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THE TOP 10: Health Sciences Center, wildfires, Apodaca

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No. 7. Health Sciences Center

“On time and on budget,” as Henderson County business development director likes to say, the Health Sciences Building opened for classes in August. Pardee Hospital’s Comprehensive Cancer Center opened for patient visits this month. The result of an unprecedented agreement among leaders of Wingate University, Blue Ridge Community College, the city of Hendersonville, Henderson County and Pardee, the $30 million building offers education on the second and third floors and advanced cancer treatment on the ground floor. “Our county, the city, Wingate, Blue Ridge, Pardee all came together, put their egos at the door and did what was best for our community, for our patients, for our students and for our teachers,” Pardee CEO Jay Kirby said at the center’s grand opening.

No. 6. Wildfires and drought

In August, it stopped raining. Although the drought mostly spared the county’s apple crop it hurt hay production, helped the spread of wildfires and forced the city of Hendersonville to urge water conservation. The Party Rock fire, which started Nov. 5, spread from Lake Lure into a northeastern corner of Henderson County. At its peak the fire covered almost 7,200 acres and tested the firefighting skill of more than 900 men and women from across the state and nation. Finally, on Nov. 29, the U.S. Forest Service declared the fire contained and turned over firefighting operations to the state. No lives or property was lost. “The U.S. Forest Service thanks all the communities of western North Carolina for their support throughout this challenging fire season,” the federal agency said. As the year ended the city of Hendersonville was set to use a new French Broad River backup pipeline for the first time. The city is still working to get state and county permits that would authorize it to pump water from the French Broad to the treatment plant on N.C. 191. “We’re still in the severe category on the drought and even with the rain we had last week the river level was heading back down to 65 cubic feet,” City Manager John Connet said. “It’s not staying significantly above 65 cubic feet (per second),” the flow that triggers voluntary conservation measures.

5. Bullmoose retires

State Sen. Tom Apodaca, who rose from back-bench obscurity to become the second most powerful state senator, retired from his Senate seat after 14 years of service, blowing a big hole in the area delegation’s power. Apodaca, who plans to hang out a lobbying shingle next year, worked in Raleigh for Henderson County and Western North Carolina, including legislation to help land the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. and appropriations for his alma mater, Western Carolina University. This week the WCU Board of Trustees announced that a new $110 million science building would be named for Thomas M. Apodaca, who has joked that he never set foot in the science building while a student in Cullowhee. “I found out I could take geology to get my degree,” he quipped. By retiring before his term expired, Apodaca was able to hand his seat to a handpicked successor. Chuck Edwards, the Republican nominee, was appointed to the 48th District seat in August. He defeated Democrat Norm Bossert in the Nov. 8 election. Edwards joins state Rep. Chuck McGrady, a key budget writer in the House, and 24-year-old freshman Cody Henson of Rosman, in the Henderson County delegation.