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Today is first day of early voting!

Today is the first day to vote early in this year’s primary elections. Party representation on the ballots ranging from school board and townships offices to the state and federal level are up for election. Voters who want to cast their ballots before the formal primary election day, Tuesday, May 6, can do so on non-holiday weekdays and the last two Saturdays from today until May 6th. A few changes in the voting process have been instituted this voting season. One is a change of location, moving from the Curry Building to a couple blocks west at 401 West 7th Street. Linda Robbins, Monroe County Clerk and the person overseeing local voting, explains the reason for the move.

“The location’s changed but we really hope people come out and see us there and vote,” Robbins says.

Over the last few election cycles, the county has been under pressure to make the primary voting site, as well as all of the local regular voting locations, fully accessible to the physically impaired, as required by the 2002 Help America Vote Act. Receiving your ballot should also be a faster and smoother process.

“I think it will be much easier for people to come vote,” Robbins says, “We have a few new features, for example we can scan your driver’s license if that’s your form of ID and enter that. We also have new e-poll books that won’t change much for the voter, but anyone working the polls will notice a big change.”

The newly adopted E-poll books will also allow for immediate access to find out who and how many people have voted. Early voting will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays, except for Good Friday, May 18, and Monday, May 5, the day before the May 6 regular voting day, when it will close at noon, as well as from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. on the two Saturdays before May 6. If you have any questions, you can phone the County Clerk’s office at 812-349-2071.

The Strike Mic: Conference Unites Faculty & Students From Across the Country

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This week on The Strike Mic, a conference brings together faculty and students from across the country to talk about common struggles and their plans for the future.

Opponents of Duke Energy’s Edwardsport Plant Lose Battle As Duke Increases Monthly Charges

Opponents of Duke Energy’s Edwardsport coal gasification plant have lost another battle in the fight to keep Duke from passing on plant development costs to consumers.

Last week, the Indiana Court of Appeal unanimously upheld an Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission ruling in 2012 to allow Duke to increase by 16  percent its monthly charges to its 790,000 Indiana customers to cover increases in costs of its Edwardsport plant.

The appeal to the courts to overturn the IURC deal with Duke was launched by several environmental and consumer groups.

The 618-megawatt plant near Edwardsport had an original 2007 cost estimate of $1.9 billion, but that eventually ballooned to about $3.5 billion. In a 2012 settlement between Duke and the IURC, the commission limited Duke to passing on $2.6 billion of construction costs to its customers. This settlement included the 16 percent rate increase that was the subject of the court appeal.

Duke had been applying this increase to it customers bills since then and, with the court ruling, will continue to do so.

Kerwin Olson of the Citizens Action Coalition say they appealed and are waiting on the ruling.

“We have every intention of taking this as far as we can,” Olson says.

Olson estimates that Duke’s Indiana customers are paying about 15 dollars monthly for the plant which went online last summer.

Since then, it has operated between 10 and 60 percent of capacity.

Petition Delivered to Gov. Pence Opposed to Ending Energizing Indiana

Last week, more than 4,100 petitions to veto Senate Bill 3-40 were delivered to Governor Mike Pence. The bill aims to put an end to the Energizing Indiana programs, which some mall business owners, utility ratepayers, and Indiana residents don’t accept.

The petitions were collected by Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light, Sierra Club, and Citizens Action Coalition. CAC  Program Organizer, Lindsay Shipps says she doesn’t understand why legislators are trying to terminate the program, given the data that suggests the programs have done well.

The Energizing Indiana programs’ objective is to lower utility costs for schools, homeowners, and institutions that require more energy power. It is also supposed to save energy and lower costs for all consumers in the state. Shipps says she believes that one reason the bill moved forward is because utilities are selling less.

Shipps say that folks have already felt rate increases especially in the Bloomington area due to Duke’s energy recent increased costs and that the program’s potential end means a rate increase for everybody in the state of Indiana.

Study Finds Numbers on Domestic Violence in Indiana

A recent study performed by the National Network to End Domestic Violence found that more than 66,000 people are victims of domestic violence in a given day in the US, 1,700 of them are in the state of Indiana.

The report, “Domestic Violence Counts 2013: A 24-hour Census of Domestic Violence Shelters and Services,” gathered information from over 1,600 domestic violence programs all over the US to determine the numbers.

The 24-hour Census report has been carried out yearly since 2006 and now it shows that in 2013, 128 Hoosier victims were turned down because of  limited resources. Executive Director of the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Laura Berry says the report helps bring awareness to the recurrence of domestic violence in Indiana.

Berry says that domestic violence programs in Indiana must follow a policy that gives those people in extreme cases shelter regardless of space.

She hopes the report highlights the high requests for domestic violence services and that it brings more awareness to this issue. More information is available at icadvinc.org.

Fairview School adopts new plan to raise state-imposed ‘F’ grade

Fairview school has a new plan to address perceived deficiencies in the language abilities of its students, and parents seem to support it this time.

Listeners may recall when in January, parents raised complaints after their children were visibly upset over changes in their classes and teachers. Parents complained, and demonstrated outside schoolboard offices.

They learned that the unilateral changes had been adopted by the principal in response to Fairview school receiving a F grade from the state, its students’ low scores on the state mandated ISTEP tests, and studies showing the its graduates went on to do poorly at high school.

The parents demanded meetings and greater consultation with school and board administrators on how the school should respond to the performance problems. Several meetings were held with parents, including one last night where the new plan was presented.

Deborah Myerson, who has two children at Fairview, attended this meeting.

“The first meeting was an attempt to respond to the states’ mandates being imposed right after January with very little advanced notice to parents and teachers,” Myerson says, “That was roundly rejected by the parents. This meeting was an attempt to re-do that with input by teachers and parents, for a new plan that will be in place after spring break.”

Under the new plan, every student at Fairview will spend two hours a day on language arts, an increase from the previous 90 minute load. The lower grades will do this in the morning and the higher grades in the afternoon.

Students will be grouped in smaller classes and specialists will be assigned to help specific teachers and groups. Myerson is hopeful that this plan will work.

“There are definitely literacy needs at the school, no question,” Myerson says, “I think the teachers are working really hard. I think there are issues with how the state is imposing itself on local education processes. Some of it will be difficult to deal with because of the high poverty level at the school, which is routinely correlated with low test scores.”

She points out that the next grade assigned to the school by the state will come out before the new plan has even begun to be implemented.

“I think people need to contact their legislators and that people locally should be in control of how their children are being educated and not be at the constant whim of the state,” Myerson says.

Another meeting for parents, teachers and administrators has been scheduled for this Thursday at Fairview School.

Four environmental groups call for an investigation into Edwardsport coal-gasification plant

Duke Energy’s controversial coal-gasification plant in Edwardsport, Indiana is again being challenged before state regulators.

Four environmental groups, the Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana, Save the Valley, the Sierra Club and Valley Watch, have filed a motion before the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission calling for an investigation into the plant’s operating problems, schedule delays and cost overruns.

Kerwin Olson is the executive director of the Citizens Action Coalition.

“Our complaints relate back to 2007,” Olson says, “Our complaints were that this is a first-of-a-kind technology. This is a science project. We predicted that there would be significant cost escalations, construction delays, and problems during testing and startup, and all of these have happened. So much so that it’s only running at 4 percent of its rated capacity.”

In 2007, when it approved the plant, the Regulatory Commission put a $1.985 billion cap on building costs that Duke could be pass on to its customers. the Commission subsequently raised that cap to $2.6 billion. Today, the cost of the still-not-quite-operational plant is around $3.5 billion and rising.

Duke is now seeking Commission approval to add another $180 million to the expense line for a plant that is years behind its projected completion date.

“This plant was supposed to be purring like a kitten at 85 percent capacity on day one, according to Duke Energy,” Olson says, “In the six month period for the petition we filed it averaged 37 percent capacity, and the latest information we have from January was at 4 percent. We believe that this is a power plant that first of all never should have been approved in the first place and secondly, we have ratepayers paying a tremendous amount of money that is not useful and not serving the public interest.”

Since the time of its initial conception, various opponents have filed 12 motions to the Commission on the proposal. Seven of these are still before the courts.

In the past, the Commission has been reprimanded by the courts for have a too cozy relationship with the interests it is charged with regulating.

Yet the commission continues to add Duke’s costs to ratepayers bills, including the most recent request by Duke to recover repair and maintenance costs for a plant that is not producing much gas.

The Commission has not yet responded to the complainants petition, nor it is required to actually hold a hearing on it. The complainants are preparing for the eventuality of appealing the Commission’s response to Duke’s most recent cost recovery request.

Senators Donnelly and Coats join US Senate to pass Victims Protection Act

Yesterday Indiana Senators Joe Donnelly and Dan Coats joined the rest of the United States Senate in the unanimous passage of the Victims Protection Act of 2014.

The purpose of the bill is to provide for additional enhancements of the sexual assault prevention and response activities of the Armed Forces.

However, the provisions passed in yesterday’s vote only strengthen the already existent Victims Protection Act, whereas the Military Justice Improvement Act that fell five votes shy of passage late last week, specifically addressed the needs of sexual assault victims in the U.S. military.

Donnelly and Coats split their support for the Military Justice Improvement Act, with Donnelly supporting the bill authored by fellow democrat Kirsten Gillibrand of New york.

A significant difference between the two bills is the oversight of the prosecution of sexual assault cases. The Military Justice Improvement Act would remove the oversight from the army chain of command.

During Senate Armed Services Committee hearings this summer, Donnelly repeatedly expressed concern with the current system that tasks commanding officers with disciplining their own troops.

“What concerns me is that this is a personal violation of somebody,” Donnelly says, “It is a risk that could destroy a person’s soul and their emotional state. In some cases, that’s by a person who they look to as a leader, or a commander, and that they look to with a sacred trust.”

While the Victims Protection act of 2014 does not address the imbalance of power in sexual assault cases, steps such as eliminating the “good soldier” defense and increasing the victim’s council, did pass into law.

Indiana passes bill to increase local recycling effort

A bill that will increase recycling efforts in Indiana was passed on Tuesday. Indiana State Senator Mike Stoops, who has supported House Bill 1183, talks about what spurred its creation.

“The idea is to identify recycling that is being thrown away with trash,” Stoops says, “We had a study committee that identified a significant amount of recycling in Indiana being thrown into a landfill. There was a lot of discussion about the fact that Indiana was lagging behind other states to turn that material into useful resources.”

The bill will require Indiana businesses and recycling centers to report all recycling activity to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

Recyclers of municipal waste can choose to report annually or quarterly, and non-municipal waste recyclers can be report voluntarily. This will be required starting in 2015. It establishes a goal for Indiana to reduce 50 percent of municipal waste by 2019.

“Indiana had a goal like this in the past,” Stoops says, “We didn’t take any steps to get to that goal then. A couple years ago they completely eliminated the recycling goal under Mitch Daniels.”

Senator Stoops says the specific types of products Indiana will be recycling aluminum cans, and that these are beneficial to aluminum companies as well, because they don’t need a lot of processing to recycle the aluminum, don’t need to spend money on mining aluminum ore, and that aluminum doesn’t degrade, so it is always recyclable.

Both Senator Stoops and Press Secretary of the Indiana Senate Democratic Caucus Sean Mobley believe this bill will create thousands of jobs in Indiana.

“One estimate is that if we do a better job of getting the recycling out of the waste stream, we could be looking at 10,000 jobs,” Stoops says.

This bill will go into effect along with Senate Bill 324, which bans the disposal of mostly recyclable products.

Any product that is entirely, or almost entirely, made of paper, cardboard, glass, aluminum, or plastic is not to be disposed of in a final disposal facility. Both bills will go into effect on July 1.

Shallow lake fish affected by heavy ice and snow

As Spring approaches, owners of shallow ponds and lakes will have to watch out for fish kills due to the accumulation of snow and ice this winter. The lakes and ponds of Indiana are currently covered in up to twenty inches of thick ice. Neil Ledet, District Fisheries Biologist in northeastern Indiana, says this is a result of the long winter.

“This is a pretty unusual winter for us,” Ledet says, “We had early ice, a lot of snow, and with that ice thickness, there isn’t a lot of light penetration to get to the aquatic plants. We’ll see low oxygen levels in lakes and ponds. It could be a tough situation for shallow lakes and ponds”

Shoveling up snow will allow light to penetrate the ice, but Ledet says that once this becomes an issue there’s not much anyone can do about it. He explains what pond and lake owners CAN do if the same thing happens next winter.

“In the future, lake owners could make sure there aren’t a lot of weeds covering the lake before the winter comes,” Ledet says, “The important thing is that if people lose all of their pond, they’re going to want to start over with an appropriate pond stocking program. We have a pond management booklet to help that.”

Ledet says that fish kills occurred more often during the 1970’s and 80’s, when winters were a little more severe. If Lake residents and anglers discover fish kills on public waters they can contact their district fisheries biologist online at wildlife.in.gov.

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