West Virginia editorial roundup
Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
The Parkersburg News and Sentinel on a delay in aid to West Virginians affected by the June 2016 floods:
Nearly a year and a half ago, West Virginians learned to our dismay and anger that state government was sitting on more than $149 million in federal aid intended for victims of June 2016 floods that hit several southern counties hard. Gov. Jim Justice claimed he was furious. He sacked the agency head blamed at least in part for the delay. He instructed the West Virginia National Guard to take over the RISE WV program to help those whose homes were damaged or destroyed by the high water.
At first, it appeared the pace of using the federal money and repairing or replacing homes had picked up.
But now, we know the foot-dragging has continued. In late June — a full year after the National Guard was put in charge of RISE — it was disclosed that the program STILL has cases open. It has completed work on just 51 homes. Of that total, at least 46 were not stick-built houses but rather, mobile homes.
It can take months to build a conventional house. A mobile home can be purchased, a lot prepared for it, and a family living in it in a week or less.
Of the more than $149 million in federal funds made available for flood relief in fall 2017, the state had spent just $134,975,882 by late June. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development officials have our state on a “slow spender” list.
If all of this does not make you angry, it should. And the folks hit last week by flash flooding in Grant, Pendleton, Preston, Tucker and Randolph counties are justified in being a bit worried about how long they might have to wait.
How is it possible, more than a year after Justice and state legislators said, in effect, that they were mad as hell and weren’t going to take it anymore, that victims of flooding that took place THREE YEARS AGO are still taking it on the chin?
All sorts of explanations, most of them blaming bureaucratic red tape, have been offered. If the rules are that harmful, the rules must be changed. Certainly if the fault lies with the bureaucrats themselves, well, they should be out of a job — and quickly.
West Virginia legislators have spent the first half of this year concentrating on other aspects of the public’s business, including school improvement. If it takes that long, they should devote the remainder of 2019 to finding out why RISE fell flat on its face — and doing whatever it takes to correct the problem.
The Register-Herald on the death of billionaire coal magnate and West Virginia native Chris Cline:
It hurts our heart and shakes us to our very core for reasons that we are certain we cannot fully or adequately explain in this small space.
But the hurt is real, it is deep and it is shared here in coal country, here where an entire region carries the burden of a stigma assigned by folks who rarely if ever bother to show up and sit a spell, here where family to most means the most in everything we do.
Chris Cline — a native of Beckley, son of a coal miner and product of public schools in the most economically challenging rural reaches of our state — punched back at stereotypes and beat the odds.
A visionary with a strong work ethic, Cline dropped out of college and returned to the mines where he got his start when he was 15. He became a billionaire, wealthy beyond imagination. He owned a 33,413 square foot mansion in North Palm Beach and laid claim to a ranch in Wyoming as well as entire islands in the Bahamas. He once owned a $30-million, 203-foot yacht. He had built a life of comfort and flamboyance, but not without putting in the work.
Cline was famous for giving back, too.
As documented in a story by Gary Fauber in The Register-Herald on Saturday (July 6), Cline impacted the lives of students in the classroom and on the field, from Beckley to Marshall to WVU. Here, the YMCA Paul Cline Memorial Youth Sports Complex, which bears his father’s name, has become a major player in soccer at the state level.
Plans are in the works to locate a new and expansive YMCA center, complete with an aquatics center, overlooking the soccer fields - in large part because of a Cline donation of $10 million.
In 2011, Marshall received a gift of $5 million through the Cline Family Foundation to establish an endowment to support new faculty and scientists in the Marshall University Sports Medicine Institute. Three years later, Cline donated $3.5 million to the Vision Campaign, an initiative spearheaded by Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick to secure funds for on-campus facilities.
Before his contribution to Marshall, Cline gave West Virginia University $2 million for its orthopedic department and another $3 million for the completion of a basketball practice facility.
Why did he give so much?
“It’s your home state, it’s your family, it’s what you grew up with,” Cline once said. “You learn that these people are your family, no matter where you move to in life afterwards.”
And now he is gone, killed when a helicopter in which he was riding crashed into the sea off Walker’s Cay in the Bahamas in the early morning hours of the Fourth of July — our nation’s birthday and one day before his own. He would have turned 61 on Friday (July 5).
Stories of his business acumen and his philanthropy will be told long after his death. As conveyed in a family statement to The Register-Herald, Cline’s life was proof that “our hopes and dreams are achievable when we believe and commit ourselves to action.”
And that, in part, is why we are especially devastated by the deaths of Cline’s 22-year-old daughter, Kameron, her good friend and Beckley native, Delaney Wykle, and Jillian Clark and Brittney Searson, who together with Kameron had recently graduated from Louisiana State University. Delaney had just picked up her college diploma, too, from West Virginia University. On Tuesday (July 2), she had passed her nursing boards. Their futures, filled with promise, were ahead of them. And then they weren’t.
Chris Cline owned the past and had put his stamp on much of the present around here. His daughter and friends held promise for the future.
We are immeasurably sad that they have left us.
Charleston Gazette-Mail on the failure of an intermodal facility:
It took tens of millions of dollars and years of planning to get what would eventually be known as the Heartland Intermodal Gateway up and running in Wayne County.
The intermodal facility in Prichard was expected to create jobs, not just at the site (where large cargo containers would be transported from trains to trucks, and, at a later stage, barges), but have a ripple effect that would bring manufacturing jobs to West Virginia.
Now, state Transportation Secretary Byrd White said the facility is running out of operating funds and will probably shut down in the fall. White predicts the facility will be auctioned off within a year. It’s operating at a loss of about $500,000, White said.
Gov. Jim Justice cut taxpayer funding for the site in the 2019-20 budget, and one of the facility’s main customers, Norfolk Southern (which also contributed a lot of money toward the project), says it will cease using the Heartland Intermodal Gateway unless the site can handle 15,000 shipping containers a year. It handled 68 containers in May, according to White.
It’s sad to see a project that had so much promise falter. Of course, there were warning signs along the way.
Back in 2015, the site was at a critical juncture, but the West Virginia Port Authority seemed in no hurry to select a company to operate Gateway. Perhaps that was because no one was lining up to do it, or perhaps it was a matter of cost. The delay was a setback, in either case.
The location itself also was an issue, because, to expand its use in the area, a lot of infrastructure work was needed. That specific area of the Big Sandy River was too narrow for barge traffic to navigate, and, although developers were working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a solution, it was a costly problem that never left the planning phase. The stretch of U.S. 52 near the facility needed to be widened to allow a higher volume of truck traffic. It never happened.
There also was some uncertainty around Norfolk Southern at critical development points, as Canadian Pacific was pursuing buying out the railroad. As was reported at the time, Canadian Pacific had little interest in the intermodal facility. Although the Canadian rail company ended its efforts to acquire Norfolk Southern in 2016, the uncertainty around the deal likely hindered development in Prichard.
Of course, there was also the container size issue. The intermodal facility was a natural fit for Toyota, which operates a plant in Putnam County. But Toyota uses 20-foot shipping containers, while other industries, such as lumber companies, used 40-foot containers. White said the facility never had enough of the larger containers to meet demand.
Whether it was a combination of these or other factors that ultimately led to this point, it’s a shame the facility didn’t meet expectations. Business officials and government officials at the federal, state and local levels gave a lot of effort to make the facility a reality, all working with the common vision that it was a way to boost the economy of a region that desperately needs good jobs and a stable future.
There’s still time for a miracle, but, right now, chances for the facility to survive and reach the potential so many had hoped for seem slim.