2018: HEALTH, CONSTRUCTION, RECYCLING
Hep A outbreak rose, and declined locally
The average person had likely never heard of hepatitis A until 2018. They may have known of the more deadly hepatitis B and C, but the A strain was an obscure virus when it first arrived in the Tri-State in February 2018.
The nationwide outbreak of this year began in San Diego in November 2016 and spread through southern California, primarily through the region’s homeless and drug-using populations. The California outbreak lasted until April 2018, but the disease spread to seven other states, including West Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana.
The disease first grabbed local headlines in early spring when it appeared suddenly in a handful of restaurants in the Boyd County area. From February to June (when the last reported restaurant case was announced) 24 employees at 24 different restaurants along the Interstate 64 corridor between Boyd County, Kentucky, and Kanawha County, West Virginia (including three in Cabell County) had contracted the virus.
At its peak in June and July, Cabell County experienced an average of 20 new cases per week. By comparison, the county had not had a diagnosed case in the past five years. Thousands received the hepatitis A vaccination, and many feared eating at restaurants— though no cases of the disease being spread through food were reported.
The disease declined from its peak locally over the summer, and slowed down to a trickle by the onset of winter.
Statewide, 2,018 hepatitis A cases were recorded as of Dec. 7, according to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources— resulting in five deaths.
Hepatitis A is a viral disease of the liver and is spread from person to person by the “fecal-oral” route, often by inadequate handwashing after using the toilet or changing diapers. Hepatitis A usually spreads when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food or drinks contaminated by small, undetected amounts of stool from an infected person.
Beginning, partial completion of 1-64 rehab project
The reconstruction of a 14-mile section of Interstate 64 between U.S. 35/Crooked Creek and Milton that began in the spring has wound down for the year with more than half of the work, including the first phase, complete.
The reconstruction project, announced in March, was a portion of 60 miles of interstate reconstruction that the West Virginia Department of Transportation would begin as a result of Gov. Jim Justice’s $1.6 billion “Roads to Prosperity” road bond program, which voters approved in October 2017. The project is funded by GAR-VEE bonds.
The nearly $50 million project, contracted to West Virginia Paving, completely tore the road down to its base and installed a new overlay. The original concrete was laid in the 1960s. Before, the pavement on this stretch of 1-64, one of the busiest interstate sections in the state of West Virginia, had significant damage, particularly around the joints. The new roadway does not have joints.
Reconstruction began in early April. The first of the three phases of the project, from Milton to Hurricane, was completed as of September. The contraflow lanes in the area have been removed and the roadway is completely open to drivers.
Phase two, between Hurricane and Teays Valley, and phase three, from Teays Valley to the U.S. 35/Crooked Creek exit, have closed for the winter and will pick back up in the spring.
Several crashes occurred in the work zone during the early part of reconstruction, resulting in at least three adult fatalities and the death of one unborn child. The influx of safety concerns led Justice to order an increase in safety regulations and police presence in the area. Putnam County emergency management officials said most of the crashes were the result of vehicles speeding, distracted driving or a combination of both.
All the crashes occurred in the “zipper merge” zone, where left-lane traffic was merging into the right lane, which caused traffic to slow. The family of one person who died as a result of a crash announced in May they planned to file a lawsuit against several state agencies and individuals.
More than 1,300 citations were issued by several police agencies in the work zone in May alone.
Construction underway for proposed Marshall baseball stadium, pharmacy school
After many years of wishing, dreaming and planning, it appears Marshall University has taken a huge step toward building a baseball stadium on 5th Avenue in Huntington.
In October, Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick announced the school had hired an architect to design the long-awaited facility. Although Hamrick didn’t divulge the name of the architect, he displayed photographs of where the stadium will be located, at the Flint Group Pigments Plant property, formerly BASF, 2401 5th Ave. The property was purchased for $1.2 million by the Huntington Municipal Development Authority.
Marshall currently plays non-conference home games at George T. Smailes Field at the YMCA Kennedy Center. Conference USA home games have been played at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston and Linda K. Epling Stadium in Beckley, West Virginia.
The park not only would be home to Marshall baseball, but also could house a minor league team. Huntington hasn’t fielded an affiliated minor league team since the rookie league Huntington Cubs left after the 1994 season.
Marshall also unveiled plans for a School of Pharmacy building and graduate housing along Hal Greer Boulevard in Huntington’s Fairfield neighborhood.
Construction is currently underway on the $56 million project, located on green space across Hal Greer Boulevard from Northcott on Charleston Avenue. The 49,722-square-foot, four-story pharmacy building will house research, instructional, communal and administrative areas.
The move will create a health science campus and will allow for the integration of the School of Pharmacy into the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine campus, located just a block away at Cabell Huntington Hospital, for increased interdisciplinary education, university leaders have said.
Cabell County updates recycling program
What began as an uncertain future for the recycling program in Cabell County in 2018 has now turned into a low-cost program seeing more people using the service than the year before.
In January, the Cabell County Solid Waste Authority came to the Cabell County Commission seeking a lifeline on the then-struggling program.
When the authority started its recycling program in 2011, it was a free program that allowed residents to drop off recycling at eight locations throughout the county. Funding for that dried up and the program was forced to consolidate to one location that required users pay a yearly fee of $75.
Representatives at the Solid Waste Authority had asked commissioners to revisit a previous request to place a recycling levy on the ballot in November’s midterm election. The proposed levy would have provided the program with $300,000 annually and would have cost most residents less than $3 a year. They declined to place it on November’s ballot on the advice of the county’s attorney.
It appeared the recycling program would soon be dead in the water, said Mark Buchanan, director of the Cabell County Solid Waste Authority, and Solid Waste Authority Board President Stephen Zoeller at the time.
By August, commissioners were exploring new ways to fund the recycling program after several individual meetings with representatives from the Solid Waste Authority and from the towns of Barboursville and Milton.
Commissioners proposed giving $100,000 from the county’s economic development levy fund to advance the recycling efforts. Commissioners later agreed to give the money for one year, which would allow the Solid Waste Authority to develop a plan to restore free or low-cost recycling to county residents similar to how it was in 2011. Solid Waste Authority board members then developed a plan to double bins at the recycling drop-off site on Virginia Street in Huntington and the drop-off site on Depot Street in Barboursville. The proposal includes plans to build another drop-off site in Milton.
Soon after the plan was announced, the Solid Waste Authority was inundated with requests for key access to the sites. It now costs $5 a year for county residents to recycle at the sites and $50 for non-county residents.
Buchanan said the program is now nearing capacity, having completely filled up in Barboursville and is nearly filling up in Huntington.