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Chapel Hill Holds MLK March

Among events across the nation celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was a rally and march held in Chapel Hill.

As the sun rose higher in the Carolina blue sky on Monday morning, hundreds came out to the post office on Franklin Street to take part in the march and rally to honor Dr. King and continue spreading his message.

Standing on the steps of the post office, Madrid Smith – a first-year student and psychology major at UNC – gave a speech about the obstacles that still stand in the way of a community battling racism.

“We’re seeing issues of race being brought up that aren’t new,” he says. “They’ve just been unresolved.”

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt was in attendance at the march. He says it is wonderful to see young people in the community getting involved.

“We all hope that there’s a generation in the future, who will wake up and not be burdened with issues of racism, sexism, [and] homophobia,” he says. “They’re going to have equal opportunity.

“For young people to realize that work needs to be maintained and continue to expand into the future, provides hope that generation will wake up and be provided those opportunities.”

Orange County Commissioner Mark Dorosin – who was also at the rally – says the event was rejuvenating.

“It was absolutely faith restoring,” he says. “As was said by the speaker, understanding the challenges that we face now: from institutionalized racism and discrimination, how we need to be aware of that, and engage that. It was inspiring.”

Those at the event made their way from the post office, down Franklin St. – chanting along the way – before assembling in First Baptist Church.

There was singing, dancing in the aisle, and prayer at the ceremony. Michelle Laws, Executive Director of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, also spoke at the event. Laws was happy to see the diverse crowd of those who are taking part in the day’s celebrations.

“There are those of us who come because this is the place where the Lord restores our strength,” he says. “And restores our joy. And strengthens our faith. After we have been battered on the battlefield for justice.”

Laws says the Moral Movement will not back down from the pressure they have put on lawmakers. She adds there is strength in numbers, as the movement spreads to new areas.

On the day celebrating the life, legacy, and message brought forward 50 years ago by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the overriding theme was that there remains more work to do.


Varsity Theatre Meets Kickstarter Goal

The Varsity Theatre tweeted out on Wednesday evening that they met their $50,000 Kickstarter goal.

With these funds the Chapel Hill staple will be able to upgrade one theatre to digital operation from 35mm film and continue operation. You can still donate to the cause through the Kickstarter page. The owners of the Varsity have said that any money raised above their goal would go toward renovating their second theatre.


Young Democrat Convention Coming to Chapel Hill

Young democrats across the Tar Heel state will be migrating to Chapel Hill for their annual convention this year.

The teen, college, and young democrats announced, earlier this week, they would hold their 2015 convention in Chapel Hill.

Chapel Hill Town Council Member Lee Storrow says this event is an opportunity to lay a path for the Democratic Party’s movement going forward.

“It’s a great opportunity to bring folks together from across the state,” he says, “to think strategically, plan, and network about the work that needs to be done to move our state forward.”

Storrow represents the Town of Chapel Hill on the Board of the Orange County Visitor’s Bureau, and he says the convention will afford the town an opportunity to prove it has the resources and capability to host an event this size.

“I’m really excited, as a community, about the work that the visitor’s bureau is doing,” he says. “Tourism is a clean form of economic development: people come to the community, spend a lot of money, and then they leave.”

Storrow says he expects the meeting to bring a couple of hundred visitors to Chapel Hill – adding if the town successfully houses this convention, it will be very helpful in recruiting another mid-size event in the years to come.

He says the convention will serve as a chance for democrats to define the message they want to send voters, especially in light of the 2014 elections that saw many democrats lose to their conservative counterparts across the state and nation.

Storrow was quick to point out that, as elections nationally didn’t go the democrat’s way, many local elections did fall in their favor, including races for Wake County Commissioner.
While taking full control of the County Commissioner positions in Orange, Durham, and Wake Counties, democrats still struggled to hit the mark with their message in rural North Carolina. Storrow says this is an area where his fellow democrats need to improve.

“The Democratic Party has always stood for public investment: an investment in working families, investment in education, investment in a transportation system that can bring people closer together,” he says.

“I think that’s a message that’s relevant across the state.”

The young democrat’s convention will be held March 27 through 29 and will be based out of the Sheraton Chapel Hill on Europa Drive.

A full schedule of events for the convention and registration is available on the convention’s website.


Fire Overnight in Chapel Hill Office Park

The Chapel Hill Fire Department was on the scene of a fire Wednesday morning.

The fire was at 920 Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard, in a small office park.

Battalion Chief Jeff Cabe says the owners of a dentist office came in to open up and were greeted by a large amount of smoke.

“By the time we were dispatched and we got on scene, there was a lot of smoke left in the building,” he says. “The damage was pretty significant throughout the main portions of the hallway and the building. But the fire was out.”

Cabe says that is an unusual scenario: for a fire to have, apparently, burned itself out by the time the fire department is called.

He adds the cold weather likely did not play a factor in the fire.

“I would think weather probably didn’t have anything to do with it, based on the nature of where the fire [was]; the fire was in the center of the building,” he says. “My guess is, because it’s the heating season, that when the fire started it shut the heating system down.”

Cabe says the heating system shutting off would have cut off the main supply of air to the fire.

The battalion chief adds fire marshals were investigating the scene, as of Wednesday morning, and were working to determine the cause and origin of the fire.

“With it being a fire that burned itself out, it may take a little bit longer,” he says. “That’s sort of an unusual situation.”

No injuries were reported in the fire.


Water Main Break Diverts Traffic in Chapel Hill

UPDATE: The water main was repaired and operating normally early Wednesday afternoon, according to OWASA.

OWASA crews were working on a water main break Wednesday morning, according to Chapel Hill officials. The break closed McMasters Street and diverted traffic away from McMasters and Church Street.

As of last update, there was no estimated time when the road will be reopened.


Freezing Rain May Lead to Slippery Commute Wednesday

Winter has officially settled in across the Tar Heel state, and our area is no exception. After seeing heavy rain early Monday morning, temperatures have fallen and led to the possibility of some icing as we continue through the week.

The National Weather Service has issued alerts – including a Winter Weather Advisory for Orange County and a Winter Storm Watch for Durham and Wake Counties – that will go into effect late Tuesday and remain through mid-day Wednesday.

NWS Meteorologist Shawna Coakley says Tuesday we expect to have lingering drizzle, but the real problems may develop late Tuesday night into Wednesday morning.

“We’ll have temperatures right within a few degrees of freezing, and that brings with it a chance of freezing rain,” she says.

Coakley says we are not expected to see major accumulation, but “certainly you could get some glazing on surfaces. And you might see some difficulty with travel on roadways and walking on sidewalks.”

Coakley adds the chance of inclement weather will be rather widespread.

“We’re looking at the whole area for this, the entirety of central North Carolina,” she says.

The Wednesday morning commute may be a slippery one, if the variables of the forecast develop over the next 24 hours.

After that, Coakley says the temperatures will climb above freezing for the foreseeable future and the chance of rain will diminish to close out the week – taking any chance of inclement weather with it.


Chapel Hill Mayor: “Tough Decisions” Coming on Transit System Sustainability

Chapel Hill town leaders are being forced to get creative when looking at options to maintain transit services that are offered.

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt says the town is faced with a very clear problem.

“We need to come up with and develop a financial sustainability system for our transit system,” he says.

The solution to that problem, however, may not be as cut and dry.

At the last Chapel Hill Town Council meeting, a town-hired firm delivered the expected news that the state’s second-largest transit system, as it stands, is not sustainable in the long-term picture.

That firm listed five options to bridge the gap to a solution: passing a tax to raise money for area transit, reducing services, charging a bus fare, choosing an option other than purchasing buses outright, and the bus system partners – the Town of Chapel Hill, Town of Carrboro, and UNC – all contributing more funding.

Addressing these issues, Mayor Kleinschmidt says charging a fare for buses may have a negative impact.

“Fare-free buses don’t work for every community,” he says. “But it works really well here, because of the unique partnership we have with the Town of Carrboro and the university – particularly the student body.”

Kleinschmidt adds charging a fare would reduce ridership, which would eliminate the town’s eligibility for certain grants.

In terms of the partners in the transit system, the mayor says UNC has already been forced to make tough decisions.

“The university has already done some good work,” he says. “It doesn’t come without some tension. They’ve started charging people to park in park-and-ride [lots].”

Mayor Kleinschmidt says the student body may decide to increase their transit fee that is built into tuition. A fee the mayor says – to his knowledge – hasn’t been voted on since it was originally approved in 2000.

Kleinschmidt says the town’s tough decisions may involve reevaluating taxes.

“A couple of years ago we adjusted our transit tax rate,” he says. “That may need to happen again.”

But the mayor says he has always been proud of innovative paths town leaders and residents have navigated to find a solution.

With the transit system, that path may be looking at new options for purchasing buses.

“There are lease options,” Mayor Kleinschmidt says. “But we’ve not used them in the past. We’ve just purchased our buses, outright.”

All of the options that were suggested by the firm analyzing the system are still on the table with the town council. And the council has asked that the firm analyze each option further to help find a financial solution for the long-term viability of the transit system.


Cempra Clears Hurdle Toward FDA Approval

Chapel Hill-based drug developer Cempra has cleared a major hurdle toward FDA approval of an experimental drug that could work toward solving one of the biggest health issues worldwide.

Jason deBruyn, with the Triangle Business Journal, says the drug would work to treat one of the most commonly diagnosed bacterial infections in the world.

“[The treatment is] specifically for Community Acquired Bacterial Pneumonia,” he says. “It’s actually the number one cause of death from infection.”

deBruyn says this condition is diagnosed in 5 to 10 million new cases every year.

“It’s developed some antibiotic resistance,” he says. “The Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization have cited antibiotic resistance as the number one problem facing the world on a health care basis.”

deBruyn says the experimental drug has cleared one phase three trial, which is required to receive approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

He says positive phase three results mean the drug has made progress in treating a human subject with the disease. Cempra has another phase three trial underway currently.

If Cempra does receive approval, the Chapel Hill-based drug developer will likely hope this medication would serve as treatment for many other infections, according to deBruyn.

“If they receive approval from the FDA for their drug to treat that disease,” he says, “it’s very common for drug developers to see what else this could fight.”

Cempra is attempting to raise $140 million through stock offerings to continue funding their research.

deBruyn says approval from the FDA could still be more than a year away.


Area Schools Operating on a 2-Hour Delay for Thursday

Orange County Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools will operate on a 2-hour delay for Thursday, January 8.

Temperatures overnight are forecasted to drop to 11 degrees, with a wind chill of -3 at 7 o’clock Thursday morning.

The National Weather Service has issued a wind-chill advisory until 10 o’clock Thursday morning.


‘Stay Indoors’ As Frigid Weather Is On The Way

Temperatures are transitioning from rather mild to well below normal. National Weather Service Meteorologist Shawna Coakley says this cold weather will stick around for a few days.

“We’re going to have temperatures quite a bit below normal through the weekend,” she says. “Thursday we’re expecting the coldest day so far, probably struggling to get out of the upper-20’s.”

Coakley says there are dangerous situations that can develop with the frigid temperatures.

“We’re not expecting precipitation over that time period, but there is the possibility we could see some wind chill issues,” she says. “Lows Wednesday night will be into the teens, possibly nearing single digits.”

Last year, “Polar Vortex” seemed to be everyone’s catchphrase; Coakley says that, while it’s fun to say, the polar vortex is not an anomaly.

“The polar vortex is always there,” she says. “We frequently get pieces that break off and can influence our weather.”

Even though we may not see any snow or ice associated with this system, Coakley says it is still important to take precautions if you have to venture into the cold weather.

“The best thing to do is stay indoors as much as possible,” she says. “[If you are outside] cover any exposed skin and try to stay out of the wind because that can lead to problems with frostbite or hypothermia.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing signs of hypothermia – shivering, dizziness, fatigue, and shallow breathing – call 911 immediately.

Chapel Hill town officials are taking the opportunity to remind residents to have your heating systems checked. This time of year, residents are also reminded to not bring any outdoor heating devices – including grills or outdoor propane heaters – inside because there is an increased risk of setting fire to your home.

Leaders are also reminding residents to leave your water on a slow drip to reduce chances of a burst pipe, in cases where pipes are affixed to an outdoor wall and you do not have alternate ways to insulate the pipe.

Also, pets should either have an adequate structure with proper insulation or should be brought inside to ensure their safety.