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Crowds rev up for Christmas with a full day in Romney
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ROMNEY — “Children laughing, people passing, meeting smile after smile.”

It may not be Christmas time in the city, but it’s certainly Christmas time in Romney, and last weekend was the culmination of holiday celebrations in this little mountain town.  

Starting bright and early at 8 a.m., the festivities were off in a flash in the holiday bustle of downtown Romney.

The annual breakfast with Santa returned to the fire hall this year, and fire chief G.T. Parsons revealed that 403 breakfasts were served to the community.

“What a great day to be in Romney. We can’t thank our wonderful patrons for coming to breakfast with Santa,” the Romney Fire Company posted on Facebook Saturday evening. “It truly was a great day in our town.”

Also at the fire hall was a flurry of activity below in the engine bay: gingerbread house construction, sponsored by the Hampshire County Public Library. Children’s librarian Amy Lauderback said last week that the library was going to be providing materials for approximately 300 gingerbread houses.

The breakfast and gingerbread houses wrapped up at 11 a.m., which gave businesses and organizations enough time to get lined up on Rosemary Lane for the 10th Romney Christmas parade, sponsored by both the Hampshire Review and the Romney Fire Company.

Last year, the parade was canceled because of Covid-19 concerns, and 2019’s parade was canceled because of bad weather.

This year, organizers said the parade would return, rain or shine, and return it did.

With a vengeance.

This year saw the biggest turnout for parade participants (with about 70 organizations/businesses making an appearance), as well as a return to Main Street.  

The parade hasn’t been held on Main Street in years, but on Birch Lane instead. This year, the Town of Romney, the police force (Town of Romney, Hampshire County Sheriff’s Department and the W.Va. State Police) and Department of Highways worked together to close Route 50 between noon and 1 p.m. for the parade.

“It has been a long time since we have had a parade this good,” commented Teresa Soley on Facebook. “I can't wait for next year’s!”

FNB Bank returned with their 81st annual Christmas party for the kids, with Santa, elves, a gingerbread man and a Mountaineer all spreading holiday cheer to the families who participated in the drive-through party.

For the 2nd year, Winterfest provided magical additions to the festive day, including a holiday “Christkindl” market (inspired by the traditional German holiday markets), where vendors gathered to show their wares to wandering eyes and listen to carolers.

In what was probably the biggest hit of the weekend, the horse-drawn sleigh rides through Romney, held on Friday and Saturday, were sold out in nearly no time.

Organizer Barbie Hillenbrand called the 1st-ever sleigh rides “an overwhelming success.”

The ticket sales soared so high that the Friday night’s tickets were sold out by 6:35 p.m., and Saturday’s tickets were sold out by noon.

 “It was great to hear the jingle bells throughout the town as the horses pulled the sleighs, but the schedule developed for the rides was a bit too aggressive,” Hillenbrand said on Monday. “The horses let us know when they were done.”

Jack and Rusty were the only horses running the sleighs, and with 560 total passengers getting a chance to ride, the horses were exhausted by the end of the weekend, she said.

Hillenbrand added also that maybe next year, advance sales would be offered to potentially combat any scheduling mistakes.

Crafts, historical talks, auctions and Christmas concerts also drew folks into Romney last weekend, adding more layers to what shaped up to be a chock-full weekend of festive fun.

Police: CBMS teacher sent pics to kids
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CAPON BRIDGE — A Capon Bridge Middle School teacher was arrested last Thursday on charges of sending obscene material to 2 students.

Special education teacher Melissa Didiana, 37, of Cross Junction Va., admitted to West Virginia State Police that she sent explicit images and video of herself to these students before Thanksgiving break.

Cpl. J.D. Carson secured Didiana's admission, in which she confirmed that she downloaded Snapchat and friended current and former students.

Hampshire County Schools Personnel Director Pam Slocum said the schools could not comment on an ongoing personnel matter.

"The health and safety of our students is our 1st priority," Slocum said. "Please know that we enforce all rules and policies that school employees are expected to obey. There is a process to complete and we are working through it."

State police said Didiana has been released on $40,000 bond. The investigation continues.

Bridge complaint gets Md. hearing
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But W.Va. PSC denies complaint

The Maryland Public Service Commission has scheduled a virtual “pre-hearing conference” on her claim that the bridge is not being adequately maintained and her challenge to the toll rates imposed in 2012.

The hearing is set for 10 a.m. Dec. 21, a Tuesday, via Maryland PSC’s YouTube channel.

The opening comes a month after Kiser struck out for the 2nd time with the West Virginia Public Service Commission.

West Virginia’s PSC last month told the founder of the Green Spring Low Water Bridge Committee that it has no jurisdiction over the bridge and can’t help her.

Kiser’s 1st filing in Maryland was also closed without any action.

Kiser, on her Everything Green Spring Facebook page, remains undaunted.

“This decision, and we tried, only makes our case stronger,” she posted on Nov. 19 about the West Virginia denial. “Their dismissal of our complaint just cleared us to take it to a higher level of authority.”

Kiser’s case is built on the premise that the bridge’s owner, Lori Roberts, has failed to make needed and promised improvements since Maryland granted her request to raise tolls in 2012.

Kiser and her committee have raised funds to fuel a campaign to push either Maryland or West Virginia to investigate Roberts and her company, Historic Infrastructure Management; to compel Roberts to register the bridge as a historic landmark; and to make her repair the bridge.

Kiser has said in the past that she wants control of the bridge taken from Roberts and put in the hands of her nonprofit committee.

West Virginia PSC’s dismissal, dated Oct. 27, was clear, noting the similarity to Kiser’s 2020 complaint.

“Considering both the lack of statutory jurisdiction because of the bridge location and the federal franchise, the Commission must dismiss this complaint,” the order concluded.

The PSC noted that Roberts changing her management company from a Maryland corporation to a West Virginia-registered company had no regulatory significance.

On Nov. 8, Kiser filed an exception to the dismissal.

“Who then can we go to if not our home state when we feel justly wronged by another agency in another state (MD) that we clearly share an interstate bridge, and this said bridge is a lifeline to a WV town?” Kiser asked. “Why does your agency need to have jurisdiction over this landmark to protect the rights of your local citizens concerning these issues?”

The West Virginia PSC also dismissed the exception. It ignored her request that the state put a traffic counter on the bridge.

Kiser’s current complaint in Maryland is not being made public because it contains financial details about the bridge’s operation. Roberts’ response is also classified confidential.

West Virginia’s PSC has kept portions of the recent complaint file confidential for the same reason.

But Roberts’ response to West Virginia is public record.

The 5-paragraph response grumbles that Kiser’s “most recent complaint largely repeats the same vague, contradictory, unsubstantiated allegations” and reminds West Virginia that it has no jurisdiction over the bridge.

The low-water toll bridge between Green Spring and Oldtown, Md., was built privately in the 1930s under an act of Congress because neither West Virginia nor Maryland would construct a bridge there.

The bridge is regulated by Maryland’s Public Service Commission because all but the southern approach lies within Maryland’s boundaries, which extend to the south bank of the Potomac River.

Weather service warns of brushfires
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The National Weather Service has stopped just shy of issuing a brushfire warning, but Romney G.T. Parsons is willing to go a step further.

“Don’t burn,” he said succinctly Tuesday.

West Virginia is under fall burning regulations through the end of this month. That includes restrictions on open fires.

But on Monday, the National Weather Service’s Baltimore office posted an alert on Facebook.

“Given anomalously dry conditions over much of the region over the past 30-60 days, local vegetation (fuels) have reached exceptionally dry levels,” the service said. “With no appreciable rainfall forecast through midweek, the potential for additional brush fires exists.”

Dry weather muted fall’s normally vibrant colors this year and warm temperatures through November helped dry the Potomac Highlands even more.

Winds haven’t helped. A 40-acre brushfire was sparked on Nathanial Mountain Dec. 4, drawing crews from 6 counties into a 5-hour battle.

Brushfire calls have gone out in Grant, Hardy and Mineral counties in the past few days.

Fall fire season rules bar burning from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. The law also requires individuals who are burning to create a 10-foot-wide safety strip with no flammable materials around the burn area.

Fires must be attended until they are extinguished and only plant material may be burned.

“I honestly wish the state would issue a burn ban,” Parsons said. “It would help a little bit.”

‘She thought big, and she aimed high’
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Piggest Raffle Ever offers financial support to 5 families

Ladd, a 9th generation farmer and owner of Brushy Ridge Farm Stand and Country Boutique in Augusta, worked with the Hampshire County Farm Bureau, The Bank of Romney and FNB to put on a raffle to raise money for several of her peers who have had a rough year.

She donated one of her hogs to the raffle and led organizational efforts, and was even honored with one of this year’s Spirit of Giving awards.

“She’s only 18 years old, but growing to be a kindhearted volunteer,” said Rev. Roy Knight during the Spirit of Giving ceremony. “She thought big, and she aimed high.”

In total, the raffle raised $8,410 that was donated to 5 of her peers and their families: Tessa Carpenter, Anthony Voit, Chloe Myers, Cody Eaton and the Tricia Lee family.

Each recipient received a total of $1,682.

“I’ve said this before and will continue to say it for as long as I live,” said Tessa Carpenter. “I am forever amazed and blown away by the love and support that this community continues to outpour.”

 In March, when Ladd came up with the idea of the “Piggest Raffle Ever,” Ladd said she was “so thankful and excited” to be able to help her classmates and friends.

The Bank of Romney even donated $1,000 in March to the cause, and Dean Young called Ladd a “shining example of what it means to live in Hampshire County – unconditional support and compassion for our neighbors.” o

Boosters a good plan as new variant emerges
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Vaccines and boosters and variants, oh my. 

The Covid-19 situation here is persistent, with our numbers remaining fairly constant and our county still stuck in the red zone on the state’s 5-color Covid map. 

Last week, however, the Center for Disease Control (the CDC) revealed that yet another variant has emerged to join the Covid ranks: “Omicron.” 

Months after the initial emergence of the Delta variant, the CDC released a statement Friday identifying Omicron as another potential complication in our nation’s collective fight against the virus. 

The release revealed that the variant has not been found in the U.S. yet, but was reported to the World Health Organization by the South African government. As of right now, there isn’t a whole lot of information available about Omicron. 

“We are working with other U.S. and global public health and industry partners to learn more about this variant, as we continue to monitor its path,” the statement reads. “The U.S. variant surveillance system has reliable detected new variants in this country. We expect Omicron to be identified quickly, if it emerges in the U.S.” 

Variants emerge because as the virus spreads, it has new opportunities to change and mutate. Sometimes these new variants emerge and disappear, and sometimes they stick around. 

While vaccinations are a key step in curtailing the spread of the virus (and the mutation of the virus as it spreads through the community), most folks who got their vaccinations last winter and spring are up to bat as far as getting their booster shots. 

Any adult is eligible to receive their Covid booster shot, as long as it has been 6 months since their final dose.

The health department is holding a Moderna booster clinic on Monday, Dec. 6 from 9-11:30 a.m. Call 304-496-9640 to schedule your booster, and bring your photo ID and your Covid vaccination card to your appointment. 

The health department is still seeing folks trickle in for their initial doses of the vaccine, and they’re offering Pfizer pediatric vaccination clinics both this week and next. They’re currently taking appointments for children 5-11 years old for clinics being held at the health department in Augusta on Dec. 3 and Dec. 10, from 9-11 a.m. Call to schedule an appointment.  

The health department isn’t the only place to receive a vaccine or a booster around the county. Call or visit your nearest pharmacy here to ask about their vaccine availability. Some pharmacies, like Walgreens in Romney, offer same-day scheduling for booster shots. o