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State looks to privatize intermodal facility

CHARLESTON — After several years of losing money the state-owned Heartland Intermodal Gateway (HIG) facility in Prichard appears headed toward privatization.

"The bottom line is that we have no money and we have no way to continue to operate the facility," said West Virginia Department of Transportation Secretary Byrd White during a meeting of the West Virginia Public Port Authority board of directors Tuesday in Charleston. "Right now we are looking at a short-term solution until we can come up with a long-term solution to this problem."

The Port Authority board passed a resolution to allow the negotiation of a short-term lease of the inland port in Prichard to a private company. After the short-term lease is over, the goal would be to auction off the facility.

"This facility has been losing money every year," White said. "In fiscal year 2019 the facility had $17,370 in income, but had $522,000 in expenses."

The Port Authority, which is now under the WVDOT, had only 579 lifts of containers off railcars to trucks at $30 a lift in fiscal year 2019, White said.

"You don't need to be a CPA (certified public accountant) to see the problem here," White said.

In the state's fiscal year 2020 budget, the West Virginia Legislature defunded the Port Authority, White said. He said the facility has been borrowing money from the WVDOT to keep it open.

The facility provides businesses with a truck-to-rail transfer option along the

Heartland Corridor, a 530-mile stretch of railway from the Port of Virginia in Hampton Roads through West Virginia to Chicago.

The project was paid for through a $12 million federal grant, more than $18 million from the state of West Virginia as well as $1 million from Norfolk Southern. The facility is in Prichard in Wayne County on 100 acres of land — 76 of which were donated by Norfolk Southern — along the Big Sandy River about 10 miles south of the Interstate 64 interchange in Kenova.

White says Norfolk Southern must approve any lease, along with the Port Authority board, but a resolution was needed to start negotiations with at least one private company that has shown interest.

"I cannot give any details currently, but we do have one company interested and maybe another," he said.

Speculation is that a private company called Appalachian Railcar Services (ARS), owned by Kurt Higginbotham in Eleanor, West Virginia, is that company, since they were approached by the Port Authority's director about the issue prior to the end of the fiscal year.

White said his definition of short term is less than a year, but he would not rule out a long-term lease if the offer was right for all parties involved and the company was approved by Norfolk Southern and the Port Authority board.

"It will take a miracle, or some type of repurposed use, for a long-term lease," he said.

White said Parsce, the company that had been operating the facility for the state, was given a 30-day notice that ended June 30 with the end of the 2019 fiscal year, so the station is not operating currently. He said the facility's customers also have been notified of the situation.

Currently, Toyota Motor Manufacturing in Buffalo, West Virginia, is the largest user of the facility. Toyota has said in the past the Prichard facility will save the company $500,000 this year in logistics costs.

"I have had three responses from Toyota. One said we love it, one said we are just there because we were asked to be there, and one said it is saving them lots of money," White said. "I have not gotten to the bottom of that to know what the truth of the matter is. That's something I am looking into."

One of the issues at the facility, according to Port Authority board member Mike Graney, is the lack of appropriate containers.

"Most of the ones that Toyota uses are 20-footers and other interested companies need 40-footers, particularly those involved in the shipment of lumber," Graney said. "Hopefully, a private operator can resolve these container size issues."

Other board members stated not enough money was appropriated for marketing the facility.

"I agree there has been trouble funding this facility," White said. "It's been losing money and borrowing money from the WVDOT."

Port Authority Vice Chairman Eric Peters said this was the first meaningful meeting the Port Authority board has had in three years and most members are serving under expired terms.

"I feel the facility's infrastructure for economic development and retention of businesses in the state is an important asset," he said. "So I hope that any private owner and operator can come in and meet the standards required to keep this facility going."

White added that Norfolk Southern has told him they require 15,000 lifts a year to keep HIG as an intermodal facility and can buy it back if it is not used as such.

"They will waive that provision if it is used for certain other purposes that have to do with them making money," White said. "Right now, we should think about getting it into the hands of a private operator that knows how to run this business for the benefit of them and the state."

The idea for the intermodal facility was unveiled in 2005 and long heralded as the top project in the area needed to spur economic growth. After a long history of planning, construction delays and difficulty finding a company to operate HIG in Prichard, the facility was finally up and running in late 2015.


READY, SET, CELEBRATE
Dawg Dazzle leads off fireworks displays in area

HUNTINGTON — Every Fourth of July, millions of American citizens spend the day celebrating their country's independence, excited eyes fixated on dusky skies in anticipation of the forthcoming fireworks frenzy.

For this year, the frenzy has just begun, with fireworks festivals, shows and celebrations throughout the Tri-State area already planned and underway.

On Wednesday, July 3, the annual Dawg Dazzle concert will kick off Huntington's community celebration of the holiday with a costfree evening of country music and family fun.

The concert will occur at Harris Riverfront Park. Last year, the celebration drew a record crowd of more than 19,000 people.

This year, the concert will be

headlined by Dylan Scott, with performances by Southern Halo and local group Kala DeHart and Rivertown. Fireworks displays, sponsored by Cabell Huntington Hospital, will begin after the live performances. Free tickets are available at locations throughout the area, including Kindred Communications, Dutch Miller, McDonald's, FoodFair, GoMart, Little Caesars and The Herald-Dispatch.

Those interested in finding more information about the celebration can visit https://www.facebook.com/937TheDawg/.

Also on Wednesday, there will be a cost-free family "Freedom Celebration" at Christ Temple Church in Huntington, featuring special speakers, inflatables, live music and fireworks displays.

The Fly In Cafe in Huntington will host a celebration Thursday, July 4, at the Robert Newlon Airpark, featuring a cookout at the restaurant, live music by the Revenant Souls on the Fly In Festival Stage, and a fireworks display at 9:30 p.m. At 8:30 p.m., there will be a demonstration and "American Flag Jump" performed by the West Virginia Skydivers Association, and at 9:15 p.m. there will be a fireworks demonstration "pregame" including sparklers and various other novelty items.

Those interested in finding more information about the celebration can visit https://www.facebook.com/flyincafe.

At 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Point Pleasant's annual outdoor music festival, Peckfest, will kick off with live music from various headliners and local artists. Friday's headliners include Bret Michaels and Buckcherry, and Hank Williams Jr. will perform Saturday, followed by a fireworks display. Various other local artists will perform throughout the festival, which also will include food and sales vendors, an escape room and other activities beginning at noon each day. General admission tickets start at $55, and pit pass tickets are also available.

Those attending are advised to bring their own chairs if possible. Peckfest was created by Point Pleasant native Garry Peck in 2015 when he decided to start a large annual music festival. For more information regarding the festival, those interested can visit peckfest.com or call 855-675-PECK.

The Rivers Edge Campground, along the Ohio River in Ashton (between Huntington and Point Pleasant), will have an Independence Day celebration Saturday, July 6, featuring performances by the Bing Brothers Band, Jake Krack and other local artists, with free events all day, followed by a fireworks display at night. The event is free and open to the public, and donations will be accepted at the gate. Those interested in finding more information about the celebration can visit http://www.riversedgecampwv.com/ or call 304-576-3005.

In Hamlin, Lincoln County Fairs and Festivals will host a celebration at the Memorial Fairgrounds from Thursday through Saturday. Fireworks displays are planned for Friday evening following the demolition derby. Other attractions at the festival include the Lewis and Clark Circus, mud truck runs, barn animals, concessions, a lumber jack show and various arts and crafts. Gates open at 10 a.m. Thursday and noon Friday and Saturday. Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for ages 6 to 11 years and free for ages 5 and below. Those interested in registering for the demolition derby can call 304-544-3493, and for more information on the celebration in general, visit lcfairsandfestivals.com or call 304-549-7301.

The town of Buffalo will host a celebration Thursday featuring a 5K run/walk, food and crafts booths, a parade beginning at 1 p.m. and live music from 2 to 10 p.m., when fireworks displays are scheduled to begin. Those interested in more information regarding the celebration can call 304-545-2023.

The village of Barboursville is hosting its annual Block Party on Thursday at the Nancy Cartmill Gardens, with the Yester Year Oldies music show followed by a fireworks display. The show will include music from the 1950s, '60s and '70s. Both the music and fireworks shows are free for the public and sponsored by the village of Barboursville.

In Kentucky, the celebrations started early. Ashland's largest seasonal festival, Summer Motion, began over the weekend with a carnival, and will continue through the Fourth. On Thursday, at 9 p.m., Country Music Hall of Famer and six-time Grammy award winner Ronnie Milsap, third in overall No. 1 country music hits behind only George Strait and Conway Twitty, will headline a concert at Ashland River Port, followed by a fireworks display at 10:15 p.m.

Also featured in the festival are a performance by Devil Hale and the Bonner-Watts Band at 7 p.m. and a patriotic program beginning at 8 p.m. Other upcoming concerts free of cost at the Ashland riverfront include Laid Back Country Picker and The Guess Who at 7:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. Wednesday.

Those interested in finding more information about the festival, including a complete schedule of events, can visit www.summermotion.com.

In Ohio, the Gallipolis River Recreation Festival will begin at 7 p.m. Thursday with a live performance by John Schneider, formerly of the CBS TV show "The Dukes of Hazzard" and ABC's "Dancing with the Stars," on the Ohio Valley Bank stage. The fest also will feature "The General Lee," the famous car from the show, and a meet and greet and autograph session with Schneider. Fireworks will begin at 10 p.m. The show will begin with performances by locally based Rob McNurlin and His Beatnik Cowboys.

The celebration, known as the Big Buck 101.5/Mark Porter Auto Group Summer Jamboree, is presented by the Thomas Do It Center, McDonald's in Gallipolis, Rio Grande and Point Pleasant, Valley Stone Yard & Maritime Center, Farmers Bank, Comfort Courier LLC, Ohio Valley Bank, Gallia County Chamber of Commerce and welcomed by Courtside Bar and Grille, Lykins Energy Solutions, Dave's Supreme Auto and Dailey Tire.


Number of homeless continues to decrease

HUNTINGTON — The number of homeless people living in shelters or on the streets in Cabell and Wayne counties decreased for the third straight year in 2019, according to figures released Monday.

The Huntington-Cabell-Wayne Continuum of Care said a January 2019 count showed a total homeless population of 171 people in the two counties, down from 190 people counted in 2018. That's fewer than 205 people counted in 2017 and 228 people counted in 2016.

The reported decrease will likely translate to more federal money for local agencies providing homeless services because they are scored based on how effective their programs are, said Amanda Coleman, executive director of the Harmony House.

"We need to show that we reduced overall homelessness, that we reduced first-time homelessness and we reduced the length of time people spend homeless," Coleman said. "When we show improvements, it improves our score on our funding application."

During a 24-hour period in January, agencies and volunteers across the state go into their local communities and count the number of people living on the streets or in shelters — a process known as the "Point-in-Time" count. Those numbers provide a snapshot of homelessness to target how much federal funding should be allocated to the agencies.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires all agencies receiving Continuum of Care Homeless Assistance grant funding to participate in the count. The Huntington-Cabell-Wayne Continuum of Care is made up of about 10 agencies that target homelessness and 20 other agencies providing secondary services.

In 2018, those agencies were collectively allocated more than $2.6 million, which is more than they initially requested, Coleman said. With extra funding, the Branches Domestic Violence Shelter expanded its rapid rehousing program for people fleeing domestic abuse.

The agencies are now preparing to submit a funding application for 2019 based on the most-recent homeless totals. It's likely the agencies will receive more funding because they've seen an overall homelessness decrease since 2016, she said.

Several factors contributed to the decrease, said Francie Roberts-Buchanan, who manages homeless assistance grants for the Cabell County Library.

Agencies in the local Continuum of Care have gotten better at coordinating services and there are more services being offered, she said.

Roberts-Buchanan retired as director of Information and Referral Services for Cabell and Wayne counties and has spent the past 40 years helping the region's homeless population.

She said agencies communicate more freely and are more willing to try new things. If one agency doesn't have success in helping someone, they might refer them to another agency with a different approach, she said.

Critics of the Point-in-Time count have argued its prone to an undercount by only focusing on a 24-hour time frame. People living in temporary conditions, like a hotel or by crashing on a friend's couch, also aren't considered homeless in HUD's guidelines.

However, Roberts-Buchanan said the local numbers are more accurate than ever before because there are more people performing the count. Agencies and volunteers divide the counties into a grid and target certain areas.

They also talk to postal carriers, bus drivers and others to learn where homeless people might be staying.

"It's just so exciting to see the numbers are going down," she said. "You're looking harder and in more places, yet your numbers are still down."

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.


Death investigation underway at Western Regional Jail

BARBOURSVILLE — Authorities are investigating a death at the Western Regional Jail in Barboursville after a woman died early Friday.

Andy Malinoski, press secretary for the West Virginia Department of Commerce, said Monday that Amanda Lee Kessick, 35, was housed in the medical facility after she was booked at the jail. When staff checked on her at 5:03 p.m. Friday, she was found unresponsive. EMS arrived at the jail10 minutes later, but medics were unable to revive Kessick.

Malinoski said the cause of death is unknown at this time and the investigation is ongoing.

Kessick had been jailed June 26 after she was arrested on a warrant charging her with malicious wounding. Kessick was accused of pushing a man off his tricycle and starting a fight about their breakup before ultimately stabbing him under his left arm with an unknown object in a March 21 incident in West Huntington. A $10,000 bond had been set by a Cabell County magistrate.

The death was the second in about a month at the jail and the second this year. Two were reported in 2018, and four were reported in 2017.

The last death at the facility occurred May 19 when Brittney Horner, 28, suffered what was described as a medical emergency overnight May 19, Lawrence Messina, director of communications for the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, previously said. Staff responded and requested outside medical assistance, but efforts by staff and responding emergency medical technicians were unsuccessful.

A cause of death has not yet been determined in that case, but Messina said an overdose is not suspected.

According to The Associated Press, inmate Mark Anthony Wartenburg died Saturday morning at South Central Regional Jail in Charleston.