01/01/06 — BRAC decision, Paramount fire top Wayne stories in 2005

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BRAC decision, Paramount fire top Wayne stories in 2005

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on January 1, 2006 2:06 AM

The past year was one of ups and downs for the people of Wayne County. A quick look back at 2005 focuses on the biggest stories of the year.

1. Seymour Johnson survives BRAC

The announcement in mid-May that Seymour Johnson Air Force Base would not only be spared by the federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission, but have its mission expanded came as welcome news to nervous Wayne County leaders. Officials had worried for months that the base -- one of the county's economic pillars -- might be scaled back or even eliminated in the latest round of military consolidations. But instead, the base will gain eight more KC-135R tanker jets and an engine repair facility for the F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet. The result will be an additional 345 military jobs and 17 civilian jobs..

2. Paramount Theater burns.

When the fire call came in the wee hours of Saturday morning, Feb. 19, firefighters were accompanied by disbelieving city officials who watched as the 123-year-old structure was destroyed. City officials quickly vowed to rebuild the Paramount, which had been a landmark on Center Street. It was the second major downtown public building to burn in two years. The Community Building on Walnut Street burned in May 2004. Discussion over how to rebuild the theater to accommodate performances and other public events continues.

3. Katrina outpouring.

Wayne County residents, perhaps remembering how Hurricane Floyd battered the county in 1999, rose to the occasion when they learned about the devastation of the Gulf Coast region wrought by Hurricane Katrina. Churches, civic groups and school children raised money, collected food and clothing and anything else they felt would help and shipped it all off to Mississippi and Louisiana. They also opened their doors to evacuees. The county's chapter of the American Red Cross announced last month that a total of $243,229 was raised to help in the rebuilding effort.

4. Eric Lane sentenced to death.

The first time Eric Lane went on trial for the murder of 5-year-old Precious Whitfield the case ended in a mistrial because of juror misconduct. A second trial ended started in Wayne Superior Court in May and ended in July with Lane being found guilty of her death in 2002. The same jury that found him guilty sentenced him to death.

5. Annexation fight .

Determined residents living along portions of Salem Church and Buck Swamp roads continued to oppose city efforts to annex them. An initial attempt by the city ended when a judge ruled city officials had not jumped through all the proper hoops. After going back to the drawing board, the city council announced its intentions to continue to seek the annexation. Good Neighbors United won a small victory when the court said the council would have to vote again on the proposed annexation but the city still plans to bring them into the city limits.

6. Portion of U.S. 117 opens.

For many Wayne County drivers, the opening of a portion of U.S. 117 between Goldsboro and Pikeville in late December was akin to Highway to Heaven. The old two-lane route has been a congested roadway for decades. When the entire project is finished, drivers will be able to traverse the county from north to south entirely on a four-lane road.

7. Mount Olive College expansion.

Mount Olive College officials announced a $23 million building plan that will add three new buildings to the campus. Work on the communications building, Pope Wellness Center and W. Burkette and Rose Raper Hall has commenced.

8. Commissioners vs. school board.

When the Wayne County commissioners approved their annual budget in June, it didn't sit well with members of the county Board of Education, who felt they had been shortchanged. So they took advantage of a state law that gave them an avenue to appeal the commissioners' decision. When the two sides couldn't initially reach an agreement a court fight loomed. But they eventually reached a deal and stayed out of court. Currently, the two boards are in disagreement over a proposed plan for building new schools. School officials say their needs exceed $130 million

9. Barber elected state NAACP president.

Underdog Rev. William Barber of Greenleaf Christian Church defeated incumbent Skip Alston in October to become the new president of the North Carolina branch of the NAACP. Barber received 166 votes to Alston's 117 at the state convention in Greensboro. Barber said that during his two-year term he will work to bring the organization back to its roots as a "justice organization."

10. Pikeville stays dry.

Pikeville voters had already voted down the sale of beer and wine inside the town limits on three occasions. But the measure was back on the ballot in November. True to form, voters said no again, this time with 105 people voting against it and 72 voting for it.