Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

September 23, 2012

King Coal Highway fight moves to Washington

By WILSON BUTT
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— Members of the King Coal Highway Authority traveled to Washington last week to meet with U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., and U.S. Rep. Shelly Moore Capito, R-W.Va., seeking support to construct the remaining portions of the King Coal Highway. Manchin emphasized the need to complete the highway between Welch and Bluefield. Manchin, Rockefeller and Rahall were all careful to point out that there are no earmarked funds. Due to the ban on earmarks, all of West Virginia’s allocation is given directly to the state. However, Manchin emphasized that “the McDowell-Mercer portion is the most important segment (of the new highway) in the state.” State officials ultimately prioritize and determine the use of those highway funds. In the past, highway funds could be earmarked for specific projects giving elected members of the U.S. Congress some control. Manchin continues to support cooperative projects with coal producers to build portions of the road in conjunction with mining operations. He was critical of the federal Environmental Protection Agency for creating obstacles that impede progress.

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Manchin commented about the EPA’s continued abuse of power. Making reference to the agency’s usurping legislative authority, Manchin asked “How many times does the EPA want to go to court? Then he added “apparently the EPA isn’t familiar with the Tenth Amendment.”

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Manchin noted that our founding fathers never intended to run the entire country from Washington and that the EPA has no regard for due process. Clearly distancing himself from the Obama camp, Manchin stated his position on coal and the need to insure that the lights remain on. He also brought to light the need to diversify the economy of the state’s southernmost counties and holds that the King Coal Highway is a vital link in attaining that goal.

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The King Coal Highway is an important segment of the future Interstate 73/74/75 corridor, a multi-state artery. The road will not only serve motorist and local interest, but will also serve the Norfolk Southern’s Heartland Corridor’s Pritchard intermodal facility, which is to be located off U.S. Route 52 in Wayne County, a project that Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, has been championing for years. When completed the project has the potential to create 700 to 100 news jobs and a statewide benefit of up to $70 million.

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A second facility has been projected for Elliston, Va., west of Roanoke. Infighting in the Commonwealth has delayed the project and several court cases have been filed. In one case involving funding ,the Virginia Supreme Court overturned a lower court decision and ruled that Virginia can subsidize the major railroad facility that is proposed in Elliston. While developers and other business people embrace the facility, there are those (including many Elliston residents) who adamantly oppose the facility. The opponents cite, among several concerns, an additional traffic burden on the already extremely congested Interstate 81. Some local advocates propose moving the facility to the Bluefields utilizing properties already owned by NS and bringing those jobs to this area. The project would benefit both cities. The proposal is a long shot but it is worth serious consideration.

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Manchin expressed his concern about presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s position on energy. As governor of Massachusetts, Romney opposed the development of new coal-fired generation plants in that state.

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Members of the King Coal Highway delegation were also given a chance to meet U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., on an elevator ride in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill. Griffith warmly greeted the delegation and was receptive to ideas benefiting this area.

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Natalie has stumped her toe once again. West Virginia’s Secretary of State Natalie Tennant missed an important deadline concerning the proposed constitutional amendment eliminating term restrictions for county sheriffs. The West Virginia Constitution provides that any proposed amendment “be published, at least three months before such election in some newspaper in every county in which a newspaper is printed.” Tennant failed to do that and her opponent, Brian Savilla, said that if he is elected he will see that things are done properly.

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Mercer County Democrats are holding a “Democrat State Candidates Night” on Thursday Sept. 27 at 7 p.m. They will gather at the Democrat Headquarters located at 902 Stafford Drive in Princeton. Confirmed speakers include Supreme Court Justice Robin Davis, Tish Chafin, Mark Wills, Bill Morefield, Greg Ball and Ryan Flanigan. The public is invited to hear and meet these candidates.

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Congratulations to Tom Childress on his appointment to the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors.

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The Annual Shrine Oyster Dinner is coming up soon. The Italian- American festival will be held Oct. 5 and 6 at the Bluefield City auditorium on Stadium Drive. I have gained five pounds just thinking about these events.

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There you have it, a few comments on items of interest to the area. The cooler weather has been nice and I wish you more of these beautiful skies. Election Day is getting little closer. Plan to exercise your right to vote.

Wilson Butt, a resident of Bluefield, is a retired Department of Highways official.