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Community, Mountaineer Montessori School students come together to paint Kanawha City mural

Mallory Burka’s vision came to life Monday morning as community members and students from Mountaineer Montessori School’s summer program gathered to paint the wall of Risk’s Fas Chek Market in Kanawha City.

The idea to create a mural in Kanawha City was born a few years ago when Burka’s father, Rick, was the president of Kanawha City Community Association. After he died in July 2020, the Kanawha City Community Association asked Burka to create, design and organize the project.

Burka, the neighborhood arts coordinator and administrative assistant for FestivALL, asked community members to help her fill the wall with blocks of color as part of Kanawha City Mural Community Paint Day.

“It’s finally coming to fruition a couple years later, but the whole idea is just to bring people to Kanawha City, be a light in one of the lights in Charleston,” said Burka.

The colorful design is embellished with the saying, “You can do anything you put your mind to,” something Burka’s father used to tell her when she was younger.

“That is something that has always resonated with me growing up, and I thought that, you know, being a sentimental mural for myself, I also thought for the general public it would be a great reminder and sense of encouragement,” said Burka.

Additionally, “Wish you were here” is written across the smaller wall of the mural to remember Burka’s father and remind those visiting or leaving the city that Charleston will always long for their presence, Burka said.

The mural, which is sponsored by the Kanawha City Community Association, in partnership with the Charleston Office of Public Art, is the first large-scale mural in Kanawha City and is only a short walk from Mountaineer Montessori’s main campus.

Mountaineer Montessori teaches children age 2 through eighth grade with a hands-on Montessori approach that focuses on empowering students through creativity and art, said Alasha Al-Qudwah, Mountaineer Montessori’s summer camp director and upper elementary lead teacher. She said the school operates with mixed-age classrooms, allowing students to learn at their own pace within a group of two or three grade levels.

After moving their main campus to Kanawha City last August, Al-Qudwah said it has been easier to utilize outdoor space and work with the community on events like the Community Paint Day. She said that, once she learned about the event, she thought it would be the perfect activity for their summer camp students.

“When [the students] found out like, not only is it a mural that’s kind of like in our neck of the woods, it’s like, ‘Oh we can walk here from campus,’” she said. “They were just so excited to be part of the community today.”

Mason Maurer, a soon-to-be sixth-grader, said his favorite part about painting is “the inspiration that a blank canvas gives me.” Maurer, a recent transfer student to MMS, noted that he likes the Montessori-style school because it gives him more freedom over what he’s learning.

Lillian Lasky, a rising fourth-grader, described painting as “extraordinary” and said her favorite part of the summer has been helping create the mural.

“What I love is that, every time they come to school now, they’ll feel like, ‘Oh, I was part of that mural,’” said Al-Qudwah.

West Virginia celebrates its 159th birthday

Dozens gathered Monday morning at the West Virginia Culture Center to celebrate the state’s 159th birthday celebration.

First lady Cathy Justice kicked off the day’s festivities by announcing the winning recipe to be named the official state of West Virginia birthday cake.

The cake called, “Mrs. Van’s Blackberry Skillet Cake,” was created by Kim Wymer of Scott Depot. The cake was the winner of the first lady’s state birthday cake contest. Wymer’s recipe was one of seven finalists.

“Food is linked to memory for so many people throughout West Virginia,” the first lady said. “These cake recipes showcase many special Appalachian ingredients and strong family traditions that are part of our cultural heritage.”

Wymer said the recipe wasn’t a family recipe. Instead, it was one she made specifically for West Virginia’s birthday. Wymer pulled inspiration from the pineapple upside down cakes her mother made when she was a child and her grandparents’ skillet cooking.

“I was thinking about what made me think of West Virginia,” she said.

Wild, West Virginia-grown blackberries and walnuts were two things that reminded Wymer of the state.

While Wymer enjoys baking and cooking, she said this was the first cake recipe she had ever put together.

“I like to experiment with cookies, usually trying different things,” she said. “But this is the first cake I’ve done.”

Copies of Wymer’s recipe were available at the event.

After the first lady announced the cake and Gov. Jim Justice addressed the crowd, the festivities transitioned from the Great Hall to the theater for a Golden Horseshoe reunion ceremony. The Golden Horseshoe test — which measures students’ knowledge of West Virginia history — is administered each year and the highest scorers in each county are inducted into the Knights of the Golden Horseshoe. Golden Horseshoe winners from 1947 to 2022 returned for Monday’s event.

West Virginia Department of Arts Culture and History curator Randall Reid-Smith said there will be a Golden Horseshoe reunion every year on West Virginia Day beginning this year.

The governor received an honorary Golden Horseshoe award at the ceremony and was knighted by state schools Superintendent Clayton Burch.

Later in the day, the Department of Arts, Culture and History hosted the inaugural History Bowl “Legends Tournament,” for former participants of the West Virginia History Bowl to face off in an all-stars competition.

Former WV delegate faces prison time at sentencing this week for role in Jan. 6 riots

Former West Virginia Delegate Derrick Evans will not be required to travel to Washington, D.C., for his sentencing this week on a felony charge for his involvement in the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot.

Evans, 37, of Wayne County, is to be sentenced in the District of Columbia at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday after having previously pleaded guilty to one count of civil disorder, a Class D federal felony, and faces up to five years imprisonment, a three-year term of supervised release, $250,000 fine, a $100 special assessment fee and restitution to the Capitol.

The plea was for his role in the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol, which saw hundreds of then-President Donald Trump supporters breaching the building to interrupt Congress as it certified election results.

Last week, District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth granted Evans attorney Paul Taylor’s request to have him appear for the hearing remotely.

Federal guidelines call for a sentence of up to six months. While Taylor is asking for Lamberth to keep Evans out of prison for the sake of his family, U.S. Attorney Kathryn Fifield requested a sentence of three months incarceration and $2,000 in restitution.

According to prosecutors, early on Jan. 6, Evans traveled to the Capitol on one of two charter buses from Burlington, Ohio. Before the trip, he had made several Facebook posts encouraging others to participate in the day’s events, saying “A storm is coming ... and there is nothing the Left can do to stop it.”

Once in the city, Evans decided to skip the president’s speech after seeing a long line and instead went to the Capitol as the crowd swelled. He livestreamed most of the day’s events to thousands of viewers on his Facebook page, videos that helped lead to his conviction. At about 2:50 p.m., Evans ended his livestream, saying he was going to find his West Virginia people.

Evidence also was shown that, shortly after leaving the building, Evans texted a friend, asking them to download his video and asking if he should delete it “so there’s no evidence of what I just did.”

Following his arrest, Evans participated in two debriefing sessions, during which he expressed remorse and regret for what he did. However, Fifield said Evans minimized his conduct and his expressed remorse conflicted with the video evidence of that day.

Ahead of Wednesday’s sentencing, both Taylor and Fifield filed statements on why Evans should or shouldn’t be sentenced to prison for his actions. While Fifield’s submission was more than 40 pages long, Taylor’s argument was just seven pages, the rest relying on dozens of letters of support from Evans’ family and community members.

Taylor called the events an “aberration” in Evans’ otherwise “exemplary life” and said the video suggests a “certain naivete,” lack of experience, wisdom or judgment, rather than criminal intent.

In asking for a prison sentence, Fifield wrote that Evans was a major public voice in the Jan. 6 riot. His public social media reach encouraging people to travel to Washington to “stop the steal” “received thousands of likes and hundreds of comments, which aided in the attack that day. Him skipping the presidential speech showed his true intentions, she said.

Taylor said Evans was just inside the building for 10 minutes and that he did not engage in violence or vandalism and encouraged others to do the same.

Fifield said Evans carefully narrated what was happening from his vantage point and in other areas around the Capitol, including violence against police officers. She wrote that he made it clear he was enthusiastic for what was happening and urged rioters to “take” the Capitol, encouraging them to push farther.

“Evans’s enthusiasm for the riot as it was happening is undeniable, and his real-time promotion of the riot undoubtedly raised its profile. His remorse after the fact may be genuine, but he recognized on that day that the riot was violent and destructive. Yet, he celebrated the riot,” she wrote.

She said Evans knew his social media promotion of the riot was significant, leading him to almost immediately delete the video because it was incriminating.

In his final argument, Taylor said Evans has already been humbled by the experience by losing his gun rights and having to resign from the West Virginia Legislature.

Taylor said Evans’ four children, wife and grandparents rely heavily on him for support, as he is the caregiver of them while his wife works long hours as a nurse. Evans cooperated with the government and complied with all conditions imposed by the court.

While Taylor said Evans has not been charged with any crimes before, as of a few years ago a worker at the Women’s Health Center of West Virginia in Charleston had a permanent protection order against him for allegedly repeatedly harassing her at the business, an order he was accused of violating at least once.

Those who wrote letters of support for Evans include Larry Britt, municipal judge for Fort Gay, and Wayne County Republican Executive Committee Chairman Jeff Maynard. Several teachers, coaches and others employed by Wayne County Schools also penned letters of support. Neil DePugh also wrote a letter of support for Evans, signing it as the general manager of Cabela’s in Charleston.

Delegate Derrick Evans, R-Wayne, was sworn in as a member of the West Virginia Legislature on Dec. 1, 2020. He resigned Jan. 9.

Federal work group looks for help in helping energy communities as key Supreme Court decision on executive authority looms

A group created by the Biden administration via executive order to revitalize coal and power plant communities wants to learn how it can better help them.

The Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization is taking public comments to help it achieve its stated goal of prioritizing aid to coal, oil and gas, and power plant communities.

The group has identified glaring needs in West Virginia, producing a report last year that included five Mountain State areas among its 25 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics areas of the country most affected by coal-related declines.

Those five areas are Southern West Virginia nonmetropolitan (No. 1 on the list); Wheeling (No. 3); Northern West Virginia nonmetropolitan (No. 11); Beckley (No. 23); and Charleston (No. 24).

Comments may be submitted by Aug. 9 at

The form asks commenters what the primary challenge to economic revitalization is in their region, what their region’s strongest asset is and what the federal government’s top priority for economic revitalization in energy communities should be.

The Biden administration has committed funding geared toward shoring up West Virginia’s economy in recent weeks.

Last month, the Department of Commerce announced a $6.5 million grant for the McDowell County Public Service District for water infrastructure upgrades to be matched with $1.6 million in state funds.

Another $1.2 million in grant funding was awarded to Princeton-based Regional Optimal Communications Inc. for a statewide high-speed internet implementation development plan, to be matched with $300,000 in Appalachian Regional Commission funds.

Citing grantee estimates, the Commerce Department said the projects would create a combined 168 jobs and $14.4 million in private investment.

The $7.7 million committed in grants came via American Rescue Plan funds from the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration, which gives financial aid to economically distressed communities.

The Environmental Protection Agency will focus on water infrastructure and pollution cleanup funding during a webinar later this month on how energy communities can take advantage of federal infrastructure funding.

The webinar will focus on $50 billion to the Environmental Protection Agency to better the nation’s drinking water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure and $5.4 billion to clean up legacy pollution at Superfund and brownfield sites.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund program cleans up uncontrolled or abandoned releases of contamination at polluted sites, forcing parties responsible for the contamination to clean it up or pay for its remediation.

The webinar will feature agency officials and be hosted by the Interagency Working Group’s executive director, National Energy Technology Laboratory director and West Virginia native Brian J. Anderson.

The webinar is scheduled for Thursday, June 30 from 3 to 4 p.m. Interested parties may register for the webinar at -energy-communities.

The Biden administration’s focus on water infrastructure resources supported by congressional spending comes as a West Virginia-prompted U.S. Supreme Court case looms that could limit efforts by President Joe Biden’s White House and future administrations to more directly protect energy communities’ water.

A decision from the court is expected in the coming days in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, which experts say could be one of the most consequential environmental and administrative law debates ever decided by the court.

Last year, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey filed a petition on behalf of 18 states won by Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election urging the court to limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority.

The coalition wants to cut the agency’s regulation of greenhouse gases from power plants.

A decision in the coalition’s favor could limit Congress’ ability to delegate authority not just to the Environmental Protection Agency but all federal agencies, potentially throwing out their rulemaking discretion.

Morrisey has said the case raises a “fundamental question of who decides the major issues of the day,” resting his side’s argument on the principle that federal agencies don’t have the right to exercise regulatory authority to settle “major questions” without clear instruction from Congress.

Critics of Morrisey’s argument fear that the court ruling in West Virginia’s favor could leave federal regulators virtually powerless to issue meaningful directions for not only reducing emissions but all key safety measures in the environment, the workplace and throughout all corners of American life.

That could include maximum levels of contaminants in drinking water, an area highlighted by the Environmental Protection Agency’s updated drinking water advisory levels for PFAS, a class of industrial chemicals including substances linked to cancer and other health risks.

Patrick Parenteau, a law professor at the Environmental Advocacy Clinic at Vermont Law School, said prior to the oral argument that the court held for the case in February that a ruling striking down executive authority could hamstring regulation of PFAS, known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down easily in the environment or the blood of people and animals that ingest them through water and air.

Parenteau noted that PFAS weren’t a regulatory priority when the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water acts were enacted in the 1970s.

There is no federal drinking water regulation for PFAS. The Environmental Protection Agency plans to propose one this fall.

Parenteau said that, if the Supreme Court’s conservative majority takes the position that an agency lacks the ability to address new and emerging threats unless Congress has explicitly authorized it, Congress will have to continually move quickly to reach consensus on scientific and technological developments to protect the nation’s health and economy.

“We do not have a Congress capable of doing that at the moment, and it is unclear whether our democracy can deliver that anytime soon,” Parenteau said in an email.

That possibility could heighten the importance of making the most of the federal COVID-19 relief and infrastructure funding approved last year — and the efforts of the Interagency Working Group to direct them to communities struggling amid the energy transition.

“We are seeking information specifically on the challenges facing energy communities, measures to address those needs, and any additional recommendations for the Energy Communities IWG [Interagency Working Group] and federal government to consider,” Anderson said in a statement Wednesday.