CHARLESTON - Last week, 48 people representing Mineral County travelled to Charleston to engage our government leaders in discussions about what is happening at home, our plans for the future, and ways to help us realize our goals.

By Randy Crane
For the News Tribune
CHARLESTON - Last week, 48 people representing Mineral County travelled to Charleston to engage our government leaders in discussions about what is happening at home, our plans for the future, and ways to help us realize our goals.  
We began by thanking the folks we met with for projects they have helped us with last year. The list was long, and included road projects like the recently added turn lane on Route 28 at Scenic Lane, the new turn lane and traffic signal at Routes 28 and 956, and money set aside for the IAR project at the Keyser Industrial Park.  
We also thanked Arts, Culture, & History for the current rounds of grants awarded to Ashby’s Fort Museum, and Highland Arts.  Thanks were also conveyed to the Department of Health and Human Resources for the Governor’s “Jim’s Dream” initiative which has already made an impact locally and throughout the state. During our meeting with Tourism, Mineral County Tourism director Ashley Centofonti thanked Commissioner Chelsea Ruby for a host of things to help get Mineral County’s Tourism off the ground, and for an exceptional social media and print campaign for 2019.  
These are all things that Mineral County Day helped accomplish last year that are above and beyond what comes our way through the budget process.  We have found that the people who head these agencies are just like us and are eager to sit down with us to help improve our county.  
Our first meeting this year was with DHHR, with Mike Price of Burlington United Methodist Family Services leading the discussion. The Family First Program was discussed first, followed by a lengthy conversation on the opioid crisis and additional ways we can tackle the problem in Mineral County.  Secretary Bill Crouch brought up a program called Quick Response Team (QRT), which he said would help us get started, that has been successful in other counties. Composed of emergency response personnel, law enforcement officers and a substance abuse treatment or recovery provider, the purpose of a Quick Response Team is to identify individuals who have overdosed and engage them for treatment.  We agreed to bring this idea back and work with all parties to try and make this happen.
Our second meeting was with Commissioner Randall Reid-Smith, Lance Schrader, and Jenna Green, of Arts, Culture, and History.  After our thanks for recent grants and additional help, we set about explaining our vision of bringing Stewart’s Tavern, the Stone House, and Carskadon Mansion along as tourist and cultural community centers, much the same as Ashby’s Fort Museum has been. There was a great deal of support for that idea, with the understanding that these sites will need to be open to the public on a regular, weekly basis. We will be pursuing grants to help each of these sites develop programs and building projects to help bring these sites online for tourism and the arts.  
We invited the staff to visit Mineral County to see all of our sites and to meet the folks running them, which they agreed to do. We also talked about the newly formed Mountain Arts Guild and grants will be available one year after they obtain their non-profit 501(c)3 status.
Next, Ed McDonald from Mountain Streams Radio described the programming of the Keyser radio station, which plays Appalachian themed music. Ed explained his vision of improving the radio station, with one of the goals of streaming on the internet. Several opportunities were outlined to potentially assist Mountain Streams Radio in attaining those goals.
Terry Stephens thanked everyone for the ongoing grants received by Highland Arts Unlimited, and talked about the Minco Music Heritage and Arts Festival, which will be coming up this May.  
After our first two meetings, our group assembled in the great hall outside of the House Chamber for our State of the State Reception, catered by Mineral County’s own Good Carma Catering. Donnie Carman played guitar and sang during the event.  
Hundreds of people stopped by to visit and sample the delicious food before going in to hear Governor Justice deliver his address. Several delegates were gracious to give seven of us tickets to attend. We were very fortunate, as seating is very limited and demand is high. Our honoree, Bill Pancake and his wife Saundra, were provided tickets by Del. Gary Howell. Greg Ochoa of Potomac State College was able to watch the address from the House Floor, complements of Del. Ruth Rowan. Our reception resumed after the State of the State address concluded, which wrapped up day one.
Day Two
A few of us arrived at the Capitol early on the second day to attend a meeting with Secretary of Commerce Ed Gaunch.  Several topics were discussed regarding local businesses, infrastructure needs including the North / South Highway, Economic Development, and more.
The whole contingent gathered next inside the House for an event that is always exciting and special, and that was to honor this year’s honoree Bill Pancake for a lifetime of achievement in the field of aviation, bringing much attention to Mineral County in the process. The accolades began with the House Clerk reading a proclamation by Del. Ruth Rowan, followed by letters from Gov. Jim Justice, and United States Representative David B. McKinley. After Del. Rowan presented Bill with copies of the proclamation, pictures were taken, and then everyone went over to the Senate, where Senators Randy Smith and Dave Sypolt read a resolution for Bill Pancake.  Anna Engle, representing Sen. Joe Manchin, read a letter from the Senator. Curtis Boggs, who used to work in Senator Shelley Moore Capito’s office and is a member of Mr. Pancake’s family, read a letter from Sen. Capito.  Pictures again were taken to wrap up a wonderful celebration for Bill and his family.
As the House and Senate convened, Jason Whitlock opened the House session with prayer, while Commissioner Roger Leatherman led the prayer in the Senate. The group then gathered in a committee room for a luncheon we hosted for all our Legislators and government workers. During the lunch, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey sat with us and brought us up to speed on what his office has been doing on the fight against pharmaceutical companies in the opioid crisis, while others had lunch with key staffers that they invited to further discuss Mineral County issues. After lunch, Governor Justice met briefly with us, thanked us for traveling to the Capitol, and took pictures with us.
From there, many in the group walked over to the Department of Transportation, where we met with Secretary Byrd White and four of his staff. After thanking the DOT folks for their help with our projects from last year, we brought up our signature issue for this year – the status of the Route 220 project, and the importance of moving it up on the priority list. There was good news - the Tier Two study is well under way, which studies environmental and historic site impacts, as well as narrowing the projected route closer to the final path. Once this study is done, the road will be ready for construction pending obtaining funding.
The timing is very good because the Governor made highways one of his top priorities in his State of the State address the night before.  
There are three main reasons Mineral County is putting such emphasis on this highway - access, jobs, and safety. Mineral County does not have a single four-lane road, and this will bring access to this area, bringing in industry, jobs, tourism, and more.
How many jobs?  The most recent study of this corridor estimates 8,200 jobs will be created. That would be a game-changer for this area. College students would not necessarily have to leave the area after they graduate. Feeder industries for Northrop Grumman, IBM, Sealed Air, and others could be created.  Better jobs, more jobs, and sustainable jobs would be available.  Tourists would have a much easier time finding us and our attractions, spending some of their money along the way.  Our tax base will increase, leading to better services and better schools.
Traffic through Keyser will decrease, leaving locals safer roads to get around while through traffic can stay on the highway, including most of the trucks. The Keyser area would have quicker access to I-68, Cumberland, and Corridor H, and  Cumberland, Frostburg, and LaVale would have quicker access to us, so restaurants and stores can come back to Keyser, New Creek, and Burlington.  
Also on Thursday, Greg Ochoa met with the Department of Agriculture and had an excellent discussion of Potomac State’s program.
The rest of the group finished up their final group meeting with Commissioner Ruby of Tourism.  Ashley Centofonti, Mineral County’s director of tourism, brought Commissioner Ruby up to date on all we have been doing to improve tourism in the county, and invited her to visit us later this year to see what we are working on.  Ms. Ruby agreed and will bring the state photographer to capture some shots of our historical sites along with our recreational areas.  
West Virginia Tourism will also feature Fort Ashby Days and the MINCO Music and Arts Festival as the spotlight events for May on their website. Terry Stephens also talked about the new water trail being developed on the North Branch of the Potomac between Cumberland and Ridgeley. A discussion was held on ways to capitalize on that development. Other tourism ideas were also discussed and Commissioner Ruby commended us on our progress in the last two years.
That wrapped Mineral County Day up for most of the group, although a few stayed behind, and were joined by Jennifer Walsh and Dave Moe of the Greater Cumberland Committee for two more meetings on Friday that were also related to the North / South Corridor.  

Randy Crane is president of the Mineral County Chamber of Commerce.