Officials speak to Capito about need for Coalfields Expressway completion
SAULSVILLE — As a result of the Obama administration’s assault on the coal industry, southern West Virginia — specifically Wyoming County — is currently on life support.
The decline is spreading across the area like tendrils of a cancer, killing off businesses, emptying classrooms, leaving vacant houses dotting the landscape.
People are moving out of the area to find work, and they are taking their school-age children with them.
“For us, it’s bordering on hopelessness,” Mike Muscari, D.O., of Family Healthcare Associates, told U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore, R-W.Va., Tuesday afternoon.
Capito said she is visiting areas of West Virginia she hadn’t previously visited during a two-week congressional break.
“We know where we are in southern West Virginia,” she told the very small group at Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College. “(The situation) is a difficult thing to describe in Washington.
“People are leaving. They have to leave to find jobs,” she said.
Capito solicited ideas from the 10 people who participated in the meeting.
“We are in desperate, desperate, desperate need here,” Richard Browning, Coalfields Expressway Authority director and a former state senator, told her. “We’ve lost our whole economy here. We’re just desperate.”
Browning said the area needs an immediate infusion of federal money to build the infrastructure — roads, water, sewer, broadband — necessary to lure and sustain economic diversity.
Properties are appraising for much less than they are worth due to the economy; thus, making it difficult to finance any type of business venture, according to officials.
Muscari described in detail the need for better broadband services and the lack of available provider options in the four southern West Virginia counties where Family Healthcare operates. The lack of broadband service limits the medical services the business can provide, he noted.
“There is no technology in our area,” Muscari said. “In a lot of places, there is no potable water.”
The Coalfields Expressway would open both Wyoming and McDowell counties, but the state has long neglected putting money into the new four lane, Browning said.
In the next five years, the Coalfields Expressway is scheduled to have the at-grade portion paved from Slab Fork to within two miles of Mullens. That two miles will also be constructed and paved.
“And that’s it,” Browning said.
Neither Wyoming nor McDowell County has a four-lane road.
Wyoming County has no stop lights, no three-lane road, no hospital, participants also pointed out to Capito.
“We’re almost a third world country; we’re not far from it,” Browning emphasized.
Christy Laxton, EDA executive director, said two businesses are leaving the existing county industrial park, located on Welch-Pineville Road.
A second industrial park, located in Tralee and currently in the planning stages, is sitting next to an idle railroad track.
“The railroad was one of our selling points and now it’s closed,” Laxton told Capito.
Capito said the broadband and the roads “are fixable,” but roads are long-term projects, she noted.
“I’m here to help,” she emphasized and promised she would not return to Washington and forget the area’s problems.
Browning said those who are now out-of-work, including coal miners, need help.
“Something has got to pop here and soon, or we might as well turn the lights off,” Browning emphasized.