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Regulators to weigh whether extending power plants is worth $443 million for ratepayers

West Virginia regulators are weighing a decision that could extend the lifespan of three coal-fired power plants versus a $443.8 million cost for ratepayers.

The state Public Service Commission plans to consider the options Friday. A public hearing will be from 8 to 9 a.m. with an evidentiary hearing after that. The hearing will be streamed on the commission’s website at www.psc.state.wv.us.

Some of the groups involved in this debate say the one morning of consideration really isn’t enough.

“This working timeline set by the Commission does not provide adequate opportunity for public comment, as this is a case that widely impacts a half-million ratepayers in 23 counties, from Wheeling to Welch,” said Gaylene Miller, state policy director of AARP West Virginia. She urged at least one more public comment hearing for a longer period, and to include an opportunity for evening participation.

It’s a heavy issue, hinging on whether it’s worth million dollars of investments to extend the service of three aging coal-fired power plants — John Amos, Mountaineer and Mitchell.

Without the full array of environmental upgrades, the power plants would remain in operation for just the next few years, until 2028. With the changes, the power plants could remain in operation until 2040.

Doing so could assure the jobs associated with the plants, as well as economic viability in the surrounding communities.

The question is whether that’s worth the price of increased costs to ratepayers, including average citizens and big power users such as manufacturers.

West Virginia regulators already weighed the costs and benefits once and decided to go all-in on the upgrades. The twist is that two other states — Virginia and Kentucky — have a say-so in the future of the three power plants too. Regulators in those two states declined the full range of improvements.

So if West Virginia regulators opt to go ahead, the full financial burden would fall to ratepayers here.

Now, the state Public Service Commission is examining the issue once more.

Who decides? The three commissioners include the president, Charlotte Lane, a former state lawmaker who earlier served on the U.S. International Trade Commission.

Commissioner Renee Larrick was previously business manager for the Beckley law firm run by her husband, former state Lottery Director Alan Larrick.

The newest commissioner, Bill Raney, recently retired as president of the West Virginia Coal Association, a position he’d had for 18 years.

What power plants are in play?

Kentucky Power and Wheeling Power each own 50 percent interest in Mitchell, which is in Marshall County.

Virginia regulators share oversight of John Amos in Putnam County and Mountaineer in Mason County because they serve customers in those states.

Who asked West Virginia’s PSC to reconsider this issue? Lawyers for Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power on Sept. 8 asked for the case to be reopened after regulators in Virginia and Kentucky declined the full upgrades to maximize the power plants’ operation life.

“As the three regulatory bodies did not issue consistent orders to approve the same compliance work and cost recovery at all three plants, and as the (Kentucky Public Service Commission and Virginia State Corporation Commission) orders were issued after the evidentiary hearing in this proceeding, the Companies request that the Commission reopen this matter,” wrote the lawyers for the power companies.

The power companies are asking for a decision pretty soon, by Oct. 13.

What would it cost? The total cost estimated during the first consideration was $383.5 million.

The power companies now offer a revised figure, $443.8 million.

That breaks down to $217.3 million for the John Amos plant, $82.7 million for the Mountaineer plant and $148.3 million for the Mitchell plant.

The overall annual cost is an estimated $48 million.

Who pays? One of the items the power companies are asking for is “an acknowledgement from the Commission that additional investments and O&M expenses at the plants will be needed prior to 2028, and will be the responsibility of West Virginia customers, if the plants are to operate beyond 2028.”

So, West Virginians would pay.

Who is for this? Besides the power companies, the most prominent voice in favor of the big investment is the West Virginia Coal Association.

In a filing in favor of the improvements, the coal association cites earlier estimates of the millions of dollars in economic output from the plants.

The coal association also cites recently-adopted “legislative findings” about the struggling coal industry that were enshrined in state law. One of those findings says  “It is imperative the State of West Virginia take immediate steps to reverse these undesirable trends to ensure that no more coal-fired plants close, no additional jobs are lost, and long-term state prosperity is maintained.”

And the association cites the final line of the legislative findings that “Public electric utilities in West Virginia should be encouraged to operate their coal-fired plants at maximum reasonable output and for the duration of the life of the plants.”

Those broad goals were placed in the section of code applying to the Public Service Commission, so the coal association suggests it’s the PSC’s role to make sure it gets done.

A second filing in this case by the coal association concludes by noting that there could be an alternate way to assure power plants have the backing they need.

“One example is the West Virginia Public Energy Authority (WVPEA), recently reactivated by Governor Justice, which enjoys broad authority to participate in the energy industry in this state through, among other roles, owning, leasing or entering into joint-ownership agreements for electric power plants, entering into contracts for the purchase or stile of power, issuing bonds and providing financing for electric power projects, among many other powers.”

Chris Hamilton, the current president of the coal association, is one of the newly-appointed members of the Energy Authority.

Who is against this? Pretty much everybody else.

That includes the big plants that make up the West Virginia Energy Users Group, the West Virginia Manufacturers Association, AARP on behalf of retirees, a range of environmental groups and the Public Service Commission’s own consumer advocate.

Energy users The West Virginia Energy Users Group is an organization of large employers focusing on keeping energy rates down. The 15 members include companies like Chemours in Parkersburg and Belle, Constellium Rolled Products in Ravenswood, Quad in Martinsburg, Rockwool in Ranson and Weyerhaueser in Buckhannon.

The group’s two filings in the reopened case contend West Virginia ratepayers would be unduly burdened.

“The upshot is that the Companies’ request for the Commission to confirm that their West Virginia ratepayers are responsible for all (effluent limitation guidelines) costs is tantamount to a request for West Virginia ratepayers to subsidize AEP’s retail ratepayers in Kentucky and Virginia,” the group wrote.

“And of that $48 million annual revenue requirement, West Virginia ratepavers would bear $22 million properly allocable to Kentucky and Virginia, which would constitute yet another hit to the competitiveness of West Virginia’s manufacturing and industrial economy.”

The energy users directly respond to the coal association, saying coal jobs aren’t the only ones at stake.

“There is no question that the eventual closure of the Amos, Mountaineer, and Mitchell plants would unfortunately impact those employed there as well as their communities. That said, it is absolutely incorrect for the Coal Association to suggest that this potential impact ‘far outweighs any conceivable increase in investments and costs proposed to be borne by West Virginia ratepayers if the Companies’ Petition is granted,'” the users group wrote.

“Conversely, as demonstrated in this case, any increase in utility rates has a deleterious effect on the ability of large industrial and manufacturing customers to both continue the employment of thousands of West Virginians as well as potentially remain in operation within the state.”

Manufacturers

The West Virginia Manufacturers Association made a similar argument in a letter from its president, Rebecca McPhail.

Rebecca McPhail

“It is counterproductive to increase rates in this manner for West Virginia manufacturing and industry, and it will make our manufacturing base that much less competitive,” McPhail wrote.

“The statewide industrial and manufacturing economy should not be further harmed by increased rates and a monopoly driven acquisition of what may be an unnecessary share of an aging power plant. Please reject these proposals, which will harm West Virginia ratepayers and our core manufacturing base.”

Environmental groups

Organizations like West Virginia Citizens Action Group, Solar United Neighbors and Energy Efficient West Virginia weighed in against the proposal.

They, too, object to West Virginia ratepayers ponying up for other states.

“In other words, under the Companies’ request, West Virginia customers – who have already experienced a 150 percent increase in their electric rates over the past fifteen years – would become the environmental compliance piggybank for customers in other states,” they wrote.

Emmett Pepper

Emmett Pepper, policy director for Energy Efficient West Virginia, said the proposal is anything but fiscally conservative.

“Throughout this whole case, I keep thinking of the Danny De Vito film, ‘Other People’s Money.’ The West Virginia Coal Association, and now apparently AEP, is asking the PSC to require West Virginians to pay for their business decisions when no other state’s ratepayers will do so,” Pepper said.

“There appears to be no limit to the amount of money they want to force us to pay to benefit these companies. This is outrageous and I don’t think West  Virginians’ pocketbooks can take too much more of this. Anyone in support of these schemes cannot call themselves a conservative — these companies are asking the government to force us to bail out their businesses. That’s not how capitalism works.”

Gaylene Miller

Retired people AARP West Virginia put out a statement this week urging the PSC to reject the proposal.

“It is patently unfair to force West Virginia ratepayers to pay for investment costs that should be paid for by ratepayers in two other states – Kentucky and Virginia. This proposal doubles the initial rate increase approved by state regulators, putting West Virginia consumers on the hook alone for nearly a half-billion dollars in cost responsibility,” said Gaylene Miller, the AARP West Virginia state director.

PSC consumer advocate The consumer advocate at the PSC, a position intended to represent residential ratepayers, came out against the proposal.

Robert Williams

Robert Williams, director of the PSC’s consumer advocate division, wrote that what AEP is asking is substantial, requiring more exploration than the upcoming public hearing and evidentiary hearing could provide. Williams says residential ratepayers are entitled to a fair opportunity to examine and challenge the proposal.

“There is not sufficient justification in the current record,” he wrote, “to require West Virginia ratepayers to subsidize the rates by bearing expense obligations which should be correctly allocated to the ratepayers of other jurisdictions.”

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McVey appointed as West Virginia insurance commissioner

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Allan McVey, who served as West Virginia insurance commissioner for nearly two years, has been reappointed to the position.

Allan McVey (File)

Gov. Jim Justice on Wednesday announced McVey will end his tenure as administration secretary to take his former position. He served as insurance commissioner from March 2017 to January 2019 when he began leading the Department of Administration.

The appointment of McVey follows the resignation of Jim Dodrill.

Justice also announced Mary Jane Pickens will serve as acting secretary of the Department of Administration. She served as deputy secretary from January 2015 to February 2016 when she became acting secretary. She returned to serving as deputy secretary in January 2017.

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Matthews’ versatility, mentality allow defensive back to find success in 2nd season at West Virginia

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The West Virginia coaching staff often talks of non negotiables within the program in reference to aspects necessary for the Mountaineers to give themselves the best chance to win.

Effort is one of the main topics on that list.

It’s also something that has helped junior cornerback Jackie Matthews become a household name on the Mountaineers’ defense three games into the 2021 season.

“The thing I like about Jackie is he plays one speed. He is one of the best strikers we have,” WVU head coach Neal Brown said. “What I mean by that is when he comes downhill, he uses a good technique. He’s not a guy that’s diving at ankles. He’s running through contact.

“He has a little presence about him that some of the guys on that side of the ball don’t have as far as a little bounce to him. I really like the way he plays.”

Matthews’ effort on Virginia Tech’s final drive last Saturday won’t soon be forgotten.

With the Hokies 4 yards from their first lead, Matthews covered wideout Tre Turner across nearly the entire field after VT quarterback Braxton Burmeister reversed direction to elude a pass rush. Burmeister threw to Turner, who nearly came up with a potential game-winning catch, only for Matthews to force him out of bounds while in the air and knock the ball out in the process.

“You’re not going to find a better effort play,” WVU defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley said. “The kid is beat and catches up in a key situation and forces the guy out of bounds. Those are the plays that win you games, not what I draw on a board or what anybody draws on the board.”

Seconds later, Burmeister again went looking for Turner on a decisive fourth-and-goal play and Matthews broke up the pass to preserve a 27-21 victory.

“The best thing he does is find the ball,” Lesley said. “That’s really a natural deal a lot of times, too. There’s really good athletes and there’s really good ball players and if you can find a combination of both, you really have something. Jackie is a combination of a little bit of both.”

Jackie Matthews

Matthews is playing more in his second season at WVU. That was expected after he spent the 2018 and 2019 seasons at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and was largely in transition mode throughout his first year in Morgantown.

But the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Matthews has also seen his role expand in part because of his versatility.

“Junior college players in their second year are usually much improved,” Brown said. “That’s been for sure the case with Jackie. He’s worked with [safeties Alonzo Addae and Scottie Young] going back to January. Those three have put in extra time and really earned the opportunity to have successful seasons.

“We’re playing him at multiple positions. He’s playing spear for us. When we go to our dime package, he’s playing basically the will linebacker. Then he’s playing corner and he’s played all those positions through three games. His mental approach has been much improved as well.”

Playing different positions is nothing new for Matthews, a former quarterback at Pinson Valley High School in Alabama. It was there that Matthews played for Patrick Nix, the father of Auburn quarterback Bo Nix.

Before Matthews’ senior season, Bo Nix became quarterback at PVHS, and Matthews then saw the bulk of his action at wide receiver and defensive back.

Pinson Valley went on to win the 6A state championship in 2017. Matthews was also on a National Junior College Athletic Association Football Championship team at MGCC the season before he arrived at West Virginia.

“He wins a high school state championship and plays multiple positions,” Brown said. “He goes to Gulf Coast and plays every position in the secondary and they win a national championship in his second year. I do think there’s something about that. He was a selfless player in junior college, which you don’t see a ton. He played free safety, he played corner, he played nickel and all within his second season there.”

Throughout preseason camp, Matthews was in competition with Daryl Porter Jr. to be WVU’s second cornerback opposite Nicktroy Fortune. While Porter earned the start in the season-opening loss at Maryland and has continued in his role as the No. 2 corner, Matthews is making the most of his extensive action.

He has 11 tackles thus far — three in each of the first two games and five last Saturday.

“You could see this coming a little bit,” Brown said. “He had a great spring. He got injured in fall camp and missed seven to ten days. It took probably the Long Island game for him to get back to speed. He made some flash plays at Maryland. but he played really well in some big moments Saturday.”

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Keller gives Yeager Airport board an annual report, board gives him raise

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Yeager Airport Director Nick Keller sees a bright future ahead for the airport after the work put together by himself and his staff over the past year. The airport’s board agrees with Keller and decided to act on it.

On Wednesday during the monthly board meeting, the board voted to give Keller a raise in salary during a performance review. This came moments after Keller gave the airport director’s report, which featured an annual report on the state of the facility.

Keller was named to his current position in Sept. 2019 and given a 5-year contract in Sept. 2020. He told MetroNews on Wednesday that he will begin to give an annual report at every Sept. board meeting during his tenure.

Nick Keller

“We have so many big projects and initiatives that it’s good to take a step back and review it, compare it to our goals and look ahead to see how we want to proceed,” Keller said. Keller laid out nine strategic goals for the airport happening now or will be reached with current happenings there. Those include:

  1. Create a positive customer experience
  2. Build a US Customs & Border Protection Facility
  3. Invest in our employees
  4. Runway safety improvements and extension
  5. Invest in aviation education and create quality jobs
  6. Increase and improve air service
  7. Grow the Capital Jet Center
  8. Increase military and civil aircraft operations
  9. Improve facilities at Coonskin Park

Keller said the completion date of the US Customs & Border Protection Facility is delayed around one month and should be done in December of this year. He said this retains the state’s only port of entry and supports foreign trade zone. Keller said opening the building will also go along with the name addition of the airport expected next year of West Virginia International Yeager Airport.

Keller also highlighted the runway safety improvements and extension as being significant for future development. He said this would open up land for development and aircraft operations. The airport is receiving a $5.1 million FAA EIS Phase I grant.

Following the strategic goals of his presentation, Keller laid out plans for the future which included work with Marshall University, the Robert C. Byrd Institute, and other stakeholders to obtain the USEDA Build Back Better Regional Cluster designation for West Virginia to become a hub for aerospace and advance aerospace manufacturing. The airport said that’s a $75M grant potential.

The airport will also work towards electrifying itself to become an Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing Center of Excellence.

Keller said the airport also plans to go after $100 million of the potential infrastructure bill being considered in Washington for a new terminal building and control tower and additional apron improvements.

“Everything we do we have a strategy with strategic goals. Everything we do aligns with those goals to make the airport the most important economic engine in West Virginia through advances in aerospace and education,” Keller said.

Keller’s salary rose from $181,000 to $200,000 following an annual performance review where Keller left the room. Board members expressed the need to keep Keller around, citing his interest in the area, vision and his qualifications. One board member pointed out that other airports have inquired about Keller.

The board reviewed the salaries of airport directors of similar-sized airports around the country and landed on a raise of $200,000.

“I love Charleston, I am from here. I want to see the city and the state succeed. I feel like in this role, I can really make a difference in trying to help move our economy forward and do great things,” Keller said.

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BASE jumpers not coming to Bridge Day; festival in jeopardy

FAYETTEVILLE, W.Va. — BASE jumpers are not coming to Bridge Day dealing what could end up being a death knell to this year’s festival.

The Bridge Day Commission heard from the two BASE jumper coordinators in recent days including one who spoke at Wednesday’s commission meeting.

The “scissor lift” takes brave BASE jumpers even higher than the New River Gorge Bridge.

Fayette County Chamber of Commerce Executive Assistant Tim Naylor said one of the coordinators sent an email earlier this week.

“He has decided not to come out of fear of damaging the community, putting more stress on the area’s health care system,” Naylor said.

The other coordinator announced at the meeting there would be no BASE jumpers this year.

Naylor said Bridge Day would look a lot different with the more than 300 BASE jumpers and the people that come with them.

“It will definitely limit the crowd. I can imagine a lot people would decide not to come. It may affect how many vendors show up. It’s going to change a lot of things I feel,” Naylor said.

Teri Harlan
Photo/Beckley Register Herald

Some Fayette County officials, including health department administrator Teri Harlan began expressing concern in recent weeks on what a usual Bridge Day impact joined with COVID could do to local emergency rooms.

“On average we have 35 people from Bridge Day who need to go to a hospital. It’s not only accidents related to Bridge Day, sometimes people will have a heart attack or some other medical need while they are on the bridge and will have to be transferred to a hospital,” Harlan told MetroNews earlier this week. “We are super concerned about where we are going to take these people when this happens. It’s just a big risk to be taking when we just don’t feel like it makes any sense to do that this year.”

The Bridge Day Commission rejected a motion last week made by Fayette County Sheriff Mike Fridley to cancel the one-day festival this year. The vote in favor of continuing it came less than two hours after Gov. Jim Justice publicly lobbied for the event to happen.

Gov. Jim Justice

“We’re having football games and everything where we have the big gatherings and everything, so why in the world should we not have Bridge Day?” Justice asked.

There will be another vote on the motion at next Wednesday’s meeting. Naylor said the City of Fayetteville’s representative on the commission has asked for the motion to be reconsidered.

“Depending on how that vote goes, we’ll either continue or cancel,” Naylor said. “At this point, we’re still moving forward. It is going to be quite a different event than usual if we continue to move forward.”

Bridge Day didn’t have BASE jumpers in 2015 because of a rift between the jumpers and festival organizers.

Bridge Day is the state’s largest one day festival.

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West Virginia officials acknowledge vaccination numbers were overcounted

West Virginia is having to adjust its vaccination numbers because of a reporting error from a contractor with the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, state officials said today.

State leaders described double counting of a particular group of vaccination numbers — people who had received vaccines through the federal retail pharmacy program — that were not adequately reviewed to remove duplications or those who should not have been counted in West Virginia figures, such as people who crossed the state border. For months, that pushed the state’s publicly reported numbers higher than they should have been.

“I don’t believe anyone did anything nefarious,” said Jim Hoyer, leader of the state’s interagency task force, while speaking on the telephone this afternoon. “I have absolutely nothing that says anything other than somebody made a mistake.”

The upshot is, West Virginia has farther to go to protect its citizens from covid-19 than it had earlier seemed.

State leaders have been describing a goal of an overall vaccination rate of 80 percent to try to protect the population from additional surges of covid-19.

Through yesterday, it looked like the rate of vaccine-eligible state residents with at least one shot was 74 percent. Hoyer had focused on residents with at least one dose because that represents people who are open to vaccination and, thus, fairly likely to proceed to a second dose.

But with adjusted figures the number of vaccine-eligible residents with at least one shot is now 63.7 percent.

“So now from a strategy standpoint, instead of thinking we were only going to have about 6 percent to go to get to 80 percent, we’ve got 16 percent,” Hoyer said in the telephone interview.

State leaders including Gov. Jim Justice first alluded to the counting problem on Monday and then provided more explanation today. Numbers on the state’s covid-19 dashboard were being adjusted.

Justice expressed frustration but tried to look on the bright side.

“In some ways by having this information it makes it better,” he said. “Because now I know we’ve got to double down even more.”

Not all numbers were completely out of whack.

The percentage of vaccine-eligible residents considered fully vaccinated was listed today as 60 percent. Yesterday it was also 60 percent.

Hoyer said the goal remains to get as many West Virginians vaccinated as possible.

He noted that of the 2,909 West Virginians who have died since the vaccine became available, only a very small percentage were fully vaccinated.

“If 98 percent of the people we care about in West Virginia that have died from this are unvaccinated — then the story is there was a mistake and we now know we’ve got a higher bogey to get to, but dammit that means we’ve got to double down and work even harder,” Hoyer said on the telephone.

“I’ve got to go figure out with the governor how to get more people vaccinated because ow I’ve got to vaccinate more people.”

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Mercer County’s health board approves indoor mask mandate

PRINCETON, W.Va. — Mercer County now has an indoor mask mandate for public buildings. 

The Mercer County Board of Health approved the mandate at a Wednesday meeting. It takes effect immediately. 

“We’ve already had 17 deaths in the first 21 days of September due to COVID,” Mercer County Health Department administrator Ron Topping told MetroNews. “We have almost 1,200 new cases of cases of COVID in the first 21 days of September.”

Topping noted the rise in coronavirus cases has placed additional stress on the county’s lone hospital, Princeton Community Hospital.

Mercer County Commissioner Greg Puckett (File)

“They have been hammered,” he said. “I don’t even think they have a single bed available in the hospital.”

Mercer County Commissioner Greg Puckett said the board made the right move given the spread of the delta variant in Mercer County. 

“It doesn’t become a rights issue when it’s impacting everybody else,” Puckett said following the board’s vote.

Puckett said the mandate will be in effect until at least Oct. 27. The board is also expected to have a public hearing at some point. 

Gov. Jim Justice has said he opposes a statewide mask mandate, calling it a decision best left up to local governments.

Mercer County joins Greenbrier County as the only county health boards that have taken the step. Greenbrier County approved a mandate last Friday

Puckett said he’s heard the arguments by those who have said mandates violate rights. He said that really doesn’t apply in this situation. 

“This is a public health crisis and unfortunately one person’s rights stop when they infringe on others,” Puckett said. “If we can use a mask to slow that down and we get back to some semblance of normal then I think it was the right decision to make.”

Topping said he knows people do not like mask mandates, but it is important for everyone regardless of their vaccination status to do their part.

“I know for a fact that this is worse now than it was before,” he added.

A new state law gives county commissions veto power over health board decisions. Puckett predicted the Mercer County Commission would agree with the board of health’s vote. 

Mercer County was red on Wednesday’s daily alert COVID-19 map. The county’s infection rate is at more than 116%. 

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Man accused in Charleston police officer death gets new trial date

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The man charged in last December’s death of Charleston police officer Cassie Johnson won’t go on trial until next year.

Kanawha County Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey

Kanawha County Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey has moved Joshua Phillips’ trial from Nov. 15 to Jan. 10.

During a Wednesday status hearing, Bailey told prosecutors and defense attorneys she recently learned for a spacing issue at the Kanawha County Courthouse during mid-November.

“I’ve been advised that’s the same week that the grand jury is scheduled to meet,” Bailey said.

COVID-19 protocals have forced large court hearings into the larger ceremonial courtroom. Bailey said it would be difficult to have a murder trial and grand jury the same week.

Both defense attorney John Sullivan and Kanawha County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Don Morris agreed to the move. Morris did tell Bailey he wants to check on the availability of prosecution witnesses for the week of Jan. 10.

Joshua Phillips

Phillips, 38, is charged with murder in connection with Johnson’s death last December. He allegedly attacked her and shot her during her investigation a traffic complaint on Garrison Avenue. She died a few days after being shot.

Phillips remains in the South Central Regional Jail. Sullivan told Bailey Wednesday he plans to file another motion soon in hopes of convincing the judge to set bond in the case. She has previously denied bond.

Bailey has scheduled a Dec. 1 pretrial hearing for the January trial.

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Accusations of corruption come to light in Westover

WESTOVER, W.Va. — Allegations of corruption, a police department divided, and hidden agendas have come to light after an audio recording of a meeting involving several Westover officials was recently posted online.

The over 90-minute meeting that involved former Westover Police Chief Rick Panico, Lt. John Morgan, Westover city attorney Tim Stranko and Westover City Councilman Steve Andryzcik took place in September 2020. The meeting came on the heels of Panico’s resignation and the release of a letter signed by 11 Westover Police officers calling for the removal of Officer Aaron Dalton for a number of abuses of power.

“This needs to be investigated and we need to find the truth and let the chips fall where they may,” said Westover City Councilman Ralph Mullins said on WAJR’s Talk of the Town.

**
***WARNING: GRAPHIC LANGUAGE*** 

“What is to me as every bit as disturbing as the accusations against our mayor, is the fact that a city attorney and city councilman purposely decided not to inform council of these accusations against the mayor. How can we do our job if this type of information is being hidden from us?”

While Mullins was aware of the meeting, he contends the accusations against Mayor Dave Johnson that were made during the meeting were never communicated to city council.

The conversation during the meeting was mostly focused on the conduct of Mayor Johnson and his relationship with Officer Aaron Dalton. Pancio and Morgan described concerns that Mayor Johnson subverted the chain of command within the police department and created an environment that made it impossible to hold Dalton accountable for his actions.

Dalton is facing multiple lawsuits over civil rights violations and more accusations came to light in the meeting, including claims that Dalton had sexual intercourse with a woman while on duty and later was harassing her. Pancio claimed in the meeting that Mayor Johnson told him to “make it go away.”

Pancio also shared concerns he had when the mayor requested Dalton directly under him on parking enforcement. Panico was worried there would be no oversight in such a situation, to which he said Johnson replied “let me worry about that.”

A picture was painted of a department in disarray with officers who refused to work with Dalton because of his conduct while Dalton seemed to operate with a sense of immunity because of his relationship with Mayor Johnson.

“Dalton was actually giving commands to the officers. Officers were going through their chain of command ‘why is Dalton coming around telling me to go home, stand down, don’t be here?'” said Panico.

Other incidents included Dalton making racists remarks to coworkers in an attempt to provoke a response out of them, according to Pancio, as well as threatening to sexually assault other officers just to demonstrate his power over them.

However, Councilman Andryzcik, who was part of the Sept. 2020 meeting, asserts there are hidden agendas that have played a role in the allegations toward the mayor.

“I do know this, all three of those people have agendas,” claimed Andryzcik on WAJR, referring to Panico, Morgan and Mullins.

“Rick and Dave did not get along. They locked horns about a lot things. Rick resented all those things. Morgan was our interim chief, he’s upset because he didn’t get the full-time chief job. Mullins has expressed to me and others he’s considering running for mayor.”

While everyone involved in the meeting appeared to disapprove of Dalton’s actions, there was less agreement on how to proceed forward. City Attorney Tim Stranko raised concerns over the city’s imagine a losing the public’s trust seeming to take issue with the letter signed by 11 officers in the department and Panico’s resignation letter.

“This memo and your resignation letter are seriously detrimental to that,” Stanko said. “The route I hope we take in the future is less formal, less writing.”

Since that meeting, Panico officially resigned. A year later, Dalton remains on paid administrative leave and has filed an injunction against the city of Westover, claiming his employment rights are being violated.

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WV American Water to hold virtual Q&A to discuss customer payment plans

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia American Water Company will hold a virtual information session Thursday morning to explain payment options for customers facing financial hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The session starts at 8 a.m. Thursday and will focus on the company’s customer assistance programs.

For example, WVAWC’s H2O Help to Others program offers financial assistance for income-eligible customers and discounts on monthly water and wastewater charges.

Megan Hannah, the company’s external affairs manager, said they can also arrange payment plans and get customers signed up for budget billing, regardless of income.

“We want our customers to know that, regardless of their financial status or issues they may be facing in their personal lives, we do have an option to assist them in taking care of their monthly bill,” she said.

Hannah said the virtual event is about creating transparency and access so customers can get their questions answered.

“It’s live with representatives with West Virginia American Water, the DHHR and Dollar Energy Fund to talk more those types of programs. Customers can ask questions specific to their circumstance,” she explained.

WVAWC is the largest water utility in West Virginia. More than 545,000 people rely on their water service. Hannah said several customers are still unemployed and are trying to make ends meet.

“We do have some customers that are still facing hardships due to the pandemic. As a result of that, we still have very generous payment plan options available to our customers, so that will be one of the options we’ll be discussing,” Hannah said.

To access the live session, CLICK HERE a few minutes prior to the event. Pre-registration is not required and there is no password to join.

A final information session is scheduled for Dec. 16 at 7 p.m.

The sessions are always recorded and posted to the company’s YouTube channel for customers who were been unable to participate during the live events.

The post WV American Water to hold virtual Q&A to discuss customer payment plans appeared first on WV MetroNews.

Source: WV MetroNews