Bomb scare adds extra purpose to emergency plan
by Paul Leakan
STAFF WRITER

    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 said.
    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The city's old disaster plan had become outdated, said Gonzalez, who is the head of a special committee in charge of drafting the plan. Certain resources may be outdated as well, he said.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," he said.
    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
STAFF WRITER

    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 Elkins anyway.
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 Wamsley.
    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
STAFF WRITER

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 premiums.
    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, Ayers said.
    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.
 



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