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Long-discussed Chesapeake Bypass to receive $5M in funding

CHESAPEAKE, Ohio — The second phase of the long-anticipated Chesapeake Bypass, also called the Tri-State Outer Belt, got a shot in the arm Tuesday as the Transportation Advisory Review Committee recommended $5 million in funding from the Ohio Department of Transportation.

The 4 1/2-mile bypass project connecting Chesapeake and Proctorville will receive $1.5 million in 2020 and $3.5 million in 2021, according to Rachel Ehresman, legislative aide in the office of state Rep. Jason Stephens, R-Kitts Hill.

The money is being set aside for engineering and land acquisition, said Matt McGinnis, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Transportation District 9 Office.

“This is a positive move forward,” said Stephens. “This is an important project. Hopefully, we can keep progressing. I am thankful to TRAC for keeping the project alive.”

A former Lawrence County commissioner and auditor for about 20 years, Stephens has been pushing for the project for several decades. He was named to replace state Rep. Ryan Smith, who resigned earlier this year to become president of Rio Grande University and Rio Grande Community College.

“This is a project that has been around for decades,” Stephens said. “Five million is a lot of money. I understand the funds will be used for engineering and real estate acquisition. This along with the Merritts Creek bridge will create a Tri-State Outer Belt.”

The KYOVA Interstate Planning Commission could be talking about the bridge project during a Nov. 20 meeting, Stephens said.

The commission oversees road projects in Ohio. The Ohio Department of Transportation already has purchased more than a dozen parcels for the second phase of the bypass project. The first phase of the bypass was opened to the public in 2005.

It could cost $110 million or more to build the limited-access two-lane road to connect Chesapeake and Proctorville and link up with the initial phase of the bypass from the 31st Bridge east to near Fairland East Elementary School.

It could take $7 million or more to buy the remaining property needed for the second phase of the bypass, officials said several years ago.

West Virginia is looking into a bridge between Ohio and West Virginia near Merritts Creek. That and the bypass are the remaining parcels to form a Tri-State Outer Belt.

Believe Appalachia revitalization initiative moves forward in Huntington

HUNTINGTON — As another fire-hazard abandoned home was torn down in West Huntington on Thursday, other developments were taking place so that some of the city’s firefighters could soon find themselves sleeping better on mattresses donated by AT&T.

The donations were part of the company’s Believe Appalachia initiative, a campaign focused on helping first responders combat the opioid epidemic in the Appalachian region. Its current focus is on Huntington.

Engineer Joshua Blake, a 12-year veteran of the Huntington Fire Department, was thrilled for the new bed donations and said AT&T is now two-for-two at keeping promises. Some of the current HFD beds are older than his career, he said.

“The ones we have, somebody different is sleeping in it every night,” he said. “We have nine guys rotating into the same bed with different sizes, different sleeping habits and different things. Those things get rough after a while.”

Believe Appalachia was announced in October with the demolition of a Bruce Street home and announcement of the monetary donations. AT&T employees painted Huntington Fire Station No. 10 on Saltwell Road the same day.

Phase two started Thursday with the announcement of AT&T’s donation of $2,000 to go toward up to six new mattresses.

The mattresses will be specifically designed for first responders, who often experience sleep problems.

Also part of phase two was Thursday’s demolition of a home in the 500 block of Evans Street in West Huntington. After Thursday’s news conference, AT&T employees gave Centennial Station a fresh coat of paint.

Andy Feeney, AT&T regional vice president of external affairs, said the idea for the new mattresses came while AT&T employees painted fire station No. 10 in October and saw the poor condition of the mattresses.

Huntington Mayor Steve Williams applauded the company’s ongoing commitment.

“The fact that AT&T is stepping forward says everything about our community,” he said. “We don’t like talking about the opioid crisis, but if there’s one thing we can depend on, it’s each other.”

AT&T is not alone, however.

Madison Lowry, land use associate for Network Building and Consulting — a Richmond, Virginia-based company — announced Thursday that the company would also chip in to help pay for new mattresses for first responders.

Lowry did not have a number Thursday of how much money the company planned to donate, stating it was still working with fire officials to weigh their needs with what the company could donate.

Huntington Fire Chief Jan Rader said the firefighter leaders are testing out mattresses to find the best one for the men.

“It’s hard for me to express the gratitude that I have for you all, for doing what you are doing for us,” she told the AT&T employees. “But I tell ya, it’s going to catch on.”

Blake said the comfort of the mattresses would save firefighters hours of rolling around to get comfortable and give them more deep-sleep time.

“If you’re not getting the rest you need, your brain is not thinking correctly and you’re not doing what you need to be doing,” he said.

As part of its Believe Appalachia initiative, AT&T will partake in eight community action projects, with a focus on giving back to Huntington’s police officers and firefighters. The two biggest contributions included a $24,000 donation to go toward tearing down three abandoned houses in the city and a $20,000 donation for the city’s first responders’ Compass Wellness Center.

The company also will give first responders a family movie night, collect thank-you cards from the community for the first responders and provide hot meals during the holidays. The company also will team up with Habitat For Humanity to build a home for a veteran and recently sponsored an opioid summit at Marshall University to discuss solutions for the city.

Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/CHesslerHD and via Twitter @HesslerHD.

GOP Rep. Miller missed impeachment depositions, then criticizes their secrecy

CHARLESTON — U.S. Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va., did not attend the deposition of the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, taken during the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump. That day, she toured a rock quarry in Lewisburg, West Virginia.

A week later, she missed out on testimony from U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, taken as part of the probe regarding whether Trump withheld foreign aid in order to obtain Ukrainian assistance in his reelection bid.

That morning, she attended a committee hearing on building cleaner, stronger buildings in light of climate change. That afternoon, she attended a subcommittee on Coast Guard and maritime transportation hearing, titled “China’s Maritime Silk Road Initiative: Implications for the Global Maritime Supply Chain.”

During the testimony of Sondland, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and Michael McKinley, former senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Miller either appeared at various other committee and subcommittee hearings around Capitol Hill or toured her home district.

Transcripts detailing the depositions of all three, plus Kurt Volker, special U.S. envoy to Ukraine, do not list Miller in attendance. A spokesman for Miller would not comment on her whereabouts during the depositions.

“Congresswoman Miller has been present throughout the interviews as her committee obligations and schedule allowed,” said Miller spokeswoman Samantha Cantrell. “You’ve identified a few instances of those other commitments. Again, out of an abundance of caution for the security and process, we’re not commenting further on anything.”

The interviews have been conducted behind closed doors, although members of three committees handling impeachment proceedings may attend. Miller, who sits on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, can appear and question witnesses if she chooses, as she has acknowledged.

William Taylor, America’s top diplomat in Ukraine, reportedly testified that Trump threatened to withdraw American military aid to Ukraine unless that nation agreed to investigate former vice president Joe Biden, a Democrat seeking to challenge Trump in the 2020 election, and his son, Hunter.

A transcript released Wednesday afternoon lists Miller in attendance. However, that same day, she joined other House Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney of West Virginia, in protesting “the Democrats’ secrecy regarding impeachment.

A week later, she released a statement after voting against procedural rules surrounding the impeachment inquiry, alleging that the Democrat majority is operating on an assumption of guilt and “Soviet-style” tactics.

“Their investigation is centered around secret hearings and selective leaks designed to damage the president,” she said. “This process lacks transparency and fairness.”

While some Trump allies — namely GOP Reps. Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows — have used their ability to attend the meetings to discount witness testimony, Miller has avoided the fray.

Jay Wyatt, director of the Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education, said he didn’t know whether there’s precedent for skipping out on impeachment proceedings.

“I think the thing with impeachment is, there aren’t that many of them, and as we’re learning, the precedents are sort of ambiguous in some cases,” he said.

Reach Jake Jarvis at jake.jarvis@wvgazettemail.com, Facebook.com/newsroomjake, 304-348-7939 or follow @NewsroomJake on Twitter.