WV State Auditor plans to launch program to track federal infrastructure dollars

WBOY.com 11-28-2021 by Christian Meffert

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — West Virginia State Auditor JB McCuskey made plans to implement a new tracking system for the money related to the $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).

The IIJA will grant West Virginia “roughly $6 billion over the next five years” to aid the state’s push for infrastructure improvements like roads, bridges, and broadband.

“We are implementing a real-time, first-class accounting system that gives the decision makers the ability to see what’s going on but also puts it forward facing so that the voters of West Virginia and the taxpayers of West Virginia can see what we’re doing, see where the money’s going,” State Auditor McCuskey said. “We are the state’s bookkeeper, and part of being the bookkeeper is not just showing people what happened at the end of the year, part of it is showing people what is happening in real-time. Because accountability is truly the thing that is probably lacking the most in government and the thing that we are the most committed to giving taxpayers is the ability to hold me and every other elected official accountable for how we spend your money.”

The Auditor’s office plans to launch a platform to track American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding and hope to expand this platform for IIJA funding.

“From our office’s standpoint, what we want to ensure, is that this money actually makes it into the ground,” McCuskey said. “We want the public and all of our elected officials to see in real time how this money is being spent, where it’s going, so that they can monitor, pivot, and change course if need be to make sure that we are doing the things that the bill promised, i.e., broadband, water/sewer, roads, daycare, you name it, these things needs to actually be accomplished and if the are we believe there’s a great opportunity for West Virginia and they are not, people who are messing it up need to be held accountable.”

Money from ARP can be tracked here.

Series of virtual town halls on WV Substance Use Response Plan reaches halfway point

Metro News 11-23-2021 by Carrie Hodousek

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State health officials passed the halfway mark on a series of virtual town halls for the 2022 West Virginia Substance Use Response Plan.

There are a total of eight public hearings. On Tuesday, the fourth hearing, the public was given an opportunity to comment on a portion of the plan that focuses on treatment, recovery and research.

“We want to make sure that we’ve designed this plan in a way that makes an impact on the ground,” said Dr. Matthew Christiansen, director of the state Department of Health and Human Resources’ Office of Drug Control Policy.

The hearing came less than a week after the CDC released new data showing West Virginia ranked second highest in the nation for drug overdose deaths from April 2020 to April 2021. Those deaths increased by 62 percent, more than double the national average in that time frame. Annual overdose deaths topped 100,000 for the first time nationwide.

The purpose of the public hearings is to provide an overview of progress over the last two years and to gain feedback to improve the plan for next year.

Christopher Lovins, of Huntington, expressed his concern for drug recovery centers’ selection of patients.

“We have a big issue with some of the facilities that will take people on suboxone, but not take people on methadone. Maybe some funding for some methadone recovery centers?” he said during break-out groups Tuesday.

State Opioid Response Director Elizabeth Coffey lead the group and said the plan should address worker salaries.

“For example, social work and counseling. They’ll get their education here, but they’ll leave the state and go to other states because the salaries are so much higher in Ohio, Pennsylvania and surrounding states regarding those fields,” she said.

Melinda Price, is a peer recovery support specialist at New River Community and Technical College. She said she’s noticed some challenges when working with students at the college.

“They’re not able to go into the social work programs and stuff because of the barriers of their past with felonies and not being able to get into their internships. I think that holds them back,” Price said.

The three-year plan was established by the governor in response to the opioid crisis. It includes eight parts: prevention; community engagement and supports; health systems; treatment, recovery and research; court systems and justice-involved populations; law enforcement; public education; and recovery community.

Additional virtual public meetings will be held from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Nov. 30, Dec. 7, 9 and 14.

A summary of the plan is available prior to the meetings. Those who are unable to attend can download the plan and provide online feedback. Registration is available HERE.

The deadline to provide feedback is Dec. 16.

Charleston receives federal planning grant for ‘Capital Connector’ project

Metro News 11-22-2021 by Jake Flatley

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Major improvements are being planned to two of the most heavily trafficked roads in Charleston thanks to a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin stood beside U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) Monday morning at Haddad Riverfront Park to announce the city being awarded a $1.75 million RAISE (Rebuilding America’s Infrastructure for Sustainability and Equity) Grant for the planning of the infrastructure project.

According to the city, the grant will be used for the Charleston Capital Connector Project to transform a 3.5-mile stretch Kanawha Boulevard corridor along the riverfront, and better connect Greenbrier Street, to the community.

The Capital Connector Project would enhance safety, pedestrian and bicyclist accessibility, transit access, transportation efficiency and streetscaping along Kanawha Boulevard from Magic Island to the 35th Street Bridge, the city stated. Goodwin said the sidewalks will be enhanced and extended on the boulevard stretch and will include trees lining the center of the roadway.

The project also includes improved walkability and bike-ability for the Southside Bridge and 35th Street Bridge, a release said.

“This is an absolutely monumental project, a transformative project for Charleston and the Kanawha Boulevard area,” Goodwin told MetroNews.

It would also upgrade Greenbrier Street from Kanawha Boulevard to Washington Street. Greenbrier Street has access to Yeager Airport and the state Capitol, something Goodwin said is important to work on for many reasons.

“We have so many visitors, so many travelers coming in to see the state Capitol and Capitol grounds. It’s going to make it a much safer venue for folks who are visiting and for folks who are working, as well,” the mayor said.

Charleston received strong support for the RAISE Grant application from Manchin and Capito, along with Governor Jim Justice and the state DOT. In July 2021, she wrote a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg advocating for the city’s application for this particular grant funding, her office said.

“Completing the Charleston Capital Connector project is critical to the upgrade and redesign of Kanawha Boulevard, and it’s critical to joining the West Side, downtown, and East End together. But, before we get to that point, there are planning, designing, engineering, and permitting needs that have to be met first. That’s exactly what this $1.75 million grant is for,” Senator Capito said in a release.

“Completing this project means we are keeping pedestrians safer, increasing accessibility for bikers, improving streetscapes, and cutting down on traffic congestion. I was proud to play a role in making today possible, and I’m even more excited to see this project get started right here in our capital city.”

Manchin said of the announcement, “Investing in infrastructure projects across West Virginia will have a monumental impact on our communities and local economies. For months, I have been advocating for the Charleston Capital Connector Project, which will upgrade and improve the Kanawha Boulevard corridor and Greenbrier Street gateway.

“In October, I called Department of Transportation Secretary Buttigieg and urged him to make this project a reality, and I’m pleased DOT heeded my request to improve our capital city. As we work to put the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill into action, I will continue to advocate for infrastructure projects across the Mountain State.”

Goodwin said she is confident her administration will be able to make use of new resources in the newly passed, U.S. Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act, to secure the funding needed to construct and put the project plans and specs into action. She estimated totals to construct and build the project would be close to $15 million.

“It should be easy to get from the West Side to the East End, to Kanawha City, to South Hills, and to North Charleston and right now it’s not. But this Charleston Capital Connector Project will make that happen,” Goodwin said.

Goodwin said Secretary Buttigieg called her in recent weeks to congratulate Charleston on receiving the grant.

Harrison Planning Department official: Progress being made on 'nuisance properties'

The Exponent Telegram 10-10-2021 by JoAnn Snoderly SENIOR STAFF WRITER

The Harrison County Commission has demolished seven abandoned and dilapidated houses, and property owners have demolished another 37, since the county’s renewed focus on remediation of “public nuisance” properties, according to the county’s director of planning.

The focus on properties deemed to be in violation of the county’s public nuisance ordinance began in approximately 2018, according to Planning Director Charlotte Shaffer.

Demolitions of the dilapidated homes have cost the county about $81,657, she said.

According to Shaffer, another 351 properties reported to the County Commission for alleged violations, including overgrown vegetation, garbage and abandoned vehicles, have been “cleaned up” since that time.

The program is handled by the Planning Department.

The work can be challenging, Shaffer said.

Sometimes, the property owner lives out-of-state and can be difficult to find. Or, the property owner may have a disability, lack people willing or able to help with cleanup or lack the income necessary to rectify the situation.

Owners also may have emotional attachments to the properties.

Thus far, only two cases have gone all the way to court, although five cases are now pending in the Prosecutor’s Office and will be filed in court in the near future, Shaffer said.

“Sometimes we will try to go into an agreement with them, instead of going to court and putting that court cost on them, because they’re already going to have a lien on the property for the amount of that structure being torn down, but they’re also going to have to pay for the court costs,” she said.

In those cases, the county might find bids and use the cheapest bid to demolish a building, and the owner would sign an agreement to place a lien on the property to cover the demolition costs, Shaffer said.

For property cleanups, county officials provide the owners with suggestions, including information on free dump days held from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the second Saturday of each month at the Waste Management Meadowfill Landfill in Bridgeport. The Planning Department can also provide a list of businesses offering necessary services, Shaffer said.

County Commission President Susan Thomas said cleanup of nuisance properties is a top priority for her personally as a commissioner.

Thomas said she receives complaints from all over the county.

“I have driven around and seen some of them,” she said. “That’s part of the reason we hired two people (in the Planning Department), I feel. Maybe we didn’t have enough. We do have a lot of dilapidated houses.”

Thomas said the commission and the Harrison Solid Waste Authority are still working to get a litter control officer working in the county.

The officer would receive and investigate open dumping and littering complaints in the unincorporated areas of the county, provide enforcement measures to facilitate cleanup of those sites, monitor and respond to littering, work with the county’s Community Corrections Day Report Center to develop and implement a program for roadside litter and dump cleanup, and provide educational talks for schools and civic organizations. The officer would also have ticketing authority.

Thomas said she would also like to see the development of a priority property list.

“I want to get some of this done. This is one of the reasons I ran,” she said.

City of Fairmont, West Virginia, accepting proposals for 67-acre tract on old Sharon Steel site

The Fairmont News 10-3-2021 by John Mark Shaver FAIRMONT NEWS EDITOR

FAIRMONT, W.Va. (WV News) — After decades of planning, testing and remediating land, the city of Fairmont has sent out a request for proposals for a 67-acre tract of property formerly known as the Fairmont Coke Works and Sharon Steel site in hopes of spurring new development.

While the land is mostly now an empty field, it once housed important staples of the Fairmont economy. Shae Strait, the city’s director of planning, believes it soon can do that again.

“The ideal vision for this property will be something that hopefully bolsters the neighborhood already around it — the Norwood neighborhood and around Suncrest and Morgantown Avenue,” Strait said. “We also want something that creates jobs, increases our economic output here in Fairmont and even complements some of our community needs, such as maybe recreational or infrastructure assets. A mix of uses would be ideal. …

“This site has frontage on the newer Lafayette Street that’s been built out and on Suncrest Boulevard. It touches both properties, so we could have people come in and build storefronts on Suncrest.”

“Then, we can offer manufactures or other types of industrial uses on the western part of the site further away from the homes and the neighborhood.”

City of Fairmont Program Manager for Economic Development Alex Petry said 67 acres is a lot of land, and the city is interested in the different ideas that businesses, contractors and others will have for the space, large or small.

“We are not necessarily asking for one group or company to come in and take the whole 67 acres,” Petry said. “We are open to accepting multiple proposals to fill out the entire acreage. … We could get a proposal that includes a plaza like something you’d see at the Middletown Commons. We also expect recreation proposals to come in. We expect large manufacturing proposals. I think we’re going to get a wide variety.”

Petry and Strait said efforts to rebuild this land have been long and hard, predating either of their employment at the city. However, Strait said this is because of the environmental impact left on the land by the coke works and steel manufacturing, adding that while 67 acres is now usable, there’s still another chunk of land that needs further rehabilitation.

“This has been a difficult project primarily because it’s the first superfund site that was declared in Marion County,” Strait said. “A superfund is a type of Brownfield, and it’s supposed to be like the worst of the worst case scenario where the federal government steps in and allocates a significant amount of resources through the Environmental Protection Agency to help correct the environmental conditions on the property to help make it usable and viable again. …

“That is never an easy task to handle, so the federal government, along with the state’s DEP and the city, have been working in conjunction for years with the private property owner in order to get it cleaned up. It’s been a long time coming.”

However, because remediation is still in the works for other parts of the land, Strait said another 20 to 40 acres could open up within the next few years for even more development.

Strait said he’s excited about the potential proposals set to come in, adding that if all goes well, development can begin by the end of 2022.

“If folks propose good projects to us, and we and the partners find them viable and we award them to be able to purchase the land and develop it, we could see construction on all 67 acres, feasibly, next year if our private investors are ready for that,” Strait said. “We’re ready to see it move forward.”

More information on the request for proposals can be found at www.fairmontwv.gov/bids.aspx.

Region VI Planning and Development Council needs input from residents

Times West Virginian 10-1-2021 By David Kirk | Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Residents of six West Virginia counties are being asked for input about the future of their economy, including Marion County.

The Region VI Planning and Development Council is planning to update its comprehensive economic development strategy, to help formulate a new plan, the council is looking to the public for input.

The development strategy is what guides the council toward specific projects and plans, but it also helps the council secure its federal funding.

“It’s been a few years since [the plan] has been updated so that’s what we’re in the process of doing,” said Sheena Hunt, executive director of the Region VI Council. “The plan will basically identify economic development opportunities and where we have strengths and weaknesses.”

Region VI in West Virginia includes Marion, Monongalia, Doddridge, Harrison, Preston and Taylor counties. A panel of “regional leaders” from each of the counties has been selected to be part of a strategy committee.

But first on the committee’s agenda is to update the comprehensive economic development strategy, and to do that, officials are looking for input from the public.

Residents of the six-county region are invited to fill out the web-based survey, which asks broad questions such as, “What do you like about your community?”

The survey also asks specific questions like, “What is the region’s greatest weaknesses?” or “Would you spend an extra dollar every week on groceries, if it meant resolving your biggest community issues?”

Though the core of the council’s original strategy will remain the same, the post-COVID economic landscape will prove different than before. A regional need that has come up again and again since the pandemic shutdown is the lack of reliable broadband.

“We’re working on some broadband strategies and we’re trying to see where broadband needs to be in our county region,” Hunt said. “We’re also trying to establish the regional broadband authority, but that is a ways away.”

In the past, the Planning and Development Council has mainly focused on water and sewer infrastructure projects, but are also involved in tourism, recreation and other development projects.

Overall, the new strategy will designate where federal dollars are spent in Marion County and is offering the public a chance to give input about how those dollars are spent.

“This [strategy] is critically important to all public and private stakeholders within our region,” said Tim Oxley, Fairmont State University professor and member of the strategy committee. “In addition it will maintain and grow the region’s economy.”

Fill out the survey by going online to www.surveymonkey.com/r/northcentralwv and answer the questions