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Blacksnake tunnel advancing, could reach goal by winter

The 6,500-foot journey of the tunnel boring machine designed to bring Blacksnake Creek underground to the river could come to an end before winter.

According to contractor Super Excavators, the tunneling and construction of the pipe from the launch site near the river to an endpoint near Second Harvest Food Bank at 915 Douglas Ave. is well over halfway complete.

“The tunnel boring machine is under Highland Avenue and we’re 70 percent complete,” Senior Project Manager Mike Garbeth said.

Setbacks stopped the project more than once, but Garbeth says they are making progress and have an end date in sight.

“All of our issues that we had with this machine have been resolved and we’re steadily and progressively mining forward,” Garbeth said. “With anticipate to be reaching the retrieval shaft near the food bank in mid-October.”

According to the St. Joseph Public Works Department, the machine was wired incorrectly for American use by the Chinese manufacturers and had to be completely rewired before tunneling could begin. Then electric drives had to be repaired after a failure.

Director Andy Clements said the manufacturer took care of those repairs on site.

“They sent over crews from China and that was done at 100 percent their cost,” Clements said. “When the drives went out, (again) 100 percent their cost. There’s been no addition costs to St. Joe.”

Clements said international strains on trade led to delays for the project before the machine was even in the Americas.

“The ship that the tunnel

boring machine was on was not allowed to move anywhere because they were having the argument about the tariffs and what was going to come in and what wasn’t,” Clements said.

The tunnel will eventually carry water from Blacksnake Creek near Karnes Road all the way to the river in an effort to keep clean water from flowing into the water protection facility and leading to wastewater overflows into the river.

Once the tunnel is complete, work will be done upstream to release Blacksnake Creek water into its new route. Water is expected to enter the pipe in December.

The entirety of the Blacksnake project, which includes tunnel boring, street work, sewer maintenance and property acquisitions is expected to around $67 million dollars.

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Trail Theater has sparkling past, big hopes for future

When the Trail Theater officially opened in May of 1951, it wasn’t as opulent as the Missouri and other long-time city theaters. It was touted as modern in all respects.

The facade and exterior showcased structural glass and glass blocks. “Trail” was spelled out in red neon.

Clyde Weeks, a local historian, remembers the opening quite well. He even kept the souvenir first program.

“They had special concrete that they poured out in front and it was called red carborundum, and it was actually just red cement but they would put some kind of sparkly stuff in it and I mean it just sparked,” Weeks said.

Inside in the lobby, the floor was covered in English red tile. The drapes in the auditorium, made of 200 yards of material, were considered luxurious and added an air of distinction.

The seating was 450 spring-type plush Haywood-Wakefield theater seats set in a sea of lush carpeting. One unique feature was the indirect lighting made by metal troughs mounted on the sidewalls that gave a sunburst light effect. The ceiling and sidewalls were finished with acoustical blocks to ensure superior sound quality. The new screen was the top of the line in its day.

The service was special too, remembered Weeks. He recalled how his wife was impressed with the theater by the way the staff and owners treated her invalid mother who wanted to see ”The Ten Commandments” on the big screen.

“She called (Charles B. Sherman, the manager of the theater), and he said ‘We can make arrangements for this’ and he said ‘Sure come right down,’ and she went down and said they just treated them like royalty,” Weeks said.

The first movie shown at the theater on opening day was “Father’s Little Dividend” starring Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor.

The dedication was given by Sherman and then-mayor Stanley Dale. The theater’s name was explained in the program as “Just as the Santa Fe and Oregon trails of old led the pioneers to new land, may our new Trail lead you to an new land of entertainment.”

The Trail Theater closed in 2007. Now the facade sits dusty and the glass tiles are gone. The inside looks like a shop class with ladders, lumbers, caulk, drywall and other construction items. A stage sits where there were seats in front of the torn screen. There are 250 seats left now, and a bar area is being built and a handicapped-accessible and women’s bathroom are being added.

Winston Bennett and Kim Jennings, two local businessmen, bought the Trial Theater in 2011. They received help form the city for restoration in the form of a $70,000 Save Our Heritage grant.

There have been a few hoped-for opening dates come and go.

“The project has involved more work than originally anticipated by the owners, and the original time scheduled has been delayed,” said Clint Thompson St. Joseph planning and development director.

Bennett said it wasn’t profitable to keep the building a movie theater. For starters, it would cost close to a quarter million dollars to show movies in today’s digital format. The plan is when the building opens is to show public-domain movies for seniors and make it a multipurpose facility.

“Kim and I wanted to buy it before it was torn down and turned into a parking lot,” Bennett said as he stood inside the theater looking at the work that still needs to be done. “Nothing here worked for modern use.”

Road and other construction in the area also delayed the completion of the project, Bennett added, but it will open, he said.

“We don’t know the exact date yet,” Bennett said. “We want to see it used in as many ways a possible, and we had every idea to make it something sustainable for the community.”

Matt Hoffmann / Matt Hoffmann | News-Press NOW  

Attendees file into the St. Joseph Civic Arena Saturday night for a fundraiser for the Noyes Home for Children.

Lung illnesses raise new concerns about vaping

Bryant Mann started vaping in his late teens, when he grew tired of the odor associated with traditional cigarettes.

Today, as he takes a pull from an e-cigarette infused with peach flavor and extra nicotine, he’s not worried about reports that a mysterious lung illness has some people his age hooked to a ventilator instead of a nicotine distribution system. Right now, those illnesses share one common thread: vaping.

“A lot of it is being overblown by the media,” said Mann, 22. “A target is on our backs.”

Health officials started sounding the alarm as e-cigarette usage surged among teenagers, who embrace flavors like cinnablaze and vanilla custard. The U.S. Surgeon General calls teen vaping an epidemic, with one in five high school students now taking up the habit.

Some of the risks are known, like extra nicotine that can impact teen brain development and the presence of arsenic and other toxic metals in the vapors that the smoker inhales. Now, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating nearly 200 cases of lung illnesses that are linked to vaping in at least 22 states. One person in Illinois died from lung complications, the CDC announced.

“I’ve said all along we don’t think they’re safe,” said Dr. Jane Schwabe, a cardiac surgeon at Mosaic Life Care.

The CDC has not identified a specific cause of the lung illnesses, but health officials said all of those with respiratory symptoms reported e-cigarette use and some acknowledged use of products containing THC, an ingredient found in marijuana.

Schwabe notes that many cases involved patients in their teens and 20s, which is much younger than those she sees in St. Joseph with health complications from traditional cigarettes. The CDC said most of the patients in the recent cases reported coughing and shortness of breath before the symptoms worsened and resulted in hospitalization.

“They are very young and going on ventilators,” Schwabe said. “Whether there is something going into the products, I don’t know.”

The Food and Drug Administration is trying to identify the brand and type of vaping products that may be associated with the lung illnesses, an agency official said in a press conference late Friday.

Schwabe and others said one of the big concerns about e-cigarettes has always been a lack of product testing and regulatory oversight. Vaping products can include unlisted ingredients or more nicotine than advertised, said Nancy King, a health educator with the City of St. Joseph Health Department.

“The products are not regulated,” she said. “The manufacturing process is not regulated. I think that’s very critical for people to understand. So you don’t know.”

Schwabe said the lung cases could involve some sort of allergic reaction or response to toxins. For now, no cases have been reported in this state, but the Missouri Department of Health issued an advisory last week calling on physicians to watch for respiratory illnesses and ask about any possible connection to vaping.

The Missouri Poison Control Center worked more than 30 cases involving breathing difficulties associated with vaping in the last five years.

Schwabe said doctors will start looking more closely for connections to vaping when patients experience respiratory problems. While much remains unknown about the recent lung cases, she urged parents to talk to their children about the dangers of vaping.

“It’s very important, if kids aren’t using e-cigarettes, to have that conversation,” Schwabe said. “They will be peer pressured into using them.”

For his part, Mann is starting to have regrets, but more because of cost than health risks. “I wish I hadn’t started in the first place,” he said.

Even before photo op of G-7 allies, sharp elbows come out

BIARRITZ, France — The posturing by leaders of the G-7 rich democracies began well before they stood together for a summit photo.

French President Emmanuel Macron, the host, cornered Donald Trump at the American leader’s hotel with an impromptu lunch invitation. It was something of a power move by Macron, who pushed the Amazon wildfires to the top of the agenda at a summit Trump hoped to use to persuade allies they can avoid economic disaster by following his low-tax, low-regulation mantra.

European Council President Donald Tusk and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson traded barbs over who would go down in history as “Mr. No Deal” and take the blame for a Brexit departure from the European Union that threatens to go off the rails.

And nearly everyone kept a trade threat close at hand.

Just before boarding Air Force One for France, Trump tweeted yet another threat of new tariffs on French wine in retaliation for France’s digital services tax. Macron greeted him warmly as a “very special guest,” but had already called for an end to the trade disputes that he said threatened global growth.

Tusk said the three-day summit in the seaside resort of Biarritz would be “a difficult test of the unity and solidarity of the free world and its leaders.” For a meeting where the disputes traditionally happen in private, the results were looking grim.

Even as Tusk, who presides over the council of leaders of the 28-member European Union, said the last thing the bloc wanted was a trade dispute with the United States and called for “an end to trade wars,” he promised to retaliate against U.S. products if Trump carries through on the wine tariffs.

Macron has said the summit would not end with a final statement, as he had little expectation that Trump will agree to anything about fighting climate change even as the issue shot to the top of the agenda with the widespread fires in the Amazon. He already rejected Trump’s request to let Russia rejoin the group five years after being expelled over its seizure of Crimea. And he is trying to hold together the European line on the Iran nuclear deal over U.S. objections.

“We have disagreements, and at times there are caricatures. But I think that the great challenges that we have: Climate, biodiversity, the technological transformation, the fight against inequality, this global insecurity, we will only resolve them by acting together, by reconciling,” he said.

But sitting across from Trump ahead of their unscheduled two-hour lunch, Macron said he hoped to lead Europe toward lowering taxes, in an acknowledgement that fiscal stimulus could blunt a coming recession. He warned against escalating trade disputes, even after threatening to block an EU trade deal with several South American states, including Brazil over the Amazon fires.

Ireland joined in the threat. German Chancellor Angela Merkel disagreed, with her office saying Saturday that blocking the deal with the South American trade bloc, Mercosur, won’t reduce the destruction of rainforest in Brazil, although she backed Macron’s proposal to discuss the fires at the summit.

At last year’s summit in Charlevoix, Canada, Trump left early and repudiated the final statement in a tweet from Air Force One. This year, Macron said, there will be no final statement.

Instead, diplomats say Macron could issue his own summary of the discussions.

Lowered expectations are nothing new for the G-7, but this year’s intent seems to be just to avoid diplomatic catastrophe, salvage the possible, and show voters that their leaders have a role on the world stage. One force that could push leaders together is their joint vulnerability to an economic slowdown, especially the ones who, like Trump, are facing elections in the next year or two.

Disputes on trade have unsettled the global economy because businesses don’t know where tariffs will be imposed or what the trading system will look like in a world that has become dependent on supplies of materials, parts and goods flowing through intricate cross-border supply chains.

Given lowered expectations the most important summit outcome would be “to do no harm,” said Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg Bank in London. “Have a discussion without a bust-up, no repeat of Charlevoix, please.”

A “dream result” would be the EU, U.S. and Japan agreeing to jointly tackle their trade issues with China, but “with America-First Trump that seems too much to hope for,” he said.

All eyes will be on the dynamic between Trump and Johnson , two figures who relish the unpredictability they have sown. Johnson is under intense pressure to pull Britain out of the EU and many see his relationship with the United States as key.

“My message to G-7 leaders this week is this: the Britain I lead will be an international, outward-looking, self-confident nation,” he said.

Despite the barbs, Johnson and Tusk sat across a small table with Macron, Merkel, and Italy’s caretaker leader Guiseppe Conte, who was its prime minister until just a few days ago.

Conte is not the only G-7 leader in a weak position.

Merkel is in her last term of office. Canadian leader Justin Trudeau, up for re-election this fall, is at the center of a political scandal . Macron himself is deeply unpopular at home, and the yellow vest protesters who have plagued him since last year have followed him to Biarritz. Only Japan’s Shinzo Abe, who overwhelmingly won re-election earlier this summer, appeared solid back home.

And even Abe faced his own diplomatic tangle, as South Korea backed out of an intelligence sharing deal with Japan over a trade dispute — and over U.S. objections.

Well outside Biarritz, police fired water cannon and tear gas at about 400 anti-capitalist protesters blocking roads in Bayonne. Earlier Saturday thousands of demonstrators marched peacefully from the area to the Spanish border to demand more action against climate change and economic inequality.

Biarritz itself was in a subdued mood after being locked down during the final week of the summer break for most of France. The appropriately named Bellevue congress center where the leaders gathered Saturday night overlooks the carefully raked sandy beach beloved by surfers and swimmers alike. It was empty.