Citizen questions county’s funding for road lobbyists

BUCKHANNON — On the heels of the Upshur County Commission’s vote to fund the Corridor H Authority, one resident has raised questions about the ethics of that decision.
At its July 20 meeting, the commission voted 2-1 to give the Corridor H Authority $5,000 to support lobbying efforts in Charleston after learning that the authority had minimal money left in its budget. Commissioner Troy “Buddy” Brady was the dissenting vote.
But last Thursday, county resident Tim Higgins appeared before the commission to question its decision to support those efforts.  
“I’m just here because of your approval of spending $5,000 for the Corridor H Authority,” Higgins told the commission. “I believe you’ve opened up a can of worms that you may not be able to put the lid back on, specifically because some of that money was earmarked for lobbying efforts. And now, you’re going to have every organization that wants to lobby Charleston in front of this commission asking for money.”
Higgins said the commission should have consulted the West Virginia Ethics Commission prior to voting to support lobbying efforts aimed at furthering the construction of Corridor H, which will stretch approximately 148 miles from Interstate 79 in Weston to Interstate 81 in Virginia, near the junction with Interstate 66.
“I believe what you should have done last week is to have asked the Ethics Board for a decision on specific money for lobbying efforts,” Higgins continued.
When the commission voted on the issue July 20, it did so based on the knowledge that the Corridor H Authority was planning to use the money to hire the lobbying firm, Bowles and Rice, as well as to pay for advertising and insurance.
Higgins also noted that it’s going to be a long time before Corridor H is completed, especially since the road — also known as Route 48 — is slated to cross the Blackwater Canyon, which will ignite concerns on the part of environmental activists.
“Corridor H has been ongoing for 40 years plus,” Higgins said. “The environmental impact statement that was done is outdated and has to be redone. So once it gets to Parsons or close to it, it’s not going any further until the environmental impact statement is done and they get comments back. If it goes back over the original route across the Blackwater Canyon, there will be organizations that file suit against that.”
“This is a road that’s not going anywhere,” Higgins added.
Commission president Terry Cutright interjected, “It’s going to Virginia.”
Higgins said, “It will go to the Virginia line, I understand that, but it’s going to be a long time and most likely, I’m going to be gone by the time that it goes from Parsons to Mt. Storm.”
Cutright explained that the commission recently learned the Corridor H Authority plans to spend the money not just on lobbying, but also for operating expenses, insurance, advertising and the promotion of Corridor H.
“I don’t feel we did anything wrong,” Cutright said.
Higgins said, “I’m just making a suggestion that there’s going to be multiple groups coming in here and begging for money for lobbying efforts.”
Cutright said the commission will simply have to evaluate each request on a case-by-case basis.
On Monday, Randolph County Development Authority executive director Robbie Morris, who is also the chairman of the Corridor H Authority, said the Authority requested $5,000 from the seven counties through which Corridor H crosses — Lewis, Upshur, Barbor, Randolph, Tucker, Grant and Hardy. The money won’t solely be used to bankroll lobbying efforts, he said.
“The request for funding is for the continued operation of the Corridor H Authority; it’s not earmarked for one particular thing,” Morris said. “It will pay for insurance, website expenses and government relations as we have done and continue to do.”
The Corridor H Authority’s requests for money — which have been formally approved by Tucker and Upshur counties thus far — stem from the fact that the authority no longer receives the state appropriation it did up until two years due to West Virginia’s budgetary struggles. Morris said the authority only has about $4,600 left in its budget; nonetheless, he doesn’t agree that the road won’t be completed.
“When is the question,” Morris said. “I don’t agree with saying, ‘Oh, it’ll never get done.’”
Morris also added that it’s not a certainty that the road will cross the Blackwater Canyon.
“There are other routes that are possible,” he said. “And of course, when we get to the Parsons to Davis section, there will have to be another environmental impact statement done, and there will be opportunities for everyone’s opinions to be heard.”
Construction is expected to begin soon on a 7.5-mile section of the 15-mile-long segment from Kerens to Parsons, Morris said.
In other business, the commission:
p Approved a request from WVU Extension Agent Craig D. Presar, on behalf of the Upshur County Extension Service and the Upshur County 4-H Leaders Association, asking for a fee reduction from $200 to $100 for the organization’s Aug. 11 pool party.
p Approved a request from Dr. Joseph Reed to serve another term on the Upshur County Farmland Protection Board as county resident. His new term will expire June 30, 2021.
p Approved a request from James L. Farry Jr. to serve another term as a private citizen on the Upshur County Enhanced Emergency Telephone Board; his new term will expire on June 30, 2020.
p Approved a request from Kimbra L. Wachob, assistant director of the Upshur County E911 Communications Center to advertise in The Record Delta, The Inter-Mountain and the Exponent-Telegram for full-time E911 telecommunicator positions. The advertisements will specify that the rate of pay is $11 per hour.
p Approved Jennifer Collins as a Lewis-Upshur Animal Control Facility volunteer.

More In Local News