Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 1, 2013

Welcome 2013! Renewed hope, challenges for region

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— It’s a new beginning for America., and a new day for the coalfields of southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia.

A new year always brings renewed hope — despite the many challenges we continue to face as a nation and as a region. But what can we really hope to accomplish in 2013? Much, if we put our minds and our effort into it and finally agree to work together as a region and as a nation.

And certainly there is much we can accomplish if we work together. A few priorities for 2013 immediately come to mind.

• Jobs. It’s no secret that 2012 brought more troubling job losses to the region, including hundreds of mining jobs that were eliminated. Fighting for new jobs — and new economic development and tourism opportunities for the region — should be viewed as a top priority for locally elected officials. And this fight must begin on the local level — from local county commissioners and development authority officials — and then continue with assistance from state and federal lawmakers. No stone should be left unturned in the search for new jobs, as well as the ever-shrinking pool of state and federal grant funds.

• Highway construction. Yes, it is true that we are unlikely to see another federal highway bill, or yet another short-term extension, until 2014. But that doesn’t mean we should quit fighting for the King Coal Highway and the Coalfields Expressway. We must let our lawmakers in Charleston, Richmond and Washington know how important these future four-lane corridors are to our region. We must continue to fight for any and all transportation funding pools, including future Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER grants. And we must pursue creative coal synergy solutions with private partners. The coal synergy plan has worked for Southwest Virginia, and it can work for southern West Virginia. By mining coal, we can also create roadbeds at a substantial savings to the states.

 • Winning the war on drugs. It is a war we can and must win, but this can only be accomplished when there is a serious commitment and plan on the local, state and federal level to address this crisis. And it is a crisis. It is an epidemic. If we don’t act now, we risk losing an entire generation to the scourge of prescription drug abuse.

• Litter control. Litter and illegal trash dumps are still a huge problem for our region, and Mercer County in particular. It’s time we get serious about litter. We need more regional clean-up campaigns. We need a serious discussion about transfer stations. It works in Tazewell County, why can’t it work in Mercer County? And we need for the Bluefield Board of Directors to bring back a complete Project Clean Sweep. Attempting to sweep this all-important spring clean-up campaign under the rug is a terrible idea.

• Repeat offenders and prison overcrowding. We know it’s a problem, so let’s address it already. Yes, we can and should rehabilitate some offenders through alternative sentencing options. But not every violent or repeat offender should be offered a get-out-of-jail-free card. And in 2012 we continued to see repeat offenders back on the street again after receiving only a slap on the wrist. This is unacceptable. If we need a new prison to lock up repeat offenders, let’s build it already.

With this working blueprint in mind, we can take steps today to help build a better tomorrow. But we need to get to work now. And what better time to accomplish this than at the beginning of a new year.