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Justice announces approval of $80-million bond sale for West Virginia State Parks improvements

The Free Press WV

The West Virginia Economic Development Authority approved the sale of up to $80 million in excess lottery revenue bonds to pay for repairs, maintenance and improvements to West Virginia’s state parks and forests.

“In the 2018 State of the State address I told you our state parks were in disrepair. We now have concrete plans on the table to do a major modernization of facilities in nearly all of our state parks over the next three years,” said Govenor Justice. “Our parks are a major part of the state’s tourism industry, and this will allow us to make them even more attractive to in-state and out-of-state visitors. This is great news for the parks and all of the communities and local businesses that support them as well.”

Gov. Justice signed Senate Bill 438 earlier this year which authorized the bond sale. The WVEDA was responsible for reviewing the proposed projects and approving the sale. The excess lottery revenue bonds are expected to be made available by the end of September.

“Much of the improvements are geared toward addressing significant levels of deferred maintenance identified over the past few years. Tourism is a major component of West Virginia’s economic development plan and bringing our state parks in line with the expectations of today’s tourists and travelers is an important part of that,” said Division of Natural Resources Director Steve McDaniel. “I thank Gov. Justice for taking the lead in making these much-needed repairs one step closer to reality.”

Every one of West Virginia’s 35 state parks, seven state forests and two rail trails will see improvements from this bond sale. Examples include: Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) improvements; replacement and repairs of major structural concerns; electrical service upgrades and replacement; better recreational, interpretive and safety equipment; cabin, lodge and conference facility upgrades; internet connectivity equipment; water supply and wastewater system repairs; and construction, improvements and repairs to new and existing recreational facilities.

The Division of Natural Resources estimates that these projects will cost about $60 million to complete.

Trade tariffs mean uncertainty for WV

The Free Press WV

Foreign companies are hesitant to bring their investments to the U.S. with the tariffs imposed under President Donald Trump’s administration, and West Virginia isn’t exempt from feeling the result of that uncertainty.

Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) held a roundtable Wednesday with representatives from the German Embassy, as well as local business community leaders, to discuss those concerns and to find ways to bring additional German investments to the Mountain State.

“German companies want to be in the U.S. market because it’s such an important market globally because there’s so much innovation going on here,” said Boris Ruge, the minister/deputy chief of mission for the German Embassy in Washington, D.C. “But the tariffs have been an issue and that’s why we need to have that conversation with the executive branch, with the administration in Washington. That’s started, we have issues, but we’re moving in a good direction and we hope we can continue doing that.”

West Virginia is currently home to 26 German companies, of which three participated in Wednesday’s roundtable — Prebena North America Fastener Corporation based in Bridgeport, New Martinsville’s Covestro and Stockmeier Urethanes in Clarksburg, which hosted the event.

“For someone like me coming from the embassy in Washington, it’s always really useful to go out and to speak to people at the state and local level,” Ruge said. “I thought what was really helpful about this conversation today was that we had business community here, three German companies represented from this part of West Virginia, that we had the Chamber of Commerce, that we had the state level economic development and the Congressman, and that’s really helpful for us because there’s a lot of issues that you don’t really understand from the Washington perspective where it’s all abstract statistics. You have to speak to the businesses in order to understand what’s going on.”

It’s no secret to those in the room of how important trade is of how important investments are. The question is how to fix that hestiation, McKinley said.

“We have to take that message back to Washington and make sure they are hearing the effect it’s having because there are pros and cons,” he said. “If it’s only used to be a temporary to get people at the table, that’s one thing, but if this is going to be permanent, then we’re going to have some problems with it because it could have some negative implications to industry across America.”

McKinley said he has a meeting with White House staff in just two weeks, at which point he’ll share the information discussed at Wednesday’s roundtable and have a conversation about the impact that it could be having on the country’s trade and industry.

“We’re doing the same thing we’ve been doing for the last eight years, meeting with individuals and companies to try to find ways that diversify our economy in West Virginia because we can’t all be in the steel mill, in the chemical industry or in coal mining,” he said. “We’ve got to find some other things, and I think that’s with petrochemical. I think this is going to be a new opportunity for us.”

And the jobs are there, McKinley said.

Currently, he said, there are six million job openings throughout the U.S. — more than the country has historically seen at any one given time.

“So we have plenty of job opportunities,” he said. “They may not all be here, but we’re already seeing a resurgence. There’s something happening positively in West Virginia, so we think we can hire them here.”

Power Companies File Settlement Agreement with PSC

The Free Press WV

Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power have filed a settlement agreement seeking to use tax reform funds to offset fuel and vegetation management costs, allowing customer rates to remain stable for two years.

The companies said in a news release that the agreement was filed Monday with the West Virginia Public Service Commission, which must approve the deal.

The settlement would offset $110 million in costs.

The release said without the agreement, rates could have risen by as much as 11 percent.

Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power are units of American Electric Power Company.

Lawmakers Ask for Harsher Drug Laws After Crash Near Park

The Free Press WV

West Virginia lawmakers are calling for harsher drug laws following a possible overdose-related car crash that stopped feet away from a playground.

Senator Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, says he wants to create a “punishment that fits the crime.“

The executive director of Greater Huntington Park and Recreation District, Kevin Brady, says he’s working with a law firm to draft a bill extending crime penalty enhancements for schools and parks. And the newspaper reports that Cabell County legislators already are on board.

Thirty-four-year-old Tabitha Wyrick’s car smashed into a light pole near a park earlier this month. She was treated with an overdose-fighting drug and charged with driving under the influence. 33-year-old Bradley Stephen Wyrick also was treated and charged with possession of a controlled substance.

Justice receives letter of retirement from Supreme Court Justice Robin Jean Davis

The Free Press WV

Governor Jim Justice accepted a letter received yesterday evening from Supreme Court Justice Robin Jean Davis indicating that she is retiring from the court effective Monday, August 13, 2018.
“Today my general counsel will provide the necessary documentation to the Secretary of State’s office so that the special election process may begin immediately for this vacancy. The Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission will immediately begin the process of filling this vacancy with an appointee to serve as a justice until the people of West Virginia elect a new justice in a special election,” Governor Justice said.
Governor Justice also sent a letter to Justice Davis acknowledging her retirement and thanked her, on behalf of the people of West Virginia, for her public service during her tenure on the State Supreme Court.

View Justice Davis’ letter HERE.

Program on journalism set next month in West Virginia

The Free Press WV

The West Virginia Humanities Council is presenting the last of its series on journalism and informed citizens next month in Shepherdstown.

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Eric Eyre of The Charleston Gazette-Mail and National Public Radio newscaster Giles Snyder will discuss the importance of pursuing complex stories and creating context for them. West Virginia Public Broadcasting Eastern Panhandle bureau chief Cecelia Mason will moderate the free, public program on Sept. 6.

Eyre received a Pulitzer last year for his series on painkillers. Snyder is a former West Virginia Public Radio employee and an alumnus of Marshall University.

The program is the last of three public presentations produced with funding through the “Democracy and the Informed Citizen” initiative administered by the Federation of State Humanities Councils.

Volunteer workday planned at Bluestone National Scenic River

The Free Press WV

Volunteer events to clean up and work at Bluestone National Scenic River are being planned, starting this week.

The National Park Service and Friends of New River Gorge National River say the project starts Saturday with a large trash sweep along the Bluestone Turnpike Trail. Volunteers will float trash down the river and win prizes for trash treasures they find.

Two additional workdays are planned for Sept. 15 and Oct. 6.

The projects are part of the 50th anniversary of the National Trails and National Wild & Scenic Rivers Systems. The National Park Foundation awarded a grant to the National Parks of Southern West Virginia to build volunteer and partnership projects.

WV justice impeached; other justices in crosshairs

The Free Press WV

A West Virginia Supreme Court justice facing a 23-count federal indictment was impeached Monday for spending $363,000 on his office renovations — part of an extraordinary move by lawmakers to consider putting the entire court on trial in the Senate.

The state House of Delegates voted 64-33 to send the impeachment article, one of eight against suspended Justice Allen Loughry, to the state Senate for a trial.

The House was to consider and make recommendations on 13 other articles later Monday, including allegations Loughry lied about taking home a $42,000 antique desk and a $32,000 suede leather couch; and that Chief Justice Margaret Workman and justices Robin Davis and Beth Walker made excessively expensive upgrades to their offices.

Some legislators said they didn’t support impeaching any justice for wasteful spending, only for articles pertaining to lying, cheating or stealing.

But John Shott, a Mercer County Republican who chaired the House Judiciary Committee hearings that drew up the impeachment articles, asked whether there is public confidence in the court, and if not, “we need to take action to try to rebuild that trust.”

Several lawmakers noted the Supreme Court has a separate budget and is currently allowed to spend as it sees fit. But Shott said the court should spend that money wisely “and for the benefit of its citizens.”

A proposed constitutional amendment this fall would bring the state courts’ budget partly under legislative control.

Loughry, who wrote a 2006 book chronicling West Virginia political corruption, was indicted in June on 23 counts of mail fraud, wire fraud, lying to federal law enforcement, witness tampering and obstruction of justice. Justice and legislative leaders have asked him to resign. Loughry has not responded and did not testify at the committee hearings.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is a day that none of us really want to be here,” Delegate Tom Fast, a Republican from Kanawha County, said at the start of Monday’s session.

One impeachment article accuses Loughry of lying to the House Finance Committee in January about his involvement in his Supreme Court office renovations, including a custom-designed wooden-inlay map showing all 55 West Virginia counties embedded in the floor.

Loughry also was cited in separate articles for using state money to frame personal items at his office; the use at his home of state-owned computers and an expensive, antique desk; and using state-owned vehicles for personal use, including over holidays.

Loughry also was cited along with Workman, Davis and Walker for failing to control expenses, including more than $1 million in renovations to their individual offices, and not maintaining policies over matters such as state vehicles, working lunches and the use of office computers at home.

Loughry, Davis and Workman also were cited for authorizing senior status judges to be overpaid in violation of state law.

Justice Menis Ketchum retired and agreed to plead guilty to a federal wire fraud count involving the personal use of state-owned vehicles and fuel cards.

A special election already is set in November to fill the remainder of Ketchum’s term. After Tuesday, Republican Gov. Jim Justice would appoint a replacement for any impeached justice to serve until the 2020 election.

Minority Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee where the articles were voted on last week had tried to speed up the impeachment process in the hopes of beating an Aug. 14 deadline for arranging a special election in November if any justice is impeached. Instead, the committee took its time, even conducting a tour of the state Supreme Court offices earlier this month.

Circuit judge Paul T. Farrell has been sworn in to act as the court’s chief justice for the Senate trial.

The last time the Legislature was involved in similar proceedings was 1989, when state Treasurer A. James Manchin was impeached by the House of Delegates after the state lost $279 million invested in the bond market. Manchin resigned before the state Senate took up the impeachment measure. He was never charged and the state recovered $55 million from lawsuits against nine New York brokerage firms involved in the losses.

Adopt-A-Highway Announces 2018 Volunteer Awards

The Free Press WV

The WVDEP’s Adopt-A-Highway Program, in conjunction with the Rehabilitation Environmental Action Plan (REAP), hosted the Volunteer Appreciation Picnic last weekend at Stonewall Resort.

AAH Coordinator Kim Smith presented Danny Montgomery, of Masontown, with the program’s Volunteer of the Year Award. Montgomery, who has been a member of the Midway Getters 4-H Club for 20 years, has been an integral part of the group’s cleanup efforts in his tenure—having participated in over 60 cleanups. Montgomery also leads the group’s conservation efforts by planting and maintaining a flower bed in the center of Masontown each year and fostering and delivering 1,000 tree seedlings to students, teachers and personnel at Valley Elementary in Arthurdale.

The list of group winners is:

• Most Active Group in One Year: Midway Getters 4-H Club
• Most Litter Collected in One Year: Midway Getters 4-H Club
• Most Litter Collected – Lifetime Achievement: Midway Getters 4-H Club
• Most Active Group – Lifetime Achievement: Cox & Cox

Smith also handed out 25 Grandfather Awards, which went to AAH members with 20 or more years of service. Only those registered for the event received an award.

The AAH Program currently has over 4,500 active members, with as many as 4,200 participating in the AAH’s Spring Cleanup event.

“Our goal is to thank the public for all the hard work they do,” said Smith. “They save the state over $1 million each year with their volunteer efforts.”

Impeachment Articles Target a State’s Entire Supreme Court

The Free Press WV

West Virginia’s Supreme Court could be in for an overhaul: The state’s House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday approved articles of impeachment against all four justices, accusing them of maladministration, corruption, incompetency, and neglect of duty, among other crimes. “This is truly a sad day for West Virginia, but it is an important step forward if we are going to restore the public’s confidence in the judiciary,“ said the committee’s Republican chairman, John Shott, per NPR. Of the 14 articles, four apply to Chief Justice Margaret Workman, four to Justice Robin Davis, two to Justice Elizabeth Walker, and eight to Justice Allen Loughry, who wrote a book on corruption in the state before being indicted this summer on charges of fraud, obstruction of justice, and witness tampering, stemming from an investigation into improper use of state resources.

The impeachment articles heading to a Monday House vote accuse the four justices—a fifth, Justice Menis Ketchum, retired in July but will plead guilty to federal wire fraud, per the Charleston Gazette-Mail—of “unnecessary and lavish” spending during office remodeling and failing to account for state resources. But the committee’s ranking Democrat says only Loughry’s actions are worthy of impeachment. Noting the articles were filed a week before a deadline to arrange a November special election for any vacant seats, Barbara Fleischauer fears “a coup” that would allow Republican Governor Jim Justice to appoint justices until the next election in 2020, if a Senate trial ultimately finds wrongdoing. “They dragged this out all summer long, and suddenly they put this on the agenda,“ she says. Per NPR, the court was previously 3-2 in favor of Democrats.

FERC issues stop work order on Atlantic Coast Pipeline

The Free Press WV

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a stop work order on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, ordering Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC and Dominion Energy Transmission Inc. to provide an interim right-of-way and work area stabilization plan.

The order halts construction of the $5.5 billion project, which includes 600 miles of buried pipeline from West Virginia into eastern North Carolina.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued an order on Aug. 6 vacating a right-of-way permit from the National Park Service and the Incidental Take Statement issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Commission staff cannot predict when NPS or FWS may act or whether NPS will ultimately approve the same route,” Office of Energy Projects Director Terry Turpin said in a letter to Dominion Energy.

“Should NPS authorize an alternative crossing location, Atlantic may need to revise substantial portions of the ACP route across non-federal or federal lands, possibly requiring further authorizations and environmental review.”

Aaron Ruby, spokesman for Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Dominion Energy, said they are working with key agencies to resume construction as soon as possible.

“The Atlantic Coast Pipeline has been the most thoroughly reviewed infrastructure project in the history of our region. The recent action by the courts and FERC are further evidence of this unprecedented scrutiny and the high standard that is being applied to this project,” he said.

The interim right-of-way and work area stabilization plan have to be submitted within five days for review and written approval by the Turpin or a designee of the Office of Energy Projects.

Blankenship Challenges Denial of Third-Party U.S. Senate Bid

The Free Press WV

Former coal executive Don Blankenship has filed a court challenge to a denial of his third-party candidacy application to run in West Virginia’s U.S. Senate race.

Blankenship filed the challenge with the state Supreme Court on Thursday.

Secretary of State Mac Warner last month blocked Blankenship’s bid to run as the Constitution Party’s nominee, based on the state’s “sore loser” law. The law prohibits major party primary candidates who lose from switching to a minor party. Blankenship finished third in the Republican primary.

Blankenship says in a statement the law “is flawed in multiple ways.“

Blankenship is a former CEO of Massey Energy, which owned a mine where a 2010 explosion killed 29 miners. He spent a year in federal prison for conspiring to violate mine safety regulations.

Plea hearing set for former justice on fraud count

The Free Press WV

A plea hearing has been scheduled for a former West Virginia Supreme Court justice facing a federal felony charge related to the personal use of state-owned vehicles and fuel cards.

News outlets cited court documents that say the hearing for Menis Ketchum is set for August 23 in U.S. District Court in Charleston.

U.S Attorney Mike Stuart announced last week that Ketchum was being charged and had agreed to plead guilty to one count of wire fraud.

He faces up to 20 years in prison.

Ketchum abruptly announced in a handwritten letter July 11 that he would step down effective July 27, two years before the end of his 12-year term.

The letter gave no reason for his resignation.

A special election will be held to fill the remainder of Ketchum’s term.

17 houses built under West Virginia flood recovery program

The Free Press WV

An official with West Virginia’s National Guard says the state’s troubled disaster recovery program has completed construction on 17 homes.

State Adjutant General Maj. Gen. James Hoyer says another home is expected to be completed this week.

The progress comes nearly two months into the Guard’s stewardship of the $150 million program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Department of Commerce controlled the program until Governor Jim Justice placed it under the Guard’s care.

The program, meant to help residents recover from the deadly 2016 floods, has been stymied by reports of issues including questionable fund usage.

Hoyer said one major change is that RISE can now work with the state Housing Development Fund to assist with family relocation.

West Virginia nonprofits can apply for aid for storm damage

The Free Press WV

Private, nonprofit organizations in West Virginia have another month to apply for disaster loans for damage from severe weather in May and June.

The Small Business Administration said the deadline is Sept. 10 for organizations located in Grant, Hampshire, Hardy, Jefferson, Mineral, Morgan and Pendleton counties.

The loans are for damage resulting from severe storms, flooding, landslides and mudslides from May 28 through June 3.

Apply online at https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/ .

For more information, call 800.659.2955, or 800.877.8339 for deaf and hard-of-hearing, or email ‘disastercustomerservice@sba.gov’.

The deadline for economic injury applications is April 12.

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