Forget the impressive roadwork completed around Hope Christian Church and the paving of U.S. 50 west through the bulk of Augusta.
You ain’t seen nothing yet from the Division of Highways this summer.
Between the Roads to Prosperity program adopted last year and Gov. Jim Justice’s push this year on West Virginia’s secondary roads, the Division of Highways has a lot more road paving on the immediate horizon.
At the end of May DOH’s District 5, which includes Hampshire County, finished a purchase order that will repave Ford Hill Road south to the Hampshire-Hardy county line below Rio.
Other plans include:
• Route 28 from Romney to the train station;
• Adding a truck lane to westbound U.S. 50 climbing Shaffenaker Mountain just west of Capon Bridge;
• “A few miles” of U.S. 50 from Hanging Rock east to the 3-lane climbing Cooper Mountain;
• The last mile and a half of South Branch River Road to the Hardy County line.
“It should all be completed by the end of October,” said Lee Thorne, District 5’s chief engineer.
Gov. Justice has pushed the Legislature to funnel more money into roads as excesses have piled up in the budget for the year that ends June 30.
Thorne said DOH expects more to come its way for the new fiscal year.
“We’ll probably get some more word here after July 1 and how that can be applied,” he said.
The secondary-roads initiative has included work beyond paving, like clearing ditches and cutting brush.
Box culverts were placed on J.R. Rannells Road between Points and Slanesville to repair damage from the 2018 flooding. DOH says some repaving will occur there too.
Some other cleanup work from the 2018 floods is going on. DOH anticipates placing pilings along 4 stretches of road that gave way last year – 2 on Capon River Road, and 1 each on Okonoko and Croston River roads. o
For years, Patty Wygal will tell you, she thought about 400 to 500 cancer survivors were living in Hampshire County.
Wygal is a member of the Hampshire County Cancer Coalition and the driving force behind Relay for Life, which will fill Rannells Field at Hampshire High School for the 21st time Saturday.
But, Wygal and other Cancer Coalition leaders recently learned, the number of cancer survivors here is likely much, much higher.
The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a nationwide database supported by the health agencies of all 50 states, estimates that Hampshire County has 2,070 cancer survivors, split roughly in half between skin cancer and slightly more of all other forms of the disease.
“I was stunned,” Wygal said.
James Arnaez with the state’s Health Statistics Center cautions that the numbers are a rough estimated, weighted from 5 years of responses to an annual survey.
And, he notes, “even a mild mole caught early” puts a person in the cancer survivor camp.
Comparatively, Hampshire County stacks up well against the rest of West Virginia, but the Mountain State fares poorly compared with the rest of the nation.
The rate of survivors here, about 9 percent, is much lower than the 14 percent statewide. In fact, Hampshire ranks 46th of the 55 counties for cancer rates.
But West Virginia ranks 49th of the states in cancer rates, meaning we have more people living with or having beaten cancer.
A cancer survivors dinner Friday night at Hope Christian Church Augusta celebrates the progress made in the battle against the disease.
Wygal said about 125 people had signed up by Tuesday morning, but sponsor Valley Health is prepared to serve 200.
“It’s wonderful,” Wygal said. “It’s where we see our dollars going.”
The tens of thousands of dollars raised each year at Hampshire County’s Relay for Life goes to support those battling cancer, from rides to treatment and lodging, and to research on the many fronts of the fight against the disease.
The National Institutes of Health estimate that the number of cancer survivors will jump from 15.5 million 3 years ago to 20.3 million in 2026.
“There’s so many new things happening,” Wygal noted. “Clinical trials are out there; using DNA to determine types of treatment.”
Relay for Life begins at 4 p.m. Saturday, although the opening lap — the emotional survivors lap — doesn’t begin until 6.
The event wraps up with the luminaria lighting at 9:15. o
Figures from the 2017 census of agriculture would lead you to believe that Hampshire County is seeing an influx of small farmers.
You’d be wrong.
The numbers, just released this spring, show Hampshire County adding farms, bucking the long-term statewide and nationwide trend. Between 2012 and 2017, the number of farms here grew from 798 to 883, more than a 10-percent increase.
Dig into the next level of data and you find the growth is accounted for by a boom in small farms.
The number of farms under 10 acres grew by 60, from 47 to 107. Farms between 10 and 50 acres increased by 70, from 277 to 347.
But, County Assessor Norma Wagoner says, those figures are more about a property tax advantage than any newfound love of the land.
When she became assessor in 2012, she began forcing owners of properties above 10 acres to choose whether they wanted their land classified for timber management or farming.
The tax advantage is for farming, so that’s what most people did. West Virginia has eliminated the personal property tax on farm equipment, including vehicles.
And the threshold for what constitutes a farm is low. To be qualified as a farm, it must generate $1,000 in revenue annually.
“If it’s under 5 acres, it’s only $500,” Wagoner notes.
So, you’re talking a couple of cows or 2 or 3 hogs or a dozen hens laying eggs and you’ve hit the threshold.
“We’re finding more and more people having goats,” Wagoner said.
Realtor Keenan Shanholtz, who says his “bread and butter” is property in the small-farm range, agrees with Wagoner’s assessment.
“People are trying to get the tax exemption,” he said, “whether it’s really a farm or not. You got a pigpen in the backyard you’re getting your taxes lowered.”
As for move-ins starting farms, “I haven’t noticed a tangible pickup,” he says. “I wish I had more of it.”
Extension agent Alex Straight says whether they’re move-ins or just trying to lower their taxes, she gets calls from plenty of YouTube farmers.
“They say, ‘I’m watching this video and I have some questions,’” she explains. So she keeps busy helping out hobby farmers.
Wagoner would like to see the standard raised.
“The state guidelines for agriculture are too relaxed,” she said. But until Charleston makes a change, her office will keep busy making sure the smallest farmers are qualifying fairly.
“We’re checking and denying because they’re not doing what they say they’re doing,” she explains. “That’s our job.” o