Environmental group gives Underwood failing grades
by Troy Graham
Staff writer

    Gov. Cecil Underwood scored all “Fs” for his position on several clean air initiatives in a report card released by an environmental group Wednesday.
    The group was critical of Underwood for suing to overturn the federal Environmental Protection Agency rule known as “SIP Call,” which would require reductions in power plant pollution.
    Underwood and seven other southern governors were evaluated for their stances on the SIP Call and three other categories. Underwood was one of two governors given failing grades in all four categories.
    “You can’t do much worse than that,” said Rebecca Stanfield, with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “The scorecard really doesn’t reflect Gov. Underwood’s attempts to undermine the EPA.”
    A spokesman for the governor said the administration has drafted its own plan to cut pollution from power plants that isn’t as harsh as the EPA plan. The EPA plan would be too expensive for power companies to implement and could force layoffs in that industry and the coal industry, he said.
     “This administration cares about West Virginia,” said spokesman Dan Page. “You do have to achieve a balance between the environment and the economy. “I could open up the paper on any given day and see people opposed to coal mining, opposed to building roads, opposed to quarrying stone, opposed to making steel,” he said. “I would ask these people, ‘What would you have me do to earn a living?’”
    The environmental group also targeted Underwood for failing to support the closing of a loophole that allows older power plants to emit more pollution than newer plants, and for refusing to support strong federal haze regulations. State law says that the governor can place “no more or no less” restrictions on power plants than federal law allows, Page said. Therefore, Underwood cannot act to close the power plant loophole until Congress acts, he said. Stanfield, however, said the governor “doesn’t want to clean up the old dirties.” “They’ve definitely found a friend in Gov. Underwood,” she said.
    In 1998, the state had 54 violations of EPA standards for smog, and the air was declared unhealthy to breathe on 27 days last summer, Stanfield said. “That’s nothing to scoff at,” she said. The science for dealing with smog is still evolving, Page said. “Making good policy decisions requires good science,” he said.
    Underwood was also criticized for not signing a memorandum of understanding to give the National Park Service a voice in the permitting process for facilities and plants that could affect the air quality in national parks. Tennessee and North Carolina have already signed the memorandum.
    Page said the governor has never seen the memorandum of understanding signed by the other states. “There’s a lot of pejoratives in this report card,” he said. “Apparently these groups are judge, jury and executioner.”

Task force formed to rename Grafton streets
by Torie Knight
Staff writer

    Grafton City Council members have created a task force to help rename streets in the city to improve operation of the county’s Enhanced 911 system.
    Since its inception, Grafton has annexed several other municipalities, including West Grafton, Blueville, Fetterman and Lucretia. Those annexations resulted in duplication of many street names. “It seems everybody had a First Street and a Second Street,” Grafton Mayor Thomas Horacek said. For example, Grafton has six Second Streets, four Third Streets and two Fourth Streets.
    Overall, more than 20 streets need to be renamed, said Taylor County Emergency Services Director Greg Groves.
Groves, Police Chief Jeff Leach, Fire Chief Wayne Beall, Public Works Director Busty Weber and a local citizen will serve on the renaming task force. The citizen will be chosen by the city manager and the mayor.
    Groves said duplicate street names is confusing for emergency response workers and causes a slower response time.
“Our whole idea is quick response,” Groves said. “We can only have one street with each name.”
    The task force will solicit names from residents before renaming the streets and will work a couple hours a week on the project, Horacek said.
    Groves said there is no real deadline to name the streets, but it needs to be done as soon as possible, officials said. The county’s E-911 system has been in operation nearly a year.

Construction of Lewis school behind schedule
by Gail Marsh
Staff writer

    WESTON — The construction of Lewis County’s Charles S. Wagoner Elementary School is behind schedule and may not be ready to open until a week before school starts next fall, school officials said Wednesday.
    The new McGuire Park Road facility will house nearly 450 students from both Peterson and Weston Central elementary schools. Students from Peterson are presently attending classes at Jane Lew, while students at Weston Central will finish out the school year before their building is officially closed.
    “It’s crucial that we have adequate time to have the school inspected and to move all our supplies and equipment up there before school begins,” said Joseph Mace, Lewis superintendent of schools.
    Mace said the school was originally scheduled to be finished by late July, but the contractor has moved the date back to late August, he said.
    “We can’t begin to move in until we get the right-of-occupancy papers from the fire marshal and the health department, and one week will be cutting it too close,” Mace said.
    Marks Construction Company of Harrison County is the contractor for the $4 million, School Building Authority project. James Marks, president of the firm, said the excavation problems they experienced last September put the project behind schedule.
    “Soft soil on the site wouldn’t bear the weight of the building, so we had to go down 10 feet deeper and backfill the area with stone. That cost us two months’ time, and it’s been difficult to make that up,” Marks said.
    Marks said his company has been working extra hours and using extra employees to try to finish the job closer to the original completion date. “January was cold and we lost some time, but we’re doing everything we can do to make up the time,” he said.
    In the meantime, Mace said school board members will be meeting with project officials to see what can be done to help move the project along. “We did have a 26-day cushion, but now it’s down to just six days. If we can get in there by about Aug. 10, we would still probably have enough time to get things ready for the new school year,” Mace said.

Cities, town brace for Y2K
by Torie Knight
Staff writer

    Area cities aren’t going to wait until the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve before they start thinking about the Y2K bug.
    And residents aren’t giving them a choice. “Some people in the area are scared about what will happen,” said Grafton City Manager Donna Hoyler. “We are getting continuous requests for information.”
    Will they have water when they turn on the faucet? Will the alarm clock have electricity and go off on time? Should they stock up on food and necessities? Residents want to know what to expect and how to prepare.
    Although city officials believe utilities are Year 2000 compliant, they developed a 22-page manual for residents explaining how to deal with a power outage.
    Even if it doesn’t happen on New Year’s Day, it could happen later, Hoyler said. Last winter, the city experienced a multiple-day power outage. “It’s not just for Y2K, it’s for any emergency,” she said.
    The emergency plan includes a list of tool and food supplies residents should keep in stock to be comfortable if the city must go three to seven days without utilities. Examples include having an ax or a seven-day menu for foods that don’t require cooking.
    The manuals were approved by the Taylor County Commission this week. The city plans to distribute the manuals at schools, churches and to civic organizations.
    Grafton City Council also plans to purchase a generator for the water department as required by the state Public Service Commission.
    Members looked over bids Tuesday, but have decided to wait for a better offer. The generator, a trailer and the converters for the pump stations to accept the generators could cost nearly $30,000.
    The Year 2000 computer crisis is due to time and date microchips that won’t work when given a 21st century date. Most computers are programmed to read dates based on a two-number system. The year 1999 shows up in most systems as 99. So when the year 2000 rolls around, computers not reprogrammed properly will read the year as 1900. Potentially, it could cause a computer shutdown.
    Other cities are working hard to see that their systems are Year 2000 compliant, as well. Jim Smith of the city of Bridgeport said each department has Y2K coordinators checking the equipment, software and hardware. He believes the city should be okay. “Everything is looking real positive at this point,” Smith said.
    Philippi City Manager Joe Mattaliano said cable television will be the biggest issue in his town. The city controls the cable, electric, natural gas, and water and sewer service in Philippi.
    The assistant city manager and a computer programmer are checking equipment there. “I think it is something that is important and we need to work on it. From our standpoint we need to be aware. It is not a subject of fear, but preparation, “ Mattaliano said. “I’m pretty sure life will go on.”