Here is the final installation of my top 16 stories of 2016. Today 4-1.
No. 4: Economic Challenges. The continued decline of the coal industry, as well as the slowdown in natural gas drilling, contributed to another difficult year for the state’s economy. WVU Bureau of Business and Economics Director John Deskins said parts of southern West Virginia had fallen into a “great depression” with communities feeling the dramatic impact of coal mine closings. The economic woes were also blamed for the continuing population decline. West Virginia did see pockets of growth, particularly in the eastern panhandle where site preparation continued for the giant new $500 million Procter & Gamble manufacturing facility that will eventually employ 700 people.
No. 3: West Virginia Turns A Deeper Shade of Red. The state’s political landscape continued its shift from blue to red in 2016. Republican Donald Trump, captured 69 percent of the vote, compared with just 27 percent for Hillary Clinton. Republicans broke up the long-held dominance on the Board of Public Works, winning races for Auditor, Secretary of State and Agriculture Commissioner and holding on to the Attorney General’s seat. Only Democratic Treasurer John Perdue survived. Republicans also held all three Congressional seats, maintained their majority in the House of Delegates and picked up four seats in the senate to expand their advantage to 22-12.
No. 2: Justice Wins Governor’s Race. Jim Justice began 2016 as the frontrunner in the governor’s race and never looked back. The billionaire businessman and owner of the Greenbrier Resort used a well-financed campaign, his down home personality and lofty promises about the state’s future to sail to a Primary Election victory over two challengers and General Election win over Republican Senator Bill Cole and Mountain Party candidate Charlotte Pritt. Justice was dogged by allegations of non-payment of bills by some of his businesses, but West Virginia voters were more interested in giving a political outsider a chance than reviewing his credit score. Justice, although a registered Democrat, refused to back Hillary Clinton because of her comments about the coal industry. The new governor has raised hopes, saying he’ll need just ten months to turn around the state’s economy.
No. 1: The Great Flood. On June 23rd, a series of intense thunderstorms brought torrential downpours to central West Virginia. Up to ten inches of rain sent rivers and streams surging out of their banks, destroying homes and businesses, washing out roads and bridges. Emergency workers conducted valiant swift water rescues, but not everyone could be saved. Twenty-three people died and hundreds more were left homeless. However, even before the waters receded, volunteers began fanning out in the hardest-hit communities to help their neighbors begin to clean up. They were quickly followed by more volunteers, church and service organizations and the National Guard. President Obama issued a disaster declaration for the hardest hit areas. Eventually, damage estimates would surpass $300 million. Although the water receded almost as quickly as it rose, officials say the damage was so severe it will take years to fully recover and some of the hardest hit communities have been changed forever.