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MetroNews This Morning 3-5-21

Flood water in West Virginia is falling and the cleanup and damage assessment is now underway across much of West Virginia. State Emergency officials plan to seek a federal disaster declaration if damage in the flood and ice storms reaches the required threshold. Governor Jim Justice wants to start his elimination of the income tax by cutting the tax by 60 percent next January. Settlements are in the works for some of those who lost a loved one at the Clarksburg V-A Medical Center. In Sports, WVU bounces back and the MEC Tourney continues. Those stories and more in today’s MetroNews This Morning podcast.

Listen to “MetroNews This Morning 3-5-21” on Spreaker.

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Federal investigators looking at bleach powder in Belle plant explosion

KANAWHA COUNTY, W.Va. — Federal investigators provided an update on the inquiry into a December explosion at a Belle chemical facility.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board said it is working with Optima Belle on sampling and testing chlorinated dry bleach powder. Investigators noted dark specks were observed in the powder before the incident, in which one person died and another individual was injured by a projectile.

The explosion happened in an industrial dryer unit as Optima Belle was trying to remove water from chlorinated dry bleach. The company was performing a trial batch process operation for the Clearon Corporation.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is trying to determine the source of the dark specks.

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Women’s MEC Quarterfinals recap

(Concord-Wheeling highlights above)

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Four teams have advanced to Saturday’s MEC semifinal round at WesBanco Arena in Wheeling. All 14 MEC Tournament games will be broadcast at wvmetronews.com. Check out the complete tournament schedule and pairings at mountaineast.org.

Women’s MEC Quarterfinals:

Game 1 – Glenville State 118, West Liberty 87

 

Game 2 – Notre Dame College 80, WV Wesleyan 33

 

Game 3 – Charleston 73, Alderson Broaddus 50

 

Game 4 – Wheeling 77, Concord 72 (F/OT) – Highlights at top of page

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Justice Rolls Out His Big Tax Plan. It’s On!

Governor Jim Justice has launched the biggest economic initiative of his tenure—legislation to eliminate the state income tax, beginning with a 60 percent reduction that will cut over $1 billion from the tax burden of West Virginians.

It is an audacious plan that Justice boldly predicts will be historic for the future of the state. “Today, March the Fourth, is a day West Virginia will remember forever and ever,” Justice said as he unveiled specifics of the proposal on MetroNews Talkline Thursday.

The second half of the tax plan is just as momentous as the cut—$903 million in increased or new taxes to offset the lost revenue from the tax reduction.

There is so much to unpack here, and Brad McElhinny’s story is a good place to start.

Legislators, interest groups and the state’s citizens will spend the coming weeks digesting the proposal, while trying to decide how the myriad changes will impact their individual returns, their businesses and their state.

We will do the same here at MetroNews.  But let’s start here: Jim Justice has been elected twice—with 65 percent of the vote the second time.  His handling of the pandemic increased his trust among the voters.

Justice has more than earned the opportunity to propose and push a bold plan that reflects his vision for the state. This plan is rooted in Justice’s deeply held belief that West Virginia deserves better.

That is the kind of passion that inspires confidence and instills hope.  It accurately reflects the desire of West Virginians who believe our state has significant untapped potential.  That mind-set is a refreshing and encouraging departure from the negativity that too often serves as a yoke weighing us down.

Justice deserves credit for proposing a big idea, rather than simply nibbling at the margins or just idling during his second term.  Our state needs to break the debilitating crutch of maintaining the status quo.

Maybe Justice’s plan does that, or maybe it doesn’t. But after weeks of generalizations by the administration, we now have the specifics.

At the very least, the proposal will engage policy makers and every day West Virginians in thought-provoking discussions about the many elements of the plan.  It will get us thinking more about the kinds of policies we need to move West Virginia ahead.

Let’s have the debate.

 

 

 

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Bridges shines as WVU sweeps season series from TCU, 76-67

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — With many of West Virginia’s top offensive threats struggling to find the bottom of the basket against TCU, former Fairmont Senior Polar Bear Jalen Bridges authored his best game as a Mountaineer as WVU held off the Horned Frogs, 76-67 at the Colseum.

The redshirt freshman led the Mountaineers in both points and rebounds. It was the latest in a string of quality games for the youngest member of WVU’s starting lineup. Bridges collected his first double-double with career highs of 22 points and a dozen rebounds.

“As the season has gone on, I have gotten way more comfortable out there,” Bridges said. “The speed of the game has slowed down to me now. I am just taking what comes to me. I am not really try to force it out there. I am just trying to be as active as possible, trying to do everything I can to help my team win.”

Jalen Bridges (2) drives and shoots against TCU Horned Frogs forward Kevin Easley (34) (Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports)

“(Bridges) is a guy who gets in the gym, but he works on what you ask him to work on. He is getting better and better and better because of that,” said WVU head coach Bob Huggins. “He knows what he can do and what he can’t. So he really tries to accentuate the positives and stay away from the negatives.”

West Virginia fell behind by a basket just over two minutes into the game but a 15-1 run gave them a lead they would never relinquish. After being held without a field goal in Tuesday’s game against Baylor, Derek Culver was active early. He scored 8 points and grabbed 4 rebounds in the first half.

Bridges ended the first half a rebound shy of a double-double. He scored a dozen points and grabbed 9 boards while going 3-for-4 from beyond the arc in the first twenty minutes. West Virginia led 32-18 at the half, holding TCU to just 4-for-22 shooting from the field.

The Mountaineers were never able to comfortably pull away in the second half. TCU outscored the Mountaineers 49-44 in the second half as the Frogs connected on 17-of-32 shots from the floor. TCU crept within seven points on two different occasions.

“To be honest, I don’t feel like we ever threw a knockout punch,” Culver said. “I feel like we just ended up living off talent and being the better team. We weren’t trying to execute to the best of our ability. We got the win. We’ll go back and fix it.”

With 2:30 to go, Bridges knocked down his fifth triple of the game which extended the Mountaineer lead to 13 points at 67-54. Bridges went 5-for-8 from three-point range.

“This summer, I really went hard. I reworked all my mechanics,” Bridges said. “I say I used to shoot it (three-pointers) way better in seventh grade.”

Jalen Bridges (2) celebrates after a three-point basket (Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports)

Culver scored 17 points and pulled down 8 rebounds. Sean McNeil scored 14 points while Deuce McBride added 10.

WVU junior guard Jordan McCabe was sidelined with a lower back injury and is listed as day-to-day.

Jaedon Ledee led TCU (12-12, 5-10) with 20 points. 17 of his points came in the second half.

Derek Culver (1) and TCU Horned Frogs forward Jaedon LeDee (23) fight for a rebound (Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports)

Bob Huggins collected career victory No. 899. West Virginia (18-7, 11-5 Big 12) will wrap up the regular season and their four-game homestand Saturday against Oklahoma State. The Mountaineers erased a 19-point deficit to defeat the Cowboys in Stillwater, 87-84 on January 4. West Virginia can secure second place in the Big 12 with a victory.

“We lost big pieces but we just kept on moving like we didn’t lose a piece. Hats off to my teammates and coaches. They are just really good at figuring things out on the fly,” Culver said.

(Bob Huggins postgame Zoom conference)

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Morrisey sends Morgantown officials letter affirming position on proposed police board

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has notified Morgantown officials about his office’s continued opposition to a law enforcement board proposal.

Morrisey sent a letter to city leaders on Thursday to again stress concerns with a possible civilian police review and advisory board. Morrisey has argued such bodies for investigating police actions are against state law.

“It remains the opinion of the Office of the Attorney General that the Morgantown City Council does not have the legal authority to enact any municipal ordinance purporting to conduct investigations or hearings in connection with complaints relating to members of the Morgantown Police Department,” Morrisey said.

The attorney general said a proposed police review board would violate state law requiring complaints against police officers to be addressed by the Police Civil Service Commission.

Morrisey said city leaders have taken the issue seriously, noting the acceptance of public comment and prior opinions of the Attorney General’s office.

The Monongalia and Preston counties Fraternal Order of Police chapter last month retained Teresa Toriseva as legal counsel in challenging the board.

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Exemptions to storage tank inspection bill now go to full House of Delegates

The full House of Delegates will now consider an exception to the Aboveground Storage Tank Act that passed in the wake of the 2014 water crisis in the Kanawha Valley.

That’s despite a deputy secretary for the Department of Environmental Protection telling delegates the agency doesn’t favor the change.

Scott Manderola

“In its current form we do not support it,” testified Scott Mandirola, a deputy secretary for DEP.

The House Health Committee on Thursday evening passed House Bill 2598, which would exempt some tanks. The vote was 18-6, although most of the discussion in committee was from delegates who oppose the change.

If the bill passes, the act would no longer apply to small tanks having capacity of 210 barrels or less even if they are located in a “zone of critical concern,” which refers to their proximity to local water intakes.

Barbara Fleischauer

“That is not the zone of just a little bit of concern. That is not the zone of medium concern. That is the zone of critical concern because it could affect our drinking water,” said Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia.

Danielle Walker

Delegate Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia, asked some questions attempting to get at a bottom-line assessment.

“If this bill passes will it weaken the Above Ground Storage Tank Act?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” Mandirola responded, describing almost 890 wells that would be exempt.

Goals of the program include making sure tank integrity is intact, ensuring tanks are examined at least every three years, keeping records of corrosion and leak detection.

“Virtually the entire program is a prevention program,” Mandirola said.

The inspection requirements date back to the 2014 crisis when up to 300,000 residents of Kanawha and surrounding counties had their water supplies affected by a spill of the chemical MCHM from a Freedom Industries facility. Just a couple of months later, lawmakers approved the Aboveground Storage Tank Act.

Kent Carper

The Kanawha County Commission sent a letter earlier this week expressing opposition to the changes being proposed.

“Have we already forgotten the devastation caused by the water crisis in 2014? This is the Freedom Industries Bill, and in the interest of the public’s health and well-being, we urge the House Health Committee to reject this attempt to erase necessary public safety protections,” stated Kanawha Commission President Kent Carper.

Commissioners Ben Salango, a Democrat, and Lance Wheeler, a Republican, said they are against the changes, too.

Lance Wheeler

“Kanawha County Emergency Management officials are strongly opposed to this bill. All aboveground tanks located near drinking water intakes should be well regulated to ensure public safety,” Wheeler said.

Phil Reale

Advocates for the bill have said it’s necessary as oil markets have gotten tougher while the costs continue to maintain a standard for state inspection. Under this view, the tanks are barely profitable but owners have to upgrade them. Operators have expressed concern they will either have to plug the well or go out of business.

“These are going to be low volume, marginal wells,” said Phil Reale, a lobbyist for The Gas and Oil Association of West Virginia.

Mike Pushkin

Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, said one of his first times speaking before the Legislature as a citizen came during a public hearing that followed the water crisis.

“After that happened in 2014, when a bunch of us woke up suddenly concerned about something we took for granted,” Pushkin said.

After that event, there was more than enough blame to go around, he said. Since then, he said, the Aboveground Storage Tank Act has been the subject of exemption after exemption.

“You vote for this,” Pushkin said, “the blame’s gonna be on you next time.”

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Settlements are close in seven veterans’ deaths at VA medical center

Seven families whose loved ones were killed at the veterans hospital in Clarksburg are on the verge of settlements. Funding has been approved, a lawyer for the families said, but there are still some steps in dealing with the government.

Nursing assistant Reta Mays of Harrison County entered a guilty plea last summer in the deaths of multiple veterans she was supposed to watch while on the overnight shift.

Now settlements with the U.S. government are close at hand too.

Tony O’Dell

“It provides some closure,” said Charleston attorney Tony O’Dell, who represents five of the families nearing settlement. “It provides government stepping up and accepting some responsibility.”

Reta Mays

Mays hasn’t yet been sentenced after admitting she was responsible for the deaths. She faces consecutive life terms for seven murder counts and another 20 years for a count of assault with attempt to murder.

She began working at the veterans hospital in June 2015. She was removed from her job in July 2018.

She worked the night shift, 7:30 p.m. to 8 a.m. in Ward 3A, which housed fragile patients who were not well enough to be discharged but whose conditions did not require the intensive care unit.

Her job as a nursing assistant required her to measure patients’ vital signs, test blood glucose levels and sit one-on-one with patients who required observation.

Autopsies on exhumed bodies have pointed to insulin injections that weren’t needed. The veterans died of low blood sugar level — severe hypoglycemia — caused by the insulin shots.

Joe Manchin

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., called the impending settlements welcome news.

“No amount of money or admission of guilt can bring back their loved ones, but I hope that these settlements bring peace of mind to the victims’ families,” Manchin stated.

“While these settlements are a step forward in this investigation, we are still waiting on a report from the Department of Veterans Affairs on patient safety and quality care at VA facilities, which has yet to be released months after the mandated deadline. The West Virginia Veteran community deserves transparency on how these horrible murders were able to occur at a VA facility, and I will continue to press the VA to release the report as soon as possible.”

Families still want to see a report from the Office of Inspector General and specifics about changes at the Louis A Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg to protect patients, O’Dell said, “so other families don’t have to go through this.”

O’Dell represents five of the seven families currently involved in settlements. Additional cases may still be brought by more families, he said.

“We’re still looking at others,” he said. “I feel very comfortable that at least two or three of the others would be strong enough to file claims on.”

But there are most instances of families whose loved ones died at the hospital unit who will always have the ache of questions, he said.

“There are still families that will never get answers. Their loved ones died on 3A. She worked 3A. They’ll always wonder.”

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U.S. House police reform bill causes Jackson County sheriff to change political parties

RIPLEY, W.Va. — Jackson County Sheriff Ross Mellinger changed his political affiliation Thursday, a day after the U.S. House passed a sweeping police reform bill.

Ross Mellinger

Mellinger was elected as a Democrat but changed his registration to Republican. He told MetroNews affiliate WMOV in Ravenswood he can’t continue to support a national front that doesn’t support law enforcement.

“I don’t view myself as a politician. I never have. I just kind of call it like I see it,” Mellinger said.

He called the House bill the “final nail in the coffin” for him.

“There’s a lot of things in that bill that would e completely devastated to law enforcement as we know it. It speaks volumes of what they think of us,” Mellinger said.

The bill passed the House 220-212 with only one Republican voting in favor of it.

The measure would prohibit racial and religious profiling by police. It bans chokeholds and no-knock warrants in federal investigations. It would do away with qualified immunity for police and create a national police misconduct registry.

Mellinger said he can’t say he’s surprised by the vote.

“We kind of suspected this was going to a focal point of the Biden administration when he took office. It doesn’t matter if you support Biden or you support Trump, I can’t support people who don’t support me,” Mellinger said.

Mellinger said he would have rather switched his registration to independent but he decided to go to Republican instead.

“This isn’t so much about I have to be a Republican and I don’t want to be a Democrat,” Mellinger said. :I don’t want to be affiliated, I don’t want to support a group of individuals who don’t support law enforcement.”

The bill’s chances in the U.S. Senate are uncertain.

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Troopers investigate fatal crash in Preston County

MASONTOWN, W.Va. — Investigators say a driver suffered a medical emergency before losing control of her car in Preston County Thursday morning.

State troopers said Arvelva McCrobie, 76, was pronounced dead at the scene after her vehicle hit a power pole and rolled several times along state Route 7 near Masontown.

The wreck happened at a few minutes after 11 a.m. Thursday.

McCrobie was in her vehicle when emergency crews arrived on the scene.

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