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Charleston man conspired to distribute meth

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A week after the largest methamphetamine bust in the state, a Charleston man plead guilty Thursday to conspiracy to distribute 50 grams or more of meth.

Jasper Wemh, 38, of Charleston, admitted to having a role in a drug trafficking group operating in the Charleston area. According to court documents, Wemh said he conspired with several other people to distribute the drugs.

Wemh also admitted to obtaining several pounds of methamphetamine from his supplier back on December 3, 2022. Wehms’ supplier made $250,000 over several months from his distributions to customers in and around Charleston, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District.

Wemh is one of 30 individuals indicted from the ‘Operation Smoke and Mirrors’ operation last week, resulting in the massive meth seizure last week. Local, state, and federal law enforcement seized over 200 pounds of methamphetamine, 28 pounds of cocaine, 20 pounds of fentanyl, 18 firearms and $747,000 in cash.

Wemh’s sentence is planned for July 20. He faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years to life in prison, up to a lifetime of supervised release, and a $10 million fine.

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Eagle Cam showcases couple that has nested in Shepherdstown for 20 years

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — Viewers from all over the globe can watch a pair of West Virginia eagles this spring as they nurture their young.

Eagle Cam is a joint partnership between the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Outdoor Channel, and the Friends of the National Conservation Training Center.

Randy Robinson from the NCTC talked about what folks can see: (He is an Instructional Systems Specialist and Producer in the Creative Resources Division – History and Partnerships Branch at the National Conservation Training Center)

“Folks can see it being fed, that’s very fascinating to watch,” Robinson said about one eagle that was born earlier this week. “It’s doing very well, it’s very healthy.”

He said the eagle pair has been in the area for decades.

“This is the twentieth anniversary of the nest being built,” said Robinson, who added they put a camera up two years later in 2005. “It’s really gathered a worldwide audience.”

People from all over the world are tuned in to see nature at work and just how good of parents these eagles are.

“It really gives people an insight into real nature, I mean these are wild birds that hunt, fish, and care for their young,” Robinson said.

Some drama last year resulted in no eggs last mating season. Robinson said a new female eagle flew in and spent multiple weeks in the nest, disrupting the resident eagles.

“There were no eggs laid last year, but we were extra happy this year to see two eggs had been laid.

The eagle nest is located on the campus of The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services’ National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown. It sits about a quarter mile from the Potomac River, according to information on the Eagle Cam site.

The NCTC Eagles, Bella and Smitty, had their first egg hatch on March 26 around 2:15 pm, according to an NCTC social media post, which included video highlights of the day.

The post indicated they were looking forward to seeing the second egg hatch soon.
The Eagle Cam discussion group is a place for viewers to chime in and give updates on the status of egg and eaglet. The NCTC called the chat group “a family- and classroom-friendly discussion board.”

You can access the Eagle Cam here:

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WVU enters ‘multi-year management plan’ with budget cuts

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Plans to cut WVU’s operating budget by $35 million next fiscal year will be the start of what university officials describe as a multi-year management plan.

Gordon Gee

WVU President Gordon Gee first talked about the cuts earlier this week in his state of the university address. The discussion was more more detailed Thursday during a WVU Campus Conversation attended by Gee and others.

Gee said declining enrollment, down about 10,000 students over the last decade, and possibly another 5,000 student enrollment drop in the coming five years. Plus, current economic factors and very few staff reductions over that period are the key driving factors.

“If we want to be financially healthy as a university and certainly financially healthy for the future, we need to correct our budget strategically now. Let me underscore that…now!” Gee said.

WVU Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Rob Alsop said university staff came together during the pandemic to meet the need and control costs but this crisis is much more complex and expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

Alsop said Fiscal Year 2024 will be a transition year.

Rob Alsop

“While the university was able to reduce expenses during the pandemic, those expense reductions are not sustainable in our post-pandemic world,” Alsop said. “Inflation is wreaking havoc on our payroll and supply expenses while utilities, insurance, hiring, and retaining talent are all more expensive.”

In recent years, revenue has not met expenses, not allowing for strategic investments in programs and people. Alsop said realigning the budget will provide opportunities to develop strategies to grow enrollment and enhance programs.

“Our goal is not only to have a balanced budget where, if one thing goes wrong, we’re not talking about cutting or being able to invest,” Alsop said. “We want to have the ability to consistently make new strategic investments of around $15 million a year in our people and our programs to keep WVU vibrant.”

Alsop said they are acting swiftly, but not immediately; cuts have to be made only after a critical analysis of revenue and expenses in order to maintain morale. Alsop said increases in tuition beyond rates of inflation are not planned, and they will continue to be focused on keeping a WVU degree affordable for families and students.

Also noted, freshman classes have steadily declined since the pandemic and a shallow pool of high school seniors electing to attend college are realities of current times. The fact that other peer institutions are battling over the same potential students tells leaders that future classes will continue to decline in numbers along with revenue.

“I think given the enrollment trends we are seeing and what is likely to develop at some level of magnitude, we are likely to be a smaller institution with fewer employees and fewer programs into the future,” Alsop said.

George Zimmerman, WVU assistant vice president of enrollment management, suggested WVU has the brand identity to grow the recruiting base. Most current WVU students come from within 250 miles of Morgantown and Zimmerman believes the radius can realistically be expanded.

“We have a very strong brand; we are competing on a national stage with the likes of Alabama, Kentucky, Penn State, Ohio State and Virginia Tech so we know that we can operate in these new markets and attract new students here,” Zimmerman said.

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Finance board for state insurer goes with straight premium increases

The board overseeing finances for the Public Employees Insurance Agency went ahead with straight premium increases to get in line with recently passed legislation.

The finance board made that decision today while ruling out hybrid proposals that would have meant lower premium increases offset by higher deductibles, out-of-pocket costs and prescription costs.

The upshot is, state employees and educators will see premium increases of roughly 24 percent starting with the new fiscal year, July 1. Workers who are insured by local government agencies that opt into PEIA will also see premium increases of 15.6 percent.

That was the main issue that finance board members had to decide Thursday afternoon, following four public hearings around the state this week. The board also made official additional monthly surcharges between $140 and $150 for spouses who opt into PEIA, depending on the specific plan.

Mark Scott

Administration Secretary Mark Scott, who serves as chairman of the PEIA Finance Board, said the decision to rule out the hybrid proposals for cost increases for state employees occurred earlier this week.

The finance board did discuss what to do for employees of local governments that opt into PEIA. Board members said they heard from representatives of those government agencies that they also wanted to go with the straight premium increase.

“Everybody I talked to, everybody was for option one,” said board member Jason Myers.

Scott, the chairman, agreed.

“It seems like that’s what the non-states are interested in. They’re interested in the premium increases only, which, quite frankly, was surprising. I thought they might want to look at blended, but apparently they feel like they can handle premium increases in their budgets,” Scott said.

The cost increases for workers is occurring because of legislation prompted by financial strains for PEIA.

A broad plan passed by the Legislature mandates a return to an 80-20 cost share between government employers and public employees. That ratio had gotten out of whack in recent years because of a reserve that state officials originally set up to hold premiums flat.

The Legislature also approved $2,300 pay raises for state workers, described as an offset for the increased insurance costs.

Labor organization leaders said a 24 percent premium increase is now a lot to absorb all at once.

Elaine Harris

“But I think at the end of the day, the one option is the best,” said  Elaine Harris, representative of the Communications Workers of America, comparing the straight premium increase to the blended options.

Fred Albert

Fred Albert, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, said workers will get sticker shock, though.

“Because a 24.2 percent premium increase all at once is a heavy lift for our employees who have given their lives to the students and families of our state,” Albert said.

Albert noted prior public statements by Gov. Jim Justice that insurance rates wouldn’t go up on his watch. “Well, we’re still on his watch,” Albert said. “We say we got a pay raise, but it’s a pay shift. It’s a shift of money.”

Worse, Albert said, this might not be the last change.

“This is not a permanent fix,” he said. “We’ll be here again. We all know that. This is not a permanent fix. We can see more train wrecks coming down the track.”

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Dolan concerned about inconsistencies in new Hope play-transfer law

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission Executive Director Bernie Dolan is hoping state lawmakers will be asked to take up the new Hope Scholarship/transfer law in a special session later this year.

Bernie Dolan

Gov. Jim Justice allowed the bill to become law without his signature a few hours before Wednesday night’s bill decision deadline.

The measure creates a path for Hope Scholarship students to play sports at public schools, much like home school students, while also liberalizing the transfer rules for public school students.

Justice supported the Hope Scholarship part of the bill but was against the transfer part so he decided to allow the bill to become law without his approval.

Dolan, during an appearance Thursday on MetroNews “Talkline,” expressed concerns with both parts of the law.

He said some key provisions that currently are required for home school students to play public school sports have been wiped out. He said no longer will those students have to take a class at the school they are playing for.

“They’ll have to take a test once a year but they won’t have to take a class at the school like they were doing before,” Dolan said.

The new provision will cover students under Hope, home school, micro schools and learning pods.

Dolan said the law also leaves out rules when it comes to aging out of high school competition and only competing for eight semesters.

“They’ve try to pick and choose which rules they want to follow instead of all of them,” Dolan said.

The transfer part of the law allows student-athletes to transfer schools at least one time and keep their athletic eligibility. Dolan said he’s concerned the new provision will encourage the transfers of more upperclassmen.

“People will start transferring later on for athletic reasons which will make for an imbalance in our system,” he said.

MORE Gov. Jim Justice struggles over transfer bill 

The SSAC has to take the provisions of the new law and write emergency rules on how the law will be implemented. Dolan said that’s also a challenge.

“We’re a little unclear as to maybe what the rule needs to be,” Dolan said.

Dolan maintains the Hope and transfers issues should have remained in one bill and stood who fell on their own merits.

“I know it’s legal but certainly it doesn’t make for good law because now we have inconsistencies,” he said.

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Having reached a comfortable weight, Hubbard hopes versatility can pay dividends up front

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Not long ago, Ja’Quay Hubbard was too big for football.

He then lost approximately 100 pounds throughout high school and the earlier stages of college, but at that point, Hubbard felt he wasn’t big enough.

“When I lost all that weight, I was around 300 pounds,” Hubbard recalled. “I was very mobile and felt very elusive, but I was not strong at the point of contact, and you can’t play the offensive line position like that.”

So Hubbard worked to regain weight and bolster his frame, something the Virginia transfer has done over his time at West Virginia. It allowed him to play in all 12 games last season with 11 starts at right tackle as the Hermitage, Pa., native became a mainstay on the Mountaineers’ offensive line.

“I was not in the strength position that I needed to be and that’s where the last year-and-a-half and two years have really helped with getting that anchor back in me,” Hubbard said. “I was lacking strength and offensive line is all about strength at the point of contact. I really just honed in and knew if I wanted to make my dreams come true and be an asset to this team, I had to take my conditioning and nutrition serious. That’s what I did.” 

Hubbard, who’s splitting reps at right tackle and right guard throughout this spring in an effort to add versatility, admits it hasn’t always been easy deciding between food options.

“It’s a continuous battle. I was born a big boy,” Hubbard said. “Sometimes, I want the fried chicken over the salad, but then I think about Penn State and take the salad right away.”

That, of course, is a reference to the Mountaineers’ 2023 season opener against the defending Rose Bowl Champion on September 2 at Beaver Stadium.

Opening with an opponent the quality of the Nittany Lions may help make Hubbard’s diet choices easier. So, too, does the inner desire of the 6-foot-5 offensive lineman that WVU presently lists at 326 pounds.

“I cared so much about football. The doctor would say, ‘well you’re not worried about the health.’ I was, but honestly, I was worried about being able to pull and pick up a linebacker,” Hubbard said. “This is going to sound so cliche, but I had to become disciplined. I knew if I eat this, this is going to stick to me and not eating too late was a big one. I would eat right before bed and your body needs time to digest. 

“I started drinking green tea — little stuff like that. My nutritionist helped me throughout. Extra workouts and conditioning with [WVU’s head of strength and conditioning Mike Joseph]. Lowering the temperature when you sleep, your body will process better throughout the night and it will help your metabolism and your body recover. Blackout shades and all that.”

Hubbard spent the 2019 season at Virginia as a true freshman, before joining the Mountaineers during the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign. He was a scout team player his first season in Morgantown and then in on 60 snaps over five games at left tackle as a redshirt freshman in 2021. All but 17 of the plays were against Long Island.

As West Virginia’s coaching staff concluded that Wyatt Milum would stay at left tackle throughout 2022 and what appears to be the remainder of his college career, Hubbard shifted to the right side.

“I’m right-handed and that’s where I have most of my collegiate-level reps at is on the right side and where my training is at,” Hubbard said.

Last year, he was used exclusively at tackle. That may again be the case this season, though by repping at guard, where Hubbard says pass-blocking is easier but run-blocking is more of a challenge, he’s giving himself more of a chance to be utilized.

“The more versatile you are, the better you are. It’s a long season,” Hubbard said. “You never know — a guy or two guys could go down. I could be forced to be put in a position maybe I haven’t had a lot of reps at. That’s why we use spring to really kind of develop that comfort so that when I get in a high pressure situation, it’s natural.”

As Hubbard readies for his fourth season at West Virginia and fifth of college football, he does so somfortable with his weight, which is pivotal in allowing him to play both positions up front.

In the process, he often recalls a quote from his godfather Mike Adams, who played at Ohio State and had stints with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears in the last decade.

“He was a really big mentor to me and he said, ‘the leaner you stay, the longer you play,’” Hubbard said. “That stuck with me. I’m like, ‘I’m not lean at all so it looks like my career is going to get cut short. I better get to eating salads.’”

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Shooting under investigation in Nicholas County

KESSLER’S CROSS LANES, W.Va. — Two men are being treated for injuries following a domestic dispute that occurred Thursday afternoon in Nicholas County.

A shooting was reported in the Kessler’s Cross Lanes community near Summersville at about 1 p.m.

Emergency crews were dispatched to the scene to transport at least one person to the hospital. A second person may have been taken by private vehicle.

State police are investigating.

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Capito’s resolution wins approval to block Biden’s changes to water rules

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito is hailing bi-partisan passage of a joint resolution aimed at overturning the changes to the Waters of the United States rule from the Biden Administration.

Capito, ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, introduced the resolution and led the effort to roll back the measure which was unveiled by the White House in December. The Administration’s new rules changed the definition of what waters are protected under the former Navigable Waters Protection Rule.

“By voting to overturn President Biden’s waters rule, we are sending a clear, bipartisan message that Congress, even a divided one, will defend working Americans in the face of executive overreach,” Capito said. “I’m proud to lead my colleagues in standing up for farmers and ranchers, landowners and builders, and energy and infrastructure workers across the United States. I urge President Biden not to overrule the will of a bipartisan majority in Congress, and instead draft a new rule that doesn’t unfairly penalize millions of Americans and jeopardize future growth in our country.”

Capito said she has been told the White House plans to veto the measure which she added makes it even more frustrating.

“He’s really not listening to the voices of the heartland of this country if he vetoes this. This is a very far-reaching rule that impacts so many small businesses and farmers in the state of West Virginia,” she said. “What the Biden administration has done is moved that definition of navigable waters to be an ephemeral stream or farm pond.”

Capito worried the language would force farmers, developers, and other small business owners in West Virginia to hire lawyers to help do the most basic, but critical tasks in their line of work. Things like moving a fence or building a new building on their own private property would require difficult paperwork, permits, and red tape.

Capito noted five Democrats in the Senate joined in voting for her resolution. One of those was U.S. Senator Joe Manchin.

“The Administration’s WOTUS rule is yet another example of dangerous federal overreach. The proposed changes would inject further regulatory confusion, place unnecessary burdens on small businesses, manufacturers, farmers and local communities, and cause serious economic damage. It is essential to ensure clean water for all West Virginians and Americans, but we can achieve this without regulating our hard-working people out of business. I’m proud to support this resolution of disapproval and I encourage President Biden to accept this clear and bipartisan rejection of his Administration’s overreaching and unnecessary rule,” Manchin said in a statement after the vote.

There’s already a case challenging the rules pending before the Supreme Court of the United States. The court is expected to rule on the measure in June, which could change the rules yet again.

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Another windy weekend on the way for W.Va., state of preparedness issued

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia may be looking at another windy weekend with the potential to bring down trees and create widespread power outages.

Gov. Jim Justice has declared a state of preparedness for all 55 counties in the state as more rain and strong winds are expected this Friday and Saturday.

Meteorologist Francis Kredensor with the National Weather Service in Charleston said it may be equal to what hit the state last weekend.

“Certainly going to be close. It will be into the 40 to 50 mile an hour range. In the lowlands we could see some locally higher gusts and certainly in the mountains we’re expecting higher gusts than that, ” he said.

According to Kredensor, the most powerful winds are expected in the area of Clarksburg north and in the central mountain region from the New River Gorge and north. However, he added there’s the possibility of high winds statewide.

“Even more leaves have come onto the trees since last week and any amount of wind is going to have even more effect as more leaves come on. Also, there are still some trees leaning and damaged from last week that didn’t fall down, but they are primed to fall down,” he explained.

Last weekend’s gusts left close to 60,000 customers of Appalachian Power without electricity for several days. Kredensor said the storms predicted for this weekend have similar potential and much like last weekend, the front will be preceded by rainfall Friday which will only add to the possibly of downed trees and lines.

“That will soften the soil right before the wind gets there. That’s also adding to our concern,” he said.

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Governor signs BUILD WV Act to provide more affordable housing

FAYETTEVILLE, W.Va. — A bill that will allow communities across the state to build new affordable housing developments to meet workforce needs has been signed into law by Gov. Jim Justice.

Justice joined state and local officials in front of a housing project in Fayetteville Thursday to sign HB 3036, the BUILD WV Act.

BUILD WV stands for Better United In Long-term Development West Virginia. The bill offers up to three types of tax credits as incentives for housing developers, including a sales tax exemption for building materials, a 10-year property value adjustment refundable tax credit and a potential municipal B&O exemption.

State Commerce Secretary James Bailey was at Thursday’s bill signing and said it’s a one-of-a-kind approach to address affordable housing needs in West Virginia.

“This innovative idea from the governor really hit a sweet spot,” Bailey said. “We now have developers all across the state interested in it and beyond our own borders, other states are already taking notice.”

Danielle Waltz, who represents the Wendell family with Mountain Shore Properties and Whitewater Property Management, said the bill will allow the family to offer more housing and places to stay in the Fayetteville area.

“They are so excited about this particular project behind me. It’s the first new apartments that will be built in Fayetteville in 30 years and that happens because of this legislation,” Waltz said.

The Wendell family is also working to increase tourism opportunities in Fayetteville with the construction of other buildings later this year.

“Starting in the fall, there’s going to be a hotel and restaurant built. It’s really a neat project that will end up including $20 million in investment in Fayetteville,” Waltz said.

The program is managed by the state Departments of Commerce, Tourism, and Economic Development.

State Tourism Secretary Chelsea Ruby said BUILD WV will help restore historic buildings and will drive more visitors to the area including the popular New River Gorge.

“It is somebody who has taken an old building that is a historic treasure and brought it back into development to help serve a community need, “Ruby said.

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