Newspaper publisher goes to the mat to fight coal ash dump

Dink NeSmith owner of the Press-Sentinel in Jesup, Ga. goes the extra mile to illustrate the delicate ecosystem of the Wayne County area. This is the Altamaha River, whose waters flow to the Atlantic Ocean. NeSmith and the Press-Sentinel are fighting to keep coal ash out of their community. If allowed to be dumped in the local landfill, the toxic ash would make its way into the river and poison the waterways of southeastern Georgia. Photo by Fred Bennett

Dink NeSmith owner of the Press-Sentinel in Jesup, Ga. goes the extra mile to illustrate the delicate ecosystem of the Wayne County area. This is the Altamaha River, whose waters flow to the Atlantic Ocean. NeSmith and the Press-Sentinel are fighting to keep coal ash out of their community. If allowed to be dumped in the local landfill, the toxic ash would make its way into the river and poison the waterways of southeastern Georgia. Photo by Fred Bennett

By Teri Saylor

JESUP, GA—If it is a newspaper’s duty to print the news and raise hell, the Press-Sentinel of Jesup, GA, is rattling Satan’s rafters over a proposed coal-ash dump at the county landfill.

Trouble was brewing a long time before anyone even noticed.

More than 20 years ago, in cash strapped Wayne County, the Board of Commissioners approved a regional landfill facility to take in household waste.

In 1994, the landfill opened in Broadhurst, a tiny community located close to the county seat of Jesup.

Two years later, it was purchased by Republic Services, a Fortune 500 company that owns 200 landfills across the country. Over time, Republic Services expanded its territory in Wayne County and today owns 2,200 acres,more than double the acreage purchased in 1996.

“Back then, smaller communities banded together to create regional landfills,” said Press-Sentinel Publisher Eric Denty. “The one in Wayne County was supposed to serve 19 counties. But at some point, Republic changed that arrangement so the landfill could accept trash from every state in the country.”

Last January, a Republic Services subsidiary filed an application with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop 25 acres of land near the landfill for a rail yard and a nearly 7-mile rail spur off the main line to serve CSX Railroad. This rail facility would be able to accommodate as many as 100cars. Those cars would be hauling in coal ash—a lot of it.

The permit flew well under the radar.

It was a sleeping giant that was about to get a rude awakening.

Derby Waters, a veteran newsman who had worked at the Press-Sentinel in his younger days, left the paper to pursue other interests, retired and returned to the paper as a part-time reporter.

One morning in early January, he had a visitor. Neill Herring, a prolific environmental lobbyist, dropped by the newspaper and told Waters he had seen an online notice announcing the Corps of Engineers’ permit application.

And that’s how the story came to light.

The hell-raising followed.

“I called the Corps of Engineers and asked them why they didn’t file a public notice in our newspaper, which is the legal organ,” Waters said in a conference call, which included Denty and Editor Drew Davis.

“And I was told they were no longer required to publish public notice advertising, because of the internet, but I could sign up to be put on a distribution list,” Waters said.

When Waters finally saw the permit application, he learned that when all the approvals come through and the rail yard is in place, those 100 CSX rail cars would be hauling in 10,000 tons of coal ash every day and dumping it into the landfill.

That adds up to mile-long trains and enough coal ash to bury a small town.

Residents protest Republic Services, a Fortune 500 waste service corpration, which is trying to locate a coal ash dump site at its landfill near Jesup, a small town in Southeast Georgia. Photo courtesy The Press Sentinel

Residents protest Republic Services, a Fortune 500 waste service corpration, which is trying to locate a coal ash dump site at its landfill near Jesup, a small town in Southeast Georgia. Photo courtesy The Press Sentinel

Jesup is home to 12,000 residents in southeast Georgia, located about 40 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean.

It is the seat of Wayne County.

The Amtrak’s Silver Meteor stops there as it heads up and down the East Coast.

Its landmass is a rural, swampy coastal plain and piney forestland. The Altamaha River flows along the northern border of Wayne County on its way to the sea, fed by streams and tributaries along the way. It is an ecologically sensitive area.

Broadhurst is located about 10 miles south of Jesup. Sparsely populated, you won’t find much there. But if you Google the town’s name, listings about the Wayne County Landfill come up near the top of the page.

In a low-lying coastal plain, the water table is close to the land surface, andcoal ash mixed with ground water makes a toxic brew.

The Press-Sentinel deployed its army of four—Denty, Davis, Waters and the newspaper’s owner, Dink NeSmith.

They declared war on Republic Services, using ink and newsprint as their sword and shield, and they pledged to fund the entire battle out of their own budgets if they had to.

NeSmith reckons he has spent $50,000 so far, and he’s not afraid of spending more.

“If I have to drain my retirement, I will do so,” he declared in a phone conversation. “I have eight grandchildren and this is their heritage. I will go to my grave protecting my community and the environment.”

Battle heats up

After Waters learned about the permit application, he started digging into the story, spending hours sifting through minutes of county commission and city council meetings, but finding nothing that would indicate the county was complicit with the coal ash agreements.

He believes the local government “got snookered,” he said. “Republic made it financially beneficial for the county, but the county didn’t read the fine print.”

On Jan. 13, the newspaper published its first article under the headline: “Company plans to bring coal ash,other waste here.” It included aerial shots of the landfill and the entire Broadhurst area.


An aerial view of the Broadhurst Landfill. Photo by Fred Bennett

An aerial view of the Broadhurst Landfill. Photo by Fred Bennett

What followed has been a no-holdsbarred war. The newspaper haspublished dozens of articles, written mostly by Waters.

Denty hired an editorial cartoonist.

NeSmith started writing fiery editorials and columns, and he invited editors and publishers of other papers to editorialize against coal ash, too.

One area of great frustration for the newspapermen has been the shroud of darkness over this issue.

Denty believes the newspaper and the public should not have to work so hard to get information about issues of any magnitude, let alone a coal-ash dump that has the potential of polluting an ecosystem all the way to the coast and poisoning every living thing along the way.

The newspaper’s editorial pages have been full of blistering commentary, but from the day the story broke, Waters was intent on providing objective, balanced coverage in the news sections.

“I toured the landfill and told its story,” he said. “I reached out to Republic officials from the get-go.”

But Waters’ requests for interviews were met with a stony silence.

“So we ran stories about the landfill and Republic’s activities with ‘no comment’ from them,” Denty said. “They did see the error of their ways, and now we have contacts in the company who will deal with us.”

Waters believes Republic Services greatly underestimated the Press- Sentinel’s ability to dig up facts, which he believes were deliberately buried, and to present them to the readers in a compelling way.

“They thought we were just a little podunk community newspaper and they could just roll over us,” he said. “They have been overwhelmed by our coverage and have realized this is not a pushover community.”

The Press Sentinel hired cartoonist Jim Powell to boost editorials against dumping coal ash at the Landfill.

The Press Sentinel hired cartoonist Jim Powell to boost editorials against dumping coal ash at the Landfill.


The 6,000-circulation Press-Sentinel is published on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Its entire editorial staff is Denty, Davis, Waters, another part-time reporter and a handful of stringers.

In addition to coal ash, that team also covers the other, regular news of its community.

Shining a light

You might look at this as a modern David and Goliath story—a tiny, local newspaper taking on a $9 billion Fortune 500 company, CSX Railroad and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in a battle of Biblical proportions.

Along the way, the newspaper uncovered a chilling fact.

Coal ash is not new to Wayne County.

The Jacksonville (FL) Energy Authority had been trucking it in for eight years. Along with Dan Chapman, a reporter with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Press-Sentinel discovered there had already been a leak at the landfill in 2011, which had never been disclosed to the public.

Denty, who is immediate past president of the Georgia Press Association and knows his way around the state legislature, took the issue out of his newsroom and marched it straight into the state house during the assembly’s 2016 session. There he powered the passage of HB 1083, a bill that would require public notice of landfill leaks like the one that occurred in 2011.

Last March, the Corps of Engineers called a public meeting to hear the community’s concerns and answer questions.

Davis put together a 20-page, full-color section on the issue. Like a greatest hits album, the section was filled with many of the articles, columns, editorials, photos, cartoons and other content that the Press-Sentinel had carried.

“We had covered all of the issues as they arose, but we thought if we put it into a special section, it would offer a better explanation about why this is important,” Denty said. “And we thought it would provide a logical timeline that the community could easily follow.”

The section did not contain a single ad. The cost for the entire 12,000-press run was borne entirely by the Press- Sentinel. Copies were inserted into the Press-Sentinel’s regular newspaper and made available as a stand-alone piece.

“Eric and I made a decision that we didn’t want to appear to profit from this crisis,” NeSmith said. “If we want to ask other people to engage, we have to lead the way. We owe it to our community. Period. We put our hearts into this, and our wallets followed.”

NeSmith is president and co-owner ofCommunity Newspapers Inc., headquartered in Athens, GA. The group’s holdings include 25 community newspapers in Georgia, Florida and North Carolina.

He is proud of every single newspaper in his CNI group, but the Press-Sentinel has a special place in his heart. Founded in 1865, the newspaper is the oldest business in Jesup. He purchased it in the early 1970s, and it is the first newspaper he ever owned.

He is not going anywhere.

“I have been publishing here for 45 years, and I’ll keep going until I am 90,” he declared.

He spends at least part of the day, seven-days-a-week, writing editorials, columns and letters, making calls and preaching against Republic Services to anyone within earshot.

He vows to never stop until he has accomplished three goals: to extract a guarantee from Republic Services that no coal ash will ever be brought into Wayne County; to convince the Corps of Engineers to deny the permit for the rail spur; and to convince the county to renegotiate its contract with Republic, imposing strict rules on the volume and type of solid waste the landfill is allowed to accept.

“If I were on my death bed, I’d get up and keep fighting,” NeSmith said. “I will do whatever it takes, and then some. If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere.”

Note: This article was first appeared in the National Newspaper Association’s monthly publication “Publishers Auxiliary.”


Death of a Trail Runner

dudley running

By Anthony Corriveau

(Editor’s note: This beautifully written blog post first ran on March 4, 2016 in Anthony Corriveau’s blog Running Down, Anthony and his wife, Shannon Johnstone graciously allowed me to publish it here)

We had to put down our dog Dudley Dooright today. He was 11 years old. Dudley was my running partner.

You may have assumed that my running partner was my wife Shannon, the exceptional runner that she is. But Shannon and I are never in sync. I love mornings but she hates them. She has her best runs at night around the time I cannot keep my eyes open, let alone run. She might lag behind on a technical trail, but when she does 20 mile runs in Umstead I’m struggling to finish two miles on aching knees.

In fact, I have never been a social runner. The reason I started running originally was to get away from people. I discovered that running on trails alone was my happy place, the only thing that helped with frequent bouts of depression. But it wasn’t simply the endorphins produced from running.

Running on roads is just rote exercise. A procedure defined by simple equations of stride length and cadence, of VO2 Max and glycogen consumption. But running a single track trail as fast as you can is something else entirely: Intense focus on every root and rock, trying to maintain momentum around the next switchback, through the stretch of ankle deep mud, down and up a gully and then lifting your shoulder just in time to barely miss that tree. There are no thoughts of mortgages or dentist appointments or what the hell you are going to do with your life. Only thoughts of how many steps to take before you jump that log.

I got Dudley as a puppy in 2005. He was obviously a Golden Retriever, though I often refused to acknowledge this. This is because he was a reject from a breeder who dumped him in a parking lot, leaving him to die with a congenital defect. Dog breeders and the demand for “purebred” dogs is one of the main reasons the shelters are overflowing with animals who will never find a home. But I digress.

Shannon and I eventually had a pack of 4 dogs, and we would often take three of them running on the single track trail around the lake near our house (The 4th dog Lula was more into sunbathing than running). We are those obnoxious people who let their dogs run off leash, but we almost never ran into anyone else out there, and the unlikely event someone might be bothered seemed a small price to pay for the sheer happiness of three dogs.

Jorge and Jefferey seemed to mostly enjoy finding disgusting things out in the woods to eat, or roll in, or both. We would often have to call those two away from whatever distraction they found to keep them moving. But Dudley was different. He loved the trail like I did, and just wanted to run. It was a roller coaster ride that he didn’t want to stop. He would run up and down hills or around in circles through the trees while the rest of the pack dilly-dallied. He didn’t really care where we were going, as long is he was moving.

Around 2008, I started to invest more of my time and attention to running. When I figured out how to run more than 15 miles a week without hurting my knees, I ran as much as I could, with my favorite route an 8 miler around the lake. Since the other dogs lacked the stamina and interest, I would only take Dooright with me.
We had a special connection that I cannot explain. Almost always he was there ten feet in front of me, setting the pace. When I couldn’t keep up, sometimes he would stop and look back at me, “What are you waiting for? Come on!”. Or he would run a wide arc through the trees to allow me to catch up.

Dudley knew the trails better than I did, and had a perfect map in his head. Often he would jump off the trail into a swamp or make a hard left and disappear over a hill. Stupidly, I would stop and call for him. But it never failed that he would reappear on the trail in front of me and give the that look, “What? Let’s go!”. On hot days, he would get tired on the way back, and struggle to keep up. So he would cheat and take short cuts to stay in front of me.
His desire to always be in front made him great at racing 5Ks. His laser like focus gave him an edge over other dogs. Of the 12 dog friendly races we entered, Dooright came out top dog in 9 of them.

Around 2012 both Dudley and I slowed down. My knees started to bother me again, and his hips got weak. When we woke in the morning, we would both hesitate before going down the stairs, knowing it was going to hurt. We still tried to hit the trail together, but he couldn’t go as far, and would be stiff and sore afterward. But it was always worth it.

A few weeks ago, Dudley momentarily collapsed while chasing a ball. After many trips to the vet, he was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. The tumors in his organs would grow and burst, causing him to bleed internally. They robbed him of all his energy and he could no longer run. Even walking was a struggle.

There was no treatment available that provided any hope. So we just tried to give him as many good days as we could. On Thursday we drove Dudley and the other 2 dogs out to a local trail for a walk. Dudley jumped out of the van and trotted to the trailhead, as fast as we had seen him move in several days.

It was mid-afternoon and we had the woods to ourselves. He managed to walk a half mile, trudging slowly forward with all of his effort. But that was all he had in him, and he just stopped on the trail. We let him rest a while, and then leisurely headed back. He would walk for a hundred feet and then stop and rest. The cancer was tearing his insides up. His stomach was bloated, and is spine and hips protruded from withering muscle.

Seeing him struggle like this was terrible, and Shannon and I decided that it was finally time to let him go. As we neared the car, Dudley stopped and dug a shallow hole and laid down in the middle of the trail, in the shade of large tree.

His nose twitched left and right, detecting distant scents in the breeze blowing in his face. Occasionally his ears perked up when he saw a bird or squirrel or runner going by in the distance.

“Come on Dudley, let’s go home.” I tried encouraging him to follow us to the car. But maybe for the first time ever, he didn’t seem inclined to follow me. He just looked back peacefully. I imagined him saying “I think I’ll stay here on the trail. This time, go on without me.”

I sat on a log next to him. A barrier broke inside me and the sadness of losing him poured into and mixed with the happiness of all those long afternoons of running the trails with him. I started crying, deeply. Haven’t really stopped yet as of this writing. It took us a couple days to summon the courage, but we let him go this morning.

I suppose a eulogy for a dog could be considered banal, or you might call this one maudlin. I would accept that.

After all, it’s just a dog. It’s just trails in the woods. It’s just a guy and his dog running as fast as they can to nowhere in particular. It’s just exactly that and nothing else. Pure joy.


Tom Green’s Challenge


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Tom Green proves why he is considered a legend in ultrarunning as he crosses the 2016 Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run finish line after completing 50-miles, marking the longest distance he has run or walked since he suffered a traumatic brain injury in a tree trimming accident on April 20, 2015.



Tom Green did not cross the finish line at the Umstead 100-Mile Endurance Run to great fanfare and loud cheers, but while he deserved it, he neither needed nor wanted it.

The 50-mile ultramarathon distance he covered in 14 hours and 45 minutes on April 2 was a triumph in itself, and it was the longest distance Green’s two feet have taken him since a tree-trimming accident nearly ended his running career and his life less than a year ago.

For average fans of distance running, Green’s return to the ultramarathon circuit may seem no less than miraculous, but his friends and fellow runners would rather attribute his comeback to the ingredients that make up Tom Green– a strong spirit, a stubborn streak a mile long and willpower made out of cast iron.

The last thing Green remembers about April 20, 2015 is watching the Boston Marathon with his friend Alan Doss.

He vaguely recalls pulling some branches down from a tree in his yard, but the rest of that day and the three weeks that followed are dark.

“I woke up and my sister was there,” he said on the phone recently. “She told me I hit my head and I was in the hospital. I was incredulous.”

Mention the name “Tom Green” to almost any ultramarathon runner or fan and you’ll get a story about how he inspires beginners and encourages fellow veterans when they struggle.

Tammy Massie is one of them.

A prolific endurance runner who tackles marathons and ultramarathons almost every weekend, Massie had just completed her ninth Umstead 100-mile race and was gearing up to volunteer at the Bull Run Run 50-miler on April 9, another race Green was planning to tackle.

“I met Tom about 10 years ago when I first started volunteering at the Bull Run Run,” she said. “He is such a gentleman and an inspiring runner. From all of the energy he has given us over the years – we are giving it back to him.”

From cross country races to ultrarunning

Green, 65, who started running cross country as a kid, is what sportswriters and pundits might describe as a durable runner. Speed has never been his strong suit, but he always has possessed enough endurance to take him to the finish line of almost any race. His 100-mile PR is 17 hours and 28 minutes at the Vermont-100 in 1992. At age 47, he ran 132 miles in the 24-Hour National Championship.

“I never knew an ultramarathon existed until I read about a 100-mile trail run in a magazine,” he said. “And when I read it, I was suckered in. There were photos of middle-aged men, some on the heavy side, and smiling like they were having the time of their lives.”

So at 32 years old, he entered his first ultra – the Old Dominion 100 – and completed 60 miles.

“I thought I was going to die,” he said.

Green considered that first attempt a failure, but he refused to quit. The second time he tried, he completed all 100 miles. The following year he fell short again. Going one for three wasn’t good enough for him, so he set his mind on completing every single ultramarathon that existed.

It was 1986, and there were just four ultras: Vermont, Wasatch, Leadville and Western States. To run all four in the same year became like the holy grail of running and it was anointed the Grand Slam of Ultramarathons.

Other runners tried and failed, but Green persevered, finishing all four races in a cumulative time of 96 hours, 26 minutes, and 28 seconds, claiming his spot in the history books as ultrarunning’s first Grand Slam Champion, and sealing his status as a bona fide running legend.

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Tom Green uses hiking poles to navigate a flight of stairs leading up to the Umstead 100 main aid station and the starting point for each loop.


If you ask Green, this ultimate achievement is not worth fussing over.

“It seemed like it would make a good adventure and a challenge at the time,” he said. “Back then, people looked at me like I was Superman, but that was the farthest thing from the truth. I was always just an average runner.”

As Massie sees it, Green is a rock star among mere mortals.

“He is super duper famous,” she said. “To me, seeing him at races is like seeing Jon Bon Jovi at a Target.”

The accident

Green may not remember much about the accident that nearly killed him, but Alan Doss remembers every frightening moment.

The two men, who have been friends for more than 30 years, are carpenters and although they live 400 miles apart-Green in Maryland and Doss in West Virginia – they often collaborate on projects.

Doss and Green had taken a break after building a split rail fence around Green’s property to watch the Boston Marathon. When the race ended, they went back outside to cut down a couple of limbs hanging over Green’s garage.

“The limbs jutted out from the tree trunk, parallel to the ground,” Doss explained. “We had decided on a plan for safety, and executed it perfectly.”

The men cut the smallest limb first. When they tackled the second limb, it fell right where it was supposed to but as if it had a mind of its own, it hit the ground, kicked back up and struck Green behind his left ear, nicking his carotid artery, and causing a fracture of the temporal bone.

“Tom fell like a sack of potatoes almost on top of me,” Doss said. “Blood was squirting out of his head wound, and I put my hand over it to make it stop squirting.”

Green was airlifted to the University of Maryland Trauma center in Baltimore where he lay in a coma for two weeks.

Green’s wife, Kay, who is a radiology technician, credits Doss for his quick actions that may have saved her husband’s life.

“I felt bad for Alan, who witnessed the accident, but he did the right thing by holding Tom’s head still, staunching the blood flow and yelling for someone to call 911,” she said while standing around the Umstead course waiting for Tom to pass by on his journey.

In the hospital’s intensive care unit, Green’s condition was touch and go for days, and no one knew if he would ever be the same. He suffered a cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, and blood clots which caused a stroke, all symptoms of traumatic brain injury that would keep him in a comatose state. When he finally opened his eyes, he still wasn’t really there, Kay Green said.

Then he started responding to stimulation and following commands.

“That’s when we knew he would come back,” Kay said. “When he was able to lift his right leg, we cheered because we knew he would someday be able to run again.”

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At 6 a.m. on April 2, Tom Green started the Umstead 100 Endurance Run using a baby jogger to help him balance. He went on to finish the run’s 50-mile option, his distance PR since a freak tree trimming accident left him critically injured a year ago


But Green had to learn how to walk before he could run, and when he returned home after a month of physical therapy, he set out to do just that.

Using a walker at first, he measured his distance, not in miles, but in mailboxes.

“Tom walked to the first mailbox on our street,” Kay said. “Then he was able to make it to the second mailbox.”

Within four weeks, and using his walker, Green could shuffle a mile, which took 40 minutes.

“At this point, we just didn’t know how much Tom could recover,” Doss said.

But while Green kept improving, balance continued to be a problem. He knew if he ever wanted to have a chance to run ultras again, he’d have to find something to hang onto for balance, yet navigate easily.

Jogging strollers are the rage for mom-and-dad runners with new babies. Green reckoned he could run with one too.

The comeback

Green set his sights on the Crooked Road 24-hour run in Rocky Mountain, Virginia, a November run that would come only seven months after he almost died.

His goal was to finish 50K, but after going 30 miles in 10 hours, he was exhausted.

“So I took a nap,” he said. “And when I woke up, I felt guilty for stopping, so I got up and walked nine more miles.”

Then on March 19, Green decided to try a free run without using the jogger at the Hat Run in Maryland. Along the way, he lost his balance, fell and hit his head again.

With the Umstead 100 just two weeks away, on April 2, Green was determined to follow through despite his set-back. He was determined to get 50 miles.

Set in the rolling hills of the 100-year old William B. Umstead State Park, the endurance run takes place on a picturesque, looping bridle trail, rocky and unforgiving on the feet, but easy for anything with wheels, like mountain bikes and baby joggers.

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Tom Green navigates the rocky bridle trails at the Umstead 100 Endurance Run


For Green, the Umstead 100-mile endurance race was as much a lesson in strategy and willpower as it was in strength and endurance. To finish in the 30-hour time limit runners must maintain at least an 18 minute pace, and even though Green was planning on going 50 miles, it was important to him to maintain that minimum pace. Strong and steady, he never wavered and never even rested at the aid stations.

After starting just before daybreak at 6 a.m., Green finished an hour after the sun went down at 8:45 p.m.

A few friends and volunteers who were hanging around the finish line congratulated him with handshakes and hugs, but he did not linger. After a few minutes, with his wife at his side, he grasped two hiking poles and quietly hiked away into the darkness.

While 2016 marks exactly 30 years since Tom Green made running history by becoming the first Ultra Running Grand Slam Champion, coming back strong after his traumatic brain injury may be his biggest feat of endurance yet.

When most people think of a champion runner, they envision a chiseled athlete, out in front, breaking a finish line ribbon with arms raised in glory.

But champions are made in many forms.

At any given trail run, you may see a figure, not running, but striding quickly through the forest pushing an empty baby jogger or heaving a pair of hiking poles. He’s focused, determined, and steady as he pushes toward a finish line in the distance.

That is what a champion looks like.

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Tom and Kay Green head out on the Umstead 100 Endurance Run course.

Editor’s note: This story was written for the May 2016 issue of Running Journal. Contact Teri Saylor at or on Twitter @terisaylor


Burns Times-Herald strives to maintain local coverage

Militant occupation causes disruption in community

Protestors decend on Burns Oregon by Samantha White

Militants descend on Harney County in Eastern Oregon to protest the Bureau of Land Management’s control of federal lands and the jailing of two locals farmers for burning brush on federal property. – Photo by Samantha White, courtesy of the Burns Times-Herald


Note: This article first appeared in Publishers’ Auxiliary, of the National Newspaper Association. The occupation is over, and the community is slowly reclaiming the small town lifestyle its residents enjoy.

BURNS, ORE. —Social media devotees have had a field day with the small army of militiamen who are occupying the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Ore., to protest the imprisonment of a pair of local ranchers for committing arson on federal lands.

Online jokesters using hashtags with phrases like “Ya’ll Qaeda,” “#Vanilla Isis,” “Yee Hawdists,” and “Yokel Harem” are living large onTwitter and comparing the militia to a sort of misfit terrorism outfit with a Mayberryesque incompetence brough on by the likes of the characters Barney Fife and Goober. It doesn’t help that the gun-wielding militia have taken over a bird sanctuary.

Randy Parks, editor of the Burns Times-Herald, has been weary of the sensational headlines, the mockery, and the militia itself almost from day one. He sees no novelty in it and wants the occupiers to go back to where they came from so he can return to the business of reporting the real news of Harney County and get some sleep.

“This is a huge disruption,” Parks said in a recent phone interview.

“Here, there is an attitude to wait them out, and that’s what the local law enforcement has elected to do. The sooner they leave, the better off we’ll all be.”

The trouble started Jan. 2, when about 300 anti-government protesters arrived in Harney County, a wild, 10,000 square-mile landscape in eastern Oregon.

Then, a small splinter group took over a building on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, where they have been holed up an entire month, with no indication they will be leaving anytime soon.

The protestors came from Arizona, Utah, Montana and other places outside of Harney County.

A festering wound

Trouble had been festering since 2001, when a fire Dwight Hammond and his son, Steven, set on their property burned federal land beyond their property line. The U.S. Department of Justice alleged the fire was to cover up an illegal deer hunt, but the Hammonds maintained they were trying to eradicate an invasive species of underbrush.

Five years later, in August 2006, a lightning strike set the landscape ablaze, triggering a burn ban. Steven Hammond started a back burn to prevent the fi re from destroying the winter crop of cattle feed the family had planted on their property. It also burned about an acre of public land.

With that, Dwight and Steven Hammond were charged with several arson-related crimes under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which carried a mandatory sentence of 5 years in prison.

The federal judge in the case thought that sentence didn’t fit the Hammonds’ crime, so he reduced the sentences to about three months for Dwight, and a year for Steven. Both served their time in federal prison.

Then in 2010, the Department of Justice appealed the sentences, won in the 9th Circuit, and the men were ordered to return to prison to finish their mandatory sentences.

They turned themselves in without incident Jan. 4, two days after the protests started.

Since then, local schools have been closed and local residents are scared.

Even Dwight and Steven Hammond, now in prison, have distanced themselves from the protest, according to Parks.

“The family has asked for privacy,” Parks said. “And I respect that. I think they are good people who made a mistake. I also think the judge made a mistake in sentencing them that first time.”

 Small town life

Parks is a former owner of the Burns Times Herald. The 2,941-circulation weekly was founded in 1887.

He was born and raised in Iowa, and started college at the University of Idaho on the path to becoming a teacher. Halfway through college, he changed his career path and movedto Sun Valley to live the life of a ski bum and work at the resort there. That lifestyle lasted 10 years.

He went on to study broadcasting and moved to Burns in 1989, where he worked at a local radio station for 16 years until the station was sold. Parks moved over to print journalism, went in with four partners, and bought the Times Herald.

Recently, the group sold the paper to a couple of local businessmen. Parks stayed on as editor.

In a place where there is more sagebrush than people, the newspaper’s motto is “Covers Harney County like Sagebrush.”

And that suits Parks just fine.

“I am not a big city person. I like small towns,” he said.

If Parks loves small town life, then Burns must be paradise to him.

Just 3,000 people call the Harney County seat home, according to Parks. The town’s close neighbor, Hines, has 1,500 residents.

By Harney County standards, Burns and Hines would be the “metro” area.

The county’s vast landmass has a population of just 7,000, making the area one of the most sparsely populated in the United States.

Seventy percent of the county’s land belongs to the federal government and is managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

At the turn of the 20th Century, President Teddy Roosevelt established the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which the U.S. Audubon Society considers one of the premiere sites for birds and birding in the nation.

“The refuge is an interesting place and an important part of our community,” said Parks.

In 2012, a coalition made up of environmentalists, local residents, ranchers, federal government employees and other interested parties agreed on a conservation plan for the refuge. It took three years to negotiate, but the result was a plan everyone could live with,according to Parks.

“They didn’t always agree, but we have always done things by working together,” Parks said. “It is the Harney County way.”

Parks describes his community as quiet and dignified.

“People go about their business and keep to themselves,” he said. “We have residents here who are state and federal employees. We are friends and neighbors, and we don’t point fingers at each other. The outsiders are here doing that and stirring things up.”

Media converge on Burns photo by Jeff Graham

Media from all over the country converged on Burns to cover the militant occupation at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. – Photo by Jeff Graham for Burns Times-Herald.

He’s also worried that people from other parts of the country are getting the wrong impression of his community from the national media, which is camped out on his doorstep.

“You watch on television, and they focus in on guns and rifl es, and they don’t focus on the people. They pick out the most antagonizing snippets and show them,” Parks said. “They take things out of context, sensationalize them, and there’s not much we can do about it. Our residents are thanking us for taking the middle road on our coverage.”

Parks doesn’t like covering the standoff at all. It stretches his small staff too thin.

“We had two reporters on our staff, but in December one left to go work for the local hospital, so it’s just Sam (reporter Samantha White) and me,” he said. “We’re to the point where we want it to end. We want to get on with our lives. We want to cover our schools, our public events, meetings, and the things people need to know.”

The Burns Times Herald is printed at the Bend (OR) Bulletin, about 130 miles from Burns.

“We submit the newspaper electronically on Tuesday nights. They print the paper, and we have a guy who drives out to Bend and returns with the newspaper around 11 or 12 at night. Then three of us go out at 5 a.m. on Wednesday and make our deliveries,” he said.

Despite interruptions from the outside world—national media and self-described militiamen from other parts of the country, Parks is determined to continue covering the day-to-day aspects of his community.

“We’ll continue to not ignore the other news of our community. Our role is to keep people informed and stick to the facts,” he said. “And when the militia and media do finally leave, we’ll still be here to pick up the pieces.”

Cary man tests his limits running across North Carolina

New Years Day 2015 005

Story and Photos by Teri Saylor

Fueled by biscuits, waffles, hotdogs, ice cream, and a single cold Budweiser, Dave Cockman plowed through North Carolina on a pair of legs that carried him over 20 counties and more than 660 miles over two weeks on his quest to run from the Tennessee border at Murphy to the Atlantic Ocean at Nags Head.

Cockman, 57, who lives in Cary, started his journey in Murphy at 7:00 a.m. on April 4 and on April 18, he took his victory lap on Jennette’s Pier at 7:28 p.m.

When he finished his journey at the end of the pier overlooking the sea, Cockman checked the GPS strapped on his wrist and announced he had covered 664.44 miles in 14 days, 11 hours, and 28 minutes.

He hopes that was good enough to set a speed record for running from Murphy to Manteo.

This was the greatest 14-day adventure I have ever had,” he announced to a dozen friends, family and well-wishers who were in Nags Head to run the Flying Pirate Half Marathon and had gathered at the pier to greet him at the finish.

I cannot be more excited to be standing here on Jennette’s Pier,” he said. “I have run as far east as I can go, after starting out in the far western part of the state.”

Thanks to social media, newspapers and broadcast coverage, Cockman became a familiar figure along U.S. Highway 64, his chosen route across the state. He ran on busy highways and scenic rural roads, following the original highway, which often took him off the beaten path.

He ran roughly 50 miles a day and managed a steady pace, averaging four miles an hour. For the final portion of the run on Saturday, he covered 45.75 miles, running from Columbia to Nags Head. It took 11 hours.

Dave Cockman takes a water break at a convenience store along U.S. Highway 64 near Pittsboro (800x533)

In Pittsboro on April 13, Cockman took a refreshment break at a convenience store and explained he had slept no more than two hours the night before. He was anxious about his schedule. Pain in his left leg had slowed him down and forced him to make an unexpected stop in Lexington. When he found a place to lay his head for the night, he was eight miles off course.

Trying to make up for lost time, he ran 62-miles the next day, from Lexington to Siler City, arriving at a hotel at 3:30 a.m.

He rubbed his left calf, and described the pain.

It’s a shooting pain,” he said. “It starts in the back of my knee and radiates to my calf. But it feels okay as long as I keep running.”

Cockman, at 5’10”, is a durable athlete who has completed more than 40 ultra marathons. Last year, he wrapped up the Grand Slam of Ultra Running, consisting of the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, the Vermont 100-Mile Endurance Run, the the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run and the Wasatch Front 100-Mile Endurance Run.

In 2013, Cockman ran the Tuna Relay which consists of teams of runners taking turns running to cover 200 miles from Garner to Atlantic Beach.

Cockman ran all 200 miles by himself.

Two years ago, Dave cooked up his most audacious goal yet – to run across North Carolina in a single, continuous ultra marathon.

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For Cockman, this journey was a pilgrimage to find his physical, mental and emotional limits – if he has any.

He is also raising money to benefit the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, a 15-year old nonprofit organization benefiting wounded war veterans and their families. In 2010 the organization completed a 72,000 square foot medical facility on the Navy campus at Bethesda, Md. to treat veterans with traumatic brain injuries. Two years ago, the Fund launched a campaign to build nine satellite centers at military bases across the country. Two of these facilities, called Intrepid Spirit Centers, are in North Carolina – one at Camp LeJeune and the other at Ft. Bragg.

Cockman, who has a fundraising page on his website, had raised over $5,000 by the end of the run and expects the total to crest $7,000.

The money Cockman is raising will help pay for the Intrepid Spirit Center at Ft. Carson, Co., according to David Winters, president of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.

I am amazed at what he is doing,” Winters said in a phone conversation. “A few people have raised money for us through physical activities, but to do what Dave is doing, roughly two marathons a day for two weeks, boggles the mind.”

Cockman, who ran his race mostly alone, carried what he needed in a small backpack – a few clothing items and supplies such as sunscreen and toiletries as well as cash and credit cards for his daily expenses. Two small, fluttering American flags attached to his backpack symbolized his devotion to wounded war veterans.

Along the way, strangers stopped to greet him and donate to his fund. He ended his run with more than $1,000 in cash.

The high point of my trip so far is the people I have met,” he said in Pittsboro. “They are treating me like a rock star. People are even asking me for my autograph.”

In Murphy, the local fire department escorted him for 20 miles, and in Hayesville and Lake Lure, he had a police escort.

The low points came during the darkness of night when he ran along the highway alone, heading for his next rest stop.

Some nights he ran into the wee hours.

I don’t like to run at night. It’s very dangerous,” he said.

Even though he wore a reflective vest, flashers and a head lamp, he couldn’t be too careful. He always ran facing traffic and often saw vehicles coming right at him.

I could tell people were looking at me and they sometimes drifted toward me,” he said. “I got very scared. There are lots of big semis out there, and late at night when I was very tired, I had to fight to keep my wits about me.”

Dave Cockman approaches Nags Head (800x501)

Ron Wahula, City of Oaks Marathon race director and director of the Raleigh Galloway marathon program, complimented Cockman from his booth at the recent Rock ‘n Roll Marathon Expo.

What Dave is doing is amazingly difficult. To be out on the roads unsupported and alone,” Wahula said. “This is the farthest he’s ever run before, and he’s pushing himself into unknown territory.”

Two years ago, Wahula completed the Umstead 100-Endurance Run, a 100-mile ultra marathon and imagines how Cockman feels running long miles day in and day out.

He trained, he’s prepared, and he’s organized,” Wahula said. “It will also take a little luck to push him through, but Dave’s a special guy. He has tremendous durability and a tremendous heart.”

Dave Cockman runs through Manteo (800x533)


Cockman is a senior systems engineer with Itron, a company that makes utility meters. He uses vacation time for his running endeavors. His company also offers 32 hours a year for employees to use toward charitable causes, and he’s tapping into those hours for his cross-state run too.

According to his boss, Randy Owen, Cockman’s intensity in the workplace matches his zeal for running. His entire team has been tracking his progress across the state, and fellow employees have donated approximately $600 towards Cockman’s fundraising effort, which the company will match, according to Owen.

It has been a lot of fun for our department to live vicariously through Dave’s exploits,” Owen said.“We have been impressed and motivated by his dedication to reach his goals while at the same time being an exemplary employee in the office.”

Without having a scale, Cockman doesn’t know exactly how much weight has melted off his normal 167-pound frame, but he estimates he’s at least 25 pounds lighter than he was when he started his run.

Dave Cockman tries to consume as many calories as possible to maintain his weight and energy (533x800)

His favorite road food is biscuits, gravy and waffles. Along the way, he took advantage of local barbecue joints and scarfed down entire large pizzas, but it did little good. The running burned more calories than he could consume.

Near Apex on April 13, several of Cockman’s running buddies joined him for a few miles. They dropped into the Local Bar, a tiny watering hole alongside the highway, where Cockman caught up with friends and a co-worker who stopped by hoping to see him. Another friend showed up with a cooler full of hotdogs. Cockman sat for a spell, resting his legs as he washed down a couple of hotdogs with a cold beer before getting up and continuing on his way toward Raleigh, his overnight stop.

Along the way, friends joined him, first one then two, and like the Pied Piper, he collected runners as he cruised up Chatham Street through Cary, and onto Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, where he and his team, now up to nine, stopped at Snoopy’s. He ate three more hot dogs, drank a cup of sweet tea and signed his autograph for the servers. It was almost midnight when the group headed to the Holiday Inn, where Cockman would rest for the night.

The next morning, two dozen runners mingled with the early morning business crowd at Big Ed’s in City Market to have breakfast with Cockman before sending him off to complete his final 200 miles.

Dave Cockman heads east on U.S. Highway 64 near Pittsboro 2 (800x528)

Cockman downed a large helping of biscuits and gravy, a serving of plain biscuits, four eggs, bacon, a cup of coffee and a glass of milk. Then with a team of companions to keep him company for a few blocks, he set off on New Bern Avenue toward Rocky Mount, pressing onward toward the sea. @terisaylor


Dream trip to Mount Everest turns into a nightmare for Raleigh trekker

Ron Wahula of Raleigh enjoyed  a dream trip to Mount Everest Base Camp

Ron Wahula of Raleigh enjoyed a dream trip to Mount Everest Base Camp

By Teri Saylor (photos courtesy of Ron Wahula)

On April 28, Ron Wahula of Raleigh, N.C. is exhausted and ready to be back at home after a dream trip to Mount Everest he had been planning for a year, turned into a nightmare when an earthquake, registering 7.8 on the Richter Scale demolished parts of Nepal and launched an avalanche of rocks, snow, and debris down the mountain, burying parts of the Base Camp and sending trekkers scurrying for cover.

Ron, whose trekking group was below the main area of destruction, escaped the full force of the avalanche but was shaken up. His wife, Carol Wahula, reported his trekking group was too close for comfort, and no one was hurt.

“They felt the earthquake, heard the avalanche, and saw the cloud of snow coming and felt the wind it generated,” she reported in a Facebook message. “They took cover and luckily they were covered only by a couple of inches of snow.”


Mount Everest's scenic beauty was transformed into a scene of destruction after an earthquake sent an avalanche barreling down the mountain.

Mount Everest’s scenic beauty was transformed into a scene of destruction after an earthquake sent an avalanche barreling down the mountain.

Ron is the race director for the Raleigh City of Oaks Marathon and director of the Raleigh Galloway Marathon Training Program. He has set his sights on adventure and endurance sports in recent years. In 2013, he completed the Umstead 100 Endurance Run, and set his sights on achieving his dream to climb to Base Camp on Mount Everest.

He signed on for a 21-day REI-sponsored trek and left Raleigh on April 13, bound for Nepal.

He had trained for an entire year, spending hours biking, hiking with a heavy backpack, and last summer he attempted the Pike’s Peak marathon, but was denied a finish when he missed a cut-off by minutes.

After arriving in Kathmandu, Wahula started posting photos on his Facebook page, along with enthusiastic commentary about the area’s beauty.  His travelogue included photos of himself standing before Mount Everest’s majestic summit.

On Saturday, April 25, those pictures turned tragic.  Gray, foggy pictures of snow and destruction replaced his earlier photos of clear, blue skies. The once festive, colorful tent city was covered over with snow, ice and gravel.

The scenery looks bleak at Mount Everest after an earthquake caused an avalanche on April 25

The scenery looks bleak at Mount Everest after an earthquake caused an avalanche on April 25


Ron posted his experience on Facebook:

“Saturday, April 25th, we departed Gorek Shep. elevation 17,000 + , headed for our goal of Everest Base Camp at 11:30 a.m.,” he wrote. “Approx. 15 minutes into our 2-1/2 hour trek, a massive earthquake occurred. It lasted about 1 minute and as soon as it ended, a huge white and grey cloud that looked like a tidal wave was headed right for us though the valley. Our Sherpas told us to hit the ground. The avalanche lasted 4 or 5 minutes. When it stopped we were covered with only 3 or 4 inches of snow. We were very lucky. Our entire group is well and safe.”

In a text message on April 28, Ron said his group had just finished their third day of a five-day hike back to Lukla, the starting and ending point for Mount Everest trekkers. He described a surreal scene of destruction.

“Lots of damaged buildings and the trail is damaged with rock falls, and helicopters are constantly in the air rendering aid to victims,” he wrote. “From Lukla, we fly to Kathmandu.”

According to Carol Wahula, Ron has lost about 15 pounds during his adventure and is most looking forward to getting a hot shower and eating a hot fudge sundae.

Runners to take on the Umstead ultra marathon this weekend in Raleigh



Nearly 300 runners will brave cold temperatures and the threat of frozen precipitation when the gun sounds at dawn on Saturday, March 28 signaling the start of the 31st Umstead 100 Endurance Run at Umstead State Park in Raleigh.

This year’s 100-mile ultra-marathon features a field of 101 women and 190 men from 31 states, the District of Columbia and New South Wales, Australia.

The race starts at 6:00 a.m. on Saturday, March 28 at the Camp Lapahio headquarters in the heart of Umstead Park and ends at the same location at noon on Sunday, March 29. Runners will attempt to run the 100-mile looped course in 30 hours or less. Last year, the male winner was John Dennis, 33 of Maryland, who completed the race in 13:41:07. The female winner was Liza Howard, 42, of Texas, who completed the race in 15:07:39.

The Umstead Ultra Marathon traces its humble beginnings back to 1974 as a training run before ultra marathons had grown in popularity. Two Raleigh runners – Blake Norwood and Tom Newnam had registered for the Hardrock 100 Endurance Run in Silverton, Co. and needed a long training run. Intending to run 150 miles, the duo obtained permission from the Umstead Park rangers to stay in the park and run for two nights, with their friend, Jerry Dudek serving as their crew. But after they completed 100 miles in less than 24 hours, they called it a day.

Later that summer, Norwood, Newnam and Dudek hatched a plan to develop a 100-mile ultra-marathon at Umstead and made good on that plan in spring 1975.

And every year since, with Norwood serving as race director, they have made good on their promise to conduct a quality, runner-oriented event, to encourage ultra-running in North Carolina, especially the Triangle area, and to produce a race that offers first-time hundred milers a reasonable chance of success.

Norwood died last October, leaving the Umstead Ultra-Marathon’s reins with Rhonda Hampton, who assumed the race director duties after the 2014 race.

Fast facts about the 2015 Umstead 100 Endurance Run:

Total number of runners: 291

Number of runners in their 70s: 9 – including the race’s oldest runner: Walt Esser, 76 of Cary, N.C.

Number of runners in their 20s: 9 – including the race’s youngest runner: Josh Belin, 23 of Potomac Falls, Va.

Number of women: 101

Number of men: 190

Number of North Carolinians: 116

Married couples:

Fernando Puente 61 and Carol Puente, 59 of Raleigh

Bill Squier 72 and Sally Squier, 72 of Raleigh

Darris Blackford, 51, and Starshine Blackford, 39, of Columbus, Ohio

Shannon Johnstone, 41 and Anthony Corriveau, 44 of Cary, N.C.

Other notable runners:

  • Fred Dummar, 46, will be running in Afghanistan while his wife Susan Dummar, 50, of Fayetteville, runs in Umstead. Fred is a commander in the Afghan National Army Special Operations Command – Special Operations Advisory Group.
  • Dave Cockman, 57 of Cary will be running in preparation for a 620-mile across North Carolina starting on April 4 in Murhpy, N.C.
  • Grant Maughan, 50, New South Wales, Australia, an elite runner who finished in second place in the grueling 135-mile Badwater Ultra Marathon in Death Valley, Calif. last July in 24:43:08, despite temperatures that soared into the 90s.
  • Hal Koerner, 39 of Ashland, Ore. Who won the 2012 Hardrock 100-Mile Endurance Run in Silverton, Co. in 24:50
  • Mark Manz, 29, of Durham, N.C. who finished in third place at Umstead in 2012.