News for July 1, 1999

CNG, Dominion stockholders OK merger

by Troy Graham
Consolidated Natural Gas and Dominion Resources stockholders have overwhelmingly approved combining the two companies, clearing another hurdle toward completing the merger.
The merger must still be approved by several federal and state regulatory agencies, including the West Virginia Public Service Commission, which has scheduled a meeting on the matter in July.
The combination of the Pittsburgh-based CNG, which has two subsidiaries in Clarksburg, and the Virginia-based Dominion Resources would create the nation's largest fully integrated natural gas and power company. Dominion's main subsidiary is Virginia Power.
At special stockholder meetings in Richmond, Va., and Tarrytown, N.Y., 98 percent of the votes cast by CNG stockholders favored the merger, while 99 percent of the votes cast by Dominion stockholders approved of the move, the companies reported Wednesday.
"We are gratified by the strong support shown for the combination of these two great companies," said CNG Chairman George A. Davidson in a statement. "It is clear that our shareholders, as well as our customers, employees, retirees and communities, will all benefit from this merger."
The merged company will use the Dominion name, but will maintain its presence in Pittsburgh and Clarksburg, CNG officials have said.
The "votes today are important steps in uniting two of the country's most efficient energy providers with the critical mass needed to compete and thrive in the nation's dynamic marketplace," said Dominion Chairman Thomas E. Capps.
Under the terms of the agreement, CNG stockholders will receive a combination of Dominion stock and cash valued at $66.60 per share of CNG stock.
The combined company will have 4 million customers, company officials said.
CNG will begin selling electricity in its deregulated markets once the merger is complete, and the two companies have already agreed to build four natural gas-fired electric generating plants, including one in Pleasants County.
"We are already showing why this merger makes good business sense," Davidson said.

Playing with fire

Battle to collect $201,172.86 from businesses and residents rages on

by Paul Leakan
The legality of Clarksburg's fire service fee may have been left intact by the U.S. Supreme Court of Appeals, but the battle to retrieve hundreds of thousands of dollars of unpaid fire fees continues.
A list of delinquent fire service fees owed to the City of Clarksburg, obtained by the Clarksburg Exponent and Telegram Wednesday through a Freedom of Information Act request, shows that hundreds of businesses and residents owe more than $100.
The grand total: $201,172.86.
The good news for the city is that the Supreme Court's decision not to hear legal challenges to the fire fee may have ended a 15-year legal battle with City Councilwoman Kathryn Folio, who along with other Folio family members, owns businesses that owe about $50,000 in back fire service fees.
Members of the Folio family had refused to pay the fee, arguing that it was unconstitutional.
The court's decision will give the city a "stronger argument" to use when collecting the fees, said City Manager Percy Ashcraft.
"Whatever legal maneuvers that we have to take, we're prepared to do so because we now have solid ground that this fee has withstood every court test and that there's no shadow of a doubt that it is a fair assessment in the city," he said on Tuesday.
Frank Ferrari, Clarksburg's finance director, agreed.
"It has to help us," Ferrari said, "because now they can't use that as an excuse not to pay."
Even so, several people who owe thousands of dollars in back fire fees still disagree with the fee or simply don't have the money to pay it.
Larry Iaquinta said he has nothing against paying the fees. His business, Iaquinta & Sons Plumbing, owes more than $2,000 in back fire fees.
Paying the fees is just not economically possible right now, he said.
"It's a debt that's owed. It will be paid. It's a vacant building, and it's not being rented. I would like it to be rented. Sometimes you have to slack back on certain things and you do what you can do."
Louis Oliveto, who owes $1,484 in back fire fees, believes the fee is unfair.
"A tax on the gross or any other tax or fee based on anything but net income amounts to rape of its citizens, especially a small businessman," Oliveto said.
Home owners pay $60 a year for fire service, while commercial property owners pay 45 cents per square foot of property.
Kathryn Folio said she will pay the fees in the case rejected by the Supreme Court, but she still disagrees with the fee so much that she plans to fight part of the total amount she owes.
"There isn't anyone who doesn't want to support the fire department or the police department," she said. "But at what point do you say, 'What do I have to pay all theses taxes for -- plus a levy?'"
Several city officials, however, do believe the fee is both necessary and fair. So fair and necessary that the city has spent $110,000 of "taxpayer money" fighting court battles over it in the 1990s, Ashcraft said.
The fee, enacted in 1984, generates more than $750,000 annually, or 39 percent of the fire department's budget.
Some of those who can't afford to pay it have filed for personal bankruptcy and their debts no longer have to be paid.
Many are taken to court where the city could win a judgment that would allow it to collect the fees by garnishing businesses' or residents' wages.
Ferrari believes the city has done just about as much as it can to get the fees, sending out letters to all businesses and residents that have not paid them and working out an agreement with those who are financially unable to pay it in monthly installments.
"Basically, our only option is to go to court to try and collect the money -- other than to send them letters and call them," he said. "Some people refuse to pay, and some people just can't afford to pay."

I-79 crash victim listed as critical

by James Fisher
A Monongah woman remains in critical condition at Ruby Memorial Hospital after a car crash Tuesday afternoon on Interstate 79 near the FBI Road entrance.
Bonnie Jo Lambert, 41, was driving south about 2 p.m. Tuesday in the right-hand lane when she crossed in front of a six-wheeled truck in the passing lane, said Bridgeport Police Officer J.E. Harbert.
Lambert was apparently attempting to use a gravel cross-over access road to get to the northbound lanes, Harbert said.
When Lambert crossed the left-hand lane, her vehicle was struck broadside by a truck driven by Terry Corbin, a contractor for C.W. Stickley Inc. of White Hall. Corbin said Lambert's vehicle crossed right in front of him and he didn't have time to avoid striking her.
Lambert had not regained consciousness by late Wednesday afternoon, Harbert said, and she has not been interviewed by police. But Harbert has determined she was at fault for the accident.
"Even if she remembers anything, she won't be cited," Harbert said. "We did the investigation for insurance purposes to determine fault. We're all just hoping and praying she pulls through."
Despite a rain downpour late Tuesday that hampered the police investigation, Harbert said officers were able to finish the majority of the accident reconstruction.
Corbin's truck sustained moderate damage to the grill and front bumper.
Lambert's compact car was declared a total loss.

Lewis County's economic future bright

by Troy Graham
Todd Stahl was looking for the right location for his company's new plant when someone mentioned to him that West Virginia has a good website that advertises available property.
Stahl then called someone from the state Development Office who encouraged him to come down while he was inspecting property in Pennsylvania.
"I thought, 'Okay, I have a couple of hours to kill,'" Stahl said.
That first visit evolved into Wednesday's announcement that Stahl's company, Viking Pools, will locate a plant in Jane Lew that will employ 50 people.
The California-based company, which was started by Stahl's father, will locate its newest plant in the Lewis County Industrial Park, just off Interstate 79.
At a ceremony there Wednesday, local and state politicians, including Gov. Cecil Underwood, talked of a bright economic future in Lewis County. Stahl even referred to the county as the "gateway to the Northeast."
"I am more enthused and optimistic about Lewis County than I have been in many years," said Charles Stalnaker, the president of the Lewis County Economic Development Authority.
From Stahl's perspective, the location of the industrial park was key. His company operates in California, Florida and Texas. Its new location allows the company to tap into northeastern markets, he said.
In addition, the workforce is available here, Stahl said.
On a personal level, Stahl, who will move to Lewis County, said the area reminded him of his northern California home.
"It's pretty and I don't like big cities," Stahl said.
The new plant will manufacture fiberglass pools in a 4-stage process. An innovator in making fiberglass pools when it was founded in 1975, Viking is now the nation's largest pool manufacturer.
"Fast installation, easy maintenance, it'll last forever," Stahl said of the pools. "I can't build enough pools now.
The Lewis County plant should be ready for manufacturing by early 2000, Stahl said. There will be 30 manufacturing jobs there, as well as 10 office positions and 10 drivers, he said. The manufacturing jobs will pay $7-10 an hour, he said.
Viking will invest $2.5 million in the 40,000-square foot plant.

Girls Inc. provides realistic business experience

by Shawn Gainer
Jennifer Cava sat in front of her computer Wednesday morning, pondering changes in advertising graphic designs for her computer consulting firm.
"I'm in the marketing division," Cava said. "I'm in charge of advertising for our company. I make signs and fliers and figure out their cost and I'm also doing payroll."
Cava is a freshman at Notre Dame High School. While her company, Tangled Cords Inc., is fictitious, this realistic exercise was designed to open the world of entrepreneurship to her and her young "co-workers."
Her endeavors were part of the one-week Girls Inc. program at Fairmont State College. The 2-year-old program is designed to make girls in grades 7-10 aware of business practices and opportunities. Participants work in teams to develop business plans and receive training in business skills such as communication, ethics and networking, said Sabrina Chadwell, founder and director of Girl's Inc. and operator of the training education firm On The Edge.
Participants appeared to have learned quickly. Many could use business jargon like they had spent years in a corporate boardroom.
Becky Nestor, a sophomore at Fairmont Senior High School, was working on an executive summary and financial plan for Tangled Cords.
"We would do troubleshooting for computer users," Nestor explained. "We want to make it available to the general public with a special concern for larger businesses."
Chadwell said she developed the program because she was 40 years old before she realized she could have a business of her own, and she wants to clear the path for others.
"Women in West Virginia have wonderful opportunities in business but they need to know it. They don't get it in schools," she said. "I think it's a little harder for girls because, starting in sixth grade, they start becoming divided into girls' fields and boys' fields.
"You don't see a lot of women in the computer programming and computer software industry," she added.
The program is co-sponsored by the West Virginia Small Business Development Center. Participants pay a $60 fee for the program but question-free scholarships are available to defray the cost, Chadwell said.
"We also want to get them started at an early age so they can plan ahead to take the classes they will need in high school. That's very important with block scheduling," she added.
 The program has seeded entrepreneurial ambitions in at least some of the participants. Rachel Tucker, a sophomore at Fairmont Senior High School, said she was participating for a second year and hopes to someday operate her own art business.
 "I learned a lot last year, but this year I'm paying closer attention and learning more," Tucker said as she typed a financial plan for a coffee house. "I like playing around with numbers."

Fireworks legal, but still dangerous

by Jessica Laton
In the wake of a fire allegedly started Tuesday by an 11-year-old boy playing with fireworks in his bedroom, local fire officials say they want to remind parents and children that fireworks aren't just fun -- they are dangerous.
The fire, which allegedly started when a firework the boy was playing with caught his bed on fire, caused $30,000 in damage to a Nutter Fort house. The family dog died in the fire.
"We want to prevent this from happening to another kid since it is so close to the Fourth," said Nutter Fort Fire Chief Tom Rohrbough. "We want to express safety."
Children between the ages of 10 and 14 run the greatest risk of being injured while misusing fireworks -- illegal and legal, according to the state Fire Marshal's Office.
"The No. 1 thing is parental supervision," said Capt. Rick Lafferty of the Clarksburg Fire Department. "It's common sense. If people just use their heads and not just hand them to the kids --you might as well hand them a gun."
Approximately 7,000 fireworks-related injuries occur every year in the United States and 2,000 of those are eye injuries, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Other injuries include severe burns, amputations, permanent hearing loss and death.
Fireworks also cause millions of dollars in property damage every year, according to the Fire Marshal's Office.
"Very honestly, we don't condone the use of any of these items. None of these items are safe for use," said Carol Nolte, public education officer for the Fire Marshal's Office. "We recommend people go see professional displays that are put on by trained pyrotecs."
Most fireworks are illegal in West Virginia.
Any fireworks that explode or propel through the air are prohibited by law. These include cherry bombs, aerial bombs, M-80s and firecrackers.
Violation of the fireworks law is a citable offense and can lead to federal prison.
According to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, if one M-80 explodes in someone's hand, it can take off fingers or put out eyes.
West Virginia allows fireworks known as sparklers and novelties. These include smoke devices, "snakes," "poppers," wire sparklers and other sparkling devices that emit showers of sparks.
These devices, however, cannot be sold to anyone under the age of 16.
"These novelties should only be put off with the supervision of an adult," said Randy Akers, assistant state fire marshal.
Although sparklers and novelties are legal, Nolte said they can still be extremely dangerous.
"Sparklers can burn as hot as 1,200 degrees or more, almost enough to melt gold and hotter than a cigarette lighter," she said. "We don't hand those to our children."

Search is on for new director of Harrison County's Development Authority

The Harrison County Development Authority has begun searching for a candidate with at least seven years of experience to replace Executive Director Ray Farley, who is leaving at the end of the week for a position in the Midwest.
Don Molter, the authority's president, will handle the day-to-day duties until a successor can be found.
The vacancy has been advertised on the American Economic Development Council's website, and an ad will soon appear in papers in Morgantown, Fairmont and Clarksburg, as well as Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., Molter said.
"The search is on," he said. "We're open-minded and we want the best person for the job. But, obviously, there are some absolutes."
Candidates must has seven years' experience "with a proven record of success," according to the advertisement.
The ad says, "Harrison County has one of West Virginia's most vibrant economies, driven by growth in the information technology and aerospace sectors."
It will take at least two to three months to find a successor, Molter said.
Jeff Mikorski and Randy Spellman, who handle economic development for Clarksburg and Bridgeport respectively, have agreed to assist Molter if he is unavailable to handle the authority's duties, Molter said.
Farley is not leaving any major projects unfinished, Molter said.
The announcement this month that a telemarketing firm will locate in downtown Clarksburg capped the last major initiative on which Farley was working, Molter said.
Salary is not discussed in the advertisement, but it promises a "competitive compensation package."
Salary will be negotiable, based on a candidate's qualifications, Molter said.
Molter refused to say how much Farley makes.
The authority is a non-profit corporation, and the executive director reports to a 21-member board.

Local and regional news briefs

Clarksburg City Hall steps will be made safer

The Clarksburg Municipal Building Commission approved three measures Wednesday that may improve the safety at a stairwell in the Municipal Building where several people have fallen down.
Three stairs connecting the landing and the building's lobby on the city manager's side of the building may not have been noticed by several people who have fallen there.
One woman who fell near the steps more than two weeks ago still remains in stable condition at United Hospital Center.
To improve safety, the commission approved the installation of a new railing in the middle of the steps, a lighter color linoleum on the steps and warning signs near the steps.
Both flights of stairs on the city manager's and police department's side of the building will receive the new safety measures as soon as the supplies are available, said City Manager Percy Ashcraft.
The total cost of the improvements is estimated at $300.

Three Clarksburg Council members set to be sworn in

Three new Clarksburg City Council members will be sworn in and a new mayor and vice mayor will be elected during council's regular 7:30 p.m. session today in the Municipal Building.
David Kates, Becky Lake and Margaret Bailey will be sworn in to four-year terms on council.
Council members will elect both the mayor and vice mayor.

Ridgeway Drive work will slow traffic in Bridgeport

Reconstruction of a portion of Ridgeway Drive in Bridgeport will begin on July 6. Construction limits will extend from Johnson Avenue approximately 1,050 feet toward Wayside Drive. Access to homes within the construction area will be maintained, although some delays are possible. Residents on upper Ridgeway are urged to use alternate access via Valley Drive.
In addition to the reconstruction work in the road, storm drains and drop inlets will be rebuilt. The storm drains will be on the left side of Ridgeway going from Johnson Avenue to Wayside Drive.
Persons with questions can contact the Bridgeport Department of Public Works at 842-8231.
Two days after boating accident, body is found
HUNTINGTON (AP) -- The body of a man was found Wednesday on the Ohio River, two days after he was thrown into the water when his motorboat collided with a tow boat.
Sonar equipment and helicopters were called in to help search for Kevin Sweptson, 46, of Huntington.
The accident occurred Monday night when Sweptson and two other men were cruising the river between Proctorville, Ohio, and the Guyandotte section of Huntington, a state DNR spokesman said. The two passengers, Joe Dehart, of Huntington, and John Holderby, of Proctorville, were rescued by the tow boat's crew. Both men were treated and released from St. Mary's Hospital in Huntington.
No one on the tow boat was injured.
An investigation by the Coast Guard and the DNR concluded that Sweptson's boat was traveling at a high rate of speed when it cut into the path of the larger boat.

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