News for October 29, 1999

Water Board schedules major repair

by Shawn Gainer
Staff Writer
The Clarksburg Water Board has scheduled a major repair project on Monday, Nov. 1 at the intersection of Hoover Avenue and Ninth Street.
Ninth Street will be closed completely and approximately half of Chestnut Street will be reduced to one lane for at least two days. Water Board employees will excavate a 30-foot-long hole and personnel from Water Works in Huntington will replace three 16-inch valves, said Patsy Trecost, general manager of the water board.
"Those valves have been frozen for the last 15 years," Trecost said. "The replacement valves will control water flow to all of downtown and the Chestnut Street area. We've been waiting for the valves to come in and we got them last week."
The work is not expected to affect the availability of water in the area.
Water Works was the only bidder on the replacement project and will install the valves at a cost of $45,000, he said.
On Thursday, Nov. 4, Health Consultants, a contractor that conducts comprehensive water leakage surveys, will try to locate a water leak on a section of West Pike Street between Wendy's and Rokisky's Exxon.
 If the leak is detected, water board personnel will make necessary repairs on Monday Nov. 8, Trecost said.
"We won't know if water in the area will have to be turned off until we know how bad the leak is," he said. "Whether we'll have to close the street depends on where we'll have to dig. We will give notice if the street will be closed and if anyone's water service will be affected."

No more public service districts join formal protest

by Shawn Gainer
Staff Writer
No other public service districts joined the formal protest of the Clarksburg Water Board's proposed rate increase as the deadline for filing expired Thursday.
"Hepzibah wanted to join but they got to us too late because we filed yesterday," Bridgeport Mayor Joe Timms said Thursday.
Five towns and public service districts did join Bridgeport in filing a protest of the proposed 15.9 percent increase with the state Public Service Commission: The Town of Anmoore, the City of Stonewood, The Greater Harrison PSD, the Short Line PSD, and the Sun Valley PSD.
Hepzibah PSD Manager Howard Mall was unavailable for comment Thursday.
Among Harrison County cities, towns and public service districts which did not choose to join the protest were the City of Clarksburg and the Town of Nutter Fort.
Barry Calef, a Nutter Fort Council member, said Thursday that town officials discussed the possibility of joining the protest before declining.
"I will only speak for myself but I'm sure council would have been more likely to have joined the protest if Bridgeport had shared their specific reasons for filing," Calef said. "We took the time to meet with the Clarksburg Water Board and they overloaded us with financial information. I'm not sure others took the time to meet with them.
"We're not for a water increase but it's needed because past (Clarksburg) board members did not pass annual inflationary increases," he added. "We also realize from experience that the PSC could actually raise the amount of the increase. It's happened to us."
Timms elaborated on the reasons Bridgeport officials chose to file the protest, citing questions about Clarksburg Water Board policies concerning benefits, the need for replacing the Chestnut Street water tank and the lack of incremental rate increases to address rising costs over the past several years.
"We wonder if they really need the water tank when they want us to help pay for it before they have a construction permit for it. We question how much of their $400,000 debt is due to unusual management practices" Timms said. "Also, it's pretty obvious past boards played politics with rate increases."
Patsy Trecost, general manager of the Clarksburg Water Board, said the Chestnut Street water tank is 90 years old and engineers from Gannet-Fleming's Morgantown office advised him to lower the water level from normal capacity of 50 feet to 14 feet in 1995.
The Clarksburg Water Board has obtained a $2.1 million loan financed at 3 percent interest over 20 years from the state Surface Water Treatment Revolving Loan Fund to cover the cost of constructing a new tank.
"Without a replacement, they would have told us to empty the tank this year," Trecost said. "I have 13 applications for grants I tried to get for it. It just didn't work out. We've done everything we're supposed to do for the tank. We have to finish the preliminary evaluation process before we apply for permits."

PEIA to consider raising premiums for its subscribers

by Shawn Gainer
Staff Writer
Members of the Public Insurance Agency Board of Directors will likely consider raising premiums for subscribers, PEIA Director Robert Ayers said Thursday.
"Differences in our premium structures will be the majority of changes," Ayers said. "We made some pretty hefty changes last year and we've had some bad press but we have to keep the system from going bankrupt."
Faced with a burgeoning deficit that will take an estimated $4 billion to eliminate through the state's current payment plan, PEIA officials have taken actions that have upset many subscribers, such as a July 1 increase in co-payments for prescription drug coverage. Ayers said changes are necessary to keep the agency financially solvent.
"My mother is a retiree. The last thing I want to do is hurt her by raising her premiums. At the same time I can't let her health plan go bankrupt," he said.
According to a survey of how PEIA compares to other state employee plans, which was conducted by consultants from the Segal Company for the Legislative Joint Committee studying the PEIA, subscriber premiums are less than what most state employees across the nation pay.
PEIA participants who make from $18,000 to $30,000 a year pay only 4 percent of the total premium for employee-only coverage, with the state picking up the remaining 96 percent. Participants with family coverage pay 10 percent of total premium costs. According to the survey, the national average for family coverage employee premiums is 26 percent. Also, the consultants reported the average private company's health plan premium cost is $70 a month less than PEIA. The consultants attributed the higher cost of PEIA to claim frequency, retiree subsidization and benefit structure.
Tom Brown, assistant principal at Bridgeport Middle School, has been a vocal opponent of higher co-pays for PEIA prescription coverage, which he said has caused financial hardship for retired teachers and other retired state employees.
 However, Brown said Thursday that his primary concern for PEIA is its financial solvency and he, personally, might be willing to accept higher premium payments.
"Premium increases have been recommended before and they did other things instead," Brown said. "I don't mind seeing a premium increase if it keeps the plan intact and the other benefits remain the same. I want to make sure I can depend on it like I have in the past."
Brown added that he believes concern over the PEIA deficit is one of the factors that makes it difficult for West Virginia to compete with other states for well-qualified teacher candidates.
Ayers and Brown both said they are hopeful that relief for PEIA might be provided by Secretary of Administration Joseph Markus's proposal to pay off the deficit through a $4 billion underwritten bond issue.
The proposal is part of Gov. Cecil Underwood's agenda for the spring session of the state Legislature, according to Governor's Spokesman Tom Hunter.
"I would welcome any influx of money that doesn't come at the expense of employees or taxpayers," Ayers said. "Down the road, the bond issue could be a win-win situation, but it still has to be approved by the Legislature and the market conditions have to be right.
"Until then, we have to keep the books balanced."

Expert: 3 fires set in Weston home

by Vicki Smith
The Associated Press
CHARLESTON -- At least three fires were set in the Weston house where five children died two years ago, two of them with gasoline poured near the front and back doors, an arson expert testified Thursday.
A third staged fire began in a child's bedroom, but damage it caused was relatively minor, said Richard Casto, president of Casto Investigations Inc.
Casto was on the stand more than four hours at the federal death penalty trial of Ricky Lee Brown, stepfather to three of the dead children. His testimony, which will continue Friday, focused on 158 photos he took of the house after the Nov. 21, 1997 fire.
Brown could be sentenced to death if convicted on all 15 federal charges of torching his house and killing the children to cash in on $61,449 in insurance policies. His wife, Barbara Brown, and their housemate, Janette Ables, will be tried separately.
Brown's three stepchildren, Kimberly, Seronica and Brandon Castner, died of smoke inhalation during the fire along with Ables' children, Jimmy and Rayshell.
Brown contends the blaze was an accident caused by 3-year-old Jimmy Ables, who allegedly set a mattress on fire while playing with matches or a lighter.
Although flames damaged the bedroom where Ricky Brown said the mattress was burning, that fire was basically contained to that room, Casto said. The fast-burning, gasoline-fueled fires at either end of the house were the ones that caused the most damage, he said.
Casto told Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert McWilliams he knew Brown's story about the mattress and tried to give him the benefit of the doubt while working on the fire scene for two days in December.
"I tried with every fiber of my being to get that fire off that bed, to cause that kind of damage," he said. "The overwhelming physical evidence that hit me straight in the face was this was a minor fire. There were two other major events in this house.
"I was upset that this is the way this fire came out," Casto testified. "I didn't want to be the one to say this was an arson. But with all of my training -- and my pride -- I could not say this fire came off that bed.
"The fire on the bed was not of a magnitude which could explain the patterns and damage I found."
Casto investigated the fire for West Virginia Insurance Co., which had written Brown's homeowner policy. He met Brown coincidentally just hours before going to the scene and interviewed him.
In an audiotape played for the jury, Brown told Casto he was alerted to the mattress fire by his stepson. He told Casto he tried to put it out with a pot, pan and pitcher of water, as well as a fire extinguisher that failed.
As he went through his photos, Casto pointed out the white plastic pitcher, which lay unmelted in a charred pile of rubble, and the pot stacked neatly atop the pan on the bedroom floor. The extinguisher sat on a countertop in the kitchen.
Casto also showed a photograph of a burnt plastic gas can he found in the backyard. The container tested positive for gasoline, as did two charred areas of the floor where Casto identified "pour patterns," or spots where an accelerant had been poured.
One pour pattern was near the door to the rear storage area; the other was near the front door. Both left black marks with ragged edges indicating where the liquid ran as it burned, he said.
"This is a textbook pour pattern from beginning to end," he said, showing jurors where a wall once stood between the storage area and the Castner girls' bedroom. "This is a pour I've seen hundreds of times in other fires."
On Wednesday, several construction workers testified they crawled partway into the rear storage area in a failed attempt to rescue the children. Casto was skeptical of the story because he said the fire should have been burning fiercely at that point.
When an eyewitness account doesn't match physical evidence, Casto said he relies on the physical proof. "To a large extent, evidence speaks for itself," he said.
"It's been my experience ... that witnesses, through confusion and a high state of excitability, are the worst pieces of evidence you can have," he said.
After a robbery, six witnesses may give six different descriptions of the suspect, he said. They are not necessarily lying; they just have different perceptions.
If the construction workers were in the storage room and did not see flames, as they testified, they were either mistaken about their location, lying for bravado or the luckiest men alive, he said.

Governor's stand on mine ruling blasted

by Pam Ramsey
The Associated Press
KAYFORD -- Secretary of State Ken Hechler and environmentalists say the Underwood administration and the coal industry are deliberately exaggerating the impact of a court ruling banning valley fills in most streams.
U.S. District Judge Charles Haden II ruled Oct. 20 that the mining practice of disposing of excess rock and dirt into streams violated federal law.
Haden said Wednesday his ruling applied only to prospective mining permits. But Gov. Cecil Underwood, the state Division of Environmental Protection and the industry say the ruling also applies to permits in effect.
The DEP has told mine operators valley fills may not be expanded if they advance further in a stream.
Hechler, who is running for the Democratic nomination to the 2nd Congressional District, and representatives of the Highlands Conservancy, West Virginia Citizens Action Group, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Stanley Heirs Foundation and Coal River Mountain Watch rallied Thursday on Kayford Mountain on the Kanawha-Boone county line to protest the administration's actions.
They accused the administration and the industry of trying to create a public backlash against the ruling, hoping that Congress will overturn it by changing the law.
"Environmentalists are often accused of overstatement and misinformation by corporate spin meisters and their rented politicians," said Frank Young, president of the Highlands Conservancy. "But exaggeration designed to create an artificial public frenzy has taken on record levels of official endorsement this past week in West Virginia."
The conservancy is a plaintiff in the lawsuit that resulted in Haden's ruling.
"I just don't understand how the governor and all his lawyers and the coal industry and all their lawyers can't read," said Bob Gates, also of the Highlands Conservancy.
Dan Page, Underwood's spokesman, said the governor has not misled anyone and the administration has not misinterpreted Haden's ruling.
"I wish someone of our many lawyers could give us a different read but it's as plain as the nose on your face," he said. "We're very, very concerned about the effect of this ruling."
Young and Hechler said the valley fill permit did not force West Virginia Indiana Coal Holding Co. to shut its Princess Beverly mine in Cabin Creek.
The company, citing Haden's ruling, closed the mine Monday. It also shut down its Marrowbone Development Triad mine in Naugutuck, which has applied for a permit to expand. The shutdowns idled 148 workers.
"The governor and coal operators working in concert with him are using the laid-off workers at Princess Beverly and other West Virginia mines this week as pawns in a political chess game," Young said.
Page said the ruling affects all valley fill permits whether they are in effect or are prospective permits. The ruling could potentially damage the state's economy, he said.
"If you can't move soil and rock around a coal mining operation, you can't mine coal," he said. "You've got to put it somewhere."

Shinnston officials to propose sites for $5M bridge

by Gail Marsh
Staff Writer
After talking with local business owners and other residents, the Shinnston City Council plans to make a recommendation to the state Division of Highways about the best place to build the proposed new bridge across the West Fork River.
Council will discuss the three alternatives during its regular session at 7 p.m. Monday at city hall. Mayor Sam DeMarco said the council favors the third alternative that the state DOH proposed during an informational public meeting at the end of September.
That alternative calls for the bridge to be built 200 feet downstream from the existing 70-year-old span. In order to build the bridge, three businesses and a few houses would have to be torn down.
"The new bridge would take out City Auto Sales and Shinnston Construction on the town side, and the BP station on the other side, along with possibly a few residences. But we feel this is the best alternative of the three," DeMarco said.
The first two alternatives discussed at the informational meeting, which involved tearing down St. Ann's Catholic Church on Pike Street, were met with resistance from the residents who were attending. Some said they would like to see a site north of the bridge on undeveloped land considered, or a spot south of town that would re-route traffic from the downtown area.
Matt DiGiulian, project manager with the DOH, said the third alternative would allow for a full turn in the road, so residents would no longer have to stop to make a turn onto the bridge. Building the proposed bridge would cost about $5 million, which includes the right-of-way costs, utility relocations, as well as the construction, he said.
The DOH plans to visit Shinnston to consider a site near the Dairy Queen on the south end of town. No final decision will be made on the site for at least a month, DiGiulian said.
"We had a number of people request that we consider a fourth site on the south end of town, so no final decision will be made until we complete the study on that," he said.
City Manager Jeff Silka could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Lewis men plead guilty to wildlife law violations

by Pam Kendall
Assistant City Editor
Six Lewis County residents entered guilty pleas to various wildlife law violations earlier this month in Lewis County Magistrate Court and were fined a total of $3,571, said Colonel Jim Fields, chief of the Division of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Section, on Thursday.
The individuals were arrested on Oct. 5 and 6 after a citizen complained of seeing people shoot from a pickup truck in the Elk Lick area of the county on Oct. 3 and 4, according to Conservation Officer Captain Ken Painter of the DNR District 3 Headquarters in Elkins.
The residents who pled guilty were:
-- Joshua Gay Jr., 18; hunting deer in closed season, illegal possession of wildlife, conspiracy to violate Chapter 20 of the West Virginia State Code, hunting without permission; $214 fines and court costs.
-- Donnie Lee Heater II, 18; illegal possession of wildlife, withholding information; $107 fines and court costs.
-- Paul Wade Harris Jr., 18; two counts of killing turkey in closed season, three counts of illegal possession of wildlife, killing deer in closed season, two counts of shooting from highway, littering a stream, carrying a loaded gun in a motor vehicle, conspiracy to violate Chapter 20; $1,327 fines and court costs.
-- Paul Wade Harris, 52; illegal possession of wildlife, conspiracy to violate Chapter 20; $107 fines and court costs.
-- Charles B. Curtis, 56; illegal possession of wildlife, conspiracy to violate Chapter 20; $107 fines and court costs.
-- Daniel D. McDougal, 18; two counts of hunting without a license, two counts of hunting on Sunday and killing deer in closed season, two counts of illegal possession of wildlife, two counts of killing wild turkey in closed season, littering a stream, hunting without permission, two counts of conspiring to violate Chapter 20, shooting from across a road; $1,709 fines and court costs.
An investigation conducted by DNR Conservation Officers Tom Stuckey and Bob Waybright of the Grafton office revealed that three deer and four wild turkey were illegally killed in that area, Painter said. The officers couldn't locate the truck, Painter said, but working with a description provided by witnesses, they were able to find the individuals and charge them.
Painter said it's very normal for citizens to call in tips to conservation officers.
"Conversation officers are spread so thin in the state, that without complaints from the public, we're beating a dead horse, so to speak," he said.
"The citizens of West Virginia won't tolerate people shooting around their fields. They call their local game wardens."

Stonewood to receive traffic light

by James Fisher
Staff Writer
Stonewood resident Willa Jean Frazier said Thursday that she was very happy about the news that the state Department of Transportation will be putting a traffic light at the intersection of Route 20 and Cost Avenue in Stonewood.
"I waited four minutes today (Thursday) trying to turn," she said. "We definitely need it."
Frazier said she was sitting at the intersection, trying to turn left. Because there is no kind of traffic control device, she said, turning across the lane is nearly impossible.
"I can see it (the light) for myself, but those UPS trucks have a terrible time," she said. "Especially when they have that extra trailer, they have to wait for a big hole in traffic, then it takes forever for traffic to get moving again."
Sam Lacaria Jr., president of the Stonewood Concerned Citizen's Group, told the citizens gathered Thursday at the Stonewood Volunteer Fire Department that Delegate Barbara Warner, D-Harrison, informed him Monday that the light will definitely be installed within the next six months.
"If it wasn't for Bobbie Warner, I can tell you that we wouldn't be getting this light," he said. "This has been a big concern for Stonewood residents because it's been the site of many, many accidents."
Lacaria said he met with Warner Oct. 14 and she said she would push for the light.
Jack Biafore, who wrote a letter this summer to Division of Highways Commissioner Sam Beverage, said the town has been trying to get a light installed for several years. It was not until the Anmoore entrance to Emily Drive opened, however, that the traffic flow met the standard for a light, he said.
"In 1997, Mayor Jim Nutter requested a light, but it didn't quite reach the standards," he said. "If this light prevents even one fatal accident, it's worth it."
Other residents say the intersection is very unsafe without the light, especially with Norwood Elementary School so close and so many buses traveling Cost Avenue before and after school.
"I think this will be an asset," said Debra Ciesla. "The bus drivers have real difficulty pulling out at 3 p.m. There's a real safety issue for the kids."

Local and area news in brief

Governor's mobile office to be at mall today

The Governor's Northern Mobile Office will be at the Meadowbrook Mall, Center Court, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. today.
Other stops will include the Randolph Campus Center of Salem-Teikyo University in Salem on Nov. 10 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.; Veteran's Day Parade in Clarksburg on Nov. 11 at 10 a.m. The mobile office will be there from 11 a.m.-1 p.m.
The Veteran's Day Parade at Doddridge County High School Football Field in West Union, Elizabeth Cather Towers in Grafton on Nov. 15 from 10 a.m.-noon, and the Doddridge County Senior Center in West Union on Nov. 16 from 10 a.m.-noon.

Trick or treat set Saturday in downtown

The Clarksburg tradition of downtown trick or treat will continue Saturday with a costume contest at noon on the Harrison County Courthouse Plaza.
Sponsored by the Greater Clarksburg Associates, downtown businesses will offer candy to those who visit their businesses.

Victims of domestic violence honored

CHARLESTON (AP) -- West Virginia's first lady and top health and welfare officials paid tribute Thursday to victims of domestic violence.
"As we all know, violence is the single most common cause of preventable injury to American women," Hovah Underwood said as she planted a rose bush in the rose garden of the state Cultural Center near the Capitol in Charleston.
Nationally, assaults against women by husbands or partners have more than doubled since 1987, Joan Ohl, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Resources, told a group of advocates who are pressing to end domestic violence.
In West Virginia, 9,992 domestic violence complaints were filed with State Police in 1997, she said. That was an increase of 3.3 percent from the previous year.
The number of incidents of violence rose again in 1998. More than 10,000 domestic violence complaints were received last year, Ohl said.

State finally receives most of delayed flu vaccine

CHARLESTON (AP) -- Long-awaited doses of flu vaccines arrived in West Virginia Thursday.
The state Bureau of Public Health announced it received 35,000 doses and has begun shipping the medicine to county health departments.
By Monday, 90 percent of the state's allotment of 50,000 doses will have been received and distributed.
Deliveries were delayed three times this month and in September.
The head of Dixon-Shane Drug Co. in Philadelphia, distributor of the drug, said last week that changes in drug formulations by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention delayed distribution.
West Virginia had received 10,000 doses and the remainder is expected next week, said Loretta Haddy, state epidemiologist.
The Bureau for Public Health recommends the vaccine for men and women 65 and older, pregnant women who will be in the second or third trimester during flu season and those with a chronic heart, lung or kidney disease, diabetes or other ailment.
The state agency recommends vaccinations by mid-November.

Clarksburg Publishing Company, P.O. Box 2000, Clarksburg, WV 26302 USA
Copyright © Clarksburg Publishing Company 1999