Charlottesville Breaking News

Nuclear nightmare: Could a Japan happen here?

The disaster in Japan sparked by the massive undersea earthquake and resulting tsunami on March 11 is a terrifying reminder of nature's fury. But the natural disaster may pale in comparison to the toll wrought by potential meltdowns at several of Japan's nuclear power stations. Could disaster strike at the Dominion North Anna Power Plant in nearby Louisa?

That seems to depend on who you ask.

Actual earthquake damage to North Anna is not likely, according to UVA Geology professor Thomas Biggs, who notes that while Virginia does lie atop several faults, none seem likely to spawn major quakes. In fact, he says, the several small earthquakes in the past decades– including two in 2003– have remained under 4.0 on the Richter Scale. That's enough to rattle but certainly not topple houses– or nuclear reactors.

"All of our faults are pretty old," says Biggs, noting that while there are some along the Atlantic Coast that are "mildly active," but not anything like the places that have recently suffered major earthquakes.

"We don't have the tectonic setting they have in Japan, Chile, New Zealand," says Biggs, noting that California, due to its position atop two tectonic plates sliding side by side, remains at highest risk for major temblors.

Even if a massive quake did somehow tri...

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Ryan steps down: Iconic women's basketball coach leaves after 34 years

The 2010-11 UVA women's basketball season will be head coach Debbie Ryan's last after 34 years. The surprise announcement came on a Saturday in a cryptically worded press release.

"I am not retiring per se," Ryan says in the release, "but I feel we have not lived up to my own standards and expectations this past year, and I want to do what is best for our program and the University."

The team had a dismal 5-9 season in the ACC, went 16-15 overall, and fell in the first round of the ACC tournament. It's now hoping for a bid to the Women's National Invitational Tournament.

The petite blonde is one of the most respected women's basketball coaches around, and the release notes her overall career record of 736-323. But Ryan, 58, never won a national championship, and Virginia's presence in the NCAA Final Four three years in a row happened two decades ago: 1990-1992. She makes $502,000 at UVA, according to the university.

In 2000, Ryan was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, one of the most lethal types, with only 5 percent still alive after five years.

Ryan found out she was ill three weeks after State Senator Emily Couric, who died 15 months later. "The Emily Couric Cancer Treatment Center is of particular interest to...

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Signs of spring? New execs offer slight optimism in budgets

For the past couple of years, Charlottesville and Albemarle have faced grim downturns in revenue compared to the high-flying days of the real estate boom and ensuing high tax revenues that filled municipal coffers. This year's draft budgets from the new leaders, Tom Foley in Albemarle County and Maurice Jones in Charlottesville, hint that things could be starting to turn around. A little anyway.

Albemarle was particularly hard hit during the Great Recession. Last year, the fiscal year 2010/2011 budget had then-county manager Bob Tucker chopping $40 million–- 12 percent–- from what had been in the budget the previous year.

"We're living with the constraints of the past few years," says Foley. He acknowledges that some service reductions, such as community policing, likely aren't coming back soon. And county pet projects like Acquisition of Conservation Easements have zero funding in this budget.

Both men probably are glad they didn't have to make the brutal decisions their predecessors did. But instead of focusing on the losses, Foley stresses a more upbeat "transformation" of how county government does business.

"This budget moves beyond reaction to the downturn," he says.

At just $17,000 more than last year, the county operations portion of the budget is pretty much flat. Overall, the $301,078,469 budget ...

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Wrong photos, Architectural firm name misspelled

In last week's On the Block column, we wrongly published the photos of a different house. The correct photos are shown here.

The architectural firm of Zimmer Gunsul Frasca designed the building that was the subject of the February 26 story, "Remembering Emily: Sister Katie helps unveil Couric Cancer Center." (The third of the names in the firm was misspelled in one of the captions.)

In the March 3 cover story, "Scenic Treasure: How conservation lines the pockets of the rich," the date and order of Richard Selden's Turner Mountain conservation easement were incorrect. The easement was recorded January 11, 1993, and it was not the first in Virginia, but it was one of the earliest in Albemarle County.

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'Unpardonable': Faulty IT system vexes college-bound County seniors

Now is a crucial time for parents and their college-bound high school seniors, but problems with a new high-tech student information system Albemarle unveiled last year have added more stress to the process. What's more, County school officials have known about the problems since last year.

Last November, in preparation for a meeting with the central office about the new system, staff from Monticello High School brought with them dozens of complaints, one of which predicted the spring debacle.

"We can't print transcripts [with the system]," wrote one student councilor. " In January we will need to send updated transcripts to colleges that list the grades earned by seniors. Transcripts were supposed to be useable by Wednesday November 3, but that didn't happen."

According to frustrated parents, problems with the systems have adversely affected the college application process, causing transcripts to be sent out late and with mistakes.

"I was told my son's transcripts were sent out incorrectly," says Cydney Simko, whose son, Alex, a senior at Monticello High with a 4.7 GPA, has already submitted applications to 12 colleges. "I was told the tech system was new and is still being programmed as they go along."

"When I found out the first week of March that mid-year transcripts had not arrived at the colleges, I was stunned," says another Monticello High parent, who is also a County elementary school teacher. " No student’s application sho...

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