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Red panda triplets, Paul Simon, miracle house: News from around our 50 states  4 Weeks ago

Source:   USA Today  

Huntsville: The slenderclaw crayfish is barely surviving in northern Alabama. The tiny animal is now known to survive in just two creeks near Sand Mountain, where it burrows under rocks in shallow, slow-moving waters, Al.com reports. The animal lost most of its original habitat when the Tennessee River was dammed to create Lake Guntersville in 1939. And the population is still dwindling. Biologists who study the slenderclaw crayfish are not entirely certain why the population is still declining. More uncertainty surrounds whether the animal will get formal protections from the federal government. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to list the crayfish as a threatened species, but the change may not be as protective as in the past, due to recently announced changes by the Trump administration.

Kenai: The Kenai River Foundation hosted its 13th annual Wounded Warriors fishing trip this month, bringing 68 active-duty soldiers stationed in the state down to the Kenai Peninsula to fish for salmon on the river. The trip is free for the soldiers and is made possible thanks to donations from sponsors including the Central Peninsula Hospital, Alaska Communications, Fairweather, LLC, Price Gregory International and Siemens Building Technologies. Professional fishing guides volunteered their services for the two days, and riders from several chapters of the American Legion provided a military escort for the buses that brought the soldiers primarily stationed at the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson to and from Anchorage.

Phoenix: State lawmakers could make cities pay for raising the minimum wage. A new law that takes effect Aug. 27 requires the state to calculate the cost to Arizona’s government when cities and counties raise the minimum wage above the statewide rate. If the state has to pay more for services in those communities because of a higher minimum wage, legislators could force local governments to cover the additional costs. Proponents of the measure argue it is only fair after Flagstaff voters elected in 2016 to raise the minimum wage above the state’s rate, in turn requiring government contractors to increase pay for some low-wage workers. But others view it as an effort by the Republican-controlled Legislature to curtail the power of local governments.

Fayetteville: Officials say two more medical marijuana dispensaries are expected to open in the state’s northwest this year. Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration spokesman Scott Hardin says both dispensaries will be in Fayetteville. They’ll join the region’s first dispensary, The ReLeaf Center, which opened earlier this month in Bentonville, and another called The Source, which opened last week in Bentonville. The two Bentonville dispensaries are the seventh and eighth to open in the state since voters legalized the use of medical marijuana in 2016. The state has licensed 32 dispensaries to sell medical marijuana. The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports that the state had issued more than 19,000 patient or caregiver cards as of Friday.

Santa Barbara: Scientists have installed an underwater sound system they hope will reduce collisions between whales and ships in the Santa Barbara Channel off Southern California. A listening station on the channel floor is able to capture whale calls as far away as 30 miles, the Los Angeles Times reports. That device is connected by cable to a buoy floating above that transmits data by satellite to scientists on shore. From there, captains can be alerted to slow their ships down or reroute. It’s the latest attempt to prevent ships from running into whales in the channel, where cargo vessels in and out of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach cross feeding grounds of endangered blue, fin and humpback whales.

Fort Collins: The Environmental Protection Agency has announced the North Front Range region missed its air quality standards deadline. The EPA is expected to mark the nine-county region that includes Denver County in serious noncompliance with a federal standard. Experts say this region has high concentrations of ground-level ozone and smog that could lead to respiratory health issues and heart disease. Officials say the Air Quality Control Commission passed a zero-emission vehicle standard Friday in the region to reduce the effects. Experts say air quality improved on average over the past decade despite the announcement, and the region has plans to adopt more regulations for emission-producing industries.

Wilton: The town has halted guardrail improvements following complaints about the look of new, steel barriers on some residential streets. Wood and wire guardrails traditionally have lined the roads in Wilton, a Fairfield County town on the line with New York state. First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice imposed a moratorium on upgrades this month after residents raised issues with the aesthetics of the steel replacements. The town had been installing steel guardrails in sections, such as along bends and near culverts, on two roads where the old guardrails were showing their age. Public works officials say the moratorium will provide an opportunity to conduct engineering studies and assess alternative guardrail styles and whether guardrails are even needed on those roads.

Dewey Beach: Busted boats and outdated laptops are among 2,000-plus items that will be going to auction next month as town officials try to wipe away the scars from participating in a military surplus program. The goal for now, Mayor T.J. Redefer says, is to get the number of items as close to zero as possible to help to rebuild the community’s trust in the government. The stockpile is cited in a federal lawsuit regarding public access to a report on the program, which had found there was little town oversight and questionable accounting. The surplus items were requested by Dewey Beach police working with the Law Enforcement Support Office program, which helps local agencies reuse Department of Defense equipment. The only cost is shipping and transportation of the items, but sometimes the available items look better online than in person, Redefer says.

Washington: Confidential documents show the former chairman of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority sought to limit an ethics investigation and prevent its findings from being made public. The Washington Post reports Jack Evans’ actions are detailed in investigative documents obtained from WMATA’s ethics committee. Records show Evans threatened the jobs of a board lawyer and secretary while trying to hide the findings of an ethics probe, which found he failed to disclose a profitable conflict-of-interest. Evans’ lawyer, Mark Tuohey, says Evans never intended that anyone be fired. Clarence C. Crawford, who chaired the ethics committee, made the findings public at the request of state and local officials. Evans resigned his transit job days later but remains a city councilman.

Davie: The state’s iconic palm trees are under attack from a fatal disease that turns them to dried crisps in months, with no chance for recovery once they become ill. Spread by a rice-sized, plant-hopping insect, lethal bronzing has gone from a small infestation on the Gulf Coast to a nearly statewide problem in just over a decade. Tens of thousands of palm trees have died from the bacterial disease, and the pace of its spread is increasing, adding to environmental woes of a state already struggling to save its other arboreal icon, citrus trees, from two other diseases. Florida’s official state tree – the tall, broad-leafed sabal palm – is especially susceptible, and Florida nurseries, businesses and homeowners are taking a financial hit as they scrap infected palms. Some preventive measures can be taken, but once infected, uprooting the tree is the only practical solution.

Atlanta: Experts say the state is among those most at risk of its residents not being counted accurately in the 2020 census. The Urban Institute says children under the age of 5 are especially at risk of being undercounted due to Georgia’s changing demographics. WABE Radio reports that nationwide, 4.5 million children live in areas that are difficult to count for the 2020 census. Statewide, 22% of Georgia’s population lives in areas considered hard to count. The radio station reports there are several reasons why so many Georgia children are difficult to count: They are often in young families, immigrant families and multigenerational homes.

Auwahi: Musician Paul Simon has joined environmentalists attempting to reinvigorate a woodland by planting a tree during a ceremony on Maui. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Friday that the celebrated singer-songwriter joined Auwahi Forest Restoration Project volunteers seeking to revive the area’s plant life. Simon helped plant a lama tree and participated in chants with the group following a helicopter tour. The part-time Maui resident performed two environmental benefit concerts at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center earlier in the week that drew more than 8,000 attendees. Simon plans to donate his proceeds to the Auwahi project and Hawaii environmental group Kuaaina Ulu Auamo. Simon was put in contact with the environmentalists after visiting Hoolawa Farms in Haiku to view a rare kanaloa plant, one of only two in existence.

Boise: Federal officials have approved two open-pit phosphate mines that include environmental protections intended to prevent the type of pollution caused by past phosphate mining in the area. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management says it approved the Caldwell Canyon Mine project in Caribou County, about 13 miles northeast of Soda Springs. Bayer subsidiary P4 Production will develop the mines on three phosphate leases. Bayer acquired agricultural giant Monsanto, which previously mined the area, for $63 billion last year. The area contains one the nation’s most abundant deposits of phosphate ore that’s turned into fertilizer needed by farmers to grow food. Idaho-based Simplot also has a mine in the area. But the area also contains Superfund sites because of pollution from past phosphate mining.

Springfield: The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum has received more than $400,000 in grants for a project that aims to publish every document written by the nation’s 16th president. The Springfield-based library says the Papers of Abraham Lincoln project was awarded up to $350,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The National Historical Publications and Records Commission awarded the project $87,125. Alan Lowe, executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, says the grants show that experts in the field are confident the project “is on the right path to fulfill its important mission.” The project launched online in 2018. It gives people access to documents from private collections and archives held around the world.

Bloomington: The new home of Indiana University’s art school will be modeled after an unbuilt fraternity house a famed modernist architect designed in the 1950s. IU’s trustees recently approved construction of the $10 million Mies van der Rohe Building. When completed in 2021, it will bring the Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture and Design’s programs together within one building. The Herald-Times reports the 10,000-square-foot structure will be made of limestone, steel and glass, with second-floor windows spanning floor to ceiling. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was a German-born architect known for his “less is more” approach emphasizing open space and industrial materials. He designed a fraternity house for Phi Lambda Phi in the early 1950s, but it went unbuilt. The new building will be similar to his design, with modern upgrades.

Fort Dodge: Robert Wolf has about 250 boxes of rock samples sitting in his garage waiting for a crew from the University of Iowa to come pick them up with a 20-foot truck. The collection took the better part of 30 years to find. Each rock sample has a number and is recorded in a log book that tells what it is, where it was collected and when he found it, The Messenger reports. And the collection is all Iowan. “There’s a sample of every formation in Iowa,” he says. “There are 350 rock units in and around Iowa. I have all the families and 95% of the members. That’s what makes this collection unique. It’s a good representation of the state of Iowa.” What makes his collection valuable and of interest to a university is that it’s properly cataloged. Without the information Wolf recorded, it’s just a big pile of rocks.

Topeka: State education officials are expressing concern after a recent survey found more than 1,000 motorists illegally passed stopped school buses in one day. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports a task force is expected to make recommendations during the next legislative session on how to reduce the number of violations. In the April survey, 220 districts in Kansas that use 3,300 school buses reported 1,040 violations by motorists. That compares with April of 2018, when 214 districts operating 3,347 buses documented 1,030 infractions. Jim Porter, the southeast Kansas representative on the Kansas Board of Education, noted the sample included only three-fourths of the state’s districts.

Frankfort: Tourism officials say more people visited the state in 2018 and spent more money. Officials say visitor trips to and within the state topped 71.6 million last year, and visitor spending rose to nearly $7.6 billion, up nearly 4% over the prior year and a 21% increase since 2013. The figures are the result of a study from Tourism Economics, the state Department of Tourism’s new research partner. Using the Tourism Economics model, officials say the industry’s economic impact in Kentucky went from $10.9 billion in 2017 to $11.2 billion in 2018, generating more than 94,500 jobs and $787 million in state and local taxes. The tourism department says it continues to build on Kentucky’s signature tourism industries of horses, bourbon, music, arts, outdoors and culinary to reach new audiences.

Baton Rouge: Three days of public events will honor former Gov. Kathleen Blanco, the state’s first female governor, who died after a years­long struggle with cancer. The Democrat who led Louisiana during hurricanes Katrina and Rita will be memorialized Thursday at an interfaith service in downtown Baton Rouge at St. Joseph’s Cathedral. Her casket then will be taken to the Louisiana Capitol, where Blanco’s body will lie in Memorial Hall for public visitation. On Friday, mourners in Louisiana’s Acadiana region can attend a prayer service for the former governor in Lafayette at St. John the Evangelist Cathedral. Blanco’s funeral Mass will be Saturday in Lafayette, followed by a private burial service. Blanco died Sunday. She was 76.

Orono: Nature lovers who encounter fluttering butterflies might also be able to contribute to research about the colorful insects. Researchers at the University of Maine say residents can use a mobile app called the Monarch Model Validator to provide details about areas where butterflies are likely to be found. They plan to use the data as part of a model designed to predict the location of monarch butterfly nesting sites. The UMaine researchers say monarch butterflies begin a 3,000-mile migration south every fall. They also say the number of monarchs that complete the migration has fallen by 90% in the past two decades. App users will be able to answer a short survey and provide photos. They’ll be able to head to predetermined sites or find locations of their own.

Baltimore: Lawyers for a man whose murder conviction was chronicled in the hit podcast “Serial” are asking the Supreme Court to step into the case. Lawyers for defendant Adnan Syed said in court papers Monday that the justices should order a new trial for Syed and reverse a Maryland court ruling against him. Syed claims his trial lawyer violated his constitutional right to competent representation because she failed to investigate an alibi witness. Syed is serving a life sentence after he was convicted in 2000 of strangling 17-year-old Hae Min Lee and burying her body in a Baltimore park. Syed and Lee were high school classmates who had dated. In its debut 2014 season, the “Serial” podcast shined a spotlight on the case that led to renewed court proceedings.

Boston: The memorial to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing is complete. Three stone pillars representing the three people who died at the finish line were installed Monday, marking the final step of the $2 million project, which took four years to plan and develop and underwent significant redesigns and other delays. Bolivian-born sculptor Pablo Eduardo said it was important that the final work reflect the hopes and expectations of families who lost loved ones. The monument includes four bronze and glass spires installed last month to illuminate the site. Cherry trees to bloom each April have also been planted, and two bronze bricks have been set in the sidewalk to honor the police officers killed in the bombing’s aftermath. The pillars installed Monday were gathered from places around Boston significant to the bombing victims.

Detroit: A copy of the original land contract for Motown Records’ Hitsville U.S.A. will be unveiled as part of the music company’s 60th anniversary celebration. Officials with the Motown Museum, located where Berry Gordy Jr. launched his music empire, say they will share the rarely seen document via Facebook at 3 p.m. Tuesday. That coincides with the 1959 date that Gordy purchased the house on West Grand Boulevard. Museum CEO and Chairwoman Robin Terry called it “the start of a journey that would ultimately rock the world.” The event is part of a series of “archive dives” this year to coincide with milestone dates. The Supremes, the Miracles, Martha and the Vandellas, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and many others recorded hits there before Motown moved in 1972 to California.

St. Cloud: Almost 90 musical acts will descend on the city this week for the Common Roots Festival, performing myriad styles on 12 different stages. The festival, now in its third year, was originally conceived as a way to breathe life back into downtown venues, restaurants and businesses during a major street construction project in 2017. Although that project has been completed, the volunteer team behind the festival has continued the mission to bring folks to downtown St. Cloud. “Downtown is now under a deluge of construction again, and we are hearing from business folks in that area that it is affecting business. So we’re right back where we started three years ago,” says festival coordinator Dawn Yilek. It all kicks off Wednesday at 5 p.m. at Beaver Island Brewing Company.

Jackson: A group that advocates limited government is suing the state over its licensing requirement for people who earn money by plucking eyebrows with thread. Mississippi Justice Institute filed the lawsuit Monday on behalf of Dipa Bhattarai, a University of Mississippi graduate student. She grew up in Nepal, where she learned the technique of using a single strand of cotton thread to remove hair. Mississippi requires people who receive money for eyebrow threading to earn an esthetician’s license. The license requires training and exams, but none of the training deals with threading. The Mississippi Board of Cosmetology shut down Bhattarai’s business, and she wants to reopen it. She says she started earning money by threading eyebrows while she was a student at Mississippi University for Women in Columbus. “It’s going to sound cliche, but I just started my business with $240,” Bhattarai says.

Sedalia: Authorities are looking for an inmate who escaped from a crew that was helping to clean up after the Missouri State Fair came to an end for the year. Department of Corrections spokesman Karen Pojmann says 34-year-old Shannon Dewayne Watts, of Springfield, was reported missing about 12:45 a.m. Monday when he didn’t return to a van to head back to the Tipton Correctional Center. He was serving a 15-year sentence there for charges that included burglary, resisting arrest and tampering with a motor vehicle. The search was expanded beyond the nearly 400-acre fairgrounds in Sedalia several hours later when law enforcement couldn’t find Watts. He is described as 6 feet tall and 195 pounds. The 11-day fair began Aug. 8 and ended Sunday night.

Missoula: A University of Montana art historian has called for a new state flag after receiving a top research award. The Missoulian reports Hipolito Rafael Chacon announced the idea Thursday to redesign the state’s identity with a new flag. Officials say his research received an award last month from the International Congress of Vexillology, a worldwide association of flag researchers. Officials say the design originated from just the seal because Montana troops needed a banner to carry in the Spanish-American War. Officials say the Legislature added the name of the state in 1981. Chacon says a public design competition could be the best way to select a new design. Experts say former historians tried to change the design decades ago, but state officials laughed at the idea.

Winslow: Residents of this tiny community who are reeling from flooding this year are considering whether to move their entire town uphill. The Omaha World-Herald reports that the swollen Elkhorn River flowed in mid-March over a levee built to protect Winslow, damaging almost all 38 homes and 10 other buildings in the Dodge County town. Town leaders have proposed moving Winslow out of the flood plain to a new site, possibly a hilltop about 2 miles away. Town officials say that if residents stay, they’ll be at the mercy of the river. Zachary Klein, a village trustee and the volunteer fire chief, says the move could take two years. Klein says funding is available from federal, state and local sources.

Las Vegas: Health officials in the city are using the word “outbreak” to describe a sharp spike in hepatitis A cases reported mostly among homeless people and drug users. The Southern Nevada Health District reports that in seven months from November to June, it counted 83 cases of the virus that causes liver damage and can lead to death. That’s far more than the 58 cases reported in 2016, 2017 and 2018 combined. The district says more than 80% of reported patients were people without a permanent place to live, and 92% use drugs, some intravenous. The district has begun posting weekly outbreak updates on its website. Hepatitis A is most often transmitted through consumption of water or food contaminated with feces.

Durham: A University of New Hampshire researcher says oyster production in the state is only a small fraction of what it could be. Ray Grizzle, research professor of biological sciences, says the total number of farms is probably nearing the maximum for the Little Bay area, but production isn’t yet. USDA data in the 2017 Census of Agriculture says the state has 32 commercial mollusk operations in Strafford and Rockingham counties representing $419,000 in sales. Most of them are oyster farming. New Hampshire only had two licensed oyster farms when Grizzle began conducting research about 10 years ago. Grizzle, who’s with the university’s New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station, says some farms have included improved farming methods and marketing networks that involve wholesalers as well as directly selling to local chefs.

Newark: The mayor says it could take another month before additional testing is completed on lead levels in the city’s water supply. That means residents in affected neighborhoods will have to continue receiving bottled water. Mayor Ras Baraka’s comments on a radio show Sunday were first reported by Politico. Newark began distributing bottled water a week ago after lead levels tested high in a few homes even though residents have been given water filters. About 14,000 homes are affected. In addition, a federal judge is expected to rule this week on an environmental group’s effort to force Newark to distribute water to thousands more residents who are served by a different water system. The Natural Resources Defense Council says those residents also are at risk from excessive lead levels.

Los Alamos: Officials at Los Alamos National Laboratory say they have plans for $13 billion worth of construction projects over the next decade at the northern New Mexico complex. They outlined their plans at a recent meeting attended by hundreds of representatives of construction firms from around the country. Most of the projects are related to the lab’s assignment to ramp up production of key nuclear weapon components known as plutonium cores. Other work would be aimed at serving a growing workforce, such as housing projects, parking garages and a potential new highway that would reduce commute times from Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Lab Director Thomas Mason tells the Albuquerque Journal the lab currently has 1,400 openings and plans to add another 1,200 jobs to its workforce of 12,000 by 2026.

Albany: State officials are asking the public to help choose a new license plate design. Gov. Andrew Cuomo says people can vote on the governor’s website for one of five plate designs. Four of the designs include the Statue of Liberty, while one features the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge over the Hudson River. Voting runs through Sept. 2. The design with the most votes will become available in April. The new ones will replace the state’s blue-and-white plates, most of which are more than 10 years old. As vehicle owners renew their registrations, owners with license plates 10 years old or older will be issued new plates for a $25 fee. Once the new plates become available, the Department of Motor Vehicles also will stop issuing the newer blue-and-gold plates.

Raleigh: Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration is proposing a plan to reduce greenhouse gases. The News & Observer of Raleigh reports that the plan calls for cutting greenhouse gases from electricity production by 60% to 70% of 2005 levels by 2030, with a goal of getting to zero emissions by 2050. The state Department of Environmental Quality says North Carolina already has made progress toward cutting emissions, which are 34% lower than 2005 levels. Some of the plan’s suggestions include requiring the retirement of coal power plants and requiring utilities to increase use of renewable energy. It also suggests setting carbon dioxide budgets or carbon caps, or a combination of those approaches. The proposal stems from an executive order Cooper signed last year.

Williston: A landfill north of the city could soon become the first facility in the state to accept higher levels of radioactive oil-field waste under new state regulations. The Bismarck Tribune reports Secure Energy Services is seeking permits allowing it to dispose of radioactive material at its 13-Mile Landfill, which already accepts other types of waste generated by oil development. The Health Department increased the allowable concentrations of technologically enhanced radioactive material to be disposed of at approved landfills from 5 picocuries per gram to 50 picocuries per gram in 2016. Picocuries are a measure of radioactivity. The change was controversial at the time, drawing lengthy hearings and a lawsuit from environmental groups.

Canton: Eighty years after Rhoda Wise first claimed she was a receiver of Christian miracles, people are still visiting her home to see for themselves. Busloads of the faithful and curious come to Wise’s home in Canton to see the room where it is believed she was cured of a terminal illness and regularly was visited by Jesus Christ. The small wood-frame house is an unlikely Roman Catholic shrine nestled in a frayed neighborhood next to a nine-hole golf course. But every year it attracts visitors from all over the world. Visitor numbers are getting a boost this summer thanks to the local Roman Catholic diocese formally petitioning the Vatican to have Wise declared a saint. Wise died in 1948 at age 60.

Cushing: Officials have closed a recreational lake while they monitor a dam breach in the area. City Manager Terry Brannon said Sunday that a breach has been detected in a concrete structure beneath the dam at Cushing Lake near this city about 55 miles northeast of Oklahoma City. Officials say the breach is allowing water to pass unrestricted, but the flow remains controlled, meaning there hasn’t been a complete dam failure. Owned by the city of Cushing, Cushing Lake is about 9 miles west of Cushing, an oil hub with 300 storage tanks. Officials say the area affected by the breach includes fields and livestock but no structures. Authorities say police are notifying property owners and others with livestock downstream of the dam.

Portland: The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde have finalized their purchase of the former Blue Heron paper mill site at Willamette Falls. Oregon Public Broadcasting reports the site that was once home to the Charcowah village of the Clowewalla now belongs to the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. The 23-acre property is located within the tribes’ ancestral homelands and holds significant historical and cultural importance for the Grand Ronde. Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde chairwoman Cheryle A. Kennedy says they have reclaimed a piece of their homeland and are resurrecting their role as caretakers to Willamette Falls. The area is part of the lands ceded to the United States government under the Willamette Valley Treaty of 1855. Following the treaty, tribal members were forcibly removed from Willamette Falls and relocated to Grand Ronde.

Springettsbury: It’s been three years since the last archaeological dig on farmland in this township to find remains from a Revolutionary War prison camp. A new dig started this month on a 4-acre area, and archaeologists and volunteers hope to uncover evidence that would help reveal the exact location of Camp Security. A few 18th-century items, such as wrought iron nails and Westerwald stoneware, have turned up, but “nothing yet that screams site,” says John Crawmer, lead archaeologist for the Friends of Camp Security. During the Revolutionary War, colonists held British prisoners of war from the Battle of Saratoga and the Siege of Yorktown at Camp Security from 1781 to 1783. It’s believed to be the last known Revolutionary War prison camp to remain undisturbed in the country. The public can visit the site Aug. 27 to learn more about the archaeological work.

Providence: Advocates for gun control demanded reforms at a gathering over the weekend. The Rhode Island chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America staged a rally Saturday to honor victims of the latest U.S. mass shootings and call for tougher gun legislation. Several dozen people attended the event. Some of the signs they held said “Disarm Hate,” “Enough” and “No One Needs a Weapon of War at Home.” Organizers say they’re pressing for a strong federal “red flag” bill to allow seizure of weapons in certain cases and legislation requiring background checks on all gun sales. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America describes itself as a grassroots movement fighting for public safety measures that can protect people from gun violence.

Charleston: A major building at the College of Charleston is set for a $50 million overhaul. The Post and Courier reports the state’s Joint Bond Review Committee agreed last month to borrow $45 million to renovate the university’s main arts building, the Albert Simons Center. Another $5 million will come from a one-time state appropriation. Architects are still designing the building’s new exterior. A previous renovation planned in the mid-1990s stalled amid exterior design disputes. School of the Arts Dean Valerie Morris says the renovation will create a black box theater for student productions, plus upgraded classrooms, bathrooms, and heating and cooling. Mold problems are promised to be fixed. Work could begin in summer 2020, with the art school temporarily relocating. The overhaul could be complete by fall 2022.

Sioux Falls: The U.S. Department of Agriculture says farmers in the state were unable to plant more than 3.8 million acres this year, the highest number in the nation. KSFY-TV reports the tally includes 2.8 million unplanted corn acres and nearly 851,000 acres for soybeans. The USDA says the total number of unplanted acres nationwide was more than 19 million acres, the highest since the agency began reporting those figures in 2007. Many states across the Midwest were hit hard by flooding this spring, leading to fields being too wet for farmers to plant.

Memphis: The University of Memphis has launched a new initiative in hopes of raising graduation rates among its black male students, the school announced Monday. The African American Male Academy will start with a group of black male students in middle school and pair them with peer and faculty mentors, provide textbooks and other educational supplies, and give them access to early academic and career preparation. “Most students are in good academic standing when they leave the U of M before graduation – they leave for financial reasons,” university officials wrote in a statement announcing the program, adding that 60% of its students work more than 20 hours a week and have to help provide for their families. Students inducted into the academy will also be informed of scholarship programs and other “culturally responsive” initiatives meant to keep them in school and make their educations more affordable.

Kemah: The Galveston Bay Foundation has seen the first structure go up on 30 acres of bayfront land it acquired in 2016. The Galveston County Daily News reports a pavilion designed and built by students from the University of Texas School of Architecture’s Gulf Coast DesignLab will be used to host as many as 75 students at a time in grades five to 12 from across the upper Texas coast region, helping them learn on-site about Galveston Bay’s wildlife, organisms, natural habitat and environmental threats. In June, DesignLab, an advanced studio design class, reached out to the foundation, offering its services. This motnh the architecture students went to Kemah and built the pavilion over a period of weeks. They put the finishing touches on it last week. A dedication is planned for Saturday.

Salt Lake City: A report says more women in the state are earning STEM-related degrees, but completion rates are still behind the national average. The Deseret News reports the Utah Women & Leadership Project released a study this month showing an additional 467 women graduated with science, technology, engineering and math degrees from 2012 to 2017. Officials say the 1% increase could be higher, but gender stereotypes have been attributed to women switching disciplines more frequently than men. Officials say girls who are introduced to women in STEM careers have increased their chances of engaging in a STEM curriculum by more than 60%. Officials say of the 44% of women in the workforce in Utah, there are a “particularly low” number of women who continue on to work in STEM industries.

Woodbury: The state Fish & Wildlife Department is seeking volunteers to become “Let’s Go Fishing” instructors who can pass on the fishing tradition to the next generation of Vermonters. The department will be hosting a one-day training workshop for new instructors Sept. 14 at the Buck Lake Conservation Camp in Woodbury. Instructors in the “Let’s Go Fishing” program organize and instruct clinics in their communities for young people and their families. The training workshop will give volunteers the basics of how to teach a basic fishing clinic. They will also learn about fishing ethics, aquatic ecology, fisheries management, habitat conservation and tackle craft. There is no charge, but pre-registration is required. Information can be found on the department’s website.

Norfolk: The Virginia Zoo has announced the birth of red panda triplets. The zoo in Norfolk announced Monday that the triplets were born two months ago and are thriving in a climate-controlled den that’s out of sight from the public. Zoo veterinarian Collen Clabbers says red panda triplets are a “unique situation” for the endangered species from Asia. But she says the mother is “doing a great job.” The two males and one female were born to mother Masu and dad Timur. The cubs will live in the red panda exhibit after zoo staff members feel the little ones can navigate the exhibit’s trees and other features. The zoo is auctioning naming rights in support of red panda conservation. Bids can be placed online.

Spokane: The last four members of a wolf pack that preyed on cattle in a rural area of the state bordering Canada have been killed by state hunters, prompting protests from environmental groups. The four wolves were part of a pack that originally had seven members and attacked cows, killing or wounding them 29 times since 2018 and nine times over the past month, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said in a statement Friday. Agency director Kelly Susewind authorized the killings of the remaining pack members July 31. Environmental groups opposed the killings, which they contended benefited one ranching operation in Ferry County in the remote Kettle River Range. Hunters for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife who were inside helicopters tracked down and shot the wolves from the air Friday, agency spokeswoman Sam Montgomery says.

Charleston: Mountain Valley Pipeline has suspended some construction activities that could affect threatened or endangered species. WVPR-FM reports pipeline officials sent a letter last week telling federal regulators about the voluntary suspension in areas where construction could affect protected bat and fish species. The move follows a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups last week that challenged approvals by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Conservation groups are asking the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to toss two key permits issued to the 303-mile natural gas pipeline in Virginia and West Virginia. The 4th Circuit last month threw out the same Fish and Wildlife approvals for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Regulators say the pipeline may not resume the suspended construction without first seeking approval.

Madison: Two Native American tribes in the state are receiving federal grants for renewable energy projects that tribe members say will help reduce costs and lead to energy independence. The Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in Odanah received a nearly $1 million grant, and the Forest County Potawatomi Community in Crandon got a grant for more than $1.5 million. Wisconsin Public Radio reports the grants will be used to install solar panels at tribal buildings. The move is expected to save the tribes millions of dollars in energy spending over the next 25 years. The Wisconsin tribes are among 12 nationwide that received a total of 14 grants from the federal Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs worth a total of $16 million.

Powell: Wildlife officials say fewer grizzly bears have been euthanized this year in Yellowstone National Park compared to previous years. The Powell Tribune reports the U.S. Geological Survey says nine grizzlies were euthanized in Wyoming this year, but the number could increase before the bears go into hibernation in December. Officials say the Wyoming Game and Fish Department killed a record-high 32 grizzly bears in 2018, including 17 by mid-August last year. Officials say grizzly bears are euthanized to manage conflicts at the park that spans across Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Wildlife officials say three bears have also died in automobile collisions. Officials say they encourage people in the region to carry some type of defense in case of an encounter.

From USA TODAY Network and wire reports

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