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West Virginia Coal Association president backs upgrades to coal-fired plants

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The president of the West Virginia Coal Association described keeping three coal-fired power plants in West Virginia open as important for local communities and the state.

Chris Hamilton’s comments on Monday’s “MetroNews Talkline” came days after the Public Service Commission of West Virginia held a public hearing about Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power’s request to increase rates to upgrade the John Amos, Mountaineer and Mitchell facilities.

There was a PSC hearing last Friday as to whether rates should be raised to fund improvements at three coal-fired power plants. Chris Hamilton, President of the @WV_coal1, gives his perspective on this story with @DaveWilsonMN. WATCH: https://t.co/yCFQ3nDJuy pic.twitter.com/KEc7RlO2eJ

— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) September 27, 2021

The utilities have argued $443.8 million is necessary for environmental upgrades to the three plants. Upgraded plants could remain in operation until 2040 compared to 2028 without any additional work.

“It’s been clearly developed that the replacement cost for any of these three plants is going to be in the neighborhood of 10 times the operating costs of the current plants,” Hamilton said on Monday’s “MetroNews Talkline.”

“If we shut those plants down today or 10 years from now, you’re going to, first of all, continue to pay for that plant that’s paid for. You’re going to continue to pay for that like your first mortgage well into the future, but then you’re going to have a second mortgage that all West Virginians are going to have to share the cost going forward as well.”

Hamilton noted how closing each plant could impact communities. He referenced how other communities have struggled after coal-powered plants and coal facilities closed.

“We had six of these plants the size of the Mitchell, Amos and Mountaineer close here about 10 years ago, and it just devastated communities,” he said.

The three plants also serve residents of Virginia and Kentucky, where regulators have already rejected the proposals. Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power have asked the state Public Service Commission to announce a decision by Oct. 13.

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Testimony begins in McCauley trial

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. — Testimony in the Andy McCauley Jr. trial began Monday in a Morgan County courtroom.

McCauley has been charged for the disappearance and death of 15-year-old Riley Crossman, who was his girlfriend’s daughter. Morgan County Prosecuting Attorney Dan James spent Monday trying to establish a timeline of events surrounding her May 2019 disappearance and the discovery of her remains.

A cadaver dog found evidence of human remains in a work truck that, according to James, McCauley had driven. McCauley had claimed he went to his job as a construction worker and did not leave the worksite. He later said he did leave the area to buy drugs, but also stated he went to his house to get drugs for him and a co-worker.

James noted law enforcement found blood and saliva on Riley’s bedding. He added he can present expert witnesses who believe the cause of death was asphyxiation.

Defense Attorney Andrew Arnold argued human remains is not narrow enough of a term, adding the jury must make a verdict based on evidence.

“As the evidence is presented, our task is going to be not to be overwhelmed by emotion,” he said. “Your task is going to be to go back and deliberate on the evidence.”

McCauley faces charges of first-degree murder, concealment of a body and death of a child by child abuse.

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Monongalia County BOE president thankful following levy approval

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The president of the Monongalia County Board of Education is thanking voters of Saturday’s special election for approving the school system’s excess levy.

“I want to say the biggest thank you to them, the biggest thank you to our committee and the biggest thank you to everyone that works with us in special education,” Nancy Walker told MetroNews affiliate WAJR-AM on Monday. “It’s the best thing ever that could have happened for our students.”

The levy has been in place since the late 1970s and provides the district with funding for daily operations, essential technology and employees, and programs aimed at improving academic achievement. Academic efforts are influenced by student assessments, input from local businesses and emerging industries.

“You try to tailor a program to every students’ individual strengths and work on the weaknesses,” Walker explained. “That is exactly what the excess levy lets us do. It lets us be able to have a wide variety of offerings.”

Walker also noted the school system will use levy funds for instructional aid and staff dedicated to addressing needs.

“We have interventionists and other staff that are able to work with small groups, core groups of children that might need extra support,” she said.

The levy will be in place through 2026 following the vote.

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Seven newcomers settling in at WVU as the preseason opens

(Bob Huggins’ preseason Zoom conference)

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Bob Huggins enters his fifteenth season guiding his alma mater with a roster of fifteen players and seven newcomers. The Mountaineers begin official preseason drills on Tuesday.

Teams across the country feature expanded rosters this season since players were able to take advantage of a free season of eligibility due to the pandemic. Gabe Osabuohien and Taz Sherman opted to return for their respective fifth seasons. As team chemistry continues to build through the preseason, Huggins has several options in the backcourt

“We are probably going to end up playing four out. We are just trying to spend a good deal of time with those bigs to see if we can get one of them that can score some in there. They rebound it and they block shots. But with more work, I think we can get them to score around the goal,” Huggins said Monday.

West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins walks off the court after beating the Morehead State Eagles in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium. This is Huggins 900th career win. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

“I don’t think with our guys and their personalities and with the way they get along with each other that we will have any issues with bad attitudes.”

West Virginia will need to replace a pair of All-Big 12 selections in Deuce McBride and Derek Culver. Although McBride led the Mountaineers in scoring, steals and assists last season, Huggins believes Culver’s departure could have just as much of an impact.

“We’ve got guards so we are going to miss Derek more than we will miss Deuce. Derek could get hard rebounds. Derek was big and strong and people couldn’t move him. He could move whoever he wanted to move. He got clutch rebounds and big rebounds at the end of games. Not that we won’t miss Deuce, we will. But we don’t have a 6-foot-10, big, strong guy anymore.”

Forward Isaiah Cottrell is back to full health after a promising freshman season was cut short to ten games by a torn Achilles last December.

“He can step outside and make shots. He is not Taz [Sherman] or Sean [McNeil] but he may be our third best shooter.

“He did a good job of making sure that he was there all the time and doing everything he was supposed to be doing. He’s been great from a standpoint of being able to run and jump. It hasn’t affected him at all.”

Dimon Carrigan (FIU), Malik Curry (Old Dominion) and Pauly Paulicap (DePaul) are fifth-year transfers to join the Mountaineers in the offseason. Beckley Prep product James Okonkwo initially looked to be redshirted after enrolling early at West Virginia. But Huggins says Okonkwo may be in the rotation quickly.

Mar 11, 2021; Kansas City, MO, USA; Oklahoma State Cowboys guard Cade Cunningham (2) shoots against West Virginia Mountaineers forward Jalen Bridges (2) during the first half at T-Mobile Center. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

“James is really playing well. He is far and away the quickest guy off the floor and gets to a lot of balls. The more I watch him, I was pretty well set we were going to bring him in and redshirt him and get him bigger and stronger for the following year, but he is playing really well.”

The first two signees in Huggins’ Class of 2021 were a pair of Ohio guards in Seth Wilson and Kobe Johnson.

“I think Seth is probably, at this point in time in his career, is much better off the ball than he is on the ball. Kobe handles it a lot better than we imagined he would. He may have as good of ball security of anyone we have on the team. He passes it well and is another guy that can make open shots.”

Sean McNeil (12.2 points per game), Taz Sherman (13.4 points per game) and Gabe Osabuohien (second on team in rebounding last year) are veteran returners. Fairmont Senior High School alumnus Jalen Bridges is entering his third season in the program. He started the final nineteen games last season.

“Obviously [Jalen] can shoot it, but to be a little bit better off the bounce. Really what I wanted to see more of was could we get him in a mismatch situation with a 5-foot-11 guard and put him on the block. But he works at it.”

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The Game Within The Game (Episode 83)

Brad Howe and longtime Las Vegas oddsmaker Dave Sharapan preview Monday Night Football (Eagles – Cowboys), discuss the NFL week 4 lines that are sure to move, preview two college football auto-plays and breakdown the final week of the MLB regular season.

New users click here DraftKings Sportsbook… and use code METROGAME for a free money sign up bonus offer for week 4 of the NFL regular season.

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Three Guys Before The Game – Swooned By Sooners (Episode 315)

How will the West Virginia University football team bounce back from Saturdays last-second loss at No. 4 Oklahoma?

Will the Mountaineers use the heartbreaking defeat as motivation or will it  have a lingering negative impact? 

Those are just two of the questions the “Guys” debate as WVU prepares to host its Big 12 opener Saturday against Texas Tech. 

Brad and Tony also answer listener questions that range from scripted plays to the value of growing San Marzano tomatoes in Jackson County. 

Join the crew on Thursday for their preview of the Mountaineers and Red Raiders.

Three Guys Before The Game is sponsored by Burdette Camping Center  WV Game Changer   Komax Business Systems   and Caesars Sportsbook.  Don’t forget to check out Three Guys merchandise.

Never miss an episode, subscribe below.

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SBA hears updated plans from Lincoln and Upshur County school systems

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Upshur County voters will soon be asked to fund a major school improvement bond while Lincoln County plans to seek funding for a new school in the Duval school district.

Those were two of the matters which came before the state School Building authority’s quarterly meeting Monday.

Upshur County Schools was cleared to seek a $49 Million dollar capital improvement bond project from voters. If voters agree to the project, the county will be considered for another $21 Million in funding from the SBA to do an array of work to upgrade the county’s schools.

Lincoln County has taken the first steps toward finding a safety and secure location for elementary school students in the eastern end of their county. The county presented an updated 10-year plan to the SBA on Monday which includes plans to seek funding in December for a new Duval-Midway Elementary school to house K-8 students. The current Duval school is closed after it was declared structurally unsafe for students. Children are being bussed to three different schools this year to fill the void.

The SBA learned more about an aggressive preventative maintenance program in schools all across the state.

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Federal investigators probe Fayette plane crash

LANSING, W.Va. — It may be months before investigators can conclude the cause of a fatal plane crash from Sunday morning in Fayette County. Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration were on the ground Monday morning collecting evidence.

“At this point we don’t know what happened. That’s part of our investigation to determine what happened, how it happened, and to prevent it from happening again,” said NTSB Public Information Officer Keith Holloway.

A single-engine Beechcraft C-23 crashed almost immediately after takeoff from the private New River Airport in the community of Lansing. The plane went down near a barn in the middle of a field also in the Lansing community. Three men on board were killed. They were identified soon after the crash as Nick Fletcher, 38, Michael Taphouse, 36, and Wesley Farley, 39.

All three men were from the Chesapeake, Virginia area and were apparently in West Virginia to enjoy a whitewater trip with friends. It’s unclear which of the three victims was the pilot, Holloway did not have the information but said it would be part of their information gathering.

“We have an investigator on scene and documenting the aircraft. We’ll also be requesting any air traffic control communications, radar data, weather reports, and if there are any available witnesses we’ll try to talk to those witnesses,” he said.

The fact finding will take one to three days and a full report on the crash could take more than a year to complete.

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Justice confirms report of $300 million offer to satisfy international lender

Businesses owned by Gov. Jim Justice and his family have offered $300 million plus the possibility of half the value of their coal properties to pay off major debts, The Wall Street Journal reported today.

Credit Suisse, an international lender, has said the total Justice debt originally amounted to $850 million. 

The Journal reported that Justice’s companies, in ongoing talks, have offered to pay $300 million — an amount that would come through refinancing a portion of the loans through a third-party lender.

More money could come through the sale or public offering of Bluestone, Justice’s coal company that owes on the loans.

So the proposal means Credit Suisse could be paid back millions of dollars fairly quickly to satisfy what it owes to others while the Justice companies could wind up shaving millions of dollars off what they owe.

Governor Justice generally acknowledged the accuracy of the Wall Street Journal story during a statewide briefing today.

“I haven’t seen it. I think it’s pretty accurate,” Justice said in response to a question by reporter Steven Allen Adams of the Ogden Newspapers.

But Justice went on to say, “I think it would be very, very premature for me to have a whole lot of comment on it. I think the Credit Suisse folks and ourselves are working together and working together really, really well.”

A settlement could halt Justice’s financial peril in what seemed an avalanche of debt earlier this summer. Justice had personally guaranteed millions of dollars in loans to the now-bankrupt international lender Greensill, which sold the debt package to Credit Suisse investors, and to Carter Bank & Trust of Martinsville, Va.

Credit Suisse has been pressing to recover lost investments and has has named Justice’s Bluestone Resources as one of three major borrowers from the Greensill funds. That original loan amount was $850 million, although that’s been paid down to the $700 million in question.

The loans from Greensill to Justice’s Bluestone Resources were unusual in that they were backed by “prospective receivables” that weren’t yet in hand from a list of “prospective buyers” — “a list that included both existing customers of Bluestone and other entities that were not and might never become customers of Bluestone.”

The Journal reported that Greensill packaged such loans and sold them to investment funds managed by the financial services company Credit Suisse.

“We got the rug just jerked right out from underneath us, with the Greensill folks and with what happened to Greensill,” Justice said today. “I’ve said it over and over — bad actors, very bad actors.”

Justice’s companies last month settled legal disputes with longtime lender Carter Bank over $368 million in loans. Justice’s companies dropped a federal lawsuit while Carter dropped circuit court claims on millions of dollars in defaulted loans.

Carter released a statement to stockholders earlier this month, briefly describing the effects of the settlement.

“Carter Bank continues to believe that it is fully secured on all loans it has outstanding to the Justices and the Justice Entities,” the bank stated.

“In connection with the dismissal of the Lawsuit and the execution of the Releases, the Justices and the Justice Entities have also enhanced Carter Bank’s collateral position, including cross-collateralizations, and executed documents reaffirming the legality, validity and binding nature of all loan documents they have executed in favor of Carter Bank.”

Justice and his families own a network of dozens of businesses in the coal, agriculture and tourism industries. Today, Justice said those businesses are in good shape.

“From the standpoint of my family’s finances, they’re great,” Justice said. “They’re absolutely great. The coal business is doing fantastic. The Greenbrier is doing great. Let’s just continue to move forward.”

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Mercer County commissioner fears increase of disease spread based on discontinuation of needle exchange program.

PRINCETON, W.Va. — Mercer County Commissioner Greg Puckett says he has no doubts that there will be an increase of Hepatitis C and HIV cases in his county because of the local health department ending its needle exchange program.

Puckett, on a recent appearance on MetroNews ‘Talkline,’ said that the Mercer County Health Department’s program was voted on to be discontinued by the board of health last week, citing new state regulations that ‘make it too restrictive.’

Mercer County Commissioner Greg Puckett

Puckett cited Senate Bill 334, a bill passed in the most recent legislative session that establishes the license application process for needle exchange programs. He said the bill tightens the law up to where a person can’t have the relationship needed with someone in active addiction to help them.

“It really tightens it up to where you don’t have the relationship that you need with someone in active addiction to try and get them in a possible recovery option to help them overcome what they are dealing with,” Puckett said.

The Bluefield Daily Telegraph reported that Health Department Administrator Roger Topping showed board members the list of nearly 50 requirements to be approved for a harm reduction program that includes needle exchange and simply said they could not comply.

MetroNews has previously reported that programs would need to provide a written statement of support by a majority of the county commission and by a majority of the council in a municipality where the program would be located.

The new law would also require programs that offer syringe services to offer or provide references to HIV, hepatitis and sexually transmitted disease screening, vaccinations, birth control, behavioral health services, overdose prevention, syringe collection and more.

Puckett said having a program helps stop the communicable spread of HIV and Hep-C in a community. He cited that the CDC has 220 counties in the United States that have potential outbreak territories, and West Virginia totals 10% of them.

“If you don’t have these programs in place, you cannot effectively stop the spread when you’re having dirty needles and using. Because we have a society of addiction. You have to be able to help stop, mitigate the problems so then you can help stop the addiction,” Puckett said.

The new law has gathered much controversy, with a federal judge coming out in July saying he could no longer halt the law from going into effect. U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers issued an order July 15 dissolving a temporary restraining order and denying a request for a preliminary injunction.

Puckett had a message for many in favor of the legislation, who he said view needle exchange programs that enable.

“A program is allowing that contact with somebody who can guide them into active treatment and recovery options,” he said. “To really help overcome that mental health issue and reduce the amount of stigma. To get somebody to come in and be able to say ‘Look I have a problem, I have an addiction. This is what I have, help me through this.’ And maybe over the course of time, you can do that.”

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