ELKVIEW, W.Va. — The last time the light in the state Capitol dome was turned on, West Virginia was in the middle of a thousand-year flood. Governor Jim Justice turned that light on this week, but some in the Elk River community say the move was “too drastic.”
“I’m not really sure what his thought pattern was on that,” said Meleah Fisher, band director at flooded-Herbert Hoover High School. “I know there’s a lot of changes and a lot of cuts and it’s hurting, but I think that it’s smashing a lot of toes.”
The light, typically used in State of Emergencies, was turned on Monday night. That’s because Justice said he wanted to spotlight a potential public health crisis if state lawmakers make cuts to the state Department of Health and Human Resources.
Republican leaders in the state Legislature are proposing $50 million in cuts to the state DHHR and another $100 million in cuts to K-12 public education and higher education to fill a projected $500 million deficit in next fiscal year’s budget.
Fisher said the governor could have spotlighted the budget issue in a different way.
“I think maybe there could have been a different avenue to express the sincerity and severity of what’s going on at the statehouse,” she said.
House Speaker Tim Armstead (R-Kanawha, 40) told MetroNews earlier this week he thinks the governor “crossed a line” and should apologize over the use of the light.
In the past, the light has been used for events such as the 2012 derecho, Winter Storm Jonas, Hurricane Sandy, the 2014 chemical spill and, most recently, the June 2016 flood.
Michael Aab, manager at the Smith’s Foodfair store in Clendenin, said the light should only be used in disaster-type situations.
“Yeah, there is a budget crisis, but it’s not the same as a natural disaster which is what it should be used for. It’s two completely different things,” Aab said.
Aab was working with his co-manager Candi Hershberger at the Foodfair store in Elkview Thursday because the Clendenin store was destroyed in the flood.
“Being the only grocery store around is a little bit hectic sometimes,” Hershberger said about the Elkview store that reopened in August.
People used to shop at the Crossings Mall before the flood washed out the access bridge to the plaza.
Flood survivor Regina Estep, branch manager at the Elkview Poca Valley Bank, said the closure of the plaza was “a devastation to the community.”
“With the Crossings Mall being out, the bridge not being built back, the people in the area — even if they didn’t lose their home, lost their convenience,” Estep said.
The governor, in her opinion, should have thought about flood victims before turning the light on.
“It is a sensitive subject and it should be more serious than what it is, but I guess he feels that it’s serious enough to do that,” Estep said.
Thursday marked nine months since the flood.
“The water came in quicker than you’d ever expect. It came in like an ocean wave,” Estep said, as she described the night of June 23, 2016. She said her and her husband escaped for their lives.
“The water moved my home off its foundation. I lost everything,” including baby pictures of her adult-daughters,” she said.
Nearly 23 people lost their lives. Hundreds of homes, schools and businesses were destroyed.
At times, Estep said she didn’t know what to do or how she would rebuild, but she said she never thought about moving.
“I was born and raised here and I’m going to stay,” she said. “I have seen the community come together.”
“We are stronger than we think we are.”