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Manchin favors trimming Biden budget plan by more than half
A Democratic senator vital to the fate of President Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion plan for social and environmental spending says he won’t support even half that amount or the ambitious timetable envisioned for passing it

WASHINGTON — A Democratic senator vital to the fate of President Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion plan for social and environmental spending said Sunday he won’t support even half that amount or the ambitious timetable envisioned for passing it.

The stand by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., was described as unacceptable by the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, who is helping craft the measure. But Democrats have no votes to spare if they want to enact Biden’s massive “Build Back Better” agenda, with the Senate split 50-50 and Vice President Kamala Harris the tiebreaker if there is no Republican support.

With congressional committees working toward the target of Wednesday set by party leaders to have the bill drafted, Manchin made clear his view, in a series of television interviews, that there was “no way” Congress would meet the late September goal from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for passage.

“I cannot support $3.5 trillion,” Manchin said, citing in particular his opposition to a proposed increase in the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28% and vast new social spending.

“We should be looking at everything, and we’re not. We don’t have the need to rush into this and get it done within one week because there’s some deadline we’re meeting, or someone’s going to fall through the cracks,” he said.

Pressed repeatedly about a total he could support, Manchin said, “It’s going to be $1, $1.5 [trillion].” He later suggested the range was based on a modest rise in the corporate tax rate to 25%, a figure he believes will keep the U.S. globally competitive.

“The numbers that they’re wanting to pay for and the tax changes they want to make, is that competitive?” Manchin asked. “I believe there’s some changes made that does not keep us competitive.”

But Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is developing the budget bill, noted that he and other members of the liberal flank in Congress had initially urged an even more robust package of $6 trillion.

“I don’t think it’s acceptable to the president, to the American people, or to the overwhelming majority of the people in the Democratic caucus,” Sanders said. He added: “I believe we’re going to all sit down and work together and come up with a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill which deals with the enormously unmet needs of working families.”

The current blueprint proposes billions for rebuilding infrastructure, tackling climate change and expanding or introducing a range of services, from free prekindergarten to dental, vision and hearing aid care for seniors.

Manchin voted last month to approve a budget resolution that set the figure, though he and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., have expressed reservations about the topline amount. All of it would be paid for with taxes on corporations and the wealthy.

Congressional committees have been working hard this month on slices of the 10-year proposal in a bid to meet this week’s timeline from Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to have the bill drafted. Pelosi is seeking a House vote by Oct. 1, near the Sept. 27 target for voting on a slimmer infrastructure plan favored by moderates.

Manchin, who in an op-ed earlier this month urged a “strategic pause” on the legislation to reconsider the cost, described the timing as unrealistic. He has urged Congress to act first on a nearly $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill already passed by the Senate. But liberal Democrats have threatened to withhold their support until the $3.5 trillion spending bill is passed alongside it.

Neither side on Sunday revealed how they hoped to quickly bridge the divide among Democrats.

“There’s no way we can get this done by the 27th, if we do our job,” Manchin said. “There’s so much differences that we have here and so much — there’s so much apart from us where we are. ... I’m working with people. I’m willing to talk to people. It makes no sense at all.”

Manchin spoke on CNN’s “State of the Union,” NBC’s “Meet the Press” and ABC’s “This Week.” Sanders was on CNN and ABC.

Marion County residents pushing for restoration of covered bridge

BARRACKVILLE — The historic Barrackville covered bridge is ready for a face lift. Or, a bridge lift to be more precise.

To repair the bridge and return it to its somewhat original condition, the bridge will have to be lifted off its foundation so the rotting foundation boards can be replaced.

“There are two main boards on both sides, on the bottom of the bridge — good sized boards called seals — they need to be replaced,” said Delegate Guy Ward, R-Marion, who has been in conversation with other citizens who have expressed an interest in the bridge’s repair.

The bridge, which spans 145 feet across Buffalo Creek, is important to Marion County’s history, say residents who are trying to raise money for the bridge’s restoration.

“It’s a Civil War landmark,” said Diana Marple, a proponent of the bridge’s restoration. During the Civil War, Gen. William E. Jones of the Confederate Army seized and burned bridges throughout the Northeast, including parts of West Virginia. “The Confederates were coming to burn the bridge,” Marple said. “Jones came to Barrackville to burn the bridge, and the Ice family talked them out of it — they saved the bridge.”

Built in 1853 at a cost of $1,852, the Barrackville bridge is one of only two covered bridges in the state built by West Virginia bridge architect Lemuel Chenoweth. It was used for transporting commercial goods, and was in use for 130 years without modern reinforcement.

In the 1990s, some restoration work was done to the bridge, but that work is already succumbing to the elements. “I was told they messed up [the restoration] last time — they didn’t preserve the boards properly,” Ward said. “They will do it differently this time.”

Bridge advocates are looking at ways to raise money for the bridge’s repair.

“We had a real exciting meeting [last month],” Marple said. “A gentleman from Ohio, Jon Smith, came and looked at the bridge. He has handled restorations all over the country.”

Rough estimates are coming in at around $300,000 for the restoration, but there aren’t any confirmed quotes yet.

“The biggest cost,” Ward said, “is to raise it up. We’ll need heavy equipment to lift the bridge. It will have to be lifted to replace those boards — the foundation boards are probably 20 feet long.”

“If we were building it today, it would be done differently,” Ward said, adding that it’s important to use building techniques of the past to restore historic landmarks. The Barrackville covered bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1981.

“We might be able to get $20,000 to get started,” Marple said. “Guy Ward suggested that we do the paperwork to get designated as a 501©(4) so we can raise money.”

“I’m working some angles,” Ward said. “I think we might be able to get a grant from the West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History. I talked to the commissioner, Randall Reid-Smith, and he has shown an interest in helping. He invited the [Barrackville] festival committee to apply for a $20,000 grant next spring. So, it’s likely that we’ll get that since he’s the one who approves the grants. It’s not a done deal, but it’s promising.”

If bridge restoration costs come in at $300,000, organizers will have to find other sources of funding.

“We’ll be checking with everybody, hitting up everybody,” Ward said. “There are less than two dozen [covered bridges] left in the state. And Barrackville is the second largest. It is important.”

“Commissioner Reid-Smith is really behind it,” Ward continued. “I think he wants to do everything he can. But we’ll probably talk to some corporations, and maybe start a GoFundMe page.”

One factor that was not considered when the bridge was repaired 30 years ago was the need for regular maintenance. “Last time, no one created a maintenance fund,” Ward said. “So once the bridge is restored, maintenance will be minimal.”

An annual festival is being planned to raise money for the bridge’s maintenance. “We’re planning on having a covered bridge festival,” Marple said. “It will bring attention to the project.” Once the bridge is restored, money raised at the annual festival can be used for general maintenance.

“The bridge was built 170 years ago,” said Bob Pirner, a member of the Barrackville planning commission. “It’s withstood the test of time, and we certainly ought to do what we can to give it another 170 years.”

East Lynn Trail system proposal suspended

LYBURN — The Hatfield McCoy Regional Recreation Authority Board of Directors on Tuesday held a special meeting and voted to suspend any further development of the East Lynn Trail system following public outcry.

The proposition of continuing the Hatfield-McCoy Trails into East Lynn Lake property was met with negative reactions from community members both in-person at a local meeting and in other public comment forums. The main complaint among residents was being opposed to having another portion of Wayne County controlled by government.

After the public comment period for the project concluded last week, Hatfield-McCoy Trails Executive Director Jeff Lusk said it was very clear a trail system was not wanted in East Lynn.

“It was made very clear that most who responded in some way to bringing the Hatfield McCoy Trail system to East Lynn were opposed,” Lusk said. “We have to listen to what the people and communities want, and it was abundantly clear we were not wanted in this area.”

Lusk said there were over 400 comments submitted into the portal, over 12,000 signatures on an online petition and 80 to 100 folks who showed up at a public meeting who disagreed.

The original proposal for the trail came about in discussions with the Corps of Engineers trying to find a solution to illegal trail riding currently happening on the East Lynn Wildlife Management Area.

The property is owned by the Corps but leased to the state Division of Natural Resources as a public hunting area. By law, no off-road riding is permitted on a WMA, but efforts to patrol the property have been ineffective and the level of self described “outlaw riding” has grown beyond what the DNR has the resources to handle.

The plans for making the area part of the Hatfield-McCoy Trails would have meant marking about 43 miles’ worth of land as trails and cutting off about 116 miles of trails currently being used.

Some trails set to be decommissioned if the plan were to have gone through would cut off access to a few cemeteries, and there would be no access by ATV or other recreational vehicle to the East Lynn Lake.

The proposal included 9,000 acres of the WMA being transferred to the trail system.

Though Sen. Mark Maynard, R-Wayne, was a proponent in bringing the trail system to Cabwaylingo, which has been open since May, he was vocal about not supporting the East Lynn plan, stating there were too many cemeteries and public access land areas in the current area to want the Hatfield McCoy trail system to take over.

Lusk said he believes the difference in the East Lynn and Cabwaylingo areas is the volume of riding done on the lake properties versus the forest.

“There seem to be a lot more people actively riding at East Lynn, whereas in Cabwaylingo there were riders previous to the opening of the trail system, but the reaction was a more positive one,” he said. “The process by which each of those areas were planned and proposed was also different.”

Moving forward, Lusk said there will not be any involvement by the trail system in East Lynn, regardless of what the the Corps may decide is best.

“The East Lynn project was just one of 20-something plans we were working on,” he said. “We will be focusing elsewhere in the future.”

Boone County firefighters to commissioners: ‘We need some help’

MADISON — “We’re at the point where we need some help,” Boone County Fire Association President Droop Howell told Boone County Commissioners during their regular session on Aug. 31.

Howell and other members of the association expressed their concerns regarding economic development initiatives that promote the county as a destination for trail riding and kayaking, while volunteer fire departments are lacking rescue equipment.

Via American Rescue Plan funding, Boone County is set to receive $4.16 million for use in what has yet to be outlined in detail to local leaders. Infrastructure and economic development have been highlighted as bold-type guidelines from the federal government.

Howell said firefighters simply want a “seat at the table,” providing the provisions for the funding encompass rescue needs under the guidelines.

“Our fire departments have absorbed about every cost we can absorb, and we’re down to not being able to absorb much more with our funding,” Howell said. “I’m sure you can see where our levy has went in the last six years. [During that time] we’ve lost about half of our funding, yet we are doing more. The Hatfield-McCoy Trail System and tourism ... and I hope it makes money for everyone and I have no problem with it, but tourism is people who don’t pay taxes here coming to our county — which is great — but they’re going to need services.”

Howell noted that the last two ATV accidents that county departments responded to were riders from North Carolina and Ohio, respectively.

Howell said rescue equipment purchased many years ago — before levy funding declined rapidly — is now either not working, obsolete or too old to meet safety standards or requirements.

Howell said that, during the water crisis and unrelated storm of 2012-13, local fire departments were able to provide shelter, food and clean water to their individual communities.

“That isn’t the case now,” he said. “We have to stay compliant as a charter fire department. That has to come first. Tires, hoses, pumps and equipment testing has to be the first priority for us.”

He added, “It will be sad if any chief has to make the decision to not have equipment for special services or not keep his department compliant, and we hope it don’t come to that.”

Howell added that volunteers are also on the front line of drug overdose-related calls and COVID-19 emergencies.

Howell referenced the lack of water-rescue equipment as organizations produce large kayaking events on local rivers and encourage visitors to explore local waters.

“Our fire departments need to be considered in the safety elements of the county’s economic development efforts,” he concluded.

Within Boone County, departments collectively have $2 million in grant applications submitted with hopes for getting a fraction of it approved for retention programs and radio upgrades.

Commission President Craig Bratcher — whose son Nick Bratcher is the fire chief at Racine — said he understood the message firefighters brought to the meeting.

“You are 100% correct,” he said. “The biggest thing right now is that we are still waiting for clarification on how we can spend this money. We can spend it, but if we don’t spend it right, we’ll be writing a check to pay it back. I definitely want to sit down with everyone and get their needs.”