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Transit Authority adds to fleet
by Torie Knight
STAFFWRITER
    The Central West Virginia Transit Authority in Clarksburg will put two new vans into operation today that will allow it to transport even more disabled residents. CENTRA, which transports 400 to 600 disabled people every month, bought the new, 12-seater vans from the state Division of Public Transportation. The state agency converted 16 passenger vans and equipped them with wheelchair lifts.
    Not only will more people be able to ride now, but CENTRA also will be able to open new routes. The new vans, purchased for about $40,000 a piece, are smaller and easier to maneuver on rural roads. Manager Robert Boylan said he hopes to start serving new routes that other buses are too big to get in and out of — state Route 20 and routes through Flemington and Quiet Dell.
     new vans also could be used to start a tri-county bussing system between Harrison, Marion and Monongalia counties. If CENTRA goes into other counties, it will give riders access to jobs and education and healthcare facilities outside Harrison County, Boylan said. CENTRA doesn’t travel outside of Harrison County limits at present. “With the newer, smaller size vans we can expand services to more remote areas of the county and city where larger buses are too big to operate,” Boylan said. “It will enhance our service to the elderly and the disabled.”
    About 83 percent of CENTRA riders depend on the bus as their only means of transportation, according to surveys. Some 47 percent of CENTRA riders use the bus five or more days a week. Only 3 percent of bus riders make more than $25,000 a year. Most of the disabled riders are en route to dialysis or doctors’ appointments. Other frequent trips are to work and social activities, Boylan said. CENTRA will be able to use five vans and pick up more clients.
     On Friday, about 30 trips were made to pick up and return disabled clients in Harrison County.“We will be able to do  more,” Boylan said. “This allows us to give them door-to-door service.” The federal government funded 80 percent of the project, while 20 percent came from the $800,000 bus levy in Harrison County. That levy allows the authority to give van rides that average 60 cents to $1 for disabled clients.
    Senior citizens get a discounted price that averages about 30 cents per ride. “It allows us to have some of the lowest fairs in the state,” Boylan said.Gov. Cecil Underwood, who presented the vans, said he hopes the vans will be utilized to improve quality of life in rural areas.“These state-of-the-art vans no doubt will go a long way toward helping our elderly and disabled population,” Underwood said.
 

IRS branch extends hours to aid harried taxpayers
by Paul Leakan
STAFFWRITER
    Mark Ribas sees the anxiety and confusion every year. Hundreds of area residents line up at his office, sorting through     armloads of paper, searching for answers, and racing against — The Deadline.
    Ribas, an Internal Revenue Service agent in Bridgeport, knows how hard it can be for people to complete their tax forms before the April 15 deadline. He’s seen how much help people need and how little time they have to get that help.
“In years past, we were not open during lunchtime,” Ribas said. “And for a lot of people, that’s the only time they can come.” The race against time, however, may be less of a problem for taxpayers this year.
    In an attempt to deliver on its promise to provide more assistance to taxpayers, the IRS has begun to extend its hours of operation on Saturday. “We listened to our customers and realized that we needed to be more accessible to our customers after the 9 to 5 shift,” said Joy Perkins, spokesperson for the Virginia-West Virginia district of the IRS.
The IRS branch in Bridgeport, which is located on 11 Chenoweth Drive off U.S. Route 50, is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. It will open its doors on Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. until April 10.
    The IRS will help prepare 1040-EZ, 1040-A and 1040 tax forms at no cost. Anyone who wants help with their tax forms  should bring last year’s tax returns and all W-2 income forms and 1099 documents. Ribas said that residents are already taking advantage of the extra hours. Lines have begun to form outside the door, he said.
    State employees will join the local IRS to help taxpayers prepare their forms on Feb. 6 and 13 and April 3 and 10.
In addition, the IRS toll-free helpline is available for taxpayers 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The number, 1-800-829-1040, will operate from now until April 15. The IRS expects to receive around 126 million tax returns in 1999, including those from more than 850,000 taxpayers in West Virginia. Ribas said that the next few weeks are simply going to be “wild.” And that’s why he believes the latest efforts to improve service is essential. “A lot of people appreciate the help we’re giving,” he said. “We’re increasing our service to taxpayers. And I think it’s what we have to do.”
 

Woman wants English declared official language in W.Va.
by Paul Leakan
STAFFWRITER
    Trudy Slater said she has nothing against diversity or the influence of other cultures. She just believes everyone in America should be able to communicate in one language. That language, she said, should be English.
    Slater, a 62-year-old resident of Gerrardstown in Berkeley County and mother of two, adamantly believes that English should be the official language of the United States.
Her mission could be achieved if all the states declare English as their official language. At the moment, 25 of the 50 states have passed legislation to do so. West Virginia, she said, should be next.
    Since July 1998, Slater has amassed nearly 600 signatures on a petition calling for the state Legislature to make English the state’s official language. And her efforts have not gone unnoticed.
    Delegate John R. Overington, R-Berkeley, is sponsoring a bill that would make West Virginia the 26th state to declare English as its official language. But while Slater and other state citizens passionately plea for the movement, the chances of passing  the bill hinges on one big question: Why, in West Virginia, would it even be necessary?
That questions falls largely on the shoulders of the House of Delegates’ Judiciary Committee. Similar bills supporting the movement have died there the past few years.
    Rick Staton, D-Wyoming and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has been searching for reasons why he should move the bill forward. “Personally, I think there has to be a real demonstrated need that’s specific to West Virginia. In the past, I haven’t run it because I haven’t seen it as a problem here.” Slater said there may not necessarily be a need for the legislation right now. But she worries that the future will bring more immigrants into the state who can’t speak English.
“We are becoming a very populated state with foreign nationals. Whether they be Hispanics, from the Near East or from all over the world, they are coming in with industry into West Virginia.”
    Slater believes an increase of immigrants into the state may force the school system into using bilingual education. Bilingual education, an ongoing controversy in California, has not been effective because it doesn’t teach immigrants English early enough, she said. Slater said she witnessed the problem while she was a part-time teacher at Rockville High School in Maryland. She believes the foreign students struggle in these programs. The programs basically teach students English as a second language and at a slower pace, with teachers speaking in the student’s home language most of the time. “They don’t get to speak English. It makes it more difficult for them to learn English and to assimilate into society. Unless you speak English in the United States, you are handicapped.”
    That problem, however, hasn’t existed in West Virginia, said Rick Belcastro, coordinator of the English as a Second Language policy in Harrison County.
The state has been effective in teaching foreign students English, Belcastro said. And the legislation would probably have little or no effect on the state’s education system anyway, he said. Even if it did, that may not be a good enough reason for legislators to support the movement, said Delegate Larry Linch, D-Harrison. “It’s not one of the more pressing issues that we need to be paying attention to,” Linch said. “I don’t perceive the problem in this state as in other states.”
Linch believes the movement may simply come down to patriotism.
    “It’s kind of a quagmire when you really get into it. I think to most people, it’s a patriotic thing more than something that’s really significant or a problem in the state.”
But patriotism has led to other less important movements in America, Slater said. “We have an American flag, and we have an American bird. And I think making English the official language is much more important as those,” she said. Either way,  public sentiment on the issue, additional information and the Legislature’s workload could be the deciding factors in whether the movement becomes a reality, Staton said.
    “Every bill has its advantages and disadvantages. I know there is opposition to this bill. There are people that do not want it —whether or not we have a large immigrant population. And I want to find out those reasons to see if there’s any validity to them,’’ he said. “We have a lot on our plate, and if it’s something that’s needed and I can run with it very quickly, I probably can do it. But if it’s something that’s going to be controversial and bog down the committee’s work ... then I don’t know.”
 

Groups fight to clean up, protect watershed
by Torie Knight
STAFFWRITER
    It’s time to protect those downstream. That’s a message local groups like the Tygart Valley Watershed Development and Preservation Alliance are sending to those living near the Tygart River.
    The water of the Tygart is polluted, and years of coal mining along the Tygart River has resulted in acid mine drainage.
A lawsuit against the state, settled in 1997, requires that about 500 rivers, streams and lakes in West Virginia be brought up to fishable and swimmable conditions within the next 10 years. The Tygart and Cheat rivers are at the top of that list. The deadline to remove pollutants from those rivers is March 30, 2001.
    That leaves a short time to remove years of pollutants. That’s why the EPA and the state Department of Environmental Protection are turning to local residents and groups like the watershed organization for help. Tom Henry, who heads the cleanup program for the federal EPA, said local people know the most about land characteristics, river usage and water quality. “They are the stakeholders,” Henry said. “They know the area a lot better.”
    Anyone who lives or works in the watershed or is interested in its welfare is considered as a stakeholder by the EPA’s definition. Henry said the goal is to make the waters as clean as possible. For residents living in the seven-county region of the Tygart-Valley Watershed, which stretches from Pocahontas to Monongalia counties, that may sound like a good idea.
After all, they drink, bathe and cook in water that comes from the river daily.
    Barbour County resident Whitni Kines joined the Tygart Valley Watershed Group because the river is a daily part of her life. She also realizes that anything done to the river has an impact on everyone who lives downstream, not just Barbour County residents. Why do the members of the watershed group care? Because they drink the water.
    In Philippi, for example, all of the city’s water supply comes from the Tygart River. About 85 percent of Barbour County’s water supply also comes from the river. And, people fish and swim in it. But, as members of the watershed organization say, one county can’t do a cleanup without those upstream also participating. Otherwise, debris will continue to float downstream. “Whatever you do along the river will affect other people,” Kines said.  “Somebody lives downstream. Don’t do to us what you wouldn’t want someone to do to you.”
    The watershed now has members from Taylor, Barbour, Monongalia, Marion, Randolph and Pocahontas counties.
Karen Weaver, another Barbour County member, said the main plans are to make everyone aware of the importance of the river and to try and gain collaboration for cleanup efforts.
    Preserving the watershed and bringing recreational river development are other goals once the water is clean.
Perry McDaniel, a Charleston attorney who brought the water pollution case against the state, said the battle was over clean water. No monetary awards were awarded in the case. With the suit settled, the goal is to clean and develop West Virginia waterways with a plan, much like the 10-year plan developed by the EPA. “Past development has left us with an environmental problem,” McDaniel said. “We don’t want to lose recreation waters in the tourism state. We need to plan smart development.”
 

Fire destroys Shinnston apartments
 

From Staff Reports
    At least three Shinnston residents had to find a place to stay after an afternoon fire destroyed a two-story apartment building at 71 1/2 Maloy Court in downtown Shinnston Sunday.
No injuries were reported.
    Firefighters from eight units responded to the 3 p.m. fire that destroyed most of the apartment building owned by Wilma Vanorder. Vanorder said she had owned the building for about three years and estimated the worth of the building at $40,000 to $50,000.
“I was at the mall and they called me on the cell phone,” Vanorder said, as she watched firemen continue to hose down the building. Shinnston Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jimmy Spadafore said the cause of the fire is unknown. He believes, however, that it was accidental and the state fire marshal’s office won’t likely be called in to investigate.
The heat from the fire was so intense that it melted the plastic table mats on neighbor Clara Reesman’s kitchen table. The mats were just inside her sliding glass door, about 100 feet from the burning building. It also melted the siding on the back of the house Reesman lives in, also owned by Vanorder.
    Firefighters, however, kept the fire from spreading to several other buildings located within just a few feet of the fire.
Neighbors in the area said the same building burned in March 1987. Vanorder said she would help the three apartment residents find other apartments in which to live. The names of the three renters were not immediately available.
Responding to the fire were the Shinnston, Lumberport, Spelter, Worthington, Bridgeport, Nutter Fort, Stonewood and Monongah fire departments, as well as the Harrison County EMS  and Clay-Eagle EMS.
 

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