Legislature acts on funds for Benedum Airport road
by Troy Graham
    Money for a four-lane road that will connect Benedum Airport to Interstate 79 and a tax break for aerospace industries, both of which officials say could boost economic development at the airport and an adjacent aerospace industrial park, moved forward in the Legislature this week.
    A resolution unveiled this week authorizing the governor to sell road bonds includes $7 million to begin building a Bridgeport bypass that will connect U.S. Route 50 near the airport to the interstate at the FBI exit.
In addition, a tax break for expanding aerospace companies, sponsored by Delegate Barbara Warner, passed out of the House Finance Committee Tuesday. The bill is supported by House leadership and Senate Finance Chairman Oshel Craigo, said Warner, D-Harrison. "It'll go through the Senate because Oshel supports it," she said.
    The House Finance Committee also increased the amount of the tax breaks offered to aerospace companies. In the original bill, Warner proposed a 10 percent break on property investments and a 50 percent break on corporate net and business franchise taxes.
    In the version of the bill that passed the committee, an expanding aerospace company will receive a 15 percent tax break on property investments and a 60 percent tax break on corporate net and business franchise taxes, Warner said.
The bill will get a first reading in the House today, she said.
    The tax breaks could have an effect on the region after a runway extension project at Benedum is completed this fall. The extension will create 140 acres of developable flat land.
    Warner also said there should be "no problem" passing the road bond resolution through the House and Senate.
The $7 million will enable the state to build a four-lane from U.S. Route 50 to Saltwell Road, and begin extending the road to the interstate. More money will be needed to build the four-lane to the interstate, Warner said.
    Jim Skidmore, the executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Aerospace Complex, said the road will make it easier to market the land opened up by the runway extension.
    "That makes all the property more accessible and more visible," he said. "You can see what's happened on that little bit of land we have, so you can imagine what the future holds."

Manchin readies for gubernatorial run
by Troy Graham

    One of the founders of a self-described grassroots committee encouraging former state Sen. Joe Manchin to run for governor said he is '98 percent sure" that Manchin will once again seek the state's highest office.
"In my opinion, if I had to say whether he's going to run, I would say it's 98 percent sure," said Mike Jones, Manchin's life-long friend.
    Manchin himself said he is "extremely interested" in running for governor, but won't make a formal decision until early this summer. "I've always wanted to serve," he said.
     Manchin joins the race, he could find himself facing U.S. Rep. Bob Wise and old nemesis Charlotte Pritt. Manchin, a 10-year veteran of the state Senate, and Pritt, the 1996 Democratic gubernatorial candidate, battled for the Democratic nomination in the 1996 primary election. Pritt triumphed after a bitter and expensive campaign.
    Pritt is reportedly considering another run for the governor's office, while Wise has formally filed an exploratory committee to investigate his candidacy.
    Although the Democratic primary is still 15 months away, the Committee to Recruit Joe Manchin is already drumming up support. Jones and Fairmont businessman Joe Carunchia formed the committee late last year.
    The group is registered with the Secretary of State's office, but not as an exploratory committee for Manchin, Jones said. The group has only raised "a few hundred dollars," mainly through $50 and $100 checks, he said.
    If Manchin announces his candidacy, the group will merge itself and its money with any committee set up to run the campaign, Jones said.
    The Committee to Recruit Joe Manchin has been taking out ads in state newspapers asking people to declare their support for Manchin by cutting out the ad and mailing it to the committee. The ad says there are more than 100,000 Manchin supporters.
    The group also held an organizing meeting at Flatwoods this past weekend. More than 100 people attended, including former Manchin opponents Steve Rhodes, a retired United Mine Workers of America organizer, and Jim Kingsbury, a Corridor H advocate and activist, Jones said.
    "Last time the campaign was professionally run out of Washington. We're West Virginians. We know what people want," Jones said. "They don't want to see it on television or hear it on the radio. They actually want to meet the candidate."
    That's why the grassroots committee was formed, he said. The group is distributing surveys around the state, asking questions such as "What do you believe should be the theme of a governor's campaign in 2000?" and "What important events/meetings should Joe Manchin attend in your area?"
    Manchin said he did a poor job of communicating his message in the last gubernatorial race. "I believe it was my fault in failing to communicate," he said. "It somehow did not resonate."
    The former Marion County Senator said he believes Wise may stay in Congress with Democrats poised to take back the majority. Wise could be a powerful force for the state because of his friendship with Rep. Dick Gephardt, who would be in line to be Speaker of the House, Manchin said.
    Manchin also said it would be important to maintain a unified party. Gov. Underwood, a Republican, defeated Pritt in 1996 by splitting the party and starting a successful "Democrats for Underwood" campaign.
    Underwood spokesman Rod Blackstone said the governor will stand on his record, despite the competition. "In order to suggest that Gov. Underwood doesn't deserve re-election you have to suggest things aren't going well in West Virginia," he said. ŅI think that would be tough for any Democrat to state."

Medical waste facility report delayed
by Torie Knight

    A state agency has delayed the release of a report designed to answer Barbour County residents' questions about a proposed medical waste facility until more information can be obtained from a Louisiana lab.
    "We have been going out of our way to find labs that do the most up-to-date work in the area of medical waste," said state Department of Health and Human Resources spokesman Mark Ferrell.
    The report should answer questions about a medical waste facility proposed by Virginia developer Doyle Payne. Payne proposed building the first commercially operated Rotoclave-type infectious medical waste facility in the nation at the Philippi Industrial Park.
    Some residents in Barbour County have opposed building the plant. Members of the Concerned Citizens of Barbour County want the county to approve a referendum and allow citizens to vote yea or nay to building the facility.
    Joan Ohl, secretary of the  state Department of Health and Human Resources, will also use the report to make a decision about whether to grant Payne a construction permit for the facility.
    The report was expected to be issued this week but has been delayed. Ferrell said the agency must examine a variety of regulations and talk to a Louisiana lab about the process. Ferrell would not go into detail about what information the division is seeking from the lab.
    In the meantime, the citizens group appeared before the Barbour County Commission Monday to ask for a referendum. The commission has turned the matter over to the prosecuting attorney for an opinion.
    Citizens say they didn't see a newspaper advertisement for a 60-day comment period on Payne's pre-siting notice in the legal ad section of the county's weekly newspaper.
    "We did everything we could to try and talk the commissioners into calling for a referendum," said Peggy Chesser-Sjoberg, treasurer of the citizen group.
    She said the issue will most likely end in court. The citizens group has consulted Clarksburg environmental attorney Thomas Michael.
    Michael sent a letter to the state saying he believes the handling of Payne's application fails to comply with the minimum procedural requirements contained in the Commercial Infectious Medical Waste Facility Siting Approval Act.
    Representatives from the citizens group will speak to Harrison-ECO at 7:30 p.m. today at the Waldomore in Clarksburg. The meeting is open to the public.


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