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Governor may have to explain slower economic growth

When politicians take credit for economic growth it’s a little bit like the weatherman accepting praise for the sunshine.

Of course, government policies have a direct impact on the economy.  However, there are many factors beyond the control of the government, especially in a free market system, and also because economies around the world are interconnected.

That is particularly true for West Virginia.  The state’s economy is heavily dependent upon production of coal and natural gas and their many related industries.  Their growth helped state government surge to a significant budget surplus for the fiscal year that ended last June 30.

Technically, the state ended the fiscal year with a surplus of $37 million.  However, Governor Jim Justice adjusted revenue estimates upward four times during the year.  All tax collections were actually $511 million above initial projections. That additional money was allocated to other state needs, including secondary roads.

“When I came in the door we were dead flat bankrupt.  We were 50th in every category imaginable and we had a budget crisis every single year,” Justice said when the figures were released.  “Now, my plan to bring our economy back to life is working, with the help of our state Senate, House and many others.”

But what happens when the numbers aren’t so good?  We’re about to find out.

The state has missed projected revenue collections for the first two months of the new fiscal year and we’re now $50 million behind.  Tax and Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy said on Talkline Wednesday that preliminary numbers for September look better, so the state could soon be back on track.

However, there are some troubling signs.  Half of the deficit so far is from a dramatic drop in severance tax collections.  The rest is from lower than expected personal income tax collections.

Hardy explained coal production and prices are both down.  The value of nonmanufacturing exports—primarily coal—is down by about $1 billion since January.

Hardy said natural gas production is up slightly, but the price is depressed because of a glut in supply.  Ira Joseph, head of global gas and power analytics at S&P Global Platts, told the Wall Street Journal last month, “It was inevitable.  There is simply too much supply coming into the market at one time.”

West Virginia’s economy has also been hurt by court-ordered interruptions in the construction of two major natural gas pipelines—Mountain Valley Pipeline and Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

The Justice administration is planning for the possibility of a shortfall.  Hardy said agency secretaries and department heads will be told later this month during budget planning sessions to prepare.

“They should at least consider the idea that they would have to cut their budget by 4.6 percent,” he said, adding that this is a “precautionary” move.

And that brings us back to Justice. The state may well hit the tax collection projections, but the early indications are the “rocket ship ride” economy promised by Justice when he took office is feeling the gravitational pull of factors beyond his control.

When you take credit for economic growth, you are also going to get the blame when the news is not so good.

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A week after announced closure, Justice-owned Pinnacle plant announces reopening

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Pinnacle Preparation Plant is reopening after closing last week.

Bluestone Resources, owned by the family of Gov. Jim Justice, announced the news on Wednesday evening.

Pinnacle Preparation in had only been open two weeks before it was shut down.

About a dozen people were working at the Wyoming County plant. Many will now be re-hired, company executives said.

Jay Justice

“Our hard-working employees are the lifeblood of our company and our state, and anytime there are layoffs, even temporarily, we know the pain and stress that causes a person and their loved ones,” stated Jay Justice, who leads Bluestone Resources.

“It’s something that we take extremely seriously. That’s why I’m happy to report we are in a position to re-open the plant and get our folks back to work.”

The closure was blamed on market pressures on metallurgical coal.

“Since the recent temporary shutdown – brought on by a drop in the metallurgical coal market – we have been working around the clock to find a solution that would get our workers back on the job,” stated Jay Justice, son of the governor.

Operations at the Pinnacle Mine ceased after Mission Coal declared bankruptcy in 2018. Bluestone Resources purchased earlier this year through bankruptcy proceedings.

The employees were hired in July, and work at the facility resumed in August.

Office of the Governor

Jim Justice

Earlier this summer, Governor Justice expressed optimism about the future of the prep plant.

“We did get the cleaning plant, the property, and the Green Ridge reserve. You know what’s going to happen? The whole area is going to come back to life,” he said in mid-June.

“It’s all dependent upon one thing: can we fit this metallurgical coal into the marketplace? If Jay (Justice) and them can do that, and they can fit it in into the marketplace, whether the market’s Korea or China or India or wherever it may be, then that total number of jobs (between 400 and 500), we’ll be able to achieve that, probably, within a year.”

The statement issued Wednesday evening by Bluestone included a conclusion that made reference to difficult economic times.

“While other coal operations have gone into bankruptcy over the past few years, Bluestone continues to work to protect jobs and create economic growth for communities that rely on it,” the company stated.

“Today, Bluestone employs thousands of people in West Virginia, including coal miners who are the backbone of the state. The company remains committed to weathering the economic challenges facing the coal industry and focusing on its employees.”




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Marshall journalism school to honor 5 graduates with induction into Hall of Fame

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — The Marshall University journalism school will honor five graduates on Friday with inductions into its Hall of Fame.

A ceremony will be held recognizing the newest members of the W. Page Pitt School of Journalism and Mass Communications Hall of Fame; Chris Dickerson, Janet Dooley, Rick Haye, Keith Morehouse and Sandy Wells are this year’s inductees.

Dickerson is the editor of The West Virginia Record, a legal journal. He previously worked at The Herald-Dispatch in Huntington and the Charleston Daily Mail. Dooley is the associate dean of the Marshall University College of Arts and Media, as well as the director of the journalism school. Haye also has a career tied to the university; he has spent 40 years taking photographs for Marshall University, including as its official photographer.

Morehouse is the sports director at WSAZ-TV. He also led broadcasts of Marshall athletics, and has been recognized with multiple Emmy and West Virginia Sportscaster of the Year awards.

“You get that call, and you’re kind of stunned for a minute,” Morehouse told MetroNews.” It was very gratifying and humbling when you realize how many great journalists have passed through the school there. It gives you a moment to ponder and think, ‘Am I deserving?'”

Wells, who died in February, was a longtime feature writer for the Charleston Gazette-Mail, writing her “Innerviews” series until her death.

All of this year’s inductees are graduates of Marshall University. The school has previously honored people for their impact on the journalism program. The Hall of Fame has recognized 63 people so far.

Friday’s ceremony will take place in the Memorial Student Center.

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No. 1 meets No. 2 as Fairmont Sr. visits Bridgeport Thursday

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Temperatures are still in the 80’s and the playoffs are two months away. But there is an elevated level of intensity and importance when Fairmont Senior and Bridgeport share the field. That’s what they will do Thursday night.

“Fairmont is the state champion. I don’t care where anyone puts them. Until it is playoff time and they lose, they are the state champions. Someone has to beat them,” said Bridgeport head coach John Cole.

“There’s a lot more at stake,” said Fairmont Senior head coach Nick Bartic. “Our communities have a good rivalry, not just in football but in all sports. In recent history, our games have been classic high school football games with very intense crowds.”

2018 MetroNews Player of the Year Connor Neal has moved across town to Fairmont State University but senior Gage Michael has proven himself to be a quality replacement. In three games, Michael has accounted for 1,074 yards and fourteen touchdowns.

“With somebody like Gage, it really keeps all your options open,” Bartic said. “From a defensive perspective, he is a headache to prepare for.”

“For him to be a first-year starter and looking like he does and having the numbers he does after three games, that is highly uncommon in high school football,” Cole said.

Bridgeport’s offense has a different look this year after the graduation of the program’s all-time leading rusher Jake Bowen. They rely on a ball control offense that features a handful of backs. The group is led by Brian Henderson, who averages 91 yards a game.

“When we are moving the football, it gives the whole team confidence,” Cole said. “It has not only been this year, it is every year I have been here… which is a long time.”

“Gap responsibility and controlling the line of scrimmage is going to tell the tale of every game,” Bartic said. “Especially against these guys. Their line is very well disciplined. They play very physical. There’s no surprises there.”

From 2007 to 2016 Bridgeport won eleven consecutive meetings in the series. Fairmont Senior however has momentum on their side. They have won the last three contests, dating back to the 2016 state semifinals.

“It is not just geography that makes this a big game,” Bartic said. “We have had success here. That’s the basis of this rivalry especially in the last few seasons. Regardless of who won before, it is a year-to-year matchup in terms of intensity.”

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Monongalia County officials consider rules for subdivisions

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Monongalia County commissioners are advancing a plan to enact subdivision regulations.

The policies will be designed to guarantee safe and adequate streets, utilities, and drainage. Developers use the standards to construct developments that conform to county regulations.

Variances are still possible for areas where terrain or circumstances make compliance too costly or not practical.

“Patterns for roads in Monongalia County are struggling under the load of new development, which is a good thing, but we’ve also identified that infrastructure is inadequate,” said Andrew Gast-Bray, the Monongalia County director of planning. “We’ve been struggling with stormwater issues and washouts.”

Monongalia County Commissioner Tom Bloom said the standard rules will be good for development.

“For all of those developers that do it correctly and then hear concerns from those who don’t follow the rules,” he said. “This way, everyone will be treated equally and everyone knows the form.”

Beginning in October, the commission is planning to hold public meetings with the goal of drafting a final plan by the end of November. If adopted, the rules could take effect in March 2020.

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25 Fairmont hospital employees laid off

FAIRMONT, W.Va. — Twenty-five employees of the Fairmont Regional Medical Center learned Wednesday they were laid off from the facility.

The news came without warning. An official told WBOY-TV the positions were all administrative.

Fairmont Regional Medical Center is owned by Alecto Healthcare Services, the parent company of the Ohio Valley Medical Center in Wheeling and the East Ohio Regional Hospital in Martins Ferry, Ohio. Ohio Valley Medical Center shut down earlier this month.

Alecto purchased Fairmont General Hospital in June 2014; the name was changed to the Fairmont Regional Medical Center in September that year.

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No end in sight for hot, dry conditions in southern West Virginia

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — There does not seem to be an immediate end to the abnormally dry forecast and warm temperatures seen in southern West Virginia over the past few weeks.

A high-pressure system is continuing to bring the conditions in the mid to upper 80s through the end of the workweek.

“Much of southern West Virginia is listed as abnormally dry,” Simone Lewis, National Weather Service Charleston meteorologist told MetroNews. “There is a moderate drought across the very southern portion such as McDowell and Wyoming counties.”

The first chance of precipitation comes early next week with a cold front but Lewis said she would not expect much.

“There’s a cold front that is going to come in around Tuesday and Wednesday,” she said. “That is going to bring some participation to us but that is going to be pretty short-lived.”

The cooler mornings expected next week could help with the delay of fall foliage across the state. Fall begins on the calendar September 21 but Lewis said the conditions have affected the leaves changing colors.

“That does stress out the vegetation and I know that’s why a lot of the trees in the area are losing leaves,” Lewis said. “If you notice a lot of them are turning brown and just falling off.”

This is what happens after weeks of hot and dry wx with some cool mornings sprinkled in: Some yellowing/browning of foliage along with some premature turning of a few varieties of red maple. #wvwx #kywx #ohwx

— NWS Charleston, WV (@NWSCharlestonWV) September 16, 2019

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Yeager Airport ‘flips the switch’ on new solar panels

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The switches have been flipped and the array of over 1,700 solar panels at Yeager Airport are running.

The multi-million project officially came to an end on Wednesday as airport officials, local leaders and the community gathered on top of Parking Garage A where the panels sit for a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The 1,701 panels sitting on top of the long-term parking garage will be used to power all parking facilities at the airport. The solar panels’ power will be collected on the utility meter and then transferred to the power used on the terminal.

Mike McKechine is the President of Mountain View Solar, the company whose panels were used, and said at the ceremony that the panels will pay for themselves.

“The utility bill that you pay, provides power for the next month and month after that,” he said. “If you invest in the infrastructure that produces its own power, that monthly expense turns into an asset. That’s the quickest, easiest way to look at solar.”

$3.5 million in funding for the project came from a federal grant through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), nearly 90-percent. The other 10-percent of funding for the project came from state funding.

The project originated more than three years ago but was put on hold due to funding and other issues, according to former Yeager Airport Director Terry Sayre.

Dan Hill with Dan Hill Construction said the project was scheduled to be done earlier in the summer but they ran into issues as well with the FAA.

“Since we are at an airport and very close to the airport runway, all of these designs have to be approved by them and it takes time,” Hill told MetroNews.

“Believe it or not, they shut down the government when we were at the peak of our decision making so it delayed us a little while.”

The project will also add electric vehicle charging stations to the 2nd floor of Parking Garage A in the coming months.

The panels are expected to bring cost savings to the airport of more than $50,000 per year.

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‘Operation Shutdown Corner’ nets drugs, weapons and suspects

BECKLEY, W.Va. — An alleged drug-running operation spanning nearly the entire length of the continental United States was shut down Wednesday when law enforcement from multiple agencies conducted a sting operation dubbed “Operation Shutdown Corner.”

U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart announced the arrests of 17 suspects and the seizure of what he described as large quantities of controlled substances, along with illegally possessed firearms and cash.

“From San Diego to West Virginia, today’s operation shut down a major drug trafficking organization. Over 200 law enforcement agents from more than five states were involved in this operation,” said Stuart. “As a result of these indictments and arrests, West Virginia communities and West Virginia families are safer today than they were yesterday. We continue with a sense of urgency to take down and remove those who cause only harm and despair in the interests of greed.”

According to Stuart, a long-term investigation revealed that a stream of packages containing methamphetamine and heroin were being shipped from San Diego, California to Raleigh County and the surrounding area, using common carriers, such as the U.S. Postal Service and UPS.


U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart

During Wednesday’s press conference at the Robert C. Bryd United States Court House and Federal Building in Beckley, Stuart said he personally was disturbed by the fact that seven children were living in one of the houses in Raleigh County allegedly being used to store a portion of the drugs arriving from California.

“The conditions these children were living in, they break your heart, and it raises the question: if children are raised in this type of environment, lack of role models, total filth, absolute squalor, how is it that these children are going to rise up to be citizens who are involved in our community, who can be change agents, who can be champions in our community? It was shocking, the conditions these kids were living in,” he said.

The investigation was led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and included the assistance of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the United States Postal Inspection Service, the United States Marshals Service, the Beckley/Raleigh County Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force, which is made up of law enforcement officers from the Raleigh County Sheriff’s Office, the Beckley Police Department, West Virginia State Police, the Central West Virginia Drug Task Force and the Southern Regional Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force.

In addition to Raleigh County, arrests were made in Fayette and Mercer Counties. One suspect was arrested in San Diego. The identities of the suspects, all of whom are in federal custody, were not disclosed.

Stuart said the investigation is ongoing and could result in additional federal and state charges in the future.

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North Central Report: Week 4



No. 1 Fairmont Senior (3-0) at No. 2 Bridgeport (3-0)

When: Thursday at 7 p.m.

Last week: Both teams won convincingly over previously unbeaten opponents. The Polar Bears topped North Marion, 39-6. Bridgeport got by Liberty Harrison, 35-7.

Why it’s important: It’s a matchup of Class AA state championship contenders and the winner enhances its chances of staying at home through the semifinals in the postseason. One of these two teams has played in the Class AA title game each of the last six seasons. The contest will be shown live on the MetroNews channel.

Who to watch for Fairmont Senior: Quarterback Gage Michael threw three touchdown passes to Kayson Nealy in last week’s win over the Huskies. Against the Tribe, the Polar Bears will need to stop the run, meaning their front seven will need to be on top of its game. Defensive lineman Zach Frazier leads the group up front.

Who to watch for Bridgeport: The Indians will look to control the click and possess the ball to keep it away from Fairmont Senior. For that plan to be effective, BHS will need a strong showing from its offensive line, as well as quarterback Devin Vandergrift and fullback Trey Pancake. Pancake and fellow linebacker Carson Winkie are pivotal to the team’s success on defense.

No. 14 Nicholas County (2-1) at Lincoln (2-1)

When: Friday at 7 p.m.

Last week: The Grizzlies suffered their first regular season loss since 2017 against Wyoming East, 22-18. Lincoln got past Grafton, 18-10.

Why it’s important: With the margin for error small in Class AA, a loss in this one is costly. The Grizzlies want to show they can respond from last week’s setback, while the Cougars have a chance to pick up a win that would build confidence and likely pay off in a big way down the line.

Who to watch for Nicholas County: Wideout Luke LeRose is an explosive playmaker on the perimeter and hauled in a touchdown pass from quarterback Timmy Baker in last week’s loss. Baker, however, suffered an injury in the second quarter and never returned. His status is important as the Grizzlies try to get back on track.

Who to watch for Lincoln: After allowing 62 points in a Week 2 loss to Fairmont Senior, the Lincoln defense responded and held Grafton to 84 yards a week ago. Tailback Colten Hovermale is the focal point of the offense and rushed for 171 yards and two touchdowns vs. the Bearcats.


No. 5 University (2-1) at No. 7 Wheeling Park (2-1)

When: Friday at 7 p.m.

Last week: Both teams bounced back from their first loss to climb back over the .500 mark. University defeated Brooke, 39-15, while Wheeling Park got by Hedgesville, 43-26.

Why it’s important: The winner will feel good about its chances of making the playoffs, while the loser falls back to .500. That both teams are in the top 10 of the first WVSSAC playoff ratings only increases the importance of this Ohio Valley Athletic Conference matchup.

Who to watch for University: The Hawks outscored Brooke, 26-0, in the second half last week to pull away. Logan Raber rushed for 220 yards against Brooke, while quarterback Joseph McBee threw for 127 yards and one touchdown and rushed for an additional 55 yards and four scores.

Who to watch for Wheeling Park: Quarterback Alex Dunlevy has experience and talent. In last week’s victory over the Eagles, Dunlevy threw for 221 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 48 yards and two scores. Shaheed Jackson caught a pair of TDs and finished with four receptions for 70 yards.

Other games: Valley Wetzel (0-2) at Clay-Battelle (1-1); East Fairmont (1-2) at Braxton County (0-3); Class AA No. 10 North Marion (2-1) at Elkins (0-3); Philip Barbour (0-3) at Liberty Harrison (2-1); Hedgesville (0-3) at Morgantown (0-3); Class AA No. 14 Robert C. Byrd (2-1) at Preston (3-1); Class A No. 15 Trinity (2-1) at Marylan School for the Deaf (3-0)

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