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Dismissal of Mountain Valley Pipeline property is asked by Landowners

The Free Press WV

Property owners who are being sued by the Mountain Valley Pipeline have moved to have the federal case dismissed, saying the developers don’t have the proper authority.

Eighteen landowners filed their motion to dismiss on Monday in U.S. District Court in Charleston.

They contend Mountain Valley Pipeline can’t yet commence condemnation proceedings because its certificate from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is conditional, “which means MVP still has to clear numerous administrative and regulatory hurdles before it can commence condemnation.”

The landowners also contend private entities cannot condemn private property unless they first demonstrate an ability to pay just compensation — and they say MVP hasn’t yet attempted to do that.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline, along with the similar but separate Atlantic Coast Pipeline, gained approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in mid-October. One of the commissioners dissented, calling the public interest of the projects into question.

The $3.5 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline would extend 42-inch diameter natural gas pipeline over 303 miles to transport West Virginia natural gas into southern Virginia.

The developers of Mountain Valley Pipeline filed a federal lawsuit on October 24 to gain eminent domain access to more than 100 properties in Greenbrier, Monroe, Nicholas, Summers, Braxton, Harrison, Lewis, Webster and Wetzel counties.

A similar lawsuit focusing on properties along the pipeline’s path in Virginia was filed on the same date in Roanoke.

Both cases ask for immediate access and entry to be granted prior to just compensation for the property being determined.

In the motion filed this week, the landowners take issue with the conditional permit issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Lawyers for the landowners say the pipeline project still has several hurdles of regulatory approval on the state and federal level.

“If a certificated entity still has additional permits to obtain, there is a chance it will fail to obtain those permits,” wrote lawyers for the landowners.

“If that happens, the entity will never be allowed to begin operations — and it will have taken private property for no reason (i.e. without a public necessity) in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”

Virginia this week is having hearings by its State Water Control Board on pipeline certification.

Also remaining are final authorizations by the U.S.Forest Service and Department of the Interior for permission to cross federal lands, plus authorization from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for all stream and wetland crossings.

“With such uncertainty that the MVP project will ever commence construction, let alone complete construction and begin transporting gas, there is simply no public necessity for it to begin taking private property,” wrote lawyers for the landowners.

“And taking private property without public necessity is constitutionally impermissible, so this Court cannot preside over a proceeding where MVP attempts to do just that.”

Lawyers for the landowners also contend Mountain Valley Pipeline has not shown it can pay just compensation for the property it seeks to take.

“In short, taking private property without a showing of adequate funds to pay just compensation is constitutionally impermissible,” the lawyers wrote.

“Yet if the Court deems MVP a ‘holder of a certificate of public convenience and necessity’ for purposes of the Natural Gas Act’s jurisdictional statute, thereby allowing this suit to proceed despite MVP’s failure to show it can pay just compensation, the Court will facilitate exactly that kind of constitutional violation.”

The MVP is a joint venture between EQT Midstream Partners, LP; NextEra US Gas Assets, LLC; Con Edison Transmission, Inc.; WGL Midstream; and RGC Midstream, LLC.

Lawyers for the landowners expressed concern that the partners lack sufficient assets to guarantee just compensation. They say the investors are new to building pipelines.

The landowners say it’s not enough to bank on profits from the pipeline once it is constructed.

“Even disregarding its greenfield status, MVP is inherently at risk of going bust because it is a private company,” the lawyers wrote.

The case is in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver. The lawyers for the landowners have requested a jury trial on their motion.

Lawyers for Mountain Valley Pipeline have said delays in gaining access to property could cause significant delays to pipeline construction.

They say they need to begin tree clearing within a window set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this winter or else pipeline construction could be delayed by at least a year.

“If MVP is unable to gain access to commence work on each respective deadline, construction of the entire MVP project may be delayed for as much as one year given that the window for tree clearing is limited to only a few months each year,” the lawyers wrote in a court filling in late November.

The lawyers for the pipeline developers also contend the property owners’ arguments amount to “nothing more than a collateral attack on the FERC Certificate and its findings and arguments they lack standing to raise, with the goal to delay a project that has been thoroughly analyzed and approved by the FERC and found to be in the public interest.”

As the property case has been considered in federal court, some of the original landowners who were sued have reached agreements outside the courtroom.

Others have been filing answers over the past few weeks.

For instance, defendants Norvel Mann, Jean Mann, Thomas Mann, Hannah Mann and Chloda Crosier filed an answer disputing Mountain Valley Pipeline’s need for their property.

“Landowners further deny that MVP has attempted to negotiate mutually agreeable easement agreements, and affirmatively allege that easement negotiations between MVP’s land agents and private property owners throughout West Virginia were intended to intimidate and instill fear in such property owners to motivate them to sign MVP’s form easement agreements.”

~~  Brad McElhinny ~~

Secretary Warner Reports 578 New Businesses in West Virginia for November

The Free Press WV

Three counties saw the most percentage growth in business registrations for November and 578 new businesses got their start statewide according to the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office. 

The Secretary of State’s Business & Licensing Division reported that the top three counties for business growth in November are Summers County with 1.37 percent growth, Wetzel County with 1.27 percent growth, and Pendleton County with 1.21 percent growth. In West Virginia, 51 out of 55 counties reported business growth in November. 

The number of business entities grew in Summers County from 362 to 366, business entities in Wetzel County increased from 469 to 474, and the number of entities licensed to do business in Pendleton County increased in number from 409 to 414. 

November was also the best month for business growth in a 12-month period for Preston, Marshall, and Wetzel counties. Over the last 12 months, Preston County saw 8.32 percent business growth, Marshall County saw 6.27 percent growth, and Wetzel County saw 4.64 percent growth. 

According to the WVSOS Business Statistics Database (BSD), 578 new businesses were incorporated or started in the state during the month of November 2017 (attachment). Since Warner took office on January 16th, a total of 10,365 new business entities have registered with the Secretary of State’s Office. 

To discover more information regarding business statistics in every county throughout West Virginia, go to http://apps.sos.wv.gov/business/BSD.

Attachment: Business Numbers for November by County

Link: Business Statistic Database

WVU Jackson’s Mill Continues Holiday Tradition

The Free Press WV

Celebrate the holiday season with the Winter Lights Buffet and Breakfast with Santa held in the historic Mount Vernon Dining Hall at West Virginia University Jackson’s Mill near Weston.

The Winter Lights Buffet takes place Friday, December 08 from 4:30 to 7 p.m. Baked steak, turkey and traditional sides will be served. The price is $14 for adults, $7 for children ages 4 to 12 and free for children age 3 and under. Visitors may receive $1 off the buffet price by bringing a nonperishable food item for donation to the local pantry.

Breakfast with Santa is on Saturday, December 16 from 8 to 11 a.m. The menu for this event includes French toast, scrambled eggs, bacon and other popular breakfast dishes. The price is $8 for all ages and free for children age 3 and under.

No reservations are needed for either event. Cash, check and credit card are all accepted as payment.

Event organizers recognize the importance of gathering with family and friends during the holiday season. Jackson’s Mill annual holiday events bring people together to enjoy a warm holiday meal in a setting that celebrates the history and community of West Virginia.

WVU Jackson’s Mill is home to West Virginia 4-H camping, a program provided by the WVU Extension Service. Located near Weston, West Virginia, the historical campus hosts a variety of events from conferences to weddings, bringing West Virginia families and youths together in a place they can call home.

To learn more about WVU Jackson’s Mill, contact your local county office of the WVU Extension Service, or visit jacksonsmill.wvu.edu. Visit us on Facebook or follow @WVUExtension on Twitter.

Coal Mine Idled in West Virginia, 260 Out of Work

The Free Press WV

A union official says a coal mine in northern West Virginia has been idled, with 260 workers losing their jobs, apparently because of adverse geological conditions and market issues.

Phil Smith, spokesman for the United Mine Workers of America, says another 59 people were laid off a few months ago at the Federal No. 2 mine owned by ERP Compliant Fuels, which has no other mine to transfer the workers to.

He says a few workers remain to prevent flooding and keep the mine ready to reopen, but coal reserves were getting thin.

The company did not reply to a request for comment.

In September, CEO Ken McCoy told Platts.com that the mine had some roof falls and other geological issues.

Trial Begins for 2nd Man Accused in Coal Executive’s Killing

The Free Press WV

A trial has begun for the second of two men accused in the 2016 deadly shooting of a West Virginia coal executive.

News outlets report Monday was the first trial day for 20-year-old Brandon Lee Fitzpatrick, a Kentucky man charged with offenses including first-degree murder in the death of 59-year-old Bennett K. Hatfield.

Mingo County Prosecutor Duke Jewell says Fitzpatrick and an Ohio man, 22-year-old Anthony Raheem Arriaga, killed Hatfield as part of a scheme to steal his vehicle and sell its parts. Hatfield was visiting his wife’s gravesite when he was shot.

Arriaga was convicted in October of first-degree murder, robbery and conspiracy. Arriaga is expected to get life in prison at his Dec. 12 sentencing.

Fitzpatrick’s defense attorney, Susan Van Zant, says Arriaga acted alone in killing Hatfield.

West Virginia awards substance abuse services grants

The Free Press WV

Nearly $21 million in state funding has been awarded to expand residential treatment services for substance abuse across West Virginia.

The state Department of Health and Human Resources announced the funding Monday.

Two of the programs are in Morgantown and two are in Parkersburg, with one apiece in Beckley, Culloden, Huntington, Martinsburg and Wheeling.

The funding comes from recent court settlements with opioid distributors. Legislation passed earlier this year mandates that DHHR allocate additional treatment beds to be operated by the private sector. They are intended to provide treatment services in existing or newly constructed facilities.

West Virginia has the nation’s highest drug overdose death rate. The state reported a record 884 overdose deaths last year, up from 735 in 2015.

West Virginia approves cleanup plan for burned warehouse

The Free Press WV

West Virginia environmental authorities have approved cleanup plans by the owners of the industrial warehouse that burned for a week in Parkersburg.

The warehouse is owned by Intercontinental Export Import Inc., or IEI Plastics, which says it buys and sells an array of recycled plastics worldwide.

The blaze at the 420,000-square-foot (39,000-square-meter) property in Parkersburg began October 21 and was extinguished October 29.

The Department of Environmental Protection, in a November 29 letter, says the plan with additions submitted by the company, Gator Engineering and Aquifer Restoration Inc., is acceptable.

It includes site control, air monitoring, storm water disposal, and excavation, transport and disposal of burnt waste.

West Virginia to hold surplus vehicle auction

The Free Press WV

A state-sponsored surplus vehicle auction is set for this week in West Virginia.

The West Virginia Purchasing Division says in a news release that about 45 vehicles will be auctioned off Wednesday at the State Agency for Surplus Property warehouse in Dunbar.

Payments can be made by cash, check or major credit card. All sold vehicles must be removed within five business days.

A list of available vehicles can be found at http://www.state.wv.us/admin/purchase/surplus/vehicle.html .

West Virginia lawmakers authorize $800M in road bonds

The Free Press WV

The West Virginia Legislature has authorized issuing up to $800 million in bonds for road repairs and construction over the next seven months, followed by another $800 million in the following three years.

That follows the recent approval by voters for the state to issue $1.6 billion of new bonds to repair and build roads and bridges.

The state has listed more than 600 planned projects, some in all of the state’s 55 counties.

The Republican-controlled Legislature early this year approved taxes and fees to support bond repayments, which Gov. Jim Justice signed into law.

Lawmakers were called back in October and voted to strengthen penalties for violations of a law that requires 75 percent of the workforce on a state-contracted construction job be from the local labor market.

West Virginia grad student working on diabetes research

The Free Press WV

A West Virginia University graduate student is studying an unexplored enzyme that could lead to new diabetes treatments.

Stephanie Shumar is a graduate student in WVU’s School of Medicine and is studying biochemistry and molecular biology.

The university says in a news release that conventional diabetes medications work by stabilizing blood sugar levels, not by improving chemical processes behind how the body produces and processes blood sugar. Shumar says that’s like a motorist who doesn’t fix an antifreeze leak but instead keeps pouring more into the car.

Shumar was awarded $88,000 by the National Institutes of Health for a two-year investigation into how one enzyme regulates coenzyme A levels and glucose production in the liver. High concentrations of coenzyme A in the liver can affect blood sugar levels.

New River Gorge National River announces winter hours

The Free Press WV

Winter hours are in effect starting this month for New River Gorge National River park facilities.

The schedule began last week and will remain in effect through March 31.

During the winter, the Canyon Rim Visitor Center in Lansing will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily but closed on Christmas and New Year’s days. The Sandstone Visitor Center in Sandstone will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays through Mondays and also closed on Christmas and New Year’s days.

The park said in a news release that all other facilities are open for the winter, including campgrounds, parking lots, boat launches, roads and most trails.

The park’s webpage and social media platforms will show long-term and most temporary closures.

Rachel native Isaac Sharp becomes Nashville recording artist

The Free Press WV

Rachel native Isaac Sharp shared his story of becoming a recording artist in Nashville and his current charity efforts to give back to his new community in Tennessee.

Sharp grew up in Rachel and attended the Nazarene Church in Mannington, which is where he was first introduced to music around 12 years old.

“My parents worked in medicine, and no one in my family was musical whatsoever,” Sharp said. “But I started taking piano lessons, and at first I hated everything about the idea of taking piano lessons. No 12-year-old wants to be forced to sit down for an hour and play piano. All I wanted to do was play the guitar. It started this cycle of really being interested in music.”

As a teenager, Sharp found himself playing at every chance he could get, including local fairs, churches and with bands in the area. When he was 14 years old, Sharp was asked to play at the Union Mission in Fairmont as part of a Christmas concert series.

“It was the first time anyone would let me play more than just singing at church,” Sharp said. “That memory is very near and dear to me.”

Sharp then spent a lot of time learning about music and studio recording at a local studio in Osage, which at the time was called Blues Alley Studios.

“It was run by Josh Swiger, who basically let me pay almost nothing to come and let me harass them and make terrible-sounding songs as a teenager who was overly excited about working in a recording studio,” Sharp said with a laugh. “Josh taught me a little bit about the whole process of recording.”

Sharp continued his education at Fairmont State University as a marketing major where he worked directly with Bob Weaver, his professor and advisor.

“Ironically, Bob’s son Chris who is also a West Virginia native lives in Nashville as a country recording artist,” Sharp said. “So Bob kind of pushed me further into the whole idea that Nashville could be a thing for me.”

When Sharp was only 17, he received a phone call that would later be told as the beginning of his professional music career.

“At the Nazarene Church in Mannington, there was a lady whose son was from Worthington, and now lives in Nashville as a record producer and has won several awards. When I found this out, I basically hounded him until he would answer my phone calls and talk to me about the studio and music in general,“?Sharp said.

“At 17, I got a phone call from Steve Allen, that record producer, and he asked me, ‘What are you doing tomorrow?’ I said, ‘Well I’m probably going to school.’ He said, ‘We are doing a recording session with Kevin Max, and if you can be here by noon and stay the rest of the week, we will give you a credit on the record,’” Sharp said.

“I hung up, and it was just the coolest thing I have ever been offered.”

Sharp admitted lying to his parents because he told them that he had a place to stay while he was there, but in reality, he didn’t know anyone other than Steve Allen.

“I was afraid that if I told Steve Allen that I?didn’t have a place to say, he would tell me not to worry about coming down, so I slept on a bridge for seven nights,” Sharp said.

During that week in Nashville, Sharp had the opportunity to work on a record by Kevin Max, a Christian singer and songwriter in a band known as DC Talk.

“As I was leaving, Steve told me I did a really great job that week and that if I enjoyed it and could be back in two weeks, he would give me an internship. He told me I wouldn’t get paid much, but I would learn a lot,” Sharp said.

“I was on cloud nine. When I got back to Fairmont, I packed my stuff, found the first apartment I?could find and afford, and I moved to Nashville.”

Sharp worked as an audio engineer and production intern at the Sound Shop, a recording studio on Music Row in Nashville, for two years until he was hired by the studio to do production and writing.

“For every big artist that comes through, there are probably like five or six local artists or bands from all over that come and record. A lot of their music might not be refined, so I would help people grow and mature in the profession,” Sharp said.

While working in the studio, Sharp also starting writing his own music and was influenced by a mentor to write 365 songs, one for each day of the year.

“I think I wrote a song about grilled cheese once,” Sharp said with a laugh. “As I wrote all these songs, I?started realizing I?was really into soul music, a lot of groove and R&B. The ones I loved the most were songs that had a groove swing, fun and feel-good element to them, like Justin Timberlake mixed with Marvin Gaye.”

Sharp is currently working on his very first album, and he anticipates that his first single will be ready to release in February. While working on his album and in the studio, Sharp really wanted to record a Christmas song for charity.

“I remembered the first time I was ever given the chance to play was at Christmas in Fairmont at the homeless shelter, and that hit me really hard,” Sharp said. “I started looking for outlets to give back in Nashville, and I found a charity called the Bridge Ministry. So the song is available on my website for a donation or your choice, and all of the proceeds will go toward children in poverty and the homeless.”

On Dec. 19, Sharp and other volunteers with the Bridge Ministry will take part in an event called the Bridge to Christmas, where they will hand out presents under the Jefferson Street Bridge in downtown Nashville.

“The most ironic thing is that it is the same bridge that I?slept on as a semi-homeless person during my very first week in Nashville,” Sharp said. “I’m really excited about this, and I hope to make an impact in the community.”

EQT Students of Excellence Scholarship Program

The Free Press WV

EQT Foundation, the charitable arm of EQT Corp., has been the proud sponsor and supporter of the West Virginia Students of Excellence scholarship program for the last eight years. The popular scholarship opportunity, created by The State Journal, provides 60 $1,000 scholarships throughout West Virginia’s 55 counties, and six four-year scholarships, each up to $18,000 per year.

The EQT Students of Excellence program is a signature initiative of EQT Foundation, which gives the organization the opportunity to increase its commitment to education, while providing students with opportunity to consider studies in disciplines that can lead to employment in the natural gas industry.

Each recipient of the four-year scholarships must be in good academic standing at his or her high school at the time of award, and must pursue a college major in one of six areas — petroleum, civil or chemical engineering; computer science or information technology; geology; safety science; environmental science; or energy or land management — all areas of study necessary for a job in the natural gas industry. The student must remain in one of these majors and maintain a 3.0 overall grade point average to continue eligibility.

Charlene Petrelli, vice president and chief human resources officer for EQT Corp. and president of the EQT Foundation, knows these skills are at the core for driving the energy industry forward.

“We’d like to help increase the number of students who want to pursue these disciplines that can launch their lifelong careers,” she said. “More than that, we want our West Virginia students to stay local, develop the skills that will prepare them for the industries in their hometowns and use those talents to contribute to the growth of their communities.”

EQT is one of the largest natural gas producers in the Appalachian basin and has been a leader in the industry for more than a century. EQT has several legacy drilling and pipeline projects throughout West Virginia and has been a major player in the safe, responsible development of the Marcellus Shale in the northern regions of the state. West Virginia is primed to grow, and the natural gas industry is a strong catalyst for that growth. And to achieve those milestones, EQT, through programs like the Students of Excellence scholarships, is helping to fuel a local, well-trained workforce.

The Free Press WV


“It is a long-held belief that the future of the country’s economic prosperity is closely linked with student success in a STEM curriculum, such as science, technology, engineering and math fields,” said Petrelli.

EQT’s support of education in West Virginia extends beyond the Students of Excellence program. Additionally, EQT Foundation supports programs such as the West Virginia Public Broadcasting and PBS Kids Writers Contest, the Clay Center for the Arts & Sciences’ Power Your Future mobile exhibit, summer engineering camps at West Virginia University and opportunities for students to attend programs through the National Youth Science Foundation.

West Virginia Has Record Fatal Meth Overdoses in 2017

The Free Press WV

State health data shows West Virginia has seen a record number of fatal overdoses from methamphetamine this year, increasing by 500 percent since 2014.

The statistics released by the West Virginia Health Statistics Center show about half of the overdoses involved the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl.

The statistics show 30 residents of Kanawha County have died of meth-related overdoses this year, the highest in the state, followed by 28 deaths in Cabell County. They were followed by Raleigh and Wood counties with eight such deaths apiece.

Appalachian High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area prevention officer Chad Napier says some overdoses occur because meth addicts don’t know they’re consuming fentanyl.

The state Board of Pharmacy has found no overdoses linked to prescription methamphetamine used to treat attention-deficit disorder.

Official: Raising regional jail salaries would be positive

The Free Press WV

A West Virginia official has told state legislators that raising correctional officer salaries would be beneficial.

The state Regional Jail Authority executive director David Farmer told a legislative corrections oversight committee on Sunday that raising regional jail salaries “has to be a positive.” Farmer told the interim committee that nearly $7 million in overtime was paid during the 2016-17 budget year, as officers had to work mandatory overtime to make up for vacancies on staff.

House Judiciary Chairman John Shott said he estimates the nearly $7 million would cover benefits for more than 170 officers and a $30,000 starting salary, amounting to a more than $5,000 increase to the current starting salary.

Regional jails currently have more than 200 unfilled correctional officer positions.

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