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Nursing Home Employee Sentenced in Medicaid Fraud, Financial Exploitation of Patients

The Free Press WV

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR), Medicaid Fraud Control Unit today announced that Mary Jane Brown of Belington, WV was sentenced subsequent to conviction on multiple felony counts in Randolph County Circuit Court, including Medicaid fraud, financial exploitation and fraudulent schemes.

The convictions resulted from a criminal investigation by DHHR’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, which determined that over the course of four years, Brown, a social worker employed by an Elkins nursing home, financially exploited 13 patients, stealing more than $50,000. Brown also caused more than $40,000 in fraudulent claims to be submitted to the Medicaid program.  The total loss to all victims including the Medicaid program was $97,264.59. 

Brown was initially arrested in July 2014, and later indicted on one count of fraudulent schemes, six counts of financial exploitation, and two counts of Medicaid fraud.  The case was prosecuted by Medicaid Fraud Control Unit Attorney Michael Malone, in cooperation with the Randolph County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

Brown was sentenced to serve one year in jail on one count of financial exploitation, and two consecutive terms of 1-to-10 years in prison on one count each of fraudulent schemes and Medicaid fraud. The prison sentences were suspended in favor of seven years probation, to begin upon Brown’s release from jail. In addition, Brown is ordered to pay full restitution.

The Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, through DHHR’s Office of Inspector General, investigates and prosecutes or refers for prosecution allegations of health care fraud committed against the Medicaid program and allegations of criminal abuse, neglect or financial exploitation of patients in Medicaid-funded facilities and residents in board and care facilities. Additionally, the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit is responsible for investigating fraud in the administration of the Medicaid program. Its mission is to protect West Virginia’s vulnerable residents and the integrity of its health care programs. 

To report Medicaid provider fraud or patient abuse, neglect or financial exploitation, please call 1.304.558.1858 or toll-free at 1.888.FRAUD.WV (1.888.372.8398).

West Virginia News

The Free Press WV

►  Spartan Race comes to West Virginia for first time

For the first time since its inception in 2007, the Spartan Race is coming to West Virginia.

The Spartan Race will be held at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in Glen Jean August 26-27, with a dinner on August 25 for the athletes who will be participating. Race director Dan Luzzi says the Spartan Race is an intense event designed to push participants mentally and physically.

“Spartan Race is a military-inspired obstacle course combined with trail running that pushes competitors mentally and physically beyond their preconceived limits,” Luzzi said. “The courses have military-inspired obstacles: walls, barbed wire, rope climbs, cargo nets. Also, Spartan-inspired obstacles such as spear throw and the fire jump.

“Some of the greatest challenges come from the natural terrain of our race venues, and it doesn’t get any better than West Virginia. When we found the Summit Bechtel Reserve and all of its trails and all of its natural wonder, we knew it was the perfect spot for our U.S. Championship.”

For the Spartan Race, the weekend series in West Virginia is what the organization calls the “Trifecta Weekend.” The Trifecta Weekend allows competitors to race through three different courses over a two-day period.

The first course is the Spartan Sprint, which ranges between three and five miles with 20 to 23 different obstacles. The sprint is considered the entry level event of the Trifecta.

The second level course is the Spartan Super, which ranges from 8 to 10 miles with 24 to 29 obstacle courses.

The third race is the Spartan Beast, which ranges from 12 to 14 miles, with 30 to 35 different obstacles. The Beast is designed to test every limit a competitor has and push him or her farther than ever before.

Competitors who complete all three courses in a single season earn the coveted Trifecta, issued only to the those who are strong enough to endure the grueling obstacles in these courses.

For Spartan, hosting a race in West Virginia has been a goal for a while, and it could impact the state in several ways.

“With any state we enter, we want to leave a lasting impression on the community, and truly become a part of it,” Luzzi said. “We want people to be blown away by our entire race experience and see the benefits of competing in our races so the community welcomes us back year after year and uses the race date as a means to train and stay in shape. Our goal is to rip people off the couch, show them they are not made of glass and improve their lifestyle.

“Bringing Spartan Race to any area also helps to improve the local economy by boosting sales at hotels, restaurants, local shops and gas stations. We also hope to create lasting friendships and relationships that begin at our races.”

Improving the local economy is something that seems like a reality with this partnership. According to Luzzi, Spartan is expecting around 11,000 competitors from all over, in addition to 5,000 spectators.

Among the competitors will be West Virginia’s own Randy Moss, who grew up in Rand in Kanawha County, played college football at Marshall and played 14 seasons in the NFL. He has been competing in Spartan races for over a year, according to Luzzi.

“He’s become a great advocate for the sport of obstacle course racing,” Luzzi said. “He’s also really passionate about getting people, especially kids, healthy and active, which aligns with the goals of the Spartan Foundation as well. And we couldn’t be more excited to host a fundraiser with him in his home state.”

The fundraiser with Moss is one for the Spartan Foundation that Luzzi mentioned. The registration fees of $250 per contestant will be donated to the Spartan Foundation, which supports healthier lifestyles and personal development for children and young adults. In addition to these goals, the Spartan Foundation is aligned with other organizations that share the same goals and causes, such as Autism Speaks and the Jimmie Johnson Foundation.

Despite the fact the race hasn’t even taken place yet, Luzzi anticipates West Virginia being a mainstay on the Spartan Race map.

“The race venue and active racing community are tremendous factors to bringing this race back to West Virginia. Although the event has not taken place, we most certainly will be coming back for more,” Luzzi said.

This will be the final race in the U.S. Championship series and the Spartan Pro team will be competing for prizes and bragging rights, bringing in NBC to broadcast the event.

►  WV Solicitor General Returning to Private Sector

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey says Solicitor General Elbert Lin is leaving soon to return to the private sector.

Morrisey announced Lin’s impending departure Thursday.

Lin has overseen lawsuits filed by Morrisey’s office against federal agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over then-President Barack Obama’s efforts to reduce emissions from existing power plants. The Supreme Court last year blocked the Clean Power Plan from taking effect while a federal appeals court considers whether it was legal.

Morrisey, a Republican, is running in next year’s U.S. Senate race, seeking the seat now held by Democrat Joe Manchin.

►  Capito criticizes Trump, says he should unite the country

A Republican U.S. senator from one of Donald Trump’s most popular states says the president’s comments about the violent white supremacist rally in Virginia has created a firestorm and that he should unite the country against racism.

West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito told the Charleston Gazette-Mail in a telephone interview that Trump’s most egregious comments were referring to some of the neo-Nazi protesters as “very fine people.” Capito told the newspaper she could not find a fine face in the crowd and that she was not going to try.

The first-term senator rarely criticizes Republican leadership.

But she said Trump has “not handled the situation very well at all” and said “anti-Semitic, racist, white supremacists ... should have no place in this country.”

►  State workers can attend conference at governor’s resort

The West Virginia Ethics Commission says state employees can attend a business conference at a resort owned by the Republican governor.

The commission says state workers can attend the conference at The Greenbrier, but they can’t spend state money on food and lodging at the upscale resort.

Governor Jim Justice owns The Greenbrier resort and has not placed it into a blind trust. He has placed his ownership of two other resorts into a blind trust.

It will cost the state about $5,000 for eight tourism employees to attend the conference. Some of that money will go to the resort.

Commissioner Betty Ireland said the governor needs to put The Greenbrier into a blind trust immediately. A spokesman for Justice did not respond to the newspaper’s request for comment.

As You Watch Monday’s Cosmic Show, Don’t Take Its Star for Granted

The Free Press WV

Total eclipses of the sun are rare, and Monday’s passage of the moon in front of our mother star is generating a lot of attention. Some 20 million people are expected to occupy the rather narrow 70-mile band of “totality” that will arch from Oregon to South Carolina. At its fullest, the eclipse will bring a couple of minutes or so of strange twilight. Perhaps the birds will stop singing, the milk will turn, and bats will pour from attics.

Let’s hope the heavens are clear, because people deserve to see and ponder this great phenomenon. Nature brings a calming perspective to our own lives, and nature at cosmic play puts us in our place.

One thing we shouldn’t do, however, is to think that the sun is some player on a distant stage. It is the raging ball of plasma that makes life on Earth possible. This may be stating the obvious, but it seems useful to state the obvious from time to time. (Only three out of every four people surveyed by the National Science Foundation believe the Earth goes around the sun.)

No one is aware of our primary dependency on the sun more than the gardener. We all learn that plants developed to convert the sun’s light energy into food. Even knowing this, the process seems beyond magical. It is worth recounting: Leaves contain structures called chloroplasts. Chloroplasts hold molecules of chlorophyll, which gives vegetation its green cast but is also the agent of the molecular transformation.

In simple terms, the plant takes carbon dioxide from the air and hydrogen from water and uses light to create carbohydrates while releasing oxygen into the atmosphere. To put it another way, the sun and the plants replace atmospheric carbon dioxide with oxygen and make food for the plants.

Because we breathe oxygen and eat plants (and animals that eat plants), the value of this chemical reaction might be overlooked but cannot be overstated.

Leaves, thus, are the original solar panels, but not all leaves are the same. Plants come in an enormous array of shapes and sizes, not for the delectation of the gardener but to find their niche in this world. Some adaptations are not directly driven by the needs of photosynthesis, but many are shaped by the plant’s relationship with the sun. When one gardener offers a new plant to another, the first question is, “Is it for sun or shade?“

I went to the U.S. Botanic Garden’s conservatory to ask Bill McLaughlin, curator of plants, to point out some of these vegetative adaptations to light. Standing by a cacao tree, which gives us chocolate, he noted how the new, tender leaves are cast brown-orange in contrast to the thick, green mature leaves, and hang down to avoid the light. “You can tell how delicate the tissue is,“ he said. (It feels like soft silk.) “This is basically suntan lotion for it.“

He thinks of the humble ficus plant. Indoors, it has large green leaves to catch as many rays as possible, but when you place it in the brighter outdoors, it grows leaves that are smaller and more yellow and with a waxier cuticle.

Other plants may not be as versatile, and once they find their niche, they are loath to stray too far from it.

The rain forest is made up of plants that like full sun, i.e., the canopy trees, and those beneath that do not. But it is a spectrum of exposure; orchids and other epiphytes find a modicum of light in the tree branches, and those on the forest floor are built for gloom. This includes the purple underleaf coloration, which is thought to soak up the light reflected off the ground.

At the lowest level of the jungle, these plants “may only have 5 to 10 percent of the ambient light,“ McLaughlin said. “Often, they orientate their leaves in a horizontal direction.“

In the showiest part of the conservatory, the high-domed jungle area, we find a rain forest groundcover named hemigraphis, with its upper leaf surface a metallic gray, its underleaf a glowing purple. “Everything will fill every space it can,“ he said. Nature abhors a vacuum, even in the shadows.

Above the hemigraphis grows a coral tree, Macaranga grandifolia, a plant with enormous dark green leaves, each the size of a bedside table, and arrayed in a spiral fashion so one doesn’t shade another. “We are talking about blocking the light for a few moments,“ said McLaughlin, referring to the eclipse. “These plants have to deal with blocked light all day long and still make energy.“

In the totally opposite conditions of the desert, plants have adopted spectacularly different forms (and a different method of photosynthesis, so their pores open only at night).

Their mission is to preserve water, through their succulent architecture, and to prevent tissue damage caused by the light and the heat.

Some have small leaves held upright to minimize sun exposure, and some, like the familiar prickly-pear cactus, the opuntia, dispense with leaves. The photosynthesizing pads are modified stems.

Nearby, an impressive (and endangered) golden barrel cactus the size of a pouf deals with the light with ingenuity. Its exterior is a series of ridges and valleys, like an accordion. This permits the plant to cast its own shade between the ridges as the sunlight traverses it. “Probably at the point where it would be overheating, the sun will move on a millimeter or so,“ he said. In the wild, a cactus this size would be a century old. This pampered example is probably 30 to 40 years old, McLaughlin said. The sun has fed it well.

At the other end of the desert house, he stops to pluck a leaf from a ground hugger, Haworthia truncata. It is dark green and fleshy, and when he splits it open, he shows that the top of the structure is filled with a clear jelly that sits between the sunlight above and the chloroplasts below. “It’s basically a diffuser panel,“ he said, likening it to the way gardeners whitewash greenhouses in the summer to reduce the sun’s energy.

If solar panels are black, to maximize their light absorption, why aren’t plants black? (A few shade lovers are close to it.) “Well, they would burn up,“ McLaughlin said. Green is a good compromise – dark but not too dark. “It ends up being a happy medium.“

The plants may go to bed on Monday a little hungrier, but they’ll be all right. The most beautiful thing about a solar eclipse is that it passes.

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Hello, Gilmer County!
I ask you to stand up and Pray that day.  Gilmer County has died under current leadership and that has been proven time and again.  PLEASE!  Save the nature and beauty of the one God.  Stand up and claim back these mountains before they’re gone!

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Mountaineer Food Bank Names Beverly Surratt Winner of Logo Contest

The Free Press WV

Mountaineer Food Bank recently held a contest in which state residents were asked to take part in designing a new logo to represent its mission to feed hungry West Virginians.

The Mountaineer Food Bank board of directors selected the winning design from more than 30 submissions. The new logo was created by Beverly Surratt, a professional and freelance graphic designer from Huntington with a visual communication degree from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and over 30 years of professional experience.

She received a $100 gift card for her winning design.

Surratt said she was inspired by the West Virginia tradition of neighbors sharing their harvest with each other as well as by the iconic landscapes and colorful features of her home state.

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Thank you for all you do.  Grateful on behalf of all recipients.

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West Virginia News

The Free Press WV

►  Over 1,000 student-issued iPads are unaccounted for

About 1,000 iPad tablet computers have not been recovered by a school system in West Virginia over the past three school years.

The Kanawha County Board of Education learned Thursday that 1,269 out of just over 15,000 iPads were not recovered. Officials say the county sees about a 2.8 percent annual loss, with the largest source coming from student transfers.

The school system’s technology director Leah Sparks says the number should decrease as students continue to turn in tablets.

She says starting this year, the tablets will include a new feature allowing the county to pinpoint the location of the device. Eventually, the location of the missing tablets will be given to authorities.

►  West Virginia office that supervises sex offenders will end

A West Virginia office that has supervised sex offenders for nearly a decade will end.

The Intensive Supervision Office will end in September. The move comes after West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Chief Justice Allen Loughry signed an order calling for a consolidation and reformulation of the state’s probation office on June 26.

Loughry wrote that the program’s centralized, rather than local, administration means that in many cases the court’s ISO probation officers are not afforded the local knowledge and wisdom of the circuit judges and chief probation officers in the communities where the offenders reside.

According to the administrative order, a decrease from 14,000 to 10,000 total supervised individuals led to the program’s end.

►  Road project at West Virginia airport is completed early

West Virginia’s Yeager Airport says a paving project on the road leading to it has been completed ahead of schedule.

The airport said the project was completed Wednesday and caused minimal delay to airport patrons.

The airport’s news release said the Department of Highways reported the project’s total cost was $351,500.

Airport Director Terry Sayre says the project provided a big improvement for customers and enhances visitors’ first impressions of West Virginia.

Airport Road is a state highway and the main access road to Yeager Airport.

►  WVU awarded federal funding for acid mine drainage project

The U.S. Energy Department has selected West Virginia University for the second phase of research in a project that would recover rare earth elements from coal mine drainage.

U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin announced the $2.7 million grant Thursday.

The West Virginia senators say in a statement that the project uses acid mine drainage solids to recover rare earth elements and other useful materials.

WVU says rare earth elements have numerous applications and are used in devices such as cell phones, medical equipment and defense applications. The university says conventional recovery methods are difficult, expensive and generate large volumes of contaminated waste.

►  New sheriff in West Virginia to leave post for new job

A sheriff in West Virginia has announced his resignation after seven months on the job.

News outlets report Monroe County Sheriff Sean Crosier submitted his resignation to county commissioners Tuesday, effective September 4. Crosier said in a statement that he has taken a job with an undisclosed organization that prepares the U.S. Department of Defense and other security agencies for chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive attacks.

He said the employment shift was prompted by familial obligations, as his wife will not be able to retire at the expected time.

The Monroe County Commission must appoint a new sheriff within 30 days of the office’s vacation. The commission says the appointee must be a Democrat, like Crosier. The seat will be back on the ballot in the May 2018 primary.

Mylan Announces $465 Million Settlement Over Whether Epipen Qualifies as Generic

The Free Press WV

The pharmaceutical company Mylan has announced a $465 million settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice over its EpiPen auto-injector products.

The conflict was over whether Mylan misclassified EpiPen as generic to avoid paying Medicaid rebates to the federal government.

Under the settlement, Mylan will reclassify EpiPen for purposes of the Medicaid Drug Rebate Program and pay the rebate applicable to innovator products, effective as of this past April 01.

Mylan had earlier indicated that a settlement was reached but today was the first day it was confirmed by the government.

As Bloomberg reported, some U.S. lawmakers criticized the deal as not tough enough on the company.

“As we said when we announced the settlement last year, bringing closure to this matter is the right course of action for Mylan and our stakeholders to allow us to move forward,” Mylan chief executive officer Heather Bresch stated in a news release.

“Over the course of the last year, we have taken significant steps to enhance access to epinephrine auto-injectors, including bringing a solution to the fast-changing healthcare landscape in the U.S. by launching an authorized generic version at less than half the wholesale acquisition cost of the brand and meaningfully expanding our patient access programs.”

Bresch is the daughter of Senator Joe Manchin, D-WV, and Gayle Manchin, the secretary of Education and the Arts in Governor Jim Justice’s administration.

She and Mylan have been under scrutiny over the price of Epi-Pen for much of this past year. Mylan acquired the rights to the shot-delivered medicine in 2007 and then raised the price roughly six-fold.

“Mylan has always been committed to providing patients in the U.S. and around the world with access to medicine, and we look forward to continuing to deliver on this mission,” Bresch said in the news release.

The settlement does not contain an admission or finding of wrongdoing.

Mylan also has entered into a Corporate Integrity Agreement with the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The settlement provides resolution of potential Medicaid rebate liability claims by the federal government, as well as by some hospitals and other covered entities, such as rival drugmaker Sanofi, which sued Mylan last year.

“It was our contention that Mylan’s intentional misclassification of EpiPen allowed them to amass hundreds of millions of dollars which they then used to finance their anticompetitive behavior in the marketplace,” Sanofi said in a statement Thursday.

The settlement allocates money to the Medicaid programs of all 50 states and establishes a framework for resolving all potential state Medicaid rebate liability claims within 60 days.

Medicaid gets a 23 percent discount on brand-name drugs and a 13 percent discount on generics.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service indicated that EpiPen had been classified incorrectly as a generic since at least 1997, both by Mylan and previous makers.

The Justice Department claimed in its lawsuit that by misclassifying EpiPen as a generic product rather than a brand name, Mylan profited at the expense of Medicaid, the government’s health-insurance program for the poor.

“Taxpayers rightly expect companies like Mylan that receive payments from taxpayer-funded programs to scrupulously follow the rules,” said William Weinreb, the acting U.S. Attorney in Massachusetts.

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That’s just a little pocket change.

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2018 West Virginia Teacher of the Year Finalists Announced

The Free Press WV

The West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) today announced six finalists for the West Virginia Teacher of the Year award. Finalists represent the best of the best in education and were selected from among the county teacher of the year winners. This year’s six finalists are: Teresa Thorne, Slanesville Elementary School, Hampshire County, Tammy Ann Spangler, Ripley Middle School, Jackson County, Katlin Thorsell, Washington High School, Jefferson County, Tammy J. Bittorf, Berkeley Springs High School, Morgan County, Adriane L. Manning, Wheeling Middle School, Ohio County and Leslie Lively, Short Line School, Wetzel County.

“I congratulate this group of finalists who have confirmed that we have some of the most compassionate teachers in West Virginia influencing our students,” said West Virginia Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Steven Paine. “Each of these teachers embrace high expectations, strive for excellence and put students at the center of all they do.”

This years’ nominees include elementary, middle and high school educators from a variety of disciplines, and span the Mountain State.

Teresa Thorne is a first-grade teacher at Slanesville Elementary, and has been teaching for 14 years. She is active on a variety of leadership teams and advisory councils and is passionate about fostering character growth as a Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) sponsor, a program that allows dads, uncles and grandfathers to volunteer at schools.

Tammy Ann Spangler is a mathematics teacher at Ripley Middle School. She focuses on working together with her students to share ideas and strategies to complete project-based math lessons. Spangler works to develop Jackson County’s sixth grade mathematics curriculum and share her vision for “all students to be mathematical thinkers and persevere in solving problems.“

Katlin Thorsell makes sure her students understand the importance of community involvement. As an agriculture education teacher and FFA Advisor, Thorsell ensures that her agriculture students have the ability to complete Supervised Agriculture Experiences (SAE) allowing real-world training in a supervised environment. A volunteer firefighter and EMT, Thorsell also allows graduating seniors to receive hands-on CPR and First Aid training.

Tammy Bittorf began teaching English after her honorable discharge from the United States Airforce. That experience inspired her to launch the “Broadening Horizon’s in Morgan County Program” a non-profit, dedicated to providing students the opportunity to visit other countries. Bittorf focuses on teaching students respect and tolerance for other cultures while building their self-confidence to prepare them for college and the workforce.

Adriane Manning likes to combine literature, history, art and performance together as a middle school Reading and English Language Arts teacher. Manning brings her experience as a seasoned reporter for The Washington Post to teach life skills like discipline, teamwork and self-confidence in her classroom. Manning is also involved with the school’s spring musical and the student-led news broadcast, Wildcat 411.

Leslie Lively has been an educator for more than 20 years with a focus on STEM education. Lively has built the Engineer Energy Program in Wetzel County, which engages nearly 100 students in hands-on exploration of STEM subjects. The program allows students to coordinate with their local Board of Education, businesses and community at large to present their STEM based projects throughout the school year.

The West Virginia Teacher of the Year program identifies, recognizes and promotes representatives of excellent teaching in the elementary and secondary classrooms of the state. West Virginia’s program is recognized as one of the oldest and consistent state Teacher of the Year programs in the nation.

West Virginia’s Teacher of the Year will be announced during a ceremony on September 18th at the Clay Center in Charleston. The winner of the state recognition will go on to represent West Virginia at the national level.

Photos of each finalist can be accessed below:

Adriane Manning, Ohio County

Katlin Thorsell, Jefferson County

Leslie Lively, Wetzel County

Tammy Bittorf, Morgan County

Tammy Spangler, Jackson County

Teresa Thorne, Hampshire County

WVONGA to Push Again for Mineral Efficiency

The Free Press WV

Natural gas production in West Virginia is not growing as much as it is in Pennsylvania and Ohio. The head of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association blames it on noncompetitive drilling laws.

Specifically, that means West Virginia lacks laws allowing joint development and co-tenancy.

WVONGA will try again in the next legislative session to secure those two items, said Anne Blankenship, WVONGA executive director.

“WVONGA will advocate again in 2018 for the West Virginia Legislature to pass a mineral efficiency bill that will resolve the issue when 100 percent of the mineral interest owners do not consent to the development of oil and gas,” Blankenship said last week. “In many instances, a fraction of one percent of the mineral interest owners can prevent the development of oil and gas against the will of the super majority.

“Our surrounding states, including Ohio and Pennsylvania, have laws in place to address this issue, and production is increasing at higher rates in those states than in West Virginia. To become competitive with these states, West Virginia must pass similar laws.”

Co-tenancy would allow drilling when 75 percent of owners of a tract agree to allow development of mineral rights, even if the other 25 percent do not approve or cannot be located. Joint development would allow drilling companies to use horizontal drilling to extract natural gas under land using leases that were bought when shallow, vertical wells were the only drilling technology available.

Both practices have been opposed by landowner rights organizations and the West Virginia Farm Bureau.

Senate Bill 576, which addressed joint development and co-tenancy, passed the state Senate this year but died in committee when it moved to the House of Delegates.

EQT is one of the largest drillers and producers of natural gas in West Virginia. In a recent conference call, EQT CEO Steve Schlotterbeck referred to what he called West Virginia’s “antiquated” oil and gas drilling laws and regulations when discussing EQT’s capital expenditure program and how it plans to drill more in Pennsylvania than in West Virginia.

An EQT spokesperson confirmed that Schlotterbeck was referring to the lack of joint development and co-tenancy in West Virginia.

After this year’s regular session of the Legislature ended, Schlotterbeck said EQT can drill wells with longer laterals in Pennsylvania than it can in West Virginia because of joint development and co-tenancy. He also said West Virginia’s laws are wasteful of natural gas. Because the company cannot drill laterals in West Virginia that are as long as those in Pennsylvania because of co-tenancy restrictions, some gas that could be recovered here is not recovered, he said.

Blankenship’s comments came as WVONGA compared production in West Virginia counties last year. Blankenship said Doddridge County (334,486,963 cubic feet) was by far the largest natural gas producing county in 2016, producing about 334.5 million cubic feet, followed by Wetzel County with 208.7 million.

The next four counties ranked by production were: Marshall, with 143.1 million cubic feet; Ritchie, with 130.8 million; Harrison, with 128.3 million; and Tyler, with 120.9 million.

Statewide, West Virginia wells produced nearly 1.35 billion cubic feet, up about 2.5 percent from 2015, Blankenship said.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, West Virginia’s natural gas production last year increased by about 56.3 million cubic feet, or 4.3 percent. Pennsylvania’s production increased by 450.99 million cubic feet, or 9.37 percent.

Ohio overtook West Virginia in production by producing about 44.5 percent more gas than in 2015, according to the EIA.

~~  Jim Ross ~~

West Virginia News

The Free Press WV

►  Illegal Activity Penalties Considered for Property Owners

West Virginia cities are considering ordinances targeting property owners for repeated illegal incidents on their premises.

Local news outlets report similar proposals in Huntington and Nitro follow the model of a Martinsburg drug house ordinance that went into effect in May and has since produced several busts.

The Huntington City Council Public Safety Committee voted Monday to send the ordinance to the full City Council with a favorable recommendation. The law would see the declaration of properties where two or more illegal incidents occur within a year as public nuisances, resulting in the eviction of tenants involved in the illegal activities and possible fines for the property owners.

Nitro Mayor Dave Casebolt says a similar ordinance might go into effect this month.

►  Johnson to Lead Newly Created Office to Combat Substance Abuse

West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) Cabinet Secretary Bill J. Crouch today appointed Jim Johnson as director of the newly formed Office of Drug Control Policy.

Johnson served as director of the Huntington Mayor’s Office of Drug Control Policy from 2014-2017, addressing drug addiction and creating a holistic approach involving prevention, treatment and law enforcement.  His prior experience includes serving as Police Chief/Officer for the City of Huntington for more than 40 years.

“In a time when West Virginia’s drug overdose death rate is more than double the national average, I am confident Jim Johnson’s proven leadership and wealth of experience make him the right fit for this critical position,” Crouch said.  “Having someone in place who not only has knowledge, but also managerial experience in a similar office at the local level, will bode well for West Virginia.”

DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health, led by Dr. Rahul Gupta, State Health Officer and Commissioner, will oversee the Office of Drug Control Policy. 

“West Virginia’s drug epidemic has become the state’s number one public health problem,” said Gupta.  “The new Office of Drug Control Policy is extremely important to our comprehensive approach to combatting substance misuse and reducing the number of deaths occurring in West Virginia.”

Johnson’s appointment is effective September 02, 2017.

“This is a tremendous honor to lead the Office of Drug Control Policy as I believe this office will make an impact statewide to protect the public’s health,” said Johnson.

►  Message from Governor Jim Justice

Governor Jim Justice issued the following statement:

“On Sunday of this week I started feeling under the weather. I consulted with my doctor, had some tests run, and I am being treated for a viral infection. I am now feeling better and on the road to recovery.

“I surely haven’t been on vacation and I never get sick. Therefore, I just didn’t want to be bothering the people with me not feeling well. We had some meetings and events scheduled for this week that unfortunately had to be postponed, and I hate that, but I just had to. Those things will be rescheduled.

“Also, regrettably, I will not be able to attend Governor’s Day at the State Fair today. Again, I am feeling better and expect to be back at full throttle next week.”

►  Head of the American Farm Bureau, during a visit to the State Fair of West Virginia, says the lack of labor is the top problem facing American growers today

It’s hard to find good help down on the farm, according the President of the American Farm Bureau.  Zippy Duvall was in West Virginia Thursday, taking a tour of the State Fair of West Virginia and discussing the issues facing American growers today.

Speaking on MetroNews Talkline, Duvall said without question the lack of adequate labor is the number one problem facing the American farmer.

“A lot of our farmers say that’s the only thing that keeps them from growing their business,” Duvall explained. “They have the land in a lot of cases, they have the water, but they can’t find the labor to help them actually get the work done.”

The problem isn’t isolated to any one part of the nation.  As fewer and fewer Americans are being raised in the rural setting, the idea of farm work, particularly some of the more menial tasks, is falling out of favor.

“We’re in a time in our history where many Americans don’t want to do the work on the farm,” Duvall explained. “We try really hard to hire local people, but not many want to do that kind of work.”

The labor crunch is showing few signs of improvement.  Duvall and his allies are attempting to work through the strong push for immigration reform which threatens to severely cut the supply of workers from other countries who are willing to come to the United States to handle the tasks.  It puts America’s food supply at a crossroads which Duvall doesn’t believe is the choice most Americans want.

“We’re really at a time in history where the American people have got to make up their mind,” he said. “Will they let us grow their food here in American and let us bring in workers to do the work or are we going to buy our food from outside our country.”

Duvall added the Farm Bureau is involved in immigration reform in hopes of creating a policy which not only allows foreign workers, but simplifies the process of hiring them since few small operators have the means to afford attorneys to navigate mountains of red tape.

Beyond the labor shortage, the second greatest concern to the Farm Bureau is overbearing enforcement of the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and other federal regulatory enforcement by the US EPA.  In some cases, according to Duvall, some farmers were blocked from plowing their fields by obscure regulations in recent years and spent much of their life savings trying to battle the enforcement actions.    ~~ Chris Lawrence ~~

WV’s 2017-2018 Seasons Set for Mourning Dove, Woodcock, Common Snipe, Sora and Virginia Rails

West Virginia’s 2017-2018 hunting season dates and bag limits for mourning dove, woodcock, common snipe and sora and Virginia rails have been set. These seasons are set within the annual guidelines established by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Free Press WV



Daily Limit

Possession Limit

 Mourning Dove
 (3-way split)

September 01 – October 14
October 30 – November 18
December 18 – January 12



 (2-way split)

October 14 – November 18
November 27 – December 05



 Common Snipe

September 01 – December 16



 Sora & Virginia Rails

September 01 – November 9



The dove season is split into three segments with this first segment running from September 01 to October 14. Shooting hours on September 01 are noon to sunset. For the remainder of the season, it is one-half hour before sunrise to sunset. The daily bag limit is 15 birds.
The woodcock season is split into two segments. Both the snipe and rail seasons are a single segment. Shooting hours for woodcock, snipe and rails are one-half hour before sunrise to sunset.
All licensed migratory bird hunters, including lifetime license holders and senior citizens, must have a valid Migratory Bird Harvest Information Program (HIP) registration card. HIP cards are available online at and license agents.
“All harvested, banded birds should be reported online at because the 1.800 phone number has been discontinued,” said Mike Peters, game bird biologist for the Division of Natural Resources (DNR). “Biologists use the reported band information to help set hunting regulations, so it is vital to report harvested banded birds.”
West Virginia’s 2017-2018 Migratory Bird Hunting Regulations brochure is available online at Printed copies will be available in late August at license agents and at DNR offices.

Packed Lunches: Cutting Corners, But Not Food Safety

The Free Press WV

As a working mom of four boys, ages 8 and under, I’m asked on a near-daily basis: “how do you DO it?!” It’s a carefully orchestrated dance: keeping my family fed, healthy, dropped off at school and daycare at the appropriate times, with their respective accompaniments, whether homework, snacks or lunches. And then in the evening, allowing opportunity to focus on homework and dinner, without sacrificing quality family time. Making this happen on a daily basis takes a keen attention to detail, a little luck and some advanced planning.

I’m game to try anything to help our daily routine run smoothly, and will cut any corners I can. However, one corner I won’t cut is safe food handling and preparation. Because let’s face it—a houseful of children in the throes of foodborne illness is no one’s idea of a good time.

Advanced Planning

To keep our household running as efficiently as possible, I prep the boys’ lunches a few days in advance. I pre-portion snack size bags of baby carrots for two to three meals and place those in the fridge with the other vegetables. On a clean and separate cutting board, I make enough ham sandwiches for two to three lunches. The prepped sandwiches go back into the fridge in a designated spot.

The Morning Of

In the morning, I pack each soft-sided cooler lunch bag with a napkin, cold sandwich, cold baggie of carrots, any other non-perishable sides and either a frozen water bottle or a frozen tube of yogurt. I also slide an ice pack on top of the lunch contents so each bag has two cold sources that keep the contents out of the Danger Zone (temperatures between 40°F and 140°F at which bacteria grows most rapidly) until lunch time. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has great resources on safe food handling, particularly for bag lunches.

After Lunch

We’ve taught our boys to throw out their leftovers and not eat anything from their lunches later in the day. When they arrive home from school, they promptly discard anything that didn’t make it into the trash can in the cafeteria. I wipe out their lunch bags with a disinfectant wipe and leave to air dry overnight. 

By prepping a few days of lunches in a session, I save quite a bit of time. Mornings run smoother because there’s no shuffling and rummaging for something to eat. Knowing that the food was safely prepared, stored and packed in their lunch boxes gives me the peace of mind that I’ve reduced the risk of foodborne illness in my kids, while carving out a little more quality time to spend with them in the evenings.

Good Credit Practices Among Students

The Free Press WV

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey reminds college students to make wise choices when using credit cards this upcoming school year.

Many take the opportunity to sign up for their first credit card to establish credit and for convenience.

“Credit cards are an easy and convenient method of payment,” Attorney General Morrisey said. “However, it’s important to manage them properly so your financial and credit history isn’t damaged.”

Students who may have difficulty attaining approval based on credit history can open an account with a small limit and pay the balance as soon as possible.

Additionally, co-signers may be necessary for students under 21 and without an income. Becoming an authorized user on a parent’s account is another option. Both provide extra monitoring that reduces the risk of the student accruing unmanageable debt.

Students should use credit cards responsibly and only when necessary, establish a budget, monitor usage, pay the required balance each month and know all expenses and fees.

Also, students should be aware of the fine print and any penalties associated with late or missed payments.

Billing statements should be shredded and card information kept in a secure location.

The Attorney General’s Office issues this advice as part of its fourth annual Off to College Consumer Protection Week.  To learn about consumer protection efforts in West Virginia, visit

Anyone with questions should contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at 1-800-368-8808, the Eastern Panhandle Consumer Protection Office in Martinsburg at 304-267-0239 or visit the office online at

Parkersburg Homecoming Fireworks 08.19.17, Includes Blennerhassett Island State Park Events

The Free Press WV

Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park is offering two ways to enjoy the Parkersburg Homecoming Fireworks on August 19, 2017. Guests may watch the fireworks from the park or from the Island Belle sternwheeler.

Those who wish to watch fireworks from the park’s riverbank seating area can take a Family Fireworks Adventure to Blennerhassett Island. Guests will be transported to the park at sunset from Civitan Park in Belpre, Ohio. The island snack stand, gift shop and restrooms will be open all evening. No alcohol is permitted. Boarding begins at 7:45 p.m., and passengers will be transported back to Civitan Park following the fireworks at 11 p.m. The Family Fireworks Adventure fee is $12 for adults and $10 for children ages 3 to 12. Reservations are required.

“Adventurers are encouraged to bring a flashlight and a lawn chair or blanket and join the fun,” said event coordinator Pam Salisbury.

A Family Fireworks Cruise allows guest to watch fireworks from the Island Belle sternwheeler. Boarding is at Civitan Park at 8:15 p.m. Passengers will cruise along the Ohio River, enjoy the sunset over Blennerhassett Island and finish the evening by watching the fireworks extravaganza. Light concessions will be available on the boat. Ticket prices are $20 for adults and $18 for children ages 3 to 12. The Island Belle will return to Civitan Park between 10:30 and 11 p.m. Reservations are required. Passengers will remain on the sternwheeler and will not stop or unload on the island.

To purchase tickets for Family Fireworks Adventure or Cruise, call 304.420.4800 or email “”.
Related social media hashtag: #wvstateparks

West Virginia News

The Free Press WV

►  West Virginia medical marijuana program board set to meet

A board that will help develop a medical marijuana program in West Virginia is holding its first meeting.

The advisory board is set to meet Wednesday at the University of Charleston. Among the topics for discussion is a work plan for the program’s first year. The meeting is open to the public and will include a comment period.

Governor Jim Justice signed a law April 19 making West Virginia the 29th state to allow the use of marijuana for certain medical conditions.

The law permits doctors to recommend marijuana be used for medicinal purposes and establishes a regulatory system. The law states that no patient or caregiver ID cards will be issued until July 2019.

►  West Virginia county to allow students out early for eclipse

Students in at least one West Virginia county will be allowed to get out of school early to watch next week’s solar eclipse.

Cabell County Schools Superintendent Ryan Saxe said at a Board of Education meeting Tuesday that parents will be allowed to pick up students up to one hour early next Monday as an excused absence. The county’s school system will operate on a regular schedule that day.

A small part of the United States will experience a total solar eclipse. About 90 percent of the sun will be covered in West Virginia. The eclipse will peak about 2:33 p.m. locally. That’s around the time most elementary schools in Cabell County begin dismissing for the day.

Some schools have eclipse glasses for distribution to students.

►  “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to get into that”

On June 14, at the most frustrating point of a long slog to pass a state budget in special session, Governor Jim Justice invited reporters in for one-on-one interviews about the situation.

The state Senate had just abandoned Justice’s preferred revenue plan and passed a budget with cuts to higher education and Medicaid.

Justice generally blamed Democrats, then the members of his own party and in the minority of both the House and Senate, for failing to generate enough votes to pass his proposal.

One at a time, reporters visited the governor’s office. Chief of Staff Nick Casey and spokesman Grant Herring — now both departed after the governor’s party switch this month — sat in on the discussions.

In each interview, the governor told a version of Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea,” in which Justice was a fisherman struggling to get a prize catch — the budget plan — into his boat. But, he said, Democrats cut the line.

Late in the interview with MetroNews, Justice was asked if he was frustrated enough to switch parties.

At the time, he blamed both Republicans and Democrats. He said he did not want to consider a party switch at the moment, saying he had too much on his plate. But he didn’t rule it out either.

“I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to get into that. You know, I have real issues with what the Republicans are doing as well,” Justice said then.

“All I’m saying from the Democrats’ standpoint is, to stand back and say ‘Well, we can’t do anything because we’re the minority and the majority really and truly rules the day,’ well in this situation the majority really wasn’t ruling the day. They had the key to Emerald City, and that was horribly disappointing to me. And that was horribly disappointing to me.

“But as far as switching parties, doing this and that and everything, I’ve got real issues going on with both sides of the coin on that.”

This August 03, at a rally for Donald Trump in Huntington, Justice announced that he would, in fact, switch parties.

“With lots of prayers and lots of thoughts, today I tell you as West Virginians I can’t help you any more being a Democratic governor,” Justice announced to cheers. “So tomorrow, I will be changing my registration to Republican.”

Justice said he drew inspiration from Trump, with whom he is close.

And he again blamed legislative Democrats, taking a similar line to what he’d stated two months earlier, but this time leaving out criticism for Republicans.

“Let me just say it as bluntly as I can say it. West Virginia, at the altar when we had it done — like it or not like it — the Democrats walked away from me,” he said.

The day after that, August 04, in an appearance on MetroNews’ “Talkline,” Justice said he told chief of staff Nick Casey — a former state Democratic chairman — as far back as a month earlier that he was planning to make a party change.

Justice, however, said he had hired his staff based on their skillset rather than party affiliation. He said those who felt comfortable staying could stay.

Then this Monday at midday, Justice called Casey to fire him. Justice alluded to disappointment over what happened in the Legislative session, but Casey has now said several times it was all about party affiliation.

Casey, in an email sent today, confirmed that the governor had talked of a party switch weeks ago but didn’t firm up the decision until it was announced at the Trump rally.

“He talked about it both during and after the session,” Casey wrote in the email.

Casey added, “He talked about it but never took action until that Trump for America rally.”

►  West Virginia leaders come out against Charlottesville violence

Governor Jim Justice and the state’s United States Senate delegation condemned the violence in Charlottesville, Va. that occurred over the weekend.

“The tragic events that took place in Charlottesville are deplorable and totally unacceptable” Justice said in a statement released Sunday, August 13. “There is no place for hatred and bigotry in our society. Three people lost their lives and many others were injured, and that’s heartbreaking. We will not tolerate violence like that here.“

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, D-WV, and U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-WV, also released statements about the incidents that left three people dead.

“Gayle and I extend our deepest sympathies to those who lost their lives this weekend in Charlottesville,“ Manchin said. Heather Heyer died standing up against the forces of evil and hatred, and Troopers (Berke M.M.) Bates and (H. Jay) Cullen died serving the highest ideals of their community, state, and country. I condemn in the strongest possible way the hatred and bigotry carried out by white supremacists this weekend.

“This hateful ideology has always contradicted the very foundation our country was built on,“. I denounce white supremacists, the KKK, neo-Nazis, their ideologies and their allies. West Virginia was founded in the fight against slavery, and I know my neighbors join me in denouncing cowardly acts meant to divide our country with bigotry and hatred.”

Heyer, 32, was killed and 19 other people injured on Saturday, August 12, when a man attending a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville drove his car into a crowd of people protesting the rally. James Alex Fields Jr., 20, of Ohio, was charged with second-degree murder in connection with the incident.

Bates and Cullen were flying to the scene of the rally on Saturday afternoon when their helicopter crashed, killing both men.

“The hate and violence expressed by Neo-Nazis and other white nationalists groups in Charlottesville this weekend has absolutely no place in America,“ Capito said in a statement. “This tragedy was domestic terrorism and should be treated as such. It is incumbent upon all of us to reject this type of racism and bigotry.”

In Charleston, dozens of people attended a vigil at the state capitol complex in Charleston to show support for those opposing the white nationalists in Charlottesville, and to call for the removal of a statue of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson from the state capitol grounds. Jackson was born in Clarksburg.

►  Geocaching for the Mothman, August 19-20

Geocache fans will be swarming to Point Pleasant next week for the annual Mothman Geotrail event, set for August 19 – 20.

The event begins with a night trail Friday at the West Virginia State Farm Museum, and ends Saturday evening after a day of geocaching in downtown Point Pleasant.

Starting Friday at 9 p.m. at the farm museum, the night trail will go into TNT along the Mothman Trail, where several geocaches have been stationed. This event will offer participants a special geocoin, one of two available at this year’s event. After the night trail, event members will be invited to the Coffee Grinder on Main Street at 8 a.m. Saturday.
Starting at 9 a.m., Saturday, will be CITO, which stands for cache in, trash out. This will have geocachers picking up trash in downtown Point to help give back to the community. The main event will start at the Riverfront Park at 10:30 a.m., with the Daytime Trail kicking off at noon. A special geocoin will also be given out to those completing this trail as well, with 200 in total being given out for the event.

Preregistration is also available, with a variety of packages available. Admission is free, however packages range up to $145 including meal tickets, VIP specific geocoins, special access, and many other items. A basic package starts at $8 including admission to the Mothman Museum and a nametag.

To sign up for the event, visit or visit their Facebook Page by searching “MothMan GeoTrail 2017”.

This event is organized by Jacob Farley, a student at Point Pleasant High School who is a fan of geocaching.

“It takes you places you never knew were in your hometown,” said Farley. “I’ve found a lot of really awesome places.”

He and his family organized the Mothman Geotrail last year, which saw 300 people come from out of town for the event. Mason County Tourism Director Denny Bellamy explained that this group was one of the first to be surveyed for tourism purposes. He explained that they all came from out of town, enjoyed the city and community, and spent money in the local economy.

“Why not do something fun in Point Pleasant? Other places do it, so why not here?” Stated Farley.

►  Report Harvested Banded Game Birds to USGS Bird Banding Laboratory

Hunters who harvest leg-banded game birds should report them online at The United States Geological Survey’s Bird Banding Laboratory (BBL), the federal agency in charge of overseeing all migratory bird banding, has discontinued the 1.800 number used to report banded birds.

“While this band-reporting method has been discontinued, bands inscribed with the 1-800 number could be encountered for several years,” said Mike Peters, West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) game bird biologist. “We ask hunters to continue to report those bands through the website because we still need the valuable information those bands provide.”

If the 1.800 number is called, an automated answering system will direct callers to report the band through the website.

Bands can still be reported by mail to: Bird Banding Lab, 12100 Beach Forest Road, Laurel, MD 20708. Hunters must provide their contact information and the leg-band number, and indicate when and where the bird was harvested. Hunters can keep the band.

Migratory bird biologists from state and federal wildlife agencies use banding data to develop models to predict harvest impacts and understand environmental factors affecting migratory bird populations. These models are used to set annual migratory game bird regulations, including season lengths and bag limits.

“We rely heavily on hunter cooperation in reporting banded birds to help in their management, and we thank them for their continued support in this effort,” Peters said.

►  Hearings in September on West Virginia power station plan

The public will have a chance to comment on two power companies’ proposal to purchase the Pleasants Power Station in West Virginia from Allegheny Energy Supply.

The Public Service Commission is holding three hearings next month. The first will be September 06 in Parkersburg, followed by September 11 in Martinsburg and September 12 in Morgantown. An evidentiary hearing on the $195 million deal will be September 26 to 28 in Charleston.

Monongahela Power Co. and the Potomac Edison Co. propose purchasing the coal-fired plant, which is located on the Ohio River near Belmont, northeast of Parkersburg.

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