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Environmental activist Erin Brockovich has been closely watching the situation after the January 9th chemical spill and water crisis, and says says those responsible should face criminal charges. Brokovich appeared on HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher," and called the Freedom Industries chemical spill a "crime" that was no different than someone poisoning a spouse over time with arsenic. Brokovich is coming back to West Virginia on Tuesday, and she'll be part of a town hall meeting from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Clay Center in Charleston.
Federal officials have rejected West Virginia's proposal to spend about $2.5 million in funds leftover from a broadband stimulus grant. State chief technology officer Gale Given tells the Charleston Gazette that the state likely will have to return the unspent funds to the federal government. The state wanted to award the funding to Citynet to help pay for a project that would give West Virginia direct connections to the national Internet "backbone" in Pittsburgh, Pa., and Columbus, Ohio. But that proposal has been rejected.
West Virginia is seeking a $350,000 federal grant to assess the damage of the January 9th chemical spill that led to the water emergency. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said the money would help with monitoring, testing and screening to determine long-term effects. Up to 10 percent can go toward monitoring community health. Part of the money could pay for environmental insurance. But it can't directly cover cleanup costs. The grant falls under the Environmental Protection Agency's Brownfields Program, dealing with sites contaminated by petroleum or hazardous substances.
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito is officially in the race for U.S. Senate. Capito filed her candidacy papers Thursday with the Secretary of State's Office to fill the Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Jay Rockefeller. Another Republican, Larry Eugene Butcher of Washington in Wood County, also filed to run for the U.S. Senate. Williamstown Democrat David Walmsley and Parkersburg Republican Matthew Dodrill, filed to run for the seat last week.
A sigh of relief that the water seems safe to consume. The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources said yesterday that tests show no detectable levels of PPH, which was the second chemical that leaked into the Elk River January 9th after a Freedom Industries storage tank released fluid. Water samples tested came from West Virginia American Water Company's treatment plant January 10th, and on a retest showed no detectable levels of PPH.
Freedom Industries reached a bankruptcy court deal this week for up to $4 million in credit from a lender to help continue operations. The deal lets the company continue paying its 51 employees in the short term, a biweekly payroll of about $172,000, according to a company attorney. The company can also continue paying costs for environmental remediation and will have money for critical day-to-day administrative expenses, and can pay top vendors, according to the attorney. The Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing freezes dozens of lawsuits against the company. Many are by local businesses owners who say they lost money during a water-use ban that lasted several days. State and federal investigations into the spill of a coal-cleaning chemical are continuing.
A new report said West Virginians paid 1.2 percent more for utilities in 2013 than in the previous year, primarily because of increases in natural gas and water rates. The report released Wednesday by the Public Service Commission's Consumer Advocate Division said the average West Virginia utility customer paid $280.62 a month for gas, electricity, water and telephone service last year. In 2012, the average monthly cost was $277.22. Rates have increased by 18 percent for water and 7 percent for electricity since 2010. Natural gas rates have fallen 18 percent.
A Charleston hotel is through with its renovations. The Four Points by Sheraton held a ribbon cutting ceremony on Wednesday after a $15 million renovation over the past two years. The improvements inlcluded enclosing the pool so it's indoors, and there's a new fitness center off the lobby now, along with Recovery Sports grill on that floor. There is hope that the new-look hotel will bring tourists and conventions to downtown Charleston. It's the first Starwood Hotel in West Virginia, and you can find it along Kanawha Boulevard by the levee.
Some details are out about how Kanawha County schools may make up all of the missed days, after the water emergency and snow days this week wrecked havoc on the schedule. All scheduled instructional support days are going to be regular school days now instead. That's - Feb. 17, Apr. 11, and May 16. And days where students were scheduled to be released early, they'll have to attend a full day. Those dates are - Jan. 29, Feb. 26, March 26, April 10, May 16.
What's next for freedom industries? At a federal bankruptcy court hearing yesterday, Freedom Industries' president, Gary Southern, said the company is in a "death spiral" unless it can change perception. Several lawsuits have been filed against Freedom Industries after a chemical leaked into the Elk River and caused a water emergency in nine counties. The company has spent $800,000 on the cleanup so far, and a plan is in the works to keep employees getting paychecks during the cleanup and bankruptcy process.