Bomb scare adds extra purpose to emergency plan
by Paul Leakan
It came to the Clarksburg Post Office in a manila
package, addressed to the FBI. As far as anyone knew Monday, it could have
been a bomb. Law enforcement officials weren't taking chances.
A potential disaster loomed.
"We needed a vehicle because the state fire marshal
didn't have their trailer with the containment unit for the bomb," said
Capt. Joe Gonzalez of the Clarksburg Fire Department.
The solution? Clarksburg Street Department officials
rounded up a dump truck filled with sand to absorb any potential detonation,
and the bomb unit took the package away, Gonzalez said.
And although the "bomb" was reportedly only a camera,
the experience served as yet another wake-up call in the city. The possibility
of having the wrong equipment or resources available to deal with a disaster
is too great to ignore, Gonzalez said.
"That was potentially catastrophic, had it been
a device. But we utilized a resource that was readily available," Gonzalez
The city's new emergency management plan, several
months in the works, has begun to make sure the city is prepared for disasters
or potential disasters.
The city's old disaster plan had become outdated, said Gonzalez, who
is the head of a special committee in charge of drafting the plan. Certain
resources may be outdated as well, he said.
The group has met three times and developed a list
of resources that would be needed in case of a major emergency.
The list includes all the equipment necessary to take on several different
types of disasters, such as dump trucks, end loaders, fire trucks, chain
saws, cranes and helicopters. In addition, the city will look into using
some of its old, unused resources in its plan.
The committee may choose to reconnect the city's
old warning sirens. The sirens, which are spread throughout different sections
of the city, have not been operational for more than 10 years.
The sirens are about 25 years old and may not work,
Gonzalez said. The city will consider whether it would be worth it to make
any necessary repairs or just junk them.
If they do work, however, they could be used to
alert residents to listen to their radio or television for instructions
from the emergency broadcast system. The system would notify the public
what to do in case of a city emergency or disaster.
The committee soon will focus its attention on securing
resources outside the city, Gonzalez said. "The road map is in place,"
Once completed, the plan will be bound in
book form and placed in all the participating agencies, such as hospitals
and the fire department.
Making the document available to everyone involved
will be vital, said Don Hamm, director of the American Red Cross in Harrison
County. "You've got to have everybody swimming in the same pool."
The committee plans on meeting sometime next week
to begin designing the plan. The document should be completed by mid-summer.
Patience and plenty of input from all city and county
officials will be the key in designing a good plan, Gonzalez said.
"To be hasty in developing a plan can cost you in the long run. You
need to take the amount of time that is necessary to develop a good plan."
Razing of Elkins building sparks heated debate
by Torie Knight
Randolph County commissioners have heard the pleas
from members of a local historic commission, but they plan to tear down
the former B. Wees General Store and NAPA building on Randolph Avenue in
Members of the Elkins Historic Landmarks Commission asked the county
commission to preserve the building. But commissioners said the structure
would be too costly to renovate, so it will be razed before April 23 to
build a parking lot for the magistrate court.
"They want us to preserve the building and we don't
have the money to do it," said Randolph County Commission President Andy
Commissioner Ira Coberly said at a recent meeting
of the commission that demolition will go as planned, despite the historical
group's pleas to use the structure as a local or county museum and rent
out office space on the second floor. Davis and Elkins College officials
agreed to put the Darby collection, a collection of arrowheads and pottery
artifacts given to the college in 1942, in the museum.
"It was a great opportunity to have a local museum,"
said Heather Biola, of the Elkins Historic Landmarks Commission.
The 1904 building is the oldest commercial building in Elkins, a city
that advertises itself as a turn-of-the-century town with many old buildings.
The building has a cast iron store front and an embossed tin ceiling that
was made in Wheeling.
"It's a fine old building with a lot of detail,"
said Judy Van Gundy, also of the landmarks commission. "But it is just
going to go down with the wrecking ball."
Commissioners gave the historical group permission
to salvage whatever they can from the building. "I think their decision
was real short-sighted" said Van Gundy. "It could have been utilized. The
county commissioners didn't really look at their options." Wamsley said
the commissioners weren't being short-sighted. He said the funds to renovate
just weren't there.
The Randolph County Commission paid $250,000 for
the building, hoping to use it as a magistrate court for the county. The
state historic contractor said it could be renovated. Contractors, however,
examined the building and said it wasn't worth renovating. "We would have
had more money to renovate it than to build a new one," Wamsley said.
Commissioners purchased another building across
the street from the courthouse for $800,000 to use as the magistrates'
court. The county made an initial payment of $100,000 for the building
and will continue to pay the same amount for the next seven years.
The county commission needs a new building for magistrate
court, commissioners said. The court operates out of the basement of the
courthouse and that area is needed for storage. "We are running out of
space for storage," Wamsley said. "We are bursting at the seams."
The county law master also will use the new building.
She now uses the commission's meeting room for a courtroom, which often
causes space conflicts.
PEIA solution remains an elusive goal
by Troy Graham
CHARLESTON - Every year there seems to be one issue that consumes lawmakers
until the last minute of the legislative session, becoming more and more
contentious as the deadline approaches.
This year, lawmakers are betting that the shortfall
in the Public Employees Insurance Agency fund will be that issue. Before
midnight on March 13, legislators must agree on a way to plug a $49 million
hole in the program that provides health insurance to public employees,
from teachers to jail guards.
"PEIA may be the one major issue," said Sen. Joe
Minard, D-Harrison. "Unless they come up with something, it's really going
to be a divisive issue at the end."
With only a week left in the session, it appears
that it will be impossible to work out all the issues surrounding the deficit.
Many lawmakers are now saying that any action taken by the Legislature
will merely serve to patch PEIA until a long-term solution can be considered
during interim meetings after the session.
PEIA Director Robert Ayers said the chances of having
to work out a long-term solution in interims is "most certain." Even if
the debt is covered this year, escalating health care costs and other problems
with PEIA will still need to be addressed, he said. "There's no one bill
that will fix it right now," Ayers said. Nonetheless, finding a way to
patch the $49 million hole promises to be controversial.
A coalition of lobbyists from a variety of public
employee unions have been urging lawmakers not to fill the deficit by taking
away benefits or raising premiums, co-payments or deductibles. "If they
don't come up with the money, they won't have a choice," Minard said.
The governor has pledged $10.7 million from the
budget to help reduce the deficit, leaving about $38 million to be found
elsewhere. The Senate killed a bill Wednesday night that would have increased
The West Virginia Education Association is hoping
that the Legislature will pass a bill that will reduce the need to increase
deductibles and co-payments. Several bills have been introduced that would
dedicate money from legalized poker machines and coin drop machines at
state racetracks to PEIA.
"There are possible revenue producers that could
alleviate the need for large co-pay and deductible increases," said WVEA
President Tom Lange.
While the impact to insurees could be kept at a minimum this year,
changes are inevitable, Ayers said. Particularly, premiums will eventually
have to be raised, he said. "You've got your head in the sand if you don't
think so," Ayers said.
Case in point: The cost of the program, which insures
220,000 West Virginians, is growing by 10 percent every year, he said.
In addition, the ratio of working employees to retirees is shrinking. PEIA
subsidizes retirees in the program to the tune of $60 million a year, Ayers
said. The ratio of workers to retirees could be 1 to 1 in ten years, driving
the subsidy over $200 million a year, he said.
The state also has the oldest population in the
nation, driving up utilization of the program, Ayers said. In addition,
PEIA has no way to control the cost of drugs. The program mandates what
in-state hospitals and doctors can charge, but it cannot do the same with
drugs because pharmaceutical companies are mostly based out-of-state.
PEIA is also what is referred to as a "Cadillac
plan" because of all the extra coverage it provides. The program covers
such items as massage, vision and sleep therapy. Those items can be trimmed
from the plan, but the savings would not be large enough to make it solvent,
Therefore, raising premiums may be the only sure
solution. Even Lange acknowledged this.
"There may need to be some additional contribution from the enrollees,"
he said. "I emphasize the word 'may.'"
But Lange and others fought against raising premiums
now before all the sides have a chance to negotiate.
"We have said consistently throughout the session that we would like
to have all the stakeholders at the table," Lange said.
Ayers agreed that meeting after the session may be the only way to
solve the problem.
"Do I have an idea how to do it? No. There will
be some give and take meetings," he said.