Funds roll in for transit station

Columbia has received $2.3 million in promised federal funds earmarked for public transportation, said Mark Grindstaff, the city’s director of public transit. The money will be spent to refurbish the historic Wabash Station, which is the main transfer station for the Columbia Transit System. “We definitely need the space,” Grindstaff said. “Columbia transit has grown considerably. We’re really excited about the new public amenities, such as better seating, that will be available.”

Mixed reactions to Russian hurricane aid

The day after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, the Russian government offered its first substantial material assistance to the United States since the end of the Cold War. Russians sent 44 metric tons of humanitarian aid, two transport planes loaded with rescue helicopters and equipment that included 121 tents for evacuees, Russian officials last week said the country will continue to provide help to those in the area devastated by the hurricane, and the aid was a topic of discussion on Friday when President George W. Bush met with President Vladimir Putin in the White House. The prestigious Russian newspaper “Kommersant” described the U.S. willingness to accept the support as an important historical moment between the two countries.

Warm weather defies seasonal norm

The autumn season is characterized by shorter days and cooler nights, but the hot weather and precipitation hovering over the area are making the first day of autumn feel a lot like summer. “The area has been experiencing a warmer-than-usual September,” said Pat Guinan, MU’s commercial agriculture climatologist.

Intense tropical storms have increased in the last 35 years.

As Hurricane Katrina-scarred Gulf Coast residents prepare for Hurricane Rita, scientists continue to debate what is making these tropical storms so intense. Some researchers across the country are reviewing recent studies, which link warmer oceans with stronger hurricanes over the last 35 years.

Hurricane Rita nears coast

GALVESTON, Texas — Gaining strength with frightening speed, Hurricane Rita swirled toward the Gulf Coast a Category 5, 175-mph monster on Wednesday as more than 1.3 million people in Texas and Louisiana were sent packing on orders from authorities who learned a bitter lesson from Katrina. With Rita projected to hit Texas by Saturday, Gov. Rick Perry urged residents along the state’s entire coast to begin evacuating. And New Orleans braced for the possibility that the storm could swamp the misery-stricken city all over again.

Funds needed for street repairs

As Columbia grows, so do the demands on its infrastructure. In response to the population surge and the expectation that it will continue, city officials have identified $105 million worth of street, sidewalk and other transportation projects that should be done over the next 10 years. Toward that end, the Columbia City Council has placed Propositions 4 and 5 on the Nov. 8 ballot, hoping voters will see the need and approve new taxes to cover the costs.

Rita risk drives up oil prices

Uncertainty over Hurricane Rita’s path through the Gulf of Mexico pushed prices in the global oil market up by more than $1 per barrel on Wednesday. Rig workers evacuated installations along the Gulf Coast, echoing the refinery shutdowns less then a month ago in the wake of Katrina, crippling the area’s production capacity.

Job fair targets hurricane evacuees

The Missouri Career Center hosted an employment fair on Wednesday for Katrina evacuees at its resource center on Vandiver Drive. Although New Orleans evacuees were the intended target of the fair, Columbia residents were not turned away. “I hope that anyone who is seeking temporary or permanent employment finds it,” said Gilbert Hake, regional manager for the Missouri Division of Workforce Development. “Finding a job may be a significant factor in whether people decide to stay in Columbia.”

Missouri Guard unit returns from Louisiana

Sgt. Curtis Webb sang “Happy Birthday” to his 2-year-old daughter, Morgan, over the phone this year. The Columbia resident was calling from Kenner, La., where he and the 128th National Guard Field Battalion aided Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. Battalion members returned Wednesday evening to the National Guard Armory in Columbia after 20 days away from home. They were deployed to Jefferson Parish, La., on Sept. 2 to provide security at stationary posts, escort convoys, monitor checkpoints and patrol with Kenner police officers.

Praying at the pole

Shortly after 7 a.m. Wednesday, Rock Bridge High School senior Tyler Shields launched into “Here I Am to Worship” to kick off his school’s “See You at the Pole” event, where about 70 students gathered to pray. Across Columbia and the nation, students met at their school’s flagpoles to proclaim their faith. “See You at the Pole” was started by a group of Texas teenagers in 1990 who wanted to pray for classmates who didn’t have a relationship with Christ. They drove to three schools, went to the flagpoles and prayed that the leaders of their schools and the country would make wise choices. They decided to make it an annual event, and by 2004, more than 3 million students from all 50 states were participating.

Ameren mulls rate increase after closure

JEFFERSON CITY — A spokesman for the state’s largest electric company raised the possibility that this month’s shutdown of the state’s only nuclear power facility will lead to an electric rate increase for eastern Missouri. On Sunday, Ameren shut down operation of the Callaway County nuclear plant for equipment replacement.

Fire District Board meets with specialist

A psychologist offered to help the Boone County Fire Protection District ease tension within the organization at the fire district board meeting Wednesday night. Board President Willis Smith introduced Pamela Franta to present a communications proposal for the fire district. She said she wanted to address conflict among volunteers, administrators and board members. “The level of tension that’s been seen is a level of escalation,” Franta said. “The next level in that litigation is violence.”

Full days to resume for schools after rain

Based on weather predictions calling for morning storms, Columbia Public Schools will have a full day of classes today. The storms, which officials hope will cool classrooms, should hit Columbia around 7 a.m., said Lynn Barnett, assistant superintendant for student support services at the school district. Barnett and other officials consulted and to help make their decision. After receiving complaints about “excessive heat” from students, parents and teachers , district officials decided to dismiss classes early Wednesday, Barnett said.

Insurers assess storm's toll

The work of two of Columbia’s largest employers, Shelter Insurance and State Farm Insurance, has barely begun, as hundreds of claim calls come in daily because of damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. For the adjusters down there, the calculated damage pales in comparison to the human loss, said Joe Moseley, vice president of public affairs for Shelter Insurance.

Coming home

Many members of the Missouri National Guard started their trip home on Tuesday. Spc. Karmen Reiss of the 175th Battalion from Fulton, said the group was called off its tasks on Monday and told to prepare for departure. “They called us, said ‘Get your stuff, you’re going home,’” Reiss said.

Tax renewal would fund fire equipment

Fire trucks and fire stations don’t come cheap, so city officials are hoping Columbia taxpayers will agree to help pay for them. Proposition 3, one of six questions the Columbia City Council has placed on the Nov. 8 ballot, would extend the city’s quarter-cent capital-improvement sales tax for three years. It would generate an estimated $15 million.

Judge upholds dismissal of fire department official

A judge on Monday upheld the firing of a former Boone County assistant fire chief after the Boone County Fire Protection District voted to terminate him. Circuit Judge Ellen Roper declined to reinstate the former assistant chief, Bruce Piringer. The fire department’s board voted to dismiss Piringer after a closed meeting in June but did not clearly record the vote in the meeting’s minutes. Piringer’s attorneys said he had not been legally fired and asked the judge to give Piringer his job back.

Man charged with rape

A Columbia teenager was arrested Sunday on suspicion of raping a Centralia woman at her home and threatening the woman’s daughter with a knife. The daughter escaped and flagged down a Centralia police car.

Group to promote airport use

A volunteer task force has been established to promote greater use of Columbia Regional Airport, which has struggled with declining passenger numbers in recent years. The task force will concentrate on marketing the airport’s favorable characteristics and what airport advocates believe are the advantages of flying from Columbia Regional rather than driving to the airports in St. Louis or Kansas City.

Wilco concert wraps up summer

Summer unofficially comes to an end tonight when the rock band Wilco plays outside to a sold-out crowd at the last installment of the Ninth Street Summerfest. Between 2,500 and 3,000 people are expected to pay to listen to the Chicago-based band, with others expected to show up outside the barrier to listen for free, said C.K. Hoenes, owner of W.G. Grinders and one of the Summerfest sponsors.