Wednesday, April 06, 2011


EKB Capsule News...West Virginia...4-7-'11

West Virginia's State mine safety director C.A. Phillips said Wednesday emergency refuge chambers that survived the deadly Upper Big Branch mine worked properly when tested last week. Phillips said  it's an important finding because it tells miners they can rely on shelters if they're trapped. State and federal officials and Massey Energy Co. tested the three Upper Big Branch shelters last Thursday.
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West Virginia and later the federal government mandated airtight underground refuges after 12 trapped miners ran out of air and died following the Sago Mine explosion in 2006. Federal rules now require refuges with four days of food, water and air at all underground coal mines.

Swiss eye care products maker Alcon Inc. has opened its expanded West Virginia manufacturing operation. Alcon President and CEO Kevin Buehler told the State Journal that the new plant just north of Huntington is expected to bring 300 new jobs over the next few years. The company employs 750 at its other plant in Huntington. The plants manufacturer intraocular lenses, which replace the clouded natural lens removed in cataract surgery.

The widows of two men killed in a coal mine fire are appealing the dismissal of a lawsuit against the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration. Delorice Bragg and Freda Hatfield asked the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals to take the case Wednesday. U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver Jr. dismissed it last July, ruling that MSHA wasn't liable for the men's deaths. The lawsuit was filed in April 2010 by the widows of miners Don I. Bragg and Ellery Elvis Hatfield. The men died in a conveyer belt fire at Massey Energy Co.'s Aracoma Alma No. 1 mine on Jan. 19, 2006. The lawsuit accused MSHA of negligence in its regulation of the mine and argued that federal inspectors should be liable under West Virginia law.

Fort Gay is without a police department after the Wayne County town's new mayor fired the police chief and an officer. Rose Devaney took the action Tuesday night during a town council meeting following her appointment as mayor. A former officer, firefighters, Wayne County Sheriff's deputies and others gathered outside the meeting to protest the firings. Devaney declined to disclose her reasons. She says the officers' services are no longer needed.

Three Charleston men were robbed early Wednesday morning on the city's West Side. Sgt. Eric Hodges of the Charleston Police Department said Dillon King, 18; Timothy Smith, 21 and Corey Cantley, 19, had just pulled into the driveway of a house on Hunt Avenue at a little past midnight when a gold-colored Chevrolet Cavalier pulled up behind their car. Hodges said two men allegedly got out of the Cavalier, pulled guns and ordered the three men out of their car. They were robbed of an undisclosed amount of cash and other valuables.

Deborah Joyce, 38, of Hurricane, who admitted she participated in a multimillion-dollar mortgage fraud scheme in the Stonegate subdivision in Hurricane, was sentenced to almost four years in prison Wednesday. In September, Joyce pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit bank and wire fraud and tax evasion. Federal prosecutors put the losses associated with the Stonegate mortgage fraud at more than $2.3 million. According to court filings, Joyce provided inflated appraisals of several Stonegate properties to a Salt Lake City-based company called 100X, which lined up customers to buy them as investments. Because of the scheme, the new buyers were immediately underwater, and some of the properties were later foreclosed.

As Appalachian Power workers tried to restore power to those still affected by Monday's storms, at least 600 residents lost power on Wednesday for the first time since the storms. But the additional outages aren't unusual, especially after windstorms, according to Appalachian Power spokesman Phil Moye.  As of 10:30 A.M. Wednesday, about 10,000 Appalachian Power customers in Southern West Virginia -- mostly in Kanawha County -- had no power. By 1:30 P.M., that number had dropped to 6,705 residents. But less than an hour later, the number jumped to 8,426 people without power.
During repairs, Moye said, crews will sometimes deactivate a live power line so they can safely restore power to other customers without the risk of electrocution.

Three health centers in West Virginia are receiving federal funding to continue and improve operations.
U.S. Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin announced the funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday. The funding includes $140,662 for Belington Community Medical Services Association, $462,157 for Martinsburg-based Shenandoah Valley Medical System, Inc., and $313,048 for Beckley-based Community Health Systems, Inc.

West Virginia's Chamber of Commerce is supporting three candidates in the upcoming primary for governor. The business group endorsed acting Governor Earl Ray Tomblin on Wednesday. He's among six Democrats seeking the party's nomination. The chamber also is backing two of eight Republicans running: Betty Ireland and Bill Maloney. The chamber called Ireland and Maloney leaders in the business community who understand the struggles of employers. It said Tomblin has long been a steady voice for lower taxes and a supporter of jobs and economic development. The primary is May 14th.

The families of a mother and two teenage girls who were killed in a head-on collision in Cabell County in 2009 have sued the doctor who wrote prescription after prescription for pain medication for the driver of the other car. In separate lawsuits filed April 1 in Kanawha Circuit Court, the families of Carole Lynn Crawford and Meaghan McGuire Crawford and Kelsey Rebecca Kuhn allege that Dr. Anita Dawson ignored signs that her patient Erma Marie Brown was dangerously addicted to prescription narcotics

Massey Energy Co. announced a new severance package as it begins its merger with Alpha Natural Resources, but Massey officials say they have no plans to lay anyone off. Massey has sent letters detailing the plan to an undetermined number of administrators and office staff. The notices weren't sent to the company's coal miners. Massey, based in Richmond, Va., employs about 7,300. Alpha, also based in Virginia, employs 6,400 people and is acquiring Massey in an $8 billion deal. Massey's letters are dated April 1. Massey also filed the letter and a detailed severance package plan with financial regulators on the same day.  A day later, Alpha and Massey said in a joint statement they had received antitrust approval for their merger, meaning the companies have overcome a key hurdle.

Thers' no doubt the campaign season is underway in Mingo County with visits from two candidates for the Governor of West Virginia. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin was in Gilbert; Rick Thompson visited Matewan. Tomblin, who became governor when Joe Manchin was elected to fill Sen. Robert Byrd’s seat after Byrd’s death, explained he has three main planks in his political platform. “We need to make sure we are financially stable,” Tomblin said. “When I attended the Governor’s Association convention, I was proud to be able to say West Virginia has a surplus.” Tomblin went on to explain the other areas he is focusing on during the campaign are education and bringing jobs to the state. He said the state has the highest high school drop out rate in the nation.

Kanawha County sheriff's deputies each got a check for $1,000 this week. Chief Deputy Johnny Rutherford said he and his brother, Sheriff Mike Rutherford, decided to take $99,000 from the county's pistol permit fund to give each deputy in the department $1,000. When state lawmakers put county sheriffs in charge of issuing concealed weapons permits, they gave the sheriffs discretion over how to spend leftover money from processing the permits. Many sheriffs rely on extra pistol permit money to buy equipment or supplement their budgets. Sheriff's officials previously took about $70,000 from the pistol permit fund to help buy new cruisers and four-wheel-drive vehicles for the Sheriff's Department.

West Virginia's business tax collections were up 700 percent in March compared to the same month last year, a sign that West Virginia's economy continues to improve significantly.  The combined collections of the state's corporate net income tax and business franchise tax stood at $55.7 million last month, exceeding projections by $25.6 million. The taxes raised $6.7 million in revenues for the state in March 2010.

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