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West Virginia lawmakers request help regarding Clarksburg water problems

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Members of West Virginia’s congressional delegation have sent letters to public officials regarding elevated lead levels in the Clarksburg Water System and the possibility of providing services to impacted residents.

The requests from U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., in addition to Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., follow the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Bureau of Public Health issuing orders stemming from increased levels.

Around 18,000 Clarksburg residents and 38,000 people receive water from the water system, which has around 8,500 connections.

The EPA called on the Clarksburg Water Board to identify homes and businesses with lead service lines and asked the city to provide affected residents with drinking water or filters. The Bureau for Public Health last week issued a notice of violation against the board for failing to notify the public about the risk of lead exposure.

Manchin, Capito and McKinley on Friday wrote to EPA Administrator Michael Regan to request the agency assist with the emergency by providing grants, collaborating with local and state agencies with sampling activities, and issuing bottled water and point-of-use filters to impacted people.

“The requests and questions highlighted above will go a long way toward assuring Clarksburg’s residents that their drinking water is safe,” the lawmakers said.

McKinley sent a letter Wednesday to Gov. Jim Justice, in which he urged state officials to work with the Clarksburg Water Board on addressing the matter. McKinley suggested utilizing coronavirus relief funds for sampling efforts and water line replacement, and mentioned a possible request for an emergency declaration if there are elevated lead levels throughout the system.

McKinley also expressed empathy with the Clarksburg Water Board, noting a short period local officials had to reach out to customers. He said the state Department of Health and Human Resources needs to work with the Water Board on complying with the state order, and added the board should not face a $5,000 fine for each day of noncompliance.

“While I will continue to work with EPA to identify opportunities for federal aid for the CWB, it is important that the WVDHHR do the same,” McKinley added.

People cannot remove lead from water by boiling it. Parents of children younger than six should speak to their family’s pediatrician about the possible need for precautionary blood lead testing.

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Texas, Oklahoma expected to inform Big 12 next week they’re on the way out

Texas and Oklahoma will inform the Big 12 Conference of their intentions to bolt the league for the Southeastern Conference by Monday, as first reported by 247 Sports.

Over the last 48 hours, there’s been no shortage of speculation the Longhorns and Sooners were on their way out and headed to what would become a 16-team SEC.

Big 12 presidents, athletic directors and chancellors partook in a videoconference Thursday to discuss future plans, including the potential value of the remaining eight schools’ to other conferences. Oklahoma and Texas officials were not in on the meeting.

The Houston Chronicle first reported Wednesday both UT and OU had reached out to the SEC inquiring about membership. There has been no denial from either school, though it remains to be seen when they’ll leave the Big 12.

Because Big 12 schools signed a grant-of-rights agreement giving the league their media rights in football and men’s basketball, the conference owns those rights through June 2025. The Big 12 is tied into television contracts with ESPN and Fox that expire in 2025, though Texas and Oklahoma are expected to inform the conference they won’t renew when the grant of rights expire in 2025.

If Oklahoma and Texas wanted to leave the Big 12 before 2025, each school would have to pay the Big 12 approximately $80 million — the equivalent of two years worth of revenue distribution. There could be millions more in the cost of penalties for each school, though in the past such matters have been settled in court, such as when Maryland paid the Atlantic Coast Conference $31 million of a $52 million exit fee after joining the Big Ten in 2014.

The cost of departure likely wouldn’t be a big issue to either school, particularly Texas, which boasts the most profitable athletic department in the nation.

The loss of Oklahoma and Texas would leave the Big 12 with a shaky future at best.

The conference has never been a strong geographical fit for West Virginia, which isn’t within 700 miles of any league foe. The Mountaineers joined the Big 12 more out of necessity in 2012 under then-athletic director Oliver Luck after the Big East disbanded.

Past Big East rivals Pitt, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Boston College, Miami and Louisville moved on to the ACC, which would be a better geographical fit for West Virginia. During the last round of realignment, however, the ACC had a chance to add WVU and did not.

The Big Ten, home to former Big East rival Rutgers as well as past out-of-conference rivals Maryland and Penn State, is the best geographical fit outside of the ACC, should West Virginia seek membership into another Power 5 conference.

It remains to be seen whether the Big Ten, ACC or Pac-12 — the Power 5 conferences in addition to the Big 12 and SEC — will expand should Oklahoma and Texas join the SEC.

The ACC currently has 15 members, while the Big Ten and Pac-12 have 14 and 12, respectively.

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W.Va. native takes over as head of National School Board Assn.

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A West Virginia native says whether it’s a small school district in West Virginia or the largest in America in the Los Angeles Unified School District, a lot of the problems today surrounding pubic schools are the same.

Chip Slaven is a native of Grafton, W.Va. and this month took over as the Director of the National School Board Association.

“There are clearly big differences, depending on how you do things, but there are also some similarities. I guarantee you if you sat down a board member from Los Angeles and a board member from Taylor County, they’d be able to talk about a lot of the same issues,” Slaven said.

He said the biggest obstacles are universal. Across the nation, school boards are looking at ways to safely reopen their schools, dealing with teacher shortages, looking for ways to cover the ‘homework divide” with a lack of adequate internet connectivity for students, and how to deal with students who have disabilities.

Slaven believes his new role is to help foster and effect policy which will enable school board’s nationally to navigate those problems in the best interest of their students. The pandemic presented a load of challenges which every board of education in America faces. He added however, the pandemic also showed us the way forward in some cases. Slaven said a lot rides on how boards handle the evolution of the education system.

“What is the future of public school going to look like? How is it going to work and how will it utilize technology more effectively and personalize learning for students which is something we really need to do. If we do those things, students are not only going to graduate from high school, but they’re going to be graduating high school better prepared for today’s modern world,” Slaven explained.

Slaven has extensive government relations and legal experience having served as director of federal policy and intergovernmental affairs for former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise and district director for former U.S. Representative Wise. He also was an attorney at Jackson Kelly PLLC and a law clerk for the United States Attorney’s Office, Southern District of West Virginia. He is licensed to practice law in the District of Columbia and state of West Virginia.

Slaven grew up in Grafton and graduated from Grafton High School then completed his undergraduate work and earned his law degree at WVU.

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WV DHHR confirms 2 new COVID deaths, active cases rise by almost 100

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia is reporting two more deaths to COVID-19 and a rise in active cases by almost 100 over the last 24 hours.

The additional confirmed deaths are as a result of the Bureau for Public Health’s continuing data reconciliation with the official death certificate. An 84-year-old male from Grant County and an 80-year old male from Cabell County died from the virus.

There has been a total of 2,936 deaths in West Virginia.

As of Friday, there were 1,324 active cases in the state, up 99 from 1,225 on Thursday.

Delta variant cases remain unchanged at 35.

Hospitalizations reach 90 in the state, up a few from Thursday’s report.

More than half of West Virginia’s population over the age of 12 are fully vaccinated at 56 percent.

DHHR reports as of July 23, 2021, there have been 3,090,636 total confirmatory laboratory results received for COVID-19, with 165,702 total cases and 2,936 deaths. https://t.co/ibeCRIklIz pic.twitter.com/bEkQNepBuo

— WV Department of Health & Human Resources • 😷 (@WV_DHHR) July 23, 2021

CASES PER COUNTY: Barbour (1,522), Berkeley (12,980), Boone (2,190), Braxton (1,035), Brooke (2,257), Cabell (9,011), Calhoun (400), Clay (544), Doddridge (649), Fayette (3,600), Gilmer (891), Grant (1,322), Greenbrier (2,919), Hampshire (1,935), Hancock (2,860), Hardy (1,588), Harrison (6,281), Jackson (2,283), Jefferson (4,829), Kanawha (15,594), Lewis (1,325), Lincoln (1,613), Logan (3,318), Marion (4,707), Marshall (3,565), Mason (2,094), McDowell (1,656), Mercer (5,248), Mineral (3,006), Mingo (2,797), Monongalia (9,464), Monroe (1,229), Morgan (1,256), Nicholas (1,936), Ohio (4,340), Pendleton (726), Pleasants (961), Pocahontas (683), Preston (2,971), Putnam (5,415), Raleigh (7,141), Randolph (2,879), Ritchie (768), Roane (670), Summers (869), Taylor (1,304), Tucker (549), Tyler (754), Upshur (2,011), Wayne (3,206), Webster (588), Wetzel (1,405), Wirt (468), Wood (8,005), Wyoming (2,085).

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Justice’s business says it’s making progress in debt talks with international banker

Bluestone Resources, the coal company owned by Gov. Jim Justice and his family, is signaling progress in talks over almost $700 million in debt with the international finance company Credit Suisse.

A statement issued today by Bluestone referred to “several days of face-to-face meetings last week in West Virginia.”

The Justice company says it has agreed to a framework with Credit Suisse to work on restructuring debt obligations following the insolvency of Bluestone’s main lender, Greensill Capital.

Financial Times today cited a source who described “more constructive conversations” but that the announcement by Bluestone “was a little premature” and no agreement has been signed.

Credit Suisse declined comment to MetroNews and other news outlets.

The Wall Street Journal reported that strategies for making up the debt include boosting out put at coal mines operated by Bluestone, revitalizing The Greenbrier Resort owned by the Justices to bump up profitability and leveraging more profits from the Justice family’s landholdings. The Journal, citing unnamed sources, reported there are no plans to sell assets.

The Justice companies took out hundreds of millions of dollars in loans from Greensill Capital in 2018.  Greensill packaged such loans and sold them to investment funds managed by Credit Suisse.

Greensill declared bankruptcy this spring after Credit Suisse froze billions in funds.

Credit Suisse is now pressing to recover lost investments and has has named Justice’s Bluestone Resources as one of three major borrowers from the Greensill funds.

Bluestone Resources Inc CEO Jay Justice

A statement from Bluestone today referenced talks with Credit Suisse “in order to resolve a significant part of its loan exposure.”

“These constructive developments with CS will allow Bluestone to return to a state of normalcy, so that we can continue providing great quality coal and coke to our customers around the world, while providing a stable, secure situation for our valued employees and business,” stated Jay Justice, the governor’s son who runs the coal operations.

The loans to 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.”

Justice’s companies have sued Greensill — accusing the company of “continuous and profitable fraud.” The lawsuit notes that Governor Justice has a 60 percent ownership interest in Bluestone Resources. Cathy Justice is also listed as a plaintiff.

The international financial story hit home this summer because of the revelation that Governor Justice and his wife Cathy had signed personal guarantees and could be on the hook for the debt following the Greensill collapse. The Wall Street Journal first reported Justice’s personal liability in a story headlined “West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice Is Personally Liable for $700 Million in Greensill Loans.”

During a briefing earlier this week, Governor Justice alluded to the likelihood of some upcoming relief.

“I hope you’ll see tomorrow a situation with the Credit Suisse people and the Greensill thing that that situation is moving in a positive direction,” Justice said Tuesday.

It turns out the timeline was off by a couple of days, but today’s statement appears to be what the governor described.

In early June, Governor Justice characterized Greensill as acting in bad faith and suggested his companies were unaware of the ins and outs of the broader relationship with Credit Suisse.

“If you knew all the details you’d know that evidently Greensill is a bad, bad actor. And in almost partnership with that you’ve got the Credit Suisse people that were tied at the hip with Greensill that we didn’t know anything about. From the standpoint of what Greensill has done, how in the world could we have ever known anything whatsoever?”

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Upper Ohio Valley Italian Festival underway in Wheeling

WHEELING, W.Va. — One of the most prominent festivals in the Northern Panhandle is returning this weekend following a year off due to COVID-19.

The 38th annual Undo’s Upper Ohio Valley Italian Festival kicks off Friday and runs through Sunday at Wheeling’s Heritage Port along the Ohio River and features everything Italy from bocce tournaments, dancing, music, vendors, and authentic food.

“It is the Upper Ohio Valley’s Italian heritage festival and Italian heritage is prevalent here. There was a lot of disappointment throughout when it had to be canceled last year,” Olivia Litman, Marketing Director for Visit Wheeling WV told MetroNews.

The entertainment kicks off at Noon on Friday from the stage at the port. Entertainment goes until 11 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. on Saturday with fireworks following, and 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Sunday. Catholic mass is celebrated at the port to kick the day off Sunday at 10 a.m.

Food includes Little Italy and homemade Italian food from spaghetti, calzones, subs, sausage, and pasta and around 40 traditional vendors with lemonade and deep-fried goodies. Litman said there is something for people of all ages.

“Games, fun amusement rides for the kids, lots of things that will grab your interest with vendors, artists will be there selling their goods. Any type of food that you could possibly imagine will be there,” she said.

Litman said around 50,000 people come to Wheeling’s waterfront in the three days during the festival. She expects a large crowd.

“I mean people are excited to get on and really appreciate maybe some of the festivals they took advantage of being in their backyard for so many years,” Litman said.

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3 arrested after authorities find dead body in Berkeley County

MARTINSBURG — So far, three people have been arrested after allegedly working together to conceal a deceased human body.

The Journal reports Anthony Travis Hoskins, 30, of Jefferson Orchard Road, Kearneysville; Kristin Price, 27, of Middleway Pike, Inwood; and Samuel G. Forman, 44, also of Middleway Pike, Inwood, were arraigned Wednesday in Berkeley County Magistrate Court on the felony charges of concealment of deceased human body and conspiracy.

The victim has been identified as Marvin Todd Hansrote, who was reported missing July 3rd. Ten days later, remains matching a description of Hansrote were found near a home off Winchester Avenue in Inwood.

Hansrote’s boss told police that he had been keeping some of the victim’s paycheck for safe keeping, court records said. The employer indicated that on June 17, he gave the victim a large sum of his money to find a place to live and purchase furniture.

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Sex trafficking victims rescued in Berkeley County

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Berkeley County Sheriff Nathan Harmon says a traffic stop was a perfect example of good police work and how drugs are involved in other crimes.

In a social media post Thursday, the sheriff says a traffic stop on I-81 for a speeding violation turned into a vehicle pursuit.

In the car were four young women he said were victims of a sex trafficking ring. As a result of the stop, Harmon says the women were given ‘safe haven these criminals.’

He says members of the ACE team also confiscated 174 oxycontin pills, 52 morphine pills and meth during the stop.

“I couldn’t be more proud of our deputies,” Harmon says. “You saved lives today.”

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Williamstown seeks 22nd consecutive postseason appearance

WILLIAMSTOWN, W.Va. — Williamstown was certainly not the only team to see their 2020 season end by the COVID metrics map. However, the Yellowjackets were well set up to make a run in their 21st consecutive playoff appearance. With a record of 5-2, the ‘Jackets earned the No. 6 seed before the map turned against them. Head coach Chris Beck says his team handled the many obstacles throughout the season as well as could be expected.

“We can only control what we can control. That was the motto last year,” said Beck. “Those guys, no matter what we threw at them, they just did it. Their work ethic was tremendous. They handled the adversity well. If they handle the rest of their lives like they did last year, they are going to be in good shape.”

As Williamstown turns the page to the 2021 season, a top priority for Beck and his coaching staff is to replace a handful of starters on both the offensive and defensive lines.

“We are having two sophomores stepping up and we have another senior stepping up,” said Williamstown senior lineman Colton Hesson. “They are going to be on the line with me and they are doing pretty good. They are stepping up pretty well.”

“Up front, we have great competition,” Beck said. “A lot of guys are competing their butts off every day. And some young guys are stepping up. I think we have a lot of guys that work hard and want to play. It is finding that right combination of guys that is going to let us be successful.”

The offensive line will go to work in front of senior running back Trevor Oates. Last season, he rushed for 966 yards and 10 touchdowns in 7 games.

“I feel that once I know what I have to do, it makes me so much better,” Oates said.

“He is a six-foot, 200-pound man that can wear on people,” Beck said. “He showed that last year. He got better as the year went on and I am expecting a big year out of him. But also if you look at some of the other skill guys, Rickie Allen is back at fullback. Rickie is a really good athlete that can make plays for us.”

A pair of sophomores are battling for the starting quarterback spot, with Colt Hesson and Maxwell Molessa in the mix. Both will contribute in some capacity on offense.

“I think both can win ball games,” Beck said. “I feel good about either one of them being there. It is just finding out which one gives us the best chance to win. Whoever probably isn’t the quarterback is going to help us at another position, maybe receiver.”

As Beck enters his second season leading the Yellowjackets, traditional schemes will remain in place but with some cosmetic tweaks.

“We really want to be good at what we do. I think that has been a staple of what we do. If you look at our concepts, there’s not a bunch of things but we are able to dress it up a few different ways. So for us, it is not really adding more things in, it is dressing up things in a little different way,” Beck said.

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MetroNews This Morning 7-23-21

There are growing concerns about the Delta Variant of the Coronavirus and the impact it could have in the weeks ahead on West Virginia. Governor Justice denies he has any stake in who he appoints to the BOG of Marshall or WVU. Senator Capito wants to back an infrastructure bill, but says not without seeing what’s in it. Unions are pushing Capito to back the Protect the Right to Organize Act in Washington. In Sports, there is growing speculation about the reports Oklahoma and Texas may bolt from the Big XII to the SEC. Those stories and more in today’s MetroNews This Morning podcast.

Listen to “MetroNews This Morning 7-23-21” on Spreaker.

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