Summary of recent West Virginia newspaper editorials


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Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

Jan. 27

Charleston (West Virginia) Daily Mail on learning from other states:

Local government officials from the Parkersburg area are on a trip to North Dakota to find ways to deal with a problem that most of West Virginia hasn't experienced for several decades: economic growth.

It will be a good problem to have in West Virginia for a change.

While job and population losses are likely to continue in the southern part of the state, other areas are expected to fare better, particularly along the Ohio River near Parkersburg.

A Brazilian company, Odebrecht, is considering building a huge petrochemical complex in Wood County that could create more than 2,000 permanent jobs and have a $2 billion impact on the region's economy in coming years. The potential multi-billion investment has been dubbed Project ASCENT, for Appalachian Shale Cracker Enterprise.

But 2,000 new jobs in an area that has experienced job and population losses since 2002 will bring problems not likely experienced in the region since the area's first chemical plants were first built in the 1940s and 1950s.

That equates to needs for new housing, new roads, possibly new schools and much more. West Virginia government officials have long forgotten what that growth was like.

To be prepared and learn from the challenges faced by other rapidly growing areas, mayors, economic development leaders and police chiefs of the Mid-Ohio Valley traveled to Minot, North Dakota, for two days of meetings. They hope to learn how to handle a major influx of workers.

"We have an agenda that's pretty packed," Parkersburg Mayor Bob Newell told MetroNews.

Newell and the mayors of Vienna, Belpre, Ohio, and Marietta, Ohio, and several other officials flew to North Dakota over the weekend for meetings Monday and Tuesday.

Because of the shale drilling boom, thousands of workers have descended on Minot in recent years. Minot's population, roughly equivalent to Parkersburg's, grew by more than 4,000 new residents -- almost 12 percent -- between 2000 and 2010.

"We want to learn how they were able to cope with the housing shortage that they had and the sudden strain on their city resources," Mayor Newell said.

Rapid economic growth will be a nice problem for the area to have. And it will be even nicer if the area is prepared for it, like the Parkersburg area officials are working to do.


Jan. 27

The Register-Herald, Bleckley, West Virginia, on program opens interaction between police and community:

America's relationship with its police forces has been strained lately, following media coverage of unfortunate shooting incidents in Ferguson, Missouri, and in Cleveland, and most recently in New Jersey.

And then there were the assassinations of two officers in New York City by a gunman who took his own life.

Locally, two police officers in Lewisburg were shot during a highway stop on I-64. Two suspects remain in custody, and fortunately the officers have recovered.

Police work is a difficult job, and most Americans know it. Which is why, when it comes to using deadly force while performing those jobs, most Americans, as well as our court system, are willing to give police officers great leeway.

We think our relationship with our local law enforcement officers in southern West Virginia is better than in most places in the country.

Still, we were heartened to see the Beckley Police Department participating in the national Coffee with a Cop program.

"The whole purpose of this is to kind of open up the interaction between the police and the community," Chief Lonnie Christian told The Register-Herald. "Unfortunately, we get so tied up just responding from call to call that there's no time that the community gets to sit down, meet the officers and make that connection."

To date, over 175 cities in the country have participated, allowing police officers and the public to interact in a neutral setting, not a crisis situation, where residents can put a face to a badge.

Chief Christian made some excellent points in that interview, including one we think is worth exploring further.

He said some folks want them to be "Andy Griffith," and others want them to be "CSI," the popular TV show detailing the advanced forensic work that is probably done nowhere else but on the TV show's set.

What the chief was alluding to, we believe, is that sometimes our expectations of the role of local police are clouded by perceptions we forge that have nothing to do with real police work, just a media re-creation of police work.

We think our local prosecutors, too, have had to suffer due to inflated expectations of people who think they should be testing for DNA to solve every burglary.

It just isn't possible, or affordable, to bring a "CSI" mentality to every local crime scene. And the public's expectations need to be aligned to conform to that reality.

And Coffee with a Cop seems, to us, a perfect way to begin to do just that.

If you're interested, the first event will be this Friday at the McDonald's at the Beckley Plaza, near Staples, from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m.

The second event will be Feb. 23 at the Prince Street McDonald's, just below the Beckley Police Station, from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m.

A third event will be March 25 at the Galleria Chick-fil-A from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m.

"I'll buy the coffee," the chief told us.

We intend to take him up on that. We hope you will, too.


Jan. 27

Herald-Dispatch, Huntington, West Virginia on overdose deaths:

The problem of drug addiction in West Virginia - and other parts of Appalachia, for that matter - is a moving target.

A decade ago, the use of crack cocaine was rampant in the Huntington area, along with the abuse of prescription drugs. Crack receded as a major threat, while the prescription drug issue continued to balloon. Then, as state laws aimed at cracking down on "pill mills" were passed and law enforcement responded, the illegal sale of prescription drugs waned.

But the addiction issues afflicting many West Virginians didn't; many of those people looked for a new fix and it turned out to be the cheaper alternative of heroin. That street drug has become more popular in the last few years, and it has become a deadly option for far too many.

That has been brought home with an exclamation point this month in the Huntington area.

Paramedics in Cabell County responded to 41 drug overdoses in the first 23 days of this month. In nine instances, all in Huntington, overdoses resulted in death. Heroin is suspected in almost all of those cases.

The spate of overdoses is not a surprise, particularly in Cabell County. In 2013, the latest year for which statistics are available, the county recorded the most heroin-related overdose deaths in the state, with 34, according to West Virginia's Health Statistics Center. Just the year before, in 2012, only 11 heroin-related deaths were recorded in the county. And the 11 years before that, the county only had 30 heroin-related deaths total.

A similar uptick has occurred statewide: Heroin-related deaths across West Virginia totaled 157 in 2013, compared with 67 the year before.

The point is that the drugs may change from time to time, but the root problem of addiction remains. As law enforcement officials and others repeatedly say, it's not a problem that can be solved with arrests alone. Prevention efforts and treatment options for addicts should play ever-larger roles in strategies to quell the extent of illegal use of drugs and the attendant side effects, such as increased property crime.

Some strides in this regard have been made, mostly at the grass-roots level. Local coalitions are working to implement prevention strategies. More centers aimed at helping people overcome addictions have popped up. But even with those gains, it's estimated that less than 500 beds are available for addiction treatment in the state, not nearly enough to serve the people who need help.

In Huntington, a new office of drug control policy has been established, and it is working on some potential programs to steer addicts toward help. But one of the big questions is where will that help come from.

In his recent State of the State address, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin talked about how one of his priorities was to combat substance abuse in the Mountain State. He cited legislation that he favors allowing first responders to administer Naloxone, an opioid antagonist, to drug overdose patients in hopes of saving lives. That's a step, a good one.

He also talked about how the state has invested $2.5 million in community-based substance abuse treatment and recovery services since May, and his plans to expand that total, including $660,000 to expand treatment options in the Northern Panhandle.

But $2.5 million seems a paltry amount in proportion to the extent of the state's drug addiction problem, and adding a few hundred thousand dollars isn't likely to provide any great expansion of addiction treatment options statewide. The governor and the Legislature should be willing to invest more in helping people free themselves from the stranglehold of addiction.


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