The Voice of West Virginia
On rare occasions the moon will block out the sun, a volcano erupts, you will catch a foul ball at a baseball game and, rarest of all, bipartisanship will occur in Washington.
We are witnessing one of those cherished rarities now. The Senate is taking up an infrastructure bill that is a compromise crafted by Democrats and Republicans.
The deal includes $550 billion in new federal spending on traditional infrastructure: $110 billion for roads and bridges, $65 billion for the power grid, $65 billion for broadband, $55 billion for water infrastructure, $66 billion for passenger and freight rail, $25 billion for airports and $17 billion for ports and waterways.
The rest of the package includes previously approved spending, bringing the total to $1.2 trillion.
The Senators have cobbled together a variety of pay-fors. The biggest chunk—$258 billion—comes from unused Covid relief and enhanced unemployment dollars. As usual, there is some creative math, such as the projected $56 billion in economic growth resulting from a “33 percent return on investment” from the infrastructure projects.
West Virginia’s Senator Shelley Moore Capito deserves credit for getting things moving on infrastructure. As ranking Republican on the Energy and Public Works Committee, she worked in a bipartisan fashion with Democratic Chairman Senator Tom Carper on infrastructure bills.
Capito also lead the Republican efforts to negotiate a deal with President Biden. That deal never materialized, but it kept the channels of communication open and laid the groundwork.
Of course, nothing in Washington is simple. Senators will open the bill up for amendments this week. That could bog down, but at least it is the regular order of business. The problem is on the House side.
House Speaker Nancy Pelsoi has said that chamber will not take up the infrastructure bill until the Senate approves the $3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” bill. That legislation includes universal pre-kindergarten, lots of green energy spending, subsidized childcare, paid leave, free community college, lower prescription drug prices, expanded Medicare benefits and much more.
Republicans and moderate Democrats, including Joe Manchin of West Virginia, are balking at the linkage. “I believe it is the will of the public to take these two bills separately,” Manchin said on MetroNews Talkline Monday.
Pelosi may just be protecting her left flank. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday that at least ten House Democrats would vote against the infrastructure bill if the Senate does not approve the $3.5 trillion plan.
That is an eye-catching maneuver, but it ignores the fact that the bills were split in two in the first place because there was not enough support in the Senate for the total package.
America’s infrastructure is crumbling in many places. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2021 Report Card, an estimated six billion gallons of treated water are lost every day because of line breaks, 43 percent of our roads are in poor or mediocre condition, there are 10,000 miles of levees whose location and condition are unknown.
Holding one bill hostage to create leverage for another is nothing new in politics, but Democrats should be careful what they wish for. If the deal blows up it will be their fault. Try explaining that to Americans who want their roads fixed, waterlines repaired and high speed internet available.
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Yeager Airport on Monday received a call of an active shooter threat.
According to airport officials, the call happened around 4:20 p.m. Local and state law enforcement agencies responded to the scene and determined the threat was not viable.
Authorities will maintain an enhanced presence at the airport for the foreseeable future.
Flights from Yeager Airport continued operating on time following the report.
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The U.S. Senate is expected to vote later this week on passing the chamber’s bipartisan infrastructure bill as lawmakers on Monday began working on the legislation.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is the byproduct of negotiations between a bipartisan group of senators and the White House, and includes $550 billion in new spending over five years on projects related to roads, electricity, broadband and water systems.
The Senate voted last week to advance the bipartisan infrastructure plan as discussions continued. Senators on Sunday unveiled the bill, which consists of 2,702 pages.
“Nobody of probably the 100 of us think this bill is absolutely perfect. It never would be, and there’s always a saying going around: If we all thought it was perfect, there’s something wrong with it,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said Monday on the Senate floor.
“Delivering for the American people is more important than our newspaper headlines today. We can make a historic investment in our nation’s infrastructure with this bill.”
Capito led discussions earlier this year between Senate Republicans, President Joe Biden and the White House on a possible bipartisan deal. Talks between both sides ended without an agreement because of differences regarding revenue sources and the proposal’s scope.
“I’m really, really glad and proud of their efforts that they were able to come to the agreement that is before us today,” Capito said of the bipartisan group, which includes West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin.
The bill allocates $110 billion for road and bridge projects, $73 billion for electricity improvements and clean technology, $65 billion for broadband work, and $55 billion for water infrastructure, including pipeline replacement.
Legislators have mentioned the work of Senate committees, which provided a foundation for the measure; the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved a $35 billion water infrastructure proposal in April and a $311 billion surface transportation bill in May.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Tom Carper, D-Del., and Capito — the committee’s ranking member — will manage the legislation on the Senate floor.
“Nothing bugs people more literally than driving into a pothole when they know they are paying a gas tax, when they know they are trying to do their best to support their state and local to repair their roads,” Capito said about needed transportation projects.
The legislation also dedicates funding for the Appalachian Development Highway System, a network of corridors between Appalachian communities and interstates. Capito said there will be funds for completing Corridor H, which will connect central West Virginia to Virginia and the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area once finished.
“If you’re coming from the D.C. area, you can just slice right through the center of the state, where you can ski, whitewater, see the beauty of our state or bring your business. How about that?” she added.
The Senate approved the water infrastructure measure in May, which includes funding for replacing lead water lines and resiliency projects.
“Senators recognize that the legislation will help thousands of communities to improve their health, safety and standard of living,” Capito said. “I’m very pleased that this bill before us, again, is a part of this package … so we can make sure that it gets to the president’s desk.”
The bill also dedicates funding for tax credits designed to encourage companies to repurpose facilities in communities impacted by economic changes. The plants, located in areas dependent on the automobile and coal industries, would manufacture new energy technologies. Manchin and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., introduced similar legislation in March.
The Appalachian Regional Commission — an agency focused on economic and regional improvements in 13 states from Mississippi to New York — will receive $1 billion. Gayle Manchin, the wife of the senator, serves as the body’s federal co-chairman.
Capito thanked colleagues and the president’s staff in her remarks, noting she is hopeful the Senate can work in a bipartisan manner on other issues.
“I hope this isn’t a one-and-done,” Capito said. “I hope this is the beginning of all good things. The American people elected us to do this tough work.”
Senators did not include tax increases in the legislation, which instead relies on repurposing coronavirus relief dollars and unused unemployment insurance supplements, delaying the Medicare Part D rebate rule, and government auctions. The bipartisan group also estimates the government will bring in $56 billion from a 33% return on investment from projects.
The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates the bill would increase government revenue by $51 billion over 10 years, in which most of the money would come from rules related to cryptocurrencies.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., also wants the Senate to pass a budget blueprint on a $3.5 trillion measure this week. The proposal would address various social, health and environmental issues, although Democrats will have to invoke budget rules to pass the measure in the split Senate.
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NAUGATUCK, W.Va. — Tug Valley Head Coach Hady Ford laughs he’d love to know what a “normal” football season is like. The third year head coach of the Panthers said every year has presented an obstacle and 2021 will be no different.
“The first year is was just trying to convince the players we could win. Last year is was Covid and this year it’s a flood, so I’d love to know what it’s like to have a normal year,” the coach laughed in a recent conversation with MetroNews.
The flood water of late February and early March caused major damage to the entire football complex. All equipment was destroyed and had to be tossed out. The field house had to be gutted back to the studs and all concession stand supplies and equipment were destroyed as well.
“It pretty much destroyed everything we had. Everything to do with football, we had to get out of here including lockers and the concession stand. It’s been a lot of work,” he explained.
As the first practices of the the season get started, Ford said he and his staff have managed to get everything cleaned up, but getting things replaced has been a struggle.
“Covid has pushed everything back where I think we’re going to have stuff before the first game, but some of our uniforms and jerseys aren’t in yet,” he said.
He faces similar difficulties with equipment. As practice starts he isn’t sure he’ll have enough helmets for every player. Even getting enough footballs to start practice is a struggle. Ford said he’s been told the factory which produces the Spaulding footballs approved by the West Virginia SSAC for competition is idle and getting the official ball isn’t possible for the moment. All of the Tug Valley balls floated away in March. Ford said he had a couple squirreled away in an area which didn’t get flooded and a coaching friend managed to get him two more.
“We have four new ones, but you know you always want to have a few more,” he said.
The shortage of building materials nationwide has been well documented and it has impacted the Tug Valley program as well.
“We have metal lockers to put back in, but they have been pushed back. They were supposed to be in by the first week in August, now they’re saying maybe by the first game. It’s everything. We’re getting a new press box, but the new one has been sitting out here for about three weeks waiting on metal from Florida to put the stands on. We may or may not have it by the first game,” Ford said.
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — In front of a boisterous crowd, with the majority of the public in attendance wanting masks to be a choice, the school board for the state’s most populous county voted to require masks for students, faculty and staff this upcoming school year for grades pre K-5 and make it a choice for grades 6-12.
The Kanawha County Board of Education was split with the vote at 3-2 at the special session meeting on Monday with Ric Cavender, Ryan White and Becky Jordon for the resolution and Tracy White and Jim Crawford against the motion.
“I think people are making too big of a deal about masks. Masks work and they don’t interfere with the student’s ability to learn. I think it’s a simple thing to do,” Ryan White told MetroNews following the meeting.
Ryan White brought an amendment in front of the board after Crawford put forth a motion for masks to be a choice in all grade levels. The amended motion passed 3-2 with the same vote.
Ryan White said while speaking on the amendment that the county should follow what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Kanawha-Charleston Health Department and state coronavirus czar Dr. Clay Marsh are recommending, which is universal indoor masking in schools.
The CDC’s most recent guidance states, “CDC recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.”
Ryan White said that while he wished the board would have decided to mask up all schools, the decision was a compromise. His amendment was based on the elementary-aged students not having the chance to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
“Most of the people I got emails from wanted to make sure the elementary kids were protected and had the masks until they could get vaccinated. That was my main goal, to make sure the elementary kids were protected because they have not been vaccinated,” he said.
Tracy White said most of the parents and guardians she heard from leading up to the meeting were not in favor of masks. She even stated it was around “4 to 1” in favor of choice.
“From five messages I would get, four would want no masks or a parents decision. One would say keep the mask mandate,” Tracy White said to MetroNews following the meeting.
White said that’s what her vote against came down to following what she believed the people who voted her onto the board wanted.
“Honestly there is not a win or lose choice. None of us are medical professionals, none of us knows what is coming. There is not a winner or loser here,” she said.
Kanawha County BOE votes 3-2 to require masks for students grades K-5 this fall, a choice for students grades 6-12.
Ric Cavender, Ryan White, Becky Jordon for, Tracy White and Jim Crawford against. pic.twitter.com/qIwBqUHu5c
— Jake Flatley (@JakeFlatley) August 2, 2021
Before the vote, Cavender expressed the want to follow what the CDC has said and told the story of his own bout with COVID-19. Crawford believed the school system should not tell the public what to do and also believed it should have been an “all or nothing” decision with masks or no masks at all grade levels. Jordon, who called into the meeting, said she was concerned about the elementary school students and the virus.
Kanawha County Superintendent Tom Williams gave board members their options which were the one voted on, they could require everyone to wear masks, or just require masks on buses.
In a tweet, the school system said “If additional guidance or mandates are passed down from the state level, the district will adjust its guidance.”
The first day of school in Kanawha County is Monday, Aug. 9.
The Board voted 3-2 to require masks this school year for students in grades PreK-5. For students in grades 6-12, masks will be optional. If additional guidance or mandates are passed down from the state level, the district will adjust its guidance.
— Kanawha County (@KCBOE) August 2, 2021
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Residents in Morgantown’s Suncrest neighborhood are looking for answers after two similar high water events in June and July.
Basements and streets were flooded on June 13 and July 29. On both occasions, motorists were helped from stalled cars in flood waters in Patteson Drive.
Monongalia County MECCA-911 Director Jim Smith said during the July 29 event several homes and business owners reported significant damage due to rapid rainfall. Additionally, DOH facilities including a bridge in Star City also suffered damage.
“We have anywhere from 50 to 100 homes that were impacted from the storm event,” Smith said Monday. “We know we have multiple businesses impacted from it.”
Residents who had damage to their properties are asked to complete the assessment forms and forward them to MECCA911.org by Wednesday, Aug.11.
“We will then submit them as a package to Charleston and from Charleston they will be turned over to FEMA,” Smith said. “What we’re trying to do is get a local declaration in Monongalia County to see if we can open up for some FEMA money.”
Gov. Jim Justice was asked about the situation Monday. He said the state Office of Emergency Management was “on it.”
“When we have monstrous rains we do have situations like this,” Justice said.
He said as much assistance as possible would be provided by the state.
The Morgantown Utility Board (MUB) put information on its website about last week’s flooding.
“Rainfall amounts at our water treatment plant measured more than 4 inches. In other places across Morgantown, 6.5 inches of rain fell,” MUB said. “Like the June 13th event, this amount of rainfall surpassed the flow capacity of stormwater systems designed to manage rain events of lesser intensity. This is no fault of MUB’s system. Such acts of nature are simply beyond what any reasonably constructed system could be expected to manage.”
Smith said it’s unusual to get that much rain that close together.
“It was something we would see every 100-years, we have seen now twice in less than two months,” he said.
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice said Monday some state residents would be taking a risk going to large events in the coming weeks without a COVID-19 vaccination.
“I want you to enjoy the State Fair. I want you to enjoy the football games. Absolutely, I’m not mandating anything at all but you need to think about that,” Justice said at his media briefing on the coronavirus.
The briefing took place not long after the state had announced more than 600 new cases of COVID-19. Active cases in West Virginia are nearing the 2,500 mark.
Justice predicted there are going to be big crowds at the Fair beginning later this week and at WVU and Marshall football games within the next month.
“How are you going to fee walking through those crowds and not being vaccinated? Really and truly? Are you not going to have some level of anxiety and concern?”
Justice said even those who have been vaccinated and are considered ‘at-risk’ because of other medical issues should consider wearing masks again in public places.
“It’s your choice. Even if you’ve been vaccinated you may want to think about wearing a mask,” he said.
Justice repeated Monday that he’s not yet considering returning a mask mandate in the state.
The state’s County Alert System map now shows 37 of the state’s 55 counties are above the lowest level ‘green’ on the map. Marshall and Webster counties were ‘red’ on Monday’s map.
Vaccination numbers better
State InterAgency Task Force Director Jim Hoyer did report Monday that vaccination numbers have improved in recent days.
“We did have a solid weekend of vaccinations, 75-hundred vaccines since Friday,” Hoyer said. “But as the governor pointed out, still not fast enough in West Virginia. We need to pick-up the pace.”
More than 881,000 residents or 56.6% of those 12 and older in West Virginia have been fully vaccinated including 79% of those 65 and older have been fully vaccinated.
Delta variant numbers lag behind
State Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch said Delta variant cases in West Virginia may now be into the thousands although the DHHR dashboard only lists those cases at 100.
Crouch said it takes anywhere from 7 to 10 days to verify a variant case.
“We don’t know what the numbers are in the general population. What we know is what we sequence from those individuals who test positive,” Crouch said.
Monday is the last day to register for the final Do it for Babydog vaccination sweepstakes.
Justice will give out the winning prizes Thursday those will include a grand prize of $1.588 million, a second place prize of $588,000 and two new custom-outfitted trucks.
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SUMMERSVILLE, W.Va. — Former Richwood Mayor Bob Henry Baber pleaded guilty Monday to a prosecutor’s information to obtaining money by false pretenses, a felony.
The prosecutor’s information said Baber defrauded the city in the amount of $2,443. The investigation was conducted by state police and the state Auditor’s Office.
“Baber ordered the city clerk to cut him a check for money he wasn’t entitled to,” Special Prosecutor Steve Connolly of the state Auditor’s fraud office said. It happened while Baber was mayor in 2017.
Prosecutors dropped several other charges against Baber as part of the agreement. Some of those charges had to do with alleged illegal purchases made by Baber’s state-issued purchasing card.
Baber’s scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 12 at 1:30 p.m. He faces 1-10 years in prison.
The Auditor’s Office and state police began an investigation into Richwood in connection with allegations of how federal flood recovery money was used following the June 2016 flood. The investigations show that from 2016 to 2018 a portion of $3.1 million in recovery money was diverted to personal use.
State police charged Baber, former Richwood recorder and former mayor Chris Drennen, former city clerk Abby McClung and former police chief Lloyd Cogar in March 2019 in connection with the investigation.
“There’s $1.3 million roughly that never made it to the intended purpose. It was diverted to friends and family and everybody under the sun,” Connolly said Monday.
So far only Baber has been the only one convicted. Connolly said charges against the other three are on hold. He said all three are cooperating and the charges could be dropped.
“There’s a possibility that if there’s full cooperation plus restitution. That’s part of the agreement,” Connolly said.
Connolly said the investigation is not over and there may be charges filed against people who haven’t yet been named in connection with the flood funds investigation.
Prosecutors are recommending no jail time in the Baber case but are seeking restitution and five years probation. Connolly said the restitution will include what the state has spent on the investigation. He said that’s exceeded $100,000.
Baber apologized during Monday’s hearing.
“I have profoundly disappointed the people of Richwood, Nicholas County, the State of West Virginia, my family, and my friends. I regret my actions from the bottom of my heart. I have had years to ponder my mistakes. It has been painful to reflect on the selfishness that compelled me to seek recompense that was not due me. But however painful it has been to me, pales in comparison to the pain it has caused and to the damage ultimately done to both Richwood’s reputation as a town and to its recovery from the flood,” Baber said. “It was a terrible lapse of judgment to press for payment for volunteer flood recovery work performed before I was sworn in as Mayor. I clearly and unequivocally recognize it was illegal, wrong, and unethical. I pressured Clerk Abby McClung to write the check in the amount of $2,443.64.”
State Auditor J.B. McCuskey thanked law enforcement for investigating the case.
“The plea today from Bob Henry Baber serves as a reminder that the State will not give up on pursuing fraud when we find it,” McCuskey said.
Connolly said it’s time for Richwood to move forward.
“Richwood needs to start recovering and the people need to start recovering and part of that is through accountability,” he said.
Connolly said he is disappointed that it has taken more than two years to gain a prosecution. He said the U.S. Attorney’s Office for southern West Virginia had the case for months before deciding not to prosecute.
“It languished for two and a half years and then subsequently earlier this year it was returned back to the state to prosecute and that’s when we really began to dig in and try to get these things resolved,” Connolly said.
The reality that Texas and Oklahoma are leaving the Big 12 has moved the remaining eight schools into a next-move philosophy.
On this episode, the “Guys” discuss possible moves by West Virginia University and other schools left in peril by the unexpected departures.
Will college sports be redefined in a way that benefits a very small select group?
Answers to those questions and a cameo appearance by Al Pacino on the 301st episode of Three Guys Before The Game.
Hoppy, Brad and Tony will return later this week with another update.
Never miss an episode, subscribe below.
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Veterans and Purple Heart recipients from all walks of life are in Charleston this week for a national convention.
Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH) the Ladies Auxiliary of the MOPH are holding the 88th their annual national convention at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center, which began Monday and ends on Wednesday.
The annual event brings together the Commanders and delegates of the Order’s Regions, Departments, Chapters and Units from all States, Puerto Rico, and the US Trust Territory of Guam to elect the National Leadership of the Order for the upcoming year.
Francis Figueroa, a Purple Heart recipient from Fayetteville, North Carolina and Department Commander for North Carolina MOPH was one of the few hundred delegates in attendance. She spoke with MetroNews about the agenda that includes training sessions, reviewing of business of the past year, approval of new governing amendments and organizational bylaw changes, and setting an agenda for the coming year.
“Every year our national leadership changes. We will be voting on next year’s leadership. Voting on by-laws, changes to them that help the organization continue to thrive,” she said.
Figueroa, who is also Adjutant General for the MOPH Chapter in Fort Bragg, was wounded in battle in the mid-2000s as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. She said she was wounded from shrapnel and called her time in the hospital following the devastating attack as ‘a scary time.’
She said she was one of the few veterans from that war in attendance in Charleston, and one of the youngest in age, but so far enjoyed the discussion from the elder veterans.
“Most of the people here have been here for years. I’ve spoken with some who have been coming since the ’80s. Just to see their perspective and how much it has changed since then to now, it has been great,” Figueroa said.
Ed ‘Tex’ Stiteler, a Purple Heart recipient from San Antonio, Texas, was one of the elder veterans in the crowd. He joined the Marines in January 1966 before going to Vietnam in September 1966. Stiteler told MetroNews about the time he was wounded on September 21, 1967. He was then evacuated to Great Lakes, Illinois and didn’t leave the hospital until April 1968.
Stiteler was also there as a vendor for the convention, as he is the President of Vietnam Battlefield Tours, which is a non-profit organization that takes Vietnam Combat Veterans back to the country every year. He said it’s been a part of his mission to get people back there, ever since he went back for the first time in 2001.
“It’s like coming full circle for a lot of them. There is a lot of PTSD, a lot of issues. If they can go back and sit there, and come to terms with that it’s a good thing,” Stiteler said.
Following his service, Stiteler said he went to Southwest Texas State University, which is now Texas State University, where he studied to become a teacher and met his wife. He said immediately after coming back into the states, it was not easy with how Vietnam Combat Veterans were treated but is happy to see ‘much better treatment’ for recent veterans.
Stiteler said every state has different benefits for Purple Heart recipients and in Texas he has received a free hunting license for life and free parking on city streets. There is even an opportunity for property tax relief.
His wish is for more recent veterans to get involved in organizations such as MOPH.
“I would encourage young veterans to get involved. VFW, DAV, Purple Heart, Vietnam Veterans of Americans, we are all suffering for membership. Mainly because these younger guys have not started coming in yet,” Stiteler said.
MOPH did not have a convention in 2020 due to COVID-19. The organization, which was formed in 1932, selected Charleston as the 2021 host several years ago and did not change the host site due to the virus. All members and their guests are staying at the Charleston Marriott Town Center.
Chartered by Congress, the MOPH is unique among Veteran Service Organizations in that all its members were wounded in combat.
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