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Emergency road closure announced in Taylor County

TAYLOR COUNTY, W.Va. — Authorities in Taylor County have announced an emergency road closure due to collapse.

Taylor County Route 6, Nuzum Road has been closed near entrance to Fairfield Drive.

Due to the closure, Fairfield Drive will not be accessible from Harrison County Middle Road.

Workers are expected to replace a drainage pipe and stabilize the road so it can reopen by Thursday at 5 p.m.

Inclement weather or project problems could extend the closure.

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Agencies considering options after Fayette sewer line destroyed in flood

MOUNT OLIVE, W.Va. — The state Department of Environmental Protection and other agencies are working on a plan to change sewage treatment at Mount Olive State Prison in Fayette County after the sewer line below the prison was destroyed in Monday’s flash flood.

WV DEP Secretary Harold Ward

State DEP Secretary Harold Ward said removing the sewer generated by the prison from that broken line is a top priority. He said Mount Olive already has a lift stations in place to handle its sewage before it goes into the line. He said options are being explored on what action to take on site.

“We can probably do something as simple as solid storage containment up on top and then chlorination. We are looking at several options right now,” Ward told MetroNews.

Ward said the new options may be completed in stages.

The DEP issued a recreational use advisory Wednesday for a section of the Kanawha River from Smithers downstream to the London Locks of Dam—because of the chance that raw sewage has made it into the river.

“This is simply a recreational use (advisory) so people are aware and they can informed decisions about what activities they want to take,” Ward said.

According to the advisory, “People should avoid water contact recreation activities in the affected area, such as swimming, fishing, water skiing, and certain types of pleasure boating (e.g. sailing in a very small craft or outboard motor boats).”

The DEP said the order does not include water plants on the Kanawha River because their filtering systems should be able to handle anything that’s flowed into the river.

The sewer line from the prison to Smithers is maintained by the Kanawha Valley Falls Public Service District. It was destroyed in several sections in the flood of Smithers Creek along Cannelton Hollow,” DEP Secretary Ward said.

“About two-and-half miles of line that was completely destroyed and preliminary reports are indicating that in that hollow there’s an additional 3,000 feet that’s impacted by sediments and rocks that will have to be addressed,” Ward said.

Anne Cavalier

Smithers Mayor Anne Cavalier said for now residents along Cannelton Hollow are having to turn elsewhere for sewer service.

“We do have residences where the sewage facilities are not operable at this time,” she said.

For now residents can take showers and use facilities at Valley School in Smithers. Cavalier said when the school year begins next week, the services will be switched to Smithers City Hall.

Cavalier said the amount of debris has made it difficult assessing the damage to the line.

“We haven’t found all of the breaks and all of the problems yet,” she said.

Ward said a “holistic assessment” is underway.

“Hopefully as this goes forward we can look at in the future at other items. I know the administration is interested in looking at this holistically so that we can avoid this in the future if at all possible,” Ward said.

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Two more administrators depart the Department of Education

A personnel wheel keeps spinning at the state Department of Education, where two longtime administrators are leaving.

Jan Barth, the assistant superintendent, and Heather Hutchens, the general counsel, are leaving effective Sept. 9, the education department announced today.

“The WVDE is grateful for the years of service and commitment of time and talent Dr. Barth and Ms. Hutchens have contributed to the Department and public education in West Virginia,” the department commented in a statement distributed by Christy Day, spokeswoman.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail first reported their departures in a story posted Wednesday afternoon.

Earlier this month, Superintendent Clayton Burch sought a transfer to become superintendent for the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind. The state Board of Education swiftly named his replacement as David Roach, previously executive director of the state School Building Authority.

Last month, the state board named Paul Hardesty as its new president, replacing Miller Hall, who remains on the board.

Just a couple of days before that, then-vice chairman Tom Campbell resigned the board after 10 years of service.

The announcement distributed by the Department of Education today specified that Barth is a 21-year employee of the Department who will be retiring. Hutchens, a 22-year employee with the department, is pursuing other professional endeavors, the announcement stated.

“Any additional personnel or organizational changes or transitions will be published with the September 2022 West Virginia Board of Education meeting agenda and discussed as part of that meeting on September 14, 2022,” Day wrote in the agency’s statement.

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West Liberty BoG approves salary increases as part of governor’s program

WEST LIBERTY, W.Va. — The West Liberty University Board of Governors approved a 5% salary increase for employees through the governor’s salary enhancement program for state employees on Wednesday.

In June, the board tabled the decision to give West Liberty officials time to find out if the raises would have to be built into West Liberty’s budget annually or if they are part of the university’s annual appropriations from the state.

“We were not clear on whether this is something that the institution, after the first year, would be responsible for maintaining. We since discovered that it would not be the case and it is to be a part of our annual appropriation,” West Liberty University President W. Franklin Evans told the board during its meeting.

The board then passed the proposed resolution. It read:

Resolved, that the West Liberty University Board of Governors approve salary enhancements effective October 8, 2022 as follows:

– Faculty – a total of $186,455 to be distributed based upon merit and external competitiveness (equity) tiers as established by WLU Policy 245 and Procedure 240 to those who were on payroll prior to July 1, 2022.

– Staff – a total of $201,983 to be distributed based upon merit, and/or equity, and/or fixed dollars in accordance with WLU Compensation Guidelines to staff at least .53 FTE who were on payroll prior to July 1, 2022.

West Liberty University (WLU) has 350 university employees. WLU board chairman Rich Lucas previously told MetroNews that approximately $6 million of the approximate $42 million annual budget of WLU comes from the state of West Virginia. WLU last had an employee salary increase during the 18-19 fiscal year, according to Lucas.

Evans told the board that the minimum wage for staff will now increase from $11 to $14 per hour.

“One of the things that we would use the dollars for the staff for is to bring the minimum wage up. Right now it’s at $11 and we want to move that up,” Evans said.

The next scheduled meeting for WLU’s BoG is October 12.

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Road, bridge damage in Kanawha, Fayette counties likely to exceed $1 million

CANNELTON HOLLOW, W.Va. — It appears damage to state-maintained roads and bridges in Monday’s flash flood in Kanawha and Fayette counties will total more than $1 million.

State Division of Highways District 9 Engineer Jim Moore said Wednesday the damage is approaching that mark in Fayette County alone.

“We’ve think we’ve looked at just about every road in the state highway system in that area and we’re coming up with a preliminary estimate of about $750,000 to $850,000,” Moore said during an appearance on the state Department of Transportation’s ‘On the Dot’ podcast.

A flooded Smithers Creek ate away the shoulder of Cannelton Hollow Road Monday morning new Mount Olive. (Photo/MetroNews)

Moore said it’s going to take several days to make the necessary repairs on Cannelton Hollow Road between Smithers and the Mount Olive State Prison.

“We have several embankment failures. That road kind of parallels the creek and the creek washed out some of the roadway embankments and took out the shoulder and in at least two cases took out part of a lane. So we will be up there putting rock in those areas and rebuilding the road and the road embankment,” Moore said.

The DOH will have to construct a new bridge on Carbondale Road, which is off of Cannelton Hollow. The former bridge was destroyed in the flood. Crews were expected to finish a temporary causeway Wednesday afternoon. Moore said they’ll use materials that were scheduled to be used on another bridge project in the district to build a new bridge there.

“It was very handy and convenient that that structure is approximately the same size as this one that just failed,” he said. “What we’re going to do is delay a project that we had scheduled, use those materials and move over to this Carbondale Road bridge and get it put in as quickly as we can.”

Smithers Mayor Anne Cavalier said volunteers used ATVs to go into the Carbondale community Wednesday to take supplies to residents.

“Several of these folks are elderly,” Cavalier said. “They (the volunteers) are taking them food, water, cleaning supplies and are picking up any prescriptions that might need to be filled.”

DOH crews from Fayette and Nicholas counties continued efforts Wednesday to remove rocks and mud from Routes 16/39 between Gauley Bridge and Belva. Moore said the highway was scheduled to reopen Tuesday evening but a heavy storm moved through and because of culvert damage from the previous flash flood there was nowhere for the water to go.

The DOH has upwards of 70 workers on the flash flood repairs. Moore said there are going to be some long, hard days.

“I keep trying to remind the folks that this is a marathon, it’s not a sprint. We need to be mindful and take care of our crews also while still trying to get as much done every single day as we possibly can,” Moore said.

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Students head back to school in West Virginia

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Superintendents in West Virginia’s K-12 schools say increasing student achievement, enhancing school safety and transitioning out of the COVID-19 pandemic are among their top priorities as students head back to class this week.

Dr. Sara Lewis-Stankus

The first day of school was Tuesday in Barbour, Braxton, Pocahontas and Upshur counties. Students in Cabell, Calhoun, Pleasants and Randolph counties were back in school Wednesday.

“Everyone is so happy to see the yellow buses, picking up our students and bringing them back. It’s sort of that celebration because all of us have been through so many challenges of the pandemic,” Upshur County Schools Superintendent Dr. Sara Lewis-Stankus told MetroNews.

Lewis-Stankus said she’s hoping for a more “normal” school year.

“What is normal?” She asked. “We’re all trying to redefine that word because we have to be bolder than we were before the pandemic because we have overcome a lot of obstacles.”

But some issues remain county-to-county. Teacher shortages are top of mind. Lewis-Stankus said they’re working to fill the gaps.

Dr. Ryan Saxe

“We’re doing a lot of different options in terms of getting people into the classroom and certified as teachers,” she said. “When you work with children and you influence the future, it’s more than a job.”

Providing students with a quality education also comes with securing school buildings from potential active shooters. Dr. Ryan Saxe, superintendent of Cabell County Schools, said they have measures in place to address those concerns.

“Making sure that all of our schools across the district are receiving security upgrades in the way of safe school entrances,” Saxe said. “We’re also looking at implementing special locking devices for classroom doors.”

Lewis-Stankus said they held school safety training sessions over the summer.

“In the beginning of the school year, we brought our teachers and staff in for safety training,” she said. “Of course we’re thinking about the social and emotional aspects of teaching and learning as well.”

Barbour County Schools Superintendent Jeff Woofter said he wants to do better on standardized test scores this school year.

Jeff Woofter

“We’re in a pretty good place right now, but we can always improve. We just want to make sure that we serve the students to the best of our ability,” Woofter said.

The first school day back in Barbour County included some minor complaints, but nothing major, Woofter said.

“On the first day, you always have bus issues, you have new enrolls coming in late, just normal things that can happen to throw off your day,” he said.

Students in Boone, Brooke, Doddridge, Gilmer, Lincoln, Mason, Ritchie, Webster, Wirt and Wood counties return to school Thursday.

Grant, Mineral, Pendleton, Tyler and Hardy counties begin the school year Friday.

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Charleston Sternwheel Regatta returning to July 4th weekend in 2023

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Charleston Sternwheel Regatta will return in 2023 around the 4th of July weekend and Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin said it was an easy decision.

On Wednesday, Goodwin and Alisa Bailey of the Regatta Commission announced the 2023 event will take place Friday, June 30 to Tuesday, July 4. The event in 2022 marked the Regatta’s comeback to the city, the first one since 2009.

2023 Save the Dates

Goodwin said the announcement comes following meetings with community partners, FestivALL leaders, the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Regatta Commission. She said it was a ‘resounding yes’ to the mid-summer date.

“That’s what we heard from the sternwheelers, saying this is what works for us. Our vendors said, almost all of them, ‘sign me up for next year, it was the best event we’ve ever had,'” Goodwin said.

The 5-day 2022 Charleston Sternwheel Regatta, which was held on the exact dates announced for 2023, generated $31,507,883 in economic impact, attracted an estimated 210,000 attendees, and directly supported an estimated 5,978 jobs. The economic impact was calculated by the CVB using the Destinations International Event Economic Impact Calculator.

Of the estimated 210,000 attendees, 71% were local attendees and 29% were out-of-town attendees (traveling from at least 50 miles away). Hotel occupancy is estimated to have been at 95% — for a total of 15,440 total room nights.

Tim Brady, President and CEO of the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau has previously stated following the 2022 event, “This event eclipses anything we’ve had in Charleston in at least the last 10 years.”

The music lineup for the 2022 event featured artists such as Martina McBride, the Spinners, the Four Tops, and Rick Springfield. Goodwin told the media Wednesday no decisions have been on next year’s lineup.

Charleston Mayor Amy Goodwin and Alisa Bailey of the Regatta Commission announced the dates on Wednesday. (Photo by Jake Flatley)

“We have a lot of feelers out. The conversations have already started. As you can imagine, we’re hearing back from a lot of people in the community to ask about a certain band or certain act,” Goodwin said.

Before it came back in the past year, it was traditionally held around Labor Day weekend. Goodwin said it’s too early to declare the 4th of July weekend as a permanent fixture.

“We’ve been proven in the first year it can work. I think the second year we fix any little tweaks and missteps along the way and the third year we’ll be cooking,” Goodwin said.

“I think it’s too early to say if this will be the absolute date but the board came back and said let’s try it again.”

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I-79 crash victim identified as Bridgeport man

WHITE HALL, W.Va. — West Virginia State Police have identified the victim of the fiery I-79 crash on the Tygart River Bridge Tuesday evening.

Troopers said Larry Lee Atha, 71, of Bridgeport, died in the crash.

Atha was traveling southbound at about 4:30 p.m. when he hit the guardrail, traveled across both lanes and struck the guardrail again. When the truck hit the guardrail again it caught fire.

Atha was unable to escape and died at the scene, troopers said.

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MetroNews This Morning 8-17-22

A federal judge rejects the plea agreement of a Maryland couple arrested in West Virginia for espionage in the sale of nuclear secrets, they’ll now face trial in U.S. District Court. The cleanup is well underway in Kanawha and Fayette County from high water on Monday morning. We visit with some of those who have a mess on their hands. Also damage assessment from the flooding is underway as well. A major upgrade to a Charleston water treatment plant which provides drinking water to 11 West Virginia counties. Students are back on campus in Morgantown and after a night of enjoying Fall Fest return to class today at WVU. In Sports, Joe Brocato is in for Kyle and we’ll get a preview from perennial football power house Martinsburg and more from the WVU and Marshall training camps as football season is a day closer.

Listen to “MetroNews This Morning 8-17-22” on Spreaker.

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Internal competition helps to keep Martinsburg as West Virginia’s premier program

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — As Martinsburg begins pursuit of their tenth state championship and their sixth in a row for seasons that were completed, the Bulldogs are once again, deep, talented and experienced. Internal competition in practice can be credited for building players and the program.

“A lot of weeks we talk about, we want to be the best team we play that week is on Tuesday and Wednesday against our scout team,” said Martinsburg head coach Britt Sherman.

Britt Sherman claimed his first title as the head coach of the Bulldogs in 2021 and several returning starters can be found throughout their depth chart.

“That was awesome,” said Martinsburg senior linebacker Kam Shallis. “You always dream of that as a little kid. To do it with all these guys out here just made it ten times more special. It was definitely an awesome experience.”

Both starting quarterbacks have returned. Junior Murphy Clement passed for 15 touchdowns and rushed for 22 more. Senior Ezra Bagent tossed 29 touchdowns and he passed for 2,622 yards.

“They both get us the ball,” said Martinsburg senior wide receiver/defensive back Roman Pierson. “Murphy likes to run a lot, obviously. Ezra likes to throw the ball. They are both good throwers.”

“A lot of people don’t understand how the two-quarterback thing works. But when those guys are cheering for each other, it is exciting. It is really good to see,” Sherman said.

Although the Bulldogs lost a trio of Division I players in Hudson Clement, Jacob Barrick and Braxton Todd to graduation, established running backs and receivers return.

“We have [Xavion] Kendall back. We have [Eric] King back. King had a great game last game,” Sherman said. “With the two quarterbacks and with our receivers, we’ve got Buzz Dover back. He was out all last year with a knee injury. Pierson, [Kashez] Gedeon, [Sirod] Musgrove, Jameer Hunter joins us this year.”

The Bulldog coaching staff must find new starters for interior positions on the line. Leading tackler and future Division I linebacker Kam Shallis returns after making 98 stops as a junior.

“He is the quarterback of our defense,” Sherman said. “He makes sure that everybody is in the right spot. He makes our calls. He flies around and he is real physical.”

In their Super Six victories in 2019 and 2021, special teams were a significant advantage for the Bulldogs and Sherman believes the so-called third phase of the game is emphasized heavily.

“We try to make it a force,” Sherman said. “We really do work on it a lot. Usually, it is at least twenty minutes a day and some days more. We try to simplify it so our athletes can move around as fast as they can and make as many plays as they can on that side of the ball.”

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