Charlottesville Breaking News

One too many: Latest 'Pirates' should be the last

Before seeing Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, I had already reached my capacity for Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and with this fourth installment, my cup runneth over. Indeed, so doth Capt. Jack Sparrow's, as he obtains two chalices to use while drinking from the Fountain of Youth, and seeks a mermaid's tears to invest them with magic. There's always a catch-22. You fight Spanish conquistadors and the British Navy to find the bloody fountain, and now you need a weepy mermaid.
    I had fleeting hopes for this episode of the Disney franchise. An opening sequence is fun, as Capt. Jack impersonates a British judge, is chased through London, and discovers his old amour Angelica (Penelope Cruz) attempting to impersonate him while raising the crew for a ship. That anyone would still want to sail under Jack's command is a tribute to the daring of British seamen. The movie is fun until they set sail. Full review.

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Mercury in track: But is UVA's Lannigan overhaul dangerous?

Test results on samples from the University of Virginia's Lannigan Field track surfaces indicate eye-popping mercury levels as much as 33,000 times the government standards.

What the government may not know is whether such levels of the heavy metal pose any risks to runners or to the construction workers removing the surfaces in the course of the spiffy $5- to $7-million upgrade of the facility located on Copeley Road.

"Whether you believe it's toxic or not, federal standards say it needs to be incinerated," says Andy Hord, president of Precision Sports Surfaces Inc., one of the companies that unsuccessfully bid on the makeover of the once distinctively blue track.

Hord submitted three samples from the track for mercury testing. One from the original 1971 track surface, which includes three subsequent resurfacings, shows mercury levels at 100 parts per million. EPA standards for incineration, say Hord, are .003ppm.

"This stuff is FULL OF MERCURY," Hord writes in an email to UVA. "Like 33,000 times the [Resource Conservation and Recovery Act] standard."

While a 1994 surface shows negligible amounts of mercury, a sample associated with a 2004 resurfacing measured at a level of 60ppm, which is 20,000 times the standard.

The U...

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Battle ready: Seven-story West Main transformation begins

Seven stories right on West Main.

Work has finally begun on the massive $141 million, 180,000 square-foot Battle Building at the University of Virginia Children’s Hospital, which will take three years to build and set the tone for future development between the Corner and the Downtown Mall. On April 27, Richmond-based general contractor Kjellstrom and Lee got the building permit for $12.8 million of foundation work on the former parking lot between the Blake Center and the building housing the defunct 12th Street Taphouse. Construction barricades went up earlier this month.
Architect for the University David Neuman has called the structure a "prototype" for West Main, the central road whose redevelopment has been discussed for at least two decades.

Named after Barry and Bill Battle, longtime champions of children’s health, the structure will serve as outpatient surgery and rehabilitative care facility for children and their families. Bill Battle, who died in 2009, was a former chair of the Ivy Foundation, which donated $15 million to the project– $45 million in all to the UVA Health System. The building will also include a Teen Health Center, a children’s therapy garden, and park-like green space around the building.

Eventually, the Battle Building will take over the corner at West Main and Jefferson Park Avenue, as the similarl...

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More risk? Safety engineer slams proposed helmet law

With the city on the verge of passing a new law that will require bike riders ages 14 and under to wear helmets, most bike safety enthusiasts are applauding, citing research that shows helmets can reduce the incidence of head injuries by 85 percent. One longtime bike rider, however, says the proposed law is misguided, based on outdated research, and could actually lead to a greater number of the most serious injuries.

"It is ludicrous to mandate helmet usage," says J. Tyler Ballance, a Henrico County resident who frequently visits Charlottesville to bike ride. "If safety were the real concern, then the Council might be mandating pedestrian helmets, or banning cars."

While it might seem blasphemous to oppose one of the most widely accepted safety devices and one that purportedly saves the lives of children, Ballance says the supporting research is outdated, and he cites new research to back his position.

A Safety Officer in the Navy for more than two decades, Ballance is a member of the American Society of Safety Engineers. He's also an avid bicycle racer and a father who says the statistics for helmets and safety are hardly as clear as some would like to believe, especially when it comes to child riders.

"Some research has demonstrated the potential for the helmet to 'dig-in' on impact," Ballance told City Council in an email before its most recent meeting. That "dig-in," Ballance told Councilors, actually increases the risk of paralysis....

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Trendless summer: Uncovering fun in Central Virginia

Every good townie knows his or her stuff when it comes to summer sunning and funning. Looking for live music? Stop by the nTelos Pavilion for the free Fridays After Five show. Craving a relaxing afternoon with friends? Head down to Scottsville's James River Runners to tube the day away. Want kid-friendly joy to include in your summer repertoire? The Downtown Mall's Discovery Museum always has an action-packed summer schedule.

But you know all this, as trendy attractions such as these are already on your calendar and have been, summer after summer. What about events that don't advertise themselves? We decided to break down 25 must-dos for the ultimate warm-weather Charlottesville experience. Welcome to a summer where you can really live off the beaten path.

1) The Blue Ridge Tunnel
Originally conceived as part of the Blue Ridge Railroad and built in 1856, the Blue Ridge Tunnel currently lies unused– but that doesn't mean adventure-seeking hikers aren't antsy to check out all 4,263 feet of it. The tunnel's two entrances pop out in Waynesboro and Afton, giving C'villians access no matter which direction they're headed. To use the tunnel's Waynesboro entrance, insiders recommend parking either alongside Route 250 at the train bridge between Waynesboro and Rockfish Gap, or at the animal hospital just off 250 after you pass Interstate 64. A dirt trail off the overpass leads up to the tunnel, although at times it's overgrown. In Afto...

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Editor's Note
4Better Or Worse