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In 2019, Huntington has hope for future of projects, initiatives

December 31, 2018

HUNTINGTON — As 2018 saw West Virginia find itself in the national spotlight for such statewide issues as the nine-day teachers’ strike and the impeachment trials of the entire state Supreme Court, Huntington shone brightly for advancements it is making, both in terms of physical construction and progress toward ongoing issues facing residents.

The city made a new name for itself as a place where hope for recovery from substance abuse issues can thrive, thanks to innovative resources formed by partnerships that developed out of the opioid epidemic. It also saw its residents step up to help create a brighter future for area children, animals and neighborhoods.

Here’s a look at some ongoing issues and developing news stories to keep an eye on in 2019.

Huntington Innovation Zone plan

The city of Huntington will move forward in 2019 with plans to redevelop a large swath of blighted and underused properties in the city’s Highlawn neighborhood, which could become a baseball stadium, commercial space, retail areas and an advanced research and development center.

In the coming months, the city is expected to begin cleanup of the Ingram Barge property, located along the Ohio River. Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said the Huntington Municipal Development Authority had an option to purchase the property, running from 25th Street to 27th Street.

Completion of the Huntington Innovation Zone plan would also require the purchase of the McGinnis property and the ACF complex. A hotel and other retail space could be developed there, Williams said.

The city is currently cleaning up the Flint Group Pigments property, formerly BASF, located at 2401 5th Ave. In October, Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick announced the school had hired an architect to design the long-awaited Marshall University baseball stadium, which would be located on the former Flint Group Pigments site. The property was previously purchased for $1.2 million by the Huntington Municipal Development Authority.

PEIA changes in 2019

Despite being thankful for the 5 percent raise secured during the nine-day strike, teachers and other state employees are still unsure about a resolution for the Public Employees Insurance Agency, a large reason for the strike in the first place.

As part of the strike-ending deal that gave state employees the raise, Justice formed the PEIA Task Force to identify a long-term financial stability plan. The task force held public meetings across the state to hear from stakeholders and broke off into subcommittees to look into several facets of the PEIA issue. But come December when its report was due to the governor, they didn’t really have a plan.

Before the November election, Justice promised to commit $100 million to PEIA, and the GOP-lead Legislature appears to be on board. But it doesn’t go far with PEIA medical and pharmaceutical costs that grow by about $50 million a year.

Still, PEIA members will be relieved to know no premium increases are expected for the 2019-20 fiscal year. The state will fund the program at its current level and use some of Justice’s promised funding to offset additional costs.

Heeding recommendations of the task force, the plan proposes eliminating financial penalties for going out of state for health care, including a 10 percent higher coinsurance payment, a $25 per-visit copay and a facilities fee that saddled insurees with paying the difference between discounted in-state rates and the higher out-of-state and out-of-network rates for routine procedures, such as lab tests, MRIs and colonoscopies.

The penalties, which had been instituted by PEIA to encourage participants to seek out cheaper in-state services, were soundly criticized at statewide task force public hearings by insurees who live in border counties.

The proposed plan also sets up an appeals process for insurees who require medications that are on the Tier 3 nonpreferred brand-name list, which carries a 75 percent copayment up to the $1,750 annual out-of-pocket maximum for prescription drugs.

The task force will continue to search for a long-term solution to PEIA.

Opioid lawsuits inch closer to trial, settlements

As a scathing report recently released by the House Energy and Commerce Committee blamed the DEA and drug manufacturers for pumping pills into West Virginia, fueling the drug epidemic, more than 1,400 lawsuits filed nationwide are inching toward a resolution in Cleveland.

The lawsuits, jump-started by the filing of lawsuits by Cabell County and Huntington in 2017, allege opioid manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies breached their duty to monitor, detect, investigate, refuse and report suspicious orders of prescription opiates coming into the locations over the past several years — a duty the lawsuits claim companies had under the Controlled Substance Act of 1970.

U.S. District Judge Dan Polster, who is overseeing the cases, has encouraged the cases to settle, while also setting a March 2019 trial date for lawsuits brought by three local Ohio governments.

Braidy aluminum mill project to continue

Braidy Industries said at the end of 2018 that its $1.68 billion aluminum mill project in Eastern Kentucky is moving forward.

Braidy broke ground on the mill in June 2018 and began construction. Officials said the company has spent approximately $5 million on the ongoing construction of the mill. Additionally, Braidy has completed engineering and architectural plans for the mill and has substantially completed negotiations on its engineering, procurement and construction contract.

However, the company is seeking to raise a total of $500 million in capital through the sale of its common stock to continue construction.

Jenkins Hall name could change

The Presidential Committee to Examine Building Names at Marshall University will meet Jan. 14 to look at all the public comments received on the potential name change of Jenkins Hall, named for local Confederate Gen. Albert Gallatin Jenkins. The recommendations will eventually be shared with the board of governors.

A student organization called for the building housing the College of Education and Professional Development to be renamed after someone with a less controversial past.

Arron Lawson trial to start in quadruple homicide

The trial for Arron L. Lawson, of Ironton, will start Jan. 31 in Lawrence County, Ohio. The trial is expected to last a month, as Lawson faces the death penalty in the case.

Lawson was charged in a 13-count capital murder indictment in the fatal shootings of Donald McGuire, 50, and Tammie L. McGuire, 43, Tammie’s daughter, Stacey Holston, 24, and her son, Devin Holston, 8, at Holston’s residence in Pedro on the evening of Oct. 11, 2017. A fifth victim, Todd Holston, was stabbed but survived and was treated for his injuries.

Park overdose crash could make new laws

A non-fatal overdose car crash just feet from the playground in Ritter Park inspired local lawmakers to craft legislation to increase penalties for drug crimes near places where children are. Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, and Delegates Chad Lovejoy, D-Cabell, and Matt Rohrbach, R-Cabell, said they were working on legislation to be introduced at the start of the January legislative session. All other local legislators vowed to support the measure.

Portion of I-64 roadwork completed

In September, the West Virginia Division of Highways announced that resurfacing work on the eastbound lanes of Interstate 64 between Milton and Hurricane was complete. That work, which is part of the “Roads to Prosperity” referendum passed by voters, was part of a project to rehabilitate a 14-mile stretch of I-64 East between Milton and the U.S. 35 interchange in Teays Valley.

The next phase of work included resurfacing a five-mile section of the interstate between Hurricane and Teays Valley. However, inclement weather delayed that phase and crews began winding down work on the roadway for the winter, but will pick up for a final resurfacing project in the spring of 2019.

Declining overdose rates

Cabell County’s overdose totals declined roughly 40 percent through 2018 — the equivalent of around 750 fewer non-fatal overdoses than in 2017, according to Cabell County EMS. The declining trend, which began in September 2017, may continue in 2019.

Cabell County is expected to record 1,113 overdoses in 2018. By comparison to past years, the county had a record 1,831 overdoses in 2017, 1,217 in 2016 and 480 in 2015.

Grand Patrician Resort construction continues in Milton

Construction began in 2018 on the old Morris Memorial Hospital and surrounding land into a new resort. Jeffrey A. Hoops II is spearheading the estimated $150 million project and said last year that work has already begun to transform the former hospital into a development to be called the Grand Patrician Resort.

The preliminary plans include a 100-room hotel with additional extended-stay suites, with several upper-class amenities.

Trial to start in shooting of Huntington youth football coach

Antwon Starkey, 30, of Huntington, is expected to go to trial Feb. 26 after he shot and killed KaFrederick “Bae Bae” McEachin, 25, a wellknown youth football coach, in December 2017 at a Hal Greer Boulevard gas station in the middle of the day.

Starkey is claiming self-defense in the shooting, alleging McEachin had shot his stepdaughter just two weeks before the fatal shooting occurred.

Businesses begin to open at Tanyard Station

Stores throughout the Tanyard Station retail development in Barboursville are expected to continue to open throughout 2019. Three businesses opened in late December 2018 and Longhorn Steakhouse is scheduled to open on Jan. 22.

Other businesses scheduled to open soon include Hwy 55 Burgers Shakes and Fries and Sport Clips and Zen Nails, but they have yet to release opening dates. Menards will begin construction next spring, according to developers.

Marshall seeks to up enrollment

Marshall University had stagnant enrollment numbers in the fall, but is continuing its quest to increase enrollment. President Jerome Gilbert said he expects enrollment numbers will increase in the spring thanks to dual-credit high school students, but work will continue to increase general student enrollment.

Bloomberg award

Huntington was a winner of the 2018 U.S. Mayor’s Challenge in October, receiving $1 million to provide in-house mental health services to first responders on the front lines of the opioid epidemic.

Huntington’s proposal includes having wellness coordinators engage with first responders and develop training to improve mental health, attitudes toward substance use disorder and interactions with overdose victims. The goal is to combat “compassion fatigue,” which are feelings of depleted empathy in the face of overwhelming overdose calls.

First responders will continue to meet with wellness coordinators and attend events aimed at relieving stress in 2019.

Cabell-Wayne animal shelter progresses

When Courtney Proctor Cross took over as the executive director of the Huntington Cabell Wayne Animal Shelter in August, one of her goals was to end unwarranted euthanasia at the shelter.

Cross is focused in 2019 on animal control, as well as fundraising, grant applications, outreach and other shelter improvements. Volunteers have cleaned out two rooms and turned them into a nursery and a recovery room for sick animals. Cats have also been moved out of their small room and into the garage, which is larger. Cross* goal is to invite more volunteers from the community to help take care of animals and get them adopted out.

Accused sheriff killer’s competency in question

A man previously found incompetent to stand trial in the 2013 shooting of Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum re-emerged in court in August after a psychiatric hospital declared him competent to stand trial.

Tennis Maynard was accused of shooting the sheriff April 3, 2013, in downtown Williamson, West Virginia, as the man ate lunch in his parked vehicle. Maynard was sent back to Sharpe Hospital for further testing to verify his mental status and the case could be back in court in 2019.

Miller to head to Washington

Carol Miller will head to Washington, D.C., this year to represent the 3rd District of West Virginia in the House of Representatives. Miller is the lone Republican woman to be elected in 2018. During her campaign, she held her cards close to her chest but pledged to support President Donald Trump’s initiatives including the need for a wall at the Mexi-co/U.S. border.

New food coming to Marshall

Marshall University students will watch the Memorial Student Center transform in 2019 as Sodexo and the university work to change the food court. Beginning in August 2019, students, faculty and guests will be able to purchase food from a full-service Chick-fil-A, Taco Bell Express, local Italian restaurant La Fami-glia, Steak ‘n’ Shake and Huntington Market.

Towers will feature The Den by Denny’s, Mein Bowl and 1837 Market, which will be a convenience store including a deli, also by August 2019. Phase one of the project will also include renovating the concession stands and reconfiguring student meal plans to accommodate the changes.

Broadband internet access focus of legislative session

Broadband internet access in West Virginia was on the lips of every candidate during the 2018 election cycle. Speaker of the House Roger Hanshaw has proposed reforming the existing House of Delegates Committee on Roads and Transportation into a new Technology and Infrastructure Committee at the beginning of the next legislative session. Freshman Delegate Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, will vice chair the committee and said they will push a number of broadband-related bills this session.

Changes coming to Huntington hospitals

With Cabell Huntington Hospital’s acquisition of St. Mary’s Medical Center in April 2018, a new overarching health system is expected to be completed and founded in 2019 to oversee both hospitals.

Gary White has been named interim CEO of the health system as its leadership continues to come together. At St. Mary’s Medical Center, Todd Campbell will begin as the next president and chief executive officer on Jan. 1, taking over for the retiring Michael Sellards.

Cabell Huntington’s board of directors may also begin new changes in 2019.

All-inclusive park at St. Cloud Commons

Though already open for play with much of the equipment in place, an all-inclusive playground at St. Cloud Commons in Huntington’s West End is expected to be completed in 2019. Phase one, which saw the installation of the bulk of the play facilities, was completed in November. The next two phases will include all-inclusive restrooms with an adult changing station, a resurfaced parking lot with new lighting, and more playground equipment, including new swings.

Higher education facilities to review policies

The board of governors of both Marshall University and Mountwest Community and Technical College will undertake a review of their board policies during 2019. Marshall will take about 20-25 policies at a time, while MCTC has yet to formalize how it will review the policies. MCTC will change its faculty workload policy at the start of the 2019-20 school year.

Act to change child welfare

Across the nation, child welfare will change in October 2019 thanks to the implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act, passed in February in the budget bill. The act changes how states are reimbursed, allowing for more preventative actions to take place before a child is removed from the home, with the goal of keeping more families together.

School of Pharmacy work continues

The new Marshall University School of Pharmacy and apartment complex for medical/pharmacy students off Hal Greer Boulevard is on pace to be complete by August 2019. Located on green space across Hal Greer Boulevard from Northcott on Charleston Avenue, the 49,722-square-foot, four-story pharmacy building will house research, instructional, communal and administrative areas.

The student housing units will be built between the Erma Ora Byrd Clinical Center and the Forensic Science just east of Prindle Field. The four-story, more than 108,000-square-foot apartment complex includes 200 units, with 80 two-bedroom units, and will house medical and pharmacy graduate students and graduate students with families.

A new Highlawn Elementary School

Cabell County Schools will begin building a brand-new Highlawn Elementary School in 2019 at the site of the former Enslow Middle School, which is scheduled to be demolished in the spring. The $13.2 million school will house up to 300 students. Funding, received in 2017, will be split 50/50 from state and county coffers.

Project Hope to graduate first class

Project Hope, a new residential addiction treatment center for pregnant and postpartum women in downtown Huntington, officially opened in December and will see the bulk of its new tenants arrive in 2019. Its first graduating class is expected in summer 2019.

An initiative of Marshall Health, the new 18-unit residential facility, at a newly renovated 15,000-square-foot facility at 1012 7th Ave. in Huntington, provides a secure, stable living environment for mothers and their children. The site also provides on-site individual and group therapy and life skills practice for new mothers, expecting mothers with small children, and mothers with children up to 12 years old.

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