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Police: More than 3.5 pounds of meth seized, two people arrested

BOONE — The Boone Police Department seized $72,000 worth of methamphetamine and arrested two individuals after an investigation led to a traffic stop on June 13.

According to Boone Police, the department has worked with the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office, the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office in Tennessee, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation and the United States Department of Homeland Security on an ongoing investigation into a significantly large source of methamphetamine in the western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee areas.

“Local law enforcement is always working to reduce the flow of methamphetamine in our area,” Boone Police stated. “Many times, information learned in seemingly unrelated investigations lead investigators to identify common connections and new sources of illegal drugs. This is the case in this situation. These agencies partnered together and used collective intelligence to make this investigation a success.”

As a result of the investigation, Boone Police conducted a traffic stop on June 13 on a vehicle suspected of trafficking a large amount of methamphetamine. Boone Police Lt. Chris Hatton said that Boone Police detectives had information that lead them to believe that Christy Jade Boone, 32, of 221 Joe Shoemaker Road, Vilas, and Cody Ryan Oaks, 30, of 286 Clay Hodges Road, Boone, were in possession of meth at the time of the stop.

During the traffic stop, Kyra — a narcotics detection canine — was used to locate any illegal drugs and alerted officers to controlled substances. Officers searched the vehicle and located more than 3.5 pounds of crystal methamphetamine as well as a small amount of Ecstasy.

Both Boone and Oaks were charged with felony trafficking methamphetamine by possession, felony trafficking methamphetamine by transportation and felony maintaining a vehicle to keep a controlled substance. They were both admitted into the Watauga County Detention Center under a $250,000 secured bonds and July 22 court dates.

“We see the damage meth causes individuals, families and our communities,” said Chief of Police Dana Crawford in a statement. “This is what makes our officers so willing to work the long hours it takes to make cases like this. This is a great example of the teamwork between agencies.”

Watauga County Sheriff Len Hagaman said that his office was pleased with the cooperation between law enforcement agencies.

“Unfortunately, meth is still the number one drug of choice in our county and our joint efforts with the Bonne Police Department and other law enforcement partners is making a vast improvement in the safety of our community,” Hagaman said in a statement.

Watauga High School, Innovation Academy confers diplomas to Class of 2019

Seeking out opportunities to enhance knowledge and using what is learned to evoke change and embrace growth were the words of advice that senior Laken Blakenship left with her fellow classmates before they were officially declared high school graduates.

Blankenship joined other members of the Class of 2019 on June 14 at the Holmes Convocation Center for the graduation of the 53rd class of Watauga High School students and third class of the Watauga Innovation Academy.

Blakenship’s first day at Watauga High School was during her junior year — a change that she credits as the most influential day of her life. She said the people she met in Watauga were not afraid to express themselves and their opinions even if it was different from their classmates.

“Prior to my new school, I lived in a very homogeneous branch of society,” Blankensip said. “Individuality was suppressed and conformity was encouraged. I moved from an environment in which people who differed from the social norms were set apart to a place where there was unity in diversity. These changes, combined with a positive and loving environment fostered my own personal growth.”

After her move to Watauga, Blakenship said she was able to fully grasp the importance of education and growth. She encouraged the Class of 2019 to pursue the kind of knowledge that teaches a valuable life lesson and use it for to instill change. To master the art of change, Blakenship charged her classmates to read in order to expose themselves to more information, try new things and speak out.

“… and just maybe, in amidst of all of the chaos in this thing we call life, we can use this knowledge to change the world around us,” Blakenship said.

Three other student speakers joined Blakenship during the graduation ceremony: Bethany Bryan, Siena Ritter and Emma Tzotshew. Graduates also heard from Board of Education Chairman Ron Henries, Watauga High School Principal Chris Blanton and Superintendent Scott Elliott.

Additionally, attendees enjoyed performances by the Watauga High School band/orchestra as well as the choir.

Watauga High School had 264 seniors receive their diplomas on June 14 with 18 students who graduated early. The Watauga Innovation Academy had 49 graduates receive their diplomas with 12 early grads. In total, the two schools had 313 graduates receive diplomas at the ceremony and 30 early graduates.

With the opportunity to participate in college courses while still in high school, 147 students of the the group of graduates earned a total of 667 college credits, according to Elliott. Of the students who graduated from WIA, 29 of them graduated with a community college certificate and their high school diploma. The graduating class also had earned more than $4 million in scholarship money, not considering any federal finance aid or lottery scholarships, Elliott said.

“I am certain that all of you are destined to do good things and to make our world a better place,” Elliott said. “There are so many ways that this talented class will continue to lead and serve others in our community, in our state, nation, world, in our businesses and in our universities.”

Families and friends clapped and cheered in support as each graduate was called to the stage and handed their diploma. Blanton prompted the students to move their tassels and caps were tossed — signifying their official completion of high school.

Blanton said he knew the Class of 2019 was ready and prepared for the next step that lies ahead of each of them.

“I’m proud of you and wish you the very best that life has to offer,” Blanton said.

A century and counting: New owner aims for July reopening of Todd's General Store

TODD — The 105-year-old Todd’s General Store is planning to reopen its doors to the public in early July with new owners after being closed for four years.

Matthew Connell and his wife, Andrea, purchased the store and 0.64-acre property, located at 3866 Railroad Grade Road, in December and closed on the space in May. Since then, Connell has been working to reopen the store by early July.

“We really love Todd, love the businesses, the nonprofits, the river and really love the building and were interested in it,’ Connell said.

A few weeks out from their projected reopening, Connell said early July is still the plan.

“Every day, we’re pushing the rock up the hill, getting the store back into shape,” Connell said. “I think we’ll hit our goal.”

Connell said most of the work has been cleaning the store, which has been closed since 2015.

“Because of the length of time, even of a cleaning level, there’s a lot to do,” Connell explained.

When reopened, Connell aims to help Todd’s locals avoid long drives to box stores.

“We want to have households goods and necessities, including basic groceries, dog food, medicine and that sort of thing so (locals) don’t have to travel,” Connell said. “We want to be a convenient option for household good and necessities.”

Upstairs, Connell said the plan is to make artist spaces to create crafts, particularly ceramics, and become a space to showcase the region’s art.

One feature of Todd’s General Store in the past was live music on the porch, which Connell says he hopes will happen organically.

“If people bring a guitar or banjo or instruments to the store and play, I think that would be great,” Connell said.

“We’re gonna aim to do for locals what the store did the past, be another door for the community, along with Todd Mercantile, along with River Girl, along with the park,” Connell said “People have memories from the past and when we open the doors … the community will fill it, hopefully, and create those memories themselves.”

Those memories go back more than a century to when the store originally opened in 1914. According to the Todd Community Preservation Organization, the opening was just before the Todd community became the end stop of the Virginia Creeper railway.

“Today, according to Ted Alexander, executive director for the Western Region of Preservation North Carolina, it is one of very few authentic general stores remaining in North Carolina,” stated the Todd Community Preservation Organization about Todd’s General Store in May. “The store is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and is a key part of the Todd Historic District.”

Commissioners to review public transportation projects

BOONE — The Watauga County Board of Commissioners will be considering projects to submit for the 2022-2031 State Transportation Improvement Program — which identifies transportation needs that may receive state funding if approved.

Planning and Inspections Director Joe Furman approached the commissioners about the STIP at the June 18 meeting. He said the current STIP plan for 2020-2029 has not been adopted yet, but is planned to be put into action in August. In order to stay ahead of the curve, the N.C. Department of Transportation has asked local governments to begin working on the 2022-2031 plan.

Furman said the county is able to submit four project ideas per STIP category: highway, bike/pedestrian, rail, aviation and public transit. Furman has met with Boone Planning Director Jane Shook, David Graham of the High Country Rural Planning Organization and the NCDOT Division 11 Corridor Development Engineer Rob Weisz for input on projects.

Some of these project areas Furman asked the commissioners to consider include section five of the Middle Fork Greenway; work along U.S. 421 from Vilas to Tennessee; N.C. 194 and King Street to Howard’s Creek Road; the N.C. 105 Bypass; the Bamboo Road/Deerfield Road intersection; and U.S. 421 South/Old U.S. 421 South intersection. Furman also mentioned that AppalCART has substantial capital needs and the county could use this opportunity to submit projects in that area. Furman had also submitted information to the towns of Blowing Rock, Beech Mountain and Seven Devils to see if they have needs that could be included.

The town of Boone is able to submit one project per category on its own, Furman said. The Boone Town Council was slated to discuss the STIP at either their June 18 or June 20 meeting, according to Furman. Furman suggested that the county and town coordinate on which projects to submit as to not duplicate efforts.

Furman planned to address the commissioners at the July 16 meeting with updated information he had gathered and see what projects the commissioners would like to submit. For now, the county would not have to prioritize the projects, but likely would do so next year.

The commissioners also approved an agreement with Frontier Natural Gas to provide their services to the Watauga County Detention Center with the contingency that the county attorney would evaluate land easements in the process if needed.

County Manager Deron Geouque said the total cost to run the line is approximately $19,000 with about $4,660.88 in cost savings each year. Frontier is allowing the county to pay off the amount for the project without interest for three years. Geouque said the loan payment will likely be added onto the county’s utility bill each month until it is paid off.

The $19,000 cost is considerably lower than the $100,000 and $66,000 amounts that the county has been quoted for the project in the past. The project also potentially opens up opportunities for other properties in the area to potentially access the natural gas as well, he said.

The commissioners will not meet for its regularly scheduled meeting on July 2. The next scheduled meeting will be July 16 in the Commissioners Board Room.