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Lawsuit: Governor Jim Justice’s coal companies broke contract

The Free Press WV

A lawsuit charges that two coal companies owned by West Virginia Governor Jim Justice breached a contract with an exporting company.

A redacted, “public version” of the lawsuit was filed in federal court last week.

The May lawsuit by Pennsylvania-based Xcoal Energy & Resources alleges Justice and the Virginia-based Southern Coal Corporation and Bluestone Energy Sales Corporation didn’t fulfill its coal order.

Lawyers for Justice and his companies have denied the charge and said Xcoal had “unreasonable commercial demands” that went beyond the agreement’s scope.

Justice has said his children would handle the companies’ day-to-day operations.

Justice’s 2018 financial disclosure statement filed with the state’s ethics commission says neither company mentioned in the lawsuit is in a blind trust.

West Virginia man faked own kidnapping to get money

The Free Press WV

Police say a West Virginia man is accused of faking his own kidnapping in order to get money from his family.

Monongalia County sheriff’s deputies arrested 24-year-old Preston Smith of Morgantown.

Deputies say Smith allegedly sent a text message and called his brother indicating he was being held at gunpoint and that a kidnapper was demanding $2,000 in order to release Smith.

Smith’s brother called the sheriff’s department, and deputies who responded to a convenience store found Smith without anyone holding him against his will.

Smith was charged with conspiracy and was being held on $10,000 bond in the Northern Regional Jail.

Jail records didn’t indicate whether he has an attorney.

West Virginia sees population decline over past decade

The Free Press WV

A recent study says West Virginia is one of two states that has seen its population decline over the past decade.

The Pew Charitable Trusts study released last month says West Virginia is losing people faster than any other state in the nation.

West Virginia has lost around 18,000 residents since 2007.

Michigan is the only other state in the country to report a population loss over that same time frame, losing about 39,000 residents.

The study says West Virginia’s shrinking populations may affect the state’s finances.

For example, West Virginia American Water recently cited population loss as its reason for proposed rate hikes.

The study says the rest of the states saw slow growth from 2007 to 2017.

Amid review, West Virginia higher ed system taps new chief

The Free Press WV

An interim chancellor has been appointed for West Virginia’s higher education system as it undergoes a review.

West Virginia University Institute of Technology President Carolyn Long was appointed Tuesday at a special meeting in Charleston to lead the Higher Education Policy Commission.

The commission also voted to have retiring chancellor Paul Hill stay on for six months as an adviser.

Separately, WVU announced in a news release that Gerald Lang has been named interim campus president at WVU Tech in Beckley.

Last month Governor Jim Justice created the Blue Ribbon Commission on Four-Year Higher Education.

Justice says the goal is to help the higher education system run more efficiently.

The governor wants the panel’s work to be completed by legislative interim meetings in December.

West Virginia Board of Medicine elects new president

The Free Press WV

A South Charleston heart specialist has been elected president of the West Virginia Board of Medicine.

The board says in a news release that Dr. Kishore K. Challa was elected Monday to serve a two-year term.

Challa succeeds Dr. Ahmed D. Faheem as president on the 16-member board.

Challa has served as the chief of staff at Thomas Memorial Hospital.

The board also elected Cross Lanes internal medicine specialist Dr. Ashish Sheth as vice president.

The board oversees the licensing and regulation of more than 7,000 physicians and nearly 1,000 physician assistants in West Virginia.

2 bodies pulled from West Virginia lake after boat capsizes

The Free Press WV

Authorities say two bodies have been pulled from a lake in northern West Virginia after a paddle boat capsized.

News outlets report crews found the bodies of two people Monday at Teter Creek Lake in Barbour County.

State Division of Natural Resources police identified the victims as 39-year-old Richard Stanley Jr. and 47-year-old Ronald Crihfield, both of Elkins.

Barbour County emergency officials say three people were aboard the four-seat boat, which did not have flotation vests. One person was rescued and refused medical treatment.

The DNR is investigating.

Aiming to increase outdoor sportsmanship, conservation

The Free Press WV

With six national parks, dozens of state parks and a national forest that spans nearly a million acres, West Virginia has plenty of woods.

In fact, ranked by percentage by the U.S. Forest Service, the Mountain State is third in the nation in total forest cover with over 75 percent of the state in the woods.

The Summit Bechtel Reserve in Fayette County now has a new set of tools to attempt to get more people into those woods and a program to help them complete that task safely.

“The ultimate goal is to take kids from all over the country, bring them here, send them through our course and ultimately getting more kids in the woods,“ said Ryan King, the camp’s shooting sports program director. “That’s what it’s all about, creating more hunters, creating the next generation of sportsmen and wildlife conservationists.“

King was instrumental in the creation of the reserve’s hunter education and skills development program and with a generous grant, the reserve was able to construct the Joe Crafton Hunter’s Hall and neighboring skills development center.

Kicking off in June, the education program has already seen 1,372 individuals from around the country come through it during their visit to the reserve for a total of 1,806 instructional hours.

The students first undergo a safety course inside Hunter’s Hall and then head next door for practical training on firearms simulators.

“The program is designed to be an instructional course, as well as a hands-on course,“ said Chris Perkins, the lead for the program.

While teaching shooting fundamentals, the program is also aimed at teaching wildlife conservation and wildlife management as well as hunting. In fact, the walls of Hunter’s Hall share with visitors the impact that recreational hunting has on conservation efforts.

According to the displays, nearly $34 billion is spent every year on hunting activities in the United States with 75 percent of wildlife conservation dollars in the nation coming from the pockets of hunters.

Implemented in the early 1900s, the nation’s program of using hunting dollars to fund conservation measures has seemed to pay off.

According to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on hunting-supported conservation, the nation’s elk population went from 41,000 in 1907 to over a million today.

Those numbers are also reflected in game species more commonly found in the Mountain State.

Whitetail deer numbers have jumped from a half a million in 1900, to over 32 million today.

The greatest impact of hunters providing for a future, more sustainable population can be seen in the nation’s duck population.

At the turn of the last century, few ducks remained in the nation’s skies.

In 1934, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act which required hunters to purchase a stamp to participate in hunts.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, since its inception, the Duck Stamp has collected some $800 million which went to the purchase of 5.7 million acres of protected lands.

Now, according to RMEF, there are 44 million ducks in the United States.

While the reserve is booked for Scouting events in the summer, Perkins is hopeful that in other seasons the new hunting program can be used more locally and said that a partnership has formed to ensure that.

“The unique thing about it is we’re working with the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources so that we can actually have (public) hunter education classes here on this site,“ Perkins said.

The program manager also would like to see state schools take advantage of the buildings on field trips to the reserve.

“We will show them this building and talk about wildlife conservation and management,“ Perkins said.

The reserve and the new Hunter’s Lodge facility impressed Victoria Campanini, the District Executive of the North Florida Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

Campanini spoke highly of the different activities that both boys and girls can partake in while at the reserve and pointed to Hunter’s Hall as a key place for learning in today’s climate.

“I think it’s very important right about now because we’ve got school shootings and all the types of negative aspects of firearms,“ Campanini said. “This is a positive aspect of firearms. The safety part of it, the fact that youth are using the firearms is more important.“

Campanini said that skills learned at the reserve and at the Hunter’s Hall can help boost young people’s self-esteem and teach them responsible use and said that the new program shows that a kid can be safe and responsible with a firearm.

“This is a great facility,“ said the regional Scout leader on her first visit to West Virginia.

With a new found love of the Mountain State, Campanini said that she will be going back to Florida to recommend a visit to the Summit Bechtel Reserve for all of her local troops.

With many hunting dollars going toward conservation, the nation now faces a problem when looking towards conservation in the future — a declining hunting population.

According to data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the percentage of the American population that hunts has declined from 7.3 percent in 1991 to 4.4 percent in 2016.

By working with the program at Summit Bechtel, Perkins is hopeful to reverse that trend.

“Hunting and shooting sports can be recreational,“ Perkins said. It can be enjoyable and by all means, it is something that is very beneficial to the wildlife, habitat and conservation.

Perkins pointed to his own upbringing, going hunting with his father and to various shooting achievements as evidence that shooting is something that sticks to a person for years and that it isn’t all about simply killing an animal.

“It’s not always about hunting something and bringing back something in the back of your vehicle,“ Perkins said. “Just take trout fishing, I love to eat trout but I don’t always come home with my limit but the experience itself is rewarding.“

Lewis County welcomes new hire to WVU Extension Service

The Free Press WV

Wirt County native Megan Midcap has been involved in 4H since the age of 10​ and is now taking on an even bigger role since becoming Lewis County’s newest Extension Service Agent at the start of July.

“I am really excited for this opportunity, and I can’t wait to get there and meet all of their awesome volunteers and kids in the program,” Midcap said in an appearance on WAJR’s Gary Bowden Show.

Midcap was hired by the WVU Extension Service in 2016 as the cirriculum and outreach coordinator in Preston County, where she worked with a grant-funded program called 4H Life, “which is part of the national 4H mentoring program.

“We started this pilot program at the federal prison at Hazelton, where I taught parenting classes at the mens and womens medium-security prison,” she said.

What Midcap found to be the most rewarding part of the 4H Life program was that those involved were from the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore metro area, giving her the opportunity to share 4H with a brand new group of individuals.

“We were able to make connections with them and teach their parents 4H kind of lessons that then when we brought the kids over from D.C., their parents were able to participate with them in an enhanced family visitation day,” she said. “The parents then taught the kids 4H lessons that were focused on stress managed, how to communicate as families, how to manage incarceration and what that affect has on kids.”

Midcap said those families were not only previously uninvolved with 4H but had not been aware of the opportunities available through 4H.

“Most of the people we worked with had no idea about 4H, and what they did think they knew, they thought it was just about animals and agriculture, so this was a good opportunity to show them all that 4H has to offer,” she said.

For Midcap, however, the benefit of 4H is something that was instilled in her throughout her whole life.

Not only was her mother a part of 4H, but Midcap’s grandmother and great-grandmother were once active 4H leaders as well.

“My mom kind of got my brother and I involved at a really young age, and we’ve been in it ever since, but I never dreamed it would take me to where I am now,” she said.

Now, Midcap looks forward to helping not only to lead 4H but help with after-school activities, festivals, camps and all that the WVU Extension Service does in Lewis County.

“I’m really excited to see what is already established with the Lewis County 4H program, to come in and really work with the volunteers and the youth to see where they would like to see the program and go and how I can help facilitate that growth,” she said. “It’s really a lot of working with volunteers and helping the youth visualize what goals that they have and helping them achieve those goals to really maximize the program’s potential.”

Additionally, Midcap will also take over some family programs, consumer science programs, and the Community Educational Outreach Service (CEOS) program.

“We have a couple CEOS clubs here in Preston County and I’ve worked with them a little bit on and off, so I’m excited to work with them,” she said. “They have a really strong program in Lewis, so I’m excited to see what they’re all about and work with them to get a lot of things done.”

Midcap will serve will fellow Extension Agent Bruce Loyd, who she says she’s very excited to learn from.

“He has so much experience working with extension and just in Lewis County, so I’m really excited to see how this works out,” she said.

For those not yet involved in 4H or other WVU Extension Service programs, particularly the youth, Midcap extends words of advice.

“Although a lot of young people have faced a lot of challenges in the world that we live in today, they have so much to offer and they’re really just looking for caring adults to come alongside them and help them,” she said. “I personally think, to realize maybe a goal or an idea they have that maybe they haven’t seen yet and just have people believe in them, that they’re capable of doing really amazing things.”

Man pulled knife on group in West Virginia church

The Free Press WV

West Virginia police have arrested a Georgia man they say pulled a knife on a missionary group in church after he was asked to silence his cellphone.

A criminal complaint shows 26-year-old Bernard B. Edmond of Decatur, Georgia, is charged in Wednesday’s incident at Nehemiah Baptist Church in Cool Ridge, in unincorporated Raleigh County.

Witnesses told police Edmond flipped tables, threw chairs and chased others with the knife.

The complaint says some members barricaded themselves in a back room and others lured Edmond outside, where officers found him holding the knife and restrained him with a stun gun.

Edmond is charged with brandishing, threatening terrorist acts and assaulting an officer. He’s in jail on a $50,000 bond.

It’s unclear if Edmond has an attorney.

West Virginia mom sues alleged pill mill over fatal overdose

The Free Press WV

The mother of a man who overdosed in West Virginia is suing a pain management clinic that federal prosecutors say was run as a pill mill.

Inez Lewis filed her lawsuit on June 29, four months after 12 people involved in the Hope Clinic were indicted.

Lewis says her son Timothy Jason Lewis died last year after clinic doctors prescribed him medically unnecessary opioid medications.

She’s also suing four clinic employees and two pharmacies that filled prescriptions, despite evidence of suspicious activity. The lawsuit says Timothy Lewis’ oxycodone and methadone prescriptions weren’t medically necessary.

All 12 defendants have pleaded not guilty to the charges. The newspaper didn’t include comment from the defendants in Lewis’ lawsuit.

Cabell County’s Overdose Totals Drop in First Half of 2018

The Free Press WV

County EMS records show Cabell County’s overdose totals fell by 41 percent in the first six months of 2018 compared with the same period a year ago.

The use of naloxone — the drug first responders use to reverse an opioid-induced overdose — decreased by 49 percent in the West Virginia county compared to the first half of 2017.

Cabell County EMS director Gordon Merry says everyone is working toward a common goal in combating drug overdoses, and he thinks the effort is “headed in the right direction.“

Overdose reports fell slightly in June to 101, down from 112 in May — the highest single-month total in 2018. A spike in overdose totals in May followed an April total of 62 — the lowest single-month total since January 2016.

West Virginia State Using Gift to Establish Learning Center

The Free Press WV

West Virginia State University says it will establish a learning center for students in the education department after receiving a significant financial commitment from a 1950 alumnus.

University officials say the learning center will bear the name of Fred D. Thomas Jr., who made the gift. Officials say the center will feature smart technology to support interactive online instruction as well as group activities and research tutorials.

The school says an endowment established as part of the commitment will be used for ongoing maintenance of the center and technology updates.

Thomas came to WVSU after serving in the military shortly after the end of World War II. He graduated from the university with a bachelor’s degree in biology. He served as a middle school science teacher and curriculum coordinator for 35 years.

Advocate seeks changes so customers benefit from tax cuts

The Free Press WV

West Virginia’s consumer advocate agency says utilities must change their approach so consumers fully benefit from the savings those companies are reaping from federal tax cuts.

Consultant Ralph Smith filed testimony this week with the Public Service Commission on behalf of the Consumer Advocate Division.

The testimony is for the PSC’s investigation into how the federal tax cuts will affect utilities and customers.

Smith urged the PSC to utilize the tax cut-related savings for large investor-owned utilities “to the fullest extent possible” to benefit West Virginia customers.

He provided recommendations for West Virginia utilities on how to help ratepayers benefit from the tax savings.

The newpaper reports major West Virginia utility companies are calling for rate increases, despite saving millions of dollars through tax cuts.

Trump praises service members during charity dinner in WV

The Free Press WV

Donald Trump celebrated active-duty service members and veterans during a military tribute Tuesday on the eve of Independence Day.

Delivering remarks at a “Salute to Service” charity dinner at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, Trump praised “Americans of every generation” who have served in the armed forces.

The event was held in conjunction with the PGA Tour’s Greenbrier Classic, which has been rechristened as “A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier.” The venerable resort is owned by the state’s Republican governor, presidential ally Jim Justice.

Highlighting his efforts to boost spending for the military, Trump said, “As the golfers can tell you, the stronger we get, the less likely it is that we will have to use it.”

An avid golfer, Trump praised the “incredible athletes” in attendance.

“These are unbelievably talented people,” he said. “They’re talented in their mind and in their body. Their muscles are strong, but their mind has to be stronger.

The event marked Trump’s latest appearance in a state he won by more than 40 percentage points in 2016. Its Democratic senator, Joe Manchin, is seeking re-election.

Trump has criticized Manchin for voting against tax cuts the president enacted last year. Manchin is among Democrats with whom Trump recently discussed the vacancy on the Supreme Court.

Trump previewed his upcoming nomination to fill the vacancy, saying he “hit a home run” with Justice Neil Gorsuch, whom he picked for the nation’s high court last year. “We’re going to hit a home run here,” he said.

The president also criticized calls from some Democrats to abolish U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal agency charged with detaining and deporting unauthorized immigrants.

“We’re not abandoning ICE and we’re not abandoning law enforcement,” he said.

West Virginia City’s Housing Authority Bans Smoking

The Free Press WV

The housing authority of a West Virginia city has banned smoking at all its properties, including public housing units.

The Huntington Housing Authority has banned smoking at its administrative offices, company-owned vehicles, common spaces and more than 600 public housing units starting July 01.

Authority Executive Director Vickie Lester says the new mandate comes from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which regulates public housing.

Lester says the department told public housing units about the impending ban a few years ago.

The ban applies to any kind of lighted pipe, cigar, vapor device, cigarette or other lighted smoking device. It applies to all Housing Authority employees, residents, guests and visitors. Violators will be warned. A fourth violation will result in a notice to vacate.

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