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January 2, 2009

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2008 IN REVIEW

Economy, landfill proposal among top 10 Cherokee County stories

1. THE ECONOMY The biggest story of 2008 didn't happen during a single event. It could be found on the pages of The Gaffney Ledger on an almost weekly, if not daily, basis throughout the year. It's what makes the world go round and puts food on the table. It's what puts clothes on your back and gas in the tank.

Gas prices hovered around the $4 a gallon mark in the wake of Hurricanes Ike and Gustav.

It was the economy.

The effects of an economic downturn on a national scale hit Cherokee County just as hard as a punch to the gut in many ways. Several rounds of cutbacks put hundreds out of work at Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp., as demand for the company's products -- the major components of delivery trucks and recreational vehicles -- declined. Romeo Rim just recently shuttered, putting another 40 people out of work. Other plants reported occasional furloughs to save cash. And while everyone needs to eat, the chain restaurant Ruby Tuesday shuttered amidst a decline in diners, putting all of the wait staff, cooks and bartenders out of work. While there were some job gains with new employers, and some new jobs on the horizon, those additions didn't keep pace with the losses. The most recent unemployment reports documented here showed Cherokee County had climbed into unenviable double-digit territory with 11.6 percent of the workforce unemployed as of November, a massive increase of more than 4 percentage points since the beginning of the year. And as 2008 came to a close, some feared the rate can go even higher as the economic downturn has not yet appeared to

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Police officers converged on a convenience store that was robbed April 2 following a brutal home invasion. Eight people were subsequently arrested.

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reverse course. If you didn't lose your job, chances are good you felt the economic downturn in your retirement accounts, where the stock markets battered investments like a pinata. Or perhaps you saw the effects in your bank savings, as interest rates plummeted. And perhaps you saw the effects this Christmas. Organizations that raised funds to provide Christmas presents for needy children saw more need than ever this year, as well as applications from people who had never before requested a helping hand. 2. LANDFILL OR NOT? There was a campaign going on in this county of more than 50,000 people this year but it had nothing to do with an election. Lawn signs popped up and ads appeared in the local media both for and against Waste Management's proposed 3Cycle facility, the first-of -its kind recycling and landfill project. Waste Management tabbed Gaffney's own Bob Peeler to spearhead an effort to win approval from Cherokee County Council for the construction of the recycling center and landfill.

Pre -game ceremonies mixing the old with the new marked the opening of the new Gaffney High football stadium.

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But opposition to the project sprouted up shortly after Peeler and the company announced its plans in early September. Organizers of "Cherokee Landfill Opposition United Together," or CLOUT, characterized the project as an eyesore and public health hazard.

In early November, a pro-Waste Management group, Cherokee Advocates for a Strong Environment and Economy that went by the acronym C.A.S.E., was formed to counteract CLOUT. When Waste Management officials finally laid out plans for their 3Cycle Environmental Management Center to Cherokee County Council in early December, they spelled out what they already told various other local organizations: They said they planned to be a good neighbor, pump millions of dollars into the local economy and build a facility on a 1,550-acre site in McKowns Mountain that would become the standard for their industry. But that wasn't enough to convince council members, who voted 6 -0 in a meeting on Dec. 15 not to amend its solid waste plan to allow for the construction of a new landfill. More than 300 local residents attended that meeting. However, the controversial project may still be grabbing headlines in 2009 since Waste Management officials have vowed to continue an effort to win support for the project. 3. PHILLIPS DEATH Never letting politics get in the way of getting things done, state House Representative for District 30 Olin Phillips became more than just the ordinary elected official in Columbia. "When you need something, I always found it was a good thing to go back in the corner with Olin," said House Majority Leader James Merrill (R Charleston). "If something's going on and you lose perspective, you walk over and he sets you straight." So it came as a shock last weekend as word of the veteran lawmaker's death made its way across the Palmetto State. Phillips died Dec. 27 at Upstate Carolina Medical Center after he was found unresponsive at his home by his wife. Cherokee County Coroner Dennis Fowler said Phillips died of cardiac arrest.

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The Democrat recently celebrated his 74th birthday on Christmas Day, in addition to recently being elected to his 16th consecutive term in office. "I'm going to miss that guy," said state Rep. Herb Kirsh of Clover, a colleague of Phillips' since 1979. "I promise you that." While known in Columbia for his willingness to work with his peers regardless of their political affiliation, Cherokee County residents will remember Phillips for the time he spent listening to their questions and helping alleviate their concerns. "I had a great deal of respect for him," said Joan Wheeler, former chairwoman of the Cherokee County Republican Party. "He will be missed by a lot of people. He was real good with constituent service. He was a lot like (former U.S. Senator) Strom Thurmond in that respect." 4. A NEW STADIUM Despite some delays and anxious moments, a new 8,250 -seat, $9 million home for the Gaffney Indians football team was completed in time for the team's season opener against Dorman on Friday, Aug. 29. A ceremony to capture the passing of the torch from the Indians' old home, venerable Brumbach Stadium, to the new facility was televised on the new football stadium's video scoreboard. With outstretched arms, the Indian mascot paid tribute to the hallowed grounds of the former Reservation, its teams and players who made the stadium so memorable. He then fell to his knees and began digging in the grass near midfield to unearth a football. He also gathered some of the dirt on the field and placed it in a pouch. After one last yell, he stepped into a waiting helicopter with ball and dirt in tow for the short trip to the Indians' new Reservation. As the fans spied the advancing helicopter, they rose and cheered. Not even the whipping helicopter rotors could drown out the noisy throng. When the helicopter landed at midfield, the mascot disembarked with the football high over his head. His job nearly complete, he sprinkled the dirt of the old Reservation onto the sod of the new Reservation with hopes the spirits, good fortune and string of state championships follow the team to its new home. Unfortunately, the good fortune didn't follow the Indians this year, as they posted a 2-4 mark in their new home. 5. A BRUTAL CRIME All crimes are likely shocking to the victim. Some, however, tend to send chills up the spines of casual observers. Such was the case April 2 when a woman was terrorized in her Providence Road home by a group of young men who broke inside in the middle of the night, held her against her will and assaulted her at the point of a gun and edge of a knife. The home invaders stole her keys to a nearby convenience store, which they then burglarized of cash boxes. Within a few short days, a massive and concerted response by the City of Gaffney Police Department resulted in charges being filed against eight men, some still in high school and others just a few short years removed from their days in the classroom. Several of the young men have made appearances in Cherokee County General Sessions Court since their arrests for bond hearings, but none of the cases have been resolved yet. The charges against all of the men are severe: burglary, robbery, assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature and kidnapping. This was just one of several crimes that, to almost anyone, classified as brazen. The year began with two homicides in January 2008, including the shotgun slaying of a college student. Also a case of home invasion, a man armed with a shotgun kicked open the door to a Fleming

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Road, Gaffney, mobile home early Jan. 4 and killed 23-year-old Furman Scott Armstrong before robbing Armstrong's brother. Four men were subsequently charged in that murder. Those cases also have not yet been resolved. 6. NIGHTMARE ON WHEELS Nov. 29 will be a day that the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office and two area families will likely never be able to forget. A 28-year-old Gaffney man, Aaron Christopher Saunders, stole a massive front -end loader from a local business and the events that followed will forever be etched in memory. After nearly crushing a police cruiser that attempted a traffic stop, Saunders then led police on a slow-speed chase along a three-mile stretch of Pleasant School Road while making several charges at the officers. Police tried in vain to disable the front-end loader by firing at its tires but the bullets had no impact on thick metal and solid rubber. Before the ordeal came to an end, 67-year-old James "Cecil" Brogden, an innocent bystander, was killed. Brogden, a retired major from the Salvation Army, a man who had dedicated his life to serving others, had stepped out of a family member's Pleasant School Road home to investigate the commotion outside. Saunders reportedly picked up Brogden's car with the front -end loader and headed straight for him. Police would ultimately fire several shots into the cab of the front-end loader, striking Saunders. Since local police officers were forced to discharge their weapons, investigation of the incident was automatically handed over to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division. As of this week, the matter still was under review. "It's something you can't plan for or train for," Sheriff Bill Blanton said a few days after the incident. "Nothing in our arsenal, nothing we drive, could stop that (frontend loader). The only thing you could do is stop the driver and that's what they did." 7. THE BIG MILL The "Big Mill" could become the site of a new Cherokee County administration building and a Gaffney City park. Cherokee County decided in August to spend $435,000 to purchase 17.4 acres from Pacolet Milliken Enterprises on the old Gaffney Manufacturing site. The county plans to recover $100,000 of that amount by selling three acres to the city for use as a park. County council was presented with a conceptual drawing at its August meeting for a proposed Cherokee County administration building. The drawing details how the county could consolidate offices into a central location on the former Gaffney Manufacturing site. The county plans to fund the project through a bond issue and an estimated $3.5 million in tax revenue it set aside in a special revenue account five years ago. Assistant county administrator Holland Belue said the county could discuss hiring an architectural firm to begin design work on the project in early 2009. 8. GAS PAINS Never again will the luxury of free-flowing gasoline be taken so lightly by local motorists. Long lines were seen at area service stations if their pumps were not covered by plastic bags

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several weeks last summer after hurricanes Gustav and Ike forced oil refineries along the Gulf Coast to shut down. A large portion of the Southeast is dependent on gas from those facilities. With refineries closed, motorists either sat in long lines or even drove long distances for fuel. Large population centers like Charlotte, Atlanta and western North Carolina were hit particularly hard, with residents sometimes going over county and state lines to fill up. At the time, unleaded gas prices hovered close to $4 per gallon. In the months following the fuel crisis, the pain at the pump has eased quite a bit for motorists. Of course, drivers knew they had to play the waiting game as pipelines from refineries in the Gulf slowly recovered. However, they also found the added jewel of gas prices dipping to its lowest levels in three years. Due to the price of oil falling in world markets to around $40 a barrel, consumers also saw the price of unleaded gas drop to as low $1.35 in parts of Cherokee County in recent weeks. 9. SHELTER CONTROVERSY Last spring, local animal rights activists filed a complaint with the South Carolina Attorney General's Office, claiming animal control officers were violating state law by performing intracardial injections, or "heart sticks," without sedating the animals. About six months later, that complaint led the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division to charge former animal control officer Michael Pearson, who resigned from the office last June; Donnie Ray Crowe, who was assigned to another post; and Gaffney Police Department animal control officer Dewayne Fowler with the misdemeanor offense of ill treatment of animals-first offense. Cherokee County Council agreed last May to prohibit animal control officers from performing "heart sticks" and hired a veterinarian to do the job for the county. The complaints triggered other changes at the animal shelter. In October, Gaffney City Council approved a contract from the county that freed the city from paying all operational costs at the animal shelter, including the salary of a new shelter manager. In return, the city agreed to spend about $30,000 to construct a euthanasia room, a minimum of nine additional exterior dog runs and separate areas for cats. The city has already began work on the upgrades. 10. NUCLEAR LICENSE Duke Energy continued to move forward with the approval process in 2008 necessary to build and operate a $4 billion nuclear power station in Cherokee County. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission agreed in late February to review Duke's 8,000page application to build a 2-unit nuclear plant in the McKowns Mountain community. The commission estimated it will take at least 42 months to review the licensing application. The South Carolina Public Service Commission approved Duke's request to spend up to $230 million through Dec. 31, 2009, on pre -construction work at the McKowns Mountain site. More than 150 people attended a hearing in May held at Gaffney High School by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Another public hearing will be scheduled in early 2009 in Cherokee County to present a draft copy of the environmental impact statement. Duke Energy has estimated its proposed nuclear plant could generate up to 1,100 jobs in Cherokee County. Utility officials have said a final decision to build a nuclear station locally won't be made before 2010.

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