Ice storms tops local news stories in 2003

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 1, 2004

A lot of news - both good and bad -broke in Lawrence County in 2003.

Of all the stories that appeared in The Ironton Tribune during the year, February’s ice storm was at the forefront. Here are the top 10 local news stories of 2003, as voted on by the news staff of The Ironton Tribune.


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ICE STORM: Years from now, people will still be talking about the President's Day weekend ice storm of 2003.

The ice storm toppled trees and utility poles, downed power lines, made traffic impossible and closed some schools. Some rural areas were without power for more than a month as utility crews struggled with the magnitude of the disaster. Local governments spent months cleaning up from the ice storm and some are still making repairs to roads.

Lawrence County Road Supervisor Don Lambert deemed the situation the worst he has seen in 14 years on the job. State and local workers repaired collapsed tile, hillside slips, buckled pavement and a host of other problems.

Ohio Department of Transportation District 9 spokeswoman Kathleen Fuller said the amount of damage caused by the weather may not be known for a couple of years. The bad weather may have created erosion that could get worse and create damage in the future, she said.

In November, Buckeye Rural officials announced a $16 million repair and improvement project that is being paid for through money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. BREC is getting the money because of damage caused to lines by February's ice storm. The project will take a year and a half to two years to complete.

Months after the ice storms, rangers at the Wayne National Forest's Ironton Ranger Station are still dealing with the repercussions.

Gloria Chrismer, district ranger for the Wayne National Forest's Ironton Ranger Station, said that they are still cleaning up fallen trees and debris on trails and roads.

2. GENERAL ELECTION: In November, Ironton and Coal Grove voters gave the nod to new municipal leaders. Ironton voters replaced incumbent Mayor Bob Cleary with City Councilman John Elam. Voters in Coal Grove chose Councilman Larry McDaniel over incumbent Tom McKnight.

In South Point, Chesapeake, and Proctorville, incumbent mayors kept their posts, as did the unopposed mayor of Athalia.

Lawrence County voters approved levies to pay for education, fire service and other essentials. The Lawrence County Joint Vocational School renewal levy was approved by 59.1 percent of those who cast a ballot. Rome Township voters opted to keep their fire levy. The 1 mill renewal levy garnered 51.32 percent of the votes. The money will be used to pay for new equipment and fire hydrants, as well as daily operating expenses. South Point residents said yes to the village's renewal levy to pay for current operating expenses. The levy passed with 71.36 percent of the vote. Meanwhile voters in both Windsor and Elizabeth townships turned thumbs down on new fire department levies. The levy in Elizabeth Township lost by one vote- 431 to 430. The Windsor levy lost by 20 votes: 240 to 220.


OLBH/RVHS: In June, the Lawrence County Commission asked for a face-to-face meeting with Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital officials regarding the future of the old River Valley Health Systems building.

The Russell, Ky., entity purchased the old hospital building late last year. At that time, OLBH officials expressed the intention of establishing an urgent care center in the former hospital site on Eighth Street. Later, OLBH officials decided to put the urgent care center at the Ironton Hills Shopping Center by expanding

its diagnostic imaging center.

OLBH officials said it would cost too much money to bring the old hospital up to standard. Some local leaders indicated that they were not satisfied with that answer.

The new urgent care at the Ironton Hills Shopping Center was opened in October, and OLBH executives named more than 40 people to a Blue Ribbon panel to study alternate uses for the old hospital building.

In June, OLBH and Ironton city leaders announced plans to move 55 administrative jobs from Russell, Ky., to the Ironton City Center.

But in December, OLBH officials said the plan was being delayed pending leadership changes there and within the city, and the deal may not commence at all.

In April, Lawrence County Common Pleas Judge Frank McCown ordered that former River Valley Hospital employees who were owed money for unused vacation, sick time and other compensation be paid immediately, ahead of some of the defunct hospital's other creditors.

But in July, a deal to allow former River Valley Hospital CEO Terry Vanderhoof $138,000 in back wages and other compensation drew howls of protest from former hospital employees.

In July, Lawrence County Commissioners again asked the federal government for an update on its investigation into why the hospital closed.


BICENTENNIAL: Lawrence County's Bicentennial Bell was the belle of the Lawrence County Fair this year.

In July, spectators watched as the county's bell was made on-site at the fairgrounds during the first two days of the fair. After nearly a week on display at the fairgrounds, the bell was taken on a two-day odyssey throughout the county. The bell was the toast of parties in Scottown, Proctorville, Linnville, South Point, Chesapeake, Burlington, Getaway and Coal Grove before reaching its final destination: the Lawrence County Courthouse in Ironton. The bell was the capping event to the area's celebration of Ohio's 200th birthday.

In honor of the state's Bicentennial, the Lawrence County Chapter of the Ohio Horseman's Council saddled the horses and rode them from one end of the county to the other. The Wagon Train in early May was a nod to Ohio's early days.

5. LAKE VESUVIUS PROJECT: In December, the Lake Vesuvius dam valve was closed, allowing the lake to fill up again. The lake was drained in 2001 so that $4.1 million in repairs could be made to the dam and the boat ramp. An official reopening ceremony is being planned for late May or June of next year.

Originally, the dam valve was hoped to be closed by the end of October but a rainy summer delayed the project.

The lake now has a 1,400 foot boardwalk that connects the boat ramp with the dam. Fully handicapped accessible, it also includes a shaded fishing pier.

The boat ramp parking lot has been expanded and a second entrance has been added. The boat ramp itself has been widened and new restrooms and dock points were added. The parking lot will be paved in the spring.

6. LOCALS IN IRAQ: The top news story in the United States - and the world - in 2003 was the invasion and seizure of Iraq and the capture of the country's dictator, Saddam Hussein.

Many Lawrence countians took pride in knowing a number of soldiers fighting in the war were native sons. Once U.S. forces began invasions in March, The Ironton Tribune began running feature stories of area people in the military stationed in Iraq and overseas.

One such serviceman was Derek Anderson, a 1982 graduate of Rock Hill High School. Anderson, a member of the 4th Fighter Wing Planning and Programs Office, was stationed with the U.S. military's central command in Qatar. Anderson instructed troops in dealing with nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

The weekend of Mother's Day, Anderson surprised his mother, Patricia, with a visit. During his short stay in Ironton, Anderson also visited his best friend from high school, Darren Hankins, and spoke to a class of second-graders at Dawson-Bryant Elementary School. presented the school with an American flag that had been flown in a combat mission in Iraq.

Even though U.S. officials say the war is far from over, many believe the capture of Saddam Hussein earlier this month was a step in the right direction.

Lawrence County had a hand in the former Iraqi dictator's capture as a South Point man took part in the mission.

On Dec. 13, Pfc. Travis Utley, in the Army's 4th Infantry Division, was part of the unit that apprehended Saddam Hussein. He was recently pictured on page 10 of

U.S. News & World Report's special edition that features the capture of Saddam Hussein. In the magazine, Utley is pictured guarding the area in ad-Dawr, Iraq, where Saddam was captured.

In April, hundreds of Lawrence countians gathered at the Lawrence County Courthouse in Ironton for a "Support our Troops" rally, sponsored by The Ironton Tribune.

The rally drew an estimated crowd of 500 people. The Rev. Mark Lail of the First Church of the Nazarene was the featured speaker and entertainment was provided by the Singing Kernels and others. Local veterans' groups also participated.

The event closed with a candlelight vigil in honor of U.S. troops in Iraq and overseas.

7. NEW PLANTS: In December, Lawrence County leaders and Calpine Corp. executives signed a tax abatement agreement for the proposed $500 million natural gas powered electrical power plant in Hamilton Township.

The plant's construction phase, expected to begin near the end of 2005, is expected to bring 600 jobs.

In October, state and local leaders, including Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony of Duke Energy's Hanging Rock plant in Hamilton Township.

The $600 million facility produces 765,000 volts, employing one of the largest lines in the country, which is owned by American Electric Power. Power Block 1, the first half of the plant, began commercial operation in June and the second half began operations in July. The plant was not expected to be fully operational until August.

The plant employs 29 people and, during construction, provided jobs to approximately 1,900 construction workers.

Instead of taxes, Duke will contribute roughly $14 million over a 13-year period to local government entities. The first payment was made in late 2002 when the Rock Hill School District received $3.7 million -enough to pay off its bond levy for the construction of two new schools and the renovation of the middle school.

In December, dirt officially began to fly for the Haverhill North Coke Company's facility at the corner of Old U.S. 52 and Ironton Avenue in Haverhill. Sun Coke, a Knoxville, Tenn.-based subsidiary of Sunoco, has long considered building a $135 to $175 million coke plant to the west of the Sunoco Chemical facility in Scioto County. The company had also considered a site in Indiana.


BIOMASS/USDA DEAL: In December of 2002, Biomass, LLC of South Point was awarded a contract to destroy 121,448 tons of surplus tobacco for $19.25 a ton, totaling a $2.33 million deal. Shipments began in the spring but were stopped by the USDA after concerns were raised by the Ohio EPA about permits needed for the storage and disposal of the material. The EPA later ordered Biomass to remove the 10,181 tons it already received.

All parts of the EPA orders to remove the product were not met on time, so the OEPA referred the case to Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro's office in July.

By October, U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland officially asked the inspector general of the USDA to initiate an investigation into Biomass and the government agency's own actions.

"The investigation should look at the procedures followed in granting of the contract and why it seems it was granted to a company that was inadequately capable of of carrying out the contract," Strickland said of his call for an investigation.

After reading published reports that questioned why the government agency awarded this contract and receiving a letter from South Point Village Councilman David Classing, Strickland said the USDA's decision to award the contract to the Nicholasville, Ky.-based company was "puzzling," "appalling" and "indefensible."

9. MEGAFEST FLOPS: It was supposed to be the first of a yearly entertainment festival. It ended almost before it got underway.

In June, the much-touted Tri-State Mega Festival and Fair ended early, leaving a string of broken promises and bruised egos. Organizers said the Megafest failed because of rain and poor attendance. Some entertainment acts, vendors and even local law enforcement said the organizers still owed them money for services rendered during the fair's short span.

By fall, the organizers had declared bankruptcy.

10. ACCUSED PRIEST MURDERER CAUGHT IN IRONTON: In December, Ironton Police apprehended an Ironton man wanted in connection with the brutal beating death of a retired Lexington, Ky., Catholic priest.

Jason A. Russell was taken into custody without incident in the vicinity of Fifth and Walnut streets. He was extradited to Lexington, Ky., to face a murder charge in the murder of the Rev. Joseph J. Pilger.