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Trump ups flood recovery funds

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Donald Trump  signed an order Friday increasing the federal reimbursement for the damage that occurred in the June 2016 flood from 75 percent to 90 percent.

The damage recently topped the threshold for the additional 25 percent when FEMA awarded funds for the Nicholas County school replacement projects.

U.S. Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito and Gov. Jim Justice each asked Trump to amend the original June 25, 2016 disaster declaration.

The additional funds will come in the area of public assistance, what the state, county and municipalities  incurred in flood costs.

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RCB wins 18th in a row, defeating Bridgeport 53-45

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — Khori Miles scored 18 points to lead Robert C. Byrd to their 18th consecutive win, 53-45 over Bridgeport. RCB is tied with Pendleton County for the state’s longest winning streak in boys basketball.

In a tightly contested matchup, RCB slowly pulled away in the fourth quarter to sweep the regular season series from their county rivals. The Flying Eagles led 35-31 after three quarters and held the Indians to just one field goal in the first six minutes of the fourth quarter.

“Defensively, I thought we turned it up, especially late,” said Robert C. Byrd head coach Bill Bennett. “That’s always been the key for us. We told our guys if we force turnovers, and we get more shots than they do, then we have a chance to win the game.”

Since losing their first two games of the season to Wheeling Central Catholic and Shady Spring, the Flying Eagles (18-2) have gone undefeated. “The record is not really important to us,” Miles said. “We are just focused on the next game.”

The game was tied at 12 after the first quarter and RCB built a narrow two-point halftime lead at 21-19. A driving layup by Nick Stalnaker allowed the Indians to draw even in the opening minute of the third quarter. However, a putback by Miles on the next possession gave the Flying Eagles a lead they would not relinquish.

Gavin Kennedy scored 11 points for the Flying Eagles. Stalnaker led all scorers with 20 points. Jack Bifano added 13 points for the Indians (15-5).

The win secures the top seed in the upcoming sectional tournament for the Flying Eagles. “It is great to win the game. I am not going to lie,” Bennett said. “It is tough when one of your best friends is sitting on the other bench (BHS head coach Dave Marshall). That is what we have been pushing for all season. You are playing for the number one seed so that you get to play on your home court.”

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Adler leads GW boys to ninth championship in 12 years

Greg Carey/WVMetroNews.com

Members of George Washington’s boys swim team pose with their state championship trophy.

 

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — George Washington boys swim coach Josh Hemsworth didn’t consider his team to be the favorite entering the state swim meet at Mylan Park Aquatic Center.

With a memorable showing from junior Ian Adler and some good fortune, the Patriots managed to claim their ninth state championship in program history and third in the last four seasons.

George Washington finished with 180 points to edge Bridgeport (172), which couldn’t quite overcome its 200-yard medley relay team being disqualified for an early exchange on the fourth leg.

“Shocking,” Hemsworth said moments after his team wrapped up the win. “We knew the boys had a fighting chance. They got blessed with a disqualification right off the bat and Bridgeport was who we expected to win it. That helped us right way to put the mindset for the boys to go ahead and go at it.”

The Indians had the top qualifying time in the 200 medley relay and were favorites to claim first in the event.

Adler’s two first-place finishes were instrumental for GW, which has won nine of the last 12 boys titles.

The junior won the 200 freestyle (1:46.18) and edged the Indians’ Luke Pinti in the 100 breaststroke (59.95-1:00.57).

“I performed as well as I possibly could and I’m proud of the performance in the individual events,” Adler said.

While those were GW’s two first-place finishes, the Patriots benefited greatly from their relay teams taking second in the 200 medley and 400 freestyle. Grant Ridenour, who had a second-place individual finish in the 200 IM at 2:05.90, was a part of both relay teams along with Adler. They were joined on the 200 medley team by Landon Bostic and Lafe Potters, while Wesley St. Jean and Zachary Groe were made up the other half of the 400 freestyle.

”Ian Adler was our team leader on the boys side and the boys looked up to him,” Hemsworth said.

Groe also took third in the 100 backstroke at 56.41.

Bridgeport got two first-place finishes from sophomore Bruce Keener, who won both the 200 IM (1:54.43) and 100 backstroke (50.93).

The Indians’ 400 freestyle team also finished first as Mason Titchenal, Phillip Malenich and Marcel Rodriguez joined forces with Keener to finish in 3:21.45.

“It comes with a little bit of a grain of salt in that Bridgeport got disqualified in that relay, but I’m super proud of the team that we were able to pull through and win the whole thing,” Adler said.

Like Adler and Keener, Huntington’s Henry Sheils won two events individually. Sheils, a sophomore, was tops in the 50 freestyle (22.15) and 100 butterfly (53.18).

Jefferson junior Chris Turner took the 100 freestyle at 49.24, while Hurricane freshman Bradley Boyd won the 500 freestyle at 4:56.99.

Hurricane also won the 200 medley at 1:40.49 and 200 freestyle at 1:31.14. Both of those teams featured JR Newman, Bradley Boyd, Reid Painter and Nathan Neville. 

Hurricane (120), Wheeling Park (101), and Huntington (100) rounded out the top five in team finish. 

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Union, AHF struggling to reach contract agreement

BEVERLY, W.Va. — Union members are blaming the management of AHF Products for the inability to reach a contract agreement, increasing the chance of a strike at the Randolph County facility.

Teamsters Local Union No. 175 on Friday criticized the company’s decision to increase health care costs by up to 92% over a three-year contract while, according to the union, amid decreasing health insurance costs for the company.

The union offered to provide the same benefits at no additional cost to the employees while also opening a clinic in Elkins at a lower cost.

The union and AHF Products have been negotiating for the past three weeks. The union said in a statement company officials refused to meet in December or January despite the contract being set to expire Saturday.

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Manchin explains impeachment votes, looks ahead at Charleston town hall

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Following the impeachment trial, President Donald Trump tweeted he was “very surprised and disappointed” by U.S Sen. Joe Manchin’s conviction votes. He also called Manchin “a puppet” for Congress’ Democratic leaders.

“They are really mad at Senator Joe Munchkin in West Virginia,” Trump later said. “He couldn’t understand the Transcripts. (Utah Sen. Mitt) Romney could, but didn’t want to!”

Manchin, D-W.Va., had an opportunity to explain his vote on Friday during a town hall at the University of Charleston. When the senator brought up the impeachment trial, most of the 150 attendees applauded in support of the senator’s decision.

“This is the most difficult decision I have had to make,” Manchin said. “I’ve told you before that if I can’t explain it, I don’t vote for it. I don’t look at whether its a Democrat issue or a Republican issue.”

The Senate acquitted Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The two articles of impeachment stemmed from a phone call last summer involving Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in which Trump requested an investigation in former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

The Trump administration later withheld $391 million in military assistance to Ukraine.

Manchin defended his votes, saying he made the decision based on evidence put forward by managers from the House of Representatives. Manchin also supported allowing additional witnesses and documents during the Senate trial, which the full chamber opposed.

“I didn’t want to make that vote,” he told MetroNews regarding the impeachment trial. “When it got to me, I made the vote based on facts and based on the evidence. It should never have gotten to that.”

Manchin is Trump’s leading ally among Democrats; FiveThirtyEight notes Manchin has voted 52.5% in line with the Trump agenda, the highest among active Democratic senators.

Yet Manchin has not been afraid to vote against the president’s goals. West Virginia’s senior senator opposed the attempts to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama’s health care law as well as the tax law during Trump’s first year in office.

“We can do something. Work with me, Mr. President. I’ll be an honest broker,” Manchin told the audience. “I’ll tell you what I agree with and don’t agree with. We’ll find a balance.”

Manchin did mention his support for some of Trump’s actions, including his trade policy with China. He did, however, criticize the president’s relationship with Russia, noting the country’s tampering in the 2016 election and concerns of interference in this year’s election cycle.

“I cannot figure that one out,” he said.

“There is not one of us on the Intelligence Committee or in the Senate that does not know — with the 17 intelligence agencies we have — that Russia has been extremely involved and they have not backed off.”

Manchin touched on multiple issues during the town hall, including the legal challenge to “Obamacare.” West Virginia is part of a coalition of states looking to overturn the statute, citing the zeroing out of the individual mandate as essential to the law.

Manchin has stressed concerns about West Virginians who would be at risk of losing their insurance coverage, including 800,000 people with a pre-existing condition and 159,000 residents with coverage through Medicaid expansion.

“We’re on the verge of losing health care as we know if for people who never had health care before,” Manchin said. “They’ll be at the mercy of large insurance companies whether you can afford it or even get it. We can’t do that. We can fix what we have.”

The U.S. Supreme Court previously rejected an opportunity to take up the matter before its term ends in June. Justices on Friday discussed considering the lawsuit before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals makes a final verdict.

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Freshman McGlothen helps GW girls swim team garner seventh state title

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Of the eight individual events in the girls state swim meet, six were won by freshmen.

Two of the victories claimed by a freshman came from George Washington’s Madilyn McGlothen, who gave the Patriots a big lift in a dominant performance that allowed them to claim their seventh state championship and first since 2016 at Mylan Park Aquatic Center.

“We knew the girls were going to be very, very strong,” GW head coach Josh Hemsworth said. “The goal was to get somebody in the top twelve of every event that we could. That’s what we needed, they did that and they were able to pull it out.”

McGlothen set a new state record in the 500-yard freestyle at 5:01.40, narrowly eclipsing the old mark of 5:01.46. She also won the 200-yard IM (2:06.64) to give the Patriots their two first-place finishes in a 206-point showing that was plenty good enough to come out on top.

“Madi McGlothen won both her events and helped with the relays,” Hemsworth said. “She’s just a freshman and she helped a lot with the points. We have a bunch of young girls and the good news is they’re here another couple years.”

Parkersburg was runner-up with 166 points, while Wheeling Park (134), Buckhannon-Upshur (127) and Morgantown (113) rounded out the top five.

GW got a pair of second-place efforts from its 200-yard medley and 400-yard freestyle relay teams. The 200 medley quartet of McGlothen, Mackenzie Layne, Emma Martin and Ashlee Wilcher finished in 1:51.20, just behind Parkersburg’s record-setting group of Mary Michael Strobl, Jaden Welsh, Grace Cox and Emma Padden (1:48.84).

Wilcher, Martin, McGlothen and Kara Edstrom completed the 400 freestyle in 3:42.34 to finish behind the aforementioned group from PHS, which took first in 3:40.29.

To add to GW’s excitement, the Patriots’ boys team also won a state championship Friday.

“It’s an amazing opportunity that not a lot of kids get to experience,” Layne said. “Our team is so close, so bonded and we worked through it. It’s just a fun time and really it’s about having fun. It’s so rare with the boys and girls both winning. That’s just incredible. Not a lot of people can say that they’ve been a part of that.”

Other events won by freshmen included: Buckhannon-Upshur’s Cadence Vincent setting a new state record in the 50 freestyle (23.69); Morgantown’s Caroline Riggs in the 200 freestyle (1:53.89); Winfield’s Madeline Foster in the 100 butterfly (56.82) and John Marshall’s Victoria Kidney in the 100 backstroke (57.60). 

Like GW, Wheeling Park had two individual wins as juniors Abby Turner and Jenna Bopp took first in the 100 freestyle and 100 breaststroke, respectively. Bopp’s finish time of 1:04.36 was good for a new state record, while Turner narrowly topped Vincent for her win, 51.65 to 51.71.

Vincent teamed with McKenzie Reynolds, Cameron Zuliani and Alayna Whitehair to give B-U a relay win in the 200 freestyle with a finish time of 1:42.39.

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Burch named new state school chief

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Board of Education promoted Associate State School Superintendent Clayton Burch to the top job in an emergency meeting Friday afternoon in Charleston.

The board called the meeting after receiving a letter from Dr. Steve Paine who decided to move up his previously announced June 30 retirement to Friday.

File

Clayton Burch

Paine’s letter, read by Board President Dave Perry, explained how Paine’s wife needed his full attention. She is suffering from chronic pain. The board accepted the retirement on a unanimous vote and then emerged from a short executive session to appoint Burch to the position. Burch was then sworn-in as superintendent. The board set his salary at $233,000. Paine was paid $230,000.

The state superintendent of schools is a constitutional office and state code requires it to be filled. There is no interim or acting superintendent tag on Burch but the board did say it planned to continue with its national search for a permanent superintendent. Burch can apply for the position.

Burch, who has been with the Department of Education for 13 years, credited Paine for leaving the department in a strong position.

“I appreciate the board and the confidence they have,” Burch said. “I think we do have a strong foundation. I do believe Dr. Paine in his second go around here has put us in a very good place.”

File

State BOE President Dave Perry

Perry said Burch fully understood the mission of the school board and would continue the momentum. Longtime board member Tom Campbell agreed.

“I think we’re building on a strong foundation, we’re going to keep moving forward,” Campbell predicted. “We appreciate Dr. Paine’s efforts and we appreciate Mr. Burch’s going forward.”

Board member Debra Sullivan said continuity is important.

“I know he’s been very involved in all of the initiatives that are going on and the staff is used to working with you, so that should help to bring solidity and forward movement,” Sullivan said.

Burch was borrowed by the Justice administration over the last few years to fill some other positions. He spent some time as Secretary of Education and the Arts and as Secretary of Commerce before returning to the Department of Education.

Office of the Governor

Gov. Jim Justice

In a statement released Friday evening, Gov. Jim Justice said Burch is “stuck on ‘on’ all the time.”

“I congratulate Clayton for being named to this important role leading our Department of Education. He has been a true friend of mine and someone who has done so much for the State of West Virginia,” Justice said. “Clayton has already served in two different roles as a member of my cabinet, including as Acting Secretary for the Department of Education and the Arts and as the Interim Secretary of Commerce. He has also been instrumental in helping get my Jobs & Hope West Virginia program off the ground. And, now, I’m excited to see him take on this new role.”

The posting for the job of superintendent happened Friday as part of the board’s previously approved search timeline. The application deadline is March 13. The school board plans to review applications April 8 and conduct interviews April 23-24. It previously set May 13 as the day to name the new superintendent.

Perry told MetroNews the job was advertised in at least two national publications and in media outlets across the state. He predicted the search would cost about $10,000. He said going with a search firm would have cost the state approximately $50,000.

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Proposed referendum is defeated as Tourism Development Districts move toward passage

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A delegate who represents an area where a “Tourism Development District” could be established proposed a local referendum for such decisions.

But the amendment proposed by Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, was defeated 12-80.

John Doyle

“If we are going to usurp the authority of the town government, better we give it to the citizens of the town than to the governor of the state,” Doyle said.

The Tourism Development Districts bill is likely to affect Hill Top House, a long-discussed hotel renovation project in Harpers Ferry.

The act would enable the state Development Office to spearhead a project under certain conditions. The Department of Transportation is required to provide support, including acquiring and developing streets and roads.

The bill would apply to Class IV municipalities of fewer than 2,000 residents. And it would apply to projects with investments of more than $25 million, in historic districts and qualifying for state tourism tax credits, which have their own requirements.

“I personally think this is an awful bill,” Doyle said. “It takes a complicated situation and comes up with a situation that is both heavy-handed and simplistic.”

Separately, in Harpers Ferry on Thursday night, town council voted to pursue both binding arbitration with the Hill Top House developer and legal action concerning the legality and constitutionality of the bill flowing through the Legislature.

The bill is lined up for passage in the House of Delegates on Monday, and it has passed the state Senate already.

The project most immediately affected would be Hill Top House, a historic property that was purchased by developers including Karen and Fred Schaufeld in 2007

The hangups on the project have been over how Hill Top House would interweave with the town’s zoning and the residential neighborhood where it is situated. For example, Hill Top House developers have wanted to buy and alter some public streets running through the hotel property.

Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, on Friday said there are some instances where the economic effects extend well beyond the municipal borders.

House Finance Chairman Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, made reference to how long the hotel renovation has been debated.

“I’m going to oppose the gentleman’s amendment,” he said. “Harpers Ferry — they’ve been having a referendum for the past 13 years.”

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After long debate, House overwhelmingly approves investment fund

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — After about two hours of explanations, questions and amendments, the House of Delegates overwhelmingly passed a bill that could create a sovereign investment fund for West Virginia.

House Bill 4001, which creates a “West Virginia Impact Fund,” passed 94-4. It now goes to the state Senate.

The bill has been a priority for House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, who came down from the dais to take questions about it.

“What we are talking about is a vehicle to facilitate the flow of non-tax dollars for investment here in West Virginia,” said Hanshaw, R-Clay.

Hanshaw closing remarks on #WV investment fund https://t.co/AVtSMdc0se

— Brad McElhinny (@BradMcElhinny) February 21, 2020

The bill would establish a Mountaineer Impact Fund so West Virginia could serve as an official partner in investment deals.

As envisioned, the finances would come from private investors or other sovereign investment funds with minimal West Virginia public dollars — if any — being involved.

Major investors might include big corporations, combinations of private investors or the sovereign wealth funds of other countries.

West Virginia could be the controlling partner, essentially the sponsor of the projects. In other words, West Virginia would be endorsing the investment with the state’s name.

Guiding those decisions would be a board led by an executive director who would need to be hired. An investment committee including the governor and five appointees confirmed by the Senate would also be established. And the state Commerce Secretary would also be on board.

One issue the House of Delegates grappled with is whether that is the optimal makeup of the committee. Some delegates said that provides too much power to the governor and appointees. They wanted an investment board dominated by members of the private sector, but their proposal was voted down.

One problem the bill is aimed at solving is the effect of the federal Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States. CFIUS can intervene in foreign investment deals if it believes they affect national security.

Members include the secretaries of Justice, Homeland Security, Commerce, Defense, State, and Energy, along with the U.S. Trade Representative and the head of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy.

As China has risen as a “strategic competitor,” the concern is that planned investments could be unraveled. 

Hanshaw said that can cause a chilling effect on investment, one that he hopes to resolve through West Virginia’s stamp of approval.

Such an investor, he said, “faces the possibility of having that investment, once made, yanked back within two years of having been made.”

West Virginia’s seal of approval as a top line investor could reassure nervous investors, state delegates have suggested.

“We can bring the free market back to the United States” by countering the possible chilling effects of CFIUS, said Delegate Daniel Linville, R-Cabell.

Delegate Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall, said, “I’m really intrigued by this impact fund. I think it’s something that could be very beneficial.”

Delegate Tony Paynter, R-Wyoming, said the government’s involvement in the fund loses his trust.

“I don’t trust government a bit,” he said. “Even though they’re not putting money into this, they still have a hand in where it goes.”

Hanshaw, in his closing remarks, said it’s possible the fund won’t wind up doing anything. But he also said it could lure the kind of investment that would excite West Virginia economically.

“We have a chance here to do something that we’ve not done before,” Hanshaw said.

“The very worst thing that can happen if we pass this bill is that just nothing happens. We aren’t appropriating money into it. We aren’t taking money away from other programs. We’re simply using resources that are already in the Department of Commerce in a way that allows us to put in place a vehicle that allows us to do something historic.”

But, he said, “What if something does happen?”

He referred to possible investments by modern companies like Virgin Hyperloop One or Uber.

“Vote green.”

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WVU Medicine ready to ‘fill-in the gaps’ with pending changes at Fairmont hospital

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Top state, local and healthcare officials are hoping to prevent the complete closure of the Fairmont Regional Medical Center, or at least find ways to fill the gaps.

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Albert Wright

WVU Medicine President and CEO Dr. Albert Wright said Friday the announcement wasn’t much of a surprise to those in the industry.

“When we got the news this week it wasn’t a surprise to us, we knew over the last 60 to 90 days Fairmont was trending in this direction,” Wright said during an appearance on MetroNews “Talkline.” “So, we started putting together our plans of what the community needs and what we can do to help. I do suspect there are some significant things we can do to help.”

Those plans are being developed and could change as the situation unfolds, Wright said.

“Long term we’re going to have to figure out a solution for, at the very least emergency room services to that population because it’s a ways to go to Bridgeport or Morgantown,” Wright said. “We have the same psychiatric patient issues that we had up in Wheeling, so we have some short term plans on that.”

Albert Wright, CEO of WVU Hospitals and WVU Health System, talks with @HoppyKercheval about what WVU may do in response to the pending shutdown of Fairmont Regional Medical Center. WATCH: https://t.co/wkudfIRZCB pic.twitter.com/JnxKS6BMtb

— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) February 21, 2020

Wright said in the future more services will be moving into the area.

“We’re going to have to put more physical assets in that market. Could those at the site of the existing hospital? Absolutely. I think it’s a possibility, but I don’t think it would look like a full reopening of that hospital,” he said.

Wright said because of declining populations and high numbers of chronic diseases in the state larger medical networks in the state will have to find ways to help small healthcare providers.

“It’s going to be important for our large healthcare systems in the state to find ways to work with those small hospitals,” Wright said. “I would not want to try to run a one-off small regional, or a one-off for profit hospital in West Virginia, or any other state, it’s just so complex these days with the economies of scale.”

Dr. George Pink with the Sheps Center for Health Services Research said Friday on “Talkline” he has seen smaller facilities be successful through innovation and collaboration.

“Despite the many challenges they face they’re showing a lot of creativity and innovation, coming up with new models of care, new ways of bringing providers together, new ways of sharing resources,” Pink said. “It’s not a given that just because you’re in a rural community your hospital is going to be under financial challenges, but it’s certainly a reality for many communities.”

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