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Public hearing to discuss the future of the Tug Fork River

WILLIAMSON, W.Va. — Members of an advocacy organization fighting for the Tug Fork River hope to have a strong turnout for a public meeting about the river’s future this weekend.

The Friends of the Tug Fork River will hold the event this Saturday, March 25, at the Williamson Fire Hall from 3-5 p.m.

“We want anyone and everyone to come and talk about why they love the Tug Fork and any concerns they might have about the Tug Fork,” said Madison Mooney, a member of the Friends of the Tug Fork River Board.

The meeting will serve several purposes. It’s aimed at creating like minded support for the waterway and its future by documenting and celebrating the success stories up and down the waterway. The pep rally of sorts will help encourage support for the river and create a sense of value within the community. However, the meeting will also be a chance to prioritize the list of needs for the waterway going forward.

“Our goal is to try and get funding to help our natural water resources,” said Mooney.

A representative from the National Wildlife Federation will be on hand for the meeting and will document public comments to find out what issues are of most interest to stakeholders who live along the waterway or those who use the waterway frequently. According to Mooney it could be anything from funding to help advertise for improved care for the river to help paying for sewerage treatment plants along the river to improve water quality. The NWF plans to use information from the meeting to build a grant request for federal money to protect and improve natural waterways.

“Anyone that lives along the Tug Fork or uses the Tug Fork, we want them to come out and speak about what they’ve experienced, what they’ve seen, and what they wish to improve,” she said.

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Kennedy Knew West Virginians Better Than Trump
Photo courtesy of West Virginia Culture and History


Sixty years ago this June, President John F. Kennedy came to West Virginia for a celebration of the state’s centennial. Despite the rain, an estimated 10,000 people stood in the State Capitol courtyard to see and hear Kennedy.

The bad weather prompted the President to shorten his planned 20 minute speech to just three-minutes and 20 seconds, but the words he spoke were impactful. “The sun does not always shine in West Virginia, but the people always do,” said Kennedy.

That famous line was literal because of the rain, but also metaphorical. Kennedy traveled the hills and hollows of the Mountain State for weeks prior to the 1960 Primary Election. His victory here propelled him to the Democratic Party nomination and the presidency.

He witnessed firsthand the poverty and the hardships of West Virginians, but he also looked deeper and saw the inherent goodness of our people.

“It has known sunshine and rain in 100 years, but I know of no state – and I know this state well – whose people feel more strongly, who have a greater sense of pride in themselves, in their state and their country, than the people of West Virginia,” he said that day.

This is how we see our aspirational selves—proud, loyal, faithful and possessing a propriety that requires us to help others, whether they be family, friends or strangers. We are guided by what President Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.”

At the Conservative Political Action Conference on March 4, former President Donald Trump gave a speech where he sought to appeal to voters in the 2024 election. “In 2016, I declared, ‘I am your voice.’ Today, I add: I am your warrior. I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution. I am your retribution,” he said.


Retribution conjures up feelings of punishment and suffering for one’s enemies. It suggests that if we can just get even, a wrong will have been righted and we will feel better.

The concept is foreboding, and it appeals to a basic survivalist instinct. For some, retribution is a salve for wounds, real and imagined.

But I do not want to believe that is who we are as West Virginians. Kennedy saw firsthand the poverty, the suffering, the hardship, but he looked deeper and saw a spark, the light of goodness, that strong sense of virtue that is our true selves.

We are all neighbors, bound together by a sense of pride in being West Virginians. And with that comes a sense of responsibility to follow the guidance of our ancestors in the ways we treat others. The hand we extend is to help, not hurt.

Donald Trump remains popular in West Virginia. He will likely get the votes of most Republicans in the 2024 presidential primary and, if he is nominated, carry the state in the General Election. Trump has said and done many things that appeal to most West Virginians.

But for the West Virginians that Kennedy came to know, retribution is not an impulse to admire in a president.


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Kanawha murder case scheduled for hearing Monday

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A man charged in a 2021 murder in Kanawha County is scheduled to appear for trial Monday.

Michael Wayne Smith

Michael Wayne Smith, 43, allegedly killed Cheyenne Johnson. Her body was found in a deep water well in the Sissonville area.

A co-defendant in the case, Virginia Smith, 30, no relation to Michael Smith, pleaded guilty to first degree murder on Feb. 23. She’s scheduled to be sentenced on April 10.

Kanawha County Circuit Judge Kenneth Ballard is presiding over the case.

Michael Smith is scheduled to appear by Microsoft Teams from the Southwestern Regional Jail in connection with Monday’s 9 a.m. scheduled hearing.

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Fairmont State University presidential search narrowed to 12

FAIRMONT, W.Va. – The search for a new top executive at Fairmont State University, aided by search firm Buffkin/Baker has been reduced to 12 candidates.

“The Committee is thankful for all of the work Buffkin and Baker have done for and alongside us,” said Dr. Chuck Shields, search committee tri-chair sent in a late week news release.

Applications and nominations will continue to be accepted until a successful candidate has been appointed; the initial application/appointment deadline was February 17. At that point, the search committee began reviewing applications and scheduling preliminary meetings. Eighty-four applications were received, and, after initial screening by Buffkin and Baker, 23 were forwarded to the full Search Committee for consideration.

The full search committee narrowed the field to 12 candidates for first-round interviews in a meeting last week. The interviews will be held off-site on April 3-6 with the full search committee. It is expected that on-campus interviews will take place toward the end of April.

“We are hopeful that our next president will be one of the 12 candidates that will meet with the committee in the coming weeks,” said Shields. “The Search Committee is pleased to have such a diverse pool of highly qualified candidates from which to choose. We know Fairmont State is a wonderful place and are glad others see that too.”

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Another study finds increase in coal miner lung ailments

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A recent study by the University of Chicago found a trend upward of coal miners suffering higher incidents of black lung and of lung cancer.

The study compared coal miner health records as far back as 1979. The examination revealed a drop in black lung disease in the 1980’s, but reflected in more recent years the rate started to climb again and the trend was also more prevalent in younger coal miners.

Although the study offered no conclusions on a pinpoint for a cause in the increase, the United Mine Workers of America had some theories on the root cause.

Josh Roberts is the union’s Administrator for Health and Safety. Reacting to the study, he said there are several issues. Roberts said the increased prevalence of black lung is possibly the result of increased technology which is allowing for access to coal which previously was considered unmineable because of the mix with rocks.

“You’re seeing an increase in silica because now they’re mining seams of coal with more rock and the equipment is larger and more powerful to break up the rock and mine it,” he explained. “They’re mining more coal in more rock and that creates more dust.”

Roberts also pointed out OSHA recently updated its silica standard to 50 milligrams, but MSHA, which oversees mining safety, has not updated their standard and it remains at 100 milligrams.

As for the growing prevalence of lung cancer among miners, again, there was only a theory for the union.

“We believe that to be coming from the increase in diesel equipment,” Roberts said.

Although West Virginia’s mining laws are particularly stringent on diesel emissions in coal mines, the rest of the nation and federal regulations are not as strict according to Roberts.

The study found that ‘progressive massive fibrosis, which is only caused by dust inhalation, was also more frequent in younger age groups. Thus, it appears likely that coal mine dust inhalation also contributed to their increased burden of nonmalignant respiratory disease’

UMWA President Cecil Roberts put out a statement on the detrimental effects of silica in the coal industry.

“I testified before Congress about the effects of silica exposure in 2019. It is now four years later, and this study proves how catastrophic this delay has been for working coal miners.”

“It is a shame the number of young miners that had to contract deadly diagnoses in order to make a change to our health and safety laws. Let’s get this standard passed and save the lives of those that provide the energy it takes to live ours.”

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Monongalia County school chief promises swift action when North Elementary investigation is done

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Monongalia County School Superintendent Eddie Campbell says the investigative work into an incident at North Elementary School is complete and a final report is being compiled that will soon be delivered to district officials.

Eddie Campbell

Campbell said during a Friday appearance on WAJR’s “Talk of the Town” that Charleston attorney and former legal counsel for the West Virginia Department of Education Heather Hutchens concluded her interviews in recent days.

“She finished up all of her interviews last Friday, and she is planning to provide us with a written summary of her findings here in the very near future,” Campbell said.

Whatever happened in the classroom with special needs children hasn’t been publicly released but the incident was reported to the police as abuse. As a result, the principal, Natalie Webb, and her assistant, Carol Muniz, along with three other educators, were placed on administrative leave.

“We’re going to make sure if mistakes were made, they’re corrected, and the folks that are responsible for those mistakes are held accountable,” Campbell said.

Two of the three educators placed on leave have returned but one substitute teacher has been replaced since the investigation began.

“We’ve put a new person, one of our veteran folks, in that particular classroom in place of the substitute that was there,” Campbell said. “That was a long-term, day-to-day substitute that we had in that classroom.”

Campbell said they are required by law to report physical and sexual abuse as soon as they are alerted. The investigation done by Hutchens is only for the district but Campbell said they have and will continue to cooperate fully with law enforcement.

“As to whether the authorities determine that the situation rises to the level of a criminal act, that’s up to their investigation and their findings,” Campbell said.

There is no timeline to wrap up the probe, and that’s intentional. Campbell said he wants to make sure nothing is missed, the investigation is honest and the facts are clear.

“Every day, 11,500 children come to our schools, and their parents are holding us accountable for the safety and education of those children,” Campbell said. “And we don’t take that responsibility lightly at all.”

Campbell said Hutchens was selected because of her familiarity with education and because she has no ties to the school district.

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Welch News says goodbye after nearly 100 years of publication

WELCH, W.Va. — After the coverage of major floods, the economic rise and fall of the area, and a global pandemic, the Welch News is saying goodbye after nearly a century of publishing. They served the area as McDowell County’s only local news source, and now the newspaper plans to suspend all of its operations.

Formally known as ‘The Welch Daily News,’ the paper did away with the title after printing slowed to just three times a week by 1995.

Owner of Welch News who served the paper for over 20 years, Melissa Nester, said that the growing economic depression and the dwindling readership in the area was the primary reasons the newspaper was forced to close its doors.

“It’s the financial impact of being in a small, southern West Virginia coalfield community, where we really don’t have the strength in our businesses or the amount of residents who could support a newspaper and what it takes to be operational,” said Nester.

The Editor of Welch News, Derek Tyson wrote in a press release about the announcement of the paper’s closure, that they were something of an enigma in the local news industry, not having the resources and advertisement revenue that other media outlets are endowed with, and because of that, the staff sacrificed a lot.

Nester said that the newspaper was able to withstand and evolve with the times for many years.

“It has certainly changed over the years, it’s definitely not what it was when Welch was a big bustling city, but it’s just part of the community, it’s one of the legacy businesses here,” she said.

However, throughout the hardships that the community of Welch and the surrounding McDowell County may have had to endure throughout the years, the newspaper had the opportunity to cover much success that came to the area, as well.

They were given the honor of hosting the cast and crew of ‘The Glass Castle,’ a feature film based on the award-winning novel by Jennette Walls and her story of growing up in Welch for much of her childhood.

The paper also had a chance for an exclusive interview with the world-renowned chef, author and tv host, Anthony Bourdain during the filming of an episode of his series, ‘Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown,’ along with former Chipotle CEO Monty Moran’s praise of the area in his documentary series, ‘Connected,’

The Welch News was also showcased by the West Virginia Community Development Hub and National Geographic.

Nester said that the newspaper has made a true impact to the area.

“It has been a staple in our community, it has been a part of life in this community as the Welch Daily News,” she said.

According to research, more than 2,000 local print newspapers across the country closed their doors between 2005 to 2021.

Nester said that they foresaw the Welch News’s closure coming for quite sometime and that the decline in newspapers everywhere is something that she fears.

“I’m terrifed with the direction we’re taking really with all of our media in that the smaller people who are serving the smaller communities are really getting themselves ripped apart due to the larger political nature of the business,” said Nester.

While the local paper was a major help in keeping the McDowell County area afloat, and it particularly honed in readers of older demographics, Nester said that the loss of it is very concerning.

“We’re really sad, because we feel like it reflects a lot on the stability of the businesses here, as well as the instability, and we really feel like it’s going to be a loss for our elderly population or our population of people who do not have a way to access online services and news,” said Nester.

The Welch News staff plans to look through the nearly 100 years worth of collected archives and hopes to be able to keep them.

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New legislation calls for increased monitoring for PFAS chemicals

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Monongalia County Del. Evan Hansen says he wants West Virginians to better understand a bill that passed the 2023 legislative session that deals with controling and monitoring polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Hansen sponsored HB 3189 and talked about it during a recent appearance on WAJR’s “Talk of the Town.”

Evan Hansen

PFAS has been in use since the 1950s in a wide variety of consumer products, from dental floss to upholstery to grease-resistant paper. The chemicals are known carcinogens, and exposure can damage the cardiovascular and immune systems along with growth.

In West Virginia, PFAS contamination in humans has occurred in the Ohio River Valley and the Eastern Panhandle.

“They’re in so many products all across the economy, and that’s one thing that makes it such a difficult issue to address,” Hansen said. “PFAS is in firefighting foam, cleaning products, food packaging, and tech products.”

In 2020, state lawmakers passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 46 directing the DEP and Department of Health and Human Resources to conduct a study of the public water supply. The study completed by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) took samples from 279 sites that will continue to be monitored in the future.

“It requires some additional monitoring to confirm those initial results, and it also requires the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to start writing plans to identify where the pollution is coming from and to find methods to address that pollution,” Hansen said.

The bill also requires companies that use PFAS chemicals in their processes to self-disclose that to the DEP by December 31, 2023. The DEP will then require the company to conduct tests on any discharge from their facility.

The USGS study reported levels of PFAS in all 279 samples taken.

“What’s been found in some of the raw water supplies in West Virginia are levels between 5, 10, 15, and 20 parts per trillion,” Hansen said. “So, very low levels, but still concerning.”

According to Hansen, the legislation also requires public water to be tested after it has been treated.

“So, that’s the water that comes out of the tap in your house,” Hansen said. “To confirm whether or not the treatment water systems have are sufficient to address any of the forever chemicals in the raw water.”

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Several projects to change look of North Central West Virginia airport this year

BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. — The North Central West Virginia Airport will have a new look with two new major projects and one other wrapping up in the months to come.

Airport Director Rick Rock said the $21 million Mitsubishi Heavy Industries expansion is making significant progress, a new terminal is on the way and more industrial expansion will bring even more jobs to the airport campus.

Richard Rock

“Whether it be the military operations, the industry, or passenger service, we’re proud of all the things we’ve been able to accomplish, and we understand what this airport means to the state of West Virginia,” Rock said last week on WAJR’s “Talk of the Town.”.

Passenger service is currently available to sunny destinations like Orlando, St. Petersburg, Myrtle Beach along with a new service to Charlotte, North Carolina through Contour and Allegiant airlines.

Soon, the current terminal built in 1960 that has a capacity of 24 passengers will be replaced by a new $25 million facility that will include improved parking options. The project has been awarded to Pittsburgh-based Mascaro Construction, and a public groundbreaking is scheduled for April 6.

“We think it’s going to take 16 to 18 months to get it done,” Rock said. “The pad is ready, but supply chain issues could slow it down. We’ll see.”

Rock said the new terminal will help them work to attract new carriers offering new destinations.

Aurora Flight Sciences employs 200 and will increase that by another 100 when they complete expansion to support their growing customer base. The Boeing subsidiary holds 150 aviation-related patents and specializes in crew-optional vehicles that can operate on the edge of space for communications or reconnaissance.

“We’re in the process of adding two new buildings, a hangar for logistic purposes, and then the expansion of one of our main buildings,” Scott Jones of Aurora  said. “That will wrap up in about the first quarter of next year, and that will double the size of that building, so about an additional 50,000 square feet of manufacturing space.”

Scott Jones

Aurora Flight Sciences builds a wide variety of experimental and aircraft prototypes, including the Orion, which set the world record for the longest flight of a remotely controlled aircraft in 2019. The company does regular work for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and holds the contract to build two of Virgin Galactic’s next-generation suborbital rocket planes, The Mothership.

“We typically design and build with a carbon fiber layup, which creates a carbon fiber part, so super light weight, ultra-strong composite parts for all kinds of aircraft—commercial and government,” Jones said.

Former Mylan employees have relocated to work at the facility, according to Jones, and he said they have a wide-variety of open positions. The unique aspect of the facility is that technical and vocational training to qualify for the professional positions is provided onsite.

“Right down the road at Pierpont Community and Technical College you can go get your A&P (airframe and powerplant) license, and then just drive a few hundred feet down the road to get a job,” Jones said. “We have a lot of A&P mechanics, engineers, and managers; it’s across the board; there’s a lot of opportunity there for all sorts of folks.”

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Polar Bears stay cool down the stretch, claim second straight Class AAA crown with 47-42 victory over Shady Spring

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Not long after his team wrapped up its second straight Class AAA championship by virtue of a 47-42 win over top seed Shady Spring, veteran Fairmont Senior head coach David Retton took to to the podium to discuss the Polar Bears’ thrilling victory over the Tigers.

Retton was surrounded by his entire roster, and on a day when the No. 3 Polar Bears supporting cast stepped up and then some, it was only fitting.

“Our job as coaches is to come up with whatever it is that we devise that we think will work, but these guys get the credit because they bought into it and executed it, and they executed it in crunch time,” Retton said. “These guys are state champions and it’s hard. We knew that. We talked about how difficult it would be. However, we said if we stuck to what we needed to do, at the end of the night, we would be champions.”

Guard Zycheus Dobbs, responsible for last season’s heroics in the final seconds when he scored to send FSHS to a 60-59 victory over SSHS, was held to one point, one field-goal attempt and fouled out after totaling 46 points in a quarterfinal round win over North Marion and a semifinal victory against Elkins.

“To see Zycheus’ emotions after the game, there were tears. He was happy. Regardless of how many points, he was a huge part of it,” Retton said.

Freshman Julz Butler gave Fairmont Senior (27-1) a major lift off the bench and delivered down the stretch, while fellow guards Andre Grant and Connor Gower made major contributions. Combined with the another strong outing from DeSean Goode and the defense of Latique Williams, the Polar Bears prevailed against a team they’d lost to in the regular season by 20 points.

“Their role players did it last year as well. We overplayed at times which gave them shots on the other side of the floor,” Tigers’ head coach Ronnie Olson said. “That’s what good teams do.”

Much like last season’s state title game between the two, this one wasn’t decided until the final seconds.

The Tigers (23-4) began the fourth quarter on a 7-0 spurt to turn a 30-27 deficit into a four-point lead. That surge was keyed by guard Braden Chapman, who scored five straight points on a three-pointer and layup.

“Braden Chapman puts everything into every single play,” Olson said.

Shady built its lead to 37-32, but Butler’s trey at the 5-minute mark enabled the Polar Bears to trail by two. It also marked the start of a pivotal 10-1 run over a stretch of 2:28. Goode’s layup, Gower’s go-ahead three and Grant’s layup provided FSHS with its other offense during that stretch, allowing for a 42-38 advantage with 2:31 remaining.

“It’s a great feeling to know that my team and coach have trust in me,” Butler said. “Everybody believed in me and they told me that all year.”

(Fairmont Senior postgame press conference)

After Dobbs fouled out with 1:28 left, Chapman split two free throws to make it a one-possession game.

Butler, facing a 1-and-1 situation, calmly stepped to the line and made both foul shots for a five-point lead.

“For him to stay posted in that big of a moment shows how good of a player he is,” Dobbs said.

A Jaedan Holstein follow-up bucket helped Shady get to within three, and its deficit remained that on its final possession, but out of a timeout, Ammar Maxwell missed a shot in the paint with 12 seconds left, and Grant grabbed the rebound, before tossing a pass toward a streaking Gower, who sealed the outcome with a layup.

“It’s definitely a great feeling,” Gower said.

Shady scored the game’s first seven points and led 10-2, but threes from Grant and Goode allowed the Polar Bears to close their deficit to 12-10 after one quarter.

Consecutive baskets from Goode to start the second quarter allowed FSHS to lead for the first time, but seven second-quarter points from Maxwell, including a layup with 38 seconds left, enabled Shady to take a 21-20 lead into halftime.

“There was no overlooking Fairmont. This is a state championship game and it’s going to come down to the end,” Olson said.

Mixing man-to-man and a 2-3 zone defense, the latter of which they utilized far more than normal, the Polar Bears held the Tigers scoreless for the final 4:53 of the third quarter, allowing them to turn a four-point deficit into a 30-27 lead over that time.

(MetroNews Broadcast Highlights) 

Grant made two free throws and Butler provided the other five points on a layup and three.

”We switched a lot and played a lot of 2-3 tonight more than we did all season,” Retton said. “It’s what the game dictated. They bought into it and executed it which was fantastic.”

“They did a good job switching their matchup zone and a man,” Olson added. “We fumbled some passes and missed some layups.”

Goode made 8-of-10 shots and scored a team-high 18 points to go with eight rebounds. 

“Coach preached to us even thought we’d lost, he still trusted us and he had our back,” Goode said. “He told us what we had to do and said if we buy in, we’d have a chance. We all had to buy in and that’s something that helped our team.”

Butler scored 10 and missed only one shot. Grant and Gower added nine points apiece, Dobbs dished out a game-high six assists and Williams’ play inside was critical in holding the Tigers to two second-chance points.

“They stayed the course, trusted in themselves and their team and what they were doing,” Retton said.

Chapman scored 23 points in his final high school game and Maxwell, a junior, added 13. The rest of the Tigers made only 2-of-12 shots.

It marked the third straight appearance in a title game for Shady, which won the championship in 2021.

“We love to get physical. Physical games like this is what we thrive on. Fairmont is just as physical for us and they had a good game plan,” Holstein said. “They came in prepared. Their basketball IQ is so high.”

(Postgame “Round of Sound”)

Class AAA all-tournament team

Eli Robertson, Herbert Hoover

Andre Grant, Fairmont Senior

Cory Harper, Elkins

Cam Manns, Shady Spring

Malachi Watson, Elkins

Reece Carden, Scott

Braden Chapman, Shady Spring

DeSean Goode, Fairmont Senior

Ammar Maxwell, Shady Spring

Zycheus Dobbs, Fairmont Senior

(Shady Spring postgame press conference)

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