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►  ‘drug house ordinance’

Council members of a West Virginia city have passed an ordinance that will hold owners accountable for crimes that occur on their properties.

Local news outlets report the Huntington City Council passed the “drug house ordinance” Monday night.

As part of the ordinance, properties where two or more felony incidents occur within a 12-month period would be declared a public nuisance and the city would issue and order for the eviction of the tenants involved in the illegal activities. The targeted offenses in the ordinance include prostitution, illegal gambling and other activities.

American Civil Liberties Union-West Virginia executive director Joseph Cohen released a statement expressing concern about the ordinance. It says, in part, the ordinance is “shortsighted and fails to account for the best interests of the whole community.”


►  U.S. Supreme Court asked to hear West Virginia gas case

Landowners have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the reversal by West Virginia’s highest court concluding natural gas companies can deduct post-production costs from the royalties paid landowners for mineral rights.

In May, the West Virginia Supreme Court reversed its November ruling in the case after Justice Beth Walker was elected and replaced Justice Brent Benjamin.

In their petition, the landowners say the reversal could have been significant for energy companies in which Walker’s husband owned stock.

The issue is whether Walker therefore should have recused herself from the case.

The state court first ruled 3-2 against deductions by EQT Production Co.

In January, the court agreed 3-2 to rehear the case.


►  West Virginia’s 2 universities get health services grants

West Virginia’s U.S. senators say Marshall University and West Virginia University will get federal grants to support clinical internships and field placements in mental health and drug addiction services.

Senators Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin say the Department of Health and Human Services training grants are $319,000 for West Virginia University and $213,000 for Marshall.

Last week the Senate Appropriates Committee advanced legislation with $50 million for the program nationally.

Capito, who sits on that committee, says she advocated for expanding treatment especially in rural and medically underserved areas.


►  Focus on Fall at Twin Falls Resort State Park Photography Workshop

Reservations are being taken for Twin Falls Resort State Park’s annual Fall Photography Workshop, scheduled to take place October 06-08. Steve Shaluta, Steve Rotsch and Park Superintendent Scott Durham are the instructors.

“This fall workshop is the perfect time to learn new skills and hone old ones,” Durham said. “Twin Falls’ 4,000 acres, complete with the park’s Pioneer Farm, are picture-perfect settings for photography. There is always the possibility you’ll capture photographs of the park’s flora and fauna any time of the year, but the October dates promise fall coloration.”

The workshops are helpful for photographers of all skill levels and include discussions about photography equipment and photo editing tools, composition, use of natural light and flash photography, how to photograph people, action photography, scenic photography, digital imaging and file storage, and even drone photography. Participants are welcome to ask questions during the workshop. Instructors also provide hands-on photography outings, including night photography.

The Free Press WV


Photographer Steve Shaluta retired from the West Virginia Department of Commerce after an illustrious and award-winning career. His photos have graced more than 300 magazine covers, tourism advertisements and newspaper and magazine articles. He has also published seven books, including the most recent, “Wonders of West Virginia.” Shaluta now spends his time photographing wildlife between Florida and West Virginia.

Photographer Steve Rotsch is an international award-winning photographer who has been photographing the great outdoors for more than 40 years. He has worked as a forensic photographer, photojournalist, commercial photographer and has been a personal documentary photographer to five West Virginia governors. He also has seven self-published books.

Find information about the instructors on Facebook at “Steve and Steve Photography Workshops.” You can see their work at steveshaluta.com and stevenrotsch.com.

Workshop packages are available and include overnight accommodations, some meals and instruction. Reservations are required and can be made by calling Twin Falls Resort State Park at 304.294.4000.


►  Lewis County woman admits to her role in an oxycodone distribution operation

Makyna Kancso, of Crawford, West Virginia, pled guilty today to an oxycodone distribution charge, Acting United States Attorney Betsy Steinfeld Jividen announced.

Kancso, age 22, pled guilty to one count of “Distribution of Oxycodone.” She admitted to distributing oxycodone in Upshur County in June 2015.

Kancso faces up to 20 years incarceration and a fine of up to $1,000,000. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the actual sentence imposed will be based upon the seriousness of the offenses and the prior criminal history, if any, of the defendant.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Zelda E. Wesley prosecuted the case on behalf of the government. The Mon Valley Drug and Violent Crime Drug Task Force, a HIDTA-funded initiative, investigated.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael John Aloi presided.


►  Doddridge case called a boost for surface owners in Marcellus gas region

Two Doddridge County residents have won a court ruling and a jury verdict that advocates for surface owners’ rights say provide a boost in the ongoing struggle over the impacts of the Marcellus Shale gas-drilling boom in northern West Virginia.

Last week, a circuit court jury awarded Beth Crowder and David Wentz a total of $190,000 in damages in a case brought against EQT Production Company over a well pad that EQT constructed on the residents’ property — without their permission — in order to drill horizontally underground to reach natural gas supplies located beneath neighboring properties.

David Grubb, a Charleston lawyer who represented Crowder and Wentz, said it is believed to be the first verdict in which plaintiffs were awarded “fair and reasonable rental value” in a such a case against a natural gas producer.

“This is a victory for surface landowners,” Grubb said Friday. “It represents a recognition that drillers cannot use a surface landowner’s property to drill horizontally into neighboring tracts without express permission.”

Jurors determined that the residents deserved $95,000 for the rental value of the property and another $95,000 for “annoyance and inconvenience.” The jury declined to award any punitive damages to punish EQT for its behavior.

In the case, Crowder and Wentz were arguing that EQT had trespassed on their property when it built the 20-acre well pad to drill nine horizontal wells, a process that took 16 months and contemplated another three wells would eventually be drilled.

Doddridge Circuit Judge Timothy Sweeney had previously ruled for the residents, saying in a February 2016 order that EQT’s right to do what was “reasonably necessary” to produce gas it owns or leases, that right did not include the authority to drill from the Crowder-Wentz property into mineral tracts that do not underlie that property.

“While EQT clearly has the right to do what is necessary to plaintiffs’ surface land in order to drill well bores into the underlying oil and gas reservation to produce gas from its acreage, it does not have the legal right (absent consent) to drill from plaintiffs’ surface lands horizontally into neighboring mineral tracts,” Sweeney wrote.

The West Virginia Surface Owners’ Rights Organization has praised Sweeney’s decision, but also indicated it would be more comfortable if and when a similar legal ruling is spelled out by the state Supreme Court.

“So you are now more likely to win a case to block a well pad on your land, and it certainly strengthens your bargaining position if you want to negotiate with the driller,” the group told surface owners on its website. “This is as good as it gets until the West Virginia Supreme Court makes a decision on this issue that would be binding on all circuit court judges.”

The issue is one of many legal controversies that continue to be debated as the boom in natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale region has companies rushing to put together large tracts of minerals they say are needed to make large-scale drilling economical, and as residents push back over the on-the-ground impacts that the industry is having on their daily lives. The issues are complicated by the complex ownership patterns in which many surface owners don’t also hold the minerals under their homes, and because of split ownership of both surface and mineral tracts that has occurred over the decades.

Industry technology has fueled an economic boom in the Marcellus Shale gas fields of West Virginia’s northern counties, but it has also has created problems for surface owners who worry about damage to their homeplaces and peaceful rural lifestyle. The drilling boom also has generated conflicts between gas companies and mineral owners over how the wealth created is being divided.

Earlier this year, those kinds of issues brought another push by the gas industry for a “forced pooling” bill at the Legislature, but the measure died in the House when supporters were unable to build a consensus of support for the legislation among either Republicans or Democrats. The issue will undoubtedly surface again in next year’s session, and was among the topics last month during the initial meeting of a new Joint Committee on Natural Gas Development set up by legislative leaders.

In the Doddridge County case, the plaintiffs had sought between $500,000 and $2.1 million from EQT, arguing for rental value that amounted to a relatively percentage of the projected revenues for the wells on the pad.

EQT argued that those amounts were excessive and a company spokeswoman said EQT “respects that the jury factored in EQT’s position with its decision and is pleased with the outcome.”

“We are concerned that EQT will appeal the judge’s underlying ruling on trespass to the Supreme Court in order to continue to abuse the property rights of surface owners,” said David McMahon, another of the lawyers for Crowder and Wentz and a founder of the Surface Owners’ Rights Organization.

The EQT spokeswoman, Linda Robertson, did not immediately say whether the company planned to appeal any of Sweeney’s decisions in the case.


►  West Virginia teacher found unresponsive in classroom dies

A West Virginia high school teacher who was found unresponsive in her classroom has been pronounced dead.

The Independence High School teacher was found in her classroom on Monday at 8:10 a.m. She was taken to the hospital, where she died. The teacher’s identity has not been released.

Raleigh County Public Schools Superintendent David Price said in a statement Monday that the teacher was unresponsive due to a medical condition.

He says the teacher will be missed and that grief counseling will be available.


►  West Virginia State University plans tuition freeze program

West Virginia State University is planning to freeze the cost of tuition for a portion of its student body starting next fall.

The university announced Monday afternoon that students who participate in the Yellow Jacket Connection program, which allows high school students to earn credit toward a diploma and a college degree, will be eligible for the new tuition loyalty program.

Currently, high school students can earn college credit for $25 per credit hour through West Virginia State, and must complete six credit hours to participate. The new program will ensure that, whatever tuition price students enroll at as freshman, they will continue to pay that price through their senior year.

University president Anthony Jenkins says he may expand the tuition-freeze program in the future.

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