Reporters’ Notebook: Water Bills; Helicopters; 65 Years; and Aubrey McClendon

Editor’s note: Reporters are constantly surveying their surroundings, and in doing so often turn up many tidbits of news that don’t make it into the daily newspaper.

This space serves as a spot to aggregate and publish those items that otherwise would stay locked away forever in the reporters’ notebook.

Residents Get Soaked

Some Wheeling residents are preparing to take out a second mortgage after receiving their latest water and sewer bills. One resident complained that his bill, which historically has been about $100 a month, is now pushing $200. The city recently passed a 53.1 percent water rate increase to pay for the new Water Treatment Plant in Warwood.

Friends in High Places

It’s good to have friends in high places – or in this case, friends with access to a helicopter. Wheeling businessman Bob Robinson made it possible for West Virginia University football Coach Dana Holgorsen to be the luncheon speaker at the recent YMCA Light of the Valley program at Wheeling Park’s White Palace, where Robert Contraguerro Sr. was the honoree.

Robinson arranged to have Holgorsen plucked from the Mountaineer practice field in Morgantown and flown by helicopter to Wheeling on time for the noon program.

“It is football season, after all,” Holgorsen told a crowd of nearly 400 during his speech.

A Life of Achievement

Congratulations to Weirton resident Duke Horstemeyer, a former staff writer for The Intelligencer who recently was honored by West Virginia First Lady Joanne Jaeger Tomblin with a Governor’s Service Award in the category of lifetime achievement.

A U.S. Marine Corps veteran, Horstemeyer has been involved with organizations such as the Kiwanis Club and Salvation Army for many years. He has served as chairman of both the Weirton Human Rights Commission and the Mary H. Weir Public Library Board, holding the latter position for 20 years. He also served on the West Virginia Human Rights Commission for six years and the West Virginia Library Commission for 15 years.

Horstemeyer is a 2012 inductee of the Weirton Hall of Fame.

International Anthems

There will be a decidedly international flavor at the Wheeling Vintage Raceboat Regatta this Labor Day weekend, as young David Gaudio – son of Wheeling attorney and Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival Chairman Robert Gaudio – will sing the American, Australian and Canadian national anthems to open festivities Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 at Heritage Port.

Why, you might ask? Vintage hydroplanes from all three of those countries will be represented at the eighth annual Regatta, a testament to the growing popularity and reach of the event which has donated almost $35,000 to Wheeling’s Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center since its inception in 2006.

WesBanco returns as the event’s naming sponsor this year.

Core Collaboration

The new Common Core Standards implemented nationwide promote, among many things, collaboration on what is being taught to students. During a recent discussion with Cameron High School Assistant Principal Wyatt O’Neil, he suggested school administration and teachers in Cameron take advantage of professional learning community blocks in the school schedule to collaborate with schools outside of the state. With new video conference technology available, the opportunity to get ideas from teachers in different parts of the country could be beneficial to the education of local students.

Spring Cleaning Needed

Wheeling’s Heritage Port Playground – a volunteer project completed about a decade ago that is now the responsibility of city taxpayers – appears to be largely forgotten by city leaders, as a recent trip their with several rowdy youngsters showed a general lack of upkeep at the site. Paint is flaking off the wood, the mulch is more than a year old, features at the playground are broken or missing and the area just has a neglected feel to it. The no-smoking ban at the playground is largely ignored, and several empty beer cans were found stuffed under benches.

It makes one wonder if the cameras placed near the playground, behind the Capitol Theatre, are even turned on.

65 Years and Counting

Wheeling Rotary Club member Dr. Alan Fawcett lays claim to having a 65-year record of perfect attendance at weekly Rotary meetings. He recalled that years ago, he had his wife sneak him out of the Cleveland Clinic where he had surgery so he could attend a Rotary meeting in Cleveland. Rotarians are urged to attend a weekly meeting when traveling. He managed to attend the meeting and get back into his hospital bed before anyone noticed he was gone.

At last week’s Wheeling Rotary meeting at WesBanco Arena, member Pete Holloway introduced his son, Walker, as the newest member of the local group. Walker recently moved back to the Wheeling area from Florida where he never missed a Rotary meeting. Holloway joked that Fawcett’s record could be in jeopardy.

Joe Gets No Satisfaction

Jefferson Metropolitan Housing Authority Executive Director Joe Costantini and Steubenville First Ward Councilman Gerald DiLoreto were among those who attended a meeting Thursday to address public housing concerns in the city. DiLoreto, who also serves as the city representative on the JMHA board of commissioners, has been critical of the large percentage of Jefferson County’s public housing located in Steubenville, and wants to see it distributed evenly.The JMHA has been taking the brunt of the blame for the city’s crime so often, including once from former City Manager Cathy Davison, that Costantini felt compelled to publicly announce the agency’s eviction process is frequently hindered by federal regulations.

So after a 90-minute, closed-door meeting Thursday, Costantini and DiLoreto, two men who are exhausting their resources, and themselves, to effect change in Steubenville, were the last two remaining in the lobby of the City Building. Then, the councilman turned to his colleague and asked, “Satisfied, Joe?”

WARNing at Ormet

Last week, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio voted to allow Ormet Corp. to defer electricity payment due to American Electric Power for August and September.

However, the full hearing regarding whether Ormet will receive discounted power rates is set for Tuesday. Ormet’s pending $221 million sale to Wayzata Investment Partners is contingent upon being able to reduce Ormet’s electricity bills.

In the event PUCO does not side with Ormet this week, the Monroe County aluminum producer has given a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act notice to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services that it may shut down the entire Hannibal plant by Oct. 31.

The results of that happening could be devastating for the economy of the entire Upper Ohio Valley.

Aubrey Back in Biz

Former Chesapeake Energy Chief Executive Officer Aubrey McClendon has formed a new oil and natural gas company that is investing in Ohio’s Utica Shale formation. The firm, known as American Energy Partners, states on its website:

“Under the leadership of Aubrey K. McClendon, American Energy Partners has a singular purpose: To capture some of the vast opportunities available today in America’s oil and natural gas industry.”

McClendon, who founded Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake in 1989, resigned his positions as CEO and chairman amid concerns about his dealings in taking a 2.5 percent personal stake in every well Chesapeake drilled in Ohio, Brooke and Hancock counties, as well in some other areas throughout the United States.Red Means Stop …

A drive on Main Street through downtown Wheeling last week prompted the question of why a red light continues to exist at 11th Street, next to the Hornes’ Building. It’s bad enough to continue to have a stop light at the old Stone’s Alley, which sees very little traffic these days, but to continue to operate one at 11th Street, which is not even open to vehicular traffic, boggles the mind.

Time For a Trail Upgrade

Wheeling’s Heritage Trail gets plenty of use throughout the year, allowing visitors to travel along the Ohio River or through East Wheeling to Elm Grove. But several sections of the trail are in serious need of new paving.

A recent ride through Warwood showed the need for fresh asphalt, as sections are rutted and not in the best of shape. Many sections of the city’s trail system have not been paved since they first opened nearly 20 years ago.

Though Wheeling retailers won’t begin collecting the city’s new half-percent sales tax until Oct. 1, officials are ready to move on a multi-million dollar upgrade to the 36-year-old WesBanco Arena that will be funded by proceeds from the new tax.

City Manager Robert Herron announced during this week’s City Council meeting that a request for quotations to design the upgrades had been issued. Lobby renovations, more comfortable seating, and more modern light and video capabilities are some of the improvements Greater Wheeling Sports and Entertainment Authority Executive Director Dennis Magruder would like to see made at the 36-year-old arena.

The city plans to set aside $426,000 of the approximately $1.1 million it expects to collect from the tax this fiscal year to repay up to $4 million in bonds it expects to issue for the arena project.

There seems to be no end to the construction projects on the stretch of Ohio 7 between Steubenville and Rayland. One almost wonders whether the resulting, miles-long lines of bright orange cones and barrels is visible from outer space, a la the Great Wall of China.

With another such lane reduction now in effect, this one through Mingo Junction, motorists who have long looked to Ohio 7 as an alternative to the stop-and-go traffic on W.Va. 2 may be rethinking that decision. At least there are fewer speed traps on the West Virginia side.