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Expansion joint failure halts eastbound traffic on I-64 through Saturday afternoon

The eastbound lanes of West Virginia’s busiest highway are likely to remain closed through Saturday afternoon, while workers repair a damaged expansion joint on the deck of Interstate 64’s Nitro-St. Albans bridge.

Eastbound traffic was routed off the freeway at about 1 p.m. on Thursday at the St. Albans exit and onto a detour that followed U.S. 60 back to I-64.

A state Division of Highways employee who works at the agency’s Scary Creek maintenance facility near the west end of the bridge spotted a hole that had formed in the concrete deck while driving over the span Thursday morning, and alerted DOH engineers in Charleston.

Engineers inspecting the underside of the deck found that a bolt securing a stack of two-inch-wide steel shims together to stabilize the expansion joint from below had come free.

“The shim plates were almost ready to come out,” allowing the expansion joint to shake back and forth and potentially cause more damage, said Tracy Brown, chief bridge engineer for the DOH. The portion of the bridge carrying eastbound traffic was immediately ordered closed, while the westbound lanes remain open.

More than 100,000 drivers travel I-64 daily, many of them commuters from Teays Valley, Hurricane and points west who will be seeking alternate routes east while I-64 bridge repairs take place.

“You don’t want to have I-64, which is operating near its capacity, shut down for any time at all,” said Brown, “but I think we can get done what needs to be done in the next 48 hours.”

Meanwhile, he said, “Our secondary roads will be crowded, but we’re hoping drivers will be patient and plan ahead.”

All Kanawha Valley law enforcement agencies have been alerted to the need for extra traffic management work, and highway display signs as far west as eastern Kentucky will be advising eastbound drivers about the problem and providing detour information.

To get the eastbound lanes open again, DOH personnel and agency contractors will cut concrete back from the expansion joints about one foot, and after repairs are complete to the expansion joint, install forms and pour new concrete around it. With high temperatures expected to rise only to the mid-30s Friday, the curing time for the concrete will be longer than normal.

While repairs are being made, other expansion joints on the bridge will be examined, Brown said. When the I-64 Nitro-St. Albans Bridge was last inspected in the summer of 2018, no deficiencies were found, he said.

The bridge is scheduled to be repaired and reconfigured during the next two years and another span added to the crossing, allowing three lanes of traffic from each direction to cross the Kanawha River. The contract for the $170 million project has been let, and design work is underway.

While I-64’s westbound lanes were not affected by the closure, DOH officials advise westbound travelers to be alert for slowdowns as eastbound traffic makes its way through the detour.

KENNY KEMP | Gazette-Mail  

Employees of PKB RV’s of Mineral Wells clean a 35-foot Salem Hemisphere travel trailer. The $30,500 RV is one of eight campers that they brought to the 51st West Virginia Outdoor Sports Show at the Charleston Coliseum & Convention Center. Show hours are 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $7 for adults, children 12 and under are free.

outdoor sports show

WV, Marshall University officials unveil plan to aid teachers, students

HUNTINGTON — In 2013, 33 out of every 1,000 infants in West Virginia were born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, and many of those children entered kindergarten in fall 2018. That created crises — for the children and their teachers — in many classrooms across the state.

In 2017, the number of infants born with the syndrome grew to 50.6 out of every 1,000. That means beginning this fall, many of these children suffering from the growing intensity of the opioid epidemic will walk through the doors of a West Virginia pre-K program, posing more challenges for educators.

Those developments, along with the fact about 80 percent of the 7,000 children in foster care in the state had been affected by parents’ or guardians’ drug use, can mean many teachers are at a loss regarding how to deal with their students’ various problems.

“I found myself feeling as if I was failing my students,” Rachel Fisk, a third-grade teacher at Scott Teays Elementary, in Putnam County, said as she described the alarming increase of students with behavioral and mental health problems over the last few years.

“My colleagues and I were in the same position,” she continued. “It wasn’t until earlier in the school year that I found myself at a trauma training hosted by the West Virginia Behavior/Mental Health Technical Assistance Center, and boy, did it bring on a new sense of hope.”

The Behavior/Mental Health TAC, located at Marshall University’s Autism Training Center, in Huntington, has now teamed with the state’s Department of Education and other partnering organizations to launch a formal support initiative, “ReClaim West Virginia,” unveiled Thursday morning on the university’s campus.

“The WVDE has heard from our educators and we are answering cries for help through ReClaimWV and our technical assistance center,” Diana Whitlock, assistant director in the office of special education and student support at the Department of Education, said. “Although we are formally announcing ReClaimWV today, we have been working behind the scenes very diligently over the past 15 months to answer those calls for help.”

The program is designed to support schools, teachers, personnel, families and students, who often reflect trauma through adverse or disruptive behaviors as a consequence of the substance abuse crisis, Whitlock said.

ReClaimWV will provide comprehensive assistance to educators across the state through online resources, tool kits, and sustained support from the TAC and Marshall.

Jim Harris, associate director at Marshall’s Autism Training Center, said while the program’s work is just beginning, the agencies are prepared for the challenge.

“Kids have complicated problems and teachers have complicated issues, so complex problems need comprehensive and complex solutions. This is not ‘one and done’ training,” Harris said. “These are not just webinars, this is integrative work, complex strategies, but we’re very comfortable with the work that needs to be done.”

Harris said the TAC already has conducted 232 school team trainings and worked with more than 1,000 early childhood professionals and 8,000 individuals in mental health first-aid in recent months. Educators, like Fisk, are already seeing the results.

“I personally have already seen two students reap the benefits from me receiving this training,” Fisk said. “No school, no community, no town is immune to this opioid crisis. We’re all in it together, and knowing that we now have a game plan, so to speak, for the opioid epidemic and how it’s impacting our children, it makes you feel hopeful.

“You’re ready to go to battle and you are equipped with what you need to help these children overcome that toxic stress and trauma that they’re facing,” she said.

And that’s the ultimate goal, Harris said, for ReClaimWV — to begin giving educators their sense of confidence back in order to help struggling children overcome obstacles.

“This is about building local capacity in each district, each county. We’re training folks to be able to have teams locally that can do problem solving and technical assistance and behavior. Our job is to help the local folks feel more capable in their work and supporting them,” Harris said. “There’s a lot of conversation about what’s wrong, and problems, and, ‘How bad is it?’ in the statistics, but I think this is an investment in solutions. We have to be careful; if we admire our problems too long, we’re wasting time that we could be using to solve them.”

ReClaimWV’s online resource provides educators, students, families and communities with immediate and long-term prevention and intervention strategies as well as an application for training or assistance at www.wvde.us/ reclaimwv.

Trump unleashes impeachment fury in acquittal 'celebration'

WASHINGTON — Exulting in his impeachment acquittal, a defiant President Donald Trump took a scorched-earth victory lap Thursday, unleashing his fury against those who tried to remove him from office and pointing ahead to his reelection campaign.

Triumphantly waving newspaper front pages that declared him “ACQUITTED,” Trump denounced the impeachment proceedings as a “disgrace” and portrayed himself as a victim of political foes he labeled “scum,” “sleazebags” and “crooked” people. Hours earlier, he unleashed broadsides that stunned the crowd at an annual bipartisan prayer breakfast

“It was evil, it was corrupt, it was dirty cops,” Trump declared in a packed White House East Room, where he was surrounded by several hundred of his most loyal supporters. “This should never, ever happen to another president, ever.”

He conceded nothing in regard to charges that he improperly withheld a White House meeting and U.S. military aid in an effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden and other political matters.

“We went through hell, unfairly,” he insisted. “Did nothing wrong.”

His comments were a clear sign that, post-impeachment, Trump is emboldened like never before as he barrels ahead in his reelection fight with a united Republican Party behind him. And his remarks stood in stark contrast to the apology offered by President Bill Clinton when he faced the American people in the aftermath of his own impeachment acquittal in 1999.

In a brief Rose Garden address, Clinton was somber: “I want to say again to the American people how profoundly sorry I am for what I said and did to trigger these events and the great burden they have imposed on the Congress and on the American people.”

The only contrition Trump offered was to his own family, apologizing “for having them go through a phony, rotten deal.”

Trump had plenty else to say, however. Venting for more than an hour, he ticked off names of the “vicious and mean” people he felt had wronged him: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and former FBI Director James Comey. And he reveled in the verdict handed down by the GOP-controlled Senate Wednesday, saluting one-by-one in Oscar acceptance speech-fashion the “warrior” GOP lawmakers who had backed him both in the Capitol and on television.

“Now we have that gorgeous word. I never thought it would sound so good,” Trump said. “It’s called ‘total acquittal.’”

One person unmentioned: Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose involvement with Ukraine helped drive Trump’s push for investigations that led to his becoming just the third president in U.S, history to be impeached by the House.

Trump’s remarks, delivered with the aid of scribbled notes but no teleprompter, served as a dramatic contrast to his State of the Union address earlier this week. Standing before Congress Tuesday night, Trump hewed closely to his script and offered an optimistic message to the country with no mention of impeachment.

This time, his remarks were rambling and replete with profane language, comedic interludes and plenty of tangents and asides. He ribbed Ohio Rep. James Jordan, a college wrestling champion, for rarely wearing a suit jacket, saying, “He’s obviously very proud of his body.” And he delivered a dramatic reading of text messages between two of his favorite targets, former FBI agent Peter Strzok and lawyer Lisa Page, who played a role in the special counsel’s investigation of Russian interference to help Trump in the 2016 election.

“This is really not a press conference. It’s not a speech. It’s not anything,” Trump remarked at one point. “It’s a celebration.”

He declared that the Republican Party had never been more unified and predicted momentum from the acquittal would carry him to reelection this November.

But he also predicted that he may have to fend off another impeachment challenge, perhaps for something as trivial as jaywalking.

“We’ll probably have to do it again because these people have gone stone-cold crazy,” the president said.

Earlier Thursday, Trump shattered the usual veneer of bipartisanship at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington by unleashing his fury against those who tried to impeach him, with Pelosi sitting on stage.

“As everybody knows, my family, our great country and your president have been put through a terrible ordeal by some very dishonest and corrupt people,” Trump said at the annual event.

His remarks were especially jarring coming after a series of Scripture-quoting speeches, including a keynote address by Arthur Brooks, a Harvard professor and president of a conservative think tank, who had bemoaned a “crisis of contempt and polarization” in the nation and urged those gathered to “love your enemies.”

“I don’t know if I agree with you,” Trump said as he took the microphone, and then he proceeded to demonstrate it.

“I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong,” he said in an apparent reference to Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, a longtime Trump critic who cited his faith in becoming the only Republican to vote for Trump’s removal.

“Nor do I like people who say, ‘I pray for you,’ when you know that is not so,’” he said, in a reference to Pelosi, who has offered that message for the president when the two leaders have sparred publicly.

The House speaker, who shook her head at various points during Trump’s remarks, later told reporters they were “so completely inappropriate, especially at a prayer breakfast.” She took particular issue with his swipe at Romney’s faith and said that, yes, she does pray for the president.

Trump later said he “meant every word.”

The president and his allies have been on a victory lap since Wednesday, gloating publicly and behind closed doors.

Indeed, the night of the impeachment vote was one of revelry for members of the president’s circle. In Washington, many, including Trump’s eldest son, Donald Jr,, the son’s girlfriend, former Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle, and the president’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, gathered at the president’s hotel a few blocks from the White House, one of the few MAGA safe zones in the deeply Democratic city.

The president himself remained at the White House but worked the phones, calling confidants.

In Legislative Breakfast swan song, Minority Leader Miley offers brutally frank state of the state

In a swan song as he nears the end of a 16-year legislative tenure, House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, told attendees of the West Virginia Press Association’s annual Legislative Breakfast that “things are not great” in West Virginia.

Miley, the House speaker from 2013 to 2015, used his final address before the Press Association as an antidote to positive commentary offered by House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, and Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson.

“We need to be honest about where we are, and where we need to go, and not talk about how great we are, because things are not great,” Miley said.

In the past decade, he said, public school enrollment statewide has dropped by 20,000 students, with declines in 50 of 55 counties.

“These kids won’t grow up to be adults here, to be taxpayers here,” Miley said.

Miley said state leaders have failed to take steps to diversify the economy, in part, because of unbending loyalty to a fading coal industry.

“For far too long, we’ve doubled down on an industry that we know, if we’re honest with ourselves, has been dying for a long time,” he said.

Miley said the state should be focusing on measures that will help it retain and recruit adults in the 25-to-40 demographic.

“They want high-speed internet. They could care less that they’re working and living among gay men and women … but we can’t seem to say, we also could care less, and want to make sure you’re treated fairly,” he said, referencing the Legislature declining to expand anti-discrimination protections in the state Fairness Act to include the LGBTQ community.

“Instead, we focus on inviting counties from Virginia because of the gun issue,” Miley continued, referencing efforts by Gov. Jim Justice and others to lure rural Virginians unhappy with gun safety measures enacted by the newly Democratic-controlled General Assembly in Richmond. “That just doesn’t inspire the next generation, it just doesn’t.”

Miley’s comments sharply contrasted with remarks from Carmichael, who earlier told the audience, “We live in a state that is on the rebound.” He said the two keys for economic development this session are the repeal of the personal property tax on manufacturing equipment, machinery and inventory and the implementation of a state intermediate appeals court.

Miley countered that, in talking with potential business interests, “There’s about 20 things they want to see before they even mention the equipment and inventory tax … You don’t have to give a lot of money away.”

He said the loss of tax revenue from the repeal “could bring the state to its knees.” State budget shortfalls are projected for the next four to five budget years, he added.

As for intermediate appeals court, Miley said, “Our population is declining, our caseload is declining, so what do we do? We want to implement another layer of the court system at a cost that just elongates the legal process.”

Miley said he supports Hanshaw’s proposal to establish a West Virginia Impact Fund to help underwrite economic development projects in the state.

“Worst-case scenario, it does nothing. Best-case scenario, it brings major investment to West Virginia,” Miley said.

The Legislative Breakfast is an annual tradition, falling somewhere between the start and the midpoint of the legislative session, giving the Senate president, House speaker and minority leaders the opportunity to lay out or update legislative priorities for the regular session.

Hanshaw said he believes all legislators on both sides of the aisle are focused on the goal to “make it easier for people to stay in West Virginia.”

Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, speaking on behalf of Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, said the key to growing the state is to improve education. That needs to begin in early childhood with the expansion of Birth-to-Three programs, he said.

He said the state has to address issues with more than 7,000 children in foster care and more than 10,000 children identified as homeless. Those issues were exacerbated with severe funding cuts to the state Department of Health and Human Resources from 2015 to 2017, he said.

Stollings, a 2020 candidate for governor, said the state also must fully fund higher education, public education and PEIA health insurance.

“It’s an investment in our future,” he said.

Carmichael summarized the Senate’s agenda as, “Our focus is jobs, roads, opioid reduction, foster children and continuing to improve education.”