Here’s a quick rundown of several important issues (including good news on several fronts) you won’t read about elsewhere.
Kanawha Falls Bridge: At a community meeting I requested last month, Highways announced a road improvement plan around the Kanawha Falls Bridge but indicated they did not foresee repairing or rebuilding the bridge itself. That’s not good enough. For the economy, for the citizens, or for public safety. Since then, I learned that the bridge has been in terrible shape for at least 10 years, the estimated cost to repair the bridge is $31 million, and the estimated cost to replace it entirely is $22 million. Highways disputes the replacement bid, saying it will end up costing double that. I will be taking several citizens who spoke the night of the meeting with me to meet with Secretary Byrd White and Commissioner Jimmy Wriston next week. We will make the case for the community.
Minden: The EPA announced last month that Minden will be added to the National Priorities List of Superfund Sites! Carcinogens were first found in Minden in 1984. Several attempts by the EPA over the last 30 years to provide cleanup have proven unsuccessful. NPL status guarantees funding, human resources, and focus on providing a thorough cleanup. For the past year, I’ve worked with the community, Gov. Justice, Sen. Manchin, and the EPA to achieve this important next step. I’m hopeful we can finally get the job done right.
New River Train: Last year, Amtrak announced plans to cease operating the New River Train. This was devastating news for the local economy, as Railroad Days in Hinton is the largest tourist event in Summers County. After working for over a year with town leaders, Amtrak executives, federal officials, and private business, we found a solution. The train will continue to run under new leadership and the tradition of Railroad Days will continue this fall (and hopefully for many years to come)!
Education Reform: The House of Delegates reconvenes on June 17 to consider education reform. They are likely to consider the Student Success Act (SSA) as well as individual bills pertaining to education reform. That process is likely to take five days or so. Unless they simply pass the SSA as is, which is highly unlikely, any bill(s) they pass will come back to the Senate for a vote.
I’m afraid we are in for a long summer. Because this isn’t about education; it’s about politics. Mitch Carmichael, current Senate President and Lt. Governor, wants to be governor. He is attempting to use the education debate as a platform for his campaign.
Flood Recovery: In less than two weeks, we mark the third anniversary of the June 23, 2016 flood. It’s impossible to fit an appropriate update in a single paragraph. I plan to write a column solely dedicated to an update on flood recovery later this month.
Thanks for reading the view from the back pew! We’ll talk again very soon.
Senator Stephen Baldwin is a local Presbyterian pastor. Reach him at 304-357-7959 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram @BaldwinForWV.