fund essential medical services for their communities such as emergency rooms and labor and delivery. Rural hospitals across the country face daunting economic challenges. Eighty have closed since 2010 and 673 -- fully one third of rural hospitals -- operate at a loss and are at risk of closure. These are often the only medical facilities for hundreds of miles in any direction. Rural hospitals provide essential, lifesaving local access to health care close to home for the 62 million Americans living in rural and remote communities. Rural hospitals serve vulnerable Americans that are older, sicker and poorer then their urban counterparts. These patients are more likely to suffer with a chronic disease that requires monitoring and follow up care. That makes convenient, local access to health providers vital. It also reduces the overall cost of care and improves patient outcomes and quality of life. The 340B program makes it possible for these hospitals to offer necessary services needed in their communities.