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Push resumes for Beech Fork Lodge

LAVALETTE — Wayne County officials are working at the state and local levels to revitalize an economic development opportunity that has been talked about and in the works since the 1970s but has yet to come to fruition, a project that would serve to kick-start a mostly untapped tourism industry in the area.

The Wayne County Economic Development Authority and the Marshall University Center for Business and Economic Research hosted a public meeting Tuesday at Creekside Golf Course to discuss the history of and how to move forward with the Beech Fork Lodge and Conference Center project, which was first proposed when a study was conducted for a 117-unit lodge in 1977, shortly after the Beech Fork Lake Region was created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Officials said because Wayne County does not have any hotels other than small, family-owned motels, potential tourists are not attracted to the area's offerings, which, in addition to Beech Fork State Park, include East Lynn Lake, Cabwaylingo State Forest and the Rustic Ravines in Genoa.

"The citizens deserve this," said state Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne. "This is one that I hear about all the time. ... This is a time where we have the chance to do it, and we have control of this, because if we come up with the right scenario for a public-private partnership, it's a slam dunk."

Progress on the project has crept along over a span of nearly 40 years:

• Economic studies were conducted in 1981, 1991 and 1995 by several organizations.

• Special revenue of $5.5 million was allocated to the project in 2008.

• Architects and engineers were commissioned by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources to develop a concept in 2011.

• And a bill partially sponsored by Plymale and signed by then-Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin in 2012 authorized $52.5 million in bonds for the project and another like it at Cacapon Resort State Park.

But that progress came to a halt in 2015 when Tomblin's chief of staff penned a letter to legislators, who had asked for an update on the project, stating the bonds that were supposed to fund the lodge would not be issued.

In March, House Bill 3140 was passed with an amendment in the Senate to complete a feasibility study for the project. The bill states that two public hearings, not including Tuesday's meeting, are required to take place before Oct. 1 of this year. The first is to seek input regarding public-private partnership and financing options for the construction of a lodge. The second will allow for public comment on the feasibility study.

The completed study is due by Dec. 1. Plymale said Tuesday this date was chosen to make sure the work is completed before the 2020 legislative session.

Chris Chiles, executive director of KYOVA Interstate Planning Commission, said the lodge would open up the opportunity to market the length of W.Va. Route 152 as an "Appalachian-themed tourism corridor," with a welcome center at the 5th Street exit (Exit 8) of Interstate 64, serving as the gateway.

Follow reporter Megan Osborne on Twitter and Facebook @megosborneHD.


STEM skills yield summer fun at Camp Invention

HUNTINGTON — School has been out for less than two weeks, but it didn't take much arm-twisting to court 74 local students back to Southside Elementary School during the summer break.

Starting Monday, the school began its fourth year hosting the much-anticipated Camp Invention, a summer STEM camp for incoming kindergartners to incoming sixth-graders, drawing mostly students from various schools in Cabell and Lawrence (Ohio) counties. A sister camp for the eastern reaches of Cabell County is also held this week at Ona Elementary School.

Sponsored by the National Inventors Hall of Fame, the weeklong camp is stacked with hands-on and educational classes built around STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) concepts.

Activities are lightheartedly themed but rooted in core principles of science. In an ocean-themed class, students pick through sea fossils and shark teeth, and design a seaworthy vessel. In another, students must manage the ins and outs of a high-tech farm.

There's still plenty of time allotted for basic summer fun, like playing "line tag" (basic tag, but students can only move following the lines on the gym floor) or a tarp relay, a race where two students pull another student on a tarp across the floor.

"They really learn to do a lot more in this camp than what they thought they could," said Jaime Matthews, camp director and Southside teacher.

While the camp comes at a price ($230 per student for the week, though there are scholarship sponsors to cover enrollment), many kids come back each year, and some have been all four years. Even a handful who have aged out return to help out as volunteers.

"This camp just has developed a good reputation, and we strive to make it better every year," Matthews said.

Founded in 1990, Camp Invention has seen more than 1.5 million children from across the country come through over the past three decades. The program now offers more than 1,600 camp locations each summer.

WEB EXTRA

For a rundown of summer camps in the Tri-State area, click the News tab at www.herald-dispatch.com and select Summer Camps for Kids in the dropdown menu.


Teen gets probation for 'sexual aggression'

HUNTINGTON — A Huntington teenager was convicted of misdemeanor battery Tuesday in what prosecutors called a sexually aggressive case caused by the defendant's unwillingness to listen to his victim when she denied his advances.

Zane Richard Lanham, 18, a former Huntington High School wrestler, entered a Kennedy plea to misdemeanor battery, which allows him to be punished for the crime without admitting his guilt. A felony first-degree sexual abuse charge was dismissed as part of a plea deal.

Cabell Circuit Judge Alfred E. Ferguson upheld an agreement reached by the prosecution and defense and ordered Lanham to serve 18 months of probation and a year's worth of counseling for what was called his sexual aggression.

A one-year jail sentence was suspended. The year of counseling could be reduced by as much as six months if monthly reports show a positive disposition by the defendant.

Ferguson said he hopes the victim will be able to move on with her life following the conviction.

"When a person says no, they mean no," he said. "Even though you may have had some relationship with her in the past, it's over."

According to assistant prosecutor Kellie Neal, Lanham was supposed to drive the victim home Nov. 9 after Huntington High School's football victory over Cabell Midland High School, but instead wanted to get food, despite the victim asking him to just drive her home.

Lanham got fast food and then drove to an empty, dark parking lot at Ritter Park, where he began to kiss the victim and touch her without her consent, Neal said. At one point, he climbed on top of her, unbuckling her seat belt, despite her continuously saying no and asking to be taken home.

"When a car pulled in behind them, he eventually stopped," Neal said. "He then indicated he would find somewhere else to go. He drove her around for a while and eventually drove her home."

As Neal read the allegations to the court, Lanham shook his head left to right in disagreement. Defense attorney Rich Weston said his client's version of the story differs from the prosecution's, but did not elaborate.

"When you're young, sometimes signals get crossed," he said. "It's a gray area."

Lanham did not give a statement about the plea at the hearing when asked by Ferguson, and the victim did not attend the hearing. Lanham said the victim attended school with him and the pair had dated on and off for years.

The plea deal was reached to accommodate the victim, who Neal said wanted Lanham to get counseling for his sexual aggression, and for Lanham, who is planning to attend a university in South Carolina in the fall.

According to a news release from Lander University in Greenwood, South Carolina, Lanham is expected to join its wrestling team in its inaugural season this coming school year.

Lanham will be allowed to apply for out-of-state probation supervision, but if that is not approved, his probation could turn into unsupervised probation and counseling reports will be reviewed by prosecution.

Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/CHesslerHD and via Twitter @HesslerHD.


Mayor: No crackdown on children playing ball in streets

HUNTINGTON — Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said the city will not hand out citations for children playing basketball in the streets despite an ordinance on the books that prohibits it.

Speaking to City Council members during Monday night's meeting, Williams said he was addressing a disagreement that arose last week that led code enforcement officers to give notice to a homeowner in the city's Westmoreland neighborhood. The homeowner had a basketball goal encroaching on a street and the notice instructed it be removed within 72 hours or a citation would be issued, according to the mayor.

However, Williams told council members that will not happen.

"Understand this: No citations are going to be issued for kids wanting to play basketball on the street," he said. "I am not going to allow it."

The situation unfolded last week when someone complained to the city about the homeowner's basketball goal. Code enforcement officers then stepped in to resolve the conflict, Williams said. The homeowner had placed the basketball goal at the edge of the lawn and was using the street as the basketball court.

Under a city ordinance regarding street

obstructions, no one may play any game or athletic activity on the city's "public streets, highways, alleys, thoroughfares, roads or avenues." However, they may play ball on public streets designated with a sign that warns drivers to be cautious, according to the ordinance.

Williams said it was unusual for him to get in the middle of a dispute between neighbors, but the discussion created discord within the community.

People debated on Facebook whether the city was being too strict or if the city was right to look out for the children's safety.

Williams said city code allows for discretion in some cases. He compared the city's neighborhoods to Mayberry, the fictional town from the 1960s sitcom "The Andy Griffith Show."

"Do you want us to administer city government like Barney Fife, or Andy Taylor?" he said. "Barney Fife is going to take the absolute meaning of the ordinance and say, 'This is absolutely the way it's supposed to be.' Andy Taylor would see the spirit of the law and get people talking to one another."

He encouraged neighbors to talk things out instead of airing grievances online. He also gave a passionate defense of playing ball in the street, saying the children's presence helped deter crime. During a walking tour of Westmoreland recently, Williams even joined a basketball game with some children in the street, he said.

Williams added he is not advocating for selective enforcement of the city's ordinances. Citations would only be issued to homeowners who allow their children to willfully destroy people's property and cause other problems.

Council member Joyce Clark, who represents the district including Westmoreland, said parents should use common sense when it comes to children playing on the street. The street in question is a "dead end street" and no parent would allow their children to play on one of the higher-traffic roadways, she said.

"As long as I lived in Westmoreland, it's been this way. Kids will play basketball in the street," she said. "I've never known of an accident in all my years of living here, which is all my life."

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.