Ice castles, Mirage volcano, stolen puppies: News from around our 50 states

·43 min read


Montgomery: Alabama motorists are about to have new license plate designs added to their options on Feb. 1, and three plate designs are being retired. The new plates are for the Alabama Poultry Foundation, Sickle Cell Awareness and Troy University, according to Also available on Feb. 1 will be an Alabama Audubon “Protect Our Birds” tag. Most of the proceeds of the tag - $41.25 of its $50 cost – will go to Alabama Audubon to support bird conservation. Discontinued are the Rotary International, Civitan International and Square/Round Dancing plates.


Sitka: Police are investigating vandalism at a Russian cemetery in Sitka. Police are investigating vandalism at the Russian Cemetery. About 20 headstones were knocked over or damaged and Russian Orthodox crosses were broken and left the ground, the Daily Sitka Sentinel reported. Police were informed of the vandalism Friday by the cemetery’s caretaker, Bob Sam, who had last checked the cemetery a week before. Wooden crosses were destroyed, numerous cement headstones were pushed off their bases, statues on top of headstones were toppled and glass vases were broken, Sitka Police Department spokesperson Serena Wild said.


Phoenix: The Phoenix Public Transit Department has received a $920,000 grant to manage the planning of 11 stations along a 5-mile streetcar route that would connect four activity centers in Mesa. The money from the Transit-Oriented Development Planning grant will be used to conduct extensive planning efforts, determine design guidelines and establish economic strategies, according to Mesa officials. The route would connect Riverview Marketplace, Asian District, Fiesta District and downtown Mesa when it’s completed, the officials said. The Valley Metro Tempe Street Car Project was allocated $17.4 million last June under the American Rescue Plan to advance the 3-mile streetcar plan with 14 stations and six vehicles.


Fayetteville: A University of Arkansas professor pleaded guilty Friday to lying to the FBI about patents he had for inventions in mainland China. Simon Saw-Teong Ang pleaded guilty in federal court in Fayetteville to one count from a 58-count federal indictment. Prosecutors said 24 patents bearing Ang’s name were filed with the Beijing government but that he failed to report the patents to the university and denied having them when questioned by the FBI. The university requires disclosure of all faculty patents, which the university would own. The plea deal called for a one-year prison sentence, but the crime could be punishable by up to five years in prison. The 64-year-old Fayetteville resident was suspended from the university faculty when he was initially indicted in July 2020. The university website no longer lists him on its faculty directory.


Los Angeles: The descendants of Native American tribes on the northern California coast are reclaiming a bit of their heritage that includes ancient redwoods that have stood since their ancestors walked the land. Save the Redwoods League planned to announce Tuesday that it is transferring more than 500 acres on the Lost Coast to the InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council. The group of 10 tribes that have inhabited the area for thousands of years will be responsible for protecting the land dubbed Tc’ih-Léh-Dûñ, or “Fish Run Place,” in the Sinkyone language. Priscilla Hunter, chairwoman of the Sinkyone Council, said it’s fitting they will be caretakers of the land where her people were removed or forced to flee before the forest was largely stripped for timber. The transfer marks a step in the growing Land Back movement to return Indigenous homelands to the ancestors of those who lived there for millennia before European settlers arrived. The league first worked with the Sinkyone council when it transferred a 164-acre plot nearby to the group in 2012. The league recently paid $37 million for a scenic 5-mile stretch of the rugged and forbidding Lost Coast from a lumber company to protect it from logging and open it to the public.


Denver: Student enrollment has continued declining across Colorado public schools, with the state counting about 1,200 fewer students in kindergarten through 12th grade this fall than last year, when enrollment in preschool through high school plunged by about 30,000 students. State officials largely attributed last year’s enrollment slump – which was the first of its kind reported in more than 30 years – to parents’ pandemic-driven decisions. Many held off on enrolling kids in preschool and kindergarten and other families switched to homeschooling or online education programs. And the Colorado Department of Education, which on Wednesday released enrollment numbers from a count conducted in October, expected that enrollment numbers would increase again within the next few years. But the dip in K-12 students this year points to an underlying issue that has nothing to do with the pandemic: declining birth rates. Declining numbers could spell financial trouble for some school districts, because district budgets are largely determined by pupil counts.


New Haven: Three Connecticut breweries have closed or announced closings within the last month because of the pandemic, and a fourth announced it is leaving its current space and assessing options for the future. It’s a blow to an industry that has been thriving in the state in recent years and it reflects a nationwide trend. Sales of craft beer dropped more than 9% in 2020, according to the Brewers Association. Brewery owners told the New Haven Register they faced challenges from an overall decline in taproom business to having to comply with the state’s post-lockdown requirement that they also serve food. 30 Mile Brewery, which opened in 2016, announced it is closing recently on its Facebook page. Better Half Brewing of Bristol closed on Dec. 31 and Shebeen Brewing Company in Wolcott also is closing its taproom, the Register reported. Taproom sales are especially important for small breweries that might not be able to make enough money from selling their products wholesale, William da Silva, a founder of Derby’s Bad Sons Beer Co., told the Register.


Surf fishermen line up along the beach at Fenwick Island State Park in Delaware.
Surf fishermen line up along the beach at Fenwick Island State Park in Delaware.

Wilmington: Surf-fishing permits for 2022 will got on sale starting Feb. 1 after a nationwide supply chain disruptions pushed back the sale dates, which are usually around the winter holidays, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control said. Sales for surf-fishing permits will begin at 10 a.m. Feb. 1, and annual passes for the Delaware State Parks will go on sale at 10 a.m. Feb. 15. The annual passes allow visitors to access the parks for the entire fee season from March 1 to Nov. 30, and surf-fishing permits allow people to drive onto designated sections of Delaware State Parks beaches for fishing. An annual pass costs $35 for a Delaware registered vehicle and $70 for an out-of-state vehicle. A Delawarean can get an annual surf-fishing permit for $90, and an out-of-state angler can get it for $180. First-time permit holders must also obtain a surf-fishing plate on which they will affix their surf-fishing permit decal. Beyond drive-on beach access, the decal grants entrance into the other state parks without paying the daily entrance fee. For more, visit

District of Columbia

Washington: The quill-covered family at Smithsonian’s National Zoo has grown by one as prehensile-tailed porcu-parents Quillbur and Beatrix welcomed their second offspring earlier this month, WUSA-TV reported. Keepers at the National Zoo’s small mammal house reported for duty on Jan. 4 to discover Beatrix had given birth overnight. Now 2 weeks old, zoo staff said the prickly little one is doing well. The porcupette has bonded with its mom and is nursing well and gaining weight, keepers said. “Our team is looking forward to learning if the newborn will take after Beatrix, who is relaxed and easy-going, or be more active and curious like Quillbur,” the zoo said in a social media post. It’s not known whether the new bundle of spiny joy is a boy or a girl. Newborn porcupettes look anatomically similar until they are about 6 months old, staff said. Keepers sent quill samples to scientists at the Zoo’s Center for Conservation Genomics for DNA analysis. They should know the newborn’s sex in a few weeks. Quillbur and Beatrix gave birth to their first offspring back in 2019, soon after Quillbur came to the National Zoo. After a naming contest that year, the son was named Quilliam. Quilliam and this newborn porcupine are the fourth generation of this family to live in the small mammal house


A surfer paddles over several dozen small sharks near New Smyrna Beach, Fla.
A surfer paddles over several dozen small sharks near New Smyrna Beach, Fla.

Gainesville: Data released by the International Shark Attack File said Florida ranked No. 1 in the world for unprovoked shark bites in 2021. Florida had 28 unprovoked bites last year, compared to 19 in the rest of the U.S. and is consistent with Florida’s most recent five-year annual average of 25 attacks. Of Florida’s 28 unprovoked bites, 17 were in Volusia County, which includes Daytona Beach. Researchers with the ISAF, which is a division of the University of Florida’s Florida Museum of Natural History, scour media reports for news of shark bites, include reports from field researchers and verify with medical personnel the veracity of the information. “Unprovoked attacks” are defined as incidents in which a live human is bitten in the shark’s natural habitat with no human provocation of the shark, according to the report. “Provoked attacks” occur when a human initiates interaction with a shark in some way, including spearfishers, divers that harassed or tried to touch sharks, people that tried to feed, unhook or remove sharks from a fishing net.


Griffin: A pastor has denied he was holding people against their will in an unlicensed group home. However, police have charged Curtis Keith Bankston and his wife, Sophia Simm-Bankston, with false imprisonment in connection with the operation. Police said the couple at times locked as many as eight people in the basement, seizing control of their finances. Police said earlier this week city firefighters responded on Jan. 13 to a report of a person having a seizure at the location and found people were in a deadbolted basement, with paramedics climbing through a window to reach a patient. Police said they found the residents were all mentally or physically disabled and the Bankstons also controlled their medications and had denied medical care to residents. Dexter Wimbish, Curtis Keith Bankston’s attorney, told local news outlets on Thursday that his client hadn’t committed a crime. Police said the couple disguised the home as a ministry of Bankston’s church called One Step of Faith 2nd Chance. Investigators said the couple locked residents in the basement during parts of the day. Police said all the residents were moved to new homes.


Kahului: A reinforced fence has been installed around Kahului Airport on Maui after a deer blocked a runway earlier this month. Vinyl fencing now overlaps an existing wood fence surrounding the airport to prevent deer from squeezing through, Maui District Airports Manager Marvin Moniz told The Maui News. The added barrier installed for an estimated $100,000 will prevent a “small kitten” from getting through, Moniz said. Workers also cut brush growing along the fence to make it less appealing for hungry deer, Moniz said. Tens of thousands of invasive axis deer roam Maui. At one time, up to 700 axis deer were spotted around the perimeter of the airport fence, Moniz said, but that number has since reduced to about 300 as they move more north seeking greener pastures and water. Deer herds have also trampled trees and brush around the Molokai Airport. Gov. David Ige recently extended through March 7 an emergency disaster declaration for Maui County so the state can take measures to reduce and control the deer.


Boise: Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin asked legislative budget writers for $29,000 in taxpayer money to cover legal fees incurred after she lost a public records lawsuit. The Idaho Press Club sued McGeachin in July after several journalists said she wrongly denied public record requests for materials relating to her new Education Task Force. McGeachin lost the lawsuit, with the judge saying she acted in “bad faith” in denying access to the public documents. He ordered her to release the records and pay the Idaho Press Club’s legal fees, which came in just below $29,000. McGeachin hired a private attorney to represent her in the case rather than using the Idaho Attorney General’s office. That work cost her an additional unknown amount in legal fees, but she told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on Wednesday she was still “auditing” that bill, the Idaho Statesman reported.


Chicago: A man known as the “Dreadhead Cowboy” has pleaded guilty to animal cruelty in connection with a rush-hour horseback ride he took along Chicago’s Dan Ryan Expressway in 2020. Adam Hollingsworth pleaded guilty Friday to aggravated animal cruelty and was sentenced to a year in prison by a Cook County judge, court records showed. With credit he earned while on electronic home monitoring as his case was pending, Hollingsworth could be released from the Cook County Jail as early as Monday. Hollingsworth was arrested in September 2020 after disrupting traffic on the Dan Ryan Expressway while galloping his horse, Nunu, amid rush hour traffic in an act of civil disobedience he said was intended to draw attention to gun violence against children. Hollingsworth’s ride resulted in extensive delays on the expressway, with traffic backed up for miles. Officials initially said the horse was so severely injured by the 8-mile ride on asphalt that it might have to be euthanized, but Nunu was later reported to have significantly recovered.


Peru: A historic barn that once housed elephants and tigers from well-known circuses and now is home to the International Circus Hall of Fame museum is in need of emergency repairs. Bob Cline, treasurer of the nonprofit hall of fame, said volunteers discovered in December that a main beam supporting an upper wall of the structure had rotted completely and given way, the Kokomo Tribune reported. The barn was built in 1922 by the American Circus Corporation. It is among several structures located east of Peru, in northern Indiana, that once served as the winter quarters for the world’s largest circuses, including Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. The hall of fame has been working for years to preserve the structures. Cline said the $4,200 to repair the barn’s beam is just the “tip of the iceberg” of what needs to be done. The group is seeking donations to help cover costs for the project.


The Red Bull Soapbox Race – an extreme soapbox derby for adults – will make its Iowa debut this summer.
The Red Bull Soapbox Race – an extreme soapbox derby for adults – will make its Iowa debut this summer.

Des Moines: The Red Bull Soapbox Race – an extreme soapbox derby for adults – will make its Iowa debut this summer. Red Bull promotes several extreme sports to publicize its energy drink line and give consumers “wings.” Its soapbox race is similar to the traditional version for children in that carts coast downhill, but the Red Bull Soapbox Race challenges “the most fearless, fun-loving and foolhardy teams to prototype and create the wackiest of rides” using homemade carts, according to its website. Sponsors include West Des Moines-based Hy-Vee and Ankeny-based Casey’s. Casey’s plans to set up a committee that will look for the best “hometown racers” celebrating where racers are from and what they love about Casey’s. Winning hometown racers will receive free Casey’s pizza for a year. The Des Moines event will take place June 18, with the course running along East Walnut Street just south of the state Capitol, from East 12th to East 7th streets. Those interested in entering a cart for the race can apply now.


Amanda Rice, owner of Clipeez in Topeka, Kan., combs and clips 1-year-old Ryder Singer during his first haircut.
Amanda Rice, owner of Clipeez in Topeka, Kan., combs and clips 1-year-old Ryder Singer during his first haircut.

Topeka: Clipeez salon is catering to the needs of children and parents, with child-friendly salon chairs that look like firetrucks, airplanes and more. Owner Amanda Rice, who has been a stylist for almost a decade, said she has dreamed of opening a business like Clipeez since she was in beauty school. Rice said she has learned tricks over the years to help children feel at ease while getting their hair cut. With two children of her own, she knows haircuts can be a stressful experience for some children. Rice’s small customers also are greeted with a play area that includes a chalkboard wall for drawing, child-sized tables and chairs, and a variety of toys and activities to keep them busy while they wait. Although Clipeez is a child-focused salon, Rice said customers of all ages are welcome. Parents can schedule a haircut for themselves, knowing their child will be entertained during the appointment. Rice is the only stylist taking appointments at Clipeez but is in the process of hiring additional help. She said she hopes to add five to six stylists to her team so Clipeez can offer walk in appointment options in the future.


Livermore: This city in western Kentucky has become certified as the 25th trail town in the state, officials said. Livermore in McLean County received its certification from the Kentucky Department of Tourism, officials said in a statement. The tourism and economic development program provides a strategic plan for communities, which commit to sharing outdoor opportunities, culture, history and stories with visitors looking for adventure, the Kentucky Department of Tourism said. Livermore offers paddling on the Rough and Green rivers and cycling on three new routes, officials said. “There are thousands of miles of trails and waterways throughout the commonwealth,” Department of Tourism Commissioner Mike Mangeot said. “These trail towns offer the perfect destination for long-distance adventures or day trips and we are excited to have Livermore join the other 24 destinations who have received this designation.”


New Orleans: A worker on a crew replacing corroded grating on an oil platform wasn’t wearing his safety lifeline when he fell to his death off Louisiana in May 2020, the federal offshore safety agency said. The man stood on grating after he and another worker had cut through its metal crossbars so it could be removed in sections, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said. He died after falling 50 feet. The job safety plan said such cutting, called ripping, should be done in sections but the crew “proceeded to rip the entirety of the work area,” weakening it, according to the report. Workers had set out the safety gear called a self-retracting lanyard but didn’t put it on, the report said. The rig operator and the man’s supervisors also contributed to the accident, the agency said. The man was not identified. His employer, Fluid Crane and Construction Co. of New Iberia, had no comment. The rig’s operator, Fieldwood Energy LLC, is reorganizing under a bankruptcy court administrator. Its website shows only the administrator as a contact. Neither the administrator nor Fieldwood’s bankruptcy attorneys responded to emails requesting comment.


Augusta: Maine wildlife managers will soon start accepting applications for the 2022 moose hunt, which will follow a year in which hunters had limited success. Tens of thousands of hunters typically apply for a spot in the state moose permit lottery. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife said it will start accepting applications in February. The lottery typically happens in June and then the hunt is in the fall. The wildlife department said 68% of hunters killed a moose during the 2021 hunt. That was the third-lowest success rate in the four-decade history of the modern hunt, the Bangor Daily News reported.


Ocean City: New housing in Ocean City is scheduled to be built at Philadelphia Avenue and Dolphin Street. On Friday, SVN Miller announced that Dolphin Street Development has purchased the corner parcel and plans to build 22 “upscale townhomes” on the property. Dolphin Street Development Owner Jeff Thaler isn’t a stranger to Ocean City development and has completed numerous projects in the area. SVN Miller’s release did not say when construction would begin. This announcement came a month after the Ocean City Town Council approved conceptual plans to build workforce housing between Somerset and Dorchester streets.


Methuen: The city’s first female firefighter has been promoted to captain after a state board ruled in her favor, saying she was passed over for a promotion because of her gender and favoritism in the department. City officials approved Tracy Blanchette’s promotion to captain of the Methuen Fire Department at the request of Fire Chief Tim Sheehy, The Eagle-Tribune reported Friday. The promotion followed the Civil Service Commission’s ruling in November that stated Blanchette was passed over for a promotion from private to captain because of her gender. According to Blanchette and witnesses who testified before the commission, the department fostered an environment of “mutual back-scratching employment culture” among male firefighters. The commission also ruled that Blanchette receive back pay at a captain’s salary dating back to February 2019, when she was passed over for the promotion. Blanchette also filed a sexual discrimination suit against the city in November 2020, seeking $2.75 million in damages, the newspaper reported.


St. Clair Shores: It’s rusty and no longer needed, but a 165-foot water tower still has fans in a Detroit suburb. St. Clair Shores City Council member David Rubello wants to save the tower, which stands at the city’s golf course, The Macomb Daily reported. The tower was built in the 1920s to improve water pressure in the community but now is obsolete. To some, it’s a local landmark that deserves love. “I hate to see any part of the history of St. Clair Shores destroyed,” Rubello said. “If the people of our community can come together and save this tower, that would be amazing and a win.” He has proposed finding a company that would pay to repair it in exchange for placing advertising on the tower. It could cost roughly $400,000 – 10 times the cost to demolish it. Tall structures can be converted into wireless phone towers, but the area appears to be covered. “It has become part of the landscape. Sadly, demolition looks to be the proper choice,” said Chris Rayes, community development and inspections director. The council voted to table the issue for six months.


St. Paul: A state appeals court on Monday issued a mixed opinion in a complicated case contesting one of the key permits that a St. Paul-based company needs to build what would be the state’s first copper-nickel mine. The Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed a decision by regulators to issue the PolyMet Mining Corp. a water quality permit for the project. It now goes back to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to determine whether any pollution discharges from the mine into groundwater would violate the federal Clean Water Act. However, the three-judge panel rejected several other arguments from PolyMet’s opponents. Among them, there was a demand for more stringent limits on the treated wastewater that’s discharged from the mine and a call for a contested case hearing to gather more evidence and testimony on certain aspects of the permit before a neutral judge, Minnesota Public Radio News reported.


Jackson: Parts of Mississippi’s capital city have had little or no water pressure in recent days because of broken pipes and problems at a water treatment plant. Areas with higher elevation in south Jackson have been most affected. Problems started Thursday after a major water main broke, and other water lines have broken since then, the Clarion-Ledger reported. On Monday, low water pressure forced four Jackson public schools to have classes online instead of in person and students from four elementary schools were sent to other campuses. City engineer Charles Williams told news outlets he expected crews to make significant progress in restoring service this week. “We are seeing improvements and will continue to see those improvements over the next couple of days,” Williams said during a news conference Monday. “We just ask for patience from our residents. We know they’re frustrated with this, especially in south Jackson.” Multiple pipes broke when temperatures dropped below freezing. The city had problems with a membrane system at a treatment plant, which delayed the crews’ ability to fully restore water pressure to all residents, WAPT-TV reported.


Clayton: Eastern Missouri prosecutors have refiled a felony terrorist threat charge against a man accused of livestreaming threats to bomb and kill people while he was dressed as the Batman villain known as The Joker. St. Louis County prosecutors refiled the charge Friday against Jeremy Garnier, 50, of University City, a day after a judge dismissed the case because prosecutors could not produce a key witness for the grand jury, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Garnier was arrested in March 2020 in a University City restaurant in the midst of his livestream. In it, prosecutors said, he was dressed as The Joker and ordered a soda in the restaurant, saying: “I can’t be inebriated when I’m planning on, you know, killing a bunch of people.” Garnier’s costume and alleged threats were reminiscent of a 2012 shooting in Aurora, Colorado, in which 12 people were killed and dozens injured during the showing of the Batman movie “The Dark Knight Rises.” Shooter James Holmes, who was dressed as The Joker during the shooting, received multiple life sentences after a jury couldn’t agree unanimously on a death sentence.


Ronan: The Flathead Water Compact officially got in gear managing one of the Flathead Indian Reservation’s most valuable assets, water rights on the 1.3 million-acre reservation. On Thursday, four new board members took their seats and outlined the rules for granting, managing and enforcing the water rights, which include drinking-water wells, irrigation water, river flows, wetlands, high-mountain lakes, and some of the reservoir behind Hungry Horse Dam. “This is a landmark day for the tribes and the state,” board member Teresa Wall-McDonald said. “With continued cooperation, we can work through any challenge that presents itself.” The CSKT Tribal Council appointed Wall-McDonald, head of the Tribal Lands Department, and Tribal Services Director Clayton Matt to the board, the Missoulian reported. Gov. Greg Gianforte appointed geologist Roger Noble and attorney Ken Pitt. Their first job was to pick a fifth member, which they agreed to choose from a list of five people put forth by the CSKT and governor’s office, at their next meeting. The U.S. Interior Department will also appoint a sixth, nonvoting member to the board. The second, and much larger, task is to set up staff to redo all the previous water rights and get future allocations going. That includes hiring a lead water engineer and a team of five technicians, along with record-keepers and other staff.


Omaha: Contract talks between the biggest freight railroads and unions that represent 105,000 employees are headed to mediation this week after the unions declared an impasse following more than two years of negotiations. The unions said Monday the contract talks had deadlocked because the railroads are still seeking concessions, even after workers remained on the job throughout the pandemic and endured significant staff cuts in recent years as the railroads overhauled their operations. Michael Maratto, general counsel of the National Railway Labor Conference that represents the railroads, said it is routine for federal mediators to get involved in contract talks, and the railroads welcome their help in reaching an agreement. The NRLC group is negotiating on behalf of more than 30 railroads, including Union Pacific, BNSF, Norfolk Southern, CSX and Kansas City Southern. Since 2017, the major freight railroads have collectively cut more than 20% of their staff as the industry adopted a new operating model called Precision Scheduled Railroading. It calls for running fewer, longer trains with a mix of freight to reduce the number of crews and locomotives needed to deliver millions of tons of goods nationwide. Unions have said the widespread cuts have spread employees thin, raising concerns about whether defects that could cause derailments will be missed during inspections or allowed to linger in the rail network because routine maintenance has been delayed.


The iconic Mirage Volcano erupts at the Mirage Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The man-made volcano that has been spewing fire and water since the hotel’s 1989 opening but will be demolished as part of a renovation project.
The iconic Mirage Volcano erupts at the Mirage Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The man-made volcano that has been spewing fire and water since the hotel’s 1989 opening but will be demolished as part of a renovation project.

Las Vegas: Hard Rock International, owners of the Mirage Hotel & Casino, said it plans to demolish the property’s iconic volcano as part of a major renovation plan, KLAS-TV reported. Hard Rock International Chief Executive Officer Jim Allen confirmed plans to rebrand the resort and get rid of the entire front area. A guitar-shaped hotel will take over, according to a recent rendering. MGM Resorts International, the previous owner, said in a statement it will license The Mirage name and brand to Hard Rock for the next few years while the rebranding process continues. Some are not happy with the decision to do away with the volcano. An online petition on to save the Mirage volcano had gathered more than 1,500 signatures as of Monday.

New Hampshire

Rye: A flock of 10 loons rescued on frozen Lake Winnipesaukee was released Monday into the Atlantic Ocean. WMUR-TV reported the 10 adult loons trapped on Lake Winnipesaukee were rescued Saturday by members of the New Hampshire’s Loon Preservation Committee. “It could just be that they stuck around a little bit too long because the lake was still open, the fishing was good, and then they molted those flight feathers and as the water started to come in it was too late for them to be able to leave,” said the committee’s Carolyn Hughes. Loons commonly spend the summer and fall months on inland lakes where they breed and raise their young. Loons typically spend the winter on the ocean. The birds were examined on Sunday and found to be in good health.

New Jersey

Trenton: Gov. Phil Murphy has tapped Sarah Adelman, the acting head of the state Department of Human Services, to become the commissioner of the state agency. Murphy said Adelman has successfully led the department since taking over on an interim basis in January 2021. She stepped in after Commissioner Carole Johnson left Murphy’s Cabinet for the Biden administration, where she was tapped to oversee COVID-19 testing. Adelman previously served as a deputy commissioner at the department, overseeing a number of divisions, including one that oversees NJ FamilyCare, which is the state’s program to provide health care for children and lower-income residents. She also has served on the board of the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, and before joining the Murphy administration was an executive at the New Jersey Association of Health Plans. The Human Services Department is one of the state’s biggest agencies, with 7,400 employees and a $20 billion budget, which includes state and federal funds. Adelman’s nomination is subject to confirmation by the state Senate.

New Mexico

Santa Fe: Two COVID-19 testing sites that were not on the list of facilities approved by state public health officials have closed indefinitely. The Santa Fe New Mexican reported the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office said in a statement it will investigate the Illinois-based operator, Center for COVID Control. The operator ran roughly 300 testing sites nationwide, including one in Santa Fe and one in Albuquerque. According to its website, sites are closed so that all staff can undergo more training. Center for COVID Control has been riddled with allegations, including falsely billing the federal government for tests for people who had health insurance, falsifying test results and being unhygienic.

New York

Visitors enjoy the ice and the lights on opening day of the Lake George Ice Castles at Charles Wood Park in the village of Lake George, N.Y., on Sunday. he castles include LED-lit sculptures, frozen thrones, ice-carved tunnels, caverns, slides and fountains, all built by hand.
Visitors enjoy the ice and the lights on opening day of the Lake George Ice Castles at Charles Wood Park in the village of Lake George, N.Y., on Sunday. he castles include LED-lit sculptures, frozen thrones, ice-carved tunnels, caverns, slides and fountains, all built by hand.

Lake George: Ice Castles, a new winter attraction in Lake George that features a wintry playground of tunnels, slides and sculptures all made from ice, opened Sunday. In early December, ice artisans began growing and harvesting icicles to create the frozen attraction that is expected to draw tens of thousands of visitors. Each day, they harvested and hand-placed up to 10,000 icicles to build the acre-sized winter experience. About 25 million pounds of ice went into the creation. The frozen playground includes ice-carved slides, tunnels, fountains, crawl spaces, caverns, and intricately carved ice thrones. At night, color-changing LED lights embedded in the ice create a beautiful glow. Tickets, which range from $15 to $27 a person, are on sale at

North Carolina

Raleigh: The Department of Natural and Cultural Resources said a record 22.8 million visitors entered the system’s 41 parks, recreation areas and natural areas in 2021, WRAL-TV reported. That’s a 15% increase from the 19.8 million visitors in 2020, when visits surged as more people sought outdoor activities amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Jockey’s Ridge State Park was the most visited park in 2021 with more than 1.8 million visitors, about 100,000 fewer than in 2020. The second-most frequented park, Jordan Lake State Recreation Area, saw the largest growth, up 84% from the nearly 877,000 visitors in 2020. Falls Lake State Recreation Area came in third and saw 46% growth last year. Nearly 1.5 million people traveled to the Wake Forest location, up from the 1 million visitors in 2020.

North Dakota

Bismarck: Officials said a produced water spill at an oil well near Watford City Sunday was the result of vandalism. North Dakota Oil and Gas Division officials said valves were opened on the location, leading to a spill of more than 18,000 gallons. Most of the wastewater had been recovered by vacuum trucks, officials said. Produced water is a mixture of saltwater and oil that can contain drilling chemicals. It’s a byproduct of oil and gas development. A state inspector has been to the Abraxas Petroleum Corp. site and will monitor the cleanup.


Columbus: Ohio has settled an environmental lawsuit with Volkswagen over the company’s 2015 emissions scandal for $3.5 million, state Attorney General Dave Yost said. As that scandal unfolded, the automaker was found to have rigged its vehicles to cheat U.S. diesel emissions tests. and ultimately paid more than $33 billion in fines and settlements. The Ohio Attorney General’s Office also sued the company, alleging Volkswagen’s conduct – affecting about 14,000 vehicles sold or leased in Ohio – violated the state’s anti-air pollution law. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled in June the federal Clean Air Act did not preclude Ohio from seeking its own compensation against Volkswagen. In November the U.S. Supreme Court turned away Volkswagen’s appeals. In settling the lawsuit, Volkswagen did not admit liability. “This agreement fully resolves Ohio’s legacy claims and puts this matter behind the company as we focus on building a future of sustainable mobility,” Volkswagen said in a statement.


Tulsa: The Cherokee Nation Film Office has unveiled plans for a new incentive program offering up to $1 million in annual funding for productions filmed within the Cherokee Nation in northeastern Oklahoma. The 7,000 square-mile Cherokee Nation spans all or parts of 14 Oklahoma counties: Adair, Cherokee, Craig, Delaware, Mayes, McIntosh, Muskogee, Nowata, Ottawa, Rogers, Sequoyah, Tulsa, Wagoner, and Washington. The specialized film incentive is devised to generate economic development and jobs in the Cherokee Nation, as well as to help Oklahoma’s burgeoning film industry continue to grow, the tribe announced Tuesday in a virtual news conference. Plus, the new incentive will provide additional funding for employing Native American citizens and using Native-owned businesses. It is billed as the first tribal film incentive program in the United States. The tribal film office will begin accepting applications for the tribe’s film incentive on March 1. The base incentive offers a cash rebate for qualified production expenses. Prequalified productions filming anywhere in Cherokee Nation are eligible for the rebate.


Portland: The Oregon Supreme Court has OK’d a proposal that would give would-be lawyers the option to skip the bar exam and instead become licensed to practice law through experience or supervision. The state’s highest court in a unanimous vote “expressed approval in concept” to two alternative pathways designed for law students and postgraduates seeking admittance to the state bar, according to draft minutes from the court’s Tuesday business meeting. The court disbanded a previous task force and ordered the Oregon Board of Bar Examiners to convene new committees to further develop the proposals, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported. Brian Gallini, dean of the Willamette University College of Law, said one proposed alternative would allow Oregon law school students to become licensed attorneys after completing a standard curriculum and likely a capstone project. The other proposed alternative is tailored for out-of-state applicants and would require would-be lawyers to spend 1,000 to 1,500 hours with a licensed Oregon attorney. Many attorneys-in-training would likely continue to take the arduous bar test, as students who score high enough on the uniform exam can be admitted to practice law anywhere in the state.


Harrisburg: State authorities said Scranton has been removed from a program for financially distressed municipalities after three decades. The Department of Community and Economic Development said Tuesday the decision was made after “a thorough review” of city audits and financial data, as well as the record from a November public hearing. Secretary Dennis Davin credited “years of hard work and collaboration” on the part of residents, businesses and others. Scranton was designated as distressed in 1992 under the Municipalities Financial Recovery Act or Act 47 following “years of recurring deficits, ineffective financial management practices and unfavorable socioeconomic and demographic trends,” the department said. State officials credited the mayor and city council for working together to help the city “prepare and follow realistic budgets and find ways to improve services while cutting costs.” Monetization of the sewer authority also provided funds to address pension shortfalls and pay off punitive loans, officials said. Officials said Scranton is the 16th municipality to exit the Act 47 program enacted in 1987 to provide fiscal management oversight, technical assistance, planning and financial aid to municipalities experiencing severe fiscal distress.

Rhode Island

Providence: The state has reached a settlement of more than $114 million with an opioid manufacturer and three distributors, most of which will go directly to fighting the crisis and helping people with addiction, state Attorney General Peter Neronha said. The settlement includes $21.1 million from Johnson & Johnson and an additional $90.8 million from AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson, he said at a news conference. The money is an addition to a $2.6 million settlement reached with McKinsey & Co. last year. Rhode Island’s settlement is separate from a $21 billion global settlement proposed for other states. Rhode Island was not satisfied with how much it would have received under the global settlement and did better this way, Neronha said, noting the state did better than other New England states that signed onto the global settlement.

South Carolina

Columbia: Gov. Henry McMaster is considering whether to sign into law a bill that would make it easier for businesses that recycle plastic by melting it to open in the state. The bill passed both chambers of the General Assembly on Thursday after a group of House and Senate lawmakers worked out a compromise. Supporters said recycling plastic this way is a safe business and good for the environment because it reduces trash in landfills. Opponents of the bill said melting plastic to recycle it is an unproven industry and it’s not enough to require firms that use the technique to pay a bond to promise to clean up any excessive pollution for five years after the law goes into effect. The five-year bond requirement was a compromise after the bill’s original three-year requirement stalled the proposal in 2021. A spokesman for the governor said McMaster is reviewing the bill.

South Dakota

Pierre: A state House committee approved a proposal to prod school districts to use most of their boost in state funding for teachers’ salaries. The Republican-dominated committee approved the bill on an 8-6 vote, sending it to debate on the House floor. Lawmakers were also considering whether to approve a historic 6% boost in state funding for schools to keep up with inflation. In recent years, South Dakota has been trying to climb up the rankings of states with the lowest average teacher pay in the country. But even as a 2016 sales tax hike channeled more money to school districts, South Dakota’s average teacher pay has remained among the lowest in the nation. Republican Rep. Hugh Bartels is championing the bill, which would extend for three years a requirement that came with the 2016 tax plan. It would require school districts to use at least 85% of their funding increase for teachers’ salaries and benefits. School districts would risk losing funding if they don’t at least match average teacher compensation from 2017, but they could also apply for a waiver if they fail to.


Memphis: Security officers at Tennessee’s major airports found more than 280 guns in passengers’ carry-on luggage in 2021, a significant increase from prior years, officials said. The 283 guns found last year at security checkpoints in airports in Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville, Chattanooga and the Tri-Cities area surpassed the 162 weapons discovered in 2020 and exceeded the total of 181 guns found in 2019, Transportation Security Administration spokesman Mark Howell said in a news release. Nashville International Airport led with 163 firearms found in 2021, more than the total found at the other four airports. The TSA screened about 10.7 million departing travelers at the five airports, an 88% increase over the number screened in 2020, the news release said. Travelers face criminal and civil penalties for bringing firearms to a security checkpoint. Guns can be transported on a commercial aircraft only if they are unloaded, packed in a locked, hard-sided case and placed in checked baggage, the TSA said.


Austin: An 812-acre fire that ignited Jan. 18 and caused at least 250 families to flee from their homes in central Bastrop County after officials said a prescribed burn in Bastrop State Park grew out of control, was 100% contained Monday night, the Texas A&M Forest Service said. “The fire received beneficial rainfall today,” the forest service said Monday. Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape told the Advertiser on Friday that the fire management team’s strategy going into the weekend was to let the fire burn itself out within its footprint and to maintain security around the fire’s perimeter.


Cedar Hills: A teenager was seriously injured in a sledding accident just as health officials were giving out helmets and warning of the sport’s potential hazard’s at a nearby safety event. The accident – at a popular sledding site known as “the Bowl” in American Fork Canyon south of Salt Lake City – came as doctors in the area have reported more serious sledding accidents and a doubling in head injuries, KSL-TV reported. The 16-year-old injured on Saturday was airlifted to a hospital in stable condition after receiving a serious cut to the head. Medical workers and first responders nearby had been seeking to raise awareness about safety and encouraging the use of helmets.


Elmore: The city is asking the U.S. Postal Service to renew a contract with a local store to retain an outpost where people can collect their packages and mail. The post office at the back of The Elmore Store serves fewer than 1,000 people and could close as early as February, New England Cable News reported. The store was taken over by new owners at the beginning of January, according to its Facebook page. In a statement, the Postal Service told New England Cable News: “The business that runs this unit has recently been sold and the Postal Service is in the process of negotiating a contract with the new owner. If there is any change to service there, Post Office Box customers will be given advance notice.” If the post office closes, free mail delivery would be available to residents, but some do not want their packages left outside in the weather, or for other reasons prefer to rent a post office box at the store.


Hampton: A newborn husky stolen from an eastern Virginia pet salon has been found and reunited with her mother, but the dogs’ owner said two more puppies from the litter of six are still missing. Bandi Murdock, who owns the dogs and the Critter Cleaners pet salon in Hampton, said the female puppy was returned Sunday, the Virginian-Pilot reported. The six puppies were stolen from the pet salon early Friday, but three were recovered quickly. Hampton police announced Saturday a homeless man had been charged with breaking into Critter Cleaners, animal larceny and other crimes in connection with the theft of the puppies, each about 2 weeks old. Officers and the business owner said someone entered through a window and took money and the puppies early Friday. There was surveillance video. Police found two puppies in the home of an acquaintance of the suspect, according to Murdock, who said she reimbursed a woman who returned a third dog she bought for $100. On Sunday, a woman contacted police to report that her boyfriend bought the fourth puppy and she wanted to return the puppy to her owners, Murdock said. Officers met the woman and Animal Control checked the puppy. Murdock said she and her husband gave the woman a $100 reward, then rushed the puppy to her mother, Nala. “Everybody’s doing great,” Murdock said of the recovered puppies and their mother. “They were all very hungry, but they’re all doing good.” The puppies must be nursed by their mother until they’re at least 4 weeks old, so it’s critical to return them to Nala, Murdock said. Anyone with information about the remaining two puppies is asked to contact Hampton police.


Everett: Flights departing and arriving at Paine Field in Everett were canceled Tuesday morning, as foggy weather and new 5G restrictions hampered the airport’s operation. The Seattle Times repotred all commercial flights out of the small airport were canceled on Monday. On Tuesday morning, the first four outgoing flights were also canceled, according to flight trackers, as were the morning’s first arrivals. Alaska Air, whose regional carrier Horizon Air is the only commercial airline operating out of Paine Field, warned that cancellations could continue for several days and was offering some accommodations to affected travelers. Ticket-holders can reschedule their flights for later this week at no additional cost, or try to reschedule their trips to depart from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The Federal Aviation Administration has imposed limitations on low-visibility flying to avoid 5G interference with cockpit instruments. That has created a problem specific to the Embraer E175 regional jets that operate out of Paine Field and to certain airports, including Paine Field and Portland International Airport.

West Virginia

Charleston: Signaling an eagerness to diversify its energy offerings, coal-dependent West Virginia would eliminate a ban on nuclear power plants under a bill that passed the state Senate on Tuesday. The bill was approved on a 24-7 vote. Three senators did not vote. A similar bill is pending in the House of Delegates. The state’s ban on nuclear plants was enacted in 1996, but nuclear power has in recent years gained support as a tool to keep climate change under control, with proponents noting that it emits few planet-damaging emissions and is safer on average than nearly any other energy source. “All this bill does is simply says we’re open to discussion. That’s it,” said Kanawha County Republican Sen. Tom Takubo, the bill’s sponsor. “We’re not close-minded. “I think it’s important for West Virginia to be looking forward to the future, looking forward to diversify, and simply say to the rest of the world we are open for discussion should this technology come to our mountain state.” West Virginia is the nation’s second-largest coal producer, behind Wyoming, and accounted for 5% of the nation’s total energy production in 2019, ranking fifth among the states, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. But West Virginia has lost thousands of coal jobs in the past decade as companies and utilities explore using other energy sources such as natural gas, solar and wind.


Madison: Republicans who control the state Assembly were set to approve bills Tuesday that would require employers to count a prior coronavirus infection as an alternative to vaccination and testing and prohibit vaccine passports. Both measures would face a likely veto from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. The governor last year vetoed a GOP bill that would have barred public health officials from requiring people get vaccinated. Republican backers maintain natural immunity is at least as effective as being vaccinated. Similar bills passed in Florida and Arkansas last year. A number of Wisconsin medical groups, including the Wisconsin Medical Society, oppose the measure, arguing vaccination is the best way to protect against COVID-19 and it’s not known how long natural immunity lasts. Data from the state health department showed unvaccinated people are hospitalized at a rate nearly 11 times higher than fully vaccinated people. No groups have registered in support the proposal.


Cheyenne: Wyoming’s first Black sheriff last year fired a white deputy who is accused of tormenting a Black subordinate for years with racist name-calling that led him to quit, a new federal lawsuit revealed. Albany County Patrol Sgt. Christian Handley once drove past and yelled a profanity and the N-word at Cpl. Jamin Johnson while Johnson and his wife and children were walking out of their home, according to one example of racism alleged in the discrimination lawsuit filed last week. “Mr. Handley later apologized for having not realized that Mr. Johnson’s family was present, as if his vile racism was otherwise acceptable,” the lawsuit said. Johnson is suing Handley, seeking a jury trial if necessary and damages for the years of racism that he said led up to his decision to quit in 2017. The allegations put a new spotlight on the sheriff’s office in Laramie, the Albany County seat known for the murder of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard in 1998, a crime that drew unprecedented attention to LGBTQ rights and hate crimes. The racism allegations came after Sheriff Aaron Appelhans’ appointment as Wyoming’s first Black sheriff in the wake of an outcry in Laramie over a deputy’s 2018 shooting of an unarmed man who had been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. Handley used racial slurs to refer not only to Johnson but to Black citizens he came in contact with on the job, including four University of Wyoming students who were in a vehicle he once pulled over, according to Johnson’s lawsuit against Handley, filed Jan. 18 in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne. The suit didn’t provide the reason for the stop. Handley declined to comment when reached by phone and asked about the lawsuit Monday.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 50 States

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