Rock House Powellton mine

The Free Press WV

Update: 12.12.18,  11:00 AM

Search effort continues to locate missing persons at the Rock House Powellton mine in Clear Creek, Raleigh County.

Officials from the WV Office of Miners’ Health, Safety & Training (MSH&T) and Alpha Natural Resources began work early this morning to deploy today’s plan of action.

In the past 24 hours, additional access has been cleared to the mine portal in Boone County. This will enable additional rescuers to enter the mine today. The teams will be entering this morning.

Eugene White, MHS&T Director, confirmed large fans operated overnight to move fresh air into the mine at the main portal site.  Water pumps also operated overnight, clearing standing water from the mine, which will allow rescuers to expand their search.

Multiple teams of rescuers from MHS&T and Alpha Natural Resources will be entering the mine this morning. A four-man team will enter the main portal on the Boone County side of the mine, aided by four team members who will guide the effort from the surface. Two four-man teams will enter the mine from the Rock House entrance in Raleigh County, with support on the surface.

Additional updates will be provided as they become available.

The search effort continues to locate missing persons at the Rock House Powellton mine in Clear Creek, Raleigh County.

The West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training (MHS&T) confirmed late Monday night one of the four missing persons emerged on his own from the Rock House Powellton mine. The man informed officials the remaining three missing persons were alive and still in the mine and provided details regarding their location.

Two four-man rescue teams explored the mine again overnight, aided by eight team members who guided the effort from the surface. The teams exited the mine at near daybreak after search efforts were unsuccessful and oxygen reserves in their rescue apparatus were depleted.

Today, officials are working to remove standing water from an alternate entryway and pump fresh air into the mine, allowing rescue teams to expand their search area in the mine for the missing individuals.

“Our priority is rescuing these individuals and maintaining the safety of our mine rescue teams. I have ordered the coordination of all resources needed for rescuers to continue to search the mine. We’re doing everything we can to accelerate the rescue,” said Gov. Justice.

After being briefed on the rescue situation last night, Gov. Justice drove to Whitesville and spent many hours with the families at the Community Center and visited the mine rescue team at the mine portal before they went underground. “These families, friends, and the entire community are really hurting and need to be in our prayers. We also need to keep the mine rescue teams in our prayers as they attempt to pull off this rescue. We are blessed to have the experience and leadership of MHS&T Director Eugene White,” Governor Justice added.

The Office of Miners’ Health, Safety & Training, WV National Guard, WV State Police, Raleigh County Sheriff’s Office, Boone County Sheriff’s Office and mine officials have coordinated the search and rescue efforts since the four individuals were reported missing late Saturday near the mine in Clear Creek, WV.

Lewis County man sentenced for firearms charge

The Free Press WV

Roger Lee Clem, II, aka “Woody,” of Weston, West Virginia, was sentenced to 37 months incarceration for a firearms charge, United States Attorney Bill Powell announced.

Clem, age 30, pled guilty to one count of “Possession of a Stolen Firearm” in July 2018. Clem admitted to having a stolen .45-caliber pistol in Lewis County in October 2016.

This case was brought as part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a program that has been historically successful in bringing together all levels of law enforcement to reduce violent crime and make our neighborhoods safer for everyone. The Attorney General’s Office has made turning the tide of rising violent crime in America a top priority. In October 2017, as part of a series of actions to address this crime trend, the Attorney General’s Office announced the reinvigoration of PSN and directed all U.S. Attorney’s Offices to develop a district crime reduction strategy that incorporates the lessons learned since PSN launched in 2001.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen D. Warner prosecuted the case on behalf of the government. The Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives, The Mountain Region Drug & Violent Crime Task Force, the Greater Harrison Drug &Violent Crime Task Force, a HIDTA-funded initiative, the West Virginia State Police, Upshur County Sheriff’s Office, Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, the Buckhannon Police Department, and the Weston Police Department investigated.

U.S. District Judge John Preston Bailey presided.

School Building Authority awards 19 counties funding for projects

The Free Press WV

School leaders from 19 counties can breathe a sigh of relief after Monday’s School Building Authority meeting.

The SBA awarded eight counties NEEDS grant funding for construction projects totaling nearly $46 million and awarded 11 other counties over $26 million in funding from an investment fund for roofing/HVAC projects.

“It’s a wonderful day to be able to get this funding and be able to take care of much-needed upgrades at Clay County High School,” Joe Paxton, Clay County Schools Superintendent, said. “We are just very happy to have had this opportunity

“It’ll open up avenues within our schedule, health and security within our school. Certainly, security upgrades are one of the number one priorities that we put within our county.”

Clay County was one of the eight counties awarded. The county will receive just over $9 million for additions and renovations to Clay County High School.

Other counties awarded were Monroe ($11 million), Fayette ($6.6 million), Putnam ($2.5 million), Ohio ($9 million), Mingo ($1.7 million), Summers ($4.1 million), and Upshur ($2.2 million).

Putnam County’s project being awarded will allow for additions to Hurricane High School including five classrooms, a resource room, STEM Lab, and a new classroom for special needs students. According to John Hudson, the Putnam County Schools Superintendent, Hurricane is experiencing overcrowding with a 95 percent room utilization rate.

“This means a lot for Hurricane High School,” he said. “This seven-room addition will help the school in a lot of ways. Not only just space but with some innovative programs with some of our special needs students, our science lab, STEM lab, perhaps some robotics, and our collaborative group areas.

“For our special needs students, we’re looking at a classroom that has a lot to offer. It may have showers, it may have individuals restrooms so it allows our teachers to do more with students who may have severe needs.”

Hudson and Paxton both did not provide any timeline on when construction may start with the projects but did want to start as soon as possible.

The process selecting certain counties was not the same as in the past, according to SBA Vice President Steve Burton. When it came time to select counties to be awarded, SBA Board Member and President of the WV BOE David Perry moved quickly to approve the eight counties with the highest SBA Staff Ratings with a motion. A couple of board members were against that motion, such as Burton and Robert Holroyd, wanting to see more discussion on the projects. The board decided to hear out all of the counties’ project proposals in front of a crowded room.

“The differences in procedures and how we would nominate a project to be funding compared to the way we had done it in the past, it would all come back,” Burton said. “The same projects were funded that probably would have been funded the old way, so the kids win out. We funded a lot of projects, a lot of roofs, a lot of additions and in the end, it all worked out and the kids will benefit from it.”

After the county-by-county breakdowns, the board took a brief recess before coming back and approving the eight counties with the highest SBA Staff Rating would receive the funding.

“I think the recommendations to the authority were very powerful,” Perry said. “We listened to two days of these presentations, we’ve had all the information for the month so it was time to move ahead with the projects.

“I think this is a very special day when you can fund 70-percent of the total projects which is very unusual. To find the additional money to add to those projects, I think that shouldn’t be lost sight of.”

The additional money for roofing/HVAC projects came from an investment fund.

Those counties include Calhoun, Wayne, Morgan, Pendelton, Randolph, Grant, Nicholas, Tucker, Lewis, Pleasants, Braxton. All of the counties that applied for roofing/HVAC were approved except for Mineral. The county asked for roofing as part of a grant proposal with county-wide energy upgrades.

Mineral County joined Harrison, Kanawha, Roane, Webster, Tyler, Mason, and Gilmer as counties who were not awarded money. All 27 counties made presentations to the SBA in late October.

Some counties awarded for NEEDS grant funding already had some local funding, bringing the total funding in 19 projects to just over $99 million.

~~  Jake Flatley ~~

New West Virginia justices take fact-finding tour

The Free Press WV

West Virginia’s newest Supreme Court justices are spending their first few weeks in office on a fact-finding tour.

Court officials say Justices Evan Jenkins and Tim Armstead have been touring courts and court system-related institutions.

Their first stop last month was at Highland Hospital in Charleston, where they met with staff and toured the facility with the Supreme Court’s Children and Juvenile Services director.

Officials say Jenkins visited a juvenile center in Julian and a juvenile diagnostic and intake center in Barboursville.

Armstead and Jenkins were appointed by Gov. Jim Justice to fill two seats on the state’s highest court until last month’s election. Armstead and Jenkins prevailed in the election and will complete the unexpired terms of two justices who retired amid a scandal over spending by the court.

RISE WV nearing completion of 40th case

The Free Press WV

The final inspection for RISE West Virginia’s first stick-built home reconstruction project will be here soon.

The RISE WV program gave an update on the Appalachia Service Project (ASP) construction on that building and more on Friday.

Officials with ASP said the painting, plumbing, work by the electricians, and inspection need to be done before giving the keys to the homeowners.

Upon completion of the home in Greenbrier County, RISE WV said the total number of completed cases will be 40. RISE WV continued with numbers in its release and said the number of outstanding homeowner cases has decreased to 409 with 171 cases requiring total reconstruction, 153 cases requiring some form of rehabilitation, and 85 cases require new mobile home unit replacement.

Under the original contracts, RISE WV says there are 20 properties that are still in-construction under the original contracts.

In the release, RISE WV said a total of $11 million in federal grant funding has been spent to-date with about $8 million spent since the end of September 2018.

Last week, West Virginia was removed from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development’s “Slow Spender” list for flood relief and moved onto the “On Pace” list in regards to spending.

WV county schools official demands action on bad roads

The Free Press WV

A county schools superintendent in West Virginia says road conditions in his area are so bad that “somebody’s going to get killed” if improvements aren’t made.

Marshall County Schools Superintendent Jeffrey Crook made a plea for improvements during a town hall meeting in Moundsville.

Crook says road conditions are so bad that the school system might have to consider closing some impassable bus routes.

He asked elected officials to look into road slippages that “are getting so bad and so dangerous.”

Some speakers put the blame for the wear-and-tear on trucks from natural gas pipeline companies.

Local Division of Highways maintenance assistant Justin Cain says the division is trying to better coordinate complaints about road conditions and what agencies are handling them.

U.S. Coal Consumption Drops To Lowest Level Since 1979

The Free Press WV

Americans are consuming less coal in 2018 than at any time since Jimmy Carter’s presidency, a federal report said Tuesday, as cheap natural gas and other rival sources of energy frustrate the Trump administration’s pledges to revive the U.S. coal industry.

A report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration projected Tuesday that 2018 would see the lowest U.S. coal consumption since 1979, as well as the second-greatest number on record of coal-fired power plants shutting down.

The country’s electrical grid accounts for most of U.S. coal consumption. U.S. coal demand has been falling since 2007 in the face of competition from increasingly abundant and affordable natural gas and renewable energy, such as solar and wind power.  Tougher pollution rules also have compelled some older, dirtier-burning coal plants to close rather than upgrade their equipment to trap more harmful coal emissions.

President Donald Trump has made bringing back the coal industry and abundant coal jobs a tenet of his administration. He and other Republicans frequently attacked former President Barack Obama for waging what they called a “war on coal” through increased regulations that Republicans said killed jobs and harmed the industry.

Trump’s enthusiasm for coal has helped to make Appalachian “coal country” one of Trump’s most fervent bases of support as Trump racked up big wins in West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and other states.

“The coal industry is back,” Trump declared at one rally in West Virginia last summer.

Federal government figures continue to show otherwise, however, as market forces inexorably tamp down coal demand.

The Energy Information Administration says coal consumption by the country’s power grid will end the year down 4 percent, and fall another 8 percent in 2019.

Coal’s continuing slump comes despite Trump policy efforts to prop up the industry. That includes scrapping Obama’s signature Clean Power Plan that would have spurred electrical suppliers to turn away from coal-fired power plants in favor of cleaner forms of energy such as natural gas.

Trump “talks tough to the coal miners to get their support, but he doesn’t deliver for them, and I don’t think that he can, because the markets are bigger than him,” said Joe Pizarchik, who directed the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement in the Obama administration.

Pizarchik, now a consultant on water quality and reforestation, said lower prices for natural gas and renewables will continue to drive down demand for coal, despite deregulation efforts by the Trump administration.

Ironically, the new tax law approved by the Republican-controlled Congress has encouraged coal plants to close, as utilities use a provision that allows them to accelerate depreciation costs for closing plants, he said.

Despite the continued drops in domestic coal use, 2018 has been a better year for the industry thanks to soaring exports, said Joe Aldina, director of U.S. coal analysis for S&P Global Platts.

Spokespeople for the U.S. departments of Energy and Interior did not immediately return requests for comment Tuesday.

Appearing before the National Petroleum Council in Washington on Tuesday, Energy Secretary Rick Perry devoted much of his remarks to urging development of natural gas and petrochemical industries in Appalachian coal country. “This is economic opportunity for a region” that needs it, Perry said.

National gas production in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia has jumped from 2 percent of the nation’s total in 2008 to 27 percent last year, Perry said.

WV’s November revenue far above estimates

The Free Press WV

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice says state revenue collections have surpassed tax estimates for eight consecutive months.

Justice announced Tuesday that collections in November were $18.8 million above estimates. That pushes year-to-date collections to $141 million above estimates and 13.2 percent ahead of year-ago receipts.

Justice calls it “spectacular news” and says West Virginia “has a vibrant economy that is growing and getting better every day.“

He says year-to-date severance tax collections are $51.5 million ahead of last year, consumer sales tax collections are $65.5 million ahead and personal income tax collections are $82.5 million ahead.

U.S. and State flags to be flown at half-staff in honor of President George H. W. Bush

The Free Press WV

President George H. W. Bush was a great man, a great public servant, and a brave soldier and veteran; he will be missed by all. Cathy and I send our prayers and condolences to the Bush family and ask all West Virginians to join with us.​

In honor and commemoration of President George Herbert Walker Bush, I have issued a proclamation, in accordance with U.S. Code (4 U.S.C. 76m) and a declaration from the President issued on December 01, 2018, ordering that all United States and West Virginia State flags on all State-owned facilities be displayed at half-staff IMMEDIATELY through sunset on December 30, 2018.

Former Cisco CEO and Chairman to help WVU support start-ups and entrepreneurship

The Free Press WV

In a unique agreement that will provide West Virginia University significant financial and intellectual resources, Silicon Valley visionary John Chambers announced a gift of time, talent and treasure on November 9th to support a recently announced start-up engine at the College of Business and Economics.

“I’ve always believed in the power of education, but we need to reinvent our schools for a new, digital era. I’m betting on the Mountaineers and believe my home state can become a startup state if the university, business and public sectors come together to support transformative innovation,” said Chambers, former CEO and Chairman of Cisco Systems Inc., and founder and CEO of JC2 Ventures, a native of Charleston and a two-time WVU alumnus. The start-up engine will support business development, innovation and investment in West Virginia.

The college will be renamed the John Chambers College of Business and Economics.

BOE Finance Committee Recommends Changes to Funding Formula

The Free Press WV

A West Virginia Board of Education committee on school finance and funding has formally approved recommendations for changes to the state School Aid funding formula.

Changes intended to make funding more equitable and more directly meet student’s needs were approved this week.

Board member and committee chairman, Tom Campbell, says they have to look at the long-term cost to the state, and the cost of children who aren’t successful.

The Board of Education will take up recommendations at its meeting December 12.

They’ll include increasing pay and the number of positions for teachers and school service personnel.

Declining public school enrollment is projected to reduce state funding for the School Aid formula by about $30 million in the 2018-19 budget year.

Marshall Grant to Help Children Affected by Opioid Epidemic

The Free Press WV

Marshall University has been awarded a federal grant to help children affected by the opioid epidemic.

The Department of Justice awarded the university’s Department of Social Work a $750,000 grant to develop a coalition that will provide aid to elementary school children in Cabell and Wayne counties.

Peggy Proudfoot Harman is director of the university’s master of social work program.

She says the initiative is designed for children whose parents are involved in drug-related activity.

The program will connect about a dozen organizations, from first responders to therapists, with the goal to provide trauma-informed behavioral health support through coaching, social work and legal services for students and their family. 

Pipeline Company to Pay $122K for Environmental Violations

The Free Press WV

A company building a natural gas pipeline in West Virginia has agreed to pay $122,350 for environmental violations.

A consent order made public in reporting that Columbia Gas Transmission agreed to pay the amount to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection for 16 violations while building the Mountaineer Xpress Pipeline.

Columbia Gas Transmission is a subsidiary of TransCanada and will operate the Mountaineer Xpress Pipeline when it’s completed.TransCanada spokesman Scott Castleman said the company implemented measures to address each environmental issue as it arose and has accepted the draft consent order.

The pipeline is one of many being built in the region and would run 170 miles (274 kilometers) from Marshall County to Wayne County.

Collection of internet sales tax to result in $21 million for state

The Free Press WV

The collection of an internet sales tax in West Virginia will bring in $21 million over a one-year period, according to state Deputy Revenue Secretary Mark Muchow.

The state will begin to collect new taxes in January, in which companies that do business in West Virginia will have to collect sales taxes like businesses with physical locations in the state.

“Collections would start around February, so in terms of this year’s treasury, it might be $10 million. In the full year, about $21 million,” Muchow told lawmakers earlier this month.

The Justice administration announced the change in policy in October, which was applauded by retailers.

Muchow said the sale of certain products would not be affected by the new rule, and there are still issues with third-party platforms that need to be addressed.

“This is certainly a big step in terms of bringing folks into compliance,” he added. “We already had a number of internet sellers in compliance before this.”

Less hiss, more purr: Vets turn to cat-friendly treatments

The Free Press WV

To no one’s surprise, it seems cats don’t like going to the veterinarian.

For all their aloof arrogance, a lot of them get pretty freaked out being put in a small box and transported to a strange room with barking dogs and other potential kitty hazards.

And that may explain why 10-year-old Alley behaved so poorly when she went for her regular checkups.

“She’s a bit high-strung,“ said her owner, Kathy Carte of Charleston. “She would growl and scratch. But not any more — now we have tools to help with that.“

That’s because Valley West Veterinary Hospital in Charleston, where Alley is treated, recently completed the certification process to become a silver-level cat-friendly practice, through a program established by the American Association of Feline Practitioners.

“The veterinary visits are seeing far more dogs than cats, and so people were wondering, ‘Why aren’t people taking their cats to the veterinarian?“ said Amy Isaac, a veterinarian with Valley West. “And I think a large reason for that is that it is very difficult to get your cat to the veterinary office. They are scared of the carrier, they’re stressed when they come to the environment of the veterinary hospital. Owners are kind of scared to take them, because they know the cat’s gonna be fearful.“

The program was developed, she said, to help make veterinary visits easier and to educate owners that cats really need veterinary care, too.

“Just like with people, preventative care for cats is much less expensive than treating a problem that’s gone undetected for a long time,“ said Amy Keith, another Valley West veterinarian.

Valley West is one of a handful of practices in the state to complete the certification program. Others include Cross Lanes Veterinary in Cross Lanes, All Creatures Veterinary Clinic in Princeton and Animal Care Center, also in Princeton.

The certification process is extensive and includes 11 different areas of standards each practice must meet. The waiting room, for example, needs to be visually accommodating, with a screen to block crated cats from view and a pheromone spray for calming them down.

Valley West even offers a “kitty concierge service,“ said Keith, which allows owners to transport the cats directly into private exam rooms rather than exposing them to the sometimes-loud environment of a waiting room.

“I’ll offer one of the pheromone towels upon check-in, which they can take out to the vehicle and place over the carrier, and we do recommend the feline high-stress kits prior to bringing the patients in,“ said receptionist Sherri Adkins, one of several trained cat advocates at the practice.

The high-stress kits provide calming medications owners can sprinkle in their pet’s food before the visit, pheromone wipes for the carriers and probiotic formula to prevent upset stomachs.

For Alley, the treatment “takes the edge off and calms her down,“ said Carte. “She’s fully aware of where she is and what’s going on but she’s not as anxious.“

That’s important, said both Isaac and Keith. A calmer cat is easier to treat and doesn’t experience higher blood pressure or an accelerated heart rate.

Not only that, but the experience is better for pet owners, too.

“It makes me feel better because I know there’s not as much anxiety, so it’s a more pleasant experience for both of us,“ said Carte.

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