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West Virginia Headlines

Justice announces funding for former mine

ROCK CREEK, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said Friday he is committing $39 million toward development of the former Hobet mine site in Boone County, The Herald-Dispatch reported.
Justice said the money will go toward developing an access road to the site and an intersection at the entrance that would include a bridge that will allow further development of the Rock Creek Development Park.
“In addition to that, today I’m announcing that the West Virginia National Guard will resume their activities at Hobet, and today I am directing our DNR to explore all of the possibilities here for recreational and wildlife enhancement and growth to absolutely inspire more and more activities on this property,” Justice said.
Earlier this month, the West Virginia National Guard said it was pulling out of the site and relocating its operations elsewhere.
Justice’s administration initially committed $30 million to the site in 2017, but the project but saw no dirt moved. Justice said that’s because the state was in bad shape fiscally at the time.
“In 2017, the state was bankrupt, and the prospect of bringing business here by building a road to nowhere and everything and bring new business here really was a tough pull,” he said. “Today it is a different time. …Recruitment now is a real possibility.”
Highways Commissioner Jimmy Wriston confirmed that the project was ready to go.
“We’re ready now, as soon as we clear the right of way,” Wriston said alongside the governor.

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West Virginia Headlines

Growers raise giant pumpkins despite squashed festivals

By BILL LYNCH, The Charleston Gazette-Mail undefined
CULLODEN, W.Va. (AP) — Leaves are falling and the air is getting cooler, but the festivities of fall have been muffled, if not entirely muted.
The wave of fair and festival cancellations caused by the coronavirus pandemic have continued past the summer. There was no Forest Festival in Elkins, no Black Walnut Festival in Spencer and the West Virginia Pumpkin Festival in Milton was canceled.
Over the phone, Cindy Hinkle, the pumpkin festival president, sighed and said, “First time, after 30-some years. It was very sad for us.”
But what happened to the champion, giant-sized pumpkins — the pumpkins that weigh as much as small cars?
Chris Rodebaugh from Lewisburg was the Pumpkin Festival’s 2019 pumpkin champion. He won the festival’s largest pumpkin contest last year with a 1,384-pound pumpkin.
A family dentist, Rodebaugh said he was inspired to try growing his own giant pumpkin after a trip the State Fair of West Virginia.
“I always go,” he said. “I saw one that was 200 or 300 pounds and I thought that was pretty cool.”
He went online and researched what a gardener needed to do to grow that kind of a pumpkin.
“I really fell down the rabbit hole,” he said, laughing.
His first season, Rodebaugh grew a 1,550-pound pumpkin.
“And I thought, ‘Wow, I’m pretty good at this,'” he said.
Justin Conner, last year’s third-place grower from Culloden, said the giant pumpkins are fun to grow.
“My family gets a lot of joy in just watching them grow,” he said.
Conner and Rodebaugh begin their pumpkins in late April or May, which is ahead of when seeds for pie or jack-o’-lantern pumpkins are typically planted in July.
The giant pumpkins face the same sort of pests that trouble the smaller varieties — deer, groundhogs and the ravenous squash vine borer.
Conner uses a fence and pesticides, which helps with the borer. Rodebaugh said he tried hot pepper powder to keep the deer away. That only slowed them down, but he settled on an electric fence.
“That keeps them away just fine,” he said.
After the plants fruit, the pumpkins grow fast, both growers said.
How fast?
“This year, mine was growing 40 pounds a day at its peak,” Conner said. “You can actually go out and watch it grow. At peak, they’ll grow three, four, five inches a day.”
After the Pumpkin Festival was canceled in July, Conner said he and his family decided to keep growing their monster pumpkin.
At Labor Day, he said they had a real trophy winner.
“It was 980 pounds,” he laughed.
But then things took a turn for the worse. Not long after Labor Day, the area got a bunch of rain. The pumpkin soaked up the water like a sponge and split open.
“By then, it was too late for us to start anything else,” Conner said.
He probably would’ve had a hard time keeping up with growing the pumpkin anyway. In early September, Conner caught COVID-19.
“I had a pretty bad case,” he said. “I was away from work for 38 days.”
Conner only recently returned to work.
Rodebaugh had trouble this year, too. He said the weather worked against him and he really didn’t have his soil fixed. His best pumpkins for this year failed, but he did manage to grow a 955-pound green squash, which is a state record.
“And that’s pretty cool,” he said.
Both growers said they would try again next year.
Conner has already cleared the plot where his family will raise the next monster pumpkin and planted a cover crop for the winter.
He has high hopes.
Rodebaugh does, too.
“I’m happy about the squash and I have the state record for the biggest carrot, the state record for the tallest sunflower and the biggest sunflower head,” he said. “These are all accolades — hooray, but nothing compares to the pumpkin.
“It’s the Super Bowl.”
For those who didn’t grow their own pumpkins (giant or otherwise), farmers markets — including the Capitol Market in Charleston — are practically overrun with them.
JoAnna Hays at Ed & Ellen’s at the market said people have been buying up a lot of what they put out, particularly the painted pumpkins, which she said are coated to last far longer than a raw pumpkin.
Ron Crihfield of Crihfield Farms said it’s been a bit slower for him, but he’s still selling a lot of produce.
“People are buying some of the carnival-type pumpkins,” he offered.
Crihfield expected pumpkin traffic to pick up and soon.
Shrewd pumpkin pickers will pluck up the best of the lot the first or second weekend in October, the grower said, but last weekend’s rains probably reduced the crowds.
There are still good pumpkins, but they won’t last.
Pumpkins will keep for weeks, as long as you don’t carve into them or drop a gourd hard on the ground. Once the skin of the pumpkin is cut or the flesh bruised, it will begin to rot.
The West Virginia Pumpkin Festival will return to Milton, next year — at least, organizers hope to.
“We started planning for next year just as soon as we had to cancel for this year,” Hinkle said. “We hope to be back a little bigger than before.”

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West Virginia Headlines

West Virginia Democrats file complaint over PAC disclosures

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The West Virginia Democratic House Legislative Committee and the West Virginia Democratic Party have filed an elections complaint against a group that is spending money on attack ads but has not filed campaign finance disclosures.
Majority WV, Inc. has spent money to attack at least nine Democratic incumbents, The Register-Herald reported. The group got in trouble two years ago for electioneering without registering as a political action committee. At the time it was called 1863 PAC Ltd., In 2018, the Secretary of State’s Office filed a cease and desist letter against the group calling on it to either prove it was a registered PAC or terminate its electioneering work. The organization registered as a PAC the same day. On June 23, 2020, the organization filed a name change to Majority WV, Inc.
Democratic legislative committee chair Delegate Mick Bates called it “outrageous” that the same group was doing the same things two years later.
“The reason we have campaign finance laws at the state and federal levels is because voters deserve to know who is paying to support and attack the candidates they are deciding to vote for,” the Raleigh Democrat said. “Once 1863 PAC, Ltd. filed as a PAC, we saw that they were being bankrolled by business interests aligned with Jim Justice.”

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West Virginia Headlines

Last West Virginia county approves cannabis dispensaries

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia’s lone holdout in taking action on cannabis dispensary permits approved 20 of 21 proposals on Thursday, The Dominion Post reported.
The Monongalia County Board of Health approved the permits during a special session after coming under pressure to get the permits turned over to the West Virginia Office of Medical Cannabis, which will ultimately select up to 100 dispensary locations statewide.
Monongalia County Health Officer Lee Smith pushed back on the criticism during the remote meeting by saying that public health has been pushed to the breaking point — undercut by continual budget cuts then called to be the front line against COVID-19.
Even so, Smith said, the medical cannabis permits, which the Health Department received in June, were not going to get a rubber stamp as they did in many other counties.
Currently state law requires dispensaries to be at least 1,000 feet way from a school or daycare facility. The one location that was denied was found to be within 1,000 feet of a daycare center. However, some of the other locations that were approved could fall afoul of stricter county regulation that are currently in the works.
Board of Health Chairman Sam Chico said the dispensaries approved on Thursday would not be grandfathered in.
“If they change the state law or regulation, they would have to comply. If we change or add an ordinance, they would have to comply,” Chico said.
Jason Frame, who leads the WV Office of Medical Cannabis, said they are finishing up the process of selecting processor locations.
“As soon as that’s finished, we will move on to dispensaries. I do anticipate that process moving quickly. However, I cannot give an exact date of when we will release the dispensary permits,” he said.

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West Virginia Headlines

‘Walk-and-Talk’ therapy popular option in W.Va. amid virus

By SCOTT GILLESPIE, Times West Virginian undefined
FAIRMONT, W.Va. (AP) — According to the Mayo Clinic, a brisk walk helps maintain a healthy weight, manages conditions from high blood pressure to diabetes, strengthens bones and muscles, and improves one’s physical coordination.
For the patients and counselors at Appalachian Life Enrichment Counseling Center, though, a walk through the streets of Fairmont or a nearby park is great for mental health, too.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing regulations, indoor visits to Appalachian Life’s new Fairmont offices ceased before they ever began. Their suites at 207 Fairmont Ave. were refurbished in January and February this year and a ribbon-cutting was planned for March.
Then the pandemic struck and in-person visits became verboten. Then the center’s grand opening celebration was postponed indefinitely.
While the Appalachian Life team employs a great deal of teletherapy for its many patients — last month, the center’s nine clinicians conducted more than 600 therapy sessions by videoconference — an old-school approach to therapy has emerged from the coronavirus challenge, one that has proven highly-effective.
They call it “Walk-and-Talk Therapy” and it’s just what it sounds like.
“It is exactly what it says. We meet our clients here outside the center or sometime we’ll meet them at a park. And we’ll literally walk all over town and talk it out,” said Jude Black, owner and president of Appalachian Life Enrichment Counseling Center.
“In a Walk-and-Talk, the patient lets their guard down because it seems like a normal relationship with someone. You know, you really don’t take walks with strangers. You just don’t do that,” Black said. “But with this form of therapy, it facilitates good, solid relationships. You’re out doing something active and all of those feel-good chemicals in your brain are being released as you’re walking.”
With Walk-and-Talk Therapy, the streets and parks of Fairmont have replaced the outmoded psychologist’s couch. Black said such therapy often helps doctors like her better evaluate their patients, too.
“It helps us see life through our clients’ eyes. We notice what they’re looking at. We notice what draws their attention. If someone has social anxiety, for instance, as we’re walking with them, we can help them process their feelings as they’re experiencing the physical symptoms. And it’s COVID-friendly, too,” she said.
If not for the COVID-19 pandemic, Black said her patients would most likely be sitting somewhere — in an office, or at home via teleconferencing — receiving counseling. Walk-and-Talk Therapy adds a different dimension.
“I think sometimes when you get out in nature and away from four walls, you’re able to talk through some of the things that have held you back,” she said.
The pandemic has also restricted personal contact with other human beings. A walk-and-talk session helps restore that interaction somewhat.
“Right now, in this COVID crisis, I’m afraid we’ve lost the personal connection because of the restrictions we’ve had. By walking and talking, though, it allows us in a different way to reconnect with our clients and the people we’re helping support,” Black said.
Becca Shriver, Appalachian Life’s lead clinical therapist, uses Walk-and-Talk Therapy with her patients as well.
“With my adult clients, we’re literally walking the town. We’re getting out, we’re getting sunshine, we’re getting fresh air, and we’re doing our therapy right then and there. It allows us to connect in an entirely different way, while still keeping us all safe,” Shriver said.
With her younger patients, Shriver said there’s a location in Fairmont that’s a definite favorite.
“Kids love to meet at Palatine Park, where we’ll pass a soccer ball or play games that allow us to interact but still have social distance,” Shriver said. “Younger kids often don’t respond well to telehealth, so having the option to be in-person, even if it’s at the park, allows them to feel more comfortable and to open up more quickly.”
Shriver said she understands why her child patients prefer walk-and-talk to office or teletherapy sessions.
“Having this Walk-and-Talk modality makes our visits less sterile. It’s less like they’re in an office being treated and it helps us to be able to process through the messy stuff. For some people, particularly kids, it feels much less intimidating to simply walk and talk,” she said.
That sentiment was echoed by one of the center’s current clients.
“It was the best blessing to start the Walk and Talks. I love being able to be outside and feel like life is normal again, even if it’s only for an hour. I can’t explain it either. I think it’s the fresh air, moving, and just being with someone that cares that makes me happy. I don’t feel quite as alone. I am happier even when life is hard,” said the Appalachian Life client, who requested anonymity.
The client also said the counselors have helped tremendously throughout the coronavirus pandemic, whether it’s in the form of Walk-and-Talk Therapy, teletherapy, or more traditional approaches.
“I love everything about this place. I don’t have many people in my life and when the COVID hit, I was pretty much alone in my home. I liked that I was able to still meet with my therapist on the phone,” the client said. “It was a really hard time and I really was alone. I would say I was even depressed. I was scared, too. because you just don’t know what to think. Having someone to help me sort through life.”
Black said she foresees Walk-and-Talk Therapy remaining a popular option for patients after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.
“I see Walk-and-Talk Therapy surviving beyond COVID because people like the option. We’ve found that many people prefer being outside and active. I work with many veterans, for instance. If I were to sit them down and tell them to stay still, they might go on ‘high alert.’ But if we’re out walking in a safe place in which they’re comfortable, it’s often a better option for them,” Black said.
And what becomes of Walk-and-Talk Therapy as Fairmont’s warm autumn days soon turn to wintry snowy ones?
“If COVID is still around and my clients want to continue our walk-and-talks, then we’ll put on boots, gloves, hats, and scarves. We’ll still walk it out,” Black said.

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Chicago adds 5 states — including West Virginia and Ohio — to travel quarantine amid virus spike

By DON BABWIN and JOHN O’CONNOR Associated Press
CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago added five states to its travel quarantine order as rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations prompted Mayor Lori Lightfoot to announce she’s thinking about reimposing strict guidelines on businesses that were put in place earlier this year.
Rising numbers prompted Gov. J.B. Pritzker to impose tighter restrictions on social interaction to parts of the state for the second time in as many days, including on Tuesday to four densely populated counties in suburban Chicago.
On Tuesday, city officials announced that starting on Friday, travelers from Colorado, Ohio, Delaware, West Virginia and Texas will be subject to a two-week quarantine requirement. The city did not remove any states from its quarantine order as it has in past weeks.
The sobering news about an increase in the number of positive tests and a rise in the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Illinois also has officials warning about a so-called second wave of cases. In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot was worried enough about people letting their guard down about the virus that she asked city residents to stop hosting events such as dinner parties and card games.
On Tuesday, state health officials announced 3,714 new known COVID-19 cases and 41 additional fatalities. Those latest figures bring the total number of new infections in the state to 350,875 and the statewide death toll to 9,277 since the pandemic began. Also, the seven-day statewide positivity rate as of Tuesday was 5.5%.
The suburban Chicago counties of DuPage, Kane, Kankakee and Will, which comprise Regions 7 and 8 of Pritzker’s COVID-19 recovery plan, have had unacceptable numbers of consecutive days with increasing test-positivity rates and hospital admissions, so Pritzker imposed “resurgence mitigations” to take effect starting Friday. They’re the same he imposed on Region 1, northwestern Illinois, on Oct. 3, and which start Thursday in Region 5, which comprises far southern Illinois.
The restrictions prohibit indoor bar and restaurant service, and require food and bar service to end at 11 p.m. That’s also when gambling casinos must close. Meetings and gatherings must be limited to 25 people and must be social-distanced.
Pritzker defended restrictions on dining out and gathering at bars, saying the decision is based on research.
“This isn’t about punishing anybody,” Prtizker said. “All the studies that have been done about bars and restaurants show that these are significance spreading locations… so we’re putting mitigations in on a targeted basis to make sure that we bring down our positivity rates, so that those businesses can reopen to indoor dining.”
___
O’Connor reported from Springfield, Illinois.

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West Virginia Headlines

Governor: Methanol plant set to be built in West Virginia

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A former industrial site in West Virginia has been selected for a $350 million methanol facility, Gov. Jim Justice announced Monday.
West Virginia Methanol Inc. will build a plant in Pleasants County that will produce 900 metric tons of methanol daily from natural gas. Once finished, the plant will employ 30 full-time workers, Justice said at a news conference.
The company is working on permitting and design details. Operations are expected to begin as soon as mid-2023, the governor’s office said in a statement.
The plant site has access to roads, railroad and river transportation and is near a major natural gas pipeline. Other required utilities are on site or nearby, the statement said.
Methanol is used in chemical industry production and is a mainstay in the automotive industry as a fuel blend. Its diverse use also includes the making of plastics and plywood.

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West Virginia Headlines

Former Marshall football player sentenced for child porn

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — A former Marshall football player has been sentenced to more than seven years in prison for sending videos of children engaged in sexual conduct to an undercover FBI agent.
Jeremiah Taylor, 32, of Huntington was sentenced in federal court for distributing child pornography, U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart said Monday.
Taylor used a mobile messaging application to send the videos in January 2019. Taylor also admitted to asking for photos of the agent’s young daughter naked in sexually-explicit poses, according to a news release from Stuart’s office.
The statement said Taylor was an active member of an online group whose users shared child porn. His username included the number 58 that Taylor wore while playing football at Marshall from 2010 to 2013.

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West Virginia Headlines

Applications being accepted for family court judge in WVa

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Applications are being accepted for a pending vacancy on a family court serving West Virginia’s largest county.
The Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission will accept applications and letters of recommendation through Nov. 9 for a seat on the Eleventh Family Court Circuit in Kanawha County, the governor’s office said in a news release.
Paperwork must be submitted to general counsel Brian Abraham at the Office of the Governor, 1900 Kanawha Boulevard, East, Charleston, West Virginia 25305.
Applicant interviews will be held on Nov. 19.

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West Virginia Headlines

West Virginia voters have heavy slate of choices on Nov. 3

By JOHN RABY Associated Press
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia voters have a packed ballot to ponder in the Nov. 3 election. In addition to the presidential race between incumbent Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger and former Vice President Joe Biden, in which Trump is widely expected to carry the state handily, voters will decide races for governor and other statewide offices, along with U.S. Senate, U.S. House and the state Senate and House of Delegates. A rundown of the state races and the contenders:
GOVERNOR
Incumbent Jim Justice, trying to become the first Republican elected to back-to-back terms as governor since Arch Moore a half-century ago, is up against Democrat Ben Salango, a Kanawha County commissioner.
Justice has firmly aligned himself with President Donald Trump, who carried West Virginia by a whopping 42 percentage points in 2016. Justice won office as a Democrat in 2016, but switched parties at a rally with Trump the following year.
The governor has held weekly news conferences touting the work of his administration in keeping the number of positive coronavirus cases and deaths low compared with other states, though the numbers have risen lately. That has also helped him tamp down early criticism over a light schedule he was keeping.
Salango has continued to press on the governor’s work ethic and says voters must make sure that they view Justice’s performance over his entire term, not the past several months.
U.S. SENATE
Shelley Moore Capito is hoping to become the first West Virginia Republican to be reelected to the U.S. Senate in more than a century. She is seeking her second six-year term and will face Democrat Paula Jean Swearengin on Nov. 3.
It’s the second time that Capito, the daughter of former West Virginia Gov. Arch Moore, will face another woman for a Senate seat. Capito defeated then-Secretary of State Natalie Tennant in 2014, becoming the first woman elected to a U.S. Senate seat in West Virginia. Capito previously served seven terms in the U.S. House and has been a consistent ally of President Donald Trump.
Swearengin is a progressive Democrat from a coal-mining family. She supports expanding broadband access, Medicare for all and strengthening workers’ rights.
U.S. HOUSE
With the West Virginia’s dwindling population, this could be the last race for one of the state’s three Republican U.S. House members. Analysts have projected West Virginia will lose one of its congressional seats after the 2020 census. The state has lost population for seven straight years.
Incumbent Republican David McKinley, seeking a sixth term, takes on Democrat Natalie Cline in the 1st District. Cline is a software company employee from Wheeling.
Alex Mooney, who represents the 2nd District, goes after his fourth term in Congress against Democrat Cathy Kunkel, an energy analyst who ran unopposed in the primary.
Rep. Carol Miller of the 3rd District is up against Hilary Turner of Huntington. Miller is seeking a second term.
AGRICULTURE COMMISSIONER
Republican incumbent Kent Leonhardt, seeking his second term, squares off against Democratic state Sen. Bob Beach.
AUDITOR
Democrat Mary Ann Claytor is challenging Republican incumbent auditor JB McCuskey. Claytor is a former auditor’s office employee who lost to McCuskey in 2016.
ATTORNEY GENERAL
Republican incumbent Patrick Morrisey takes on labor lawyer Sam Petsonk. Morrisey is seeking a third consecutive term.
Morrisey has overseen several lawsuits against prescription drug manufacturers that have led to multimillion dollar settlements for the state. He also sued the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, accusing it of knowingly employing pedophiles. The lawsuit is currently before the state Supreme Court.
Petsonk has criticized Morrisey for his opposition to the Affordable Care Act, warning that the loss of the program would be devastating to West Virginians.
As a lawyer, Petsonk has focused on workplace safety, retirement benefits for coal miners and other labor issues. He formerly worked for the late U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd as a legislative assistant.
SECRETARY OF STATE
Incumbent Mac Warner is up against Democrat Natalie Tennant in a rematch of the 2016 election. Tennant served two terms as secretary of state before losing to Warner four years ago.
TREASURER
West Virginia’s longest-serving state treasurer, John Perdue, is seeking a seventh term. He faces Republican Riley Moore, a former delegate.
LEGISLATURE
Half of the 34 state Senate seats are up for grabs. Two Republicans have no opposition in the general election. Four senators, including three Democrats, did not seek reelection while three Republican incumbents lost in the June primary. Republicans hold a 20-14 majority.
All 100 House seats are on the ballot. A dozen races are uncontested, including 10 involving Republicans. Twenty-one delegates did not seek reelection and seven incumbents lost in the primaries. Republicans hold a 58-41 House majority with one independent.
Republican Delegate John Mandt, who resigned in early October after homophobic messages attributed to him were circulated online, remains on the ballot in a six-candidate race for three seats in House District 16.
In the Senate, Mason County teacher Amy Nichole Grady, who defeated Senate President Mitch Carmichael in the primary, will take on Democrat Bruce Ashworth, a roofing business employee.
Among other races, Republican Sen. Mike Maroney is awaiting trial on charges that he solicited a prostitute. The Marshall County lawmaker easily defeated a primary challenger in June.