FAIRMONT – During his State of the State speech Wednesday, Gov. Jim Justice said “there is no place” like the North Central West Virginia Airport in Bridgeport.
Last August, Justice visited the airport where he announced $20 million in funding to begin a $70 million “historic infrastructure plan” aimed at turning the airport into “a gateway for West Virginia.”
“I believe airports are our heart,” he said, Wednesday. “They’re our heart. There’s lots of things that make us really good, but the airports are everything to us.”
“We put real dollars in all kinds of different airports across our state, and they’re doing great stuff. But there is no place like North Central West Virginia Airport at Bridgeport. It is unbelievable the opportunities and what they’re doing,” he continued.
An expansion at the airport involves excavation to build a new site for a new terminal, located directly off Route 279. The terminal will have three gates, with jet ways and ample parking facilities, and will accommodate any size and type airplane the runway can handle. The project will also create approximately 50 additional acres, with direct taxi way access to the airport’s 7,800 feet long runway.
The governor commented about how he thought employment would be affected.
“They’ve got 1,200 employees from 22 of our counties up there right now, and they are going to grow and grow and grow and grow,” he said, Wednesday night. “They can’t make a place fast enough that they don’t have a tenant waiting to go. It’s amazing.”
Harrison and Marion counties jointly own the airport, which is managed by the Benedum Airport Authority. The authority’s board members come from the Harrison and Marion County commission. The board also has at-large members.
During his address, Justice recognized Harrison County Commissioner David Hinkle and Bridgeport Mayor Andy Lang, who stood in the chambers in Charleston, and were applauded.
“Give them a giant round of applause,” Justice said.
Justice, meanwhile, spoke about Ramaco Carbon, a company he said “can make carbon fiber out of coal that is…four times as light as steel and twice as strong.”
“They absolutely have a way to do things with coal that can be an alternative use for coal that it would be so perfect for us, it is unbelievable,” he said. “WVU, right now, I am announcing tonight and I’m sure that everyone probably already knows, but they are going to develop and open a research facility at WVU to research just this. And not only that, Ramaco is looking at the possibility of bringing one of these plants to southern West Virginia.”
His news was met with applause.
Earlier in his speech, Justice said that “the state of our state is strong, and it’s growing stronger every single day.”
He cited some positive trends, noting personal income grew $3 billion last year in the state and revenue growth went up $511 million. He said it was “off the chart.”
“Think about it, since we’ve walked in the door, we’ve been able to put $113 million in the Rainy Day Fund,” he said. “We put $100 million in PEIA. It’s unbelievable. We’re going the way we ought to go.”
Also, Justice spoke about the drug problem.
“You know, we have too many drugs,” he said. “There’s just slipping in here, and people are taking advantage of our kids and they’re taking advantage of our weaknesses.”
He announced that he was ordering Jeff Sandy, secretary for the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, to form a new unit called a Narcotics Intelligence Unit.
“I’m going to ask him for $1.9 million dollars and I’m going to ask you to give us that to stop this terrible effort,” he said.
Meanwhile, state lawmakers from Marion County said Justice’s address was a letdown.
“That was a little disheartening; no substance whatsoever,” said Sen. Roman Prezioso, (D-Marion). “Things are not as rosy as he would lead us to believe. I think the governor, who saya his cornerstone issue is education, didn’t address one education issue.”
Prezioso also cited issues with the governor’s plans for funding his ideas and plans to improve the state’s infrastructure. Delegate Mike Caputo, (D-50), also took issue with some of the governor’s claims
”I really didn’t see a whole lot of ideas that put West Virginians first,” Caputo said. “I think we need to focus on the last number I heard, 57,516 people have left West Virginia in the last five years. I don’t think we’re doing enough to try to keep them here or make them come back.”
Caputo said he did approve of the governor’s plans to expand the North Central West Virginia Airport, which could aid in bringing people to the state.
Delegate Linda Longstreth, (D-50), said she would like to see if Justice’s words lead to anything tangible. She does appreciate the addition of another Challenge Academy to aid in students’ education in other parts of the state.
“He mentioned a couple good things like opening a Mountaineer Challenge Academy in Montgomery. That will make two of them,” Longstreth said. “The one in Preston County is so successful and I’m sure this will be very successful also, so I’m glad we’re getting another academy for our students.”
Delegate Michael Angelucci, (D-50), also said he was disappointed in the governor’s speech, and said he hopes it doesn’t set the tone for the rest of the session.
“I’m always optimistic going in and listening to his plans for the upcoming session, but I think there were a lot of details missing from his speech,” Angelucci said. “I wanted to hear more about his plan on expanding workforce cooperation and how we’re going to retain displaced coal miners or what we’re going to do about our roads.
“I went in very optimistic, and I left with more questions than I had answers.”