Miller meets with constituents at GBO

Heather Niday
Allegheny Mountain Radio

Congresswoman Carol Miller met with a small group of constituents at the Green Bank Observatory in early December.

In his introduction, GBO Business Manager Mike Holstine said Miller serves on the transportation and infrastructure, oversight and reform committees and the House select committee on climate crisis. Prior to her election to represent the West Virginia 3rd District in 2018, she had served in the West Virginia House of Delegates from 2006 through 2017. She also owns and operates Swan Ridge Bison farm and manages real estate.

Miller’s time was limited as she had to get back to Washington, D.C. for an afternoon congressional session. But everyone in atten- dance was given the chance to speak about their concerns.

Pocahontas County schools Superintendent Terrence Beam spoke about the future of the Safe and Secure Rural Schools funding. He told Miller that the school system has been meeting with West Virginia Senators Joe Manchin and Shelly Moore Capito every year concerning the funding, also known as the forest money, which provides funding to counties that have large tracts of federal forests that are not producing revenue from logging. Beam said that funding has been dwindling for many years.

“Our school system has tried to keep all of our schools operating and all of our staff working and we’re doing it with less money every year because our tax revenues have dropped and our money from the forestry fund has disappeared for this year,” Beam said. “At one time we were getting over $600,000 a year and this year we got zero dollars. And in a school system this small and with as little revenue as we have, it’s hard to keep everything going, keep our buildings safe and operating, keep all of our staff employed.”

Beam said the school system has just under 1,000 students this year, spread out over the third largest county in the state. Beam said Pocahontas also needs more healthcare, particularly in social and emotional support for students.

“Even though our numbers are dropping, these children are coming to us with many more problems than they did 20 years ago,” Beam said. “The number of students that we have that are either diabetic or seizure disorder students is just amazing.”

“Is the seizure disorder because they were neonatal abstinence [syndrome]?” asked Miller.

“A lot of that is,” said Beam. “The state gave us a little additional funding this year for that purpose, but it’s not near enough.”

Beam said that he had intended to hire a social worker to serve the school system, but didn’t have the funding for that position. And for the first half of the current school year, one school nurse has had to serve all five county schools.

Mike O’Brien, Director of the Pocahontas Homeland Security and Emergency Management office, spoke about his concerns about landline infrastructure.

“It seems like anymore when we have a power outage, we also have to deal with a phone outage, there’s no infrastructure for the telephones and that’s a major concern,” he said. “From our standpoint, not only is the power out, now these individuals don’t have the ability to call 9-1-1 for help.”

He said there is essentially only one provider in the county, Frontier Communications, and feels that there is no money being invested in maintenance or infrastructure.

“And the communications between Frontier and 9-1-1 is absolutely horrible,” O’Brien said. “They don’t have to report to us unless there’s at least 250 customers out [of service]. From an 9-1-1 emergency management standpoint, we try to make arrangements for these folks to get help.”

O’Brien said he’s also concerned about the FEMA funding that trickles down through the state to reimburse counties for having an emergency management division. He said every year it’s unknown when or if they will receive that money and, in fact, he said Pocahontas is still waiting on back payments from the 2016-17 fiscal year, and they are just now applying for 2018 funding. He said the funding may be caught somewhere between federal and state paperwork.

Marlinton Mayor Sam Felton echoed what many in the room said is a primary concern.

“In all of our forward planning, I think broadband is going to be so important,” he said. “I think about the school financial situation, and I cannot help but wonder what a couple of hundred thousand dollars a year from Mon Forest sales over the last 20 years, what a difference that would have made in the financial picture.”

Felton said he appreciates that President Trump is trying to level the playing field with his tariffs, and would like to see some help for foresters similar to what Midwest farmers have received. Miller said she understood and shares his concerns about increasing the harvesting of West Virginia hardwoods.

Felton did highlight a couple of positive improvements in the county, namely the designation of a ride center in the county by the International Mountain Biking Association and the re-establishment of the Mountain Transportation Authority that provides transportation for residents to far flung employers in the county like Snowshoe and Interstate Hardwoods.

Felton also made a plea for help with flood intervention.

“The flood aspect is always there for us,” he said. “The inability for channel restoration and removal of excessive sedimentation on the Greenbrier River, it’s terrible that we cannot do something to lessen the flood threat. We know that those type of measures would not make that big of a difference on an ’85 or ’96 flood event, but it would make all the difference on all those other floods in between.”

Other residents at the meeting included Pocahontas Parks and Recreation Director Lauren Bennett, Snowshoe Foundation Executive Director Kristen Beverage-Doss and Pocahontas Free Libraries Director Cree Lahti. Bennett and Doss spoke about the need to create jobs that encourage county students to not only pursue higher education, but also jobs that will bring them back to the county to live and contribute back to the community. Lahti asked for Miller to support federal funding that helps keep rural libraries open for the community.

Miller and her Deputy Chief of Staff Michael Chirico listened attentively during the meeting. If you have a concern for Congresswoman Carole Miller, you can contact her office at 1605 Longworth HOB, Washington, D.C. 20515.

You may also contact her Deputy Chief of Staff at Michael.chirico@mail.house.gov

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