Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

April 20, 2009

Region hopeful for more stimulus funds

By CHARLES OWENS

ATHENS — The region still has a good chance of securing additional federal stimulus dollars, according to U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va.

“The goals of course are to produce jobs and sustain development,” Rahall, who hosted a federal stimulus funding workshop Monday on the campus of Concord University, said. “This is going to be transparent. The taxpayers will be able to clearly see where the taxpayer dollars are going.”

Although held on the campus of Concord University, the stimulus funding workshop was simulcast to eight different southern West Virginia locations. One of the first issues to be addressed during Monday’s workshop was transportation projects.

Rahall said another pool of federal stimulus dollars will soon be made available for transportation projects. Rahall said West Virginia has a good chance of tapping into those transportation dollars. When asked about the King Coal Highway and the Coalfields Expressway, Rahall said both of the southern West Virginia highway projects will be “in the mix” for consideration for additional stimulus dollars.

Rahall said federal stimulus dollars also could help with other projects in the state, including water and sewer needs, and broadband deployment. Rahall, who recently secured $275,000 in the federal 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Bill for renovations to the Mercer County Healthy Department, said the “need is there” for additional federal funds for the local health center.

Joe Coburn, president of the Mercer County Commission, said officials are still hopeful about the health department. Coburn said the commission also is working with Gov. Joe Manchin to try to secure additional state dollars for the priority project.

Coburn said the commission also is looking for federal funding for water and sewer projects, as well as the King Coal Highway.

“We are hopeful we are going to get some approval for this in the next round of money,” Coburn said. “I think the congressman has worked hard for us, and the senators.”

“We learned about some opportunities,” commissioner Karen Dissibio said following the conclusion of the workshop session in Athens.

Dissibio said the commission will continue to work with the Region 1 planning committee on local project that could qualify for federal stimulus dollars.

“I think there are several opportunities with the stimulus dollars for Mercer County,” Tom Hall, chairman of the Mercer County Development Authority board and a member of the King Coal Highway Authority board, said. “As far as the stimulus package, the development authority is looking at some of the things that could specifically be done for the development of our industrial parks in the county.”

Hall said officials are hopeful that the King Coal Highway will be considered for funding in the second round of stimulus transportation dollars.

Delegate Clif Moore, D-McDowell, said the workshop helped to link local officials up with those leaders who will be making decisions about future stimulus dollars.

“I’m always optimistic,” Moore said when asked about the region’s chances of securing additional stimulus dollars.

Delegate John Frazier, D-Mercer, said he too was hopeful that the King Coal Highway would be considered for funding in the second round of transportation grants.

“The one I think is possible is the supplemental highway money,” Frazier said. “It looks likes there is going to be potential. These are stimulus monies. The first (round) they just granted you the money. But these are competitive grants where everyone across the country competes for these grants.”

Rahall said the ultimate goal of the federal stimulus project is to get Americans working again.

Rahall said officials are starting to see light at the end of the tunnel in terms of the recession.

“Overall with our economy, I would say we’ve stopped the hemorrhaging, and we are only bleeding,” Rahall said.

While the recession is now settling in across the Mountain State, Rahall said a healthy coal industry and other factors helped West Virginia to weather the financial storm longer than other parts of the nation. Rahall said leaders in West Virginia are taking the correct steps to prepare the Mountain State for better days ahead when the recession does finally break.

– Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com