Even though the U.S. Postal Service came out with a plan last week to cut operating hours to avoid closing many rural Post Offices but then backtracked a bit later in the week, another Belmont County postal facility will close before the end of this month and three others face the same fate in the near future.
"Friday will be the last day this post office will be open," said Postmistress Evelyn Melet, who has been in charge of the little Post Office in Bannock for the past 20 years. "It's sad," Melet added, "because this has been a popular place for people in town to meet, talk and spend time. I'm going to miss it."
Closure of the Bannock Post Office will mark the third such office in Belmont County to be closed. Previously the Post Offices in Fairpoint, Maynard and Flushing had to cease operations.
Interim St. Clairsville Postmaster Bill Bellville, who was moved from his position as postmaster in Martins Ferry to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Debbie Ruffner, announced the closing of the Bannock facility and also noted that three other rural offices in Belmont County are likewise scheduled to be closed.
Bellville pointed out, however, that the closing of the Post Offices in Warnock, Glencoe and Lafferty could possibly be canceled if a plan is worked out for the offices "to be open for a couple hours a day instead of for eight hours."
Closing of the Bannock office will mean the residents of that small community will have home delivery provided by the St. Clairsville office. "It was no surprise to a lot of people. They knew the closing was coming."
Melet explained the Bannock closing was not one that was just simply ordered by the USPS. "It was an emergency suspension due to a problem over the lease," she explained. The post office adjoins a private residence whose owner has leased the space to the postal service.
"At one time before I came here the person that owned the home was also the postmaster," Melet explained. She said there was a connecting door from the home to the office. "All she had to do was open a door to get to work." A resident of Fairpoint, Melet worked in the post office there and in Flushing before assuming the Bannock position.
"I have a total of 30 years with the post offices," Melet noted. "Now I'm going to put in for retirement." And that will mean more time to be spent with her five daughters and 11 grandchildren.
Calling himself an "ambassador for Belmont County," St. Clairsville Attorney Michael Shaheen confirmed last week he has been in negotiations with the Belmont County commissioners for several months regarding the possible acquisition of the former Belmont Habilitation Center which the county "inherited" nearly six years ago.
Shaheen is representing prominent Ohio businessman Frank Murphy, owner of a number of nursing home and extended care facilities in the state, who is interested in acquiring the 42,000-square-foot facility located off Hammond Road, west of St. Clairsville.
Although he had no specific details on the plans for the building, Shaheen indicted the site would be converted into some type of extended care facility.
Murphy is no stranger to Belmont County. Three years ago his firm purchased the Park Health Center in St. Clairsville for $4,125,000, which ended the county's involvement in the nursing home business.
"This would be a big thing for Belmont County," Shaheen emphasized. "We would be spending $2 million in the county, it would bring a lot more jobs to the county and there would be a provision to return the property to Belmont County."
The latter was reference to how the county actually obtained the property in 2006. For years the site served as the Belmont Habilitation Center, but when it was closed, the property reverted to the Belmont County Commission. That was because 30 years earlier when the center was established, then commissioners Mel Sargus, Charles Lynch and Bob Olexo, had included in the property transaction that when the center closed, the property would revert to the commissioners.
In 2006 when the reverter clause was ruled a binding agreement, Murphy, president of OPUS Development Corp. of Wadsworth, Ohio, had shown interest in acquiring the property. At that time his offer reportedly included a proposal to build the county another building in exchange for the Hab Center. Nothing developed and the county retained the property and building, which since that time has been used primarily for storage purposes.
Several executive sessions have been held by the commissioners with Shaheen, including one last Wednesday, and all have ended with no definite action being taken by the board. The sale of the property is being handled by the Belmont County Port Authority.
Bus tour operators from Ohio and West Virginia have accepted invitations to a "partnership meeting" on Tuesday to familiarize them with the attractions in Belmont County that would be of particular interest to tourists on future bus trips they plan to make.
Convening at one of the county's main tourist attractions - the Dickinson Cattle Co. ranch near Barnesville - the operators and a number of tourism-related officials invited by Belmont County Tourism director Eugene "Doc" Householder will start their day long activities with lunch served in the ranch's covered pavilion at 11 a.m. "We will then board Dickinson's bus for a tour of the ranch."
For the first time a tour group will have the opportunity to visit the new, recently completed 30 by 60-foot store which was constructed to replace a smaller store from where the company's beef products are dispensed to an ever-growing number of customers, according to ranch general manager Darol Dickinson.
In 2000, according to Dickinson, the ranch diversified into an all natural beef business. "The first year, four steers were sold for freezer beef, the second year, 10. Now, 12 years along, it appears 200 steers could be processed just to serve the current clients for next year."
At about 2 p.m. following the ranch tour, the group will visit the Belmont County Victorian Mansion Museum and about 3:30 p.m. they will tour the Stillwater Meeting House in Barnesville. "We expect the tour to be completed by 5 p.m.," Householder commented. A dozen tour operators have already accepted invitations for the meeting.
Judging from the response over the past few weeks, a lot of Belmont County residents are expected to participate in the historic yard sale that will extend for over 800 miles along historic National Road from Baltimore to St. Louis.
Belmont County's 25-mile segment will extend from Bridgeport to Hendrysburg and Doris White at the Belmont County Tourism office reported many telephone inquiries have been received from local residents planning to have a sale during the three-day period from May 31 through June 2.
Those intending to participate can pick up big signs in the tourism office to identify the location of their yard sale. There are 100 of such signs available.
Al Molnar can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.