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Morgantown council approves conversion therapy ban, approves deal with DOH for Beechurst improvements

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Morgantown City Code will now see changes to its Human Rights Ordinance and an agreement has been reached between the City of Morgantown and the West Virginia Department of Highways over a Sunnyside road project.

Those topics, were the main focus of the discussions during Morgantown City Council’s regular meeting Tuesday, with a large amount of the focus directed towards changes to the City’s Human Rights Ordinance. The change, includes the prohibition of the practice of conversion therapy, a controversial practice that attempts to convert LBTGQ+ persons, within city limits.

“I hope that this is in addition to being a good step, but a reminder that there’s still a great deal of work to do when it comes to supporting the most marginalized people,” said Morgantown Resident and ACLU Representative Mollie Kennedy during the meeting in support of the ordinance.

The call to add language involving conversion therapy into the City of Morgantown’s Human Rights Ordinance, has been active over the past few months. Since the proposal was brought forward by the Morgantown Human Rights Commission, representatives from organizations such as Fairness WV and LGTBQ+ advocates have spoken during meetings in support of the ordinance. The support carried over ahead of council’s unanimous vote, with several speakers voicing their views during the public portion of the meeting.

“It is a dangerous and discredited practice that is opposed by all the major medical associations nationally and within our state,” said Fairness West Virginia Executive Director Andrew Schneider during the meeting.

Council also unanimously approved an agreement between the City of Morgantown and the West Virginia Department of Highways involving a corridor improvement project on Beechurst Avenue and on Campus Drive. The project, includes improvements that will improve traffic flow by adding a turn lane, drainage and add some sidewalks, stemmed from a superficial addition around the project. Despite concerns over previous projects involving the city and the Department of Highways, the new improvement project was approved without major dispute.

“I really appreciate the additional information and the willingness for all of these groups to work together, because it’s not easy to work with Division of Highways, WVU and the City,” said Morgantown Mayor Jenny Selin in support of the project.

The project will tie into improvements to Beechurst Avenue as part of the construction of the new West Virginia University Reynolds Hall.

Morgantown City Manager, Kim Haws, also addressed future funds that are scheduled to be incoming to the city via American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The expected over $11.2 million that is scheduled to be directed towards the city, has multiple committees in place by the City of Morgantown. The goal is that by November, when the first bit of ARPA funds are expected to arrive to the city, discussions for the next major revenue source for the city will be up for discussion by Morgantown City Council as soon as it’s available.

“And we’re getting a lot of traction, a lot of interest in the plan that was developed,” said Haws. “Some of the plans, some of the specific fund allocations, will actually begin occurring as early as November 15,” he said.

Source: Local News | 104.5 FM & 1440 AM | The Voice of Morgantown | Morgantown, WV

Virtual public comment period held for Longview Power expansion

MAIDSVILLE, W.Va. – The Longview Power air quality permit public comment session Tuesday night drew 32 people, both for and against the $1.1 billion gas-fired expansion at the facility in Maidsville.

Currently, Longview Power is a 700 megawatt facility that employs 150 full-time workers and produces power for PJM Interconnection who sells the power in a 13 state region that serves up to 65 million people. According to Longviewpower.com, the plant is newest and cleanest in the PJM network.

The 1,200 megawatt natural gas expansion will use a combined cycle gas turbine facility and a 5,500 foot 500 kV related transmission line. The project is valued at $1.1 billion and is expected to be operational in 2024.

Union representatives welcome the economic impact the project would bring to the region and families.

According to Shane Ferguson from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, this project will again serve as a starting point for many young electricians.

“It’s a life long career for a lot of apprentices,” Ferguson said,” We have apprentices that are now journeymen who started their career on the original project on that site.”

Bryan Raber from the Plumbers and Pipefitters Union said the project will create hundreds of construction jobs and even more jobs in the region that will support the workers and supply the jobsite.

“The project is a huge job creator for the local workers,” Raber said,” With the owner’s written commitment to hire local union construction workers and a payroll during construction of over $110 million would not only benefit the workers and their families, but the community.”

Resident in the Cheat Lake area, Duane Nichols told the DEP panel the permit should be rejected based on the location of the facility. Nichols contends major hospitals, primary and secondary schools as well as Milan Puskar Stadium all draws thousand s of people to within miles of the power plant emitting gases from both coal and natural gas generation.

“The location puts it in a special category and that any measure of environmental quality and environmental justice would disqualify it on that basis.”

James Kotcon, Chairman of the West Virginia Sierra Club Conservation Committee, believes the expansion will add a fossil fuel burning facility at a time when the state should be moving toward renewable energy generation.

“Any new facility like this is planning to run for many many years,” Kotcon said,” We simply can’t tolerate that if we’re going to protect our climate.”

Resident, Betsy Lawson lives near the Maidsville facility and said she has seen the results of air pollution in her neighborhood. She too agreed that this is wrong time to bring another fossil power generation facility online.

“I have seen the effects of acid rain for decades. Everyday I walk along Sugar Grove Road and many of the tress I see are sick or dead,” Lawson said,” Adding more pollution does not just effect the Fort Martin community, but the entire eastern seaboard.”

Longview Power also has a Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement that will pay Monongalia County $105 million over the life of the current facility. The new agreement for the expansion will add $58.2 million over the next 30 years to that total.

Public comments can be submitted through November 1, 2021 at 5 p.m. Written comments may be emailed to Edward.S.Andrews@wv.gov, with “Mountain State Clean Energy Comments” in the subject line, or mailed to Edward Andrews, WV Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Air Quality, 601 57th Street, SE, Charleston, WV 25304.

Source: Local News | 104.5 FM & 1440 AM | The Voice of Morgantown | Morgantown, WV

After days of trying, Senate overwhelmingly passes a map of its own districts
Source: Local News | 104.5 FM & 1440 AM | The Voice of Morgantown | Morgantown, WV

Morgantown man implicated in Preston County murder case

PRESTON COUNTY, W.Va. – A Morgantown man has been charged in connection with the murder of a Maryland man in Preston County.

Detectives from Garrett County say Andrew Wassick, 24, of Morgantown, Dashawn Scott, 25 and Roy Cheshire, 20, located Jimmy Barkley in Oakland, Maryland and brought him to a cabin in Preston County for “retribution.” The three suspects stripped Barkley and tied him up before turning him over to Damon Hudgens, 20, of Detroit, Michigan. Shortly after they turned Barkley over to Hudgens multiple ginshots were reported.

A day later, Hudgens, Darrell Pettaway, 31, of Detroit, Wassick and Kathryn Rodriguez, 38, both of Morgantown, were arrested by the Mon Metro Drug Task Force in multiple operations.

As a result of the investigation, detectives learned about the crime scene in Preston County and responded with sheriff’s deputies and K-9 units from the Grafton Volunteer Fire Department. The team located Barkley who was deceased and turned the crime scene over to the West Virginia State Police.

Detectives say multiple witnesses have identified Hudgens as the shooter who killed Barkley.

Wassick, Scott and Cheshire have been charged with kidnapping and assault. Hudgens has been charged with first degree murder.

The investigation is ongoing and additional arrests are expected.

Source: Local News | 104.5 FM & 1440 AM | The Voice of Morgantown | Morgantown, WV

Public hearing scheduled for Longview gas-fired expansion

MAIDSVILLE, W.Va. – The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection will hold a virtual meeting tonight at 6 to accept public comment on an air quality permit for a natural gas-fired power plant in Monongalia County.

The proposed gas-fired plant is projected to emit 5.13 million tons of greenhouse gases, 321 tons of nitrogen oxide, 276 tons of carbon monoxide and 210 tons of particulate matter per year, according to a permit application prepared for the DEP by Ambient Air Quality Services Inc., a Pennsylvania-based air quality consulting firm.

Those anticipated emission levels are all well above federal significance levels, subjecting the plant to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Prevention of Significant Deterioration regulations. That designation requires installation of emissions-limitation technology, air quality analysis to assess the effects of air, ground and water pollution.

The two pipeline-gas compressor units would be located 3,000 feet west of the Monongahela River. The application indicates that no greenhouse gas emissions will be associated with starting up, shutting down or operating the units.

The proposed start-up date for the facility is Jan. 1, 2025, according to the DEP.

The estimated cost of the project is $1.1 billion, according to the Public Service Commission.

The Monongalia County Commission approved a 30-year, $58 million payment in lieu of taxes agreement with the Longview parties in December 2020.

The agency said written comments on the proposal must be received by Nov. 1. Written comments may be emailed to Edward.S.Andrews@wv.gov, with “Mountain State Clean Energy Comments” in the subject line, or mailed to Edward Andrews, WV Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Air Quality, 601 57th Street, SE, Charleston, WV 25304.

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Source: Local News | 104.5 FM & 1440 AM | The Voice of Morgantown | Morgantown, WV

Westover officials decline independent probe of city government, no action taken on embattled police officer

WESTOVER, W.Va. – Efforts by Westover city council to conduct an independent investigation into Westover Mayor Dave Johnson officially ended due to a lack of a second. First Ward Councilman Ralph Mullins provided a detailed list of items he has proof of and wants an independent organization to investigate.

Mullins listed accusations of obstruction of justice relating to the Aaron Dalton case, failure to discipline Dalton in connection with releasing a fentanyl dealer with a significant amount of drugs, a clarification from the Monongalia County prosecutor to pause investigations into Dalton, citizen and business owners complaints of being targeted by officer Dalton and the Office of Code Enforcement, falsification of official documents and alleged efforts by city attorney Tim Stranko to cover up potentially criminal actions and statements made by the mayor.

Lt. Aaron Dalton is the subject of two federal civil rights investigations. Westover officials said there were no criminal findings in investigations conducted by the FBI and West Virginia State Police. Dalton has been on paid administrative leave for more than a year while the cases have been under investigation.

During the public portion of the meeting, resident Virginia Altman Moore recognized accomplishments in annexation and the West Run development, but said the administration has become so mired in negativity they should resign for the good of the city.

“I have lost confidence in the leadership of this city and I welcome Mayor Johnson’s announcement he will not seek reelection,” Altman-Moore said,” I think the other council members who have quietly allowed the situation to fester should follow his lead.”

First Ward Councilman Ralph Mullins said there is the possibility an investigation is currently underway that has not been made public. For the last few months Mullins has insisted he has proof of the allegations and would turn that information over to an independent investigative body.

“If the Northern District of West Virginia, West Virginia State Police, the Monongalia County Prosecutors Office- any law enforcement agency or independent investigative body contacts me and wants that documentation, I will gladly provide it,” Mullins said.

Another resident at the meeting said he had proof of misuse of city resources. The resident referred to sidewalk construction, mowing for council members and neighbors and also some paving of private driveways for council members.

According to Mullins, the Monongalia County Prosecutor reviewed the case and urged the public to take action.

“She agreed that there were numerous violations that were serious enough the citizens could sign a petition and enter into Circuit Court to have the mayor removed from office,” Mullins said.

At-large councilor Duane Tatar said he did not second the motion for an independent investigation due to a lack of evidence. Tatar said the investigation was being done in public space on social media where some facts are in question. Tatar encouraged residents to contact elected officials with questions and resist the urge to participate in the social media spats that have developed. Further, Tatar said the administration has an opportunity to learn from the Dalton matter going forward.

“What we need to do as a council and a city is to learn from what we’ve seen in these videos and make sure these types of incidents never happen again,” Tatar said.

Councilors went into executive session to discuss the Dalton matter, but ended it with no action taken. Members of the public have expressed concern with the amount of time Dalton has remained on paid leave and have called on officials to take action.

“I am forbidden to comment on that situation,” Mullins said,” The only thing that I can say is that hopefully in the near future that it will be come public knowledge.”

The next regular meeting of Westover city council is scheduled for November 2 at 6 p.m.

Source: Local News | 104.5 FM & 1440 AM | The Voice of Morgantown | Morgantown, WV

Gee reflects on a year of progress, announces major new initiatives

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia University president E. Gordon Gee told faculty and community members the institution has weathered a difficult year and must continue to meet the changing needs of citizens to maintain growth. Gee said the student body and staff has shown remarkable resilience battling the virus, divisive politics and unprecedented financial challenges.

“We learned these lessons and persevered through this pandemic by leaning on our mountaineer values and the three pillars that support us everyday,” Gee said,” Education, healthcare and prosperity.”

Gee announced the formation of the Purpose Institute- the first of it’s kind in the nation. The initiative is expected to transform WVU into a purpose-driven leader in higher education.

“West Virginia University must become a purpose-driven leader in higher education,” Gee said,” At a time when resources are so limited, needs are so great, expectations are so high and threats are so significant universities cannot afford complacency.”

College enrollment rates have dropped around the country, prompting Gee to pursue new relationships in order to keep the university a prime destination for education of all types.

“Students completing their apprenticeship training as carpenters also earn an Associate’s Degree from WVU Potomac State College,” Gee said,” We hope to develop craft-specific degree majors for all registered apprenticeship programs affiliated with the West Virginia State Building and Construction Trades Council.”

Gee also noted the first trials nationwide using deep brain stimulation to help people battling addiction. Gee said an 18-year addict who participated in the program has been drug free for two years. Gee said the university is not just studying new techniques, they are employing them and improving lives.

Changes are also coming to the way faculty members are evaluated and recognized for their performance. A panel of leadership, staff and faculty are reviewing the process for change in the coming days.

“So, it is not a one-size fits all approach,” Gee said,” But rather, an equitable and transparent system designed to reward and recognize faculty who make a variety of contributions throughout their time at the university.”

A new Project 168 will launch in January of 2022. The program will focus on the time students spend outside of the classroom in order to make that time more impactful for the students and community.

“Students will receive a co-cirricullar transcript printed on official WVU transcipt paper,” Gee said,” This co-cirricullar transcripty can be shared with potential employers and included in graduate and proffesional school applications.”

Source: Local News | 104.5 FM & 1440 AM | The Voice of Morgantown | Morgantown, WV

One charged in August Stonewood fire

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – One arrest has been made in connection with a Stonewood fire in August of 2021.

Charles Eugene “Gene Hawkins, 47, of Nutter Fort, has been charged with one count of first-degree arson for the fire at his estranged girlfriend’s home in the 8000 block of Blair Lane in Stonewood on August 6.

Hawkins is being held in the North Central Regional Jail in lieu of a $6,000.00 bond.

Source: Local News | 104.5 FM & 1440 AM | The Voice of Morgantown | Morgantown, WV

WVU Medicine reports multiple coronavirus-related deaths over the weekend

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – WVU Medicine officials say 17 people died across their care system due to coronavirus-related complications over the weekend. Alison Wilson, executive chair of the WVU Critical Care and Trauma Institute said 15 deaths were reported in West Virginia, 1 in Ohio and another in Maryland on MetroNews Talkline.

Statewide data from the DHHR says 746 people are hospitalized, 221 are in the ICU and 151 people are on ventilators. The numbers show well over 80 percent of people in the ICU or on ventilators are unvaccinated.

“Many of these deaths were nonvaccinated, only one patient was a vaccinated patient,” Wilson said,” We certainly know that vaccinations help protect against severe disease and mortality.”

The Delta variant began a trend that showed younger people becoming infected with the virus- that has continued as the average age of those infected has steadily decreased during this surge.

“The substantial number of them being in their 40’s and the youngest being 21-years-old,” Wilson said,” Most of these patients, the younger patients, tend to have a longer course of the disease.”

The vaccine is proven to help lessen the severity of infection, reduce hospitalizations and drop the mortality rate.

” Some of our older patients are more frail and despite even intensive care they just don’t have the reserves secondary to some of their other health issues to battle this off,” Wilson said.

Many of the unvaccinated who get the Delta variant have very severe outcomes that sometimes require extended care after release from the hospital. According to Wilson, the data shows getting the vaccine is the best way to avoid serious medical issues if infected.

“Your chance of having significant course or even long term complications, such as long term lung problems and breathing problems requiring oxygen or inhaler is certainly possible,” Wilson said.

The mounting toll on families and healthcare workers continues. Workers try to help families work through grief and loss while continuing to provide care.

“It’s become a real tragic scene to see young families bringing teenage and younger children into the hospital to say goodbye to their mother or father,” Wilsion said.

Source: Local News | 104.5 FM & 1440 AM | The Voice of Morgantown | Morgantown, WV

Mon Power completes backup power feed projects

FAIRMONT, W.Va. – Mon Power has announced completion of a series of improvements designed to reduce service interruptions for about 4,800 customers in multiple counties.

In Monongalia County, the improvements will help more than 500 customers in the Toms Run area. The same improvements will also help more than 200 customers in the West Union area of Doddridge County. About 600 customers in the Bunners Ridge of Marion County were also included in the project.

The improvements provide a backup power feed to allow for faster restoration in the event of an outage.

“These strategic improvements support our efforts to provide safe and reliable electric service to our customers, helping to reduce the frequency and duration of power outages across our service area,” said Jim Myers, president of FirstEnergy’s West Virginia operations.

Workers continue clearing vegetation around nearly 5,700 miles of power lines as part of its 2021 tree trimming program.

Source: Local News | 104.5 FM & 1440 AM | The Voice of Morgantown | Morgantown, WV