Chatham Animal Seizure Breaks Records

Officials say the rescue of nearly 200 animals from an overcrowded home on Wednesday is the largest, and most complicated, in Chatham County history.

“The thing that’s so unique about this case is, first of all, the huge number of animals,” says Erica Geppi, director of the North Carolina branch of the Humane Society. “It’s not only the largest number [of animals seized] in the county, but also the largest number of animals for the Humane Society of the United States as an organization this year.”

Ashley Mauceri, Senior Manager of Animal Crimes for the HSUS, hoses off a pig during the Humane Society of the United States animal rescue in Pittsboro, N.C., on Wednesday, July 15, 2015. (Chris Keane/AP Images for The Humane Society)

Ashley Mauceri, Senior Manager of Animal Crimes for the HSUS, hoses off a pig during the Humane Society of the United States animal rescue in Pittsboro, N.C., on Wednesday, July 15, 2015. (Chris Keane/AP Images for The Humane Society)

The Sheriff’s Department, Chatham County Animal Services and a host of local and national animal welfare groups assisted in removing 131 cats, 23 dogs, 11 horses, 14 birds, eight goats, two cows, and one large pig from a home on Silk Hope Gum Spring Road in Pittsboro.

The website Zillow lists the property as being a 1,200-square-foot house on a 5-acre lot.

Geppi says the removal came after months of outreach to the owner.

“Animal Services in Chatham County has been working with the owner of this particular property for an extended time, but the point had really come where the animals appeared to be suffering, particularly due to unsanitary conditions and inadequate care.”

A horse watches rescuers during the Humane Society of the United States animal rescue in Pittsboro, N.C., on Wednesday, July 15, 2015. (Chris Keane/AP Images for The Humane Society)

A horse watches rescuers during the Humane Society of the United States animal rescue in Pittsboro, N.C., on Wednesday, July 15, 2015. (Chris Keane/AP Images for The Humane Society)

The animals are in the process of being evaluated by veterinarians. Geppi says many were found to be suffering from skin and eye problems as a result of the unsanitary conditions. Once the animals are nursed back to health, Geppi says she hopes many will be eligible for adoption.

“Our focus at this point is getting them back to health and getting them out of the shelter and into loving homes. Attention to the issue helps get it out there in the community and helps get word out so folks can engage in adopting them.”

It’s not yet clear if charges will be filed in the case.

150 Animals Rescued From Chatham County Home

More than 150 animals have been rescued from a property in Chatham County, in an operation that brought together officials from nearly a dozen public and private animal care facilities.

Chatham County Animal Services led the rescue after receiving a tip that “more than 100 cats and dogs” were being kept in a single mobile home at 3180 Silk Hope Gum Spring Road in Pittsboro. The website Zillow lists the property as being a 1200-square-foot house on a 5-acre lot.

When responders arrived, according to a statement from the county, they found 150 animals “living in unsafe and unsanitary conditions with untreated medical conditions.”

The animals have since been moved to local rescue groups and emergency shelters; teams of veterinarians are providing treatment and PetSmart Charities is contributing food and supplies. The entire operation involved Durham and Wake County officials, the Humane Society, and several other local and national organizations.

Chatham County Officials Agree to Deal with Duke Energy on Coal Ash

Chatham County officials have reached an agreement with Duke Energy on parameters of storing coal ash at a clay mine in the county.

A deal was struck between the county and the energy giant after weeks of negotiations, according to officials.

Chatham County Manager Charlie Horne says the county’s focus was getting the best arrangement it could with Duke.

“Given that, no matter what we do, we’re likely going to get coal ash,” he says, “what is the best deal, if you will, we can get from Duke Energy to do other things potentially in Chatham County.”

Duke Spokesperson Jeff Brooks says the company is happy both sides were able to reach an accord.

“We’re very pleased to have reached an agreement with local leaders that will provide positive benefits, we believe, to the people of Chatham County,” he says. “Duke Energy is very committed to being responsible and transparent as we move forward with our work at the Birckhaven mine and ensuring that the work that we do is done safely and with a focus on protecting the environment.”

Horne says the agreement puts forward the parameters of the coal ash that can be moved to Chatham County.

“The agreement provides for a limit of 12 million tons of coal ash disposal at the Brickhaven site in Moncure,” he says. “In return for that, we will get $1.50 per ton for that disposal up to 12 million tons.”

Lee County officials agreed to a similar deal with Duke Energy earlier this year to store coal ash.

It came to this stage of seeming inevitability for the county after the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources granted Duke the necessary permits to dispose of coal ash in the pits.

Brooks says the state is the ultimate rule maker in this scenario, but Duke would prefer to operate with cooperation of local government.

“Certainly the state law directs how we operate and how we move forward with this project, but we recognize that there’s an impact to the local community,” he says. “We recognize that, just from an operational standpoint, this will be something ongoing for several years in Chatham County.

“And we wanted to be fair to the local community. We wanted to find a solution that could provide positive benefits to the people of Chatham County.”

The ash will be stored dry, rather than in the lagoons it is currently stored in across the Tar Heel state.

The pits will be lined before the ash is placed into the pit and another layer of lining will be placed over the coal ash once it is in place, according to Duke.

Horne says the county is pleased no additional ash will be brought to the site of the Cape Fear Plant.

“The Cape Fear site, which was the old power plant, Duke Energy also agreed that there will be no coal ash stored there other than what’s already on the site,” he says. “We think that’s a plus.”

As part of the Coal Ash Management Act of 2014, Duke has to move coal ash from lagoons at four high-risk sites across North Carolina by 2019. Duke must move all of the coal ash from the 10 remaining sites by 2029.

Brooks says progress has been preliminary up to this point.

“We’re actually finalizing a lot of those plans,” he says. “We’ve announced some of them, obviously. We’re beginning the process of siting land fills at some of our plants that will be used for storing ash.

“We’ve begun moving ash from our Riverbend station to a location in Georgia that is accepting that material. And I think that you’re going to see over the next few months a lot of activity, a lot of new announcements on plans and other work that’s being done.”

Brooks says the nation’s largest electric utility is focused on meeting the deadlines laid out by the state.

“We believe we can meet the timelines. We are committed to complying with the law,” he says. “It’s going to be a herculean task, and it’s going to take a lot of work from many dedicated teams that are working throughout the company.

“But right now our focus is on meeting the requirements of the law and doing that in a responsible way.”

Before any coal ash can be moved to the pits in Chatham and Lee Counties, Duke Energy still needs approval from the federal government and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Brooks says that Duke is hopeful that late this summer or early this fall it will be able to begin work at the site in Chatham County.

County officials say the $18 million Duke will be providing the county in exchange for the storage will be used to monitor the environmental risks around the site. Commissioners have also asked for baseline testing to be done of water sources around the pits.

Fleeing Suspect Naps in Chatham County Home

A suspect wanted by Burlington Police on assault charges was spotted napping in a Chatham County home on Monday.

Investigators from the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office continue to look for 19-year-old Adrien Tyron Hurley, of Chapel Hill Road, Burlington.

“Yesterday, a Chatham County resident on Bonlee Carbonton Road returned to her home to find someone sleeping in her bed,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a released statement. “That person matched the description of Hurley and he fled the residence on foot.”

As of four o’clock yesterday afternoon, officers were utilizing search dogs, K-9 units, and the NC Highway Patrol helicopter to search the area where Hurley was seen shortly after one o’clock Monday.

Chatham Central High School in Bear Creek was initially put on lock down due to the manhunt, before students were released, according to police.

Hurley is wanted by Burlington Police for felony assault charges. It is believed that Hurley fled from a Highway Patrol vehicle stop on Sunday afternoon in southern Chatham County on US 421.

Authorities say Hurley was last seen wearing pajama bottoms, no shirt or shoes. If you see Hurley, do not confront him. Please contact the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office or dial 911.

DA Woodall Says NC Death Penalty System Needs Reform

Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall has announced that if a conviction is brought against the two men charged with murdering 59-year-old UNC professor Feng Liu in July, he will not be seeking the death penalty.

Woodall says, “I don’t think, at this time, North Carolina has an effective death penalty.”

He says he is not opposed to the death penalty, but adds that the entire system is not in a functioning state.

“I do not have any moral opposition to the death penalty,” he says. “I think there are circumstances – extremely rare circumstances – where it is warranted. I don’t think that the law, as we have it presently in North Carolina, is sufficient to ensure that we carry it out properly.”

Woodall adds that in a case where capital punishment is on the table, there are many factors that go into that decision.

Botched executions in other states have sparked a nationwide review of the death penalty system. Earlier this year in North Carolina, two half brothers were exonerated on murder charges and released from prison after nearly 30 years behind bars. Both men were originally sentenced to death; one had his sentenced reduced to life in prison.

Woodall says that in many cases a term of life in prison can bring a victim’s family more closure than a death sentence.

“It would take decades for the sentence to be carried out,” he says, “if it were ever carried out. And victims’ families have to deal with it for decades.”

If North Carolina is going to continue to be a state that has the death penalty as an option for prosecutors, Woodall says the entire system needs to be reformed. He cites an example from the federal system that could serve as a model for North Carolina.

“For a federal prosecutor to pursue the death penalty,” he says, “they have to go before a federal panel that looks at the evidence. The defense actually gets to present a short version of their case. And that panel determines if it’s a death-penalty case.”

Woodall says this provides more consistency in the process, adding that he believes that is one thing missing in North Carolina.

“I believe it’s very important for an elected prosecutor to have a great deal of discretion to determine how the law is going to be enforced in his or her jurisdiction,” he says. “But I do think if you’re going to have the death penalty – the ultimate punishment – there has to be some way to ensure that it is going to be used consistently throughout the state.”

Juries issued three death sentences in North Carolina in 2014 – in 2013 juries returned one death sentence and none were returned in 2012, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The state of North Carolina has not executed a prisoner since 2006.

Chatham Deputies Arrest Man Allegedly Linked To Drug Deaths

The Chatham County Sheriff’s Office has arrested a man in connection with three drug overdose deaths this weekend.

38-year old Edwin Maurice Pennix, of  Colonial Park Road, Siler City, was charged with multiple felonies, including selling and delivering cocaine and marijuana. He was on probation at the time of the arrest for prior drug charges and for fleeing arrest.

Edwin Maurice Pennix

Edwin Maurice Pennix

Authorities say he’s involved in the sale of cocaine laced with the narcotic painkiller Fentanyl. The mixture killed three and sickened 11 others in Chatham County on Saturday.

Pennix is being held in the Chatham County Jail under a $260,000 secured bond.

The Sheriff’s Office is still investigating the incident, along with the State Bureau of Investigations and the Drug Enforcement Administration. If you have any information, you can contact the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office Narcotics Unit at 919-545-8139.

Duke Energy Hopes To Send Coal Ash To Chatham And Lee Counties

Coal ash could be coming to Chatham and Lee Counties, as Duke Energy looks to use old clay mines for disposal.

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources received a pair of applications last week from Green Meadow LLC, a company seeking permission to move coal ash stored at power facilities to fill in open-pit clay mines.

One mine is in Chatham County near Moncure, the other is in Lee County near Sanford.

The permits would allow Duke Energy to relocate coal ash from power plants in Mount Holly and Wilmington and use it to fill the open pits after installing liners to prevent groundwater contamination.

Green Meadow LLC hopes to begin work on the structural fill projects at both mine sites in early 2015.

However, a public hearing must be held first, and the permits must be reviewed by the Division of Waste Management before work can begin.

In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency will likely roll out new federal guidelines for coal ash disposal in December, which could have an impact on the application.

Ultimately, Duke Energy hopes to relocate 3 million tons of coal ash to Lee and Chatham counties.

Chatham Co. Health Dept Reports Whooping Cough On The Rise

Chatham County officials say they have seen a recent uptick in cases of whooping cough among adolescents and younger children.

Two students at Northwood High School were diagnosed with the disease in mid-October. Health Department workers and the Chatham County School system are trying to identify other students who may have been exposed.

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is easily spread by coughing or sneezing. It causes a severe cough that can last for weeks or months. It’s especially dangerous for infants and those with weakened immune systems.

Spread of the disease is easily prevented by vaccination. If you need a booster shot, you can contact the Chatham County Health Department or the Orange County Health Department.

Chatham Neighbors to Range 2A: ‘Shut it Down’ or We’ll Sue

Neighbors of a gun range that opened just outside of Pittsboro in late May have an unwavering message for the owner:

Take it somewhere else, or we’re going to court.

“We are not going away,” says Tony Gaeta. “The only thing he can do is shut it down.”

Gaeta is a corporate securities attorney with the Wyrick Robbins Yates & Ponton law firm in Raleigh, and an adjunct professor at the UNC School of Law.

He’s also an unhappy neighbor of Range 2A, which opened in late May on 71 acres owned by Mark Atkeson.

Gaeta has lived on his 30-acre property for eight years. Before that, he lived on a two-and-a-half-acre horse farm on the other side of Jordan Lake on Hwy. 751, near Apex Nurseries.

Then the Streets of Southpoint mall opened in South Durham. One of its access roads, Renaissance Parkway, is right off 751 near an I-40 ramp.

Needless to say, traffic on Gaeta’s stretch of 751 picked up quite a bit.

“You couldn’t sit in your backyard and have any peace and quiet,” he says. “So, for a couple of years, I looked for a farm deeper and further away.”

The dream property he found in the Dry Creek Valley subdivision was heavily wooded. He built his new horse farm on what was, for him, the most tranquil place on Earth.

“And then the range came, and destroyed all that with their gunfire,” he says.

Range 2A is a membership club with two instructors from D-Co, a shooting range in Southern Pines. D-Co offers tactical training for military and law enforcement personnel, as well as civilians.

Soon after it opened on Silk Hope Gum Springs Road, Range 2A drew noise-and-safety complaints from Siglinda Scarpa, owner of the Goathouse Refuge, a cat sanctuary that borders Atkeson’s property.

The range was shut down, at least temporarily, in early July. Results of a controlled shooting test by the Chatham County Sheriff’s Department showed that decibel levels registered above 60, in violation of local ordinances.

Atkeson told WCHL in mid-August that he’s working on adding soundproofing features, in hopes of re-opening this fall.

But his problems don’t end there. Atkeson has also been cited for a storm water mitigation violation by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

The border of Gaeta’s property is one side of the Goathouse Refuge, and Range 2A is on the other. Gaeta says he was present at the Goathouse for the controlled shooting test, and scoffs at the idea that it even represents the noise that came from Range 2A while it was open.

He describes it as high-powered rifles being shot at all times of the day and night, from eight shooting bays, seven days a week.

Gaeta recently co-authored a petition to Chatham County, asking for a permanent halt to the activities at Range 2A. The petition has more than 130 signatures from neighbors living a mile or less from the Range.

He told Chatham County Commissioners at a recent meeting that it’s not about guns. He’s a gun owner himself, and a veteran who served in Vietnam.

Gaeta says that he and other neighbors want to maintain the peaceful, safe environment they moved into, and not see their property values degraded by Range 2A.

Mediation between the opposing parties has been suggested by the Chatham County Sheriff’s Department, and that could happen later this month.

Atkeson, the owner of Range 2A, told WCHL recently that he was all for it.

“I would happily go to mediation,” Atkeson said. “I would love to sit down and try to explain what it is I’m doing, and listen to their concerns and try to address them. Because I feel there’s a great deal of misinformation.”

Gaeta says he’s part of a group of neighbors willing to speak with Atkeson, but added that Atkeson probably won’t like what they’re going to say.

“Shut down the range,” says Gaeta. “This is the wrong place for it.”

He adds that even if Atkeson manages to bring the noise level below 60, and to resolve environmental issues with NCDENR, it’s not over. He and some neighbors have hired an attorney, and they’re ready to move forward.

“Our lawyer tells us we still have a case under the North Carolina Nuisance Law,” says Gaeta, “and we still intend to file a civil action against him to shut it down.”

Chatham Residents: Check Your DMV Bills

Chatham County residents should double check your vehicle registration renewal before sticking the check in the mail.

Some residents have received tax bills citing the incorrect county rate. Orange County’s property tax rate is 87.8 cents; Durham County’s is 79.31 cents. However, Chatham County’s rate is much lower at 62.19 cents.

Not only are you overpaying if the bill is incorrect, but the funds are going to the incorrect county.

If you received a bill from the Division of Motor Vehicles that is incorrect, you can call the DMV at 919-814-1779.