Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

April 21, 2009

Chafin examines FOIA response

BLUEFIELD — Senate Majority Leader H. Truman Chafin’s search for answers regarding federal dollars awarded to the West Virginia Turnpike has netted a 84-page response from the legal division of the state Division of Transportation.

However, with the exception of a two-page cover letter, the DOT’s official response to Chafin’s Freedom of Information Act filing is largely a myriad of charts, fact sheets and flow charts that may or may not answer Chafin’s questions.

Chafin, who was still reviewing the official response Tuesday, said he would file a second FOIA request with the DOT if necessary in order to have all of his questions answered before a Friday, May 22, public hearing at the Mercer County Courthouse on a proposed turnpike toll increase sought by members of the state Parkways Economic Development and Tourism Authority.

“I want some specific answers before they have those hearings,” Chafin said — adding his plans to attend the May 22 turnpike toll increase public hearing in Princeton.

Chafin filed the FOIA request after Senate Minority Leader Don Caruth, R-Mercer, disclosed that the turnpike was in fact eligible for federal funding — something Mercer County officials had previously been told was untrue. Chafin said the state received federal highway dollars for the turnpike by virtue of the turnpike being in the federal interstate system. While the toll road drew down millions in federal dollars, the money was spent on other highway projects, and not the maintenance and upkeep of the turnpike, according to Chafin and Caruth.

The FOIA response did answer one specific question posed by Chafin — “who directed the expenditure” of the federal funds. According to the response by Anthony G. Halkias, director of the legal division for the DOT, decisions regarding expenditure of the funds would have been made by the secretary of transportation, commissioner of highways, and/or state highway engineer or their respective delegates.”

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