West Virginia editorial roundup
Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
The Herald-Dispatch on the future of the Heartland Intermodal Gateway:
The future of the Heartland Intermodal Gateway at Prichard remains uncertain, but Wayne County officials have until the end of the month to come up with a plan to rescue it.
The rail-to-truck facility has never lived up to its promise of becoming a major shipping point for counties in southern West Virginia, eastern Kentucky and southern Ohio. At a meeting of the West Virginia Public Port Authority last week, West Virginia Transportation Secretary Byrd White said the implications of a long-term lease on the facility just became too complicated, so he recommended the state sell the 100-acre facility along Norfolk Southern tracks in Wayne County to the highest bidder.
After hearing pleas from members of the Wayne County Commission in attendance, the board moved to postpone a decision on the public sale of the facility. The Port Authority gave Wayne County officials until the end of the month to submit proposals to save it.
The Prichard facility provides businesses with a truck-and-rail transfer option along Norfolk Southern’s Heartland Corridor, a 530-mile stretch of track running from the Port of Virginia at Hampton Roads through West Virginia and on to Chicago. Each day trains moving on the Heartland Corridor carry hundreds of shipping containers.
Those trains run through Wayne, Mingo, Wyoming, McDowell and Mercer counties. There are intermodal facilities in Virginia and Ohio that ship and receive containers. In theory, an intermodal facility in West Virginia would take advantage of all that freight movement and give southern West Virginia a gateway into more international markets.
But things haven’t worked out that way in the half decade or so the Prichard facility has been open.
Last month, White said Prichard had only 579 lifts of containers off railcars to trucks at $30 a lift in the 2019 fiscal year. That came to $17,370 in income. But the terminal had $522,000 in expenses for a loss of about half a million dollars.
At two containers per rail car, that’s 290 carloads, or about three normal trains. Three trains in one fiscal year. That’s not much business for a $36 million capital investment. This year’s state budget has no money to subsidize the facility. Thus, the Port Authority wants rid of it.
It may be a telling feature that the state built the Heartland Intermodal Gateway, not private investors. That should have been a red flag about demand for an intermodal shipping terminal at Prichard. If there was enough demand and enough profit potential, the state would not have had to invest any money in it.
In the past, local and state officials have assumed the role of real estate developers. Sometimes their efforts bear fruit, although results may take time. Consider Pullman Square in downtown Huntington as one example. At other times, though, they learn the hard way why private money does not follow some projects.
As far as the Heartland Intermodal Gateway is concerned, the burden of proof now lies with officials in Wayne County. They will need to find a company or an agency that is willing to take a chance on a rail-truck terminal that last fiscal year handled the equivalent of three trains. New management may have, to use a cliche, to think outside the box. Better, it will need to think beyond the box or build a new box.
It’s too early to declare the Heartland Intermodal Gateway a failure. That judgment will have to wait until the end of this month or this year, by which time we should know if there is any interest in the property.
The Exponent Telegram on the state’s Public Service Commission which expects natural gas bills to be lower this winter:
We’ve reported extensively on West Virginia’s economy, highlighting the positive developments but also shining a light on the fact that some regions and some people are lagging behind.
In a state with a proud industrial, blue-collar base that has been hurt by a slow transition to the new economic reality, we’ve seen generations of West Virginians left behind.
We’ve also learned to recognize the good with the bad, such as reports that the state’s cost of living is low. Along with that, though, is the fact that the cost of pay often trails other areas as well.
Bottom line: Some people are still hurting. Badly. And utility costs part of the issue.
So it was good news to hear the Public Service Commission is expecting natural gas bills to be lower during the upcoming winter.
There is something to be said that since West Virginia has long been a major coal-producing state and now sits atop some of the largest natural gas reserves in the world, state residents should benefit from lower fuel costs, whether it’s being used to heat homes or generate electricity.
We have long argued that the state’s proximity to fuel supplies should make our fuel costs some of the lowest in the country.
Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. And earlier this year, major rate increases for some electric and water producers were approved by the state Public Service Commission.
An added issue is that many West Virginia residents are serviced by smaller Public Service Districts for water and sewage.
Because of that, as well as the state’s rural nature, we often hear that’s why consumers’ costs are higher. That’s also the argument heard with both cable and broadband service.
But the reality is that many of these providers also benefit from government programs that help extend service to more customers.
It is a delicate and difficult balance for those who have regulatory authority over these utilities, but one that is needed to protect the interests of citizens.
As the state’s economy continues to ebb and flow, especially in some of the more disadvantaged areas of the state, we’re hopeful that utilities are able to consider more cost-savings measures.
And we’re also hopeful that lawmakers seriously consider protecting the interests of every West Virginian by designing ways to ensure the coal and natural gas that comes from West Virginia is used to provide cost-effective power generation for residents first, before being shipped elsewhere.
The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register on proposed protections for vulnerable adults who are harassed:
Had Denise Fernatt been a juvenile, police and prosecutors might have been able to do something about the people who allegedly harassed her until she jumped off the New River Gorge Bridge on Aug. 5, 2017. But bullying laws that safeguard West Virginia children do not apply to adults.
Two years after his wife committed suicide, Roy Fernatt, of Kanawha County, filed a lawsuit against six people and a motorcycle club he contends meant to bully her to the point that she would take her own life. That was done through online harassment and posting semi-nude pictures of the late Mrs. Fernatt in public places.
Kanawha County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Maryclaire Akers told the Charleston Gazette-Mail she had reviewed the case — but decided that what happened to Mrs. Fernatt was “horrible,” state law provided no grounds on which to prosecute the harassers. Officers at a local police department also looked for ways to file charges, but in vain.
Hearing of the case, state Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, decided something had to be done. She told the Gazette-Mail she wants to amend the state Computer Crime and Abuse Act — which covers juveniles to include adult behavior.
“When you’re talking about adults, it’s going to be more controversial and a little more difficult,” Rucker said of her proposal.
She is probably correct. Many people view bullying as a problem that affects children, not adults. Theoretically, men and women are better able to cope with harassment and to do something about it.
But as Fernatt’s lawsuit pointed out, his late wife was vulnerable. She suffered from depression and had attempted to (kill herself) previously.
It will not be easy for Rucker and other lawmakers to write a statute that will pass constitutional muster. The First Amendment will be an obstacle, protecting as it does virtually all types of expression.
But the U.S. Supreme Court has held that there can be exceptions. One of them is “crying fire in a crowded theater” behavior — that is, speech meant to incite panic and/or violence. If Fernatt is correct, that is precisely what his late wife’s tormenters intended to do.
Good for Rucker. We hope she and others in the Legislature do not allow the difficulty of crafting constitutional legislation to deter them. Those who would bully others, of whatever age, into killing themselves should face consequences for their actions.