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Sharpshooter infestation

(AP) -- An Edna Valley wine country area has been quarantined by San Luis Obispo County agriculture officials after discovery of a glassy-winged sharpshooter infestation.

The pest is the scourge of the wine grape industry.

California's first major infestation occurred in Temecula in Riverside County in 1999, where more than 300 acres of vineyards were destroyed.

An adult insect was found about 10 day ago in a trap in The Arbors southeast county residential neighborhood.

Agricultural commissioner Bob Lilley said extensive trapping has found three more glassy-winged sharpshooters and multiple egg masses.

There are many vineyards in the Edna Valley area but the insect hasn't been found in any vineyards.

Lilley told The Tribune in San Luis Obispo that the infestation appears to be isolated and there's a one-mile-radius quarantine zone.

Faster trains

(AP) -- The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority is rolling out faster trains.

The trains will begin running on Monday along the median of Highway 87 during commute times. They will shave about five minutes off a trip between southern San Jose and the city's downtown.

It may not seem like much of a difference. But the San Jose Mercury News reports that it's the first major speed up of the light rail system since it began running in 1987.

The VTA expects the change will increase ridership by about 2,800 people each weekday by 2018.

There are currently a little more than 31,600 trips on the system each weekday, with many riders complaining that it is too slow.

Environmental awards

(AP) -- Green is always in fashion in Hollywood, and two American entrepreneurs are being honored for their ecological contributions.

The Environmental Media Association said Jane Fonda and Natalie Portman will present Ted Turner and Jeff Skoll with Environmental Media Awards at a private ceremony next month.

The awards recognize people, organizations, and TV and film productions that help raise awareness of environmental issues.

Skoll's namesake foundation has funded organizations such as the Amazon Conversation Team, the American Council on Renewable Energy and Global Footprint Network.

Turner, who founded CNN, supports wildlife habitat preservation, promotes sustainable energy and furthers other environmental causes through his Turner Foundation.

Illinois assistance

(AP) -- Illinois will get $279 million in federal money to help homeowners who are out of work pay the mortgage.

The Obama administration approved the Illinois Housing Development Authority's plan to use the money for foreclosure prevention.

Illinois already received $166 million in August for similar assistance.

The state's program is called the Hardest Hit Fund's Homeowner Emergency Loan Program.

It will assist low- and moderate-income families with temporary assistance to make mortgage payments while they regain sufficient income to handle the bills themselves.

Selling New Hampshire

(AP) -- The commission assigned to examine New Hampshire state properties for possible sale or lease is taking a closer look at another option -- borrowing against tobacco settlement money to plug a budget hole.

The commission, established by the Legislature this year, has to make recommendations to bring in $60 million to help close a $295 million budget gap. Its final report is due Jan. 1.

The commission has been looking at possible properties to sell or lease since it started meeting in August, but has run into some obstacles.

For example, not all properties have a current market value.

Other properties need multiple agencies to approve their sale, or they're blocked for sale by statute or some other complication.

Old Republic buyout

(AP) -- Old Republic International Corp. completed its $228 million all-stock acquisition of PMA Capital Corp. (Nasdaq: PMACA), the insurers said Friday.

Chicago's Old Republic (NYSE: ORI) previously announced that it would swap 0.55 shares of its stock for every outstanding share of PMA Capital.

The buyout includes the assumption of $137 million in PMA Capital debt, bringing the total value to $365 million.

PMA offers workers compensation and commercial property and casualty insurance as well as fee-based administration services. PMA will now be known as PMA Cos. Inc. and will keep its headquarters in Blue Bell, Pa.

Connecticut freeze

(Bloomberg) -- Home foreclosures in Connecticut should be frozen for 60 days because of "defective" documents, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said Friday.

Blumenthal is asking the state Judicial Department to halt the foreclosures, citing reports that employees of Ally Financial Inc.'s GMAC Mortgage unit and JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM) signed affidavits without verifying the information in them.

Irish prices

(Bloomberg) -- Abbey Plc Chairman Charles Gallagher said house prices in Ireland continue to fall, though at a slowing pace.

"The trend appears to be down still but on a more shallow basis," Gallagher said Friday. "It is difficult to find a two-way trade here,"

The U.K. home market is also "slipping a little" and the outlook is at "best dull," he said.

South African prices

(Bloomberg) -- South African house prices rose an annual 8.3 percent in September after expanding 8.1 percent in the previous month, Standard Bank Group Ltd. said Friday.

The median house price reached 586,000 rand in September, the Johannesburg-based lender said.

Spanish prices

(Bloomberg) -- Asking prices for existing homes in Spain fell 2.7 percent to 2,309 euros ($3,167) a square meter in the third quarter from the previous period, Idealista.com said.

Prices sought by sellers declined from the second quarter by an average of 1 percent in Valencia, 0.5 percent in Barcelona and 1.3 percent in Madrid, Idealista said Friday.

House values more than doubled between 1997 and 2007 as falling interest rates, rising employment and economic growth boosted Spaniards' spending power.

Bulgarian bonds

(Bloomberg) -- The Bulgarian Development Bank plans to sell 20 million euros ($27.4 million) in bonds to finance renewable energy projects and waste treatment, deputy board Chairman Sasho Tchakalski said.

The bank, which is providing low-interest credit to Bulgarian companies after international capital dried up during the global financial crisis, will sell five-year Eurobonds on the domestic market later this month, Tchakalski said.

U.K. equity

(Bloomberg) -- Britons added a net 6.2 billion pounds ($9.8 billion) to their home equity in the second quarter, down from a revised 5.3 billion pounds in the first three months of the year, the Bank of England said Friday.

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