Top ten stories of 2011
The year 2011 was chock full of highs and lows, bringing with it joy, as well as uncertainty for the future. Here are the top 10 stories of the year.
In the early evening of January 28, Bartow-Frank-Durbin Volunteer Fire Department responded to a call at the Hermitage Motel in Bartow. A propane explosion ripped through the side of the building, causing severe damage, and severely injuring motel manager Darrell Wagoner.
Ironically, the motel closed its doors to business early that day. Executive manager of Old Dominion Hotels, LLC Gregg Morse said the motel was temporarily closed with the possibility of re-opening in the spring.
Wagoner and his wife, Renee, who had lived at and managed the motel for two years, were preparing to return home to Blue Grass, Virginia, when the explosion occurred. Wagoner was hospitalized with burns sustained from the blast.
After a thorough investigation by B.J. Robinson of the State Fire Marshallﾒs Office, it was reported that the explosion was caused by Wagoner, who was using a homemade device to siphon propane from the motelﾒs tank. No charges were filed against Wagoner.
The motel remains in the same condition as the night of January 28 ﾖ rubble strewn about with a section of the two-story managerﾒs apartment exposed to the elements.
The motel is now up for sale.
Retired Army Colonel Michael Camilletti, 56, of Stanardsville, Virginia, entered the Cranberry Wilderness on May 23. He left a note in his vehicle stating that he planned to hike along the North-South Trail, starting on May 23, and would exit four days later on May 27.
He never returned to his car.
West Virginia State Police were contacted by Camillettiﾒs brother, Mark, who reported him missing on June 12. A search was conducted by the state police, Pocahontas County Search and Rescue and the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security.
Although Camilletti is a retired Army Special Forces colonel and an avid outdoorsman, the area of the Cranberry Wilderness in which he was reportedly hiking has dense vegetation and rough terrain.
Camilletti has not been found.
Marlinton was selected by the West Virginia Humanities Council to be the first of six West Virginia communities to host the Smithsonian Instituteﾒs traveling exhibit, ﾓThe Way We Worked.ﾔ
September 10 through October 14, the exhibit occupied a space at the Marlinton Municipal Building, accompanied by a special exhibit of logging photographs from the county, compiled by Historical Society Preservation Office B.J. Gudmundsson.
The exhibit was also accompanied by a replica river ark that was constructed by local volunteers. The ark made its home in the parking lot next to the municipal building, and illustrated what life was like for loggers who drove logs down the mighty Greenbrier River to the mill in Ronceverte.
ﾓThe Way We Workedﾔ consisted of photographs from the National Archives and displays which explored the work ethics that created the American Culture.
The logging photographs were included to localize the exhibit and to illustrate how the logging industry shaped Pocahontas County into the place it is today.
In addition to the exhibit, the community was also treated to a series of musical events, readings, film screenings and lectures which focused on the work force and the lifestyles of Pocahontas County in the past century.
Visitors from all over the country and local school children viewed the interactive display, which made a lasting impression on the community.
Although the exhibit left Marlinton to finish its tour of West Virginia, the historical impact it made in the county lives on. The logging exhibit, ﾓLogging in Pocahontas County,ﾔ was moved to the Linwood Community Library. Accompanying the photos are excerpts from the writings of Pocahontas County authors, including Louise McNeill Pease and Roy Clarkson and W.E. Blackhurst.
When Green Bank area entrepreneurs Jacob and Malinda Meck approached the Pocahontas County Commission asking that it convey nine acres of county land near their business, Jacob Meck Construction, for expansion of the companyﾒs sewage business, members of the Green Bank community began a campaign against the Mecks.
Jacob Meck explained that he needed the land to house a 20-foot high by 30-foot diameter 100,000 gallon tank he purchased at a public auction in February. Meckﾒs septic tank pumping business, The Outhouse, LLC has a 10,000 gallon tank, but Meck said the business needed the new tank to reduce costs of the business and customers.
At a public hearing held at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in January, Meck explained that the tank would be located behind trees and obstructed by public view. Members of the community, on both sides of the issue, voiced their opinions about the tank.
The consensus of those against the tank was that it would be an eyesore. They were also concerned the larger tank would emanate an odor. A petition was presented with approximately 80 signatures against the tank.
Those on the Meckﾒs side said the business has never caused any disruption to the community and that they could not stand in the way of economic development in the county.
The issue continued to separate the community and at a tumultuous county commission meeting, where those for and against the transfer again aired their opinions, the commission did not approve the land transfer.
Meck said he will continue to try to find a resolution to the issue. For now, the tank remains unused.
After a lackluster voter turnout in the June municipal election ﾖ 18 of approximately 150 registered voters ﾖ the town of Durbin found itself in the fight for its life to save its charter.
The ballot for the election boasted uncontested seats for mayor and five councilmembers, leading the majority of the townﾒs voters to avoid the ballot box.
Soon after the results were announced that three members of the same family were elected councilmembers, and the number of votes could lead to the dissolution of the town, a petition was circulated to forfeit the charter.
The issue was taken to the county commission, who heard both sides of the argument ﾖ to be incorporated or not to be incorporated.
According to West Virginia Code, Chapter eight, Municipal Corporations, Article 24, Dissolution of municipalities, a town must not have a substantial indebtedness, as well as, fewer than 20 votes in the last election to be eligible for charter forfeiture.
The commission reviewed all the information provided and resolved that due to the town having incurred nearly $94,000 in indebtedness, the charter could not be forfeited.
Durbin remains an incorporated town, a status it has had since 1906.
In a time where email and social networking havc replaced correspondence, or ﾓsnail mail,ﾔ two Post Offices in Pocahontas County suffered a TKO from the Internet age.
The United State Postal Service, like many large corporations, has hit a rough patch in the current economy and focused its efforts on ﾓtrimming the fat,ﾔ and has turned to closing smaller post offices in small communities to lower costs.
USPS held a community meeting April 14 in Cass to discuss the future of the townﾒs post office that has served the community for 110 years.
Despite the nearly 200 customers, the Cass Post Office closed its doors for the last time on November 3. Now those customers rely on the Green Bank Post Office, which is approximately eight miles from the Cass Post Office location. A cluster box, a unit of post office boxes, for residents to rent, was placed near the former Cass bridge.
The Cass Post Office joined the ranks of 82 other Pocahontas County post offices that have closed over the years.
A public meeting concerning the life span of the Buckeye Post Office was held November 9, six days after the Cass Post Office closed.
Manager of Post Office Operations Bill Akers tried to quell the thought that closing the office is a bad idea. Akers attempted to give the residents of Buckeye alternatives to the use of the current post office, but the suggestions were not conducive to the small community.
Akers suggested that the Buckeye community has three options for postal service ﾖ Marlinton, Hillboro or the possibility of a Village Post Office at the Buckeye Country Mart. The Marlinton Post Office is four miles from the Buckeye Post Office and the Hillsboro Post Office is six miles.
Due to action in Washington, the Buckeye Post Office ended the year in operation, but it is unknown if the post office will continue to serve the community.
In June, residents of the municipalities of Durbin, Marlinton and Hillboro exercised their constitutional rights as they cast their votes for mayor, council and recorder.
In Durbin, Donald Peck returned as mayor, and Bob Gray, John Osborne, Crystal Vance, Earl ﾓPunkﾔ Vance and Mike Vance were elected councilmembers. The recorder position did not have a candidate. It was later filled by former recorder Paul Ransom, who resigned mid-fall. Osborne resigned his council seat to take the recorder position. The council seat remains empty. The voter turnout was 18.
In Marlinton, Joe Smith defeated incumbent mayor Dennis Driscoll by a vote of 159-57. For council, Loretta Malcomb, Louise Barnisky, David Zorn and Norris Long returned to their seats and were joined by Natasha McMann. Recorder Robin Mutscheller ran unopposed and received 162 votes.
In Hillsboro, Ann Walker returned as mayor and Sam McNeel, Janice Goode, John Hill, Richard Workman and Edward Workman were elected to council. Write-in candidate Sandra Gladwell was elected recorder.
The board of education faces the possibility of losing $500,000 in federal funding if Congress does not vote to reauthorize the Secure and Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, locally known by some as ﾓthe forestry money.ﾔ
The act began in 2000 to address the issue of lack of timber production coming off of national forest lands. Forty-two states with high percentages of federally-owned land, received the funding to replace lost revenue.
In West Virginia, seven counties receive the funding, with Pocahontas County receiving the most.
The act was reauthorized in 2006 and 2008. The last payment from the current reauthorization will come to the BOE January 2012.
According to Partnership for Rural America Campaign Manager Marc Kelley, the original act provided $525 million a year to 662 counties in the 42 states. That amount was lowered 10 percent each year for the four years ﾖ 2008 through 2011.
Currently, the Senate has introduced a bill which will provide some funding, but at substantially less than the $525 million of the original act.
The formula of S. 1692 takes the last yearﾒs payment, which was $364 million for 2011 and ramps it down five percent each year at the beginning of the fiscal year, and ends at $282 million in 2016.
The House has a working draft that does not have a number attached to it. The House will add a revenue estimate of what the Forest Service is expected to receive from all the national forests over a five-year period.
At the close of 2011, Senators Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, III have not signed on to Senate bill S. 1692.
If the act is not reauthorized, the BOE will be faced with the cutting of up to 12 positions in the school system.
Congress will vote on the reauthorization in early 2012.
Plans to open the One Room University in Marlinton came to fruition as 20 students began the Fall semester.
Located in a former board room on the second floor of City National Bank, ORU began as a concept in the mind of former county coordinator Jay Miller.
The university was designed by former Marlinton resident Jonathan Smith. Consisting of seven study carrels and a main classroom, ORU can serve up to 20 students, and has the capability to expand to accommodate more.
Classes are provided by New River Community and Technical College through interactive video networking (IVN) which allows students to participate in live classes using two-way video and audio in the specially designed carrels. Students wear headsets with microphones to interact in the class.
If more than six students take the same class, it is taught in the main classroom.
Of the 20 students, 11 are taking two or more classes, and two are taking three or four courses. It is possible for students to be full-time students through the ORU.
City National Bank has provided the board room rent-free for two years with the understanding that New River will negotiate a follow-up agreement.
Courses provided in the first semester include: English, Math, Psychology and Accounting.
County wrestles over gas drilling, water, property rights in 2011
While legislators and regulators in Charleston spent much of 2011 negotiating over how to balance economic benefits and environmental impacts from the boom in Marcellus shale gas drilling, Pocahontas County Commissioners attempted to take a pro-active approach to the new industry.
While numerous leases with natural gas companies have been signed by Pocahontas County land and mineral owners since 2007, no drilling activity has commenced. However, with drilling taking place in neighboring Nicholas County and the prospect of an unprecedented amount of water usage and truck traffic, hundreds of Pocahontas County residents and landowners petitioned the county commission earlier this year to declare a moratorium on drilling.
From May through November, commissioners held a series of information sessions with experts in law and geology. The commissionﾒs fact-finding included a tour in September of the developed Marcellus gas field that encompasses much of Wetzel County. From the spring through fall, the commission considered the legal implications of taking action that might pre-empt existing or forthcoming state regulations, as well as address the environmental risks of drilling into the Marcellus shale and its associated practice of hydraulic fracturing.
Also referred to as ﾓfracking,ﾔ hydraulic fracturing is the practice of injecting pressurized water and industrial chemicals into the layer of shale, fracturing the rock and releasing the natural gas trapped inside. A typical well can require up to five million gallons of water each time it is fracked. With a typical well pad containing around half a dozen well heads that need to be fracked multiple times, the practice can require hundreds of millions of gallons of water to maintain gas production. In some states where the practice is being used, researchers are finding evidence of drinking water contamination.
In the course of its discussions of how to deal with the industry at the county level, the Pocahontas County Commission considered either passing an ordinance that would severely limit the industry or a resolution expressing its disapproval of its practices. Both of these initiatives died as a vocal opposition built among county residents and business owners to any restrictions on property rights.
The commissioners ended 2011 split on the issue and with discussion of a ballot issue on Marcellus shale gas drilling hanging in the air and on the agenda for a January 5 special meeting.