It’s time for my top ten West Virginia news stories of 2017. I asked the MetroNews staff for their input and then put together my list. See if you agree or disagree and tell me what you think I missed! Today we’ll start with ten through six…
10) Mountaineer sports is always big news in West Virginia and no sports story was bigger than Florida transfer quarterback Will Grier finally taking his first snaps. Grier demonstrated pinpoint accuracy and uncanny escapability as he passed for nearly 3,500 yards and 34 touchdowns, leading the Mountaineers to seven victories before a season-ending injury against Texas. His favorite end zone target was David Sills, whose 18 touchdown catches led the nation. Despite a disappointing bowl loss to Utah, optimism is running high for next season because Grier and Sills are both returning for their senior season.
9) School consolidation issues are nearly always contentious, but none more so than in Nicholas County in 2017. The flood of 2016 destroyed Richwood High School, Richwood Middle School and Summersville Middle School. The Nicholas County School Board approved a controversial plan to consolidate those schools, along with the Nicholas County High School and the Career and Technical Education Facility at one campus near Summersville. That decision divided the community and prompted a legal fight. The year ended with a conflict resolution specialist from the Federal Emergency Management Agency trying to help the two sides find common ground. That effort is expected to continue into 2018.
8) West Virginia is rich in coal and natural gas so energy is always a significant story. The beleaguered coal industry began to come back in 2017. Prices for metallurgical coal increased and the steam coal market improved. President Trump’s decision to scrap the Clean Power Plan sparked optimism within the industry as some companies began calling miners back to work. Meanwhile, work to build several major natural gas pipelines through West Virginia continued, often over the objections of property owners and environmentalists.
7) Donald Trump captured 68 percent of the vote in West Virginia on his way to the presidency, so he knew that he would get a warm reception in the Mountain State. Trump visited West Virginia twice last summer. On August 3, Trump spoke to a huge rally in Huntington where the surprise guest was West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, who announced that day he was switching from the Democratic to the Republican Party. Just two weeks before, Trump spoke to thousands of Boy Scouts at the National Scout Jamboree at the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve. However, Trump triggered controversy by talking politics in what was expected to be a non-political appearance.
6) West Virginia continued to struggle with the drug epidemic in 2017. The Centers for Disease Control released new figures showing that the state’s overdose death rate in 2016 reached 52 per 100,000 people, more than twice as high as the national average. Dr. Rahul Gupta, the State Health Officer, said someone dies in West Virginia from a drug overdose every ten hours. Many of the overdose deaths were linked to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that has 50 times the potency of morphine. Elaine Sheldon’s documentary Heroin(e) provided a first-hand account of three women in Huntington who are fighting back against the drug epidemic. Her film is under consideration for an Academy Award.
(Tomorrow, my top five stories in West Virginia in 2017.)