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Making Gaines: Owners of historic Fayetteville mansion see property's potential

FAYETTEVILLE — Tim Newsom cautions his new wife, Cayla, against getting too attached to The Gaines Estate.

Cayla shakes her head in disapproval each time she sees a wedding in progress on the 192-acre property, first settled by Theopolis Gaines, a Union officer stationed in Fayetteville during the Civil War.

“I tell her, ‘We don’t own that place,’ ” Newsom said, smiling. “She doesn’t like it when other people use it.”

Mount Hope native Newsom, 52, is a former West Virginia University defensive back who played in 35 games from 1988 to 1991. His current adventure is a new marriage to 30-year-old Cayla, of Fayetteville. The two wed recently at the estate, a handsome piece of land situated in the middle of Fayetteville. It’s big enough to include a walnut grove and a pasture.

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Tim Newsom and his wife, Cayla, read letters to each other Tuesday while being videoed by Rob Atha of Elevated Media. They had neglected to perform the segment during their wedding.

“It met every vision I had as a little girl,” Cayla said of their nuptials. “It was just gorgeous.”

The couple stopped back at the Gaines property Tuesday, to allow their videographer to film them reading letters to each other, a neglected wedding task. Weddings, open bars and entertainment are now part of the landscape at the estate, where a Civil War-era barn still stands.

The estate’s size and grandeur would be notable in the middle of a countryside, but is even more pronounced in the city limits of Fayetteville, a town of 2,634. Partly known for its whitewater-friendly ways, a stop-in for national park visitors and as the birthplace of Pies and Pints, The Gaines Estate is one of its newest attractions.

“It’s in the middle of town, but it feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere,” said Maria Harrison, the facility’s wedding and events coordinator.

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Wedding and event coordinator Maria Harrison discusses the Gaines Estate’s amenities, amid a popular spot for nuptials, Walnut Grove.

According to Richard Stephens, one of the property’s owners, Gaines built a home and the still-existing barn on what was originally a 300-acre tract.

Builders erected the current yellow stucco structure, complete with a pitched terra-cotta roof, around 1920.

It nearly met its doom in 2008, when a fire broke out near the front of the house, near where the Newsoms recorded their video.

In came Stephens, wife Melissa, and Bill and Sally Wells. Stephens is the owner of Stephens Auto Center, in Danville. The couples bought the home in 2012, and later began repairing the fire damage and renovating the structure. By early last year, the work had been done, but COVID-19 limited activities.

“We did what we could do,” said Harrison. “We learned a lot and grew a lot.”

COVID-19 cases are again on the rise, of course, but as the summer winds down, the operation can point to multiple successes.

The first Monday of each month means Monday Market, a combination farmers market/gathering place/entertainment venue. Farmers, artisans and food trucks set up shop in The Walnut Grove, a stand of walnut trees near the estate’s pavilion and Civil War-era barn.

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The Gaines Estate's mansion boasts 10 rooms, including a sunroom and conference room.

“People can shop, listen to music, drink beer,” Harrison said. “The goal is to have something going on every day of the week.”

Each Wednesday, Pub ‘n’ Play allows people to get together for lawn games, including the popular cornhole, a cash bar and food trucks. Indoor dinners for a flat fee are planned, if COVID-19 restrictions allow. Diners may pick from two entrees, two appetizers and two desserts.

If the pandemic doesn’t intervene again, fall in Fayetteville could provide a nice backdrop to more weddings, baby showers — “we’ve had eight in the past two months,” Harrison said — and whatever else the Stephens and Wells families think up. Business retreats and reunions are two other uses for the property.

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The Gaines Estate's mansion has an upstairs conference room.

Stephens said he is “obviously concerned” about new COVID-19 cases. “We just have to deal with it as it comes. We’re in the same boat as everyone else.”

State officials allowed his facility to host 15 weddings last year, a combination of indoor and outdoor affairs. The Gaines Estate is on track to do more than 20 such ceremonies this year. ”I hope we don’t have any canceled,” Stephens said.

Weddings cost $7,000 on Saturday; $4,000 on Friday and Sunday; and $2,000 throughout the week.

Opening the land for other uses is a tradition started by the Gaineses themselves. Locals were invited to walk, bike and hike the property, and gather for special-occasion photos. The current owners maintain that tradition.

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The Gaines mansion includes a room in which brides ready themselves.

The mansion is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Some hardwood had to be replaced, but the two families consulted with the State Historic Preservation Office to make sure modern renovations still maintained the original feel.

“We think this is a business that’s going to thrive, once we’re able to get issues of COVID settled and so forth,” said Stephens. “We’re starting to think of some more diverse uses, such as class reunions, memorial services, business meetings.”

'She was my little piece of Heaven': 15-year-old St. Albans High sophomore dies

Nevaeh Summers went into cardiac arrest the day before she was to start her sophomore year at St. Albans High, her mother said.

Erikah Berry said her daughter had gotten back into cheerleading after nine years, and had just made the varsity cheerleading team.

Nevaeh had shown horses for about half her life and was preparing to show them at the State Fair, Berry said. Marlena Turley, owner of Tyler Mountain Riding Academy, said she had just advanced into a new division in the riding sport.

And Nevaeh was looking forward to learning to drive.

But after being hospitalized Aug. 8 during a camping trip with her best friend, Nevaeh died Wednesday night. She was 15.

“She was so looking forward to cheering and football games and making new friends because we did all virtual school last year,” Berry said. “So she never got her high school experience.”

Nevaeh was set to be honored at Thursday night’s St. Albans home football game.

Berry said an immunologist at Morgantown’s Ruby Memorial Hospital suspects a previous asymptomatic case of COVID-19 contributed to myocarditis, although an autopsy is pending. Nevaeh had coronavirus antibodies in her blood, Berry said.

She previously had never been sick, Berry said.

“In a blink of an eye, our whole world just got turned upside down,” Berry said. “Love like Nevaeh, and treasure your friends and family. Life is short, and there’s never enough time. Hold on tight to your babies and protect them from the mess with COVID, because it’s going to get worse.”

“It comes back in kids and attacks their organs,” said Berry, herself a nurse. “Sometimes it’s their whole body, and sometimes it’s just their heart, and, in her case, it was just her heart.”

Some commenters on Facebook updates about Nevaeh’s condition had suggested the COVID-19 vaccine sickened her. But she wasn’t vaccinated, Berry said.

Nevaeh’s former cheerleading gyms, River Cities Tumbling and Cheerleading and Famous Superstars, closed Thursday in her honor, as did Tyler Mountain Riding Academy and Tyler Mountain Stables.

“This was her riding night, and they said they all need time to grieve,” Berry said.

Turley said that, in Nevaeh’s time riding, she never “wanted to quit, no matter how hard it got.” She was always the one introducing new riders to others and giving them tours of the facility, and she was always smiling, Turley said.

“That, I think, is what was the most special about her is she always spoke up and made everybody feel comfortable,” Turley said.

Berry said that, while Nevaeh loved cheerleading and horses, she also was an “old soul,” into ’90s rap and earlier music, like Fleetwood Mac.

Berry had bought tickets for her to attend the Ja Rule concert in Charleston. It would have been Nevaeh’s first concert.

Berry said she has no health insurance or life insurance to help pay for Nevaeh’s past care or funeral expenses. She said she got a new job and there’s a 90-day hold on benefits. Marsha Riffe, a family friend, has set up a GoFundMe online to help cover expenses.

Berry thanked the community for its outpouring of support and all of the medical staff who helped, from the firefighter who gave Nevaeh chest compressions at the campground, to the staff, nurses and physicians at Pleasant Valley Hospital and Ruby Memorial Hospital, to the Healthnet Aeromedical Services workers who airlifted Nevaeh to Ruby.

And she thanked everyone for their prayers. She said people as far away as England and Ireland were praying.

“They gave us time,” Berry said. “We didn’t have to say goodbye to her on the eighth.”

“She’s a warrior, she just fought her fight,” Berry said. “She just couldn’t fight anymore.

“I didn’t know her name would have so much significance,” she said.

It’s heaven spelled backward.

“I didn’t name her Heaven so God could take her back. I named her Heaven because she was my little piece of heaven.”

Virginia environmental regulators make preliminary decision to issue key water permit for Mountain Valley Pipeline

Virginia state environmental regulators are leaning toward granting a key water permit for the Mountain Valley Pipeline designed to transport natural gas across 11 counties in West Virginia.

Virginia regulators have issued a draft water quality certification for the pipeline that, if ultimately approved, would eliminate one of several obstacles standing in the way of pipeline developers proceeding with construction across wetlands and waterbodies throughout the 303-mile pipeline route.

The draft permit indicates the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s State Water Control Board has determined there is a “reasonable assurance” that the permit would not violate applicable water quality standards or contribute significant impairment of state waters or fish and wildlife resources in the 107 miles of 42-inch-diameter pipeline across six Virginia counties.

Saturday marks the beginning of a two-month public comment period on the draft permit that will end Oct. 27. The Department of Environmental Quality is also having two public hearings on the draft permit on Sept. 27 and Sept. 28 at the Pigg River Community Center in Rocky Mount and Kyle Hall at Radford University, respectively.

The citizen-comprised State Water Control Board will make the final decision on the draft permit by Dec. 31.

Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC, the joint venture that owns the pipeline, is awaiting a decision on another water permit request under the federal Clean Water Act from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.

Mountain Valley is also seeking approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the federal agency that regulates the natural gas industry, to change its construction method across waterbodies and wetlands along the pipeline route from an open-cut dry crossing method as previously approved by the commission to a trenchless approach.

Canonsburg, Pennsylvania-based Equitrans Midstream Corp., the pipeline’s primary interest owner, welcomed the draft water permit in a statement Wednesday, with spokeswoman Natalie Cox noting that the company looks forward to cooperatively working with Virginia state environmental regulators throughout the remaining stages of the regulatory process.

Environmentalists in West Virginia and Virginia both criticized the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s decision to issue the draft permit.

Autumn Crowe, interim program director and staff scientist at the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, noted that the project could not be completed without additional degradation to water resources and that water quality violations have already occurred in both states.

“MVP has provided no evidence that those violations will cease with continued construction,” Crowe said.

If approved, the draft permit would authorize 9.41 acres of impacts to Virginia surface waters, consisting of 5.9 acres of wetlands and 3.51 acres of streams.

In a joint statement Wednesday, environmentalist groups Wild Virginia, Appalachian Voices, and Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights denounced the draft permit issuance, calling on the citizen-comprised State Water Control Board to deny the certification.

“This proposal is an abdication of DEQ’s duty to protect Virginians and our precious resources,” the groups said.

The three groups noted a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommendation in May that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers not issue its own key water permit for the Mountain Valley Pipeline until it makes less environmentally damaging changes to the project.

The agency questioned in a May 27 letter to the Corps whether pipeline developers had done enough to avoid adverse water-crossing effects.

“[The] EPA is concerned that the applicant has not yet demonstrated that the discharges from the project, as proposed, will not cause or contribute to water quality standards exceedances or significant degradation of receiving waters,” agency wetlands branch chief Jeffrey Lapp wrote to Corps Huntington District regulatory branch chief Michael Hatten in the letter.

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection proposed a consent order earlier this year requiring Mountain Valley to pay a $303,000 fine for violating permits by failing to control erosion and sediment-laden water. That penalty followed a $266,000 fine from the same regulators in 2019 for similar erosion and water contamination issues. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality fined Mountain Valley $2.15 million that same year for water quality violations.

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality reissued a denial of a water quality permit for the planned Southgate extension of the project in April.

Legal challenges from environmentalist groups have stalled the project, including one that prompted Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC to abandon a blanket water permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and seek individual water permits.

“Why should we give them the chance to cause further destruction to our waterways?” Lynn Godfrey, pipeline organizer with the Sierra Club Virginia chapter, said in a statement Wednesday. “It’s clear that MVP can’t be trusted to safely build or operate their pipeline.”

Pipeline developers have proposed a 125-foot-wide temporary right-of-way to construct the pipeline and a 50-feet-wide permanent right-of-way to maintain and operate the pipeline once in service. Mountain Valley anticipates the project will temporarily impact more than 21,000 linear feet of streams and 10 acres of wetlands in West Virginia during the construction phase, and permanently impact more than 1,100 linear feet of streams and 2.2 acres of wetlands.

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s decision regarding its water quality certification is due Nov. 29. The deadlines for West Virginia and Virginia regulators were determined by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and extended by the Corps in June at both West Virginia and Virginia environmental regulators’ requests.

The now-$6.2 billion project was originally scheduled for completion by the end of 2018 at a cost of just $3.5 billion. The project’s targeted summer 2022 in-service date is based on receiving all water crossing approvals and the lifting of a remaining exclusion zone around Jefferson National Forest by the end of 2021.

The natural gas pipeline project travels from Northwestern West Virginia to Southern Virginia, crossing Wetzel, Harrison, Doddridge, Lewis, Braxton, Webster, Nicholas, Greenbrier, Fayette, Summers and Monroe counties in the Mountain State.

The public may review the draft permit and application on the DEQ website.

The Department of Environmental Quality accepts public comments via mail, email, fax or hand delivery. Steve Hardwick of the Department of Environmental Quality’s central office can be reached for information on public comments, document requests and other information at 804-698-4168 or MVP@deq.virginia.gov.