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Energy_and_environment
West Virginia at risk for greater climate change costs with Manchin holding out on spending plan

Speaking at a press conference at the United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, President Joe Biden offered optimism for slowing climate change.

Biden pledged on the world stage Tuesday that the United States would reduce greenhouse gases 50% from 2005 levels by 2030, touted new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposals to stop methane leaks and highlighted clean energy infrastructure provisions in his domestic agenda on Congress’s table.

Biden was asked about Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a key holdout on approving that agenda. Manchin referred Monday to climate and social spending plan “budget gimmicks,” calling the framework “a recipe for economic crisis.”

Biden defended the bill’s economic potential and predicted Manchin would come around.

“I believe that Joe will be there,” the president said.

Just minutes later on a teleconference call with West Virginia reporters, Manchin made it clear he wasn’t there.

Manchin’s opposition led to the removal of a clean energy incentive program from Biden’s budget plan that climate experts say was its most powerful tool to combat the climate crisis. Manchin argued against the federal government offering incentives to electric utilities to significantly accelerate the pace of renewable energy gains in the nation’s share of electricity generation.

“When we do transition, we’re going to transition because the market is able to transition with the least interruption to society as we know it,” Manchin said.

Then he signaled opposition to the Biden plan’s fee on methane emissions from petroleum and natural gas systems — a provision that the climate policy firm Energy Innovation estimated is responsible for 65% of the plan’s reduction of industrial greenhouse gas emissions from 2023 to 2050.

Manchin, likely a decisive vote on the spending plan in a Senate evenly divided between Democratic and Republican caucuses, argued the plan was unfair to petroleum and natural gas producers.

“[O]ur environmental friends are going to have to work with us … so we can rationally do some things that make sense,” Manchin said.

Manchin said his greatest concern with the 10-year, $1.85 trillion bill is how the federal government will pay for it, even after the bill’s price tag was slashed largely to appease him.

Manchin cited a long list of fiscal concerns, including a national debt nearing $29 trillion, the nation’s surging inflation, the uncertain future of the COVID-19 pandemic and what he called “geopolitical fallout” following the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan as reasons for a “strategic pause” on the Biden budget plan.

But expert analyses from climate scientists and economists suggest that not investing in significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions now will ensure that West Virginia pays more in human and financial costs later.

The costs of climate change

The U.S. Fourth National Climate Assessment, a quadrennial report mandated by Congress since 1990, warned that annual losses in some economic sectors are projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century with continued growth in emissions. That’s more than the current gross domestic product of many states, including West Virginia.

A study published in Science magazine in 2017 projected that most West Virginia counties will lose up to at least 5% of their gross domestic product by the end of the century to environmental and economic problems caused by climate change. The southern coalfield counties are projected to take the biggest hits, with Boone, Lincoln, Logan, Mingo and Wayne counties all pegged to lose 5% to 10% of their gross domestic product.

Gross domestic product is the total value of all goods and services produced within a given area.

But the future is now when it comes to devastating extreme weather impacts and high climate risks in West Virginia.

The state’s narrow valleys and steep slopes leave it especially vulnerable to devastating flooding. Nearly a fourth of flood insurance policyholders here were expected to see monthly premium increases of $10 or more under new pricing methodology, a higher share than in any other state, according to a Gazette-Mail analysis of Federal Emergency Management Agency data.

FEMA has provided more than $658 million since 2006 in reimbursements to state and local governments and private nonprofit organizations for the cost of disaster-related debris removal, emergency protective measures and permanent repair work to damaged or destroyed infrastructure.

A study released last month by the First Street Foundation, a nonprofit research group that quantifies climate risk, found more than half of West Virginia’s critical infrastructure – including fire, police and power stations — at risk of becoming inoperable. More than 45% of its roads were at risks. Those were the highest shares in the country.

“When you look at these numbers, you realize that basically entire communities are at highest risk,” West Virginia Rivers Coalition Executive Director Angie Rosser said. “It’s simply hard to imagine how they could come back with all of the infrastructure wiped out. We have to take a hard look at how every decision at the local, state and federal levels plays into reducing risk.”

West Virginia topped the country in total outages and percentage of outages for most of the week following February’s ice storms, according to national outage trackers powered by Data Fusion Solutions and Bluefield Studios LLC.

That’s in line with a Gazette-Mail review of seven years of nationwide electric reliability data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The review found outages have grown longer and more frequent for customers in West Virginia since 2013, outpacing national increases in those categories.

Appalachian Power’s average yearly duration of outages for its West Virginia customers has consistently been among the nation’s highest. The company has attributed that in part to the state’s mountainous, heavily forested terrain complicating vegetation management.

Picking up the slack

In a September letter to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, American Electric Power Senior Vice President of Governmental Affairs Tony Kavanagh said the former centerpiece of the Biden climate agenda, the Clean Electricity Performance Program, would “forc[e] clean energy development too rapidly.”

The $150 billion program would authorize grants for electricity providers that increase clean electricity use by 4% or more annually from 2023 through 2030. Providers would face penalties for missing the mark.

Kavanagh argued the program would adversely affect electric grid reliability and renewable energy demand would exceed supply.

Manchin spokeswoman Sam Runyon had previously indicated that the senator had concerns about the program “using taxpayer dollars to pay private companies to do things they’re already doing.”

But Manchin on Tuesday cited utility company concerns about reliability under the proposed program as a reason for opposing it.

“The capacity’s just not there to pick up the slack,” Manchin said of utilities moving on from fossil fuels — especially coal — to renewables.

The climate policy firm Energy Innovation reviewed 11 studies released since 2020 modeling clean energy packages finding the program’s goal of 80% clean electricity by 2030 was achievable.

The models showed achieving 80% to 90% clean electricity in the 2030 to 2035 timeline requires building roughly 50 to 100 gigawatts per year of new wind and solar as well as up to 23 gigawatts per year of new battery storage. That would be two to three times the record for new wind and solar deployment set in 2020 – something Energy Innovation called a “challenging but feasible pace” for deployment.

A study published in the science journal Nature Communications last month found the most reliable renewable electricity systems are wind-heavy and capable of meeting countries’ electricity demand 72% to 91% of the time, although hundreds of hours of unmet demand may occur annually in systems that meet more than 90% of demand.

“Wind and solar could meet more than 80% of demand in many places without crazy amounts of storage or excess generating capacity, which is the critical point,” co-author Steven Davis, University of California, Irvine professor of Earth system science, said in a press release Friday. “But depending on the country, there may be many multi-day periods throughout the year when some demand will need to be met by energy storage and other non-fossil energy sources in a zero-carbon future.”

What’s in the bill

The Biden plan – which the White House has branded as the Build Back Better bill — includes $550 billion in climate and clean energy spending.

It would provide $3 billion in funding for environmental and climate justice block grants.

Pam Nixon, chairwoman of the NAACP Charleston branch Environmental and Climate Justice Committee, called for environmental justice block grants at a West Virginia Climate Alliance rally in Charleston to pressure Manchin to support the Build Back Better plan.

A former environmental advocate at the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, Nixon has called Institute an “environmental sacrifice zone.”

Nixon has highlighted the high concentration of Blacks and the historically Black West Virginia State University in the unincorporated community who have been vulnerable to adverse environmental impacts from chemical facilities like those operated by Union Carbide, Bayer CropScience and US Methanol.

“This is what West Virginia needs,” Nixon said of the Biden climate spending plan.

The proposal would allot $500 million for the Department of Energy to provide funding to states for resiliency, energy efficiency, renewable energy and grid integration improvements at public and nonprofit buildings.

The Legislature passed a bill in the 2021 session aiming to reduce energy usage in all state buildings to 25% below 2018 levels by 2030 and require annual reports to the Legislature on building energy performance compared to similar buildings in similar climates. The net benefit to the state from the bill will be a 9-to-1 return on investment, according to a state Department of Commerce estimate projecting a five-year project cost of $300,000.

The Build Back Better bill would appropriate $360 million for contractor training grants to support home energy efficiency retrofits and $5.89 billion for state energy offices to provide rebates for retrofits.

The legislation would invest $2 billion in state, local and nonprofit efforts to install zero-emission vehicle charging or fueling infrastructure and provide $9 billion for lead remediation projects, including lead service line replacement funding.

The bill includes a $230.5 million allotment for air quality monitoring via grants and other activities as well as $50 million to the EPA to monitor and reduce air pollution at public schools in low-income and disadvantaged communities.

Manchin has championed carbon capture, use and storage technology, which gathers and compresses carbon from emission sources for reuse or underground storage so it will not reenter the atmosphere. Such technology is not proved at a commercial scale.

“I think we’ve never been committed to finding an answer to carbon capture that was reasonable and feasible,” Manchin said.

The bill includes heavy investments to support that goal.

The Carbon Capture Coalition, a nonpartisan collaboration of more than 80 businesses and organizations supporting economywide deployment of carbon capture, announced its support for the framework, noting that it would significantly boost tax credit values to accelerate deployment.

The bill also would revive an advanced energy tax credit that Morgantown-based environmental and economic development consulting firm Downstream Strategies found could spur $1.7 billion of investment and create 9,300 to 12,400 jobs in West Virginia.

Manchin introduced a bill earlier this year that would reinstate and build upon a tax credit for investments in manufacturing facilities for clean energy technologies.

“Senator Manchin has always been a champion [of] this program, and we hope it incentivizes him to get the Build Back Better package passed as soon as possible,” Dan Taylor, Appalachian regional field organizer for the BlueGreen Alliance, a coalition of labor and environmental organizations, said in an email.

Manchin has made $4.35 million since 2012 from stock he owns in Enersystems Inc., the Fairmont-based coal brokerage he founded in 1988, according to his Senate financial disclosures. He has denied that his vested coal interests have influenced his policymaking. But he has declined to divest his holdings, saying his ownership is held in a blind trust and, therefore, avoids a conflict of interest.

The Manchin campaign’s more than $400,000 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry in the third quarter of 2021 were nearly 10 times as much as the campaign received from renewable energy and conservation organizations.

Breaking down the budget

Build Back Better bill proponents say the package would be fully paid for as proposed.

The Treasury Department said Thursday the legislation would generate more than $2 trillion in savings derived from tax hikes on large corporations and wealthy people.

Manchin has challenged that assertion, noting that if programs funded in the bill are extended beyond the scope of the legislation, it would cost the federal government considerably more than the Biden administration projects.

Manchin pointed to a Penn Wharton Budget Model analysis finding that if all spending provisions in the White House framework were extended for 10 years, new spending would increase by $4.26 trillion while new revenue would rise by just $1.56 trillion over that span.

“As we near $29 trillion in national debt, we have to consider the heavy burdens we are placing on future generations by piling on debt,” Manchin said in a statement Friday.

But independent analyses have found the bill as proposed would be mostly or fully paid for.

The Joint Committee on Taxation, a nonpartisan panel that prepares official revenue estimates of all tax legislation considered by Congress, found Thursday that the bill would raise $1.476 trillion in revenue over a decade and be unlikely to add to the national debt.

That estimate did not include revenue streams projected from two other provisions of the bill: expanded IRS enforcement and letting Medicare negotiate drug prices.

Proponents of the bill hailed the Joint Committee on Taxation analysis as independent confirmation of the proposal’s fiscal soundness.

But Manchin was unmoved.

“The Joint Committee on Taxation’s report shows that we must get our fiscal house in order before creating new programs that will continue on far past the initial two, five or six years,” Manchin said.

The $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal that Manchin helped craft and that the House passed Friday night would add $256 billion to the federal deficit, according to a finding from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, another federal agency that provides independent analyses of budgetary issues. That office has yet to score the Build Back Better plan.

Moody’s Analytics, a financial analytics firm, released a finding Thursday urging passage of both the bipartisan infrastructure deal and the Build Back Better plan, saying concerns over high inflation and an “overheating economy” were “overdone.”

“The nation has long underinvested in its infrastructure and social needs and has been slow to respond to the threat posed by climate change, with mounting economic consequences,” said the report authored by Moody’s Analytics Chief Economist Mark Zandi.

“Not where I am”

The Democrat-controlled House passed the Senate bipartisan infrastructure bill mostly along party lines Friday night for Biden to sign into law. House Democrats did so with an agreement in place to move the Build Back Better plan forward procedurally without a vote Friday.

Moderate Democrats in the House agreed to vote for the latter if it receives confirmation of the White House’s budget estimate of the bill from the Congressional Budget Office, no later than Nov. 15.

Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., was one of 13 Republicans to vote for the infrastructure bill that passed the Senate in August. Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., and Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va., voted against it.

Manchin praised the bill’s passage in a statement Friday night. He noted in part that it would authorize $65 billion in grid reliability and technologies like carbon capture, hydrogen, direct air capture and energy efficiency as well as $11.3 billion to reclaim abandoned mine lands.

The Build Back Better bill, meanwhile, likely would undergo substantial changes in the Senate, where Manchin awaits and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., is among the Republicans united against the measure.

Back in Glasgow on Thursday, the U.S. was not among the more than 40 countries that signed a pledge to phase out coal. U.S. officials had decided that signing the pledge could upset Manchin, the New York Times reported Friday. Manchin’s office did not respond to a Gazette-Mail request for comment on the report.

Manchin made it clear Tuesday he’s out of step with most Democrats in his embrace of fossil fuels alongside renewable energy sources.

“My side of the aisle truly is not where I am,” Manchin said.


Kanawha_valley
PHOTOS: Charleston gets cheesy

Area restaurants and businesses competed for top honors during Charleston’s Mac & Cheese Cook-off Saturday at Capitol Market.

Proceeds from the event benefit the Childhood Language Center, which provides free speech and language therapy to West Virginia children.

In addition to a variety of macaroni and cheese, the event featured live music and activities for children.


Education
One company could run half of WV's first charter schools. Ohio doesn't rank it highly.

CHARLES TOWN — Accel Schools says it serves schools in seven states. West Virginia could be the eighth.

The fast-expanding charter school management company’s name is on half the six applications to open charters here. Lawmakers tout charters as a way to improve Mountain State education.

In neighboring Ohio, 17 of 30 Accel schools were graded D’s and five others were graded F’s in 2018-19 by the state Department of Education. Accel says it serves more than 50 schools.

Ron Packard, founder of K12 Inc., an online charter school business traded on the New York Stock Exchange, left that company in 2014 and started Pansophic Learning. Accel is part of that private, international firm.

Since 2014, Accel has virtually expanded to the Pacific, with online charters in California and Washington state. It has become the largest school management company in Ohio, home to most of the brick-and-mortar charters Accel runs.

It has yet to go farther east. West Virginia has put out an invitation.

In this year’s regular legislative session, Republicans fast-tracked a law allowing charters to expand faster, teach almost solely online and apply for approval from a new, unelected West Virginia Professional Charter School Board.

A month after Gov. Jim Justice signed the law, Accel hired two lobbyists, according to the state Ethics Commission. One is Larry Puccio, who represents prominent businesses, including the governor’s Greenbrier resort.

Now Accel is trying to reach the tip of the Eastern Panhandle with a brick-and-mortar, 650-student maximum charter in Jefferson County. On Oct. 18, Accel’s Chad Carr spoke to a mostly receptive audience in Charles Town, the county seat.

A second Accel brick-and-mortar charter, Nitro Preparatory Academy, would be located at the edge of the state’s most populous county and enroll up to 600 students.

Accel’s Virtual Preparatory Academy would enable it to reach all of West Virginia. Or, at least, the parts in the hills and hollows that can get online. The school would provide laptops, and max out at 2,000 students.

The Professional Charter School Board could approve all three Accel schools Wednesday during an online meeting scheduled to start at 8 a.m.

The Nitro, Eastern Panhandle and Virtual Preparatory academies are overseen by separate boards, save for one shared member. The Nitro and Eastern Panhandle applications are almost identical.

The Ohio Department of Education rated Accel a “D” operator in 2018-19, the last school year before the pandemic. Ohio hasn’t graded operators or schools since.

The agency graded a half-dozen Accel schools as C’s, two as B’s and none as A’s. More than two-thirds of Accel’s schools in the Buckeye State received the lowest two letter grades. Rapidly expanding Accel’s recent takeover of some schools might have been a factor in the grades, an official said.

“With regards to the Ohio academic records,” Accel spokeswoman Courtney Harritt wrote in an email, “it is a complex analysis because Accel has a specialty in turning schools around academically and financially. The majority of the schools we manage are going through the academic turnaround process.”

The Ohio letter grades are composed of multiple measures, including students’ overall achievement on state tests and their rate of improvement.

Acceleration

Carr said he was swept up in the company’s expansion when Accel took over the charter chain for which he worked.

“Accel is made up of different, uh, organizations that have tried to do charter schools and not done ‘em very well,” Carr told the Charles Town crowd. He said his own school excelled academically, but not financially.

“In Ohio, we run schools on a third of what the traditional public schools run ‘em on,” Carr said of Accel.

Education service provider companies like Accel can’t turn a profit from per-student state funding if they don’t keep down expenses.

The Nitro and Eastern Panhandle Preparatory academies set a goal of maintaining “a grade of C or higher on the West Virginia School Report Card.”

West Virginia ditched its letter-grade system for schools in 2017. Nitro and Eastern Panhandle Prepatory set academic goals, but those don’t take into account scores on state standardized tests by which public schools are judged.

State law gives charter applicants the chance to correct “identified deficiencies” in applications before the charter board decides.

Answering questions now is “premature,” Harritt wrote in an email “because we haven’t yet received application feedback from the charter board. We are still working through the iterative process.”

The Virtual Preparatory Academy application includes a goal to meet or exceed the statewide average for student proficiency in math, English language arts and science.

“Each year, the school will strive for a 2% improvement from the prior year,” the application says.

The only non-Accel brick-and-mortar charter proposed in this state, West Virginia Academy near Morgantown, isn’t planning to use a management company like Accel to run its daily operations.

But the boards of the other two incipient charters are planning to use service providers. The online West Virginia Connections Academy plans to use Pearson, the international education company that also sells textbooks to public schools.

West Virginia Virtual Academy plans to use Stride Inc., the new name for K12 Inc.

Lawmakers allowed up to 10 charters to open, but only two statewide virtual charters. So Accel’s Virtual Preparatory Academy might not open if the Charter School Board instead approves other schools’ applications.

This means Packard’s old company is competing with his new one, which includes five other executive leaders originally from K12 Inc.

At the Charles Town public forum, Carr explained Accel’s approach, telling the more than 30 people there the strategy includes tests assessing only the past two weeks of learning.

“It’s small, six questions, but it has to cover exactly what you just taught,” said Carr, who wore boots and Dallas Cowboys cuff links with his suit.

“You give it to the students. If they know it and they do well on it, move on. But if they don’t know it, you need to go back and reteach it,” Carr said of teachers. “And that’s when somebody like me steps in and says, ‘Hey, here’s a couple of ways that you need to fix this.’ And it works.”

Joanne Curran, an attendee, was open to the pitch.

“Why wouldn’t everybody want to go?” she asked. “And — I literally can’t understand a downside, so it’s a serious question.”

“I don’t know,” Carr said. “It’s, it’s really hard, it’s really hard to answer.”


Business
Entering WV's flowering medical cannabis field requires plenty of green

Even in the feel-good world of West Virginia’s fledgling medical marijuana program, where proponents talk about pain relief and much-needed jobs, there looms one inescapable truth — you gotta have some dough to get in the game.

From simple application fees to fee permits to buildouts of dispensaries and growing-processing facilities, it’s not a mom-and-pop operation.

Some CBD shop owners resent the state’s Office of Medical Cannabis and the considerable financial demands it has placed on those and their kin yearning to supply medical marijuana and, eventually, they hope, recreational pot.

“I feel the state and the investors they awarded permits to are focused on financial gain and not the medicinal needs of the patients,” said Kristal Reeves, owner of The Purple Leaf in South Charleston.

Reeves said large multi-state concerns granted licenses aren’t educated in proper cannabinoid levels for patients, but most have been in either the medical or recreational side of weed for some time. State code requires the patient to have a valid medical card and the form of THC directed by the medical practitioner, but THC levels for particular ailments are not addressed.

An applicant for a grower-processor permit must have proof of $2 million in capital, $500,000 of which must be on deposit with one or more financial institutions. An applicant for a dispensary permit must prove at least $150,000 on deposit with one or more financial institutions.

Then there are the initial application fees. A dispensary application fee is $2,500, along with a refundable $10,000 permit fee. The application fee for growers and processors is $5,000, with a refundable $50,000 permit fee.

Courtesy photo 

Content not to run with the big dogs entering the medical cannabis field are The Healing Tree's Michael Harder, left, and shop owner Joe DeGoff.  

Both The Purple Leaf in South Charleston and The Healing Tree on Charleston’s Hale Street sell a full spectrum of CBD products – oil tinctures, gummies, topical creams and smokeable CBD, along with the wildly popular Delta-8, a close molecular cousin to full THC. CBD contains pain-relieving qualities derived from the hemp plant, without the munchy-inducing features of THC.

He sells the same products as Reeves, but The Healing Tree’s Joe DeGoff does not harbor the same resentment of the system.

“Yes, we were interested in doing a medical dispensary,” DeGoff, 35, said. “The funds required are just more than we could do. We don’t have those types of assets. We all have different things we can afford and not afford.”

Rumors float that a dispensary is about to open in either Huntington or Morgantown. In an e-mail to the Gazette-Mail, the state Department of Health and Human Resources, speaking for the Office of Medical Cannabis, said none is yet operating, but “that is expected to change soon.”

Stoned jitterbug lessons

Those interested might say it’s about time. Medical cannabis development suggests the pace of jitterbug lessons for stoners. Gov. Jim Justice signed the program into law in April 2017, making the Mountain State the 29th in the country to do so.

In summer 2019, more than two years after the bill’s passage, former State Treasurer John Perdue awarded a banking contract to Element Federal Credit Union of Charleston. The issue suddenly became a crisis during that year’s prior legislative session, with the implication that all that held the program back was one piece of the puzzle. How to bank the funds is always thorny with cannabis because it is still federally illegal.

Current Treasurer Riley Moore, the grandson of former Gov. Arch Moore, pounded Perdue on the issue, successfully, but August marked two years since resolution of the banking question. And at that, only three of the state’s 10 registered growers are growing. Only 4,400 patients have been registered.

Those who attended the most recent Office of Medical Cannabis meeting learned that only about 1,000 plants are in the flowering stage. A cannabis plant yields “buds,” or “flower,” which is cut from the plant and processed in forms allowable under the state’s medical cannabis program. Smokable marijuana is not allowed.

Licenses have been issued to 100 dispensaries, 10 growers and 10 processors. Of the six vertically licensed companies, four are registered with the Secretary of State’s Office. Only one, Tariff Labs, has both a West Virginia headquarters and majority ownership. Spencer’s Dave Heeter is listed as organizer, with Steve Bowers as manager.

Cumberland, Maryland; Chicago; Houston; and Gibsonia, Pennsylvania, are the listed homes of the other companies’ officers. On the surface, it appears the medical cannabis program is going the way of the coal industry’s origins — out-of-state interests profiting from the favorable environment, both naturally and politically, of West Virginia.

The Department of Health and Human Resources acknowledges this reality, if not the coal analogy, stating in an email that “a majority of the permit holders are based outside of West Virginia.”

Though he hails from Fairmont coal country, DeGoff isn’t so sure that a proliferation of outside money should be that unexpected.

“Other states have more experience than we have had,” DeGoff said. “If somebody from California wanted to start a coal mine, they might call us. You call up somebody with experience. I’m very, very ill equipped to know how much it would take to run a medical marijuana business. It’s not like opening up a store to sell widgets. You’ve got to track it from seed to sale.”

DeGoff also points out none of the expenses is tax deductible, since marijuana is still federally illegal.

An outsider and his manager

Kevin Waugh, 43, of Putnam County, is forgiving of the state’s slow progress.

“West Virginia has always been known to take its time on things,” Waugh said. “It has been a very long, drawn-out process. I think the state wants to make sure things are done right the first time.”

A stocky, round-faced fellow, he sort of resembles a slimmer Chumley from “Pawn Stars.” He works for Colby Migicovsky, 30, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a tall, handsome guy, rich and personable.

Migicovsky owns a law degree from Arizona State University and works full-time in the cannabis industry. In West Virginia, his firm, Compiler Wellness, LLC, has permits to operate three dispensaries, in Kanawha City, Cross Lanes and Huntington.

Courtesy photo 

Showing off T-shirts to promote Compiler Wellness’ upcoming three medical marijuana dispensaries are Kevin Waugh, left, and Colby Migicovsky, one of Compiler Wellness’ chief investors.

The Kanawha City location will be located across MacCorkle Avenue from Drug Emporium. The Cross Lanes shop will be part of the Planet Fitness building and the Huntington location will be near the Marshall University football stadium, Waugh said.

Waugh has worked as a Realtor most of his life and had reached somewhat of a career crossroads when the cannabis opportunity arose. He is already a custodial grandfather. He also struggles with ankylosing spondylitis, a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the spine. He said marijuana helps ease those pains.

A family member has battled drug addition in a scenario readily familiar to West Virginia. An opioid epidemic is strangled by a physician crackdown, only to be replaced by heroin. Waugh said cannabis could be used to treat opioid withdrawal, removing equally deadly heroin.

As for outside money, Waugh said, “One way to look at it is we’ll have hundreds of millions of dollars invested in West Virginia for years to come.” Otherwise, “it would just be money invested in other states.”

Migicovsky is affable and makes no bones about running a multi-state organization. Because his mother knew Waugh, Migicovsky brought in the local boy to run the business

“I’ve always seen West Virginia as a win,” Migicovsky said. “I anticipated it would start out slow and catch fire later. The greater good of the industry will come to light.”

He said some states have placed restrictions on the amount of outside ownership a state could have among its permit holders. Montana initially required a permit holder to grant 75% permit ownership to an in-state concern, a rather socialist move in a conservative state. Missouri placed it at 51%, but both states since have rescinded the requirements.

Migicovsky said he got into legal marijuana while doing an internship at a law firm. He asked for a $2-an-hour raise and got turned down. He left for California upon graduation. He helped other companies get licenses.

“I thought, ‘Why am I doing this for other people when I should be doing it for myself?’ The people I’m working with represent much more than a business. It’s a culture. You can help and touch a lot of people. It’s not just about the sexiness.”

As for weed itself, Migicovsky said, “How many times do people get angry with each other when they’re smoking together?“

He said the goal is opposite in West Virginia than in California – to eventually become a vertical provider and create business from a raw environment. As for the THC content to which Reeves refers, he considers anywhere from 10% to 15% the “sweet spot,” though a recent Wake Forest University study says 5% is high enough.

Some local CBD operators have forecasted that medical marijuana will be more expensive than what other states charge for legal recreational use, but the website Leafbuyer says the opposite is the case. States generally charge far lower taxes for medical cannabis, because of the permitted medical necessity.

Migicovsky cited other benefits in allowing the marijuana industry into a community. Serious companies don’t run “head shops,” with tons of paraphernalia and tie-dyed T-shirts, he said, and often sponsor community interests, such as Little League baseball.

Though profits after taxes will go to Migicovsky and other investors, Waugh points out the state will get the tax money — and the jobs. “People interested in jobs are from around here,” said Waugh, who will manage the dispensaries.

So far, Compiler Wellness is only licensed to run the three dispensaries — no growing or processing. As for how licenses in all three categories were granted, the DHHR said criteria included “relevant experience and education, organizational structure and permit-specific policies and procedures.”

The homegrown owner

Into the fray steps Heeter, a rumbly-voiced man.

He and Bowers made their start-up money the hard way, with construction projects for the Department of Highways and Army Corps of Engineers. Anyone who travels now from Logan to Man has Heeter and Bowers partially to thank. The harrowing two-lane road, which claimed many lives over the years, is now a much safer, $350 million, four-lane connector.

“We had 15 minutes to close down traffic and put off a shot” to blow up the old road, he recalled of the construction.

There is a simple reason why more in-state residents aren’t involved in medical marijuana, he said. They didn’t fill out complete applications. He said he had experience in such matters, from bidding for construction jobs. What’s more, he enlisted the help of Fire Land Scientific from Ohio.

Tariff Labs has 10 dispensary licenses and licenses to grow and process. He intends to have dispensaries throughout the state and his first plants in the ground by Dec. 1 in a state-of-the-art, indoor facility in Jackson County. That facility is under construction, he said.

“We’re going to cover most of the state, from top to bottom,” he said. “We had a professional proposal writer before we ever partnered with Fire Land.”

He estimates he will have invested about $12 million in application fees, permits and buildouts in dispensaries, growing and processing.

“Right now, we have very little patient count,” he said. “For 10 growers to be successful you need about 40,000.”

Conditions acceptable for medical marijuana are relatively stringent. Unlike more lenient states that allow conditions such as anxiety, depression and insomnia, West Virginia’s program is limited to:

• Cancer

• Position status for human immunodeficiency virus or acquired immune deficiency syndrome

• Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

• Parkinson’s disease

• Multiple sclerosis

• Damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity

• Epilepsy

• Neuropathies

• Huntington’s disease

• Crohn’s disease

• Post-traumatic stress disorder

• Intractable seizures

• Sickle cell anemia

• Severe chronic or intractable pain

• Terminal illness that is defined as a medical prognosis of life expectancy of approximately one year or less if the illness runs its normal course

Despite the uncertainty, Heeter is willing to take the leap.

“It’s a lot of risk,” he said. “I’m nervous but excited for the opportunity. And it’ll be a good opportunity for West Virginia. New jobs for our community. I’ve always been an employer.”


Legal_affairs
Paralyzed man's federal claim against South Charleston police settled for $2.45M

Less than 15 minutes after he guided a spray-painted jet-black motorcycle off Corridor G and onto Trace Fork Road, Billy Means would never walk again.

Exiting the Chick-Fil-A parking lot, a South Charleston police officer spotted Means that sunny morning of May 2, 2020, and began following him. The officer radioed dispatch and learned the license plate and registration for the bike did not match.

Means, 31, said he’d constructed the motorcycle from spare parts and was riding to a friend’s place to pick up clutch cables for another bike he was building.

He never made it there.

Instead, he wound up in a sludge pond with two officers standing over him. Means claims one officer ran a cruiser into the bike, knocking him into the water, and the other stomped on his head as he lay unable to move. Both officers deny those claims.

Means settled a federal lawsuit against South Charleston and both officers for $2.45 million. The city paid more than $60,000 in taxpayer money to cover additional insurance costs, documents showed.

Thousands of pages of deposition transcripts, court orders and expert testimony among numerous court filings in Means’ case paint a murky picture of the incident and the administrative decisions leading up to it.

The officer who initially followed Means declined to comment for this story. Means could not be reached. Both spoke under oath about the nearly 15-minute pursuit of Means, and both had different stories to tell.

None of South Charleston’s police cruisers was equipped with dash cameras, and officers did not wear body cameras, which might have provided clarity where accounts varied.

But video played a pivotal role in the case.

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Officer Eric Peterson had seen it before: People spray-paint stolen cars and motorcycles to cover their color, make and model, he said in a deposition. Billy Means rode a bike that also looked pieced together.

That helped the veteran policeman decide to tail Means rather than take breakfast back to the city maintenance garage.

How the pursuit unfolded is where versions of the events begin to diverge.

As he drove out of South Charleston toward the Boone County line, Peterson said, he flashed his cruiser’s blue lights and aired its siren, seeking to stop Means over the mismatched registration and plates. Means said he used tags from another bike.

Means traveled at speeds of more than 50 mph, looking over his shoulder at the cruiser behind him, crossing into the opposite lane and occasionally dropping a foot to the pavement to steady the bike, Peterson said in a criminal complaint. Means’ reckless driving forced the chase into Boone County, Peterson said.

Parts of the motorcycle fell as Means drove with Peterson remaining “three to four car lengths” behind, the officer said.

Means said he looked behind him to wave off the trailing cruiser, which, he said, repeatedly closed to within six to eight inches of the Honda motorcycle. Means said he never reached 50 mph, and the officer neither flashed the cruiser’s lights nor operated its siren. Means said he did not pull over because the officer neither asked nor directed him to do so.

Means said he’d ridden street bikes for 15 years, frequenting rural roads through Kanawha and Boone counties since he was 16. He said Peterson’s description of his driving was not consistent with his skill level, and he never lost parts from the bike. Peterson said he did not look for those parts for his later investigation.

Peterson called for backup midway through the pursuit. South Charleston police officer David Harvey responded, following Peterson near Emmons Road, Harvey told attorneys in his April 26 deposition.

A police siren was audible in a dispatch recording of Harvey radioing in. When Peterson’s voice is heard in the recording, no siren is heard. Peterson later said hearing problems prompt him to switch off his siren when he radios in.

At an unmarked railroad crossing on Emmons, Means said, he slowed his bike. Peterson’s cruiser struck the rear tire, sending Means hurtling into the nearby sludge pond, Means said.

Peterson said his cruiser never touched Means’ bike.

“I saw him strike the railroad tracks,” Peterson said. “The bike spun and ejected him off through the air.”

Briefly unconscious, Means said, he woke on his back in the water. He tried to roll over and stand but was “field goal kicked” by one of the officers standing over him.

“They were telling me they were going to leave me for dead and screaming they should have killed me,” Means said.

Means said he gave the officers his name, birthdate and Social Security number and asked them for help out of the ditch.

Harvey said he pepper-sprayed Means after the biker failed to lift an arm from the water as Peterson restrained the other. In a use-of-force report, Harvey said he sprayed Means over concerns the biker might be holding a weapon underwater. Means complained he was drowning, Peterson said, so the officers seized him by the wrists and sleeves and pulled him from the pond to the other side of the railroad tracks, where they handcuffed him.

Means told the officers he’d lost feeling in his legs. Peterson said that was the first he’d heard that complaint.

Peterson raced to his cruiser and radioed emergency medical services. Harvey stood over Means. Two bystanders who’d been traveling along Emmons watched and recorded the arrest on a cellphone. The video, partially blurred, shows Harvey seize a handcuffed Means, attempt to move him, then raise and lower a foot in proximity to Means’ head, which was covered by a black helmet.

In a deposition, Harvey said he stepped over Means, not on him. Mary Chandler, one of the bystanders, said there was “no question” the officer stomped on Means’ head. South Charleston police did not did not respond to a request seeking comment from Harvey for this story.

Dr. Daniel Husted, a spine surgeon based in South Florida who reviewed court and medical records on behalf of Means, wrote that Means’ vertebrae likely fractured in the crash but detached once the officers dragged him up steep terrain without spinal immobilization.

Harvey rolling Means was “another action that is extremely concerning given the potential at that time of a spinal injury,” Husted wrote. The stomp, along with being handcuffed behind his back, also caused damage to the motorcyclist’s spinal cord, Husted wrote.

“The initial fractures, however, are not likely to have caused the permanent paralysis, as the irreversible spinal cord trauma likely came after this initial injury at the hands of the South Charleston police officers,” Husted wrote.

Defense lawyers presented a motion analysis conducted by exercise scientist Timothy Joganich, who wrote that the way Harvey moved his leg over Means was not consistent with how one normally would stomp.

Means said he blacked out before paramedics arrived.

He said he awoke in the hospital 16 days later.

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Peterson charged Means with improper use of evidence of registration, attempted fleeing from a law enforcement officer, driving on a suspended or revoked license, no vehicle insurance and drug possession.

A half-gram of meth was found in Means’ backpack, Peterson wrote in a case report. Means denied having drugs.

He said he’d previously been addicted and knew it was wrong to drive without a license. After being cited for driving under the influence about a decade ago, he said, he could not afford classes to get his license back.

In October 2020, a grand jury indicted Means on five felonies and a misdemeanor, the charges stemming from the incident at Emmons Road and a separate run-in with law enforcement in February 2019. In the latter case, Means was accused of fleeing with reckless indifference to the safety of others, possession of a stolen vehicle and fleeing while driving under the influence, all felonies. No drug charges were filed.

He later signed a deal with Kanawha County prosecutors, pleading guilty to driving with reckless indifference in the 2019 case and misdemeanor driving while license revoked for DUI in the Emmons case. Kanawha Circuit Judge Duke Bloom sentenced Means to five years’ probation.

Forced to use a wheelchair and facing other ailments after the crash, Means said, he lost his job as a gravedigger in Loudendale. He struggles to move his bowels and must be “dug out” by nurses, he said in his deposition.

He worked occasionally for his father’s residential contracting service and took a job as a gas station clerk in 2015. He was homeless for a time, he said.

After his first settlement check arrived, Means left town and has not been heard from since, his father, Mike, said.

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Nearly four months after the crash, on Aug. 24, 2020, the bystanders’ video was posted to YouTube. Means sued the following day.

On March 29, a day before Peterson and Harvey’s scheduled depositions in the case, defense attorney Duane Ruggier II revealed in a public court filing that the FBI was investigating both officers in the Means incident.

Ruggier asked the judge to delay the depositions until the FBI investigation concluded because the officers likely would have to plead their Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination.

Ruggier declined to comment for this story.

Before the request could be heard, Ruggier filed another motion saying the officers had been cleared and the depositions could proceed.

The depositions were made public June 28. The two sides settled roughly a month later, on July 30.

An FBI official said the agency neither would confirm nor deny the investigation, a standard response from the feds in such circumstances. In depositions, Harvey and Peterson said they learned of an inquiry in February and met with federal agents in March. The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment.

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Means had seen trouble before his encounter with Peterson and Harvey, and before the February 2019 case. His prior history includes charges ranging from joyriding to embezzlement, dating to 2009.

South Charleston police Chief Brad Rinehart cited Means’ past while defending his officers and criticizing the city’s insurance company for settling the case rather than go to trial.

“Means started the whole ball rolling. Driving illegal — believed to be stolen motorcycle,” the chief wrote in a statement typed in all caps.

One of Rinehart’s officers had seen trouble before, too.

Asked by Means’ lawyers, Danté diTrapano and Jesse Forbes, why he’d been moved from plainclothes to a patrol unit in 2018, Peterson recounted in his deposition an incident that he said “just caused a storm.”

After drinking at a 2017 Halloween party, the officer said, he argued with his fiancée about “another officer’s Snapchats and messages to her” which he believed were sexually suggestive. After contacting that officer’s wife, Peterson said, he snatched his fiancée’s purse and refused to return it, prompting her to call police.

Two South Charleston officers responded, one of them Harvey. Peterson said he was disciplined, but not criminally charged, for being “disrespectful [to the responding officers], and I was intoxicated in public.”

DiTrapano and Forbes continued in the deposition to ask the officer about prior discipline. Both attorneys declined to comment for this story.

Peterson joined the plainclothes unit in 2011, three years after starting with the department, he said. In his first year in plainclothes, Peterson said, he was disciplined for having sex with a department drug informant. Two of their encounters took place in a city-owned vehicle parked in a driveway outside her apartment and once inside it. He said only the latter occurred on-duty.

His superiors learned about the problem when the owner of the apartment left a manila envelope at the station, Peterson said. The man wanted to let the department know an officer was having sex in a city vehicle.

Peterson said the woman never testified in any cases, though she had provided information in a recent case. Peterson said he was ordered off duty for five shifts without pay.

The Gazette-Mail requested personnel files for both Peterson and Harvey. The latter officer’s file showed no disciplinary records. He did not seek to withhold any records.

Peterson withheld dozens of pages from his file, citing exemptions under the state Freedom of Information Act.

The file referred to cases Peterson mentioned in his deposition and other undated incidents, including ”memos to file regarding West Virginia State Police training academy incidents and counseling,” an “internal memo concerning Peterson’s off-duty conduct” and ”internal handwritten notes concerning Peterson incidents.”

Earlier this year, Peterson was transferred from patrol to an assignment as the resource officer at South Charleston Middle School, where he remained working last week, according to a school official.

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As South Charleston police cruisers were replaced in the last decade, the old-school dash cameras inside them went away too.

Harvey said in his deposition there had not been dash cameras in the cruisers he drove since joining the force in May 2017. Peterson said cruisers were equipped with dash cams when he left patrol in 2011, but when he rejoined the unit seven years later, they were gone.

Asked about cameras and the role they might have played in the Means case, Rinehart — the department’s top cop since 2007 — declined to comment.

South Charleston Mayor Frank Mullens, who hired Rinehart, told the Charleston Daily Mail for a January 2015 story that recent police killings nationwide demonstrated a clear need for officers to wear body cameras. He stressed transparency, especially in the case of defending his officers against false claims.

The department’s then-assistant chief said all of South Charleston’s 40 police officers soon would be wearing body cams. The 10 new cruisers the department purchased lacked dash cams, but that would be mitigated by every officer wearing a body cam.

South Charleston did not roll out body and dash cameras department-wide until last month.

Mullens said there was no “magic answer” to explain the city taking nearly seven years to act on its word. He cited technology questions, education, resistance from officers and financial issues within the department that needed solved first. Mullens said the Gazette-Mail was playing “Monday morning quarterback.”

“You don’t know what we went through those seven years,” he said.

Peterson said he bought his own dash cam off Amazon for about $70 in May 2018. He said the camera made investigations easier and his allegations more concrete. Rinehart, however, in September 2019 called for all personal cameras to be removed from cruisers and officers department-wide. Peterson said he was unsure what the issue was, but it revolved around “chain of custody.”

It would have been almost five-and-a-half years removed from Mullens’ comments, and eight months since Rinehart told officers to remove their personal cameras, that Peterson followed Means onto Trace Fork Road. Mullens denied the city and department hung one of its own out to dry.

The mayor’s remarks in 2015 indicated he appreciated the value of cameras.

“A couple of years ago there was a complaint — two sides are always opposite,” Mullens said. “If we’d had the camera on, we would have known what was going on.”


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