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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.

West Virginia to Receive $400,000 Grant for Veteran Agricultural Training

The Free Press WV

The West Virginia Department of Agriculture (WVDA), in collaboration with the Hershel Woody Williams VA Medical Center and Marshall University, has been awarded a $400,000 grant from the Department of Veteran Affairs, Office of Rural Health. This grant was awarded under the Whole Health Initiative which aims to improve veterans’ health through holistic approaches.

“This is great news for our West Virginia veterans,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Kent Leonhardt. “We know agriculture is a solution for healing the unseen wounds of war, as well as providing new career opportunities. With these additional funds, we hope to expand the West Virginia Veterans and Warriors to Agriculture program by serving more of the veteran population. I want to thank Senator Capito for her vital role in securing these grant monies.”

Under the grant proposal, the Hershel Woody Williams VA Medical Center will establish a pilot program to provide agricultural training to veterans. This training will provide participants the skill sets required to pursue agricultural vocations while also addressing behavioral and mental healthcare needs. The pilot project will focus on improving the health of those who participate through environmental factors, fostering better relationships and establishing healthier diets.

“We have come a long way from the original $7,500 budget the program operated under when first conceived,” said James McCormick, the coordinator of the West Virginia Veterans and Warriors to Agriculture program. “Our goal is for West Virginia to lead the charge on veteran agricultural initiatives. This is a great first step.”

The Huntington VA Medical Center Therapeutic and Supported Employment Services will identify healthcare eligible veterans interested in agriculture pursuits. From there, the project will provide an introduction to diversified agriculture training and hands-on instruction opportunities. WVDA staff will provide production, business and market planning for program participants.

For more information, contact Crescent Gallagher at 304.380.3922 or ‘cgallagher@wvda.us’

Alderson Broaddus University Students Take Top Honors at PBL National Leadership Conference

The Free Press WV

More than 1,800 of America’s best and brightest college students traveled to Maryland to Elevate their Futures as they competed for the opportunity to win more than $110,000 in cash awards at the Phi Beta Lambda (PBL) National Leadership Conference. Participants from across the United States attended this conference to enhance their business skills, expand their networks, and participate in 60 business and business-related competitive events.

Nine students from Alderson Broaddus University placed in the top 10 of the nation at the PBL Awards of Excellence Program on June 26, including first place and second place national spots.

Joyce Eid from Beavercreek, Ohio won first place in the Integrated Marketing Campaign and seventh place in Future Business Executive; Caleb Pell from Looneyville, West Virginia won second place in Accounting for Professionals; as a team, Michalea Bolyard from Newburg, West Virginia; Alex Buckheit from Baltimore, Maryland; Wade Conner from Grafton, West Virginia; Tiffany Hinchman from Grafton, West Virginia, and John Nicholson from Brookfield, Ohio won fourth place for Parliamentary Procedure;  and Jeremy Linaburg from Stephens City, Virginia won fifth place in Job Interview and Website Design with Abby Smith from Winchester, Virginia.

Jeremy Linaburg, AB University PBL chapter president and West Virginia PBL state vice president said, “I am beyond proud of our represented accomplishments at this year’s conference. AB students demonstrated applied knowledge, techniques, and strategies learned in the classroom to finish in the top 10 in the nation! This speaks highly of our institution and quality of our students.”

National first place winner and AB marketing and business administration major Joyce Eid explained how she developed an entire digital and print advertising campaign on her own that could benefit a particular company or organization, and expressed her excitement and sense of accomplishment at winning such a top honor on her own.

“I am honored to have individually participated in and won the Integrated Marketing Campaign event, as it was very competitive, consisting mostly of team entries,” Eid said. “It felt satisfying to know that hard work actually does guarantee you success. I want to thank my local PBL chapter for the growth and fellowship this year.”

These awards are part of a comprehensive national competitive events program sponsored by FBLA-PBL that recognizes and rewards excellence in a broad range of business and career-related areas. In addition to competitions, students immersed themselves in interactive workshops, visited an information-packed exhibit hall, and heard from motivational keynotes on a broad range of business topics.

The 2018 IOGA Summer Meeting runs through Tuesday at The Greenbrier Resort

The Free Press WV


The incoming president of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia doesn’t like what is ahead for natural gas prices.

“This year’s not too bad actually,” said Brett Loflin, vice president of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia.

“It’s when you look at futures prices, we’re not seeing the prices farther out — like in 2020, 2021 — they’re just not looking that good.”

On Monday, Loflin talked with MetroNews from The Greenbrier Resort where IOGA’s 2018 Summer Meeting runs through Tuesday.

At the start of 2018, the U.S. Energy Information Administration was forecasting increased natural gas production and “relatively flat” consumption translating to lower natural gas prices in 2018 and 2019.

When gas prices are low, “It’s hard to attract investor money in the upstream side for us producers to go out and drill and complete wells,” Loflin said.

More demand translates to higher gas prices, the reason why Loflin and others within IOGA have continued to push for what’s envisioned as the Appalachian Storage Hub to potentially be located in West Virginia.

A vice president of regulatory affairs for Northeast Natural Energy which is based Charleston, Loflin will become IOGA’s president on Wednesday, leading an organization with more than 500 members made up of largely gas producer-oriented operations.

Monday’s IOGA speakers included U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Stacy Olson, Chevron Appalachia president, Mike Dragovich, BrickStreet Insurance loss control specialist and Austin Caperton, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection.

On Tuesday, scheduled speakers included state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate, Brian Anderson, director of WVU Energy Institute and Michael Marr, business integration lead for Shell Chemical Company.

Under construction along the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, about 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, is a Shell cracker plant that’s projected to be finished in late 2021 or early 2022, according to available estimates.

Anderson’s topic was the Appalachian Storage Hub.

“The more that we can talk to some of our folks and we can get this Appalachian Storage Hub and turn it into a reality, that will certainly attract manufacturing industries,” Loflin said.

Despite uncertainty due to new tariffs implemented under President Donald Trump, Loflin said he’s hopeful West Virginia will eventually see China Energy’s more than $80 billion in potential investments.

“I still think there’s a possibility that investment will go through,” he said.

The Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia is a not-for-profit corporation representing natural gas and oil drilling and production companies along with companies that support their work in the Mountain State.

“We feel the natural gas industry is still the best hope for West Virginia,” said Loflin.

~~  Shauna Johnson ~~

Application for the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Vacancy

The Free Press WV

The Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission will receive applications immediately for the pending vacancy on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. 

The deadline for applications and for submittal of letters of recommendation is August 14, 2018.

Interviews will be held on August 23 and 24 (if necessary), 2018.

Applications and letters of recommendation will not be considered if received after the deadlines outlined above. 

Both must be submitted to: Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission, c/o Brian Abraham, General Counsel, Office of the Governor, 1900 Kanawha Boulevard, East, Charleston, West Virginia 25305.
You may access the application HERE.
Please follow all instructions in the application.

Proposed water quality standards sent to lawmakers

The Free Press WV

West Virginia would mostly follow the lead of federal environmental officials under the latest draft of proposed water quality standards setting limits on pollution that enters the state’s streams and rivers.

The state Department of Environmental Protection responded to nearly 200 pages of comments following a July public hearing.

The agency-approved rules now go to the Legislative Rule-Making Committee for review, and then to the full Legislature for the 2019 session.

The rules can be altered at any time along the process.

The rules are up for review every three years.

The new rules will comply with changes already passed in the 2017 legislative session to the way the state handles overlapping mixing zones and “harmonic mean flow,“ both of which would allow increased levels of toxins into the water.

Pierpont Community & Technical College receives national recognition from White House

The Free Press WV

The challenges of reskilling workers in West Virginia and throughout the country are getting some national attention.

Pierpont Community & Technical College recently received praise from the White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) for its innovative programs offered at the Robert C. Byrd National Aerospace Education Center in Bridgeport to combat those challenges.

“It’s really an honor for Pierpont to be mentioned, any school to be mentioned, in an official report that’s coming from the Executive Office of the President of the United States,” Pierpont President Dr. Johnny Moore said. “That’s an honor in itself, regardless of what they’re mentioning your name for. We’re very thankful and honored to be mentioned.”

But perhaps more important to Moore than the honor itself is the fact that the issue is now being talked about.

“I think nationally what’s happening is that people are beginning to realize something I’ve been saying for quite some time — community colleges are truly a vital pathway to prosperity for the America’s entire education ecosystem, particularly so in the state of West Virginia,” he said.

Moore said this is particularly vital in West Virginia because “a skilled and educated workforce equates to a healthier economy.

“Community colleges, in partnerships with local industries, offer, I believe, some of the most innovative reskilling programs in the United States, and that’s why we were highlighted because of some of the things that we’re doing, in particularly so through our Byrd Center,” he said.

However, to make programs like this possible, it’s taken the university gaining a lot of outside financial support.

Federal grants, EPA grants and Appalachian Region Commission grants, “in combination with the support from the state to provide opportunities for people to retool and reskill,” Moore said.

But for students, grants aren’t an option, he said.
Pell grants, which Moore said are key to many students in the state, are not available to individuals who have already obtained a four-year degree.

“Federal funding needs to be reformed to cover high-quality, short-term types of retraining programs,” he said. “That’s where community colleges come into play, and that’s why we need some assistance.”

Moore is hopeful this recognition will be only the beginning of discussion on the topic of community colleges and retraining programs, and that we’ll see more nationwide efforts toward retooling and reskilling for all careers as opposed to the national trend to frontload our lives with education.

“After 25, there’s nothing in place for you to be retooled and reskilled,” he said. “Some employers offer some support, but a lot of times we don’t have the support to do it.”

These retraining programs not only allow displaced workers to come out in as little as 12-weeks depending on their chosen program, they also prevent any piled up students loans in the process, which Moore said is a huge attraction when they’re already dealing with financial struggles of being laid off.

“A lot of people want to retool and reskill, it’s just that most people do not have the luxury of sitting out because they have responsibilities,” he said. “They can’t stop working and go retool and reskill. Those are the types of things in our country, I think, that we need to begin to address.”

Community clashes with clinic over addiction treatment

The Free Press WV

A few weeks ago, community members and physicians gathered for a town hall in Beckley, West Virginia. On the agenda? Whether a new psychiatric clinic downtown should be allowed to do medication-assisted treatment from their building.

“What matters is - it’s our neighborhood,“ said community member Patty Teubert. “I don’t understand why you don’t hear that.“

Teubert was acting as the spokeswoman for others opposed to the facility, which seemed to be in the overwhelming majority in the meeting.

Back in January, two physicians who are brothers, Saad and Jawad Zafar, bought a vacant downtown building zoned commercial with the intention of expanding the older brother’s existing internal medicine clinic to include psychiatric services. Although zoned commercial and used as a medical practice previously, the building they bought is in a mixed-use neighborhood, which includes churches, homes and other medical practices.

“This is a medical and psychiatric clinic,“ said younger brother Jawad Zafar, who is a psychiatrist. “Addiction is not our primary focus, but it is part of our treatment. Just like you would treat diabetes, we’re going to be treating addiction, because it falls under the realm of internal medicine and psychiatry together.“

But when the Beckley neighborhood found out the Zafars would be providing addiction treatment services from their new building, the neighborhood fought back.

“I’m not sure that there’s a good scenario the way it exists now - not in a neighborhood,“ said Teubert.

Teubert said the community understands that addiction services are needed, but believes the neighborhood would be a much less safe place with the clinic there and that “those people,“ meaning people struggling with addiction, should be treated away from homes.

But there’s little evidence to suggest that clinics providing medication-assisted treatment cause an increase in crime in the communities in which they are situated. In a statement to the local newspaper, The Register Herald, the Beckley Police Department said they haven’t observed increased crime around any of the MAT clinics in the city.

For the Zafars, that’s not a surprise. Crime usually occurs when people struggling with addiction are actively using drugs, not when they are in treatment, they said.

“Honestly, I was sick and tired of seeing grandparents have to raise the grandchildren because parents are suffering from addiction and the parents can’t seek treatment,“ said Jawad Zafar.

Zafar said that as a psychiatrist who has specialized in addiction treatment, he could have gone anywhere in the country with his skills, and been paid a lot more than he will make in Beckley. But West Virginia is home and the most desperate need is here. So he stayed.

“That was my rationale to come back. And now I’m questioning - actually after this (referring to vocal, active signs of opposition) - I’m questioning whether this was the right decision for me to make,“ he said.

Teubert said it’s not the addiction treatment that bothers the community, it’s the medication-assisted part. She said there is disagreement within the medical community about how long people should be be on a medication-assisted program, with some programs weaning patients off the medication in a certain period of time and others allowing them to stay on it indefinitely. The concern, she said, is that people in the program will sell their medication, and the community will see an increase in drug deals or needles on the street and in parks.

The proposed Beckley facility is modeled after one in Morgantown at West Virginia University. For people in this model program, the notion that this kind of treatment center generates crime is ludicrous.

“It’s regular drugs that cause crime. You know Suboxone is a medicine, it’s not really a drug that you get high off. It keeps a person from getting on drugs,“ said Cassie, whose last name is being omitted to protect her privacy.

Cassie is part of a long-term recovery group in the WVU Comprehensive Opioid Addiction Treatment program. She and four other women, including Megan from whom you’re about to hear, told their stories about addiction and recovery.

“I didn’t want to be on anything assisted, I just wanted to do cold turkey, and honestly being put on Suboxone and the whole program - everything about it - all the group therapy, all the therapy individual therapy, all the requirements, are really what kept me clean and built a really strong recovery for me,“ said Megan. “I have 464 days clean and still doing good.“

For them, medication-assisted treatment saved their lives. It allowed them to get jobs, be parents to their children, and re-enter society as productive members. Every major medical association in the United States - from the National Institutes of Health to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration - recognizes medication-assisted treatment, combined with therapy, as an effective treatment for opioid-use disorders.

A 2015 Harvard review of studies found that when patients are prescribed medication in their addiction treatment, the rate they stay sober doubles, in comparison to patients who are prescribed no medication or given a placebo.

But personal perception and science don’t always correlate. Teubert and her neighbors have seen their community shift dramatically under the weight of the opioid crisis. She points to an incident where somebody was found shooting up in her workplace bathroom as evidence of the potential impact on the community.

“I used to leave my door unlocked,“ Teubert said. “I don’t leave my door unlocked anymore.“

Many at the town hall seem to view addiction, or at least the actions that led to addiction, as a choice - one the community should not be made to suffer from. They also fault physicians for overprescribing opioids. The “not in our neighborhood” response from the Beckley community is not dissimilar from other examples around the state where people have tried to establish sober living homes.

Zafars and patients in recovery view matters differently. They see addiction as a disease, and believe the paths to developing that disease are as many and varied as the paths to diabetes and nicotine addiction.

“What would be the next? Are they going to tell us that we can’t treat HIV patients? We can’t treat hepatitis patients? Because it’s going to bring their property values down?“ said older brother Saad Zafar.

For the Zafars, the concept of “not in my neighborhood” is ridiculous because addiction is already in almost all neighborhoods in West Virginia.

But Teubert said no matter how the building was zoned when the Zafars bought it, the neighborhood will fight to get the zoning changed so the physicians can’t prescribe Suboxone from that facility. So far the community has put together a petition to bar medication assisted treatment in residential neighborhoods. The Beckley city attorney has said he will review whether such a request could be legally implemented.

The Zafars said they wouldn’t have bought the building in the first place if it hadn’t been zoned the way it was. And until the zoning is changed, they’ll continue giving their patients the best care they can, including treating those who are addicted using protocols that are currently standard.

Corridor H remains state’s top highway project

The Free Press WV

Governor Jim Justice touted the state’s economy during three stops in Randolph County Thursday.

Justice got a look at Corridor H highway construction, handed out some community corrections grants in Elkins and took at a tour of the Armstrong Flooring Plant in Beverly.

Justice told a crowd gathered at the Randolph County Courthouse that President Donald Trump and his infrastructure program are the keys to finishing Corridor H.

“I think his (infrastructure program) will be coming in the next 12 months and we’ll get another bump,” Justice predicted. “And absolutely from me to him you can rest assured that I’ve never changed my mind in any way that this (Corridor H) is the most important project.”

Justice also told the residents they should watch the month-by-month state revenue collection numbers in the new fiscal year. He predicted the collections would continue to indicate a strengthening economy.

“We have literally, and I’m not tooting my horn because I truly believe it’s a miracle from God above. I do. I truly do,” Justice said. “It’s just unbelievable what’s happened in this state. The numbers have completely flipped.”

Justice said the state ended the fiscal year with $32 million above estimates and half will go into the Rainy Day fund.

“My job is to make you have opportunity. My job is to try and bring goodness to our state and things are happening and they are happening in a really good way,” Justice said.

Randolph County has long benefited from the wood products industry and Justice said he’s hopeful a proposal before President Trump would boost those efforts.

“The President of the United States is considering and we’re going through it nearly every day in regard to trying to find a way to bring furniture manufacturing, cabinetry, flooring, right back to the United States and a big chunk of that could come back to West Virginia,” Justice said.

Justice also told the Elkins crowd his administration continues to try and find $276,000 for an outdoor theater in the area.

Coal Severance Money Allows County Sheriff to Hire Deputies

The Free Press WV

Officials say a West Virginia county sheriff’s office has hired four deputies after it had $240,000 in budget cuts during the last few years.

The McDowell County Sheriff’s Office now has 13 deputies. County budget cuts had caused the department to lose four deputies in January 2016. It should have 15 deputies.

County Commissioner Gordon Lambert says coal severance money made the latest hires possible. He says the county hopes to hire more deputies.

Sheriff Martin West says one hire is a previous county deputy and has completed his academy training, so he will be able to work at full capacity. The other three hires will start 16 weeks of academy training on August 15.

Federal Mine Safety Agency Holding Input Meetings Around US

The Free Press WV

The federal agency that oversees mining safety is holding public stakeholder meetings in six states, including West Virginia.

The Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration is seeking information on safety improvements with hauling vehicles and bulldozers at surface mines and belt conveyors at surface and underground mines.

The West Virginia meeting is Sept. 11 at the National Mine Health and Safety Academy in Beckley.

The other meetings in August and September will be held in Alabama, Texas, Nevada, New York and Arlington, Virginia. The agency says it is part of a larger initiative that MSHA is undertaking to reduce accidents involving powered haulage.

Those type of accidents accounted for half of the 28 mining fatalities in 2017.

Warner Denies Blankenship Request to Run for U.S. Senate in General Election

The Free Press WV

In a matter that he says he takes very seriously, Secretary of State Mac Warner announced this morning that he will not approve the candidacy application filed by Mingo County resident Don Blankenship seeking to run for the U.S. Senate in the November General Election.

Warner notified Blankenship of his decision.

  “According to the plain language of the law, which controls my decision, a candidate who loses the Primary Election cannot use the nomination-certificate process to run another campaign in the General Election. Any other decision would be contrary to the law,“ Warner said.

Blankenship indicated that he would appeal Warner’s decision if Blankenship was ruled ineligible to run.

Website lists West Virginia road construction projects

The Free Press WV

Governor Jim Justice says motorists can use a website to view ongoing West Virginia road and bridge construction projects.

Justice said Monday the website

href=“https://transportation.wv.gov/driveforwardwv/Pages/default.aspx” title=“Drive Forward WV”>Drive Forward WV lists details on 600 construction projects across the state.

Voters last October passed a referendum for the state to sell $1.6 billion in bonds to finance state road repairs and construction.

The Legislature in December authorized issuing up to $800 million in bonds through this summer followed by another $800 million in the next three years.

Disabled coal miner finds solace in chainsaw art

The Free Press WV

Larry Wrenn has found solace in the buzzing and whirring of his new craft.

Wrenn’s carving history began two years ago when he needed an old tree removed from his yard. Wrenn had seen pictures of wood carvings and thought of no better way to get rid of his own tree.

There was just one problem. Wrenn, 46, a disabled coal miner from Amigo in Raleigh County, wanted a realistic carving, but there were no realistic wood carvers in the state.

Wrenn explains that there are two categories to wood carvings — realistic carving and cartoon carving, which according to Wrenn are “daylight to dark.”

Although he admired cartoon carvings, he says that style just wasn’t what he was looking for.

Wrenn then took it upon himself to learn how to make realistic chainsaw art so that he could create the masterpiece he wanted.

He had no artistic background — he says he “couldn’t draw worth a lick” — but he did have a background with chainsaws.

When he was a child, his family would cut wood, and when he was old enough to use a chainsaw, he couldn’t put it down.

“I would cut wood until I was absolutely exhausted,” he says. “I would be on my hands and knees by the end, but I absolutely loved it.”

Determined, Wrenn began to practice this new art form and two years and multiple discarded carvings later, his hobby turned into a business opportunity.

He was immediately accepted to sell artwork at Tamarack and soon he was being approached by different businesses to do carving demonstrations.

Wrenn’s craftsmanship, attention to detail, and prices — which he says are half the market value — are just a few reasons why people flock to his workshop.

“There is a market for cartoon, but it is not my passion,” he says. “Realism is my forte.”

Wrenn completes all of his carvings at his residence and explains that there is a peace to working at home. “I can take my time and make sure that everything on the carving is perfect.”

Wrenn mentions that he loves “to see what is under the bark,” to study the tree for minutes or even days before the carving process begins.

“To take something that would be discarded and to make something that people can get joy and pleasure from it, that feeling is indescribable,” he says.

. . .

Wrenn has several different carvings that he keeps multiples of to sell, but he also does custom work.

Prices vary based upon size, detail and time involved, but Wrenn says he has also bartered with his carvings for timber or other services.

Wrenn has completed several large carvings, including a 17-foot-tall eagle.

He currently has several projects in the works, such as a possible carving demonstration in Princeton this September, as well as possible sponsorships from different chainsaw manufacturers.

He says he is surprised by how much his hobby has grown.

“I was just trying to make a carving for myself,” he says. “I never dreamed this would grow as much as it has.”

Wrenn says he finds comfort in his carving, adding he struggled with depression after his accident in the coal mines.

“It is hard when you love the work, but you just can’t do it,” he says.

After turning to chainsaw art, Wrenn says he found a peace that he didn’t know he was looking for.

“It takes my mind off of the struggles of being disabled and it allows me to set small goals…,” he says. “I can bridge the gap between what I want to do and what I am able to do.”

Although Wrenn says he continues to struggle with his injuries, he says owning his own business allows him the freedom to work through the pain.

“On the days I don’t feel good, I don’t have to do anything if I don’t want to,” he says. “But on the days that I feel good, I will be out there carving.”

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