Eric Mennel

News Producer

Eric Mennel prepares the afternoon/evening "drive time" newscast on WUNC. Previously, he was a producer for The Story with Dick Gordon. Eric has reported for All Things Considered, This American Life, 99% Invisible and other radio programs. He covered protests and security measures at the 2012 Republican National Convention for WUSF Tampa and NPR News. One day, he hopes to own a home with a wrap-around porch.

Eric left WUNC in January 2015.

Ways to Connect

a pharmacist
NC Department of Health and Human Services

This week, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina announced that 6,400 people went all the way through the process of enrolling for a plan on the federal exchange, but never paid their first month's premium. Thus, they were never eligible to receive benefits. The federal government, however, has been including those people in its tally of newly enrolled individuals.

The Affordable Care Act requires that individuals pay their first month's premium before they can receive benefits.

trees down wilmington
Jason Tyson / Twitter @JTysonWrites

The city of Wilmington prides itself on its "urban forest." Beautiful Oaks, Myrtles and Dogwoods line the historic streets. The Wilmington Tree Commission hands out awards to properties with particularly good preservation and landscaping policies. It's consistently named a "Tree City USA" by the National Arbor Day Foundation.

But when an ice storm hits, limbs begin to fall. And so do power lines.

Santa Charlie Easton
Eric Mennel

Content Advisory: If Santa is real to your kids, this story may not be suitable for them.

It was a normal night at the Golden Corral Buffet and Restaurant off Highway 65 in Durham, North Carolina. Men and women just getting off of work were there to have their dinners, with families taking advantage of the all-you-can-eat dessert line.

NC State University
NC State

It's been a big year for NC State - and it's only February.

ferry toll rates
NCDOT

The NC Department of Transportation is holding hearings this week on whether or not to raise the cost of riding the state's ferries (even in places where it's currently free). Here are five things you should know about the plan.

1) Nearly everyone would pay a little more; Some would pay a lot more.

There are four ferry routes at play here. Two of them don't currently charge passengers at all. Under the new structure, rates would go up anywhere from $0.50 to $28, basically everywhere, depending on your route and the size of your vehicle.

US 64, Wendell
NC Department of Transportation

The North Carolina Department of Transportation is all hands on deck this morning.

More than four hundred trucks have been in action over the last 48 hours pre-treating and clearing roadways of snow from the mountains to the Outer Banks.

The western piedmont got about an inch of snow, and some areas of the Triangle near I-95 have seen 5 inches. Snow accumulations in Easter North Carolina could exceed six inches.

Most schools across the region are closed today.

Lake Mattamuskeet Wildlife Refuge

The annual migration of waterfowl to Lake Mattamuskeet is underway in Swan Quarter. Roughly 200,000 birds were counted in the National wildlife refuge this month, continuing a rising trend over years past.  That means visitors to the lake are in for some noise for the next month or so. The  birds have made the refuge their temporary home.   John Stanton with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service said it's a remarkable sound, followed by a remarkable silence:

A new study looks at the availability of caloric information from fast food restaurants online.
jasonlam via Flickr, Creative Commons

It's easy to point the finger at fast food joints. A decade after the breakout documentary, Super Size Me, the cheap, un-nutritious, happy meal is a go-to candidate for public ire when it comes to childhood obesity.

But a new study by researchers at the University of North Carolina says that explanation might be too easy.

House Wade Avenue Pump Station
Eric Mennel / WUNC

What's Inside This House On Wade Avenue?

If you live or work in Raleigh, there's a reasonable chance you've driven by it. Maybe hundreds, or even thousands of times. And, chances are, you've never noticed anything out of the ordinary. In most ways, it's wholly unremarkable.

The house at 3215 Wade Avenue, about 15 minutes from downtown Raleigh, looks just like the rest of the houses in that neighborhood. A nice metal roof. Forest green window shutters. Doric columns line the front porch.

Greensboro City Council
City of Greensboro

In a unanimous vote, the Greensboro City Council agreed Tuesday that its definition of a sexually-oriented business was too broad.

The problem stems from some businesses not realizing they were sexually-oriented. Spencer's, (the black light infused, sort-of-ironic t-shirt and chain wallet store often found in malls) was cited by the city as violating it's definition of "sexually-oriented." Of course, Spencer's pushed back, arguing that the items in its store that are explicitly for adults can also be found in a drug store.

The new Rodanthe Bridge could go along the current easement for N.C. 12
N.C.D.O.T.

The N.C. Department of Transportation has been planning to put a bridge at Rodanthe for some time. N.C. 12 is particularly susceptible to storm water breaches there, and so a bridge looks like the only way to keep the road viable, long-term.

There are two options for the bridge. Option 1: Go straight through Rodanthe, alongside the current route of N.C. 12. A one lane service road would remain in place to serve the private property alongside the highway.

Option 2: Send the new bridge around Rodanthe, into the Pamlico Sound.

Children at the Greystone Rec Center in north Raleigh
City of Raleigh

Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane has asked her staff to look for vacant commercial space that she might recommend for recreational development. 

McFarlane offered the idea of leasing space in strip malls and shopping centers to build recreational facilities. It's an attempt to kill two birds with one stone- build the recreational facilities the city wants/needs while also creating an anchor business in a shopping center that might otherwise be floundering.

State park in Hillsborough overlooking the Eno River, forest, trees
Laura Candler

North Carolina's state parks will offer free hikes on New Year's Day, along with educational opportunities for children and adults alike. More than 40 outings are scheduled, rain or shine, as a healthy way to ring in the new year. Some hikes will be only a couple of miles, while others will run as long as 5 miles.

It's the third year the state parks system has offered free First Day Hikes. Park officials expect thousands to attend across the state.

Unemployment Rate
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

In the never ending story that is "so-so" economic news, North Carolina's unemployment rate took a sharp drop in November, but that doesn't necessarily mean there are more people employed.

Here are the numbers up front:

Iron Man
Just_The_Way / Flickr

Iron Man 3. Homeland. Sleepy Hollow.

Those are just a few of the productions that took (or are taking) place in North Carolina. And when you ask an industry expert why producers choose a specific city or state to film in, the answer has very little to do with climate, or airport access, or number of available caterers.

"The only places they look to do business are places that have a [tax] incentive," said Johnny Griffin, director of the Wilmington Regional Film Commission. "That's the number one qualifying factor."

A Chapel Hill group is handing out stickers that look like this to restaurants and bars that want them.
emedco.com

A new law, which went into effect in October, makes it legal to carry a gun in the state's restaurants, bars, parks,  and public schools/universities (with a handful of caveats.)

You can't carry a weapon into a city government building, though.

Many of the laws opponents had one question on mind: Why? What evidence was there that guns were needed to prevent violence in local parks?

Llama
cogdogblog / Flickr

North Carolina's students are graduating with more debt than ever before.

The average student graduating from a public, or private-non-profit school will graduate with $23,893 dollars in debt. In 2008, the average student had just $18,000 in debt.

We wondered...just what could you buy with $24,000?

How about a Toyota Camry L with keyless entry?

Or perhaps you prefer more than 1,700 bottles of wine from GlenMarie Vineyards in Burlington, NC.

Congressman David Price
price.house.gov

Rep. David Price (D-NC) plans to vote for the budget agreement, proposed on Wednesday by representatives Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Patty Murray (D-WA). Though he's not convinced it will be enough in the long run.

"It's hard to imagine sequestration looming over us for ten years," said Price.  "We are going to need to do something bigger and ambitious at some point."

"It does not necessarily mean we're on our way to larger agreements," Price added.

North Carolina Air Pollution
Doug Bradley / Flickr

That's not an easy question to answer.

Earlier this week, eight Northern states filed a petition with the EPA alleging that states from the South and Midwest are producing enough smog that it's affecting the air quality downwind. But how much can be blamed on North Carolina?

On the face of it, it's likely that some of North Carolina's air pollution does seep across state lines.

Chapel Hill Car Accident
Triplezero / Flikr

After a six-year dip in the number of traffic fatalities in North Carolina, deaths in 2012 rose by 5.5 percent. That's according to data provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The federal agency says 1,292 people died in car accidents in North Carolina last year, with 33,561 fatalities occurring nationwide.

SELC Logo
Southern Environmental Law Center

Despite a public blasting from state and local officials, the Southern Environmental Law Center says it plans to move forward with a lawsuit opposing replacing the Bonner Bridge.

"We have no plans to drop this lawsuit," said Derb Carter, Director the SELC North Carolina offices. "We're filing briefs next week. We are doing everything we can to make sure the case proceeds promptly to a conclusion."

Unemployment Rate
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

As jobless numbers continue to drop, North Carolina Department of Commerce officials are announcing new rules for people receiving unemployment benefits. 

Beginning next February, claimants will be required to present a photo I.D. at an in-person meeting within four weeks of receiving their first benefits. Currently, the meetings are done at random.  

Raleigh Police Memorial
Dennis Lane / Raleigh Police Memorial Foundation

In 2009, Major Dennis Lane and other police officers road their bicycles from Raleigh to Washington D.C., in honor of officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty.  They stopped at various cities along the route. And they noticed something different between these cities and Raleigh; Many of them had memorials erected in honor of fallen officers.

"Of the 50 largest cities in the country, there were only two cities that did not have a police memorial of some sort; Raleigh and Indianapolis, " said Lane.

Urban Ministries of Durham, Names For Change
WUNC

Last year, Urban Ministries of Durham made national news with their online game, Spent. They teamed up with McKinney, an advertising agency, to help re-create the experience of living below the poverty line.

But, after playing Spent, "I think you get through...  and it feels pretty hopeless," said McKinney associate creative director, Jenny Nicholson. UMD and McKinney wanted to bring some of that hope back.

Siats
Jorge Gonzalez

Researchers from North Carolina and Chicago announced  the discovery a new dinosaur today.

Siats Meekerorum (known colloquially as "SEE-ahtch") is thought to have been one of the three largest predators in America, at one time even larger than the Tyrannosaurus. This particular specimen was 30 feet long... and it's an adolesent.

Dr. Lindsay Zanno, a paleontologist at N.C. State and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, is one of the co-discoverers. She told WUNC that we're still trying to figure out what led to Siats's demise. But there are theories.

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