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Traffic rolling on new 9-mile section of Coalfields Expressway

MULLENS, W.Va. — Wyoming County now has its first four-lane highway with Thursday’s opening of a nine-mile stretch of the Coalfields Expressway.

Gov. Jim Justice was on hand for the ribbon cutting ceremony held on the Mullens end of the project. The stretch, designated as Route 121, connects Slab Fork in Raleigh County to Mullens in Wyoming County.

Gov. Jim Justice, Coalfields Expressway Authority Chairman Mike Goode (left) and others cut the ribbon Thursday. (Photo/Governor’s Office)

“The other piece (of the highway) was finished 14 years ago and set there and set there and set there,” state Transportation Secretary Byrd White said.

The new section was funded through Justice’s Roads to Prosperity program. It cost $33.5 million to build the nine miles.

MORE  A trip of the Coalfields Expressway

“Do you realize you are in Wyoming County right now on a four-lane highway?” Coalfields Expressway Authority Chairman Mike Goode told the crowd. “Hey folks this is big.”

Goode predicted the ultimate completion of the highway, which will link to U.S. Route 23 in Virginia, will be a economic boost to the southern coalfields.

“This will do for us and for southern West Virginia what Route 119 has done for Danville, Madison, Chapmanville, Logan and Williamson and what U.S. 19 has done for Summersville, Oak Hill and Fayetteville,” Goode said.

Justice said it’s a shame it’s taken so long for Wyoming County, which has contributed to the U.S. with the mining of coal and veterans in the U.S. Armed Forces, to get a four-lane highway.

“We don’t need to stop here,” Justice said. “For crying out loud we need to stop when it’s done and it’s going to be done.”

Justice predicted that would take place with or without a federal infrastructure program.

“Just like this and just like Corridor H, Corridor H needs done but this needs done in southern West Virginia. This needs done now,” Justice said.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin called the completion of the nine-mile stretch “a great day for southern West Virginia.”

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)

“During my time as Governor, I worked to get the funds and flexibility needed to complete this project, and I’m proud of everyone who has worked tirelessly to make this a reality,” Manchin said in a statement released by his office. “This is a wonderful achievement for West Virginia and I look forward to seeing the next section of the Expressway completed.”

State Deputy Highways Commissioner Jimmy Wriston said Thursday additional sections of the highway are currently under design.

“Once we actually go to the next construction section, which will be over in McDowell County, then we will have from that point on, one section of road under construction and design until we are finished and connected to Route 23. That’s exactly what will happen,” Wriston said.

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Local workers demand fair contract with Kroger

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The union representing Kroger workers and local workers held a car caravan protest in Charleston on Thursday to demand the company negotiate a fair union contract.

Representatives from United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 400 were on site at the Kanawha City Kroger in the 5700 block of MacCorkle Avenue driving around the lot and beeping horns during a busy shopping hour. Protestors were also at Kroger locations on Division Street in Parkersburg and the Beckley Crossing Shopping Center.

“Kroger is on negotiations with UFCW Local 400 and we intend to let the public know that we want to keep our healthcare for our retirees,” Thomas Hogan, a worker at the West Side Kroger told 580-WCHS.

“We want to keep our healthcare for our retirees and workers that have several more years before retirement.”

According to a release by the union, negotiations over a new union contract have been underway since August and the company is no closer to reaching a deal on Oct 1.

The previous union contract expired Aug. 29 and is currently under extension until Oct. 17, the union said.

Hogan said retirement and medical benefits are at risk. He said union members are also pushing for safer working conditions.

“We got the moral high ground here, everyone deserves healthcare. These companies make their profits off of our backs and shoulders every day. We feel they should step up and do what’s right with their workers,” Hogan said.

In September, workers were out front of the same store, demanding hazard pay while working during the pandemic.

“We are out here helping the public, making sure they have food for their table and maintaining the quality of food. We have to expose ourselves to folks regularly,” Hogan said.

Hogan said the union workers plan an even larger protest next week.

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The Game Within The Game (Episode 11)

Host Brad Howe and Julian Edlow from DraftKings get you ready for a packed sports weekend with discussions on:

* Week 4 in the NFL

*The Major League Baseball playoffs

*Are the Lakers now a safe bet to sweep the NBA Finals?

*Stay away or fire…three college football games that stand out this weekend

*Best bets…(Hint: it’s a big teaser weekend)

All of that and more in another jam-packed episode of the Game Within The Game presented by DraftKings.

New users on DraftKings Sportsbook remember  to use code METROGAME for this great offer – Bet $1 on any NFL team to win this weekend and if that team wins, you win $100.

We’re back on Monday to recap the action from the weekend and look ahead to next week.

Good luck.

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Three Guys Before The Game – Preparing for Bears (Episode 231)

If a team improves the most from its first to its second game, then how much does it improve from its second to third game?  We’ll learn the answers to both questions on Saturday when West Virginia hosts Baylor.

The Mountaineers (1-1) will try to clean up a series of mistakes that cost them last week’s Big 12 opener at Oklahoma State.  The Bears (1-0) cruised by Kansas in the debut of head coach Dave Aranda. 

The “Guys” preview the game with a look at the numbers and its significance for a Mountaineer team that lost a 17-14 heartbreaker last Halloween night in Waco. 

Brad, Hoppy and Tony also answer some very creative listener questions and hold court on a possible Three Guys employee violation. 

Join them again Monday for a complete recap. Three Guys Before The Game is brought to you by Mardis Gras Casino and Resort, Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack and Burdette Camping Center.

Look really dapper by wearing Three Guys merchandise.

Never miss an episode, subscribe below.

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Education Secretary DeVos hears challenges, pride in West Virginia return-to-school effort

West Virginia students, teachers, custodians, cooks and parents told the U.S. education secretary that although this has been a school year like no other, they’ve taken pride in working together to overcome challenges.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos had a listening session today with people in the Jefferson County public school system. DeVos made some comments but mostly asked the people gathered about their experiences this year, often prompting discussion.

“I am excited to hear from all of you how you’ve worked together,” she said. “I am looking forward to listening to you and learning from you and how you did it.”

Jefferson County Superintendent Bondy Shay Gibson told DeVos efforts by everyone in the school system have been “unfreakingbelievable.”

“It’s that they care about each other,” Gibson said.

Back-to-school has been a nationwide challenge this year, with DeVos at the center of national debate over how best to do it. She has acknowledged there is no perfect way, but says there are a lot of good ways. 

Over her tenure, DeVos has been known for — and often criticized for — her support for charter schools and school voucher programs. She was in national news today for officially yielding on an effort to direct federal coronavirus funds to private schools.

None of that came up during her interactions with representatives of the Jefferson County school system or during a 5-minute interview with West Virginia reporters.

Instead, DeVos focused on how the unprecedented school year is going. She began by greeting eighth grade science students at Charles Town Middle School over a video teleconferencing system.

“I wish I could come and say hello to you in person and actually shake all your hands, but we’ll do that again some day,” DeVos told the students, emphasizing the need for adjustments such as the use of facial coverings in schools. “This is a great time to learn to be resilient and do the things you need to do with a view to the future.”

DeVos then met in person with almost 30 people from all aspects of the local school system. DeVos and everyone else wore facemasks the entire time, with Gibson’s mask urging “Be Kind.”

Clayton Burch

One of the participants was West Virginia schools Superintendent Clayton Burch, who said he was deeply worried when schools closed because of the pandemic on last March. He grew more confident when he saw the return-to-school plans submitted by counties like Jefferson.

“Our schools are so much more than a building they come to just for academics,” Burch said.

Principal Jennifer Moss of Wildwood Middle School acknowledged apprehension as the school year approached but said students, teachers and administrators were happy to see each other.

“We want noise in the hallway. We want to see the glow in your eyes,” she said.

J.P. Lynch, the band director at Jefferson High School, said the return has been rewarding.

“The kids love being back. I thought we would have to continually have to remind them about the mask. I just told them from the beginning, ‘You don’t wear the mask, we don’t get to see each other.’ It hasn’t been a problem,” he said.

Lynch said he has felt safe because of hard work and sometimes complicated precautions.

“I don’t even feel like I work for a school system any more. I feel like I work for NASA,” Lynch said.  “All of us in education have been really stressed. But if we don’t work the problem, kids don’t come back to school.”

A senior at Washington High School, Brogan Dozier, had worried about how the school year would unfold but became more confident after seeing the county plan for returning.

“I expected social distancing. I expected masks to be a mandate, and I’m lucky enough that they have been,” she said. “I feel safe in my school, and that’s saying a lot because my family took a lot of extra precautions when this covid pandemic broke out.”

Custodian Jimmy Padgett of Washington High School said teachers and students have made it easier to achieve heightened standards for cleanliness. Teachers, he said, are willing to sanitize desks or clean up when they have a spare moment.

“It give us more time to hit the door knobs and the touchpoints and the bathrooms more frequently,” he said. “Students walk up to custodial staff and say thank you. That means a lot to us.”

DeVos thanked school staff like Padgett.

“There is no way the schools could be operating again without the important work that you do,” she said.

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Field set for WVSSAC State H.S. Golf Tournament

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The first WVSSAC state championship of the 2020-2021 high school sports season is set for next week on the Jones Course at Oglebay Resort in Wheeling. 24 teams and several individuals have qualified through regional competitions earlier this week. The 36-hole event begins Tuesday and concludes on Wednesday.

Shady Spring’s Todd Duncan was low medalist in Class AA.

Two of the three individual champions return to defend their 2019 titles. Brooke’s Ryan Bilby is the defending Class AAA champion and Todd Duncan of Shady Spring won the Class AA title.

Brooke’s Ryan Bilby is hoping to defend his Class AAA state championship.

Only one of the three team champions is back in the field. St. Marys is seeking their second consecutive Class A championship.

Class AAA Teams:

  • Buckhannon-Upshur
  • Cabell Midland
  • George Washington
  • Jefferson
  • Parkersburg South
  • Washington
  • Wheeling Park
  • Woodrow Wilson

Class AA Teams:

  • Herbert Hoover
  • Keyser
  • North Marion
  • Point Pleasant
  • Roane County
  • Robert C. Byrd
  • Shady Spring
  • Winfield

Class A Teams:

  • Moorefield
  • Notre Dame
  • Pocahontas County
  • Sherman
  • St. Marys
  • Wahama
  • Webster County
  • Williamstown

St. Marys won the Class A championship.

Check out tee times and individual qualifiers here.

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Revenue collections surge to first quarter records; Justice administration says pandemic relief funding has played role, not sure how much

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state’s revenue collections exceeded estimates by more than $10 million in September and set records in doing so, according to the Justice administration.

The overall $423.6 million collected included nearly $194 million in Personal Income Taxes and $129.3 million Consume Sales Tax. State Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy said at a Thursday media briefing the three month, first quarter, total of those taxes was recording breaking.

Dave Hardy

“We collected nearly $1 billion (over three months) and we set records on both of those numbers,” Hardy said.

Those two taxes makes up approximately 75 percent of the state’s revenues. Personal Income Tax collected $614 million for the quarter and Consumer Sales Tax brought in $351 million.

Gov. Jim Justice was pleased with the numbers and said West Virginia continues to “surprise the world.”

The state is now $90 million ahead of estimates for the fiscal year. Justice said Thursday the state has an excess cash flow of nearly $298 million. The Justice administration reported a revenue surplus of $44 million in July fueled by Justice’s move to push back the due date for state taxes from April 15 to July 15 because of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, neither Justice nor Hardy will able to completely explain what impact the nearly $3 billion the state has received in federal funding linked to the pandemic has positively impacted revenue collections. Hardy said the $1.25 billion from the CARES Act and the nearly $1,75 billion in targeted (bucket) grants for various entities is difficult to quantify.

“That’s very complex and it would probably take decades to try and model out to the penny what affect that has on the collection numbers that we see here today,” Hardy said. “But remember the underlying premise–they are here because of economic damage to begin with.”

Justice said the next step the state needs to take is to cut taxes.

“Do you know what we need to do more than anything as we move forward with this state? We need to get on a glide path to eliminate our state income tax,” Justice said.

Chamber endorsement

The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce this week announced its endorsement of Justice in his reelection bid against Kanawha County Commissioner, Democratic nominee Ben Salango.

Steve Roberts

The Chamber backed Republican Bill Cole in the race against Justice four years ago when Justice was a registered Democrat. Chamber President Steve Roberts said Thursday on MetroNews “Talkline” Justice now has a record.

Steve Roberts, WV Chamber of Commerce President, speaks with @HoppyKercheval about the Chamber of Commerce’s endorsement of Governor Justice. WATCH:

— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) October 1, 2020

“We now have almost four years of experience with Jim Justice and frankly, nobody here has built the number of roads and nobody has managed health care (like him),” Roberts said.

The Salango campaign countered Thursday with its announcement that the Charleston Regional Chamber of Commerce has endorsed Salango.

“When the Charleston Chamber endorses a candidate, we believe that he or she will make a strong partner and advocate for policies that advance Kanawha County and West Virginia,” Chamber president/CEO Steve Rubin said in a release.

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Fall forest fire season arrives in W.Va.

CHARLSTON, W.Va. — The 2020 fall forest fire season has arrived in West Virginia. From now through the end of the year, all outdoor burning must be confined to the hours of 5 p.m. to 7 a.m. Jeremy Jones, Fire Staff Assistant for the West Virginia Division of Forestry said burning within those hours is critical at this time of year.

“It makes a difference because through the middle of the day the sun is up, the air dries out, the humidity drops, and it’s usually windy. Fires are more likely to escape during those daylight hours than they are in the evening when the humidity starts coming up and the dew falls,” he said.

Those who choose to burn also need to remember additional restrictions. A person must stay with a fire the entire time it is burning. You’re also required to clear away any flammable fuels in a 10 foot ring around the fire and the landscape should be down to barren soil. Jones said while not a requirement, having a water hose close buy is a strong move as well.

The potential for forest fire is always prevalent in West Virginia, but this year the risk seems to be smaller than some we’ve experienced.

“We’re a lot different than where we were this time a year ago. Thankfully we had a lot of rain in the summer months. Although we are starting to dry out a little, we’re nowhere near where we were a year ago,” he said.

According to Jones there are three key reasons for forest fires in West Virginia. The biggest cause is debris burning which will accidentally get out of hand through high winds or just carelessness by the property owner. Arson is second and the third is downed powerlines.

“On those windy days when trees are falling and causing power outages, if it’s dry enough, those downed power lines will also cause a forest fire,” Jones said.

Anyone cited for burning in violation of the restriction could face stiff penalties including the possibility of a $1,000 fine

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Anheuser-Busch makes a donation aimed at keeping election safe in W.Va.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. —  Anheuser-Busch is getting involved in West Virginia’s general election. The company, best known for its beer products, Thursday donated 43,000 ounces of hand sanitizer to the Mountain State to be placed in polling locations and areas where election workers will be busy in the upcoming vote.

“We really see this as a way we can step up and use our unique capabilities to help serve the community and our partners in times of need,” said Audrey Porter, Director of Corporate Communications for the company on MetroNews Talkline.

She was in Charleston as part of the company’s effort to deliver and distribute the material to all 50 states ahead of the November vote.

The hand sanitizer is produced at the company’s operations in New York and California.  Anheuser-Busch  shifted production back in April when the need grew and first responders found their materials in short supply.

“We actually gave a half-million eight-ounce bottles earlier this year that went to community organizations, emergency management agencies, food banks, health care systems, and a lot of those front line responders as well,” Porter explained.

The hand sanitizer delivered to West Virginia this week is packaged in eight ounce bottles and the large gallon sized bottles with the large pump on top. Those are to be placed in precincts around the state for use by voters and election workers.

“Making sure voters and election officials feel safe when they vote this fall. We at Anheuser-Busch along with lots of other folks think it’s part of the election process for people to feel safe to come out and vote,” she said.

The donation is part of a broader program in collaboration with the National Association of State Election Directors (NASED), the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), where the brewer is donating more than eight million ounces of hand sanitizer to election offices across the country.

This week, the brewer teamed up with local wholesaler partner, Spriggs Distributing Company in South Charleston, W.Va.  and utilized their collective logistics expertise to deliver the sanitizer locally to support polling locations and election offices.

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West Virginians have another year to get a REAL ID

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Oct. 1 was to be the deadline for residents across the U.S. to get a federal identification, called REAL ID, but the pandemic has pushed back the deadline a year to Oct. 1, 2021.

Natalie Holcomb

The West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles has been offering REAL IDs to state residents for more than a half dozen years and many residents have taken advantage of the opportunity, according to DMV Public Information Specialist Natalie Holcomb.

“We have over 40% of our driver’s licenses, ID cards, are for federal and are REAL ID compliant,” Holcomb told MetroNews.

According to the federal office of Homeland Security, “The REAL ID Act, passed by Congress in 2005, enacted the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation that the Federal Government “set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses.” The Act established minimum security standards for license issuance and production and prohibits Federal agencies from accepting for certain purposes driver’s licenses and identification cards from states not meeting the Act’s minimum standards.”

Holcomb said the REAL ID will most frequently be needed for anyone planning to fly. Holcomb said because of the pandemic those without REAL ID have another year to get one but it’s probably a good idea not to be put it off. The federal Transportation Security Administration does accept other forms of ID for air travel including passports.

REAL ID compliance is signified with a gold star in the top right corner of a West Virginia driver’s license.

Those not compliant are labeled “Not For Federal Identification” and have no gold stars.

There is also a $10 REAL ID surcharge on top of standard license fees.

DMV Regional Offices Open

After being closed for several weeks at the beginning of the pandemic, DMV regional offices across West Virginia have reopened and are offering all services.

“Every regional office is open for business. We do encourage you to make an appointment. We obviously encourage you to do you business online because that’s more convenience for you as a customer,” Holcomb said.

The DMV is observing social distancing guidelines at the regional offices.

“We do have to limit the numbers of people inside the office for social distancing purposes,” Holcomb said. “That’s why the encouragement on my part to go online if you can and go to one of those (DMV) kiosks,” Holcomb said.

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