CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is getting pressure from within state government to authorize a thorough examination of the Capitol dome to determine if the gold leaf on the dome was damaged during the sesquicentennial fireworks shows.
Administration officials were quick to declare the dome unharmed after a quick eyeball-inspection by a couple of General Services Division employees and a representative from Zambelli Fireworks (no potential conflict there).
However, there are some important facts to weigh here:
• Commercial fireworks burn at a temperature in the range of 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit, or about twice the temperature needed to melt gold.
• The average speed of a launched fireworks shell is about 150 mph.
• Gold is a perfectly inert metal, meaning it does not rust or corrode. (Which is why architect Cass Gilbert proposed using gold leaf as, ironically, the least expensive way to cover and preserve the dome.)
• Once the less-than-paper-thin gold leaf is damaged, even with holes as small as one's fingertip, the exposed copper beneath will oxidize, eventually creating unsightly black streaks -- as were seen on the dome from the late 1990s until it underwent a $5 million restoration, completed in 2005.
I'm no architect or engineer, but I would think it cannot have been a good thing to have fireworks bouncing off the dome for three consecutive nights.
I'm surprised that the administration has been so cavalier to dismiss the possibility the gilding may have been damaged. If the dome had been struck by lightning or by a falling object, I'm sure there would be a hue and cry to get a thorough inspection.
Sesquicentennial Commission executive director Chelsea Ruby even noted that Zambelli had a similar show on the Capitol in 1996, for the Southern Legislative Conference, with no ill effects.
However, that was a smaller pyrotechnics display, and for one night only. One could also argue that within two years, the damage from missing pieces of gilding began to manifest itself as the streaks and black spots became noticeable from street level -- whether the fireworks in any way contributed to that damage will remain unknown.
Of course, if the administration authorizes a thorough, expert inspection of the gilding for possible damage, that's also a concession that it was a numbskull idea to shoot commercial pyrotechnics off the Capitol to begin with, and the finger-pointing will begin on who signed off on it.
Susan Perry, the last of three Department of Health and Human Resources whistleblowers to retain employment with the DHHR, was fired Friday.
Perry, who had been deputy secretary for legal services, had for the past seven months been processing Medicaid paperwork in a cubicle in a windowless office.
We're coming up on the one-year anniversary of when then-acting DHHR Secretary Rocco Fucillo placed Perry, legal counsel Jennifer Taylor and communications director John Law on paid administrative leave, supposedly for trying to intervene in the awarding of a multi-million dollar advertising contract.