Charleston Gazette-Mail. May 24, 2021.

Editorial: West Virginia’s water conundrum

Politicians can talk all they want about bringing reliable, affordable broadband service to West Virginia or fixing the state’s roads to make it more attractive to new businesses. Those are truly valid concerns.

But what does it say about a state when so many of its public water systems are in such disrepair, that about 25% of the water taken in, treated and pumped out, never makes it to a faucet? A Gazette-Mail analysis found that more than $14 million was spent last year on treating and processing water that didn’t reach the customer because of leaks or other failures in 261 of the state’s 295 public water systems. Twenty-eight of those systems reported water loss of 50% or higher.

That’s a tremendous amount of water and money wasted, but it also points to a massive public health concern, because water that does get through in more dilapidated systems is often contaminated with dirt or other material. Clean water is one of the most basic necessities for human health and survival, and, in some West Virginia communities, it’s a rare commodity. That’s unacceptable.

This isn’t a new problem, though. Many of the public water systems in West Virginia are very old. In more rural parts of the state, they were often constructed by coal companies or other extraction operations, and might never have been maintained all that well but have certainly been left to rot after a mining operation closed or a company pulled up stakes as the industry declined. Many of these systems aren’t properly mapped. System operators are doing a lot of guesswork in finding a leak, and often don’t have the manpower or resources to make necessary upgrades or repairs.

It’s not just a rural concern. Charleston has aging pump stations that are sometimes problematic, resulting in water pressure issues or boil-water advisories. Other West Virginia cities have their unique issues, as well.

A state where clean, reliable water service can be a crapshoot isn’t in a great position to keep the residents it has, let alone appear attractive to new residents or new business investments.

The lack of resources to remedy the situation only makes it worse the longer the problem goes unaddressed. It’s estimated it would take $18 billion to properly fix, update and maintain every public water system in West Virginia. That’s up $1 billion from an estimate cited in 2017.

Kicking the can down the road just makes the problem more expensive, but when the money to fix the problem has never been there, it’s hard to tell the people who operate and maintain these systems what to do.

Perhaps the proposed American Jobs Plan could help, merging money for fixes with money to hire people to do the work and maintain the systems. The federal plan is at an impasse, but it’s going to take something like that to really address the water problem in a meaningful way in West Virginia. Without a major initiative, be it federal, state or some kind of public/private partnership, these insufficient systems are going to continue to crumble, while the price tag to make it right continues to go up, and people continue to suffer.

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(Huntington) Herald-Dispatch. May 23, 2021.

Editorial: WV officials need to stop hiding behind COVID

The courthouse in Lawrence County, Ohio, is about to ease restrictions on public access. Public officials are no longer afraid of the public. Mostly.

People no longer need masks to enter the courthouse or other county-owned facilities, and they will no longer have their temperatures checked. Those measures have been in place for more than a year and followed recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and from the Ohio Department of Health.

Effective June 1, the county will remove all reduced-occupancy restrictions for county-run buildings, although each independently elected officeholder can set rules for entry to his or her office.

Meanwhile, the Lawrence County Board of Commissioners could reopen its meetings to the public. That would be a welcome acknowledgement of open and transparent government.

That’s Ohio. West Virginia officials are still hunkered down in their 2020-era pandemic protocols while the rest of the state has decided it’s vaccinated and, assuming the vaccines work, is ready to get back to normal.

Gov. Jim Justice has yet to allow reporters to attend his virtual news conferences. The Capitol remains closed off to the public. Only invited guests may watch the workings of government in person.

Locally, the Huntington City Council still meets in a room void of visitors. The only people allowed in the room to watch the council at work are people invited for specific items of business. Councilmembers say they are following guidance from the Cabell-Huntington Health Department and from the state.

“I think it’s more of a matter of not ‘if’ but ‘when,’” Council Chairwoman Jennifer Wheeler told The Herald-Dispatch reporter McKenna Horsley about the possibility of council reopening meetings to the public.

As for the governor and the Capitol, who knows?

This is getting old.

The public’s business is done best in full view of the public, not behind closed doors. Online streaming of meetings is a substitute, but not a good one. Some committee meetings of the Legislature provided audio streaming only, and it was difficult for people listening in to know who was speaking.

That’s good for public officials, because it reduces accountability. It’s not good for the public, because it reduces public officials’ accountability.

In dealing with public business, government’s default position should be openness. Lawrence County officials have the right idea. The time for hiding from COVID-19 is over. West Virginia needs to do likewise.

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Parkersburg News and Sentinel. May 25, 2021.

Editorial: Development: Population drop shows West Virginia must improve

West Virginia lawmakers started this year’s legislative session with a pretended determination to attract and retain residents — perhaps a last-ditch effort to address what they knew was coming. As data is rolled out, it appears the problem they were hoping to solve is much worse than we knew.

According to newly released data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Mountain State lost a higher percentage of its residents than any other state in the nation. From 2010 to 2020, the population dropped 3.2 percent, or about 59,000 people. West Virginia was one of only seven states to lose a congressional seat following the 2020 census.

Among those who discussed their reasons for leaving, former residents had a few things in common. They worried about lack of opportunity and low pay, not enough recreational opportunities, poor cellphone and internet service and a political climate that some find oppressive, according to the Associated Press.

One former West Virginian who would like to come back told the AP returning to the state has “got to be the right opportunity. I make good money (in Alabama) doing what I do.”

This is a person who grew up in the Mountain State and wants to return. He still has family here. But he has not seen an opportunity to do so that would give him and his family the life they want.

We aren’t focusing on the needs of families like that young man’s, and we’re paying the price for it. Development officials have their work cut out for them, but there is a path to make a difference. To take it, they must listen to the direction they’ve been given for years about the manner in which growing families wish West Virginia would reach her full potential.

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Bluefield Daily Telegraph. May 19, 2021.

Editorial: Bob Denver Museum: A great idea for Princeton

Millions of people remember the white sailor cap that a man marooned on a tropical island wore while he and his fellow castaways appeared on television every week. But what everyone may not know is that the late Bob Denver of “Gilligan’s Island” fame also lived in Mercer County for 15 years.

Now, in an exceptional idea, the Princeton Renaissance Theater on Mercer Street is collaborating with the Denver Foundation on plans for a new Bob Denver Museum and satellite station for Little Buddy Radio at the Renaissance Theater. And best yet, organizers of the effort are hoping to have the museum opened this year.

“For the past 10 or 12 years, people in this area have approached me about the possibility of a Bob Denver Museum,” Dreama Denver, who was married to Bob Denver for 30 years before he passed away in 2005, told the Daily Telegraph. “He had a face that was known all over the world. The movers and shakers here felt there should be a way to honor the fact that Bob loved being an adopted West Virginian.”

Dreama Denver grew up in Bluefield and she and Bob moved to Princeton in 1990.

She says the iconic sailor hat and shirt Bob Denver wore on screen will be among the museum’s exhibits. Dreama Denver says she has been going through mementoes to find just the right items to display at the new downtown museum in Princeton.

“I’m having so much fun going through memorabilia, the things. I have to see what we could have in the museum,” she said. “It’s really fun. I’m running across things I’ve forgotten about. I’m enjoying it. I’m doing it little by little. I’m not diving in. I’m wading in.”

There will also be pieces from other characters Bob Denver played on display at the museum, including items from his breakout role on “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.” Another component of the museum will be the Gilligan’s Gift Gallery, where visitors will also be able to purchase mementos.

Aside from playing Gilligan and appearing in other television shows such as “Fantasy Island” and “The Love Boat,” Bob Denver was also a movie actor, having appeared in movies such as “Have You Ever Heard the One About the Traveling Sales Lady?” with the late actress Phyllis Diller and one called “The Sweet Ride” with actress Jacqueline Bisset.

The museum will be located on the first floor of the theater with its own entrance from Mercer Street. The plan for this space includes creating a Little Buddy Radio satellite station in the rear of the museum. It will be surrounded by plexiglass so that visitors can watch the live broadcast. Denver plans for the satellite station to offer educational opportunities to local college students who are studying radio broadcasting.

The museum is a great idea.

We applaud everyone involved with this outstanding plan, including the Denver Foundation and the Princeton Renaissance committee. Having a Bob Denver Museum and satellite Little Buddy Radio center inside of the Renaissance Theater will be a tremendous draw for downtown Princeton.

We look forward to the opening of this welcomed facility.

END