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Around the state: Nonprofits suing state agencies over MCHM spill

[cleeng_content id=”158110362″ description=”Read it now!” price=”0.49″ t=”article”]CHARLESTON – The chemical spill that tainted drinking water for 300,000 residents in nine counties more than a month ago now has prompted lawsuits against two West Virginia government agencies.

Last week’s court filing Friday by two nonprofits accuses the Department of Health and Human Resources and the Department of Environmental Protection of failing to follow state requirements to protect the public’s health and drinking water supply.

During Monday’s Congressional hearing at the state Capitol in Charleston, W.Va., Jimmy Gianato, third from left, director of the West Virginia Homeland Security and Emergency Management, reads a statement regarding the chemical leak at Freedom Industries’ tank facility in Charleston. The incident contaminated drinking water for more than 300,000 residents.

During Monday’s Congressional hearing at the state Capitol in Charleston, W.Va., Jimmy Gianato, third from left, director of the West
Virginia Homeland Security and Emergency Management, reads a statement regarding the chemical leak at Freedom Industries’ tank
facility in Charleston. The incident contaminated drinking water for more than 300,000 residents.

The emergency petition filed with the state Supreme Court named DEP Secretary Randy Huffman, DHHR Secretary Karen Bowling and DHHR Bureau for Public Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Tierney as respondents.

The petition said a 2002 DHHR report concluded the Elk River water supply was “highly susceptible to contamination” from several potential threats, including Freedom Industries. Crude MCHM leaked Jan. 9 from the company’s Charleston site into the river and into West Virginia American Water’s nearby intake, spurring a water-use ban for 300,000 people for several days.

The petition accused public health officials of failing to require adequate emergency response and source-water protection plans.

It seeks to have the agencies show why they shouldn’t be forced to take several steps, among them requiring protection plans for the Elk River water supply, monitoring the effects of the spill and making that information public, and implementing a chemical accident prevention program.

Ag problems found: An audit of the West Virginia Department of Agriculture from 2008 to 2012 found more than $11,000 in potential improper expenditures for former commissioner Gus Douglass, including nearly $4,000 in reimbursement for a campsite at the West Virginia State Fair for which he was not charged. According to the audit, Douglass claimed more than $100 a night in expenses for the campsite during the fair from 2008-2012.

The audit also says that Douglass flew to Charleston from North Carolina for a cost of $94, then took the state-owned plane from Yeager Airport to Jackson County for a ceremony that honored him. Douglass flew back to North Carolina on the state-owned plane, which then had to return to Charleston for a total cost to the public of $3,150. The audit called the junket “extravagant.”

Douglass, 86, served for 44 years as agriculture commissioner after first being elected in 1964. The Democrat was the longest-serving state agriculture commissioner in the state’s history, but decided against running for re-election in 2012. That election was won by Walt Helmick.

The audit also found Douglass made improper charges for 21 stays at a Charleston hotel, and more than $1,000 in improper meal charges. The former commissioner also charged the state for “other expenses” which had no receipts, improperly added mileage amounts in excess of the distances he actually traveled and charged the state travel expenses for his wife, the audit said.

The audit showed an employee or employees also charging more than $4,000 for travel than they were allowed and were reimbursed for $7,000 in airline tickets that could not be traced to expense settlement forms. Money for schools: U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has announced a grant totaling $3.1 million to help West Virginia turn around some of its lowest-achieving schools.

The so-called school improvement grants are aimed at assisting school districts that demonstrate the greatest need for the funds, as well as a commitment to raise student achievement.

Duncan said the funding represents a “tremendous opportunity” for persistently struggling schools to provide a better education for their students.

West Virginia is among six states and the District of Columbia awarded the grants. The grants total $38 million.

PRINCETON

“Country Roads” offered up: Princeton resident Dreama Denver, widow of actor Bob Denver, says she’s pushing state lawmakers to make “Take Me Home, Country Roads” the official song of West Virginia.

Delegate Marty Gearhart has introduced a resolution in the House of Delegates that would add the song to the list of official state songs. The Mercer County Republican says it’s a “feel-good” song about West Virginia that’s known worldwide.

 

NUTTER FORT

Firefighter mourned: State leaders, citizens and fellow firefighters are remembering the West Virginia fireman who was among three killed in the collapse of a pair of cellphone towers in Clarksburg on Feb. 1.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin ordered state flags in Charleston and on all state buildings in Harrison County to be lowered in memory of Nutter Fort Volunteer Fire Department member Michael Garrett. He died when a second cell tower collapsed as he tried to move a seriously injured construction worker out of harm’s way.

Firefighters from more than 40 departments in West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia attended Saturday’s service.

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration is investigating the deadly accident, which also killed two workers from Oklahoma.

According to OSHA records, the company that employed the two was sanctioned after a fatal accident in 2009 in Missouri.

OSHA cited S&S Communications with two “serious” violations after an employee fell to his death from a 330-foot communications tower in Oregon County, Mo. OSHA said the worker detached his harness but should have had a secondary tether. The company was fined $3,000.

Prentice Cline, area director for the agency’s Charleston office, said it could take up to six months to determine whether to issue any violations.

 

– Compiled from

The Associated Press

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