Over the past week, with Election Day looming, Gov. Jim Justice has criss-crossed West Virginia, handing out a total of $20.015 million in grants funded by the federal government — or mostly, identifying projects the state has recommended for federal funding.
“It’s a great day in West Virginia. I get to give away money,” Justice said during a grants presentation in Beckley. “It couldn’t be better.”
He added, “I’ve had the opportunity to do this several different times in several different places across the state.”
The announcements, which Justice has said will continue, has consisted of Transportation Alternatives and Recreational Trails Program grants, funded through the federal Highways Administration, as well as projects recommended by the state for funding for economic development grants through the federal Office of Surface Mining and Enforcement.
Those projects recommended for federal grants make up the bulk of Justice’s announcements, at a total of $16.18 million. As the Governor’s Office has noted, “OSMRE must give final approval of the projects and amounts awarded.”
While clarifying in Beckley that the announcements are actually the state’s recommendations for projects to be awarded federal grants, Justice said, “Surely to goodness, they’ll take our recommendations. If they don’t, we’ll be really mad.”
To date, Justice has held announcements of grants and grant recommendations in Charleston, Lewisburg, Follansbee (Brooke County), Beckley and Parkersburg.
The governor’s travels are reminiscent of Gov. Cecil Underwood in 2000. Facing a tough re-election bid, Underwood emptied the governor’s civil contingency fund of $22 million, going around the state in the weeks before the general election, handing out grants for everything from water and sewer projects to junior high school band uniforms. Critics called it the “largest publicly financed campaign” in state history.
Justice is not up for re-election in this year’s vote. The next gubernatorial election is in 2020.
Of the governor’s announcements, the recommendations for OSMRE funding tend to be in larger amounts, including $4.115 million to extend sewer service to 115 homes in McDowell County, as well as $2.28 million for the Ashland Resort Tourism Development in McDowell County, for construction of cabins, ATV facilities, a camp store and an outdoor entertainment complex.
Other OSME funding recommendations include $4 million for a YMCA community recreation and training facility in Raleigh County, and $1.5 million to rehabilitate the sewer system in the town of Bradshaw, Mercer County.
The Transportation Alternative grants largely are awarded for rail and river trail projects and for sidewalk improvements.
That includes sidewalk projects in St. Albans ($160,000), Gilbert ($643,000), Iaeger ($132,000), Cairo ($311,346), Pennsboro ($200,000), Oak Hill ($200,000) and Princeton ($32,000).
Grants to upgrade or extend rail or river trails include: Bluestone Run Water Trail, $150,000; Babcock State Park rail trail, $225,000; North Bend rail trail extension, $279,000; as well as $120,000 grants for the Hatfield McCoy Recreation Area in Boone, Lincoln and Wayne counties.